When you get to the heart of roleplaying, it’s all about the characters. Whether they are the stars of the show as Player Characters or supporting actors run by the Game Master, rich and believable characters are the key to the roleplaying experience. It is their story that draws you in, excites your mind, and makes you care about the fictional world you’re playing in.
Savage Worlds provides an excellent framework to build characters but it is the elements beyond the stats and edge lists that really tell you who this person is. I put the following guidelines to good use when I created twenty original characters in four common genres (haunted west, modern horror, historical fantasy, and space opera) in Savage Characters, Volume 1 (available on DriveThruRPG.com).
1) Make An Impression
Form a short scene in your mind as though you were watching a movie. This is the first time the audience will meet your character so think of how it might go. What characteristics are immediately noticeable: their hulking strength, head-turning beauty, easy smile, distracting talk, or haunted look? Do they shy away from contact or wade easily into the crowd? Do they move with the regal bearing brought on by years of tutoring and the right bloodlines, with the agile awareness of a veteran soldier, or with awkward stumbles as they adjust their spectacles? Is their speech flowery and intellectual or crude and street level? Does their accent betray their origins? Are they extroverted, wanting to join a celebration or more reticent, preferring to watch from out of the way?
You can set the scene wherever people could logically meet your character for the first time. A tavern or bar is pretty good for this but you could also meet them where their job or role normally takes them: the halls of a noble’s court, the traveler’s roads, sanctuary of their temple, or a craftsman’s stall. Picture them in a situation where they are expected to act rather than be passive so you can get a better feel for them. Leverage this preparation when you introduce your character to your fellow players or when meeting an NPC for the first time.
2) Develop Connections
Very few people live in isolation from the rest of society. In fact, it is often by our relationships with others that we discover ourselves and exhibit who we are for good or ill. No matter where a campaign might begin the characters have history up to that point. They have family, have friends and enemies, and live and work with dozens of others. While they begin to grapple with the Call to Adventure*, whose counsel would they seek? What favors would they call in? Who might make their life harder at the wrong moment?
These connections give the player more to work with both in deciding her character’s actions/reactions and in knowing what resources they can leverage beyond what is on their personal equipment list. All sorts of information can be gathered to better face the challenges ahead. Obligations and commitments, with their connections, will try to hold our hero back, letting them naturally Refuse the Call* or be bold and strike out for adventure.
3) Get Hooked
In Savage Characters, Volume 1, I created five different adventure hooks for each of the twenty characters so they could be easily used either as NPCs or as player characters. Each hook was aligned with a rank in the character’s development to show a progression of challenges. Some hooks tied together into logical sequences, almost like a micro-Plot Point for the character. Some hooks gave options to tie some of the characters together either as allies or antagonists.
Hooks present the ingredients for a conflict but don’t demand a specific solution. The motivations and objectives of other characters should be clear as well as what might happen if the player character does nothing. Would their own goals become harder or be put in jeopardy? Would their allies or innocents be hurt? Would evil claim some triumph large or small? Give the character a clear reason to act and let the player devise just what those actions will be.
If you're creating a player character, help your Game Master out. Try to think of adventurous situations your character might seek out or face. What threats, opportunities, or challenges would motivate your character to act? Would they pursue a treasure map, rumors of a village under attack, or a path to lost wonders? Providing hooks to your GM will make the game more enjoyable for everyone?
There are many ways to develop characters for RPGs. I think these three can provide easy hints for inspiration at the table-side, which is where we all need it most. We suffer plenty of l'espirit de l'escalier in our daily lives so everything that can help you play the character you want in the moment is worth time during character creation.
* See Joseph Campbell’s The Man with a Thousand Faces for an examination of the stages of heroic tales from around the world.
Jim founded Dragonlaird Gaming Studios in 2005 as a channel for his original tabletop RPG work. He’s an accomplished freelance writer with Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine (as a columnist) from Kenzerco, Margaret Weis Productions (Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, Cortex), and many others. He published Savage Characters Volume 1 a couple years ago and has plans to release a series of Savage Adventures soon. You can find his website at www.dragonlairdgaming.com.
Picture Reference: Artwork provided by author
If you are looking for a gimmick to get your plot rolling, I’m here to help you out. We get some random search results on our site from time to time, and one person rolled in and looked for “a gimmick for a plot.” Well, I’m the gimmick guy around here so I couldn’t really pass up this opportunity.
The key to generating gimmicks to use to help get you started is to realize that EVERYTHING around you can be turned into a plot idea. A person’s name might be the start of a story. Tripping over the street, burning yourself on your coffee because you’re a klutz. Reading a great book is a *normal* way to get plot ideas, but it’s not quite gimmicky enough, is it?
1) Hot Pies!
The baker in Waterdeep has an important order for pies that need to be delivered to a shady part of town. He reaches out to the party to see if they would be willing to act as guards for his pie shipment. Worse, a rival baker has hired members of the thieves’ guild to ambush and steal the pies. It’s not just a gimmick, it’s a McGuffin at the same time!
How to use this: Pie motivates me. I’m confused if it doesn’t motivate you.
2) Changelings Invade Elysium
The local freehold has fallen on hard times. The Troll lord has fallen. He was killed by a dark, gloomy prodigal calling himself Prince Modius. The freehold is up in arms over this outrage! They have gathered a war-band to avenge their lord. They are sending the Sluagh skulking through the sewers seeking the court of this so called Prince. They think they’ve found it too. The beast they traded a favor to called it Elysium. The Freehold girds itself for battle.
How to use this: You decide if using Modius or the Changelings is the gimmick? Honestly? This is a fun story whichever way you roll with it.
3) Savage Rifting Nightmare Before Christmas Style
Rifts is presented as a serious universe. Rifts drop into serious worlds with serious troubles. That doesn’t have to be the case though. If we assume the Multiverse theory is true, then there are worlds that follow all sort of ‘Cartoon Logic.’ What’s the gimmick here? Clearly it would be awesome to have Jack Skellington piloting a mecha! Or maybe Santa Claus joins a group of dedicated misfit toys, fighting valiantly against the rifts ripping through the North Pole.
How to use this: This is a great one-shot concept for any game that includes trans-dimensional travel in any form.
4) Who? Dr. Who!
Running through a ship, 10 seconds remain before you run out of air. There are three buttons. One is red, one is green, one is cyan. Clearly cyan! Who makes a button cyan!? Quick thinking is the only thing that will save you. That, and the Doctor. The Cubicle 7 Dr. Who game is pretty smashing, and you should look into it. You can also use this gimmick in any game system. Start in-media-res. The players have a short amount of time to make a decision; that decision will have a massive impact on how the rest of the story goes. Provide a silly, eccentric, but helpful NPC to help them. Or, even better, give a random player the chance to play some form of the Doctor.
How to use this: This is a great method to start a new campaign, or liven up a steady style of gaming. Your players might be confused at first, tell them what you are doing and have them play through things. Give them the chance to fill in the gaps before the story starts. Push them to develop some story of why and how they got where they are.
5) Gimme The Gimmick (Make It Dark)
A hook, a murder, a toy, a random passerby: the gimmick is a reason to start playing. It’s the thing that gets you started. The plot that drives you forward. Think of something silly, something funny, something that gets you thinking differently. A gimmick plot can be dropped into any game of any type without too much trouble. That doesn’t mean it has to be funny or silly. The hidden story behind the bakers above might be that they are a family of cannibals that are now at war, brother to brother. Changelings might die off in a panic of banality when they attempt to attack the Vampire court. Jack Skellington might be an actual skeletal nightmare that gleefully rips up Santa and his minions. The Doctor might not be the Doctor, but might be a nefarious menace (perhaps an Illithid or other mind manipulator) who is using the Doctor trope to feed on human brains. The gimmick is a way to start, and you can go as light or as dark as you’d like while using it.
How to use this: Gimmicks are a great start, but they aren’t the end of the story. Use the gimmick as a launch pad into the story you really want to tell.
I hope that was gimmicky enough for you. If not, please let us know what sort of gimmicks you’d like to include as plotlines. I’m ready to hear them, and ready to make them even more of a gimmick than you asked for, anonymous search friend.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 19 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s preparing a Changing Breeds game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s other published adventures here and here.
Artwork by Jeshields, whose work can be found and supported at https://www.patreon.com/jestockart .
Today's RPG product review is Titan Effect The Role-playing Game by Knight Errant Media for The Savage Worlds game system. Unlike my standard reviews, I was given the opportunity to interview Christian Nommay, CEO of Knight Errant Media and a co-writer for Titan Effect. Having read through the Beta Edition of the rules, I (DMDR) had a few questions for Christian (CN).
DMDR: Going through the beta version of the book, and many Influences come right up to the front: X-Men, Ghost in the Shell, and real-life military and intelligence history. What inspired you and your team to bring these elements together?
CN: As a great fan of superheroes and spy fiction, I always had the crazy idea to combine these two genres together. With Titan Effect, I had the perfect project for that. I wanted to tell a spy story with an epic and heroic dimension, or even mythological. The work that probably inspired me the most for Titan Effect was the video game Metal Gear Solid. Besides the richness of the story, I was amazed by the unique mix of grounded espionage, science fiction, and superhero elements, and how these elements managed to remain consistent with each other. I wanted to be able to bring this same consistency for Titan Effect. When Daniel Eymard and Ghislain Bonnotte, my two co-writers, became involved in the project they also brought their own inspirations and references.
DMDR: By drawing from real-life history and topics, how did this affect the lore for Titan Effect? Would the cosmology have had a different feel if placed in an entirely new world?
CN: It was important for me and the team that Titan Effect was grounded in reality as much as possible. The best way for us was to mix Titan Effect’s elements with real-life history. The three of us are history buffs, especially everything related to the history of espionage and war as well as secret societies. This was really the fun part for us. Titan Effect's cosmology probably wouldn't be the same if it was placed in a different universe, or at least it wouldn't have the same impact. For example, World War Two and the Cold War had a lot of influence on how most organizations and characters have evolved in Titan Effect.
DMDR: The history references stop with 2014. Was it your team’s intent for Titan Effect to take place in the present or a near future timeline?
CN: Initially, Titan Effect was to take place much further in the future, in the 2030s (I started writing the project in 2007, but that’s a long story). Since a lot of elements in Titan Effect were linked to the Cold War, it made more sense to bring the action back to the present. Besides, trying to create a futuristic universe is a different kind of beast. At the end, it will be up to the players and the GMs to shape the future of Titan Effect.
DMDR: What excited you most about working on Titan Effect?
CN: The thing that excited me the most during the writing of Titan Effect was the opportunity to create a whole storyworld, with its own rules and characters.
DMDR: What was the most troublesome part of this project?
CN: The biggest challenge during the development of Titan Effect was undoubtedly to ensure the consistency of all the elements and achieve a good balance. It was true for the background as well as adapting Savage Worlds rules.
DMDR: The Titan Effect Kickstarter will be live in October. What potential stretch goals can pledges unlock during the crowdfunding?
CN: I don’t want to reveal too much and keep the surprise. However, I can tell you that among our stretch goals there will be a Plot Point campaign, a player companion, a world atlas, and a lot more.
DMDR: If there was one thing you wanted readers to know about Titan Effect, what would it be?
CN: Titan Effect's creation has been an exciting and emotional journey. With your help, I'd like to share the result of this journey with everyone else.
Review and ScoresComing from the opposite spectrum (Fantasy, non-SW GM/Player), the Titan Effect review took me out of my comfort zone; in a good way! The art is amazing, the text reads like a novel (fun, engaging, nice flow), and the concept perfectly blends together different sources in a way that made me feel at home. I think my biggest complaint about Titan Effect is that I do not have a group using the Savage Worlds game system. I may need to change that.
Cost vs Value
The Cost here is a touch of an issue. Generally speaking, many companies set prices around 10-15 cents per page on soft covers and around 20-25 cents per page for hard covers. There are plenty of examples of main and third party publishers going outside of these ranges. This comes in at around (expected, I cannot guarantee this price) 30-47 cents per page (again expected retail after Kickstarter), which isn’t not too far off of what other Savage Worlds third party publishers are charging for a premium color, hardcover. I will note that you will be getting closer if not under that 30 cents per page if you pledge to the Kickstarter. Once you throw in the fact you get a PDF for most of the pledge tiers, and the prospect of stretch goals, that price per page drops quickly. This is one Kickstarter where there will be huge savings versus retail.
Now that we handled the cost per page, what is the actual value you’ll get? If the core book is similar to the beta rules, you get quite a bit. The beta rules come with everything you need, if you’re a Savage Worlds player. You get a cosmos that seamlessly blends with real-world history, a plethora of psychic spy character options and gadgets, a fully loaded armory, and more than 20 sample NPCs and foes. Want more? The beta rules supplied a really well-thought-out mission generator so a GM can pump out plenty of missions to keep agents busy.
20 points (KS)/ 9 points (expected retail)
I am not really a “digital painting” kind of person. People can make really awesome artwork using a digital painting medium, but I still prefer seeing awesome line-work and traditional mediums. But you know what? I genuinely enjoy the art in Titan Effect. The art is well-placed, not just filler. The images really give a sense of the flavor Knight Errant Media is aiming for. I nearly jumped out of my seat when I saw an operative image with a censor bar over her eyes trying to hide her identity. It was like something out of a spy movie. Perfect. Everything is professionally finished. Definitely order this book in premium color. 10 points
I need to do a lot of reading on my phone: in the lab, at my desk, or a even stopped at a red light. The layout and text worked perfectly on my phone. No need to zoom-in and out or scroll all over the place. The writing is just as perfect. The technical portions provide clear, concise information. Never once did I backtrack and re-read something for clarity. The creative side is not sprinkled on top; it is loud and in your face. As I read the opener, I felt like a secret agent. I reminded myself more than once this was a rule book and not a Tom Clancy novel. 20 points
There really isn’t much to say about the mechanics. But that is quite common in a “campaign setting” book. While there are a few new mechanics in play, most of what you deal with is based on the core book (Savage Worlds in this case). I will mention that Titan Effect uses a supplement that generally can be OP (Super Powers Companion). Titan Effect tones down the power creep with built-in limitations and alterations to the source material. 13 points
Titan Effect almost stands alone. Almost. Like most settings, you need the core rules. If nothing else, this is how I would define a stand-alone setting. Titan Effect calls for partial use of the Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion. While calling for a main-line product typically does not impact the score, this specific rules companion has known power creep with some SW groups outright banning the book as hard as my group did Book of Exalted Deeds from D&D 3.5e (I think that was also the last time anyone ever let me in a PvP session, too). Though Titan Effect will give you extensive use of your Super Powers Companion, not having a copy of this sparingly-used supplement means an extra investment. 12 Points
Titan Effect draws inspiration from almost every source imaginable. We have historical references, real-life military intelligence, and folklore all spliced with biomechanical/genetically-engineered humanoids (or simply evolved) X-men meets Ghost in the Shell flavors. Separate, these ideas are cliché tropes. Together, they create a diverse experience where everyone at the table feels informed with the material and game-style. 19 points
With 94 out of 100 possible points (Kickstarter), Titan Effect is going to infiltrate many Savage Worlds collections. If it doesn’t, it’s because the Kickstarter slipped under your radar (Tentative 83 out of 100 for retail pricing).
If you are interested in picking up a copy (Savage World groups really should), the Titan Effect Kickstarter is live. Keep tabs on all the Titan Effect news by following their twitter and facebook pages.
Donald “The DM Doctor” first discovered the ancient tomes known as AD&D at the age of seven. After twenty years of experience in various RPGs from both sides of the table, Donald took the leap into freelance game design. A Paizo RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 contestant and freelance writer, The DM Doctor posts DM tips and free RPG resources on his blog: www.thedmdoctor.com. You can follow The DM Doctor on twitter, facebook, and google+.
Image source: https://www.facebook.com/pg/TitanEffect/photos/
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.