Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A look at character attributes and race



A look at character attributes and race
By: Jesse C Cohoon

In most games in order to create a character you need to possess certain levels of various character attributes. But instead of saying that “due to X race (or monster) not having an attribute level of Y, it’s not playable” why not look at various attributes and find interesting ways of working around the deficiency.

Strength defines how much a character can physically pick up and carry around with them. It also defines how easy it is to burst out of bindings, how far the character can jump, gives a chance to bend bars, break doors, and gives damage bonuses (or penalties) to certain weapons. This attribute may be referred to as Power or Brute Force in some systems.

If a character’s race has a strength score of 0, they may be immobile because their body won’t allow the muscles to move. A real life example might be a paraplegic, or perhaps a deathly ill person. A fantasy equivalent would be something like a “brain in a jar.” But an alternative way of looking at strength might be to say that the character has no physical form in which to lift an object, and any object not treated with substances that allow ethereal creatures to manipulate it wouldn’t simply work.  

Dexterity tells how fast a person can avoid hits, how well they can perform legerdemain, ride a mount, how well they balance, how quietly they can move and how easily they can wiggle out of constraints. Some systems call this stat Agility, Finesse, or Quickness, which also gives this attribute a sense of how fast a character can travel.

If a character’s race has a dexterity score of 0, they may be a plant rooted in place or a statue rooted in place. But just because a character has a dexterity of 0 doesn’t mean that they are useless. Perhaps they are a computer program that in and of itself doesn’t have any movement, but when put into a body that they can control, they have the dexterity of the body that they possess. Another possibility is that they are a tree, but have the entire network of the forest to be their eyes and ears and limbs for them.

Constitution is the prime indicator of a character’s health. Sometimes it’s listed as Endurance, Vitality, or Resistance. Constitution tells how long a character can hold his or her breath, how long and how well they fare after strenuous activity, how well they can fight off disease, and, at least in D&D how well they can concentrate.

A character with a constitution score of 0 would find it difficult to move, as any exertion would be tiresome. They would also be quite sickly, in that their bodies could not fight off infectious disease. On the other hand, maybe the character’s health is tied into another system altogether. Maybe the character is undead, and such things wouldn’t bother them the way that they would a living creature. Maybe it’s a construct of some kind that doesn’t need a constitution score to function.

Intelligence showcases a character’s smarts. In some systems, this attribute may be listed as Reason, Mental or Education. Whatever it’s called, this attribute is the cornerstone to what a character knows, and how much they know. The higher the character’s intelligence, the more they know, and the more they can figure out.    

A character with an intelligence of 0 would be acting on instinct alone, and thus difficult to play as a part of a group. All a character’s skills, the ability to use language, their ability to think about future actions becomes nonexistent. But in some unique circumstances such a character might be playable.  Maybe the character by themselves has no intelligence such as an individual ant or bee in a colony, but the mass has intelligence because it makes decisions as a cohesive whole. The question is what happens when the lone soldier in such a situation gets cut off from the input of the others?  

Wisdom is an attribute which tells how easily fooled the character is, how perceptive they are, how well they inspect their work, and how well they can survive in various circumstances. This attribute is   sometimes called willpower in other systems is how    

A character’s race with a wisdom score of 0 would be incredibly naïve, believing anything that was told to them, no matter how ludicrous. They probably would not have any common sense. They might not be able to control their base impulses because they wouldn’t have the wisdom to do so. They would be extremely susceptible to magic, having no guards against such. The closest thing that comes to a race with a Wisdom score of 0 in current published works would be Dragonlance’s Kender.

Intelligence vs. Wisdom Zacharythefirst put the difference the following ways:

A character with a High Intelligence but Low Wisdom might be incredibly book smart, but continually makes poor decisions, is absent-minded in the extreme, and tends to miss "little picture" stuff in favor of "big picture" stuff. This is the incredibly learned wizard who basically needs a handler wherever he goes due to his eccentricity. One example might be Walter Bishop from the TV show Fringe, if that makes sense.

A character with Low Intelligence but High Wisdom might be considered a dullard by society's standards, but has some matter of insight, or might be very attuned to the smaller things in life. This person might be illiterate or might be an idiot savant, but they have a way of picking up on the simple, straightforward solutions that other people miss, perhaps because they're going for the "big picture" stuff.


Charisma can be looked at in several ways. One way might be a simple awareness of social situations, and the ability to manipulate them. Another might be linked to a person’s appearance. A third might be how tame and wild animals react to the character.

Depending which way of looking at charisma one uses, a character’s race with a score of 0 might be interpreted in a variety of ways. For instance a race might be totally socially blind and thus have either a severe case of Asperger’s syndrome or Autism. If this is the case, they might have a few moments of clarity and then they slip back into their own world.

If Charisma measures a race’s (true) appearance, a score of 0 would make anyone seeing then permanently insane. In cases like this, maybe the race has developed various ways of disguising their appearance. In the case of appearance it could be that the person is filthy, and doesn’t take care of their hygiene, has bad breath, missing teeth, messed-up greasy hair and soiled clothing.

On the other hand, if Charisma represents the way animals react to the character’s race, this can be played out in a number of ways. Perhaps the animals sense that there is something “unnatural” about the character. Maybe the character’s aurora disturbs them and it makes them uncomfortable. It’s also possible that the character was mean to animals in the past and animals sense that about them. Depending on the exact situation, the animals may seek to flee from the character, or attack.  

Instead of saying “no you can’t play a race with any of these deficiencies,” why not see how to make the fact these can add interest to your game?  

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Top 8 ways to Choose Your Game’s Playable Races



Top 8 ways to Choose Your Game’s Playable Races
By: Jesse C Cohoon

Fantasy races are a staple of roleplaying games. But just because you have a million races to choose from, doesn’t necessarily mean all of them are appropriate for your game. When deciding on which to allow (and say firmly, they can’t be played), consider the following ideas:

1)      Consider what world the game is to take place. Game worlds such as Faerûn, Krynn, Eberron, or your own are unique homebrew world each has its own personality, its own unique feel. Importing or introducing races from another world into a pre-generated world – or even your own world, if it is to be done at all, needs to be done carefully, deftly. 

One tactic to use to have a unique group of heroes brought together to a location is to have them be summoned there, and they can’t leave until their task is completed. Another tactic is to have some dark entity snatching them from wherever they’re adventuring to be transported to another world, and they must find their way back. A third way to bring them together is to have them all be survivors of some sort of disaster. In a BESM (Big Eyes, Small Mouth – anime) game I played once the players all were brought together from MegaCorp, which essentially “owned” the characters and told them what to do, because of the fact that they saved their lives.

2)      Consider the area’s geography, weather conditions, elevation, and depth. Ask yourself what races would be comfortable there. Elves, for instance, with their love of nature, trees and lush areas, would fare poorly in a completely desert area. Neither would Aarakocra do well in a campaign set completely underground nor would dwarves feel comfortable in a city in the clouds. While it might make for an interesting campaign, if you didn’t factor these types of things into the game, such combinations simply “don’t belong.”

3)      Consider the town’s size. A large metropolitan area, such as Waterdeep in Faerun, Sharn in Eberron or Sigil: the “city of doors” in a Planescape campaign are all likely to have more races going through them, then, let’s say a backwater down in the middle of nowhere. The more populous the city, the more likely that the race the player is wanting to play will have a reason for being there.

4)      Consider the town’s political climate. A dwarven town that is at war with a neighboring Giant tribe isn’t likely to take too kindly to a Giant player character. Neither would a forest full of elves at war with their neighboring Orcish village be happy about a half orc party member. Sometimes these types of situations can be fun to play, but they can quickly become tiresome after awhile. As a DM you have to ask yourself ‘Is the trouble that this type of a character would cause worth the trouble it would cause in the long run?”

5)      Consider the time frame. In most gaming worlds, the game is set in what amounts to the dark ages/ early renaissance period. Some gaming worlds are set in feudal Japan. Consider what would happen if the game is set in the early days of the races, how they might have developed to where they are. Also consider if the races are in the far off future: What races would have become extinct? If so which ones? What races would have survived? How would their survival change them as a race? How would their survival change the game world?   

6)      Consider the race’s scale compared to everyone else. A giant will not be able to fit into a halfling’s community. Neither will a human sized creature be able to fit into a badger’s hole without great difficulty. Depending on the creature’s size, they may have a very difficult time fighting in cramped (or too large) of quarters/ passageways.

7)      Consider the race’s mindset. Any race whose mindset is world domination, extreme xenophobia, or see other races as food such as beholders, Yuan-Ti, or orcs, among others – generally speaking isn’t a good choice for a player character, unless you have an “evil only” group.

In one blog/ article I read the DM allowed the players to play evil characters, allowing them to take over the world. Then he flipped the script with the next campaign was in the same gaming world with the group of heroes having to “take back” the world from the clutches of evil.     

8)      Consider the race’s powers / abilities. Allowing an over powered monster to join a party can be a recipe for disaster if handled improperly. For instance, how would you make sure that monsters would be a threat to the more powerful character, but at the same time, wouldn’t wipe out the lower-level characters? Even challenges such as traps would have to be modified so that they would be specifically more deadly for the more powerful character, yet no more deadly for the average character. 

Keep in mind with this advice that I’m not saying “in all these situations always say ‘no’ to players,” but these are simply things that need to be kept in mind when designing your game. Also remember that just because this advice used fantasy races, doesn’t mean it’s not applicable in science fiction. I could just as easily be talking about Humans, Vulcans, and Klingons in Star Trek or any of dozens of races in the Star Wars franchise. 
     
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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Top 7 ways to have Kickass Sidekicks

Top 7 ways to have Kickass Sidekicks

By: Jesse C Cohoon
 
Sidekicks are one of the staples of roleplaying games. These sidekicks can be as simple as a fighter’s followers, to the magic caster’s familiar, to something like the collectable monsters of Pokémon to the card spirit monsters in Yu-Gi-Oh and the like. Unfortunately, they tend to be rather bland, cookie cutter types of things that are just “there” for convenience, to do as they’re told, and fade into the background when not needed. Both as a game master and a roleplayer, I think a lot more can be teased out of these relationships, with just a bit more work, with a lot more reward for having done so. Here are the top 7 of ways to make kickass sidekicks.

1)      Give them a personality all of their own. Let them have a role in the party’s decisions. Let them disagree with the party’s plans, and be able to suggest their own that may or may not necessarily work. Have them be able to communicate on a regular basis outside of combat. Give them likes, and dislikes, as well as plots based around their character. If they should happen to die, based on their interactions and personality, the players should genuinely care about the loss.

2)      Give them complementary powers. If you have a fighter’s follower, allow them to tag team an enemy, so that each of their attacks are more effective, as well as the ability to guard each other’s backs. If you have a mage’s familiar, let the familiar’s very presence amplify their powers in some manner. You could even have certain spells be able to be cast through the familiar. When dealing with fighting monsters, if certain combinations are on the field, they can give bonuses to everyone else or get bonuses from other monsters.

3)      Give Them Unique Powers. The knowledge, skills, abilities, powers that the sidekick has should be uniquely theirs. Having a “carbon copy” of another character is somewhat useless, unless the character(s) are meant to be viewed as an inseparable pair, or are able to be more effective only when they fight together. These unique powers can be as simple as an improved ability that someone else has, where they were able to get more training in it, to a unique combination of skills to be able to do unique attacks with, to an ability so unique to them that it makes them shine in a particular situation.

4)      Give Them Unique Equipment. Having sidekicks with boring, out-of-the-book equipment is boring. It also shows that the person having the sidekick didn’t put enough thought into putting them together. Also, giving them unique equipment may help the party get past obstacles, defeat enemies, or further the plot. Who knows that random ring may be the key to unlocking the whole mystery.

5)      Give Them Unique Contacts. Just because the players know their sidekick, doesn’t necessarily mean that they know who their sidekick knows automatically, or gets a “free pass” to be able to connect with them without any problems. Their sidekick(s) should be willing to introduce their contacts to the players after some time knowing them. How the players interact with the sidekick’s contact(s) is on them, to make them into friends... or turn them into enemies.

6)      Give Them a Personal Connection To The Players. This is one tip that is most often overlooked. Perhaps their sidekick is a person/ animal/ monster whose life they saved. Other options are to have them be a childhood friend, a person they met in a disaster and stuck with them, or someone who they met while training who was impressed with them. Whatever the case, they should have a plot related reason for being there, one that is not easy to dismiss or break.   

7)      Give Them The Ability To Learn And Grow. Let them develop over time, developing in personality, gaining new equipment, learning new skills, powers, abilities, and meeting new contacts. Everything that they do. As they develop, grow, let them have a greater and greater part in the storyline.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Top 6 ways how to use character growth for your game



Top 6 ways how to use character growth for your game  
By: Jesse C Cohoon

Even though for the most part, DMs don’t really use character growth for game plot, it’s relatively easy, effective for game play, adds depth to the game, and helps with the suspension of disbelief. What is meant by character growth? Character growth gaining of skills, feats, increase of stats, spells, followers, etc.   

1)      Roleplay a “Zero level.” Before the game actually starts, take a session or two to play the characters before they meet up with the rest of the party. That way they can learn some of the ins and outs of their character before being with a group. Also, skills don’t develop overnight; they take time, training, and practice to do well. Maybe the session can cover several years of time showing how the character became as good as they are with the skill.

2)      Make them train. I know some DMs really enforce this rule, but IMHO, it should be a mandatory thing. How are you going to learn how to do something while in the middle of a dungeon unless you run into someone willing to train you there? But even so, the character can be practicing their new moves while the party is resting, in town, or even while captured and stripped of equipment (provided that there is enough room to do the maneuvers and they’re not chained to the wall or something.)

3)      Reward them for use of skills, feats, spells, stats, etc. Give characters who are fighting a lot of orcs bonuses for fighting such. The same thing goes for picking locks, casting spells, and using feats. But don’t limit the bonuses to “everyday use” of such. Reward behavior that uses their skills in unique ways, in different circumstances, and in ways that you wouldn’t have thought of to solve the situations they find themselves in.

4)      Use leveling for plot. For instance, when the party’s magic user gains a level, perhaps it becomes a quest to find a spell book to learn another spell. Maybe the druid’s or ranger’s animal followers/ companions got rescued by him when they were adventuring. Or perhaps the fighter’s follower was rescued by the players from a dungeon. You could arrange the campaign where the party’s ranger has a hate for orcs because something bad happened to their family or friends.

5)      Use equipment for plot. Instead of telling the players “you have a +1 sword” or whatever the particular bonuses are, think of how to give your player’s equipment a story as to what it is and how it got there. Perhaps as the game goes along, the equipment can grow with the players and gain abilities as well, and in your next campaign, have the same sword that had a history show up again.

6)      Allow for character customization. In games where characters can tend to be “cookie cutter” in their backgrounds, skills, their abilities, and equipment as they go up in levels – allow the players to mix things up a bit by adding interesting tweaks to their past, uses for standard skills, and abilities, as well as different equipment than standard. One good way of doing this is to look at the “splat books” and incorporate what’s appropriate for your campaign to change things up.