Thoughts about character creation and other such things...

by Mayhem
1299692338|%e %b %Y, %H:%M %Z|agohover (updated 1299693316|%e %b %Y, %H:%M %Z|agohover) | 1 comment(s)

I'll warn you right now: Lack of sleep makes me rambly… and I'm definitely lacking sleep. That said…

I've been thinking about a bunch of different things related to character creation. Part of this stems out of questions I've received, part of this stems out of general thoughts I've been having about the subject, and part of this stems out of my desire to nail down a CharGen policy.

I'm leaning more and more toward making admittance into this game by-invitation-only. For all that that restricts the immediate growth of the player-base, it brings with it other advantages — not the least of which is considerable latitude in character creation and story development because the players brought in are generally of a higher calibre and able to self-regulate.

The observation was made that many of the current characters on the grid have considerable resources at their command — the Reese boys have their father's corporation, the Vampires have either the wealth they've amassed through shrewd business dealings over the centuries or the resources of their faction (which, really, is wealth amassed through shrewd business dealings over the centuries — go figure), and the Foundation psychics appear to have remarkably deep expense accounts. Is this the preference, I was asked. Are we building the Dallas of RPGs?

No. It's neither the preference nor are we trying to build Dallas. It's more that a lot of the characters that were first laid down on the grid weren't so much meant to be run-of-the-mill characters as they were meant to serve as Feature Characters, those who control the major organizations and lead extensive factions. Thus:

  • Gideon Reese and Rhys Owens do have the wealth of their father's Dynasty behind them, because they were created to help shape the main Sorcerers' faction. If either leave the Dynasty — however unlikely that may be — he takes with him only his personal possessions, savings (though that's probably substantial, it's not unlimited), and business acumen. And if the split from Dear Old Dad is acrimonious enough… he may not end up with much more than the clothes on his back and his business acumen. You never know.
  • Erik von Richter was created to be the Vampiric Master of the City and lead (more as an NPC than a PC, truthfully) the Vampire faction. Thus, he has the resources necessary to allow him to do that. Aidan's resources, on the other hand, are there purely because the player wanted them and I didn't see any cause to deny it. (That's a perk of getting in on the ground floor of the game, before the cast list is inundated with the rich and influential.)
  • Both Jacintha and Remy were created to help ICly guide the Foundation. Each make good money due to the nature of their jobs, but their personal resources aren't unlimited. They get perks any psychic working and living with the Foundation can get — primarily suitable housing and transportation (both of which are commensurate to their position within the Foundation). It's K. V. Alexander who's actually got the massive resources — and he's an NPC created to be a figurehead more than anything else.

The vast majority of other characters on the grid have fairly average resources according to their day-jobs. They include small business owners, doctors and professionals, store clerks and couriers, artists and tradesmen. Most of them are comfortable enough not to have to worry explicitly about how they'll pay rent, though there are a handful of them — mostly the younger ones, to be sure — who live a little more hand-to-mouth than the others. Each of them are strong characters (or certainly have the potential to be strong characters), and that has more to do with who they are than the size of their pay cheques.

So, no. It's not the preference that characters be particularly well-off. But neither is it the preference that they not be well-off.

I'll be honest, at this stage in the development of game, I don't really care if characters come in with higher-than-average resources available to them. In the first place, it's still early enough that imbalances of that nature can be fixed by limiting those sorts of concepts in the future. But the heart of the matter is this:

I don't believe an excess or dearth of resources should get in the way of a good story — and thus, a good character. Money can't solve every problem, though, okay, lack of money can sure create them. But, I like to think the world we're building here is big enough and varied enough that there's room for all sorts of characters — rich, poor, or otherwise — facing all sorts of challenges. I believe there's room for all sorts of different stories to be told. Some of those stories require characters to have a certain level of resources (high or low) or specific connections (regardless of income) in order to participate. Others are open to whomever chooses to get involved.

The nice thing about the development stage we're currently in — the build/alpha-testing stage — is that the game is more or less private. The only people getting in are those that are invited. Regardless of whether or not we open our doors to the great unwashed later, right now, things are pretty much in-house. This means we can be a lot more flexible about character concepts.

Some things are limited, right from the get-go. Things like the scope of supernatural abilities need to conform to what will eventually be hard in-CG limits. This includes things such as "no dual race characters" (e.g. a psychic witch or half-demon necromancer) and "no min-maxing". However, I don't really mind approving characters with high power potential.

Now, this isn't an open invitation for people to start clamouring for their own UberTalent. Not everyone on grid can be "Teh_Moast_Powerful_Telepath_Evar!", "Super Witch!", or "Teh_Big_Bad_Wulfman". Not only would it be boring, if they were, but there's something to be said for the challenge of playing a mid-level talent. After all, realistically, most people would fall into the mid-level category. (That's why it's called average, after all.)

But, think about it: Even a low-level talent is considered freakin' awesome by people without talent.

Too, there's also the reality that, A) the world we're building is very cinematic, even epic, in scope. This isn't the mundane world. It's a world with monsters and terrors that clash with each other on a fairly regular basis. Survival of the fittest is a way of life for many of them. But, B) in our minds as players, none of our characters are truly average. There's always something special or outstanding about them. As with monetary resources, character should be the defining factor, not power level. Does it make sense for this character to have this much power? Do they need it, for some reason?

In order to be Master of the City, von Richter needs to be a helluva powerful Vampire. Otherwise, he'd never ascend to that position. If he's not powerful, he'd damn well better be highly influential and really clever. Otherwise, he'll never hang on to his position. The nature of the character requires both.

On the other hand, though he is reasonably powerful, Aidan Boyle doesn't necessarily need to be so. He's not Master of the City. He may never be Master of the City — though you never know where the story may go. But, it suits him well enough as a rich playboy/restaurateur. And, frankly, again, it's early enough in the game and in the story, that I don't see a reason to deny him his power. In fact, seeing how his player (who is not a staffer) has been so very skilful at limiting how he uses his power, in order to keep the story interesting, I have no qualms whatsoever in letting him have it.

What's more, circumstances can and do change over the course of a story. A character that was once powerful may fall from grace. A character that was once poor may gain wealth. A character that appeared to be quite weak in the beginning, may prove to be a whole lot more powerful by the end. A rich bastard may lose it all and end up in a homeless shelter.

Story and character, both, are fluid things. And when you know that your players are perfectly capable of controlling themselves and their characters sufficiently to maintain balance without you having to step in and nerf everything… well, lemme tell you, it's a wonderful thing.

So, really, I'm not willing to sweat the small stuff. Not in a closed-game environment. If or when we open up to the general public, then I'll worry more about twink-proofing. Until then…

I'll just say this:

I love the mature, competent players we've got and the stories we have to tell. The more cinematic, the better.


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