And a guest post from Editorial-0…
I’ve been considering a game design that reversed the normal method of character design and though it would be interesting to raise the issue and see what people though about it.
In general, games feature two broad ideals around character creation. First, many older games used quickly-defined characters with few distinct differences. For example, think early Dungeons and Dragons, where one character of a given class was extremely similar to any other member of that class. One Fighter was the same as any other, with the only mechanical differences being racial or attribute bonuses. Even those were often minor or irrelevant. The upside, of course, was that character creation was simple and you had a very clear role.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have character-focused games which offer a heap of customization. Think Shadowrun, where you could easily have an entire party with the same basic concept, but with every character having distinctly different attributes, cyberware or spells, skillsets, contacts, advantages and disadvantages, and so on. In short, personalization was a key feature. The downside is that you have to make numerous, complex choices from the start. And from then on could be locked into a single effective path, or perhaps you needed many sourcebooks to do what you wanted.
A concept I’ve been kicking around is to invert the pattern. In short, you’d pick a basic archetype at character creation – maybe not even that. Over time, you could buy more powers and special abilities and so forth. Further, as your character advanced you had the option of taking disadvantages. These naturally netted you extra points for cool stuff you wanted, but required increasing high levels of play to develop. Hence if you wanted to become a super-skilled combatant with the preternatural ability to dodge attacks, you had to save points or wait until a nasty flaw came available. Perhaps that Vow of Meditation was just what you needed. Villains, naturally, got access to very effective flaws, such as “Kills Own Minions For Fun” or “Takes Heroes Alive So They Can Be Placed in Deathtraps”.
Of course, the more flaws you take, the more vulnerable you become. People who know your weaknesses can and will exploit them. Hence characters who don’t take flaws, or take few of them, can act more freely. In either case, my preference would be to have moderately low soft caps on mechanical bonuses. In this case, most characters could be expected to reach the same significant milestones of health, damage-dealing, and so forth in a reasonably similar point in their careers. The reason is straightforward: huge gaps in power do make life hard for many GM’s and particularly inexperienced ones. Plus, it’s hard to argue that a moderate increase in flexibility is worth losing superhuman toughness or amazing magical power or whatever.
Overall, my preference would also be for a kind of system which allowed lots of specialized, custom attacks and powers, but which didn’t limit themes, effects, or tie layers to pre-generated combinations of abilities. Hence the emphasis would be on pushing players to build a combination of varied tools for different situations.
In this, I’d say it comes out looking a bit like Champions at the high end, but with a flavor more like Star Wars or Exalted, where the high-powered characters often have lots of penalties and restrictions that weaken them in ways for less powerful (but far freer) player characters to exploit. Every ability has strengths and weaknesses and the customizations on top of them (perhaps limited to a selection by your personal theme or whatever) defines what makes them *yours*.
In any case, I’m curious what people might think of the idea. Feel free to post responses or counter-suggestions, or tell me I’m an idiot.