Designer Diary #4: RPG Character Creation

Designer-DiaryIn this post, I continue to discuss rpg concepts and what we decided to do for our roleplaying game, Cosmothea, and why. I don’t know about you, but Character Creation in roleplaying games has nearly always been a blast for me. I love coming up with back story, sorting out personality, goals, buying gear, etc. Just sitting there rolling dice is fun (though it can be problematic and even annoying as you roll a 3, a 5 and a 6 and realize you can’t play the character you wanted, while the guy or gal next to you is rolling a 15 and two 18’s, etc.).

Many optional rules have popped up over the years to combat this, but I’ve found most of them unappealing. Even so, rolling is fun. But even more fun—to me, at least— is the creative end. Designing the actual character, and so the dice aren’t really as important as I once thought. I can take ’em or leave ’em as long as I get to create! I mean, at least in some games, I could just sit there and create characters and skip playing (I love playing, mind you—just sayin’). Playing the characters is the icing on the cake! But I’m aware that some players just want to “get on with it” get into the meat of adventure. I totally get that. And there have been times where I as a GM or as a player get to a point where I’m like, “Let’s finish this already. The first hour was fun. Now I want to play! But I still have to pick my spells/buy gear.”

So, when I began developing Cosmothea 1.0, I bore in mind not everyone wants to spend an hour or three making characters. Even so, I couldn’t dodge the bullet and the earlier versions of Cosmothea took a good amount of time to “roll up” just like in most, if not all other games of the day. I made a few rules lite versions along the way that enabled uber fast character creation, but I like a bit more meat on my rules, so ultimately, I kept going back to the “regular” rules.

With Cosmothea 4.0 and now 5.0, I’ve been re-evaluating character creation and now offer both complex and fast-track character creation to meet most preferences (I hope). I’ve only had limited playtesting with the fast-track system, but it seems to work fine. I think I’ve hit the sweet spot, finally, with what we’re offering, and yeah, it’s still a blast to make a character.

One of the problems I’ve encountered in character creation in games is the whole abilities/attributes thing. Back in an early version of D&D (Ad&D 1st edition, I think), depending on what you rolled for your stats, you might be forced to play a fighter or thief and had to get really lucky to play a paladin or monk, much less the optional bard class. Getting psionics usually required cheating or a psionics-obsessed, uber friendly DM to let you squeak in the door, since almost nobody could roll good enough (it required percentile dice – rolling a natual 100 (minus from 1/2 a point—yes, 1/2, to around 3% if you had super high stats—something like that). Most wanted to roll lots of high numbers and were disappointed even before getting on their first adventure if they couldn’t roll exactly what they wanted. Getting high stats required lots of luck and often some fudging for many players, special rules, etc. Some of that nonsense they don’t do anymore, but rolling remains an ingredient. Some games don’t use rolling or stats and gamers still have fun. ‘Nuff said.

So, rolling for stats has been out of the game for decades now. That is, I have rolling in certain areas of the game (and I also have a diceless system for running the whole game, but that’s another topic). You can create exactly what you want and I think most players will appreciate that.

I didn’t want gamers spending precious time fussing over dice rolls and failing to roll what they want, so even the concept of stats has taken a back seat in Cosmothea. While it is still very beneficial to buy stats, you can actually play the game without them or only focus a little on them, saving the bulk of your points to help you in other ways, or to show you are smarter, more agile, stronger, etc. without fussing over stats. And to be clear, this isn’t about comparing D&D to Cosmothea or even bashing D&D. They are very different games. I just like to use D&D as an example because most people have played D&D, if they’ve played any rpg, so I figure most will understand.

And if enough gamers want to roll dice for stats, well, maybe I’ll include that as an option too, but the focus is off stats and instead focuses on other areas of character creation. I have had zero complaints on stats after all these years, so I think I’m probably safe. But we’ll do widespread playtesting when we get further along.

As for the rest of the character creation process, I created several paths to building a character, including the typical (create from scratch), modify existing archetypes to suit your flavor and even made a “Create as you Go” version where you can literally jot down a few of the more crucial details and then start playing, and fill in the details as you play. It has worked even better than I thought it would.

In Cosmothea 1.0-3.0 and now again in 5.0 I included a background system for added flavor and extra goodies related to your upbringing, family, past, etc. I dropped it in 4.0, but missed it and have restructured it. As with all of the creation systems present in the game, you can take it or leave it, but I think it helps players flesh out their ideas and offers them some neat extras. It does take a little longer, however, but it is just one of the systems.

I’ve also revised the gear system considerably since Cosmothea 3.0, enabling faster purchasing and easier recording, with a couple optional methods of tracking the lil bits like bullets, torches and arrows. The system needs widespread playtesting of course (if you’re making an rpg, you’ll want to playtest it to death before releasing it), but so far so good.

With nearly half a dozen creation systems covering a wide range of approaches from easy and fast to thorough and slightly more complex, yep, I’m thinking Cosmothea has hit the sweet spot. To be fair, there is a downside to this approach. I’m not trying to cover every angle, but I am covering several, and that means more development time, more space in the rulebook and a bit more money for editing, etc. That’s definitely something to consider. But knowing that gamers have very different interests, and seeing the great divide between complex games like HERO and GURPS, and simplistic games like Savage Worlds, I figure Cosmothea is right where I want it to be, so we’re staying the course!

My guess is we’ll be massaging the gear tracking rules a bit more and keep looking for ways to improve our character creation systems. That said, I’m always interested in hearing your preferences. So, just how important is . . .
• Rolling for stats (or even having stats) to you?
• Do you enjoy creating characters or would you rather dive into your first adventure as quickly as possible, whether your character is fleshed out or not?
• Do you usually, sometimes or rarely make a backstory or goals for your character?

I’d love to hear from you!

Next week I’ll tackle, um . . . the concept of levels or maybe races. Or something else. Topic suggestions and feedback in general is welcome, of course. Cheers!

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About Bob Whitely/QT Games

Welcome to QT Games! Mission Never publish junk or waste people's time. Publish only high-quality fiction and games. 'Nuff said. Company Overview QT Games LLC was created to publish blended-genre (fantasy blended with sci-fi, etc.) fiction, board, card and roleplaying games for a discerning gaming community. Unlike most small press, we have very strict standards: Only pro writing, pro editing and pro art. That means that if we can't get it right, we find someone who can. We pay well for what we don't do in-house. We don't cut corners on quality. This means we stand to make less money than other small publishers, but that's okay with us. We value your time and money, so we're willing to take the bullet. We've designed a large number of games and written a pile of stories. Now we're polishing some of them and getting them out the door. 'Bout time, we know. Good stuff ahead!
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