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 Post subject: Character Creation for TRoS
PostPosted: Mon May 18, 2009 7:38 am 
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I have noticed that some players, even though they think they have “got” SAs, struggle with them and pick plainly wrong ones. As SAs are so very central to TRoS and drive the scenarios, I would like to talk about picking SAs, to offer some (unasked-for) advice and to hear what other counsel other people have to offer on that subject.

What I don’t want to do is to discuss exactly what SAs are supposed to be; this has been done amply in other threads. For the sake of this discussion, I think it is enough to say that SAs, with the exception of Destiny and Luck, are tied in closely with the fictional character’s personality, with his desires and ambitions.

And in this I think universally accepted and applied statement lies a great danger – it can easily be misunderstood as SAs being the fictional character’s cares, desires and ambitions, that they are a perfect mirror of his personality instead of reflecting only chosen aspects of his personality.

An SA reflects something a character cares about, abhors, desires or strives for.
Not everything a character cares about, abhors, desires or strives for is reflected by an SA.


The difference is a vital one, and with understanding it and choosing the SAs accordingly stands and falls their value as signposts about what topics a player would like to experience adventures about. From out of the totality of his fictional character’s cares, desires and ambitions, the player chooses those he wants to tell a story about, and he makes them into SAs. These issues need not be the most pressing or dominant aspects of the character’s personality – they just need to be aspects of his personality.

Think of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars as a role-playing character. Right at the beginning, he lives with his aunt and uncle, who have raised him like a son, and as he’s a good kid, he sure does love them – but this love is not a Passion SA for this character. It is not a story about filial love that is to be told with Luke Skywalker.

Or Sam Gamgee. Avoiding trouble and discomfort are certainly very high on the list of priorities for this character. Still, if he was a role-playing character, he would not have a Drive SA to these ends. It is not a story about staying at home that is to be told with this character, much as this character might like that.

Or Romeo (from and Juliet). He’s an early sixteenth century Italian – you can bet he’s Catholic as hell. Still, if he was a role-playing character, he would not have a corresponding Faith SA. His story is not one about issues of faith being challenged.

In TRoS, making up a character and his personality and then distilling the SAs from this personality will quickly bring you up against a wall. In this way, the SAs will tell the referee what kind of person the character is, but not about what the character’s player would like to have adventures about – and serving as a marker of this is one key aspect of SAs, maybe the most important one.

I have found that it can be better to reverse-engineer a character. First of all, think about what kind of stories you would like to experience with the character you are going to create: “I would like to play a guy out to avenge some great wrong done to him.” – “I want to play a guy who’s out to track down and free his abducted wife.” – “I want to play a guy who feels called upon to defend his faith."

Once you’ve got this, and no sooner, start statting out the character, devising a backstory for him, fleshing out his personality and choosing his SAs – and choosing them in such a way that each and every one does mirror his personality and support the story you want to experience with him. Again, not every strong element of his personality need be made into an SA, nor should it – only those that revolve around the issues you intend to address with that character.

In this context it bears recalling that the underlying premise of TRoS with its very deadly combat system is the question what it is worth killing and dying for. The system encourages players to avoid combats where none of their character’s SAs fire. That’s very different from the mainstream of role-playing games where characters stumble into adventures by being hired or forced or asked for aid and often risk their lives for no particularly compelling reason at all. In TRoS, characters are not supposed to sit on their porch and wait for adventure to stroll up and knock on their front door; a TRoS-worthy character is a character who’s got issues, he’s somebody who does not only want something but who will also get off his lazy ass and pursue what he wants – even if that means bleeding and letting blood.

Once you’ve realized that a TRoS-worthy character will not wait for adventure to approach him but has got issues he is going to address right from the outset you will also realize that you have to make the entire character revolve around these issues – and so do his SAs, all of them. In choosing SAs for the character, don't so much think about what your character's values and cares and desires are but instead decide what the issues you want him to tackle are going to be, and turn them into SAs. So:

An SA is a reflection of some part of what a character cares about, abhors, desires or strives for that the player wants to have a story about.

Make the SAs a reflection of the totality of what a character feels strongly about and you’re inviting disaster.

I’d very much like to hear what advice other members of this board can offer on how to choose SAs to create TRoS-worthy characters.

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 Post subject: Re: Character Creation for TRoS
PostPosted: Tue May 19, 2009 12:23 pm 
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I can only add that it's very difficult to add anything to what you've already said. :lol: I thought of bringing out my favourite The Unforgiven example, but you've covered the well-known-movie-example area as well. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Character Creation for TRoS
PostPosted: Thu May 21, 2009 8:56 am 
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higgins wrote:
I thought of bringing out my favourite The Unforgiven example, but you've covered the well-known-movie-example area as well. :)

Ah, yes, Unforgiven – great movie, maybe one of my all-time favourites, and a perfect example of a character-driven story, and thus an excellent model for SA-driven adventuring. It’s chock-full of clear-cut, yet utterly believable and compelling characters – the writer, the young would-be gunslinger, the hateful head-whore, and of course the ones played by Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood – and that’s exactly what TRoS-worthy characters need to be; clear-cut and focussed around their role in the story.

* * *

I think a few words should be said about the Destiny SA, especially about the kind that are about the character attaining or achieving something definite, like becoming a lord or killing a certain somebody.

Such Destinies can of course be very long-term; Conan’s well-known destiny to become king by his own hand is not realized for over twent years after he is first introduced to the reader as a youth. Destinies like that can work very well in stories, but they do not work well as SAs. The reason for this is that the Destiny SA has also a mechanical role to fulfill in character advancement – you get points for it when the character moves towards realizing his Destiny. This mechanism presupposes that the character is constantly moving towards his Destiny – maybe in small steps, but nonetheless rather constantly.

And that’s easily done with short- or mid-term Destinies, like for instance killing or finding somebody, but it’s hard with long-term ones. To return to the exaple of Conan’s destiny to become king: There are several instances in even the original stories where he could have achieved that, but where he does not act upon the opportunity. That’s entirely possible in fiction, but in TRoS, where the SAs are supposed to be about something the player wants for his character, not acting in accordance with the SAs should be avoided. It saps character development, goes against the character’s personality and confused the referee.

So when you’ve got a long-term Destiny in anything but a short campaign and don’t want to forgo acting upon it, the only two avenues open are to either showcase the Destiny only seldomly or to realize it only at a crawl. The first approach is a no-no – every single SA should feature in the game as often as somehow possible; if you don’t want it, why take it? So you’re left with the second approach of nearing the Destiny in constant, but very small steps.

Maybe you are different from me, but I think that’s highly unsatisfactory. If you, like me, want your character to achieve something, to make a difference in their world, having them crawl towards a resolution is like an endless cliffhanger that’s never resolved.

To avoid this, I’d recommend breaking down a long-term Destiny into smaller, intermediate ones. Changing SAs is cheap and easy, and does especially in the case of Destiny also not create problems of consistency in the portrayal of the character; furthermore, a referee should allow to change a resolved SAs free of any cost.

To return to Conan’s long-term SA of becoming king, if he were a character in TRoS this might be broken down into first “Become a leader of men” followed by “Attain a position of secular authority” and only then “Become king”.

Please do also note that assigning short-term Destinies does not automatically mean that the character’s destiny isn’t really the long-term one. In the above example, the current SA might be “Become a leader of men”, but that does not mean that the real destiny is not “Become king” – an oracle might well tell such a character that he is destined to one day sit a throne. As with the choice of SAs rooted in the character’s personality, which need not and should not be the totality of that character’s personality, it’s a matter of diferentiating between Destiny SA (what the player wants right now) and destiny (the maybe vague ultimate vision of the player for his character).

Avoid long-term Destiny SAs and you’ll find that the SA will figure more frequently and more decisively in your games.

Recapitulating I’d say that in creating a chracter and choosing SAs for him it’s vital to remember that SAs are a game mechanic. They flow from and mesh with the character’s personality, they are not a perfect reflection of it. The Drive SA is not what the character migh want most, but something he wants and the player wants to spotlight in the story; the Passion SA is not what the character feels most strongly about, but something he feels strongly about and the player wants to spotlight in the story; and the Destiny SA is better off with not being the ultimate destiny, but rather some immediate destiny.

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 Post subject: Re: Character Creation for TRoS
PostPosted: Thu May 21, 2009 11:16 am 
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I think part of the problem is that you have five SAs. Sometimes that just seems like too many, so that players often seem to be saying, "Er... oh, I dunno... I'll take Faith and Conscience" just to use up two of the slots.


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 Post subject: Re: Character Creation for TRoS
PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2009 2:40 am 
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When creating a character I start with a picture. I trawl Elfwood and Deviantart until I see something that inspires a tale. I then convert that image into a character sheet and create the SAs that I want to explore through my character.

Having the visual starting point I find very helpful. I think it also helps the others at the table. IRL, we may know someone's reputation but until we see them we don't say we've met them. I think having an image makes it easier for everyone to have a clear idea of a new character.

I will often start a character with three SAs. As I see it there is no reason really to specify five during the character creation process. I like to leave a couple of slots open so that I can immediately latch on to a plot arc that the referee introduces into a game, letting the refere know that I want to pursue that plot arc. It's also their for the other players, allowing me to align my focus more clearly with theirs if they give me a reson to do so.

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 Post subject: Re: Character Creation for TRoS
PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2009 6:28 am 
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Certic wrote:
I think part of the problem is that you have five SAs.

I think you’ve got a point there – I’ve often found it hard to come up with a full five SAs myself. What I usually do is to choose five, but to assign zero ponts to some of them at the beginning. I see these areas as something I think would be interesting bringing in the game, but maybe not right now. As they are currently at zero, they can’t be penalized from acting against them (SAs can’t become negative) and I am still able to change them any time I like – all the rules require for changing the focus of an SA is that it and one other SA are at zero.

In essence, that’s what Ian does, only more complicated:
Ian.Plumb wrote:
I will often start a character with three SAs. As I see it there is no reason really to specify five during the character creation process. I like to leave a couple of slots open so that I can immediately latch on to a plot arc that the referee introduces into a game, letting the refere know that I want to pursue that plot arc.

I think that Ian’s approach of not assigning some SAs at all is actually the better one; the only one who might take offense with it as compared to mine are the obsessive rules-lawyers.

Leaving one or two SA slots open at character creation sounds to me like excellent advice.

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 Post subject: Re: Character Creation for TRoS
PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2009 7:34 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
When creating a character I start with a picture. I trawl Elfwood and Deviantart until I see something that inspires a tale. I then convert that image into a character sheet and create the SAs that I want to explore through my character.

Having the visual starting point I find very helpful. I think it also helps the others at the table. IRL, we may know someone's reputation but until we see them we don't say we've met them. I think having an image makes it easier for everyone to have a clear idea of a new character.
This is how I do as well... And not just for the characters I play. When refereeing a game, having a character portrait is an absolute requirement for my players. I didn't have that rule for convention games at first, but now I have a pack of card sized printouts from which I let the players choose the portraits for their characters.In conventions I use a modification of Over the Edge system, so, it's really light and the Traits they write on the back of their card is really all they need to know game mechanically. And I let them keep their cards of course.

And where other people talk about "named NPCs" our group speaks of "NPCs with portraits" as of nearly every NPC with a level presence in the game has a portrait. As immersion is our goal, the more detail can be provided, the better. Here's an example of the family tree of my latest character. Okay, naturally, not every character has a family with such scope in our games, so, this is the largest kinship map yet... but we are dealing with a noble family which is gossiped about that their coat of arms doesn't really hold a wolf but a marten. So, though while this isn't typical as a family tree, the scope of the NPC portraits is perfectly normal there, though I rarely bother with the portraits of small children myself unless they make a considerable presence in the game. I have about 300 portraits in the NPC-folder of the game I run. Oh, and you can try and find my character from that image. :mrgreen:

As a referee, I also waive the limits on number of friends and allies the gamings system might have when creating a character. Player generated NPCs are work done for me and I see no sensible reason to restrict their creativity. Naturally, a portrait is again a requirement. :)

All non-TROS-specific stuff, but may be useful nonetheless.

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- Lord Petyr Baelish, A Game of Thrones


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