Persona Creation

Persona Creation

Character creation is an important part of any roleplaying game. While it is sometimes thought of as part of preparing to play, it is part of the game in many cases, most notoriously in the original Traveller, where your character could die before character creation finished. For new players, however, character creation often does not feel like part of the game. It feels like study, and if you don’t fully understand the whole game you might make stupid decisions that land you with a broken character. This is why so many games provide pre-generated characters for new players. The problem with that, of course, is that the player cannot create her own character, and so might not have the character she really wants to play.

In Kannagara, I want players to create their personae during play.

At the beginning of the first session, the players know that their personae are human beings who live in Japan and have some association with a particular jinja, but that is all. All further details, such as sex, age, and specific relationship to the jinja, and all mechanical details, will be determined in play.

For background features, a player will define a feature of her persona when it matters, and when the session has made it clear why and how it matters. It does make a difference whether your persona is old or young, male or female, but the significance of each decision in the game is not clear until you start playing.

Mechanical features work on the same basis, in that players will choose them when they becomes important. In this case, however, the rules need to ensure that one persona does not become omnicompetent, leaving other players with nothing to do. The standard mechanic for this in contemporary roleplaying games is a pool of points, which must be spent on mechanical abilities. I intend to use something similar.

If the pool is limited, however, spending the points on one ability means that the player cannot buy others, and the player might regret her decision when a new ability is introduced. It seems unlikely that it will be sensible to introduce and explain all the available abilities before defining the first one, so I suspect that I will want to divide the pool of points. That way, players can spend all their available points on the abilities offered without jeopardising persona development, or their concept. This does mean that a group of abilities will need to be introduced before the first one is chosen.

A similar point can be made about the level of abilities. For simple tasks, where the options are success and failure, a persona who succeeded might actually have more dice available to roll or keep. In that case, the abilities can be raised later. If the persona failed, however, that ability is set. If the persona had more dice, she might well have succeeded, so we can say that her ability is capped. Similarly, once an ability has been used to create something, it is fixed, because we know what score the the persona contributed to the creation. However, the rules, and the structure of the initial scenario, should avoid fixing the ability scores before it is truly necessary,

Because Kannagara places a great deal of importance on building and improving relationships, personae should start with problematic relationships with other personae or characters. These are features that we want players to take, so rather than costing points, they should probably grant them. However, the number of relationships per persona should be limited, so there may be a second pool of points for relationships, and taking the relationship converts those points into points that can be spent on abilities.

This strategy means that introductory scenarios need to be carefully designed, to introduce abilities properly and allow players to make sensible choices. Of course, Kannagara makes it possible to change your mind about where you want your persona to go at any point, so mistakes at this point are not fatal, but it is still better to start with the persona you want to play. Introductory scenarios may cover more than one session, and ordinary scenarios may include opportunities to reveal more about the past of a persona. The first bit of actual game material for Kannagara will be an introductory scenario, to allow persona generation.

Experienced players can, of course, create personae by simply spending the pool of points on the abilities that they want. For an experienced player, creating a character in that way, carefully weighing up options and balancing things to get as close as possible to the concept you have, can be a lot of fun. It is one way of playing the game, and I want Kannagara to support it.

2 thoughts on “Persona Creation

  1. _Fiasco_ does a little of this, the creation during play, but so does Rite Publishing’s _Demolished Ones_– which draws off the idea from the movie _Dark City_, of discovering who you are through the investigation, but it’s also the focus of the game, so it doesn’t have the later generation method. For an Apocalypse World scenario where they were playing soldiers waking out of hibernation, I remember reading about one GM who asked the players in turn (as the scenario began), “Which one of you was in charge? Ok, who was the jokester? Who didn’t get along with whom?” And then they worked through part of that in play. In Makazi No Fantaji, you can augment relationships as a part of the conflict resolution and then use those conflicts to progress character development. It was one of the coolest things I saw at Gencon.

    I think generation through play is a fantastic idea, I’m looking forward to seeing how you implement it.

    1. Thanks. Character generation before play made perfect sense in OD&D, where you made one decision (class), and everything else was random. It makes much less sense in contemporary games, even ones as simple as FATE, because you really need to know a great deal about the game world to make sensible decisions. It’s not surprising that an increasing number of games are moving away from it.

      This is one of the things that is making the scenario hard work, however.

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