Create the sci-fi character you want

The picture above is from a version of the Different Suns Character Generator.

One thing that inspired me to start writing my own RPG was the notion that I would encourage players to “play just the character you want”. The spark came from the Year Zero Mini RPG. I’ve never liked the idea of a rigid “class” or “profession” determining not only where you begin, but also where you end up. 

What I do like is the idea of coming up with a character concept yourself, and then writing that down and expanding on it mechanically – but it should not feel too complicated. This expands the imagination, and opens up the possibility for stories including previously unsung heroes, for instance – “a cleaner and wanna-be stage magician working at a huge space station”, or “a research assistant at the Cerkadian corporation, cataloguing anomalies reported when spaceships use the new and experimental T1 sub-matter propulsion rockets”.

Of course, the GM can give some pointers and boundaries. For example: “You all have a professional relationship with the xenobiology department at the University of Nal Aboon and the department head Ani Seela. What is it you do that makes them pay you? Do you work freelance? Are you a part-time or full time employee? Are you getting paid off the books or is it an honest job?” Let’s take a look at how the character creation process works in the game at this stage.

Setting-light

But first, let me mention that Different Suns is what I call “setting-light”. The idea is that the players and the GM together find out what kind of universe the characters inhabit – unless the GM has a clear idea from the start about what kind of setting and events she wants to expose the players to, of course. Looking honestly at the game at this stage, it comes with an implied setting – and a framework characters can be created within. That is not to say it won’t be expanded in the future, but right now the broad premise is…

Human characters that could easily be drawn into an action-adventure-mystery in a sci-fi universe where humans have colonised a great number of planets and moons. Fantastical technology and advanced science is available in certain places and sectors, but almost unknown in others. There is a huge variety of xeno-flora and xeno-fauna. The existence of other intelligent species is still not verified, but rumours abound. 

But there is no long list of cybernetic implants, or long lists of weapons and equipment. There will be some lists in the finished game, of course, but the rules are meant to be flexible enough so that as many ideas as possible can be handled narratively and “translated” into simple mechanics if needed. I’m not a fan of extremely detailed rules and catalogues of equipment. Rather than choosing from a menu, I want you to come up with your own dishes.

Setting-light means that you can tweak the feel of the adventure to your preference. It doesn’t have to be a space opera vibe. It could be a bleak mystery set on a struggling colony many lightyears away from their nearest neighbour. Close your eyes, listen inwards, and “feel” what kind of place or setting you would like to explore. That’s your setting! At least the starting point for it. More about this in later blog entries. And yes, I do include an example setting.

Let’s create a space samurai!

For this showcase, let’s say we want to go for a samurai type of character. This is an example based on a character that one of my playtesters made. The character creation process is as follows:

  1. Decide your background and appearance
  2. Decide on your big dream and personal challenge
  3. Spend points on your attributes
  4. Calculate your physical and mental health
  5. Spend points on your skills
  6. Choose (or roll for) specialties
  7. Choose wealth level and starting equipment
  8. Choose your name

Background and appearance

Wandering vagabond. Never stays in the same place for long.
Japanese heritage. Tanned, always a little “sooty” and weathered.
Dark hair in a ponytail, traditional clothing, neo-samurai style.
A man of few words. Stoic.

Big dream and personal challenge

Peace on Mars.
Fear of attachment and commitments, avoids personal relationships.

Attributes

Attributes have a value between 1 (weak) and 5 (extraordinary). Player characters have a minimum value of 2 in any attribute and distribute 14 points among the four attributes.

StrengthAgilityWitsPresence
Raw muscle power, brawn, and endurance.Body control, speed, and motor skills.Sensory perception, information processing, and mental acuity.Personal charisma, connection with others, and emotional self-regulation.

We give our samurai Strength 5, Agility 4, Wits 3 and Presence 2.

Health

A character’s Vigour (physical health) is Strength + Agility / 2, rounded up. Their Clarity (mental stability) is Wits + Presence / 2, rounded up.

This gives our samurai a Vigour of 5 and a Clarity of 3.

Skills

The 12 skills in the game have a value between 0 (untrained) and 5 (elite). The basic system for rolling dice when something important is at stake is to add together as many six-sided dice you have in a relevant attribute and skill, and roll all the dice together. If you get at least one six you succeed, barely. The more sixes, the better. The player distributes 10 points among their skills – with a max level of 3 when starting out.

StrengthAgilityWitsPresence
ForceMoveObservationInsight
Hand-to-hand combatShootTechInfluence
SurvivalPilotScienceMedical aid

Our samurai gets Force 1, Hand-to-hand combat 3, Survival 2, Move 3, Shoot 1.

He may of course try other actions as well, but will then only roll the relevant attribute dice.

Specialities

The 36 specialities are abilities that allow you to fine-tune your character and give you an edge in certain situations. But let me first of all say that you can actually drop talents altogether, to simplify the game. Yes – I mean it. It is more to read and more to remember. But if you do want an increased level of “crunch”, go ahead and use them. What the specialties actually do mechanically is detailed in the full game.

Different Suns is not necessarily combat-focused. That’s why I endeavoured to create six categories of specialties: Health, Social, Creative, Combat, Investigation and Adventuring.

HealthSocialCreative
1: Calm under pressure1: Storyteller1: Maker
2: Unscathed2: Useful contacts2: Repair expert
3: Nine lives3: Rational approach3: Hacker 
4: To the bitter end4: Calming presence4: Artist
5: Rugged5: People person5: Extra equipment
6: Field surgeon6: Healer of the mind6: Cultural history
CombatInvestigationAdventuring
1: Deadly precision1: Watchful1: Mighty
2: Merciless2: Analysis2: Stealthy
3: Weapons specialist3: Applied science3: Daredevil
4: Tactician4: Truth seeker4: Hothead
5: Pull rank5: Judge of character5: Stunt pilot
6: Coward’s luck6: Brilliant6. At home in the wild

Normally you would choose one specialty if playing a young or inexperienced character, two as standard, and three for experienced characters, in their middle age or older.

We give our samurai three specialties:

Deadly precision, Rugged and Calm under pressure.

Wealth level and starting equipment

This is a game where you do not count individual credits. Instead, there are a few broad categories reflecting what kind of lifestyle you can afford: poor, normal, wealthy and rich. 

We go for “normal”.

It is also not a game for counting individual bullets and tracking encumbrance. (I mean, you could easily hack it for that, if it floats your boat). Instead, you list your significant items. It is assumed that you in normal situations have access to the equipment you need for doing your job. Of course, tracking your “inventory” could be invaluable in a pressured situation. “Durability” is a damage tracker. When reduced to 0 the equipment breaks. Equipment can be repaired.

Our samurai has a 

  • Taser-katana. Bonus +1. Damage 2. Durability 3. Feature: Stun. Resource points: 5. (tracks when it needs to be recharged or the power cell replaced).
  • Light pistol. Damage 3, Medium range. Durability 2.
  • Neo-samurai kevlar armour. Rating 1. Durability 3.
  • Ocarina flute.

Name

You could of course decide on a name at any point. Our friend is called Kaseihito “Yoshi-san” Yoshimitsu. 

And there you have it! Our character is created. From now on, he can choose to spend experience points on any skill or specialty he wants. There are no restrictions on advancement.

Alternative ways of creating a character: archetypes and random rolls

I realise that it’s not always easy to “pull a character from thin air”. Related to the example setting, I have written a set of “archetypes” to guide character creation. For instance, the Pilot archetype reads like this:

This ship is yours, even if you don’t own it. You know how to make it go fast, go slow, how to wake it up in a hurry and how to wind it down gently. What’s that noise now? Better get a techie to look at it. Or check it out yourself.

  • Key attribute: Agility
  • Key skills: Pilot, Shoot, Tech
  • Key talents: Daredevil, Stunt pilot, Calm under pressure
  • Equipment: 1H weapon, data pad with maps, Mechanical tools (+1 Tech), Medal of honour or fancy ring

There is also another way – if you want to let happy accidents guide your character creation. Roll a D66 (two six-sided dice, one represents tens and the other ones. If you roll 3 and 6, that’s 36.) Then read the result off the Specialties table. Do this three times. I can guarantee you that if you roll three random talents, you will immediately begin to envision what kind of character this is. Then it becomes easier to distribute attribute points and skill points afterwards.

And if that isn’t enough, I do have a prototype random character generator up on my website. Do check it out: Different Suns Character Creator. It’s rough, I know, and not always logical. But it can help with ideas, and may be helpful at the table, if you need a quick character.

However, I’m also working on how to generate NPCs quickly – as most normal human characters are a little “weaker” than the larger-than-life player characters. More on creating NPCs, foes and creatures in a later entry. Thanks for reading!


One response to “Create the sci-fi character you want”

  1. The perils and promises of shared worldbuilding – Indre Auge Blinks avatar

    […] have mentioned earlier that my futuristic Different Suns game is a “setting-light” game. This is partly inspired by […]

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