Back in the day I used to be into RPG. But in a world which seems to run on the Microsoft Windows of D&D, I used to immerse myself in games set in the dark, forbidding world of AppleMac Warhammer Fantasy RolePlay (WFRP). This is probably the only context in which I can use this analogy, but it certainly feels as though any RPG reference in popular culture leans towards Dungeons and Dragons (D&D, or AD&D, the Advanced flavour). I suspect at least part of this is down to the popularity of the films and the (older) cartoon series, but perhaps also because my sense is that WFRP never really made it global, whereas D&D spread across the world.
I’ve come across a couple of examples recently of people advocating the use of RPG based elements in writing. One is a very thorough piece on the use of D&D style summaries of moral codes to help shape characters and character driven conflict, which you can read here, preferably after you finish the post you are currently reading! Another was on a Twitter, with the Theoretical Physicist (what is it about Physicists and RPGs?) Robert McNees (@mcnees) advocating replacing Twitter profiles with D&D character sheets. His included three brilliant pieces of equipment: vorpal chalk, tweed jacket (cursed) and the Shield of Tenure.
I’ve occasionally used the technique of looking through the source books to come up with what are essentially writing prompts, or to think about how a reasonably major character might develop over time, but with the various articles floating around, I thought that it might be interesting to give it a more serious go and see where it might lead. As a starting part to practice with, I thought I might try to work out what my character sheet might look like. I used to be something of a “munchkin” when I played in the past, which is to say someone who had to have the shiniest sword, the biggest axe, the toughest shield the next best advance profile available…this does not necessarily make for the best RPG experience. So my rules for the process were to: i) be as honest as possible, ii) avoid the magic side of things within my own profile and skills, iii) not be a munchkin and iv) not get tied up in a not if things didn’t work out perfectly straight off.
I should probably explain at this point two key things. Firstly, WFRP uses a system of characteristics which affect various tests that you might make in trying to achieve a certain goal. These tests are all percentage based, so the higher your characteristic the better, and this might be modified by skills, equipment and circumstance. So, a nefarious example might require you to access a hidden room, open a strong box and abscond with someone’s treasure. This then requires tests to find the door to the room, figure out how to open it, perhaps pick the lock of the box and do all this without being noticed by the dozing guard… Choosing one of these at random, picking the lock would be based on a Dexterity test, which would be modified by the possession of proper pick locks and the knowledge of how to use them. Taking two D10 (i.e. 10 sided dice), nominating one as tens and one as units, you make the roll – anything under your modified dexterity = success.
Secondly, when you play the game for real, you generate a character by rolling dice for particular characteristics, which then steer you to particular classes – Warrior, Ranger, Rogue and Academic. You then select an initial career and away you go. Along your adventures there are opportunities to change career and hence learn new skills, gain advances characteristics and so on. In the current context then, what I’ve done is to review my career and try to match this to some of the careers available. Clearly there are some challenges to this, what with the difference between 21st Century Earth and the WFRP ‘Old World’. Still, I’ve clearly ended up as an academic kind of character, albeit with some forays into the other classes.
I’ve taken a couple of short cuts and simply taken a straight average in places where you would normally roll a dice, except where I think* that I’m above average. I’ve then worked out what my starting profile would be and then ‘taken the advances’ that fit for where I am today. My starting profile is in brackets, and I’ve added some comments, where appropriate.
*Know that I’m demonstrably above average.
So my profile looks like:
Move: 5 (I’m quite tall, I walk fast, I can run quite fast when I can be bothered, or keep going for a long time, ditto, although not usually both!).
Weapon Skill: 40 (30) (Swings and roundabouts – maybe I’m not that bad, but I’m definitely not that good! These days I’d try to talk my way out, or ‘Brer Rabbit’ the situation somehow – which is what a good academic should do!).
Ballistic Skill: 50 (30) (I might possibly have been better than this in the past, when I was shooting for my University team. I think I’d probably pick it back up pretty quickly, but who knows…).
Strength: 5 (4) (Again, nothing spectacular – I definitely don’t pump, bro’, but when you’re the Breaker of Things and things can range up to big slabs of cast iron, concrete and the like, you don’t exactly waste away).
Toughness: 5 (4) (Pretty good constitution and, for the record, I do not believe in ‘Man-Flu’: suck it up guys and GET ON WITH YOUR WORK).
Wounds: 10 (6)
Initiative: 60 (30) (Got to be quick on your toes when those pesky students are asking awkward questions. I try to avoid them as much as possible, which also contributes to good initiative!).
Attacks: 2 (1) (pretty standard).
Dexterity: 60 (30) (See strength and initiative).
Leadership: 40 (30) (I’ll take the lead when I need to, but am also happy being part of the team. The part of the team that goes and works over there. On my own…There are some rules where I could claim an extra +10 to base given my height, but I’ll keep that in reserve).
Intelligence: 70 (40) (Academic class requires a good starting Int score, and that’s been buffed along the way).
Cool: 60 (30) (Again, pretty average. That said, the GM is laying some pretty heavy negative modifiers for certain situations at the moment, although I’m starting to fight back…).
Willpower: 70 (40) (See Intelligence).
Fellowship: 50 (30) (See most of the points above! When I can be bothered, I’ve got some skills that will buff this a bit).
Skills (alphabetical order): Astronomy, Carpentry, Cartography, Chemistry, Drive Cart*, Engineering, Etiquette, Heraldry, History, Marksmanship, Metallurgy, Numismatics, Read/Write, Secret Language – Classical**, Set Trap, Smithing, Spot Trap, Specialist Weapon – Longbow**, Super-numerate,
*I can drive, so that’s ok, although I don’t think I could really drive a cart, at least not without a bit of coaching. This is one of those skills that it is almost impossible for your character not to get – at least that was the running joke in the group that I played with.
**Not really, but sort of – I’ve definitely got an advantage over most people, but I’m not sure I can claim a +10% bonus in good faith.
When you look at it like that, it doesn’t look like a great list! I could potentially claim Arcane Language – Magical, Magical Sense and Rune Lore, but they only really work in a magical world and don’t have an obvious parallel on Earth in the 21st Century. I could also claim Consume Alcohol, which is a free skill for the Student career(!), but I didn’t really have that kind of university experience – honest. I might also lay claim to Storytelling. It’s not really a new venture for me, but it is something that is still being developed, so may be I’m still learning that one.
As for equipment, I think that’s all pretty standard, but could have a bit of fun with, oh, The Toe-Tectors of Resilience (+2 Armour Points), Lab Coat of Protection (purple glow in the presence of spilled chemicals), and Pen of Truth (magically the ink turns red when writing criticism). That’s probably enough!
I’m not sure I’d go into this much detail with every character, but it is a bit fun, and does get you thinking about how people might react in certain circumstances. You can add in the alignment (Good/Evil etc), social standing rules and things like that, and you can think about how people might deliberately avoid certain situations but then think about how they might deal with those situations when they turn out to be unavoidable…It can be quite quick thought, so it’s also a way of providing some extra detail to otherwise bit part characters who might be in danger of being two-dimensional. I mean, did you know that Jimmy the Jaws’ henchman was also a juggler?
What about you? Would you give it a go? What would your profile be like? How about your Main Character?
© David Jesson, 2016