Thursday, February 10, 2011
How I stat out characters
Usually I have something in mind or I want to try out a new system with something I already know or a combination of the two. But how do I take a character like Zatanna, or Red Sonja, or Willow and Tara or anyone and figure out how they are supposed to "be" in a particular system. I have a couple of things I like to do and it has usually worked pretty well for me.
I always start out with what the character can do and who is this character supposed to be in my mind. If I am working on Dirty Nel then I have a good idea, "sassy street faerie prostitute. cute. smarter than anyone gives her credit for. Enjoys her creature comforts and knows how to get them." Some of that doesn't translate into game stats. Well...most games anyway. But a lot of it does. I know she has quite a bit of knowledge about the world, street life and the occult. I know she has a bit of magic in her and I also have a good idea about what her fighting prowess is like.
In most systems there are skills. I look for signature skills the character has, say being able to program computers or speaking 4 languages and figure out how these are represented in the system. For someone like Willow I look for high numbers in computers, science but also occult knowledge. I know this is going to suck up most of her points and want to get them figured out first. Plus they are very iconic to the character. If I am working on Batwoman then I want to be sure her acrobatics are good, if I have Robin Sena I know she is young and most of her skills are weak except for things like occult knowledge and maybe her languages.
I like to stay within the rules as much as I can. This helps me define the character in terms of that world's reality. If a Unisystem character gets 25 points for skills then I need to have good reasons for going to 35. If I am using PL 9 as a base for Tarot and PL 11 for Tara in Mutants and Masterminds then I want their skills to comparable to those realities.
Skills are good Rosetta Stone really. Most systems have them and there are lot of good translations. Knowledge (Supernatural) could be the same thing as Occultism or Occult Knowledge.
Since I tend to make a lot of magic using characters using magic as another yardstick is good. For D&D and d20-like games I know they need a certain spell and they need to be a certain level to cast that. That is how I came up with Willow and Tara's levels in d20 Mod, a combination of spells and skills.
In a game like Ghosts of Albion the same is true, but then I can decide on how many levels of magic they might need.
For something like d20, this is pretty easy to work backwards from. Find the spells, find the levels that can cast those spells, fill in the details.
For a point buy system like Ghosts, it is only part of the equation.
A lot of games feature combat or fighting. To ignore this does the character an injustice. Even in Call of Cthulhu or Doctor Who the character might need to stop running or talking and fight it out. Thinking about combat like a skill then is a good way to figure out a character. In M&M I know Tarot for example is a better fighter than Willow or Zatanna, but she can't match either of them (or even come close) in magic. That doesn't mean she can go toe to toe with the likes of Red Sonja either. It means that there is a good balance to be had. Where that balance is sometimes is up for debate. My Red Sonja may be different that someone else's based on the same PL (to use an Mutants and Masterminds example).
This is less "quantitative" really. I'll start with a premise, "Willow is the most powerful witch in my game" then I work down from her. I think what would it take to get the character to this level, what would it take to get a different character to a similar level.
For characters like the Hex Girls I want to make them total novices at magic. So in Unisystem they have Magic 1 or 2 tops. But still give the points where they would be better than average, music and showmanship. I usually feel pretty confident in my builds, but each one usually takes longer than say just stating up John or Jane Doe Character.
Sometimes I have such strong idea for a character concept, like Justice, that I also just like to see the character in different systems too. In the case of Willow and Tara I am also seeing if I can stat them up in as many systems as I can.