Step two of the WoD process requires the player to select attributes. The attributes consist of three core groups each with three subcategories. The core groups are mental, physical and social, and the subcategories are power, finesse and resistance. Thus the mental attribute consists of intelligence, wits and resolve, the physical attribute consisting of strength, dexterity and stamina and the social attribute consisting of presence, manipulation and composure. All attributes are important and ideally a player would like to have four or maximum dots – dots being the representations on the character sheet of the characters abilities, skills and other measurable aspects – in each of them. However, in the need for believability and familiarity in an unfamiliar world it is not possible to do so: although it is set in modern day the world your character finds himself in is not one he was familiar with. Thus when creating your character it is important to use your concept in guiding you to determine which of the attributes is your primary, secondary and tertiary attribute, as it will determine how many dots you have available for use. All characters begin with one dot in each attribute, the basic human capabilities. Five dots are allocated to the character’s primary category, four dots to her secondary category, and three dots to her tertiary category (Blackwilder et al: 2005; 64).
Once the character’s attributes have been established it is time to move onto the third step, selecting skills. Skills are divided into the same three core groups as attributes: mental, physical and social. Unlike attributes, though, the character does not start with one dot in each skill as skills represent the knowledge, training and interactions that your character has had and it is unlikely for one person to have a basic understanding of everything (Blackwilder et al: 2005; 64). Similarly to attributes, skill sets are also divided into primary, secondary and tertiary, with the primary sets having eleven dots available for distribution, the secondary seven and the tertiary four. This does mean that a player could make use of “min-max” – using the positive to balance out the negative, in this case placing the most skills in the low corresponding attribute – to create a character that is capable in all situations. If the player does not make use of min-max and truly creates someone in line with the concept you will have a situation in play that mimics reality: those more competent at what is being done will take centre stage and do what needs to be done. This does also mean that at this stage of character creation the player is influenced to a certain extent by the other players he will be playing with and choices could be made in terms of “party make up” and not what would best suit either the player or the character. This influence held by the other players illustrates the manner in which identity is not only constructed by the player, but also formed by the other players. Identity is formed in conjunction with the views and actions of others, because they shape the views and actions of the self.
By contrast within DnD skill selection is the seventh consideration; this one consideration deals with what takes two steps in the WoD system. This is because within WoD skill selection is followed by selecting skill specialities. DnD character creation system deals with skill specialities by not leaving it open to the player to choose them for his character according to what could work in terms of concept and story as in WoD, but by having certain skills only available to certain classes. Thus the choice is made for the character by virtue of the class chosen. In both systems the player is able to purchase further skills, be they gaining more experience in those he already possess or learning a new skill. The WoD system allows the player to spend the experience points gained in any manner that would best suit his character; and certain things cost more than others. The cost of the various skills, abilities and attributes are explained at the bottom of Appendix A, the Mage character sheet. The DnD system however; has a certain number of skill points available per level the character gains, which the player can spend as would best suit the character and his particular narrative. The skills available to the character’s particular class are cheaper than those he gains outside his class – “cross class skills”. The character can however, make use of money earned through adventuring to purchase equipment or magical items which could have a positive impact on his skills – as indicated by the miscellaneous modifier column in the skill’s section on the DnD character sheet, Appendix B. Another aspect to note in the skill section on the character sheet is that certain skills can be used by an untrained character, including skills such as jumping and hiding, which the average person is able to do.
The impact of gender on a concept a player might have for a character within a DnD campaign is only important insofar as the assumptions that the players might hold about the time period of the setting. Given that the DnD world in the core rulebooks is placed within a fantasy setting and as such the classes are those you would find in such a setting, it stands to reason that as there is no way to validate or invalidate the assumptions held by the players, some might use it to enforce the thought of males as the norm. This means that certain classes could then be considered only fitting for certain genders i.e. females being sorcerers instead of wizards, but the only true distinction between these two classes lies in the fact that sorcerer’s arcane abilities are innate whereas wizard’s arcane abilities are learnt. Yet within the gaming world more often than not you will find a scantly clad female sorcerer and a cloaked male wizard. It has become the accepted and expected norm for a player wanting to create a female mage in the DnD world to have their character assume the gender and class assumptions of the particular class.
It is not only for the mage classes of the DnD world that these gender assumptions come to light: some of the very names of the classes and their assumptions make it difficult to imagine a female character perform that particular class. One such example is the class of cleric; the term in itself denotes a male priest and as such the associations carried with it are those of a religious father figure. In contrast to the religious father figure we have the religious nurturing mother figure in the class of healer; we also have the innate favored soul’s abilities that imply feminine aspects. Healers are implied to be female and the class itself implies that it is a class exclusively for the female character wanting to portray aspects of the religious figure. This is as one of the later abilities of the class is a “special companion”, a unicorn. The unicorn is an animal that is only able to be ridden by chaste females and here gender does have a definite impact on character creation.
Within the WoD setting however, one is not confronted with issues of class choices being possibly hampered by gender choice for your character. This is because WoD is set in the modern day society where all paths are open to those of all genders, something which we find reflected within the World of Darkness. Within Mage, Vampire and Werewolf there are no classes, but there are paths, bloodlines and clans respectively. Unlike the limitless choices a starting character has available in terms of class in the DnD system, within the WoD system the starting character is limited to five different paths, clans or tribes. The simple rule system for WoD is what holds great appeal for players coming from the DnD setting. There is more flexibility within the WoD Mage setting, as it allows for open interpretations of the paths and the arcanum. The uses of the arcanum given within the Mage core rulebook are examples and guidelines to what your character could do with the arcanum. Both systems allow for fluidity of character; your character is after all growing and gaining experience. Thus changes to the character’s personality, goals and desires are all allowed within play, as long as the narrative supports it. One can not have your character make the change from pacifist to someone not averse to getting into a good fistfight within one session, as there will have been no time for growth and change in the characters life. If this change occurs after several months – in game time – with the character having gone through events which lead to a justifiable change of mindset then it would be allowed by the DM/ST. The importance given to having a concept in WoD is confirmed in the thought that “you the player always have a guiding concept to fall back upon”, just as the player always has the concept to fall back on so does he have the associations with that concept to fall back (Blackwilder: 2005; 64).
The reason for character concept being implicitly mention second in the list of considerations is due to the fact that in DnD, unlike WoD you “roll” your characters abilities; instead of working with a set number of points. This means that although your character concept is that of a Halfling two weapon fighter ranger the “abilities rolled” might not suit that particular concept. “Rolling ability” scores refers to the player rolling six d6 [six sided dice] six times and for each roll taking the highest values of three for a total. Thus a level one character in a DnD campaign could have eighteen for all his attributes while a counterpart could have ten for most of his attributes creating an unbalanced group and potential conflict due to interpersonal resentment. It is for this reason that alternatives exist in the second core rulebook, Dungeons Master’s Guide. The alternatives for rolling the attributes are: standard point buy; nonstandard point buy; elite array; the floating reroll; organic characters; customized average characters; random average characters and high-powered characters (Cook, Tweet & Williams: 2003; 170). The standard point buy system has each characters attributes start on eight and the player is given twenty eight points to buy higher numbers. The buying of higher attribute numbers works as follows:
(Moore: 2000; 192)
The other alternatives are not as easy to use as the standard and customized point buy systems thus, when it comes to playing, DM’s either have the players roll their abilities or make use of the afore – mentioned systems.
Although having a concept is crucial to the character creation process, you might find difficulty in translating the concept into a playable character. The difficulties arise from the fact that you roll your character’s abilities. In rolling the abilities you might have numbers that do not suit your concept at all or they would make playing the type of character that you want to extremely difficult. It is easier to see the difficulties that could arise by the means of an example. There are six abilities: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma. Constitution, dexterity and wisdom provide the bases for the “resistance” saves of fortitude, reflex and will respectively. Thus these three abilities at the very least need to have a positive modifier [as demonstrated in the table above] in order for your character to be able to survive situations where resistance is necessary. Aside from striving for a positive modifier for those abilities, certain classes require certain abilities to be high as well, or that character would not be able to reap the benefits of his class. If Joan wanted to play a paladin – a knight-like class – she needs to have high scores in strength, wisdom, charisma and constitution. This is because
Charisma enhances a paladin’s healing power, self-protective capabilities, and undead turning ability. Strength is important for her because of its role in combat. A wisdom score of 14 or higher is required to get access to the most powerful paladin spells, and a score of 11 or higher is required to cast any paladin spells at all (Cook, Tweet & Williams: 2003; 43)
While constitution has proved to be important, to Joan, during other campaigns as it enables your character to be able to take more combat damage. Thus if Joan has rolled ten for all six of the abilities her character would not be able to be an effective paladin as she will have no positive modifiers for anything and thus be unable to make effective use of the chosen class. In fact Joan would be unable to make an effective character following any of the classes available, as having no positive modifiers at all will cause the chosen class to be under-utilised and have the player unable to positively contribute to the groups experience due to the character’s short comings. Here the concept hampers Joan’s experience, illustrating why the importance of concept is not as explicitly mentioned as important in the DnD system as in the WoD system.
In order to better understand the impact that gender has on character creation the process of character creation will now be examined. The differences between the d20 and d10 system of character creation, as used in DnD and WoD respectively, will also be examined, as well as the impact of the stereotypes established by the gaming world; and the importance or unimportance of the relationship between stereotype and creation of identity. Within the d10 system used in WoD campaigns there is a basic human template with the particular setting or type of WoD game you want to play adding another template to the first. Thus for the Vampire the Requiem, Mage: The Awakening and Werewolf the Forsaken campaigns one of the first steps to consider for character creation is the type of human your character was before certain events occurred that introduced them to an unknown world. The focus is on creating a character – a person – and not the optimal vampire, mage or werewolf; this is demonstrated in the opening paragraphs for character creation in the Mage: The Awakening core rulebook.
“You are building a character to act as your persona in a Storytelling game, where the emphasis is on story, drama and, well, character. It is more important to craft the character around your vision of his personality, background and quirks — from his strange habits to his all-too-human flaws — rather than putting together the perfect wizard based on some tactical scheme on how to build the best flame throwing witch or demon-conjuring sorcerer. Your character’s allocation of traits should illustrate who she is and where she’s been in life — not just after the Awakening, but from before she knew she could make her imagination real. What were her hopes and dreams when she was a mere mortal, subject to the slings and arrows of misfortune? How has she changed since the Awakening? Does she use magic to fulfill her lifelong dream, or has she given up those goals to pursue new ones? The Storyteller can help you form your character by acting as a sounding board for ideas and questions” (Blackwilder et al: 2005; 64).
Once the personality aspect of the character has been established as core to the process of creation you can then move onto the other aspects of character creation. The creation occurs in eight steps: step one: character concept; step two: select attributes; step three: select skills; step four: select skill specialties; step five: add template [in the example being used it would be add mage template]; step six: select merits; step seven: determining advantages and step eight: awakening to life (Blackwilder et al: 2005; 64). Although how you create your character is up to you following the given steps in their correct order does make the process easier: it would after all be near impossible to flesh out your character as required in step eight if you had not selected your attributes; as would determining advantages become highly difficult if you had not added the relevant template. The first step of character concept as I had mentioned before is important to the process of gender and identity formation and construction of your character as some concepts do work best with certain genders. And if the gender is determined in terms of the concept then, so too would certain factors that contribute to the identity given to the character.
DnD however, does not have an eight – step creation system, instead it has a character creation summary that is made up of twelve considerations. The summary is followed by five chapters relevant to the process, as opposed to one for Mage: The Awakening. The twelve considerations are: check with your DM; roll ability scores; choose class and race; assign and adjust ability scores; review the starting package; record racial and class features; select skills; select feats; review description chapter; select equipment; record combat numbers and the last consideration details, details, details (Cook, Tweet & Williams: 2003; 6). Although it is not explicitly stated within the DnD core rulebook as it is stated within the Mage core rulebook, having a character concept is the most crucial part of the process. Although both DnD and WoD have set process to follow when creating characters, only players new to the game follow the process step by step, while more experienced players tend to combine the steps, as they recognise the impact that the various steps have on each other. The lapsing back into expected/accepted behavior does occur with newer players although I have found that the more experienced players tend to have this bad habit.
Several things around the local blogosphere have inspired this post. Firstly, my recent post about CRPGs of the 90s; then the announcement of the 5th monthly RPG blog carnival: Transitions and Transformations; and finally, the fact that Jonathan beat me to the Transformers post.
All of the above reminded me of my favourite vapourware:
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is one of my favourite CRPGs of all time. If you haven’t played it, I recommend that you try and get your hands on this 2004 gem. Anyway, within V:TM Bloodlines, a sense of a living world is portrayed through changing newspaper headlines, TV news reports and radio broadcasts. The best part about the radio broadcasts, however, were the advertisments. One of the radio adverts was about the Deformers (including Optical Mouse Prime – I would so buy an Optical Mouse Prime). My favourite radio ad, though, was about the upcoming horror RPG: Frankenstein: Breadlust. The link takes you to a youtube tribute video to the greatest game never made.