Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Thoughts on Creating Non-Human Characters

While working on my own role-playing system, I've been thinking of various methods for creating non-human characters, and I began to feel that there's more than a few stances to take as both game designer and GM. Some will want each non-human race to be unique and clearly very different from humanity, while others are fine with non-humans being essentially "humans in costumes". In order for this to be accommodated an RPG would at least have to acknowledge more than one method for generating non-human PCs.

Below is an excerpt draft from my T&B RPG section on character creation dealing with non-human characters. I'd love any feedback my readers can provide on other ideas for making non-human PCs, as well as criticisms or questions on what I cover below.

As always, many thanks in advance!

Creating Non-Human Characters

Although these core rules don't provide formal rules for creating elves, dwarves, cactus men, sentient robots, etc., the T&B system is certainly flexible enough for these character ideas to be accommodated. Presented here are guidelines outlining four different methods for GMs to consider in creating rules for non-human PC characters.

Humans in Funny Suits
Non-human PCs are, mechanically speaking, no different than human PCs. There are no special rules or stat adjustments; non-human PCs are just humanoids with fur or scales or pointed ears or other physical, emotional, or personality differences to tell them apart from one another. This is the easiest method to implement, because all the GM needs to do is write up a few short notes about a race's physical appearance, personality, and customs, which would have to be done for non-human (and some human) races anyhow.

This method will not, of course, work for every non-human race. The more inhuman a species is going to be, the less satisfactory this method will become. After all, a race of insectoid creatures that can fly, have poisonous stingers, and six legs have some significant mechanical differences from a human being and it would be poor form to not represent them. However, if your elves are simply lean, tranquil human beings with pointy ears, and your cat-men are just humans with fur and a tail, this method might be the easiest to implement.

Equally Different Designs
The next easiest method is to pick a handful of skills, perhaps just one per skill set, that each race gets a +1 bonus in, and another skill in each set where that race suffers a -1 penalty. For example, Elves might get a +1 to Reflexes but a -1 to Defense, while it might be the opposite for Dwarves. Cat-men might get a +1 to Stealth, but a -1 to Persuasion. Lizard-men might get a -1 to Crafting, but a +1 to Survival. These bonuses and penalties can take a character's skill ratings below 0 and above 6. In addition, peril checks and status values could also be altered, although it is probably best to again limit it to one bonus and one penalty apiece.

While this will differentiate characters to some degree, showing that some races are just built and raised with different abilities and disabilities than human beings, it still does not provide a solution for things like one race being able to fly, or another having gills, or a third being able to see in the dark using echo-location. These are abilities that go beyond simple skill adjustments, and require new rules entirely. On the other hand, the above method is simple to implement, and also has the advantage that at the end of the day, all races have a roughly equal balance of pros and cons, meaning you don't have one uber-race that all the power-gamers are going to be attracted to because it offers the best "build".

Packages for Purchase
The third, and probably most flexible, option for non-human races, is to build a package of skill, peril, and status check bonuses and penalties, as well as special rules, and provide it for purchase using character tokens during the character creation process. A good rule of thumb in this case might be that for every net gain of +2 in overall bonuses for the character, the racial package costs 1 CT. For every minor special rule (race has natural weapons like claws or fangs, or can breathe underwater, or see in the dark), add another CT to the cost, and for each major special rule (race has an immortal natural life span, or can fly, or possesses innate magical ability), add another two CTs.

Bear in mind that a PC only starts the game with twelve character tokens - if the racial package costs more than this, either find a way to trim back the cost, or inform the player that their character will have to devote any CTs they accumulate through gameplay towards paying off their racial package before they can be used for anything else. Also, it is important to take into consideration the sorts of adventures the PCs are going to be engaged in and how their special rules will affect gameplay. If your adventures will primarily take place at sea, the ability to fly or breathe underwater will be very valuable, but the ability to see in the dark will not be as important as if, for example, the characters will be spending most of their time underground, where flight won't be as beneficial (players tend to feel slighted if they pay a premium for racial abilities they wind up never getting to use).

Paying Through Gameplay
The last, and potentially most cumbersome, method for handling non-human races is to simply give non-human races their special rules and abilities / disabilities for free, and then leave it up to the PCs and their interactions with the game world to "level the balance of power". In most typical settings, non-humans are in the minority, and are often feared or at least misunderstood by many humans and other non-human races, or suffer some other form of "real world penalty" that can balance their inhuman abilities.

This method has the advantage that it doesn't try to balance a non-human race against humanity through character generation mechanics - after all, some players are going to get varying degrees of "mileage" out of any particular character's stats, making issues of balance of questionable effectiveness at best. The disadvantage is, of course, that if a GM doesn't want human PCs to be non-existant, they'll need to provide in-game reasons for players to still want to play a human being (this is assuming that the GM even cares if there are no human PCs - this might be a non-issue for some gaming groups).


Timeshadows said...

In my order of preference:

1). Pay Through Gameplay -- 'nature' seems to operate this way. Why should the game universe?

2). Packages -- essentially the same as above, but with a mind toward, 'balance'

3). Equally Different -- if one were to state within the setting that only certain configurations of creatures could be knights, astronauts, psionic-supers, etc. for internal logistical reasons, then ED would go a way to smoothing-over ruffled feathers.

4). Funny Suits -- no thank you. I've had enough of Star Trek.

Timeshadows said...

Why _*shouldn't_, rather.