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Survival RPG devlog 3: Characters

The third entry in this devlog took a bit longer than expected. Not only I had to test some ideas when it comes to the characters, but real life got in the way of doing so. This is still a work in progress, especially I am still looking for better words for some of the terms in game. As it stands now, Characters have few traits (+equipment), Endurance (with skills) and goals. While the first two aspects are pretty set in stone, different aspects to goals are being tested. So let's see what makes a character:

Traits:

Traits are similar to Fate's aspects or even Risus's Cliches. They are either a word of a short phrase describing some aspect of the character. The aim of the game is to make the players rely more on their equipment and their endurance than their traits, so each character will only have few of them.

Four seems to work pretty well for traits. It is low enough number for players to come up with with interesting descriptors for their characters. The most important trait connects to the character's background. It answers the prompt: "I used to be...". This roots characters in the setting. Maybe your character was a surgeon, a taxi driver or an architect. Each of those add flavor to the character but also can be used to add a die to the test.

You get two more free traits, and one fault (or drawback or hindrance). This is a similar setup to Fate and even FU, and it seems to work well. There is no need to fix what isn't broken.

I quite like the idea of creating or describing a character with a sentence, like in Numenera. It would work well with the theme of the game. Unfortunately, apart from "I used to be [blank]" I don't have anything that would enclose all traits in a single sentence. That is something that I have put on the back burner for now.

While you only get four traits permanently attached to your character, you get access to other, more temporary traits. One of them comes from wounds. Each type of physical or emotional stress  will take its toll. Wounds will only give you a negative dice. To get more positive dice, you need equipment. If you try to intimidate someone, it is much easier if you are aiming a gun at them. I will go into more depth about equipment in the next devlog, for now, just know that you can use equipment to add dice to your test, or skip the test altogether.

Endurance 

As discussed previously, Endurance is a pool of points you can spend to add to the dice result. You will need to do so, more often than not, as a medium difficulty test would be around 6 (to roll on a d6). It symbolizes your will to survive. It is your willpower, your stamina and hope combined. If your current Endurance is high, your character feels that they can take onto anything. With low Endurance, you might want to rest, so you can refresh your Endurance pool. This connection between the pool of points that let's you improve your chances of success and the system for regaining those points is a central mechanic of the game. It encourages the characters to do the "boring stuff" like eating, sleeping, talking to other survivors over some found tequila, that are important aspects of survival genre and makes the PCs more mundane, and not heroes, able to face any obstacle at any time. No Heroes, remember?

You get 40 (this is to be tested, it might be taken down to 20, I will need to play with different players to decide exactly) Endurance points during character creation. During game, you can spend them at any test. One point spent, adds one to the result from the dice. You can spend as many points as you want on a single test, but once they are spent, they are gone until next refresh (which will probably not refresh all points at once). This way the player is facing an important decision with every dice roll.

You can also exchange some of your Endurance points for "skills". They can be used just like Endurance points (1 to 1 spend on dice rolls), but only on actions that fall within the scope of the skill. The game will have lists of skills for different genres, but the lists are open ended. So, why would you opt in for getting skills, instead of the catch all Endurance? Because you get two skill points for each endurance point you spend. You will be able to exchange Endurance for skills during character creation and any time you would "level up" in other RPGs.

Goals

Goals are the third and final aspect of any character. They describe the characters personality, needs and wants. They will work in a similar way to TSOY's Keys (skip to page 12). When a character will achieve one of their goals, they regain some endurance. You can also break them, so you can regain a bunch of points (probably get all the points back). So if you are a protector (gain Endurance when you help others survive), if you kill another human being, you get a full refresh, but loose that goal and can not gain endurance from it in the future. People, and especially their views, change when they find themselves in life and death situations and struggle to survive.

GMs will get some advice on using the character goals and making temporary goals that change with the narrative. I am compiling (and stealing from TSOY) a list of goals/behaviors the characters can have. As with skills, it is not a comprehensive list, and characters can create their own goals.

Appendix: Names, words and such.

As the system is now, it uses pretty generic naming conventions. Skills, Traits and Goals to not carry the emotional weight of survival, struggle or even any of the design guidelines from Part 1. They serve they purpose for now, as many roleplayers have a clear idea of what skill, wound or goal means in a RPG. For the release I will want to change them, this is what I have now and what message I want to carry:

  • Traits would probably change to Assets. It works great with using equipment, and even using your own "powers" works with it. Does not work well with wounds and stress.
  • Endurance is good, it works well for what it is supposed to do system wise. 
  • Skills are way to generic, I want them to be seen more as: How you cope/survive. 
  • Goals are ok, I can leave them unless I find a better word encompassing wants/needs/agendas and something to be broken.
If you have any advice on making the naming conventions more thematic, send them my way (best to leave a comment here). On a bright side, I have a pretty good title for the game. How do you feel about: Endure ?