Core Rulebook cover

It Builds Character #5: Star Wars – Edge of The Empire

Welcome to the fifth 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 #5: Star Wars – Edge of the Empire

The Game

For the latest entry in the series, I’ll be using the rules of Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire RPG, which is set in the Star Wars galaxy. I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, you have at least a passing familiarity with that setting.

Edge of the empire is one of three compatible games set in the Star Wars galaxy (The other two are Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny.) Edge of the Empire deals with those individuals who make their living in the shadier corners of the galaxy away from the prying eyes of the Empire, and aren’t necessarily connected to the Rebel Alliance. The default time line for this particular game is shortly after the destruction of the Death Star during the Battle of Yavin at the end of Episode IV: A New Hope but before the Battle of Hoth seen at the start of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

The Character

I have a sketchy idea of a character concept, so let’s see how well this system deals with creating them. Per the introduction to the Character Creation chapter of the book, this is a ten-step process, and as with earlier “it builds character” entries, the rule book itself puts the emphasis on narrative concepts over game-mechanic based ones, though we’ll definitely cover the mechanics as we go. I’m intrigued to see how the specialized Star Wars dice fit into this.

Step 1: Determine Character Concept and Background

While this step, to my mind, should obviously come almost entirely from the players vision, the rule book does present a few guidelines for getting that vision into playable character form. I want the character to be a doctor who is fleeing from a crime syndicate after botching surgery on the head honcho’s right hand man. It’s not much, but it is a hook to hang deeper characterization on.

The rule book first asks the player to consider their social background, and presents four broad strata to use. since one of those strata “The High And Mighty” actually mentions the idea of the character as a doctor (which I didn’t know going in) having fallen on hard times, I read that and see if anything in the descriptive capsule makes sense for the character.

The next section here asks why the character has found themselves on the murkier fringes of the galaxy far, far away. Since I already have the crime syndicate and botched surgery concept, I guess that’s already resolved for me, with the simple motivation of “run away!” so as not to be killed by vengeful criminals. Since we already have that established, I think we can move on to

Step 2: Determine Starting Obligation

As the rule book puts it “Obligation represents the debts a Player Character owes.” I’m assuming these debts go beyond financial into the realm of spiritual, mental, physical or pure intangibles like honor. Apparently there’s a mechanical component to this, as the character has to start with at least one Obligation. There’s even a d100 table to roll on if you’re not sure. Since I have a rough idea for the character, I’m opting not to roll, but instead choose a starting Obligation that fits the skeleton of a backstory that’s been sketched so far. The one that makes the most sense to me is Bounty as our doctor evidently has a price on his head. There’s also a magnitude associated with each Obligation, which, assuming I understand correctly, seems more of a way for the GM to use different party members Obligations in adventure hooks or gaming sessions. It looks like the average group of players has a magnitude of 40 points of Obligation. Assuming that the character would be a member of a four-player party, I assume that the magnitude of his bounty Obligation is 10 points.

There are various notes about group Obligation, how it can represent the party’s reputation both positively and negatively as well as ways to pay down Obligations. Since these all seem like something that would only come up in game after characters have been created and played for a while, I’ll ignore that here and jump to

Step 3: Select Character Species

Since the Star Wars  galaxy is positively teeming with life, both human and alien, I’m actually a little disappointed that the rule book only lists eight species options. Fortunately, one of those species options covers what I want this character to be. The good doctor is going to be a Rodian. (For completeness sake, I’ll mention that the other seven species are Bothans, Droids, Gands, Humans, Trandoshans, Twi’Leks and Wookiees.) What does the choice of species mean in the game? Well, for starters, a character’s species determine their starting characteristics and experience points. Certain species also confer other abilities on the character. Let’s see what that means for our Rodian Doctor, shall we?

His basic characteristics are –

Brawn: 2

Agility: 3

Intellect: 2

Cunning: 2

Willpower: 1

Presence: 2

Which gives further characteristics of –

Wound Threshold: 12

Strain Threshold: 11

As well as 1 Rank of Survival and 1 Rank of the Expert Tracker talent. On top of all that, he has 100 XP to spend on the character creation process.

Step 4: Select Character Career

Much like with species, the character’s career helps determine the character’s initial skill set. There are six career choices offered here: Bounty Hunter, Colonist, Explorer, Hired Gun, Smuggler and Technician. To my mind, the only one of those that makes sense for a doctor is the Colonist, so that’s what the character will be. That makes the following as career skills for him:

Charm

Deception

Knowledge (Core Worlds)

Knowledge (Education)

Knowledge (Lore)

Leadership

Negotiation

Streetwise

He also gets to invest  rank in four of those skills for free. I decide that our former crime doctor has ranks in Deception, Knowledge (Education), Negotiation and Streetwise.

Step 5: Select Specializations

Within each of the careers there are various specializations that add yet more career skills to their list. Within the Colonist career, the three specializations to choose from are Doctor, Politico or Scholar. Since I already have the character as a doctor in his back story, I go with the Doctor specialization.This grants the following four skills:

Cool

Knowledge (Education)

Medicine

Resilience,

And means the character can invest ranks in two of them. In this case, I put ranks in both Cool and Medicine. Incidentally, because Knowledge (Education) appears here and under Colonist, it would have been the only career skill the character could have two ranks in without having to spend experience points for the privilege. Of course, now it’s time to think about that as we reach…

Step 6: Invest Experience Points

The character has 100 Experience Points and four different ways to spend them:

  1. Increase Characteristics
  2. Purchase Skill ranks (may not have more than 2 ranks in a skill during character creation
  3. Purchase Talents within Specializations
  4. Purchase new Specializations

I feel like I need to explain that 3rd one. Each of the career specializations has a talent tree diagram with multiple rows and columns as a grid. some of the items are stand alone, and some are connected by lines. You can choose any box in the first row to spend XP on, and can also choose any box in the next rows that connect to that box. Here’s a picture of the Smuggler talent tree that I found online to clarify. (WordPress won’t let me upload it, so a link will have to do).

For example, the Doctor talent tree has the following top row options: Surgeon, Bacta Specialist, Grit, and Resolve. Of those four, Bacta Specialist and Resolve don’t link to anything, but Surgeon links to Stim Application in the second row and Grit links to Surgeon in the second row.

Since I’ve gone into this amount of detail explaining it, it makes sense for the character to spend at least some XP making purchases from the Tree. To that  end, I spend 5 XP (leaving me with 95) on that Grit talent, and via the magic of connectivity, use that to allow me to spend a further 10 XP (leaving me with 85) on the Surgeon talent in the second row. This means that in future, I could spend on the other top row talents, the second row talents connected to Surgeon (more Grit and Resolve, not sure if they stack) or the third row talent connected to Surgeon, which would be another Bacta Specialist. For now, though, I’m done with the Talent Tree, so let’s see where else I can spend those 85 remaining XP.

The first thing I opt to do is boost some of my characteristics. Each of the characteristics is from 1 to 6, but are capped to 5 during character creation. To boost a characteristic to a new value costs 10 XP times that value and is cumulative. So if I wanted to increase a characteristic from 2 to 4, I’d first have to spend 30 XP to increase it to 3, and then a further 40 XP to increase it to 4.

As it happens, I’m a little worried about the character’s low Willpower characteristic of 1, so I opt to spend 20 XP (Leaving me with 65) to boost the Willpower to 2. Since I feel that doctors are supposed to be smart, I also opt to increase the character’s Intellect from 2 to 3, at a cost of a further 30 XP (Leaving me with 35 to spend)

Now it’s time to invest in some skill ranks. Currently, I  can’t boost any skills above 2 ranks. It costs 5 XP to get a  Career skill (see above) to 1 rank, and then 10 XP to boost a 1 rank career skill to 2 ranks. For non-career skills, 1 rank  costs 10 XP and boosting a 1 rank non-Career skill to 2 ranks costs a further 15 XP.

Looking at the career skills the character has so far, I choose to boost his Medicine skill from 1 rank to 2, at a cost of  10 XP (Leaving me 25 to spend), I do the same for Negotiation (So now he only has 15 left). For non-career skills, I decide that the character knows his way around a pistol, and so purchase 1 rank of Ranged (Light) combat skill at a cost of 10XP (Leaving a mere 5 to spend).

Since the only thing the character can afford now is a single rank of a career skill, I opt to spend the last 5XP on a single rank of the Resilience skill.

Step 7: Determine Derived Attributes

This step uses the characteristics (including any increases from XP purchase to calculate four different values: Wound Threshold, Strain Threshold, Defense and Soak Value.

Wound Threshold is how many wounds the character can sustain before being rendered unconscious and is simply 10 (for being a Rodian) + their Brawn characteristic, which in this case gives a score of 12.

Strain Threshold is similar in that it shows how much mental or psychological damage the character can sustain before becoming dazed and confused. This is 10 (for Rodians) + the Willpower characteristic, which in this case is also 12. However, because we purchased that Grit talent, we get +1, so it’s actually 13.

Defense starts at 0 and changes based on equipment and cover. Since the character currently has neither of those things, his score is 0.

Soak Value determines the amount of damage a character can sustain before suffering a wound and is based on their Brawn characteristic, so in this case it would be 2.

Step 8: Determine Motivations

This is almost a companion step to the Obligations from step 2. In that an obligation is why they’re forced to the fringes of the galaxy, and a motivation is why they’re staying there. Like Obligations, Motivations can be picked out specifically or rolled for. I decide to leave the character’s motivations in the hands of the Force and roll for them. The first d10 roll determines what kind of motivation it is. Which in this case is a Cause, and a d100 roll breaks down what that cause might be. As it turns out the cause is Emancipation, so the character is an ardent believer in abolishing slavery and indentured servitude in wherever they rear their ugly heads in the galaxy. I decide that’s because he was an indentured servant of the crime syndicate he was forced to serve initially, and doesn’t want anybody else to have to go through that, which seems reasonable.

Step 9: Choose Gear and Description

Our character is starting to come together a little bit, but is currently rather under-equipped, not even having the clothes on his back yet! Since it would be nice to have some stuff to go adventuring with, he gets 500 credits to buy starting things. So, let’s spend some creds. The first thing the good doctor purchases is  a Light Blaster Pistol, which eats up 300 of his credits (Leaving only 200). Specifically, I decide it’s a BlasTech DL-18 despite that having no effect on the rules.

He spends a further 50 credits (leaving 150) on Heavy Clothing, which I decide is basically a thick scrub-like garment, almost a medical jumpsuit. This does increase his Soak Value by 1 up to  total of 3.

100 of the 150 remaining credits go towards an Emergency Medpac. After all a Doctor needs some tools and field dressings.

Of the last 50 credits, 25 go to a hand held comm-link, and he decides to pocket the rest just in case.

Now that he’s equipped, it’s time to figure out what this character looks like. We’ll go down each of the appearance categories in turn and see from there.

Physical Description

Height, weight and build: Rodians are generally a little shorter than humans, and this guy is no exception, he stands at 1.4 meters tall (About 4’6″). He’s also of a fairly slender build, almost lithe. Not sure what the weight would be , but something commensurate with that.

Hair and eye color: As a male Rodian, he doesn’t have hair, so no color there. His eyes are a deep navy blue that contrast strongly against his slightly mottled green skin.

Skin, scale or fur color: As established above, a mottled green.

Scars, tattoos or other identifying marks:  He has a black sun tattooed on his left shoulder, marking him as property of that crime syndicate. Since escaping, he’s tried to obliterate it unsuccessfully, so it has some fairly livid scar tissue over it, trying to strike through the design. If he had access to sufficient Bacta or a dermal medi-droid, he’d have it removed fully.

Personality: The good doctor is both fiercely dedicated to his independence and extremely paranoid. He knows that he has a price on his head, and every single new person he meets is just going to be the one who claims it. This does make him a little bit panicked as a negotiator as he tends to see things in the very short term, convinced that he’ll be dead within a couple of standard months. He’ll also very seldom forge alliances with people. He belongs to himself now, and that’s not going to change.

Since it isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the character creation, this is where I’ve decided to name our Rodian doctor, so say hello to Silugg Ceega, or “Sil,” to his very few friends.

Step 10: Group Chooses Starting Ship

Since the crew that would be the gaming party needs a home base, they need a ship. The rule book suggest 3 possibilities as good beginner starters, and I’m inclined to agree with one of their choices, so Sil is going to be the medic aboard a Wayfarer Medium Transport known as the Mynock Moon.


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!

Advertisements

Countdown to NaNoWriMo: 5 Days

188928_5592

For tonight’s blog entry, I’m returning to the concept of the Hero’s Journey. Specifically, I’m going to be talking a little bit about what Joseph Campbell referred to in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, as the “Belly of the Whale,” after the biblical story of Jonah. (Though in my bible, the book of Jonah never mentions a whale, the passage refers to the creature as a fish throughout, for example Jonah 1:17 “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”)

Despite that overtly literal reference, what Campbell means by “Belly of the Whale” doesn’t necessarily mean a literal swallowing. Like much in mythology, it’s a metaphorical image. Typically, this represents the point in the hero’s journey where the hero has answered the call to adventure, and now must defeat the obstacles that represent the guardians of the threshold between the everyday world the hero has known and the world of the truly unknown where the adventure takes place.

Frequently, this is the moment that represents the greatest personal danger to the hero, as they have yet to mature enough to face the trials ahead that the guardians represent a gateway to. Indeed, Campbell compares being in the belly of the whale as akin to dying. Truly, this can be a character’s darkest hour.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. George Lucas famously used Campbell’s monomyth/hero’s journey as the template for the original Star Wars movie. So, at what point does our protagonist, Luke Skywalker enter the belly of the whale in that story? Well, that moment actually almost has a literalized image of crossing into the belly of a great beast when the Millennium Falcon (and Luke) are pulled inside the Death Star by the station’s tractor beam.

For a more literary, and perhaps less obvious example, take Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo, the point in which he enters the belly of the whale is not, as you might think, when he is imprisoned, but four years into his imprisonment when he realizes he has no hope of release and falls to his darkest hour, replete with an attempt to kill himself. The threshold is less physical and more to do with Dantes well-being.

Conquering these moments (I guess the literal event in the Jonah story would be the whale vomiting, but I don’t think “puking whale” sounds good as a term for a putative and important story beat) often become the first truly heroic action of your protagonist, and will often be the highlight of the novel’s first act. It represents the first point in a movie where the triumphant, awe-inspiring music first appears on the soundtrack. In my opinion, the hero escaping the belly of the whale and crossing the threshold into the narrative world should be the moment when your reader punches the air and shouts “Yes!” (Not that I’ve done that and got some very odd looks in a public library or anything…)

So, do you have a formal point in your story where the protagonist is facing their darkest hour before crossing over into the true heart of the hero’s journey? Is the belly of the whale in your story as literal as the examples in Star Wars or the biblical story of Jonah? Perhaps a less obvious one, as is the case for Dantes?

 

(Photograph by Keran McKenzie)

Countdown to NaNoWriMo: 6(ish) days

644282_10151927747294004_585169519_n

 

(Quick Note: Yes, this is yet another one of these blog entries that is running a little late. In my defense the eight-week-old gentleman in the photo above is magnificently distracting.)

Even the greatest of individual plots isn’t enough to sustain an entire novel length narrative entirely by itself. To avoid a flagging pace and the dreaded specter of “padding,” you need subplots, and they can be tricky things to deal with.

First, let’s look at some of the positive aspects of subplots in a novel:

  • They add depth to the story and characters (never a bad thing.)
  • If the subplot focuses more on secondary and tertiary characters, it helps those character seem more well-rounded and realistic, and thus less “flat” compared to your protagonists
  • As hinted at above, a sub plot adds to your word count, which is vital in the mad thirty day dash to fifty thousand that is NaNoWriMo.
  • It helps build tension as you can leave a cliffhanger or particularly suspenseful moment in your main plot at the end of a chapter and then start the next chapter with an unrelated subplot. Sometimes it’s almost as much fun to torture your readers almost as much as your characters

Of course subplots, like any story element, are not without their pitfalls. One of the most common is that instead of your story having one clearly defined main plot with subplots dovetailing, paralleling or otherwise mirroring it, you end up with subplots that grow to take over the story, or rise to prominence so that you have two or even three “A” plots, which can be satisfying, but can also end up being a somewhat disjointed read, as if it were multiple separate novels mashed up into one thing.

As one of the most common sub-plots is a romantic entanglement between characters, this is also an element that can strangle the life out of a story incredibly quickly. For proof of this, go up to a random nerd you know (and if you’re reading this blog, you know at least one nerd, I guarantee it) and utter this infamous quote from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

“I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth.”

They winced, didn’t they? That’s because the utterly chemistry-free “romance” subplot between Anakin and Padme overwhelmed the story of the rise of a Galactic Empire and the genesis of Darth Vader that the Star Wars prequels should have been about.

Sometimes the subplot overwhelming the apparent main plot can be done effectively. For example, in Peter F. Hamilton’s The Reality Dysfunction, the main plot seems to be about smuggling and revenge against a backdrop of galactic politics, an almost Han Solo-esque story. Then, the dead start coming back to life and the true main plot of the novel and the trilogy it’s a part of starts.

Another temptation with subplots is the impulse to lard up your story with some many of them that it becomes a dense and impenetrable maze to everyone except the author (and even they’re not immune in some cases, I’m pretty sure Chris Carter himself  couldn’t explain the main plot of The X-Files by the end of the 6th or 7th season). This seems to be especially prevalent in the genre I’ve opted to write in for 2013’s NaNoWriMo, fantasy, which is why so many planned trilogies often end up with anywhere from four to seven books.