I’ve been working on the character creation text for Mythender lately, as my editor (the redoubtable Amanda Valentine, managing editor on The Dresden Files RPG) has given me the gift every writer needs: a deadline. So, I find myself going back through my old revisions and notes on the character creation, and have new opinions on the subject on how a text can best serve it.
Consider this post a “Dear self, here’s a reminder how to not fuck up.” Perhaps it will also be of use to some of y’all.
A good character creation text should consider a number of things (in no special order):
- Inspire the players with thoughts of characters
- Instruct players on how to make a character
- Be usable as a reference while in the middle of the process
- Help the GM/facilitator with his role in character creation
So, that said, and this is freakin’ key: I don’t have to get all of these right in the first draft. That’s been one source of paralysis lately, though now that I’ve realized that I’ve been able to move on.
Let’s specifically talk about the first bit, though, the “inspire” point. That is freakin’ key, more so the more specific your setting or your system is…like, say, a game where you’re a walking, talking force of nature that is still trying to remain human. If you don’t frontload with some ways of inspiring character, people may either have a hard time locking on to an idea or end up being inspired by something external to the game, thus making a character concept that doesn’t really work with your conceit. (A few dozen playtests of Mythender end up strongly corroborating this idea for me.)
Text I had last year said:
Question 1: What is your Heroic Concept?
Heroic Concepts take the form of:
[Adjective] [Noun]…[Prepositional Phrase]
These quickly generate ideas that, with the other four questions, kick-start ideas for the character. Examples:
- Determined Baroness…with a dying people
- Battle-scarred Knight…in need of a cause
- Scorned Scion…with a need to prove himself
- Wrathful Sea Captain…under pressure from his love
Pro tip: “Prepositional Phrase” is a good time to introduce a twist to the character concept, like “Villainous Prince…with a broken heart.” Alternatively, if you have a killer concept that doesn’t fit in that format, go with your concept and forget the format.
The flaw: wasn’t inspirational enough. Yes, it helped form an idea into something usable at the table, but did shit for coming up with that idea. So, I’ve thrown out this rubric for a new scheme. Character creation starts by picking two things: an Archetype and an Identity. Each thing is a general idea with some focusing questions, and only from there do we get into further character stuff. Here’s a (rather unedited) taste:
Mythenders have many different ways of achieving theirs goals, but each prefers a particular way of dealing with Mythic Norden. We call these Archetypes. Here are the six most seen in Mythenders:
These Mythenders go by many names: swordsman, knight, master of arms, duelist, barbarian, even the common “warrior.” No matter the name, these men and women share certain traits—they all share a willingness (though not always the desire) to battle. They all prize skill over mere steel. Of all Mythender, it is the warrior that truly understands that they are the weapon, no what is in their hands.
- Why did you become a warrior?
- What skill do you value the most?
Some crusaders champion a god. Others a king, a love, an ideal. But as much as crusaders struggle against one another, they have one thing in common: they do not wield sword or axe. They wield belief. Their passions are as sharp as any blade, strike as true as any arrow. No Mythender is more willing to accept his fate of falling than the crusader. If death or the loss of his soul is the price to pay for his ideal, so be it.
- What happened to turn you into a crusader?
- What do you believe in so strongly?
[Four more Archetypes are listed]
Fate takes mortals from all walks of life and turns them into Mythenders. There is no single background, single Identity, that they share. Still, some are more common than others.
Of those chosen by fate, one could argue that the children who become Mythenders are the most tragic. With their innocence sundered, they make for fierce fighters—untempered by age or wisdom. But it takes more than a simple tragedy to turn a boy or girl into such a being. Seeing…no, enduring…the true cruelty of man, of armies, of nature, of Mythic Norden, that is how a child Mythender is made.
- What cruelties have you endured?
- What fuels your limitless rage?
Everyone loses something they care dearly about. Some lose much, much more than others. Some are unable to move on. And a very few are shown by fate how they can get back what they’ve lost. Those who’ve lost and become Mythenders have lost something so dear, so personal. They’ve lost in a way that’s broken them, that has them killing gods and risking their very souls to recover. The reason they do this to themselves goes beyond lost, though. They have grief and they have guilt, two forces as powerful as Norden itself.
- What did you lose?
- Why didn’t you prevent this loss?
- How has losing this changed you?
[Four more Identities are listed]
The bit of testing with this has told me that this is how I should be doing character creation, at least for this game: a number of choices that constrain (to focus characters to what a Mythender is, as it’s not just any fantasy hero), to inspire (as reading one of these count help spark a character idea), and to guide (with the questions that each section has to further character creation, Evil Hat-style). Of course, this is just one piece–albeit an important piece–of character creation, but it’s the one that’s taken me two years to finally understand.
Anyway, that’s it for now. We’ll see if I’m onto something or if I’m totally off my ass.
Footnote: In a bit of parallel thought, some people talk about character concept vs. creation on a Story-Games post.