The drama of a story, a play, or a telling rises out of the development (and, perhaps, decline) of a character or characters. Who the character is, what the character wants, and how the character acts influences down to the slightest detail the atmosphere and movement of the telling. The character adds motion and more importantly emotion to setting, scene, and plot—portrait becomes portrayal, image becomes imagination.
It is the imagination that gives life to the character; the idea for a character precedes the game mechanics of character creation. The responsibility of the player is to draw out of his or her imagination and experience the flecks of personality that will form the Tellings persona. Begin with the basics: name, gender, occupation, faith, hair color, favorite weapon, clothes, unusual birthmark, social standing, favorite food, birthplace, family history, pet peeve, tragic flaw, and so on. Even the smallest detail can spark life to the character. The player must explore the who, what, where, when, how, and especially why of the character’s past, present, and hopes. Work to paint in the details, from general to specific, external to internal.
Now, move to the mechanics. Like a golem, the role-playing game character is part flesh and blood and mind and part artificial construction; the living matter is the player and the three-dimensional persona they portray molds like a skin over the mechanics of the game. The character is represented on paper by his or her Attributes (ATTR), by their skills, knowledges, and abilities, by his or her Strengths and Weaknesses, and, later, by the Experience Points (XP) they earn. This chapter begins character generation with the character’s Attribute scores, numbers that represent the character’s physical, mental, and spiritual development. The next section details skills and knowledges; using an allotment of points, the player buys what the character knows and what the character can do. The last section details Strengths and Weaknesses, special character abilities, traits, flaws, virtues, advantages, or disadvantages.
Start with Attribute generation and move through each of the following chapters. However, character creation should not be a linear process. A certain skill or Strength may make the player choose to change an Attribute score. A skill that the player wants their character to possess may be bought by taking on additional Weaknesses. A Strength or Weakness may change the whole concept of the character. The next few chapters are a road map to follow and there are no one-way signs that direct the right or wrong way to make a character.
Attributes are values that determine a character’s physical, mental, and spiritual development and power. Attribute scores are used in roll-or-fail rolls to check a particular trait and determine skill rolls, combat rolls, and other game values.
There are eight Attributes: Agility (AGI), Charisma (CHA), Constitution (CON), Dexterity (DEX), Essence (ESS), Knowledge (KNO), Perception (PER), and Strength (STR).
Each Attribute begins with a base value of zero. The player gains 101 points to allot. Depending on the difficulty and nature of the adventure campaign, the Master may increase or decrease the starting points -- even just a few points will make a noticeable difference -- less points for less-heroic characters (around 99) and more points for high-powered characters (around 103).
Starting characters will generally have ATTR scores ranging from 8 to 15. Using only the building points, no starting character can have an ATTR above 15. An average character will have scores around 10. Players should keep in mind that they are creating heroic characters, people with above-average abilities. The Master may decide that player-characters may have scores beyond 15. Scores above 15 are considered extraordinary and are reserved for experienced characters. Scores above 18 are considered superhuman and are usually reserved for beasts and master-level characters. Scores above 24 are considered supernatural and are usually used to describe monstrous creatures. On the other hand, scores below 8 are disadvantageous and may prove disabling to game play; the Master should carefully adjudicate characters taking below average ATTRs. No score can drop below zero.
Allot all of the points to the eight Attributes. Keep in mind, not all ATTRs will be perfect. Choose one or two Attributes that are most important to the success of the character and put the highest values in those scores. Keep in mind any skills, abilities, or die-rolls based on the favored ATTRs.
The player-character begins with a concept, a general idea of who or what the character is. Then the idea of the character shapes the skeleton of the Attributes. And, over these bones, the character’s skills, knowledges, and abilities form the meat and muscle.
As a general rule, players will always bring their own knowledges and experiences to the characters they play. Just as a player’s personality will inflect a character’s personality, a player’s education and experience will shape the character’s mind and body. Characters will be as intelligent or knowledgeable as the players themselves but out-of-game information should never supplant role-playing or game balance.
Therefore, the skills provided by the game help define what the character knows, what the character can do, and just as importantly, what the character does not know or cannot do. The skills provide one way to draw the fine distinction between one pc and another, between a player’s personal knowledge and a character’s in-play know-how.
Start by making a wish list of skills. Choose skills that reflect the concept of the character. What kind of training, education, or life-experience would the character begin with? Is the character a fighter? Is the character a teacher? Is the character a rogue? Is the character an artist? Is the character a thinker? Is the character a person-of-all-trades? From the list, decide which skills are the most important, which would be nice to have, and which are not necessarily vital to the character.
Starting Skill Points
In game, characters gain skills and knowledges by buying them with points -- either starting skill points or Experience points. A starting character automatically begins with skill points to spend:
Starting points must be spent and cannot be saved like Experience points. Starting points can only be spent on skills. To gain more points to spend on skills and knowledges, the character must take on Weaknesses (a standard character takes on up to 80 points of Weaknesses) or wait until he or she gains XP. See Chapter Four for details on character Weaknesses.
Attribute Bases (ATTRbase)
Before spending points to buy skills, the player must choose the character’s three Attribute Bases.
The Attribute Bases are used to determine the cost of skills and knowledges; they reflect the primary characteristic or characteristics involved in the use of the skill. Players should choose the ATTRbases that reflect the abilities or traits that the character has developed the most or in which the character is most talented. Usually, a character’s attrbases will be his or her Attributes with the highest scores.
Look at the skills list and the Attribute Bases for each skill. Pay close attention to the Attributes that appear most frequently in the skills wish list developed for the character. Choose the Attributes that best reflect the skills the character possesses.
For example, combat characters will often have STR, AGI, and DEX as their Attribute bases. Quick and nimble characters will often have AGI, DEX, and PER as their bases. Scholars or magic users will have ESS, KNO, and PER as their Attribute bases.
Remember to mark the attrbases on the character sheet.
Each skill is listed with one or more attrbases and a base cost. The actual cost of a skill depends on the character’s Attribute Bases and the ATTRbases listed for the skill.
If the character has all the attrbases required by the skill, then the cost is simply the base cost. For example, the skill Drawing has a base cost of 1 and the listed attrbases of DEX and PER; if two of the character’s attrbases are DEX and PER then it would only cost 1 point to buy the skill.
If the character is missing one of the skill’s attrbases, then the cost is double the base cost. For example, if the character above had DEX but not PER as his or her ATTRbases then it would cost 2 points to buy Drawing.
Finally, if the character is missing two or more of the skill’s attrbases, then cost of the skill is at a maximum triple the base cost. For example, if the character above had neither DEX or PER as ATTRbases then the cost of Drawing would be 3 points.
The character Strength Profession affects the cost of skills. See Chapter Four for details on Profession.
The Skills List
For ease of reference, the skills have been divided into two general groups: combat skills and non-combat skills. Each skill is listed alphabetically by name followed by its attrbases and base cost in parentheses (ATTRbases/Base Cost). Lastly, each skill is described fully. Pay close attention to each skill explanation for details on rolls and rules on skill use.
Skills marked with an asterisk (*) denote skills that the Master should closely regulate. These skills can radically change the course of an adventure or have far-reaching effects in-game. The Master should approve the use of any asterisked skills.
The questions asked at the start of character creation are in part answered by Strengths and Weaknesses. Strenghts and Weaknesses allow the player to delve into the persona of the character to find and develop the character’s likes, dislikes, talents, fears, hatreds, loves, virtues, faults, and other personal idiosyncrasies.
Strengths are good or positive qualities and abilities. They are often unusual or exceptional talents or resources the character possesses. For example, Strengths range from Ambidexterity to Artistic Ability to being Blessed by a deity to having Excellent Hearing to Fast Healer to Silver Tongue to possessing Wealth. Strengths are physical, mental, spiritual, or material benefits that give the character an advantage over others.
Weaknesses are traits, beliefs, qualities, or limitations that at times may put the character at a disadvantage or may bring negative reactions or results to the character. A Weakness does not necessarily mean something bad. For example, the Weakness Steadfast means the character does not run from a fight -- a quality usually admired -- but, in the wrong situation, this Weakness could spell trouble for the character and others. Weaknesses can mean a character is Arrogant or has a Fear or a Good Heart or has a Pet Peeve or is Superstitious or Unlucky. Weaknesses are physical, mental, spiritual, or material disadvantages that limit the character’s actions and access to resources.
Strengths and Weaknesses help balance the character’s muscle, mind, and soul as well as their skills, talents, and personality. Strengths and Weaknesses are good things, bad things, and unique things about the character. Strengths and Weakness add warmth to the blood, breath to the voice, and thought to the whole of the character.
Remember that certain Strengths and Weaknesses may affect Attributes and Skills. Continue to look back at the whole of character creation and allow for revision.
Like choosing skills, make a wish list of Strengths and a tentative list of Weaknesses. Record the point values for each. Strengths are listed with a positive value. Weaknesses are assigned negative values. The more Weaknesses a character possesses, the more points the player has to spend on additional skills and Strengths.
A starting character can have up to -80 Weakness points. Like the starting points allotted to ATTR, the Master may increase or decrease the number of Weakness points a character can have depending on the difficulty and nature of the adventure -- less points for less-heroic characters (around -60 to -70) and more points for high-powered characters (around -90 to -100).
Strengths can only be bought by taking on Weaknesses. The starting skill points (figured from KNO) cannot be used to buy Strengths. For example, the player wishes the character to have +40 points of Strengths. Therefore, the character must have at least -40 points of Weaknesses. The Strengths can only be balanced out by the Weaknesses. Generally, a character should only spend half of their possible Weakness points on Strengths. Furthermore, the Master may limit the character’s total number of supernatural Strengths (e.g. Magic Ability, Immunity, Regeneration, Aura).
The player may take on more Weaknesses than Strengths to gain additional points to spend on buying skills.
For example, the player buys +30 points of Strengths but chooses to have -80 points of Weaknesses. Therefore, the player has in excess -50 points of disadvantages. The player can then buy up to +50 points of additional skills. A good rule of thumb is that a character should spend up to half their points on Strengths and the remaining majority of points on skills and knowledges.
A well-rounded character should have both Strengths and Weaknesses and the advantages and disadvantages should cover a wide spectrum. However, a character should not have too many Strengths and Weaknesses. A balanced personality is the goal. A character should not have contradictory Strengths and Weaknesses. Lastly, a Weakness that never comes into play is not a valid Weakness.
All of the character’s points should balance out. Use the following formula to determine if the character’s points add up:
The Master should approve of what Strengths and Weaknesses are be taken by starting characters. Some Strengths and Weaknesses cannot be taken by starting or zero-experience characters. Some Strengths and Weaknesses can be bought multiple times. The Master must determine the number of bonuses a character can gain.
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