Saturday, January 30, 2010

Character History as Character Ability Set

This is the "Military Paths" portion of a much bigger directed graph. Inspired by some things in Burning Wheel and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, I've been thinking about a game where moving job-to-job replaces all the things that skills, classes, and feats do in D&D - but because there are many ways to travel the system, you still get a lot of choice at any point about what your character will become next. You'd get some choices within each career node too - how long you stay in that career gives you certain options for your character that would affect play directly. It's all very vague and notional at the moment, but I'm having fun with it and it's making my gears spin a bit, which I like. If you start with a character who's, say, 35 years old, you'd have to determine (by a system I've thought a little about but haven't committed myself to) what he or she'd been doing since about age 10 - already, the moment you sit down, you have the basis of an excellent character backstory combined seamlessly with what the character can do in the game.

Just something I'm thinking about.

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3 comments:

Rob Donoghue said...

It's a good basis, but it runs up against some interesting problem like "are all histories created equal?" - if I've spent 5 years with the city watch and you've spent five years at a Secret Ninja Training Academy, are we going to have power level issues?

Similarly, how do you handle the dual spectres of diminishing returns vs. experience. On one hand, you learn more in your first year of something than your second and that trend continues pretty much indefinitely in most cases, but on the other hand, if you've done something forever, you can usually do *that thing* sublimely. Hard to make both of those ideas work.

None of which is to say nay to this. It's the same sort of thinking that lead to phased character creation in Fate, so I'm all for it. But it's a tricky beast to ride.

-Rob D.

Rob Donoghue said...

Though as an aside, the thing that lead to the leap of abstraction to Fate was an idea from Aria, for "windows of opportunity". The idea was that chargen was a very logical progression in Aria, like a very constrained lifepath-like system, but you hd a certain number of windows of opportunity where you could actively "jump the rails" and do something that would not normally follow, like run off with gypsies or save a nobles son or whatnot. It underscored the idea that part of the potency of these structures are that stories are usually about _exceptions_.

-Rob D.

dave said...

Rob - those are definitely questions I'll have to wrestle with. As I've thought about it, there seem to be two main paths forward, a "crunchy" one where I have to ride that tricky beast and mechanically define all backgrounds in an effort to make them as balanced as I can, and a "narrative" (for lack of a better word) approach where instead I give things like lists of adjectives, posessions, and influences you might have from any given career node, and give dice or bonuses or whatever during conflicts according to whether anything in your arsenal applies.

Obviously, the decision is inseparably intertwined with whatever conflict mechanics I want to adopt. I think I only really run up against the power level issues in the "crunchiness" scenario, so its tempting to avoid it altogether. On the other hand, what fun is a huge system of nodes that lead one to another if you are denied the lonely fun of finding the perfect path to min/max your character?

I'm not entirely convinced it'll be a game where equal starting grounds are required or desirable. I note that in LoTR, for example, there is nothing even approaching equality among the Fellowship, but what holds sway is how much story affect each player has.

Here's the character generation stuff I haven't fully committed to yet: I was thinking you could spend no more than 6 years in a profession, with benefit choices at years 1, 4, and 6. After that, you simply had to change - life intervenes somehow sort of how you're describing in Aria.

During character creation, you first roll age - say 6d6+10 or so. Then, you roll to see what your starting node was at age 16 out of a small subset of starting nodes covering the social classes from peasant to noble. For your starting node and each one after, you roll 1d6 to see how long you stayed in that profession - you don't get to choose how long before you had to switch. However, you do get to choose among whatever benefits you'd have had in that node, and you get to choose your next node path from the options available to that node. Jump nodes, roll again to see how long you're in the node, etc. Repeat until you reach the age you rolled in the beginning: whatever node you stop on, that's what you are and how you got there. This system absolutely defies equality at start of play, but in a way thats what really appeals to me about the system at all. (whether such a thing could possibly appeal to anyone else is, for now, a totally open question).

Thanks for your thoughts - you are a valued opinion to me.