Monthly Archives: November 2015

Roleplaying 104 – The Character

So, you have a group and you have the time to sit down to play together. Whoever has been nominated GM asks you to make a character. But how do you do that? There are countless guides already about making characters. What I’m going to do here is explain the steps I go through when making a character, and why. After that, take whatever you want from this article and mix it up with advice from elsewhere to make your own process. I am certainly not of the opinion that everyone has, or should have, the same method for creating characters.

Obviously the character you are going to make is limited by the system/rules set/setting that the GM has chosen. It is very important before you even start thinking about your character to have a frank discussion with the GM about what kind of things you are and aren’t allowed to choose, as well as things that you shouldn’t choose without good cause (e.g. character concepts that may prove a detriment to the game, characters dealing with themes that other players may find uncomfortable). After you know what things to avoid, you should sit down with a copy of the rules and look at what options are available to you in character creation.

Before we go any further, it is worth mentioning at this point that this process applies to MOST systems of character creation, not all. Some systems use vastly incompatible means to create characters so take what you can of this process and ignore the rest.

In order to explain this process, I will be using an example character for Dungeons and Dragons. However, this is for ease of recognition and the process works for all the games I’ve tried, whether modern, historical or fantastical with varying levels of technology and magic.

1

The character concept. Without a solid character concept, your character will merely be an assortment of numbers on a piece of paper. That isn’t to say you need to have every detail worked out in advance (I certainly don’t), but you should have a good idea about the core of the character. Some systems include question prompts or a selection of starting points to help with this step. My advice is to use them as far as is helpful. Once you have a concept you are comfortable with, question it. Tease out a few points of interest but keep everything rough and nebulous so you have freedom to alter it later if needs be. It is at this stage that you should also start thinking about your character’s personality.

For this example, I have decided that I want my starting character to be an orphan who grew up on the docks but managed to avoid a life of crime. Already this raises questions about the character’s sense of self and how they see their place in the world. But it also makes me wonder HOW they avoided a life of crime. I decide the as a street rat growing up my character learnt a trade, likely something they could sell to/do for the sailors visiting the docks, as well as the city folk. They’re friendly enough (they had to be to survive) but are good at spotting trouble before it occurs and avoids a fight where possible.

2

The name. A good name should fit the campaign world. It should be thematically appropriate and might serve as an externalisation of some aspect of your character. With regards to names, I am well aware they are not my personal strong suit, so don’t be afraid to use suggested names in rulebooks or random name generators if you are drawing a blank. Mixing and matching celebrity names, or pre-existing characters, works equally well. It is at this point that it is useful to choose a race for your character in settings that offer a choice of race or species so the name can be race specific.

Taking my concept as a starting point, I decide that my character is a water Genasi (a child of the djinn) named Pearl. From this I decide her trade may have related to pearl diving or something similar.

3

The reason. Why is your character leaving the life they knew for something else? What led your character to the point they are at when the game starts? This can be a difficult one to decide. You may find that the only reasons you can come up with are somewhat esoteric and odd. Don’t worry about that. You can come back to change it later. It may seem odd to think of the reason for leaving the life before deciding what that life was, but this way around means that you have complete control of the situation at the end of their life as they knew it and gives you a point from which to work backwards.

After having a long thought about things, I decide that Pearl leaves the little dockside hovel she grew up in because her adoptive parents die and she feels the call of the sea in her blood. It’s simple (which isn’t a bad thing, sometimes overcomplicating things at this stage makes it harder to do the next step) and provides an open ending for the GM to tie Pearl’s fate in with the beginning of their campaign.

4

The life then. No character exists in a vacuum; every single one has a life before the adventure finds them. Player characters are no different. They invariably have a childhood, an awkward transition into their adult self, and (in some cases) grow into their responsibilities. This is, of course, before the life changing event that causes them to seek the adventurer’s life/drags them into the GM’s plot. It is at this stage that you should dive deeper into things. Leave things to be discovered, but build up a coherent picture of the character’s life up until this point, including the reason they leave their old life behind.

Pearl’s little dockside hovel becomes a little curio shop set up by two half-elves. Accomplished divers themselves, adopting a little Genasi girl allowed them to dive deeper out in the bay to recover treasures lost overboard and from shipwrecks. Viewed by the regular visitors as a lucky charm, Pearl could hold a conversation with anyone and struck up friendships easily. That isn’t to say she is innocent to the ways of the world. She witnessed several murders, muggings and other criminal acts growing up but remained positive despite this. When a freak storm tore through the dock shortly after her 18th birthday and destroyed the curio shop, killing her parents in the process, she hired on with the first ship she could and set out for a life on the waves.

5

The life now. This stage is somewhat nebulous as it relates directly to the game you are playing. Games like World of Darkness won’t have anything for this step to relate to (certainly playing a mortal character won’t) but in others this is the step in which you’ll be picking the class for your character (or the system’s equivalent). It is worth noting that this stage can be done before the first stage if you already have a class in mind. I habitually do it last because it allows the character to grow organically through the creation process to find the class that is the best fit.

Pearl’s life changing event being an extremely powerful storm immediately puts me in mind of a Sorcerer with the Storm sorcerous origin from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide from Wizards of the Coast.

6

The game. Your character is now (mostly) ready and playable. They have a name, a concept and a backstory. By combining these, you should be able to get a good enough feeling for your character’s personality, if not, don’t be afraid to take a few sessions to find that out. Enjoy!

Some game systems will have things you need to complete and decide upon that aren’t mentioned here, so feel free to do those whenever seems most useful to you.

The process doesn’t stop here, however, as you play, you may discover things about your character that you had no inkling of when you started playing. Quirks of personality, little events that happened in their life, people they used to know etc. That’s fine, it happens all the time, just note it down somewhere and keep playing.

I hope this brief guide is at least helpful as a starting point for creating characters of your own, I aim to follow it up at some point with an article on actually playing your character but until then, my advice is to keep thinking of characters and their stories. You might not play all of them but it is good practice and you might stumble upon a favourite that will be ready when the time comes to play.

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Gaming as a Support Group

Before we get into the meat of this week’s post, today’s topic deals with mental health problems (of which I am certainly no expert) and is going to be less whimsical than my usual writing. If you don’t want to read any further, I completely understand and wish you a very pleasant day/evening/night. In addition to this, the following piece is based on my own personal experiences and is therefore extremely subjective. If you’re looking for objective writing on the subject, here is not the place.

Still with me? Okay, good.

There is something that bears stating from the outset on the subject of mental health, I have never formally been diagnosed with any psychological disorder, syndrome or any other form of ‘mental illness’. It is, however, not beyond the realm of possibility (and not too much of a stretch) to say that I suffer from anxiety and the attendant problems that causes, as well as dystonia (a neurological disorder I plan to write about sometime in the future) and low self-esteem.

It is the anxiety that today’s post will be discussing. Specifically, how roleplaying (and just gaming in general) can help you cope with, and overcome, it.

A bit of background first, recently I’ve been under a lot of stress in my personal life (who hasn’t?) and sometime last week I reached breaking point. Usually I’m good at dealing with stress and coping with my anxiety, but for whatever reason, last week I began struggling. Incidentally, if you ever find yourself in this position, seek help. I find writing cathartic so this is my therapy (as well as other methods to be discussed below), but you should know that you are not alone. If you really want, I’ll listen as best I can if you e-mail the contact address for this page, but you have nothing to lose by contacting a professional, so I recommend you do that.

Obviously, finding something to take your mind off the problem helps, which is where roleplaying (and gaming) comes in. I find that my mind sorts through problems subconsciously a lot, running through solutions and things whilst I’m concentrating on something else, so something that absorbs me helps to not only distract me, but also helps me overcome whatever is causing the problem in the first place.

Now, my anxiety and low self-esteem cause me to become even more introverted than I am usually when they flare up so when I realised that this week’s D&D session was fast approaching, I had a decision to make: Do I back out, or do I try and push through the panic and fear to play? My partner, whom I cannot thank enough for the daily love and support she provides, encouraged me to play so I sat down a little before the game was due to start and messaged my DM that something was wrong and I might need a little patience. She replied with ‘We’ll take care of you.’

Considering that I am the only member of the group playing over Skype (the others meet in a room over a hundred miles from where I live), I reconciled myself to the fact that I might end up distracted by something other than the game as my mind span out of control. So I grabbed my rulebooks, dicebag and, out of concession for the fact that I was tired (I don’t sleep well most nights), sat down (habitually, I stand to roleplay. It helps me get into character).

And then, bam! Three hours later, we finished what turned out to be a very productive session. Not in terms of combat or plot advancement (good grief, we have an aversion to plot) but in terms of character development and pure, unadulterated roleplaying. And the great thing is, not once was I distracted. Roleplaying groups are predicated, for the most part, on the fact that everyone gets along and is as equally invested in the story being told. Sure, different people prefer different things and most people seem to go for the same character concepts over and over, but there’s nothing wrong with that. A group that gels together is capable of amazing things.

And my group gels. We might have different interpretations of the rules every now and then but ultimately, we’re all supportive of each other. And that is really the point of this post. Any gaming group, whether it is roleplaying or just gaming general, is a support group without the name. I would advocate roleplaying over other kinds of gaming, purely because it is a (mostly) co-operative experience. Everyone is there to ensure everyone else has fun and feels included. Even if you enter a random roleplaying group, if you stick around long enough and have fun, you’ll make friends. As a hobby, it almost requires the players BE friends. There are, of course, exceptions to this, as there are to everything else, but for the most part I think it is accurate to say that roleplaying group members are all friends.

On top of the fact that roleplaying groups are a built in support network, there is also the fact of immersion to consider. For this game, I deliberately set out to play a different sort of character. Habitually, my characters have always been wallflowers, because I am an introvert. Even in a hobby comprised of socially awkward people, I am extremely socially awkward and have always been happy to help others (incidentally, support is a role I usually fulfil in co-operative games both video and tabletop because it distracts me from my own problems), but when I was asked if I wanted to play in a game my friend was starting I forced myself to roll up a social character. Not only did I choose to create a Bard, I made an almost entirely social based Bard, complete with utility spells for languages and social skill proficiencies. Not only does this help my DM to create something other than a series of linked combat encounters, but it has been incredibly effective at getting me out of my shell. And I tell you what, it worked. The last five levels have been some of my proudest roleplaying.

For three hours a week, I inhabit the mind of a person so unlike myself that it helps me work through my problems. Sure, she’s flawed (I think every character should be in some way) and is certainly no saint (Chaotic Neutral for the win, emphasis on Neutral and not Chaotic Stupid) but for those three hours, I am so focussed on bringing her to life as she is, that my own problems fade into the background. As distractions go, improv theatre is a really good one. Roleplaying helps even more because the character you are acting as has to be consistent. Each action and reaction has to tie in with what has gone before. Sure, I’m the one deciding what my Bard does, but ultimately, if I’m not happy with what she’s doing, the game is going to suffer. With no script, the barest of moral codes and a love of storytelling, those three hours as Muse, the Tiefling Bard did more for me than most other forms of gaming could.

Ultimately, I suppose that if I were to sum up the point of this post, other than the fact it is extremely self-centred to write about myself for the past 1,200 odd words, it’s that roleplaying, while no substitute for professional help, helps control SOME mental health problems. With a built in support group and providing the ultimate escapist fantasy, you could do far worse than joining, or creating, a group of you own if you struggle with mental health issues. And I wish you all the luck with that, I truly hope you find a group of people that, rather than prying or laughing about mental health issues, will simply take care of you.

Plot Hooks

This week has been a bit rushed and stressful so there is no TitansGrave. Instead, here is a list of plot hooks to inspire your own games and stories.

Feel free to share around, use, distribute in any way. If you do, please give credit where it is due.

Enjoy!

Bubbles


Generic Hooks

As if preparing for the festival weren’t hard enough, a third woman has gone missing this month.

With the arsonist captured, the people should feel safe. Why then, do the children dream of waking up on fire?

Petty theft is nothing new, but how, and why, would someone steal a herd of farm animals?

With the last caravan of the year having already passed through, now is not the time for someone to set the town granary on fire.

New ideas and technology are dangerous. Someone is testing something new nearby.

Fantasy Hooks

Is it dwarves in the abandoned mines under the town, or something else?

When Old Farran threw a shoe last week, no-one thought anything of it. When that shoe was found fused to the mayor’s flesh, everyone knew something was wrong.

Falling into the well was the least of Simon’s worries, he now runs around town talking to people who aren’t there.

A woman has been found murdered on the last three full moons. The next full moon is two days away.

The goblins in the hills have been raiding closer to the town, have they found a leader at last, or is there another reason?

Sci-fi Hooks

The most worrying thing about the recent breakout from the super-max is that only one person had the computer codes and they were publicly visible at the time.

After a network-wide system crash, the tech-heads are hard at work solving the problem. Was it an attack on the network, or merely a diversion?

After the tenth mech in the batch blew up, the brass began questioning whether it was merely bad luck, or sabotage.

Three hours ago, contact with the nuclear power station cut off. Two hours ago, the power to the city went out. One hour ago, the remote access to the cameras was terminated.

The ship that just translated in system is broadcasting an all clear code centuries old but is made from contemporary technology.

TitansGrave: The Winds of Chaos Chapter Five of Twelve

Fantasy AGE, TitansGrave, TitansGrave: The Ashes of Valkana Adventure Series and all associated logos are trademarks of Green Ronin Publishling LLC.

TitansGrave: The Ashes of Valkana and its associated logo is a trademark of Geek and Sundry.

This is a fan-made product and not intended to infringe on any copyrights or trademarks. I am not planning to make money off this product. If there is any problem with any part of this product or any missing information from this crediting section, I will update accordingly.

That said, all content not owned by Green Ronin or Geek and Sundry is owned by me. Feel free to distribute and share all you like, but please give credit where it is due.


Chapter Five – Leaving the Enclave

Having left the Hospital, the PCs are now free to explore the Enclave as they see fit. In order to leave, they must re-activate the power station found somewhere in the darkness before gaining access to the Library and the tunnel within.

Unlike the other chapters, this one leaves a lot open to the GM’s discretion and gives them the ability to insert their own scenes and encounters as desired. The Enclave is full of Undead (using the Walking Dead profile provided in the Fantasy AGE book) and should be used in groups of no more the 2:1. The Enclave is intended to provide atmospheric exploration, not a series of increasingly difficult challenges. The following is intended as a framework to be built upon, any adventure using the Enclave SHOULD include the following scenes in addition to any the GM creates.

Scene One – Exploration

Having left the Hospital, presumably with both the map of the Enclave and the goodwill of the survivors trapped there, the PCs are now in the Vorakis Enclave proper. This part of Vorakis was magically buried during the Chaos Wars as a refuge for the inhabitants of Vorakis and its environs. As such, it is laid out like any other city with the standard buildings and facilities. Due to its age, some of the Enclave has fallen to disrepair and decay, but it is in surprisingly good shape for how long it has lain undisturbed.

This is in part due to a natural, low level magical field that any mage can detect with a successful TN 11 Intelligence (Arcana) test. This field acts similarly to the restorative magic within the hospital and, unknown to the PCs, is slowly reversing the curse that befell the Enclave.

Being as undisturbed as it is, the Enclave is almost silent. Despite the advanced technology, hailing as it does from the Chaos Wars, the Enclave has remained a ghost town for one very good reason: a Curse of Undeath. Placed upon the Enclave by the Prophet herself, the curse slowly corrupts the living (including the PCs) until they become an extension of the Prophet’s will. Any PC who falls to 2 or less health automatically gains the Touched by Chaos condition. Any PC with this condition gains the Corrupted condition. This field also provides a low level of illumination.

The inhabitants of the Enclave, as was explained to the PCs in the previous chapter, are all Undead (with the exception of those in the Hospital) and start off in a trance-like state, reacting only to nearby sound and movement. Any attempt to move past an Undead member of the Enclave requires a successful TN 11 Dexterity (Stealth) test. In order to simplify matters, if the GM wishes, the group should periodically make Stealth tests. If the number of success is greater than the number of failures, all is good. If the number of failures is greater than the number of successes, a group of Undead is alerted to the presence of the PCs.

Exploring the Enclave is a tense, atmospheric process, but without doing so, the PCs will be unable to find their way to the power station. Obstacles in their way could include; collapsed buildings, flooded areas, wild animals or blocked/ruined pathways.

Regardless of how they get there, when the PCs arrive at the power station, read the following aloud:

You can hear the rushing water before you see it. Something has kept the Undead out of this area of the Enclave and you make swift progress, rounding the last corner before you know it. In front of you is a wide river, the water swift and dark. The luminescence that shines from the air around you reveals the pilings of a long rotted bridge sunk into the bank ahead of you and five yards away, in the middle of the underground river, is a squat building.

The map tells you that you have reached the power station, its water wheel pulled from the river and its windows dark.

 Any PCs searching the bank near the rotted bridge can find a rusty chain with a successful TN 13 Perception (Seeing) test. Pulling on this chain (for long enough) reveals a small ferry, big enough for five people. The ferry itself is attached to both banks with a chain but is moved with oars that have stood the test of time.

Should the PCs devise another way of crossing the river, reward creativity and plausible plans.

Scene Two – Exploration

Read the following:

Upon arriving on the island, you are confronted immediately with the old remains of an extremely large funeral pyre. Blackened, skeletal body parts lie scattered around the edge of it. Further up the bank, towards the big main door of the power station, is a skeleton of gigantic proportions. Whilst ostensibly that of a man, its bones are far longer and thicker than a normal man’s, almost as if something had magically changed them at some point.

Opening the door of the power station reveals a cold, dark tunnel leading further into the silent complex.

 Exploring the island around the power station reveals nothing further of note. The water wheel has been lifted from the water by some unknown piece of technology. Curiously, there is no evidence of Undead on the island. The skeleton itself, if searched, has a handful of coins scattered about its bones, as well as a ring on a necklace and a jewelled pocket-watch monogrammed with the initials ‘J.R.’

Upon entering the power station, the PCs should be informed that the air is still and dry, and that a thick layer of dust covers every surface. The rooms and contents within are left to the GM’s discretion, however any adversaries that the PCs encounter cannot be Undead (the giant man killed all of them before burning their bodies) and must be able to cross the river somehow. As before, this building is intended to create an atmosphere of tension whilst it is explored.

When the PCs have explored to their satisfaction, they stumble across the main control room. This room has been partially converted into a bedsit, with a bed and basic cooking equipment (all of it oversized) crammed against one wall. The main console seems to be in working order, with the exception of the chair which is a buckled mess of metal on the floor. The console is covered with dials, lights and levers, one of which is labelled ‘Wheel Control’. Also of note on the console is a large, leather-bound book with the initials ‘J.R.’ crudely gouged into the cover (see Handout Two).

Moving the ‘Wheel Control’ lever into its opposite position returns power to the power station, as well as the rest of the Enclave.

Restarting the power station has a series of unintended side effects. The first the PCs will know if they read the journal in the main control room. The lights and sounds of the machinery found throughout the city agitate the Undead, meaning all Stealth tests are now at TN 15.

The second is that the low level magical field permeating everything received an extremely powerful boost. Any time a 4 or 5 point stunt is rolled (i.e. when a double is rolled with a ‘4’ or ‘5’ on the Stunt die), a wave of energy cascades outwards from the PCs. This energy has the potential to lift the Curse of Undeath. When a third stunt of these point values is created, or when a Legendary stunt is rolled (by rolling triple ‘6’), a pulse of energy passes through the Enclave, breaking the Curse. A successful TN 13 Intelligence (Arcana required) test is needed to work out what happened. From the moment the Curse is broken, it takes either another three 4 or 5 point stunts to be rolled, another Legendary stunt to be rolled, or a week of in-game time before the effects of the Curse wear off. These effects include the conditions that it inflicted upon the players (players Touched by Chaos before entering the Enclave retain this condition and players with the Corrupted condition become Touched by Chaos). The PCs must remain in the Enclave for these parameters to apply to them, i.e. these conditions will not clear outside of the Enclave. Returning to the hospital clears any conditions gained during their exploration of the Enclave. In addition to this, the magical field produces a level of illumination comparable to daylight that fluctuates in an artificial day/night cycle.

The third side effect is that the PCs are now able to explore anywhere they wish within the city. The restarted power station has overridden all of the still functioning locks.

If they pass by the hospital, Methris can be found just outside the doors. He will try to return the PCs’ batteries to them, no longer needing them to power the Hospital’s generator.

Scene Three – Exploration, Combat (Optional)

The PCs should now make their way to the Library in the centre of the Enclave. Even without the map given to them by Methris in the previous chapter, the Library is not difficult to find. An imposing building situated on a spire of rock in the centre on the Enclave, it can be seen from a lot of the city now that the lights are back on.

Making their way through the city should be harder this time in accordance with the agitated Undead as described above, this makes combat likelier than it was before. As stated previously, the maximum ratio of Undead to PCs should be no greater than 2:1 but if the GM wishes, now the Undead are ‘awake’ a maximum of x-2 Undead can enter combat after every other round (where x = the number of PCs). GMs are welcome to insert their own scenes and encounters into this scene as well.

The Library itself is a solidly built building with imposing metal doors and secured shutters over every window. Gaining access to the Library is easy, the security system protecting it will open the door for any living person that attempts entry and will react with lethal force at the approach of any Undead, as evidenced by a ring of bodies scattered along the edge of the security system’s range.

In this case, attempting entry includes attempting to pick the lock on any of the shutters (causing a metallic voice to order all persons attempting entry to report to the main entrance) or pressing the intercom button next to the main, or rear, entrance. Doing either results in the door unlocking and opening before the PCs.

Upon setting foot in the Library, the PCs are directed to the atrium by a series of flashing lights set into the floor. The PCs are welcome to follow the flashing lights or explore the Library.

The Library is a repository for countless books, pieces of technology (a few of which are still functional and available for the PCs to use with profiles determined by the GM) and art, as well as having a small panic room filled with a collection of spell books (capable of granting one PC the novice rank in any Arcana talent) as well as a selection of magically preserved food and drink. There are also several small valuable items throughout the Library that can be sold at a later date.

Following the lights to the atrium leads the PCs into a large, open room with a single feature. In the exact centre of the room is a withered tree, passing a successful TN 11 Perception (Seeing) test reveals a collection of new buds growing from several of the branches. The tree covers the exit tunnel, but there are a variety of methods the PCs can use to open the tunnel.

The first is simply to ask. Mentioning the tunnel aloud at any point in the Library prompts the security system to ask if the PCs want it to open the emergency exit for them, if they answer ‘yes’ it will announce that the atrium exit has been opened.

The second is to restore life to the tree through the use of the regrowth spell from the Wood Arcana talent. This causes the tree to bloom and its roots to shift around its base and reveal a hole in the floor. This may also occur through watering the tree and using any spell from the Healing Arcana talent.

The third is to destroy the tree. Upon its destruction, the tree is consumed with a magical fire revealing the hole in the ground.

As ever, reward player creativity for their solutions to this puzzle. As long their plans could feasibly restore life to the tree or cause the tunnel to open in another manner, let them progress.

However the PCs solve this puzzle, the end result is the same. A hole appears in the floor, leading to a set of wide, well maintained stairs that plunge into the earth. This tunnel is unlit.

Entering the tunnel counts as leaving the Enclave for the purposes of clearing the Touched by Chaos and Corrupted conditions.

Handouts

Handout Two:

Found on the main console of the power station:

The pain has ended at last, I pray to the gods that it was worth it. As far as I know, I am the last one alive in the Enclave, with the exception of the Hospital. My enhanced strength and size has proved more than up to the task of clearing the infestation from the island, hopefully when I have finished my task here, I will be able to make progress in the city and help the poor souls trapped in the Hospital.

 The next few entries are degraded badly and illegible.

 The bite has become infected. I fear I am not long for this world. I’ve retreated to my base in the power station and have resolved to help the best way I can. Over the last few months, I’ve noticed the Undead enter a trance-like state during the night and become agitated during the day. In theory, I should be able to channel some power to the Hospital to keep it running for a while but turn off the power to the rest of the Enclave, forcing the place into a perpetual night.

These are the last words of Joshua Ramis.

I have altered the systems of the power station to link up with the water wheel, lowering it will restore full power to the city and enhance the magic we found down here. There should be enough power in the capacitors to keep the Hospital running for a few hundred years, long enough for help to come.

If you find this and I am gone, thank you for bringing hope to the Vorakis Enclave. We have been lost for so long.”


Any feedback is gratefully appreciated.

– Bubbles