Thursday, December 20, 2018

Character Generation for Alnwich

I realized recently that I have glossed over an assumption now for some time regarding my Starfall setting - power level. So today, I'll talk a little bit about the power level I intend to start players at when I eventually run Starfall.

Starfall, as a setting, can handle virtually any power level. There are battles to be fought against bandits and against demon princes, so there's plenty of challenge to go around. Alnwich, however, is being designed with a specific starting power level in mind - 125 points, with [-50] points in disadvantages. I made this decision early on because I knew it would affect a lot of things that followed.

Why 125?

I hemmed and hawed over power level and character creation quite a bit at first. Dungeon Fantasy assumes a starting power level of 250 points, and that feels roughly like being 10th level in Dungeons and Dragons. In short, it's powerful. Very powerful. Not mythic, but well on its way there.

Now I'm all about bringing the awesome, but some of my favorite gameplay in D&D was in the 3rd to 5th level range. More than that, I love seeing how PCs grow and morph organically over their careers. There's something flat about a PC built on 500 points as compared to one that started at 100 points and earned 400 more. As a player, I think there is something satisfying about playing a PC that long and growing him to that level, too. This informed my initial decision to do a Zero-to-Hero game.

Now that we've downselected standard DF starting point values, it falls to decide just how many points to begin with. Basic Set suggests that a good starting point for beginning adventurers is 100 points. I've played such games, and it works. I've also played in 150-point games, where it feels like you're getting your feet under you, but you're still far from godly. I'd call this feeling like about 3rd level. And it works too.

Unfortunately, both of these point values - 100 and 150 points - have one critical issue for me as a GM: neither have premade templates in their point value range! And let me assure you all that making a good template from scratch takes a lot of time and work. So that's a big strike for me. Making the dungeon is already taking all of my time. Thankfully, there's a happy middle ground where there are already templates: 125 points.

DF 15 - Henchmen, one of my favorite DF books, is full of 125-point templates that span all of the original roles and niches present in the previous 14 DF books. No work necessary. So it wasn't hard to decide to pick 125 points as the level I'd be starting people at.

Character Generation
This just left one more detail: exactly how will character generation work? Well I'll tell you...

All PCs may have no more than
  • 125 points total
  • -50 in disadvantages and reduced attributes and secondary characteristics
  • -5 in quirks
The latter two points have a caveat: if you want to take more disadvantages or quirks than this, I am cool with that, but you don't get extra points for them. I'm not going to rain on your concept, but you're electing to disadvantage yourself by doing this.

The following disadvantages do not count against your disadvantage limit
  • Illiteracy [-3]
  • Sense of Duty (Adventuring Companions) [-5]
Furthermore, starting details include
  • Everyone is Human. This is bold and italicized because it is a feature of the setting and nonnegotiable.
  • Everyone starts with a base of $1,000. This is modified for Wealth.
  • Everyone knows each other prior to the game starting.
  • No one has been to Alnwich for years, if at all prior to game start.
  • Everyone is arriving at Alnwich together at the same time.
The lattermost three of these are so the players can get right down to the slaying and looting.

With all of that said, individual players have the option to make their PCs from scratch or to use templates. I won't be imposing penalties on people who make their own PCs, but they will need to work with me so their creations gel with both the setting and the game assumptions. All PCs will have to be submitted for final approval prior to play. This is mostly so I can get a feel for what I'm getting into, but also to spot any potential problems early.

Multiple PC Sheets

I also strongly recommend all players to have more than one PC sheet preapproved when arriving at the gaming table. The reasons for this are twofold.

First, this dungeon isn't wimpy and I'm not fudging dice. If your PC dies, he dies, and if you don't have a backup, you get to go off in a corner and start making a new PC while everyone else plays. That's not fun, so bring at least one spare. We can write your new guy into the party easily enough.

Second, if you show up with a stack of backup PCs, you already know the dungeon is dangerous. Heck, getting to the dungeon is dangerous. You'll be more careful, and you won't be as upset when your PC does die. Because it is a matter of when - not if.

Evolving Point Levels

I expect people to "level up" quickly at first, gaining an average of 5 character points per session very reliably early on. This will peter off eventually as point totals increase and more loot is required to get more points. I don't mind if I eventually end up with PCs in the 500+ point range, but we need to grow into that.

This will beg the question: What about new PCs? There are a few ways to handle this, and it will ultimately come down to a discussion with the players. We could start new PCs at
  1. 125 points always and forever
  2. the lowest number of points in the group
  3. the average of 125 points and the lowest number of points in the group
  4. the average points in the group
  5. the lower the least points in the group and 250 points
  6. something I haven't even thought of yet (suggestions welcome! leave them in the comments)
Of these, #4 just feels wrong because it will shaft, on average assuming a normal distribution, half of the players with living PCs. No thank you. All of the others have merits, especially #6.

In Summary

Alnwich is being developed around an assumed starting point total of 125 points. This has mostly manifested in on this blog in deity write-ups, where notes for creating clerics and holy warriors are based on 125-point Henchmen templates. It is also present behind the scenes, but not to a tremendous degree. I'm not pulling punches with the dungeon, and if PCs drop like flies, that's part of the point. It's meant to be an oldschool dungeon where death is always right around the corner.

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