Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Walk Through Character Generation in Magic World

While I tend to take it for granted that everyone has played or is familiar with the D100 system that powers Basic Role Playing, Magic World, Runequest, Legend, Call of Cthulhu and many other game systems, the truth is that’s not really the case. Even if you are, there are lots of little differences between various versions of the system, so a walk-through on how character generation works could be beneficial to many.

Magic World is BRP-powered but hangs off of the skeleton of the older Elric//Stormbringer 5th edition mechanical assumptions. This makes it a bit more streamlined than Runequest, and since its focus is fantasy only it has fewer extraneous chunks than its parent game, BRP. Magic World deviates from Runequest in a few specific ways: no hit-location system, a core HP mechanic, a single unified magic system, and a reliance on the resistance table of BRP instead of two skill-based saving rolls.

All good characters begin with an idea or a core conceit. I’m going to roll some stats up first and then think about who it is I want to create. MW uses strength, constitution, size, intelligence, power, dexterity, and appearance. Humans roll 3D6 for all stats except for intelligence and size, which are 2D6+6. I’m going to roll these straight across and see what I get:

STR 8, CON 4, SIZ 17, INT 16, POW 11, DEX 8, APP 13

Holy cow….this guy is frail, sickly, enormously tall (around 6’7” and maybe as skinny as 150 lbs), very smart, a bit clumsy and despite all that he’s either fairly congenial or decent looking. Nice. With stats like that I think I shall call him Asterius Crane. I see a fellow who is excessively bookish, and who’s exotic height contrasts with his weak frame, so he overcompensates by being friendly and affable.

There are a variety of derived stats in MW. The derived “rolls” are percentile approximations of the core stats that can be used to resolve various situations that skills alone don’t cover. Each derived stat is a default of the main attribute multiplied by 5. SIZ is the only stat that doesn’t get a derived roll. When I calculate these we get:

Effort 40%, Stamina 20%, Idea 80%, Luck 55%, Agility 40%, Charisma 65%.    

So by percentage Asterius’s strength is in being an idea man and fairly charismatic.

There are several other derived stats as well:

Damage modifiers are based on strength and size. Despite being physically underwhelming, Asterius has reach and leverage due to size, so he actually qualifies for a +1D4 damage modifier to melee attacks.  He has okay hit points thanks to his size (but with a better constitution it could have been so much more); his HPs are 11 and his major wound score is 6 (the number of HPs below which bad things can happen). If I were to use the optional heroic hit point system he would have 21 hit points, instead (the total of size and constitution instead of the average) and a major wound threshold of 11. Alas, Asterius is probably destined for the world of Sarvaelen and there are no robust heroes in that land.

With a POW of 11 Asterius has 11 magic points, so he’s no hard-hitting spellcaster. If he had 16 or better in POW then he would gain 3 levels in magic just for being awesome…but he is not awesome.

Having a variable appearance provides distinctive features, which you can choose or roll for. With an APP 13, he gets 2 features on the good side. I roll and get “torso” and “bearing” options. I choose “tall” because it’s a no-brainer; because he has a good appearance score this means his height is an asset; he towers over people and maybe that’s somewhat intimidating or impressive. For bearing I choose “casual” because I am thinking Asterious is a bit laconic, and comes off with a “always in control” vibe….he doesn’t seem to panic, so this inspires those around him a bit.

I roll for his age and it turns out he is 23 years old.

Next up is culture. There are four default cultures in MW, with the option for campaign-specific cultural packages.  A culture provides guidance on choosing a profession as well as a 10% bonus to three cultural skills. The choices are band, tribe, chiefdom and state. Each culture includes a description and extensive list of real-world samples of what it is talking about, as well. As I am imagining Asterius I could see him coming from any of these, although his hope of being a bookish giant rests heavily on a more advanced culture so I pick “state.”  Specifically, since I’m putting Asterius in Sarvaelen I will assume he comes from  Aeronost, a feudal coastal culture with a handful of prominent cities.  I pick oratory, world lore and  scribe for his three cultural skills.

Next up is occupation. There are twenty core professions to chose from, and many more that could be introduced (or borrowed from other BRP books).  MW offers skill points to the skill package of each occupation, although it does so a bit differently than BRP, by allotting +60 to one occupational skill of choice, +40 to three more skills, and +20 to four others. After that you get 40 points to add to one non-occupational skill and three more non-occupational skills that get +20 each. Aside from occupational and cultural skill points characters get some points by skill category based on half of the derived attribute.

Finally, if you want to make an experienced adventurer rules and numbers are provided to start a veteran, heroic or legendary adventurer.

After looking at the occupations available, I think Asterius Crane would make a great physician, apocethary or scribe. Each occupation is presented from the context of a “you learned to be this, but now, for various reasons, you are adventuring” sort of approach. Kinda cool. I think I’ll go with scribe.

As a scribe Asterius can pick from several skills. I choose the following: Scribe (+60), World Lore (+40), Evaluate (+20), Insight (+40), Nature (+20), and I’ll pick another language (Emoniae, from Sarvaelen) at +20 as well. He can have a skill as a personal specialty, so I pick Potions with +40. Asterius is something of an exotic brewer and apothecary on the side, it seems. Finally, his occupation awards him 200 bronzes to spend.

Aside from his occupational skills Asterius can allot extra points into “other” as well. Those points end up in Dodge (+40), Navigate (+20), Listen (+20), and…because this is a guy who will face danger, lets put the last +20 into short sword, with which he’s had some minor training. Being experienced with the short sword means Asterius’s practice with the weapon will also improve familiarity with everything in weapon class 2 (broadswords, cutlasses, falchions, rapiers, scimitars, and short swords). One thing I could not find clarification on (yet) was if weapon skills received the physical skill modifier. I am assuming they do here.

Finally we come to Allegiance. Old fans of Elric/Stormbringer will recognize this as derived from the old order/chaos system of allegiance. It is now a division between light, shadow and balance. Adventurers start play with 25 allegiance points in one, 15 in a second and 5 in a third. I think Asterius is fairly neutral, so I split it like this:

Light 15, Balance 25, Shadow 5

Being aligned with balance grants some perks (as do the others). For those aligned with balance they can attempt to call on inner reserves of strength, which can grant 1/5 of their HP total in recovery. Allegiance can be strained when calling upon abilities, as well as when acting contrary to one’s aligned nature. Neat stuff, lots of role-play potential.

After a bit of spending to equip Asterius with some leather armor and a short sword (he started with a grand total of 401 bronzes), the poor fellow is ready to get killed adventuring. So what does Asterius Crane look like right now? Here he is:

Asterius Crane
Human male, 6’7” tall, 150 lbs., Age 23
Occupation: scholar; Culture: State; Distinctive Features: tall and casual
STR 8, CON 4, SIZ 17, INT 16, POW 11, DEX 8, APP 13; Hit Points 11, MW 6, Magic Points 11
Effort 40%, Stamina 20%, Idea 80%, Luck 55%, Agility 40%, Charisma 65%.    
Skill Category Modifiers: Physical +4, Communication +6, Knowledge +8, Manipulation +4, Perception +2
Damage Modifier +1D4
Allegiance: Light 15, Balance 25, Shadow 5
Occupational Skills: Scribe 74%, World Lore 73%, Evaluate 43%, Insight 57%, Nature 53%, Language (Aeronistic, native) 88%, Language (Emoniae) 28%, Potions 48%, Oratory 21%
Additional Skills: Dodge 60%, Navigate 53%, Listen 37%, Shortsword 43%
Weapon: Shortsword:  Attack 43%, Damage 1D6+1+1D4, weapon class 2
Armor: soft leather: 1D4-1 APs, light burden
Remaining Bronzes: 101

Asterius is now ready to go adventuring!

A few more notes:

Character generation is pretty quick the way MW does it because it gives the player a set number of discrete skill point packages to apply instead of a lump total number of skill points. MW does insure that a starting character has a decent set of starting skills in this fashion.

For those not familiar with BRP, note that a character can attempt any skill pretty much that has a starting base value of 1 or better…so a skill like oratory, which has a base chance of 5%, can be tried by pretty much anyone even if the chance of success is tiny. The skills above only reflect those in which Asterius got training, however.

The flavor text in MW is rife. It’s aimed at helping the player to imagine who his or her character is as they roll the PC up, so you can start blind with char gen (as I did) and end up with a character that you can “see.”

There are no point-buy rules provided in MW (BRP does offer this however in its core). The game is focused on a starting core of random char gen.

I may roll up a mage next so you can see what the sorcery looks like. Until next time….!


  1. Tori -- Glad you're having fun with MW!

    The idea for doing the skill packages that way came from many, many years of playing BRP games, and then teaching it to some friends who'd never played a BRP game. I noticed that players tended to do two things during character generation:

    1 -- Put their skill points into their occupation skills along the lines of "Something I'm really good at", "A couple things I'm pretty good at", and "all the other stuff I have to do for this job".

    2 -- Agonize over every last percentile.

    So, I came up with the idea of the skill packages as a way to streamline the process of skill point allotment. The first time I tried it out, I ran a game for 6 friends, half of whom had never played BRP before in any form. We did character generation at the table, and we'd knocked out all 6 PCs in 30 minutes total.

    I'll be interested to see other fans' reactions to this system.

    1. Thanks for the insight on the design process! I think you definitely achieved our design goal, as "skill point paralysis" was a common issue in the past when I'd try to teach BRP games to new players. MW removes that complication and makes skill assignment quick and easy.

  2. Well, I sure hope so! We'll see what people think once it hits the store shelves. Honestly, I knew it would rankle some people, which is why I also left the option to just spend a mob of points however you want.