As I’ve been putting together the characters for my upcoming Nationals game I’ve also been thinking about how to present the information to the players, especially given I expect most (if not all) of them to be new to Demon Hunters. In doing so I’ve tried to break down the sheets into segments, grouping together information based on their importance. The first page is a full scale image of the character, which will be attached to the front of the folder presented to the players. Second is the main character stats – Attributes and skills, separated by a smaller version of the character portrait. This page is the one I expect players to need to reference the most, while inclusion of the portrait allows them to keep that mental image in their head.
Third, the bio. This page is designed to provide the personality of the character, through use of a short bio in addition to their advantages and disadvantages. For Doyl and Blayze an additional sheet details their primary spells (5 each). Finally is the equipment and notes sheet, for you never know what extra equipment the players may wish to acquire during the course of the adventure. While they still need some work I’m fairly happy with the basic layout at the moment, the main aspect that still needs to be added is the wound / stun track and a system cheat sheet. The current draft template for Doyl can be access through the below link:
Character Sheet: Doyl Levett
One of the posts over at the Happy Jacks RPG Forum linked to a rather amazing website recently, the Pulp-O-Mizer, a web based generator of custom covers for pulp style magazines. I gave it a quick spin and am definitely impressed with it, if I was running a pulp style game (probably in Savage Worlds) then I’d be sorely tempted to use it on a regular basis. I could see it being particularly useful to tempt players with at the start of an adventure, or even to try and sell a campaign to a group of players. Either way it’s well worth a look, below is what I slung together in a few minutes for my Demon Hunters game though I doubt I’ll actually use it when it comes to the Nationals.
One of the components of my Nationals planning this year has been to commission a series of character portraits of the characters for my Demon Hunters game. While this has an obvious cost attached to it I felt that the characters for the game were unusual and wacky enough that the players would greatly benefit from the visuals. One of the PCs is, after all, a mystically animated plastic Christmas tree that also happens to be a ninja.
Today I received the draft image for the first character, Doyl the coffee mage. Being honest it was the character I was most worried about, not because he’s a difficult character to draw but because he is my PC on the few occasions I get to play Demon Hunters. Luckily for me the sketch has come out brilliantly, capturing the concept of Doyl perfectly. I’ll probably post up the rest of the characters once I get them but for now here’s Doyl:
This is my initial character concept for my first L5R character, Doji Okimoto, a Crane bushi who has lived his life as a political hostage of the Lion clan. While he was still an infant Doji Nanako, Okimoto’s paternal grandmother and a Doji courtier was involved in negotiations between the Crane and Lion clans when she misjudged the temperament of the Lion representative. The resulting fallout led to a series of skirmishes between the clans, which ended with Nanako committing seppuku and her family being held by the Lion clan as living collateral. While the Doji family are typically a social / political family being raised within Lion territory has impacted significantly upon Okimoto’s world view, leaving him conflicted as to the nature of bushido and possessing many Lion values which conflict with his Crane heritage.
Air ring: 3, Awareness: 3, Reflexes: 3
Earth ring: 2, Willpower: 2,Stamina: 2
Fire ring: 2, Intelligence: 2, Agility: 3
Water ring: 2,Perception: 2, Strength: 3
Void ring: 2
Family: Doji (+1 awareness)
School: Matsu Berserker School (Lion)
School Benefit: +1 strength
School Skills: Battle, Jiujutsu, Kenjutsu (Katana), Kyujutsu, Lore: History, Polearms, Defence
Honor: 6.5 though I want to reduce this to 4.5 to fit with the hostage situation
Outfit: Light armour, sturdy clothing, daisho, naginata, travelling pack, 5 koku
Rank 1 technique: The Lion’s Roar. Add your honour rank to all damage rolls. when in full attack stance you may move an additional 5ft in addition to the bonus from the stance
Different school 5
Bad Fortune: Lingering misfortune 3
Doubt: Iaijutsu 4
Kenjutsu (Katana) 1
Polearms (Naginata) 3*
Lore: History 1
Artisan (drawing) 1
Tea ceremony 1
Points left: 2
I’ve a handful of games at conventions in the last few years and during that time I’ve slowly built up a set of guidelines that I attempt to follow when designing the player characters. What I’ve never done though is sit down and formalise that list, so I thought I’d do it here to aid in prepping for Nationals 2013.
- Character gender should be optional: I’ve been lucky during my gaming career to have avoided the stereotyped all male groups so having a mix of male and female characters is something I’ve come to expect. A lot of convention games achieve this by having a simple mix of male and female characters. The problem I have with this approach is that it still limits player choice, as the gender is then automatically associated with that particular skill set. Getting around this is simple, each character sheet has two names, one male and one female from which the player can then choose.
- Each character should have a unique specialisation: This is the guideline most commonly followed by GMs. Simply put each character should have a unique specialisation around which their abilities and skills are centred and which should come up during the game. This provides the opportunity for every character to shine, keeping the player involved and interested.
- Characters should have personality and background: During a convention game players are coming in blind so having a written background for each PC provides an immediate jumping point as to how to play that character. This is particularly important in games such as Cortex and Savage Worlds where playing to the background / personality defined through their advantages and disadvantages can have mechanical effects (such as earning plot points / bennies).
- The group should have a clear reason to be working together: Whether they’ve worked together in the past or are all breaking out of the same prison the PCs should have a clear reason as to why they’re together and more importantly why they would stay together for the duration of the adventure.
- Characters should be balanced: This is partially a personal ‘how I run’ aspect but is also an important factor to take into consideration when choosing advantages / disadvantages, feats, spells etc. Essentially this boils down to each character having an equal role to play within the adventure, with no one character being able to mechanically dominate the game. This is particularly important when considering abilities designed for campaign play. The Vampire advantage in Demon Hunters is a prime example of this. This advantage provides significant bonuses to strength, agility and toughness which are balanced out by the high chance of the character loosing control of their hunger and turning evil. In a campaign this ends up working out as the GM can frequently tempt the PC by placing them in situations where their willpower is challenged. A convention game, however, is a different story. Either the hunger is ignored during the game, leaving the vampire overpowered compared to the rest of the party or the temptation is introduced, risking the PC turning on the rest of the group part way through the session (likely ending in multiple PC deaths).
- Everybody should have combat options: This is going to be dependent upon the system but as a general rule every PC should have something they can be effective at during combat. A player with nothing to do during combat is likely to become disengaged and bored, each time this happens it will be harder to get them back on board once you drop out of combat. An important note here is that I don’t necessarily mean attack options, just an ability or skill that allows them to act and affect the flow of the action.
I’ll probably add to this list at a later date and as I become more experienced with convention games but I think the above is a good starting point to work from.
So after a year with minimal gaming I may have finally found a semi regular game and all I had to do was look to the US for it (well for a GM, I know at least one of the other people who has expressed interest is in Europe). I’ve never played Legend of the Five Rings before but have had my interest piqued by the current Happyjacks RPG Actual Play where both the GM and players are learning the system and setting as they play. Given we’ll be playing online I went ahead and picked up the core rulebook.
First impressions, well simply put it’s gorgeous. The book is definitely of a high quality, well laid out and with great artwork throughout that easily evokes the setting of the game. Even the smaller border artwork at the head and foot of many pages manages to conjure a feudal Japanese feel through the use of traditional styles (the work of Katsushika Hokusai being a prime example). I’ve not managed to read through much of the book yet but the sections I have all appear to be well written and, more importantly, easy to read (in sharp contrast to the Dresden Files RPG which is one hell of a slog).
Next step is to get a grip on character creation and generate my first samurai, having had a look through the advantages and disadvantages I’ve already got a few ideas bouncing around that I’ll try and put together over the weekend.
The UK Student Nationals is an annual convention which brings together university gaming societies from across the country for a weekend of RPGs, board games, CCGs, wargames and LARPs in a semi-competitive manner. Players in the RPG categories play in two games, one on the Saturday before switching to a new game on the Sunday while the GMs (such as myself) run the same game over the two days. Last year I ran Corporation, a post-cyberpunk / sci-fi game for which I wrote an investigative murder mystery entitled the Morpheus Protocol, which is available in the Happyjacks Two Sides: One Epic Collection (see here for my post about that).
Nationals 2013 is the 15th – 17th March and once again I’ll be running rather than playing. Rather than stick to sci-fi however I’ll be running in the humour category, for which only one game could suffice. Demon Hunters, a comedy horror / urban fantasy game from the minds of Dead Gentlemen Productions. As I want the game to be as good as possible I’m already well into the planning for the game, which I’m aiming to chronicle in this series of posts. I’m breaking this down into three areas:
- Scenario preparation
- Character generation
- Visual presentation
All of these are of course tightly woven together, especially the scenario and characters which need to be suitable for one another or else the game can easily stall due to a lack of appropriate skills / abilities. As part of this I’ve already run an initial playtest (post on that is to come) and aim to run at least one more before the Nationals itself.
It is the visual presentation, however, that I expect to spend a disproportionate amount of time on. While I want the game to shine on all levels the visual feel to the game is the aspect I am weakest at. At this point in my GMing career I have plenty of experience in planning adventures and writing characters, but not so much in making it look good. Inspired by posts made by Kimi (see here and here), one of the hosts of the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast, my aim is to create a presentation which grabs the players from the moment they sit down at the table. While I’m still working on exactly how to do that I’ve already started on the first step, commissioning a series of character portraits from a friend who is a professional artist, which I’ll post up here as I receive them.
So with a little over two months to go I’ve got a lot still to do but at least I already have a game which could be run without any further prep. Sure it would be rough at the edges but I’ve got time to make it shine. Can’t be too hard, can it?