Welcome to the fourth in an occasional series called It Builds Character in which I use the character generation rules of various tabletop role-playing games to create a character and attempt to flesh them out into something distinctive.
It Builds Character #4: Aberrant
For the latest entry in the series, I’ll be using the rules of White Wolf Game Studio’s Aberrant RPG (Now owned by Onyx Path Publishing), which is a 1999 game set in the not too distant future of 2008. A quantum event has led to the eruption of “Novas,” individuals with superhuman abilities.
The game is basically a superhero game with strong conspiracy theory overtones and an arguable deconstruction of superheroes as beneficial themes that feel very much of a piece with the Watchmen graphic novel. Given that this was a White Wolf game, there’s elements of cynicism that abound and it definitely deals with shades of grey type characters rather than explicitly good or evil ones. There’s also a bunch of factions/organizations for characters to interact with, the main ones being:
- Project Utopia: A UN-affiliated group that fosters co-operation between Novas and normal humans to improve the world.
- The Teragen: A Nova-supremacist group that states that Novas can only be governed by Novas, so human laws don’t apply to them.
- The Aberrants: A new, small, faction worried about potential corruption within Project Utopia
- The Directive: A multi-government-aligned intelligence agency with controlling interests from The United States, Russia, Japan, The United Kingdom & Germany
As you might imagine, each faction is rather more complex than the public face described in the capsules above. This is also the middle game of the Trinity Universe timeline, with Adventure! set in the past, and Aeon/Trinity set in the future of the timeline, and so there’s an overacrhing plot that leads in those directions, but I never played those or read most of the sourcebooks so I can’t give any information on them.
Since this is a kind of a superhero game, I’m going to be basing my Nova character on a pre-existing superhero. And since a key part of the backstory is that all Novas share a genetic element that activates their powers at a time of great stress, I’m thinking along the lines of X-Men rather than my actual favorite superhero, who’s on the DC side of the house. Instead, I’m going to be attempting to create a character based loosely on this guy:
Kurt Wagner, Nightcrawler, is easily my favorite X-Man. He has teleportation powers, some religious humility and the swashbuckling attitude of a circus performer. His powers have also left him looking inhuman, with blue skin, a prehensile tail and two gripping toes on each foot.
PHASE 1: Human
In Aberrant character creation is done in two phases, firstly you create the character as the baseline human they were before the power-triggering event (“Eruption” in Aberrant parlance) made them a Nova. The second phase is the post-Eruption version of the character.
Step I: Concept
Since I’m basing this off of a pre-existing character, I already kind of have a concept in mind for the character, but let’s go through everything the rulebook suggests for creating the overall concept of the character, and who knows, maybe they will mutate away from being a straightforward Nightcrawler rip-off.
Under Concept, the rulebook has three separate categories: Concept, Nature & Allegiance. Concept in this case is a broad category that can be used to describe the character’s profession, personality or interests. I decide that this character is a bit of a showman, and looking at the broad archetypes (and the rulebook does encourage you to come up with your own if you don’t want to pick from the list), I figure that the character concept that fits best is the Gambler, specifically the daredevil type. After all, what better fit could there be for a circus acrobat?
Nature is a further personality archetype that describes how the character perceives themselves. Again, the game recommends coming up with your own if nothing on the list fits. they also suggest that the character’s nature inform both how they are role-played, a little bit of the mechanics in how the character regains Willpower (more on that later), and how the Nova’s powers are manifested.
The final part of the Concept step is the character’s allegiance, which covers whether the belong to any of the groups mentioned in “The Game” section above, other smaller factions and generally how they interact with the larger game world. I’m keeping this character as an unaffiliated independent for now, partly because I don’t want to get too bogged down in setting detail, and partly because I’m not quite sure which group makes the most sense at this early stage of the character creation process.
Step II: Select Attributes
Now we get to the first crunchy bits of game mechanics for developing the character. Each character has nine attributes divided into three categories :-
Each attribute is measured in dots, and attribute scores for baseline humans can range from one to five dots for each. Characters get a free dot in each attribute to begin with. The next step is to prioritize each of the three attribute categories as primary, secondary and tertiary. Characters get 7 additional dots to spend on their primary category, 5 for their secondary category and 3 for their tertiary category. Based on the character concept so far, I decide that physical attributes will be primary, social attributes will be secondary, and mental attributes will be tertiary.
Thinking about the character as a circus acrobat, I spend four of the seven physical attribute dots on Dexterity, giving him a total of five, or peak human Dexterity. Two of the remaining three dots are spent on Stamina for a three dot score, leaving just one for Strength, which now totals two dots.
I divide the three additional dots for mental attributes evenly across the three attributes, leaving a score of two dots for each.
For the five dots of social attributes, three of them go into Charisma bumping that up to four dots, the last two extra dots go into Appearance, for three dots total. That leaves Manipulation at the default one dot, which isn’t very good. In fact, the rulebook describes one dot of Manipulation as “Poor: You rarely get what you want.” I decide that this is because the character is unfalteringly honest and straightforward, so he doesn’t try to manipulate people as a general rule.
Step III: Select Abilities
Abilities are skills that are tied in to attributes. For example, a character’s Awareness ability is a Perception ability, so to take an Awareness test, the character combines their Perception attribute dots with their Awareness ability dots and roll that number of ten-sided dice (d10). Like attributes, abilities are rated in dots. However, abilities max out at three dots for humans. They also have a minimum of zero dots and don’t get any freebies. Starting characters have twenty-three dots that they can use to purchase abilities.
Tying a little into his backstory as a performer/acrobat, I put three of the character’s twenty-three dots into Athletics, an ability tied to his Dexterity. That leaves me with twenty to play with, two of which go on Drive, since I figure the character is likely to need to operate a vehicle under stressful circumstances at some point. I also add three dots of Legerdemain, figuring that a co-worker at the circus might have taught him a few sleight of hand tricks.
Two dots of Awareness, because he needs to be aware of his surroundings from the acrobatics thing , at the very least so he knows how and where to land. I also decide that a couple of dots of Linguistics wouldn’t go amiss as the character would have picked up some language skills in the nomadic circus life style. Either dialects that Cajun or Creole if he’s American, or some different European languages if he’s from overseas, like his inspiration, who is German.
I also decide that the character is a bit of an orator and poet, represented by two dots in Arts. He also has a certain sense of swagger as a human that gives him a little je ne sais quoi, represented by two dots in Style.
I also think that he’d be fairly good at scrounging things from people and finding out local gossip, represented by two dots of Streetwise. I also figure he’d be good at working the crowds, which I represented with two dots of Command. Finally, as he’s a but of ham, I figured three dots of perform would be entirely apt.
Athletics (Dexterity) •••
Drive (Dexterity) ••
Legerdemain (Dexterity) •••
Awareness (Perception) ••
Linguistics (Intelligence) ••
Arts (Wits) ••
Style (Appearance) ••
Streetwise (Manipulation) ••
Command (Charisma) ••
Perform (Charisma) •••
Step IV: Select Backgrounds
Only seven dots to play with here. Theses categories are things the character has that informs more of the roleplaying aspect, but might occasionally need to roll against things. For example, an Allies background might require a roll to see if an ally can come to aid the character in any given situation. There are several backgrounds and each can have between zero and five dots. These were slightly easier to spend for me as the backgrounds are a limited selection and at least a few of them (notably Attunement) don’t make sense at this pre-Eruption stage of the character.
I opt to spend a single dot on Cipher, which means he has a couple of hidden secrets. I decide those are his real name, country of origin and true parentage. Basically much of his pre-circus days info is hard to find.
He also has a smattering of minor contacts and a major information broker he’s in touch with. Not quite sure who the broker will be, but I have decided she’ll be female, a petty criminal of some kind, and the only witness to the character’s initial Eruption event. She’ll be the one dot of Contacts the character has. I also figure that the character is comfortable financially, but not spectacularly so, which translates into two dots of Resources. That leaves three more dots to play with and I’m not totally sure where to put them.
I figure that the character could be seen as a local celebrity, at least in a subculture (either circus performers or a theatrical community), so that’s a dot of Influence. For the last two dots, I put them into Node, which doesn’t mean much for a human, but will help him recover from power use once he becomes a full Nova in Phase 2 of character creation.
Step V: Phase One Finishing Touches
The first part of this is recording certain starting statistics, so let’s go ahead and cover those. Like all beginning characters, the starting Willpower is 3 points. In Aberrant, Willpower points can be spent to guarantee a success on a roll, or to resist certain things, or to “max out” a power usage.
Also, as all beginning characters, his initial power level is represented by a single dot of Quantum.
The next statistics are derived ones. The character’s Initiative is the total of his Dexterity & Wits, which gives this character a score of seven. Movement rates are expressed in meters and are partially derived based on the character’s Dexterity scores. I’ll not break them down fully, but you can see them listed at the end of this section.
Now we have 15 bonus points to spend on different dots. Costs vary, as it’s 5 bonus points for an Attribute dot, 2 for an Ability dot, 1 for a Specialty (which are limited to 3 per ability), 1 for a Background dot, 2 for a Willpower point, 7 for a Quantum point and 1 for an Initiative dot.
My first thought for the character is to look at the Specialties available for the Abilities he has and see which make sense. Under Athletics there are many Specialties that seem like they would work. In the end I go all out and give him three: Acrobatics, Dodge & Tumble.
That leaves 12 bonus points to work with. I spend 4 of those to increase his Willpower by 2 dots to a total of 5 (or “Certain” rating). I don’t really have ideas of what to do with the last eight points, so I arbitrarily decide to bump up his Quantum by 1 dot for a total of 2, and do the same to Initiative, which brings that to a total of 8. And we’re all spent on the Human side of things.
Walk 7 m
Run 17 m
Sprint 35 m
Bonus Point Purchases
Acrobatics (Athletics Specialty)
Dodge (Athletics Specialty)
Tumble (Athletics Specialty)
Willpower •• (For a total of •••••)
Initiative • (For a total of ••••••••)
Quantum • (For a total of ••)
Phase 2: Nova
Now we have the baseline human created, it’s time to make him a Nova (the in-game term for Superheroes), which is also done by a points buying system, but the first part of all Superhero type tales is of course…
Step I: Origin
…the origin story. After all, when you think of mainstream superheroes the phrases “Last son of the dead planet Krypton,” “bitten by a radioactive spider,” or “saw his parents gunned down in an alley” aren’t far from the public consciousness. Of course, this character won’t be anywhere near as iconic as those three guys. So, how did this character (who I’ve been thinking of as “Not-Crawler”) first manifest as a Nova?
At the tender age of sixteen, Curtis Wallace was an acrobat touring with the Brazeley Circus. Brazeley were performing in Cleveland, Ohio and Curtis had decided to take a break and explore the city. He bumped into a street vendor along the banks of the Cuyahoga river. the vendor (falsely) accused Curtis of stealing some of his merchandise.
Curtis ran away rather than protesting his innocence. The vendor gave chase, and also called the police on Curtis. Eventually, he had an angry mob chasing after him. As Curtis carried on running, he was experiencing major headaches as his Mazarin-Rashoud node began to swell with the stress of the chase. As he ran, Curtis did something he rarely ever did, and tripped. As he plunged towards the river, his powers manifested and Curtis teleported away from the area and back to the circus with no recollection of how he got there.
It’s not a great origin, but at least it’s a start. I would probably work on it and expand it out if I was playing Curtis as a character in a campaign.
Step II: Nova Points
More points to spend on dots. This time, we have thirty points to play with. Since the one thing I’m aware that I want Curtis to be able to do is Teleport, I buy the Level 2 Quantum Power Teleport which costs 3 Nova points per dot. Curtis has become pretty good at Teleportation in the 12 years since his power first manifested, so I feel like three dots is appropriate. I also decide that he’s become pretty good at short, quick teleports, and to represent that, Curtis has the Combat Teleport Extra, which changes the cost from three points per dot to five points per dot, so that’s fifteen of Curtis’ 30 Nova points spent. Combined with his Perception that gives Curtis a dice pool of five for using the power. Since I also want Curtis to be able to teleport another human when he uses his power, I decide that he could use the full five points in the Attunement background, which costs another Nova point, so he has 14 points left. Since he wants to be able to use his power when necessary, Curtis decides to increase his Quantum by 2 dots for a total of 4 dots, which costs 10 Nova points.
Curtis only has 4 Nova points left. I decide that he has some pretty spectacular non teleportation powers related to being able to move quickly, represented by two dots of the Hypermovement Level 1 Quantum Power, which costs 2 of those 4 Nova points. I opt to spend those on two more dots of Willpower, bringing Curtis’ total to 7 dots.
Quantum •• (for a total of ••••)
Willpower •• (for a total of •••••••)
Teleport (with Combat Teleport Extra) •••
All done. So we have a rough outline of a character, though not quite as good a handle on him as I’d like. He also doesn’t have Nightcrawler’s significant appearance disadvantages, but based on the Taint system that Aberrant has, I think he could develop those through the course of playing the game.
What do you think, loyal blog followers? Is this a series worth continuing? If so, are there any particular games and editions you’d like me to use to create characters?
Please leave some comments and let me know!