Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cultural Character Creation Systems

The last post talked about representing cultural backgrounds by giving players different versions of the reference material on the setting. This time, we're dealing with a new idea that pursues the same line of though in a much more concrete/mechanical direction.

Each culture has its own system for creating your character's stats.

I'll explain via an example where the d20 system (particularly as seen in D&D 3.5) is the character creation system for Culture A, a society that favors formal education towards various roles/professions/trades via a master-apprentice relationship. Hence the use of classes; if someone from this culture knows military tactics, you may assume he is either a Soldier or a Scholar. All other cultures in this example also use the core rules d20 system, in that they make checks/attack rolls in the same manner. For simplicity's sake we'll also assume that all cultures provide characters with feats and involve the same six ability scores. The GM can still call for a climb check and have each player check their sheet for the bonus they get on that skill. What differs is the process by which they determined the size of that bonus.

Culture B, for instance, follows a rigid caste structure. The very first step for making a character is to specify your bloodline's caste; the higher your station, the higher your base bonus for all skill checks and attack rolls. After all, you're a superior being, even if your so-called 'sheltered' upbringing means your hit points and save bonuses aren't quite on the same level. Skills also have varying associated stations, with their max ranks decreasing based on how far they're above/below you. Upper castes receive extensive education and thus have more skill points, while lower classes must draw on practical experience and receive more feats instead.

Culture C is primitive and tribal, with a pragmatic focus on survival in harsh conditions. I'll bring Maelstrom back into the picture by saying that the conditions in question are the aether-filled interspace between worlds; thus, all members of this society automatically receive bonuses based on their level for various space survival matters that are on par with the maximum possible benefit someone from another culture could receive. Their key choice during character creation is how to assign their ability score points, as this largely set up all their other benefits- after all, these are tribes where your talents determine your role. The smartest ones are taught the lore and learn how to navigate, the strongest and swiftest acts as hunters and scouts, the wisest and most insightful serve to lead and nurture the tribe.

Culture D (Maelstrom's Trevata people) lives in isolated structures where all residents selflessly serve the whole. The vast majority of their people have no personal identity- no concept of a unique individual that provides the thoughts which pass through their heads. On occasion, one develops a sense of self, and thus becomes capable of good and evil. Such individuals manage this confusing shift through the use of masks, which they illustrate with designs depicting the various traits that make up their newly-forming personality These characters essentially choose whether to develop their "strength" each level (primarily increasing base statistics) or enrich their mask if they have one (meaning a sharply reduced rate of advancement but access to numerous packages of specialized skills, feats, etc.)

I can go on, of course. Culture E's nomadic, esoteric ways mean their members use a fairly pure point buy system, allowing for a striking level of flexibility regarding any given member's talents (though specialization is more difficult). Culture F highly values the concept of closely linked spiritual and physical health/growth/development, meaning that one must invest equal amounts in the "physical" and "mental" ability scores/skills/etc. The more primitive culture G does the opposite, first and foremost presenting its people with a choice between roles that emphasize strength of body and roles that emphasize strength of mind. And so on and so forth.

The main question from this point is how to handle character advancement once your characters immersed in a different culture. I suspect the answer will boil down to the option each level to give up the offered 'bundle deals' of your system (at least to some degree) in favor of points that can be spent in a more flexible fashion. But we'll see. . .

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