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Weaker starting characters

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  • Weaker starting characters

    Sorry if this was asked before, but my lurker google-fu powers aren't sharp today.

    I'll start a new game soon(ish) and I would like to start it at "level 0" so to speak. Starting characters straight from blue book character creation are great for most games, but this game I'm setting a different gimmick: Players will start as very common folk, everyday people not-quite at starting pc levels yet. Very "random npc" level types like hotdog seller, high school student, bum, housewife, and other "non-glorious" types.

    In the past we've discussed that starting characters sometimes can do a lot and seem better than the very generic everyday joe, so I used that as an excuse to propose "short everyday-mortals game". The game will eventually transition to a very surprising something else, but they won't know that until it happens. When the time comes they'll get that the "short everyday-mortals game" was in fact their prelude.

    So, rules-wise of course I know that I can just decrease starting points to whatever I think fits and it wouldn't matter. But I would like opinions, a book that has such rule, a homebrew from someone's sig, anything for me to compare notes against and not start from scratch. I tried searching similar topics here and found nothing, so I come to you guys for help.
    Last edited by DiBastet; 02-20-2018, 05:03 PM.

  • #2
    I don't think you should decrease the amount of dots. I always find Skill dots lacking, and that's even with our house rule of 11/7/7 spread. If you want regular folk it's better to just limit the maximum amount of dots characters are allowed to have in Skills (and possibly Attributes) to three. That can also lead to more well rounded characters because it forces the players to put Skill dots in various Skills, unlike limiting the amount of dots meaning the player has even less of an incentive to pick up several Skills rather than focusing on a few.

    Bloodline: The Stygians
    Ordo Dracul Mysteries: Mystery of Smoke, Revised Mystery of Živa
    Mage The Awakening: Spell Quick Reference (single page and landscape for computer screens)


    • #3
      I second that. By simply limiting the max starting rank of a skill, and maybe certain skills, you can most likely more easily emulate the "everyday joe" feel. What might also be interesting is disallowing them to take certain Merits like high Resources or high professional training, instead focusing on not-as-glorious-merits like Good Time Management for Students or workers. Of course, only if applicable to the character concept/chronicle


      • #4
        I'll throw in to turn it into a chorus of capping stats rather than reducing dots. Capping Attributes, Skills, and Merits are 3 at start makes it pretty hard to make anything that feels too above average, even if you get some very broadly capable characters (which is also good, you don't want everyone so weak they can't do stuff they're supposed to be good at).

        Another suggestion is something more meta that's a bit of a steal from WOD: Innocent. Give everyone a Persistent Condition like, "Average Joe," that grants any opposing NPC with equal to or higher dicepools for any opposed action 8-again. Or something else of that sort. The basic point is something along the lines a mechanical edge until they come into their own, and shed the Condition. This both lets there be a mechanical moment of "making it" when you finally get to drop it, as well as all the Condition Beats for being a good sport in the meantime.


        • #5
          As I said before me and my players often talked about this phenomenon. We came to the conclusion that for "typical" starting characters (the somewhat more "heroic" types like Mythos-investigator, haradass biker or ex-soldier, college professor, etc) character generation is ok. But for those games where I made it clear they would be even more "normal" average joe types, often times they would distribute dots where the concept demanded, usually toping it at 2, and then mention they had some leftover points. It was a very interesting and refreshing experience of course, specially because the typical player complains about lacking points to make his awesome character.

          steal from WOD: Innocent
          I took this suggestion as my excuse to finally buy a copy of innocents on dtrpg (Yeah I know. I just never had a reason to read it before). I'll use the 3 dot limit together with children's lower amount of skill dots and specialties to represent these average joes. The growing up rules while unecessary will certainly serve as inspiration for the time they "graduate" from average joe to above-average starting character.


          • #6
            More for teenage characters, but one of the things Rose Bailey once mentioned in a thread about making them was just not having Merits, considering what they represent.


            • #7
              I also have found players with more skill dots than makes sense for the characters.

              Genius templates: Super Science Mini-Template for Demon: the Descent

              Oracle the Endbringers: Time-Manipulator Fan-Splat


              • #8
                I'd probably start with a menu of options at work:
                * cap attributes at 3 dots and skills at 2 to mimic quite average folks (two dots in a skill is considered basic professional level).
                * Apply the "Average Joe" condition as one that removes 10-again from their rolls. This keeps the logic restricted to the character, not to those they interact with... no reason why Average Joe suddenly makes everyone around them masterful (8-again)!
                * No Merit dots, or limited Merits capped at 3 dots for things like Resources or Contacts.
                * Convert unused dots into XP.

                Shed the Average Joe condition by buying a skill at 3 dots, Attribute at 4 dots, Merit at 4 dots (or even 3) or a Supernatural Merit at any level. Since you, as Storyteller, have permissive control over what players spend XP on, you can gate clearing this hurdle to when it is appropriate for the story.

                Last edited by Khanwulf; 02-27-2018, 01:20 PM. Reason: Typo.


                • #9
                  To me the problem with axing Merits, is that there's a few Creation-only Merits, and plenty of "innate ability" Merits, and stuff that actually makes more sense for younger/weaker characters.

                  For example, it's not hard to see a teen that has Area of Expertise because they're really good at something very narrow, even if they haven't grown the broad mastery implied by regular dots in the Skill. Young people can have Striking Looks (even if that can lead to very uncomfortable places), or easily develop on Air of Menace if they grow up in the right circumstances. Then there's things like Giant or Small-Framed.

                  Another way to limit Merits is to increase prereqs or scale them. Like, "you can't have more dots in a single Social Merit than the lowest of your Resolve or Composure," to represent still struggling to find the balance in life needed to do things like hold down a job and spend thoughtfully to have extra cash, or manage a large group of social interactions, etc.


                  • #10
                    I agree. Merits should at least be judged on a case-by-case basis. Some makes sense that even weak characters can take at high dots. Especially the character creation only Merits.

                    Bloodline: The Stygians
                    Ordo Dracul Mysteries: Mystery of Smoke, Revised Mystery of Živa
                    Mage The Awakening: Spell Quick Reference (single page and landscape for computer screens)


                    • #11
                      I will third the Merit idea. I mean, some people were cute before a certain point but didn't get hot till they owned it. Maybe give people 5 merit points but allow them character creation merits as purchaseable until story wise it makes no sense.

                      I personally run innocents using attributes the same as normal characters, but capped at 3. Skills, I have 0, 1, or 2. Merits are case by case, but I use 5 points as I said. Don't allow specialties. Points were attributes 4-3-2, skills 7-4-3

                      Average joes would be similar. Attributes 1-3, skills maxed at 3 now, but specialties and merits are available.. just fewer dots available. Id use adult attributes (5-4-3) and skills 10-6-3... You could run a 1-2 attribute Paris Hilton with a handful of merits and skills. I'd allow Profession up to 3, and allow specialties, but nothing more.

                      Of course this prompts me to say...

                      Last edited by Cleverest of Things; 02-27-2018, 07:56 PM.


                      • #12
                        Merits are the thing that will make this work. Instead of reducing them, limit the list or require some specific ones to be bought.

                        I would do this:

                        - Limit Attributes to 3, with the 3rd dot costing twice at creation;
                        - Reduce 1 from each Attribute Category, so the average of all Attributes is 2;
                        - For skills take 1 out of each category, and then limit it to 2, with the 2nd costing twice;
                        - Put on a list the available Merits and limit ratings for things like Resources;
                        - Demand at least 3 dots spent on Merits based on Skills or Specializations;
                        - Take notes on every dot "consumed" in this way, for fairness. During play you can return either dots or XP to them at your discretion. It is good to highlight rapid growing at the start of troubles.

                        Now, some aspects of the game need consideration for this to work. They are valid at all tables, but need double check here. We can quickly get used to roll 6+ dice in our average games just with the dots in our sheets, and not even bothering to try something with less than 5 dice, unless it is really needed. We get used to rely mostly on the character sheet, reserving outside bonus to out of ordinary situations. Specially because we never know where the game will deliver our characters. Finally, most like to specialize to be really good at something, but still like to keep broad usage for some things, to not be caught unprepared.

                        Well, Average Jane isn't caught unprepared because she doesn't do out of the ordinary things. Most of the "challenges" of her life are things she won't roll for to begin with. If she does something more challenging, like repairing cars or operating hearts, she does so at extremely favorable conditions. She isn't expected to pull this on the field. Normal people living normal lives aren't masters on every aspect of their field. A skill level of 1 is more than passing knowledge. Science at 1 makes you able to read more technical articles and be able to converse with a specialist at every and all fields of natural sciences at once. Drive 1 means that you try some stunts with a truck, but also that a glance at the instructions are enough for you to try piloting a plane if the need arises. It isn't unrealistic, by the way, but it is broad, and it means more than most players think.

                        Specialties play an important role here. A typical professional isn't someone with 2 at the related skill. Is someone with +2 on the DICE POOL. Your typical artisan isn't someone that can make a car, a gun and a chair with the same ease, but someone that does ONE of those. It is a specialty. Merits can get it even higher without ever buying another skill dot, along with Specialty purchase. The same goes for equipment. Your typical professional isn't someone that prides on doing stuff empty handed, but someone that wants the best tools available. A medic works at a clinic or hospital, and even the hot-dog vendor wants to keep the stuff hot and good for the customers, good salsa, tools to manipulate the food, to bring everything to the vending spot, preferably all clean and good-looking to attract more customers. If the circumstances can significantly alter the outcome, those people will also take the most of it. Things like bad weather don't offer penalties because they are avoided completely, even if it means ceasing activity for a time, and circumstances that can provide bonuses are seek every time they are available.

                        Equipment, Merit, Circumstance, Specialty and help from others can augment a roll astoundingly, and people operating inside expected routines can rely on those things completely.

                        She/her pronouns


                        • #13
                          I'm going to reduce the amount of skill dots players get in future games, since I've never seen the current amount accurately reflect the characters my players have tried to make.

                          Genius templates: Super Science Mini-Template for Demon: the Descent

                          Oracle the Endbringers: Time-Manipulator Fan-Splat


                          • #14
                            I remember Werewolf The Forsaken having rules for human pack mates, with a very simplified template for them. Useful for NPCs in general imo, could be good for this