Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Character creation

I recently accepted an invitation to join another roleplaying group. They meet weekly and alternate between two GMs and two games- Living Legends and the Serenity Role Playing Game. I've just made characters for both systems, and they present an interesting contrast- I doubt the games could be more different.

Living Legends, by Jeff Dee (incidentally also the GM), is superhero game that says it follows in the footsteps of Villains and Vigilantes. I haven't played V&V, but Jeff wrote both, so I expect he knows whereof he speaks. The manual is oddly dry, containing almost nothing about the setting. True, "it's comic books!" and there is a little bit of setting online, and UNI Games does have more product coming out, but nonetheless I missed seeing some setting in the main book.

Physically, it's a Lulu book with black-and-white comic book art. System-wise, it's pretty crunchy. Jeff told me that he was a pretty hardcore Simulationist GM, and it shows in the game. Nicely, he has random character creation alongside a choose-your-own method, so the nefarious Dr. Random can always supply some needed inspiration in a pinch.

As a superhero game, I've only really got Palladium's Heroes Unlimited and GURPS Supers with which to compare, having never played Brave New World, Capes, Champions (does Fuzion count?), DC Heroes, Marvel Super Heroes, Mutants and Masterminds, or With Great Power. I like my character concept for Jeff's "Monstrous Heroes" game, so I slogged through character creation. Eventually I had to resort to a provided spreadsheet when I discovered that I had purchased everything incorrectly. Nothing wrong with nonrandom character creation.

Serenity, by Jamie Chambers (incidentally not the GM) working with Margaret Weis Studios, on the other hand, is based on the movie of the same name. (Insert Firefly rave here.) I've ranted previously about the poor quality of the production, but physically, the book is solid. Much like the original West End Games d6 Star Wars, the book is very pretty- hardcover, glossy pages, photos from the movie, etc. Serenity (the RPG) has a whole licensed property it can build from. On the one hand, you can just refer back to a scene in the movie or an episode, and chances are that players will know the deal. (I don't have to describe a Stormtrooper.) But on the other hand, players will demand all sorts of game details that the original creator just didn't spell out on the big screen. (So, okay, the Hulk and the Thing get into a fight. Who would win? Who's stronger?)

System-wise, it's pretty light. Players can make up many of their skills, and with a good concept, you can finish a character in less than fifteen minutes. The haphazard and graphically-heavy user-supported forums make mention of a great idea I intend to steal- the 3x3x3. Basically, each player creates nine NPCs for the GM- three Allies, three Contacts, three Enemies. As a player, I like the power and control over my character's story. As a GM, I appreciate delegating some GM duties, getting a better handle on what a player wants out of the game, not to mention new sticks and carrots. The Serenity system also makes use of Plot Points to allow players to gain narrative control and fudge die rolls.

So I've got a very crunchy simulationist indie supers game completely in the hands of its creator versus a medium light narrative big-name-but-still-small-press licensed property game in the hands of a fan. I game in interesting times, in the Chinese sense.

This article inspired this post. In a nutshell, the article promotes random character creation as a means to better roleplaying. Worth reading. Contrariwise, Ron Edwards' article on Fantasy Heartbreakers notes that "in old D&D, rolling 3d6, in order, to determine one's one's attributes was a near-guarantee of a really shitty character."

Time to percolate. I hope you do the same.

1 comment:

Rotten Deadite said...

On one hand, rolling stats gives you a fairly interesting challenge: deal with what you've got.

On the other hand, fuck that.

I like what we've got in, uh, I forget when we did this but you roll up a pool and distribute. I like that better.