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April 16, 2009 / jadettman

Character Differentiation: How much is enough?

Mechanically, how different does a character need to be in a roleplaying game?

Many of the RPGs that garner my preference don’t support a lot of mechanical differentiation. Amber has four attributes, seven powers, and build-your-own systems for Shadows and items. Everway has four attributes and a powers construction system. Over the Edge just has four traits. Mechanics are not how characters are strongly differentiated in these games, rather it is the colorful description of the player.

Compare that to the mechanics of more popular games like D&D, Exalted, or GURPS and you’ll see a world of difference. I’m just wondering how important all those extra mechanics are. To me, not very important, clearly. How about for others?

The upshot here is that I’m working on a quick-play heartbreaker, an RPG that can be picked up and played for an evening or two that has stripped down d20 mechanics and the sensibilities of Everway or Over the Edge.

Rather than going with the d20, though, I’m using 2d10 as the primary roll. I much prefer the middle-weighted distribution over the flat unpredictability of the d20.

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3 Comments

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  1. James / Apr 16 2009 4:08 pm

    I personally agree with you. I do not think it is the mechanics that make a character as much as the character should dictate the mechanics necessary. Sort of a gaming version of form follows function.

  2. Britt / Apr 18 2009 5:51 pm

    I think that there has to be enough differentiation that you can take your character and say, “I’m the guy that’s good at X,” or “I’m the only one who can do Y.”

    If all the characters are just like, “I’m… uh …. a fantasy warrior,” then that’s not cool. You have to be able to say, “I’m the sneaky guy,” or “I’m the tank,” or “I’m the diplomat.”

    The degree of necessary granularity might depend on what kinds of parties you envision. If you’re playing the D and the D, it might be good enough to say, “I am a fighter, and Bob is the thief, and Jill is the magic user.” If you’re all playing FBI dudes, you need something beyond the “FBI Agent Player Character Class” so as to have ways of differentiating the Mulders from the Scullies.

  3. J.A. Dettman / Apr 21 2009 6:36 am

    I agree that the amount of differentiation depends on the setting.

    In a case such as an FBI game, you’d likely end up with specialization diversity. Forensics guy, hostage negotiator guy, etc.

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