It has been a long time since I had a chance to play the AGE system by Green Ronin Publishing. I love, and often recommend, the Dragon Age game as a great introduction to roleplaying games. The standard Fantasy setting is also amazing, and anyone interested in the Titansgrave adventure that Geek and Sundry does on Tabletop would certainly enjoy that futuristic fantasy setting as well.
The dice mechanics are simple, the stunts system actually supports roleplaying in an easy way to learn, and the character creation takes only 15 minutes once you know what you are doing. Actually, it is more of a character discovery than a character generation because so much of it is based on random rolls and then making limited choices based on those results. I’m really hoping that the Sentinels Comic RPG does something similar, but that’s another blog post entirely.
Last week we did a blog post called Making A Character You Want To Play that talked about converting your vision of a great character into the actual character sheet. Then we expanded on that concept in Better Characters, pointing out how to make sure your character would be enjoyable to play for multiple sessions. Previously, we also looked at playing Pregenerated And Regenerated Characters and talked a bit about making a character your own while being true to that character.
But while all of these topics have touched on Character Discovery, we’ve never actually addressed it in and of its self. So let’s talk about that now!
What Is Character Discovery?
Discovery is a big appeal to RPGs, especially since the only limits to a game are imagination and continuity. The more we play, the more we discover about the world and its inhabitants. We also learn about ourselves, and the characters that we create, as they interact with the story and the world.
Character discovery is not just for the rest of the party to discover your character’s secrets, habits, and moral alignment. The player that is controlling the character and making all the decisions for them is also discovering more and more about their character as they play. You learn which virtues they will stick with, what lines they are willing to cross, and what will ultimately change them as they are tested time and again in the campaign.
Have you ever played with someone that wants to skip the character creation process and just play a pregenerated character? You might expect them to just be in it for the combat scenes, but then you find that they are more interested in the story of their character than actually succeeding checks? Or maybe you have even been that player yourself. We would expect someone that is so deeply into their character development to be more interested in their creation, but many creative players don’t want that sort of control. They want that part done so they can skip ahead to discovering their character.
Getting To Know Your Character in Creation
Fortunately, the AGE system provides a nice alternative that can make everyone happy. You roll your stats, social class, and racial traits. You choose your character class, class traits, and race from a limited selection. The personality, goals, and ties are yours to choose from with no real limit. And sure, different GMs may allow different amounts of freedom with choices rather than rolls, but if you are interested in discovering a character then I highly recommend you design them per the rules.
You get your first glimpse at the character when you roll stats. This will show you a basic idea of how strong, fast, smart, perceptive, enchanting, and charismatic they are. So you make your first choice (character race) and get a little better focus on your character with all the things that go with that race. Then you make another roll for racial traits, then another decision, then another roll, and finally you are ready to pick your class.
Now you may have a character class in mind with your concept going into the character creation, but by the time you actually get to choosing a class you have an idea of what your character’s capabilities will be, which means that by this point you will start to see a personality. Do you want to play a spellcaster even if your magic is low? Then you will have to ask yourself why they are not as skilled as others. Do you want to play a rogue despite the high magic score? What makes them so powerful in magic if not the ability to cast spells?
By going back and forth between rolls and decisions, the AGE mechanics encourage reactions to unexpected (Discovered) results. You interpret the dice results and move forward, learning enough about your character to discover their base personality. But of course, you are not done discovering your character yet. There is more to learn in the actual adventure!
Character Discovery in Gameplay
Since there are only 3 classes, character uniqueness is going to depend on personality and playstyle. This is exactly the sort of thing that players who thrive on discovery want, even if they sometimes don’t know it yet. You try your first combat and find what does and does not work, and it teaches you what your character favors as well as how combat-capable they are. So once again, you react to dice rolls and interpret the results into a decision about your character’s personality.
The same works for social encounters. You may roll wonderfully for haggling and discover your character is a penny pincher. You may also roll terribly on a flirt check and discover that your character is hopeless. In this early game, you learn from the mechanics who your character is and push them to discover more capabilities. The character levels up and gets more distinguished, until you can hardly believe that 2 characters came from the same starting class.
As a character fleshes out, and most of their personality is discovered, the method of discovery shifts more to the story its self. Decisions are made, sacrifices are necessitated, and complexity reveals itself. Dragon Age is especially good at encouraging tough choices for a character. Do you use the magic seed to save the princess and let the pixies die, or do you plant the seed so the pixies will have a home but let the demon control the princess and terrorize her kingdom?
The choices your character makes help show you who they really are, and of course this is constantly changing. A character that always punches first and ask questions later may grow to regret this instinct and try to improve themselves. A cautious bard may pick up a magic item and try it out just to see what it does. A lonely hunter may find love and now have to wrestle with a new priority in their life. As the story changes, the characters change with it and change the story. And the best part is that most RPGs are not solo games, so you are also discovering things about every character in the party.
Exploring Party Relations
A good campaign is like a relationship. There are lots of surprises as you discover new things about each other in the beginning. But once you get past that initial stage, you discover how things tie together and shape yourself and everyone you interact with. The wonders never cease, and the surprises are all the more surprising because the more time you are around someone the less you expect to be surprised.
For example, your group will likely get in a rhythm established in the early game of the campaign. You will quickly learn who goes out in front for combat and who fights from a distance. You learn who can take hits and who needs protecting. You learn who is effective at persuading NPCs and who is entertaining to watch interact with them. You learn who scouts ahead when you explore, what order you march in, and who ultimately is the expert in various skill checks. And you will probably figure out fairly quickly who the group’s moral compass is.
But once you have discovered that comfort level, you start to deviate from it. Your group may have other characters that are fairly good at skill checks and want a chance to shine, or they may have story reasons for not defaulting to the comfortable party member. Characters will make dumb decisions, because everyone does, and sometimes players would rather be entertained than get it right. This also teaches you what characters consider important.
New interactions grow from these encounters. The orc and Halfling develop a fastball special attack. The dwarf develops a crush on the elf he did not trust before. The human saves the gnome’s life. The goliath pranks the half-elf. Eventually players are having their characters do things just to see how it changes the story so that they can try to discover new sides of everyone.
Not everyone wants a long deep story-focused game, and that’s ok. If you are more combat or stat focused, you can plan your character out from scratch to level 20. If you are more about achievements than discovery, keep a list of quests and work hard to make sure you are never split from the party. And if you are just there to socialize with other players, then have fun and just try not to make anyone uncomfortable.
A roleplaying game always works best when everyone is on the same page about what sort of game that they are playing. It helps to have a variety of sticks, stones, rubbers, and glues in your group. It makes things interesting. But the ultimate story goal needs to be something that everyone is working towards.
I still recommend the AGE system to anyone that wants to learn RPGs. If you are not familiar with the Dragon Age games, or you are introducing a young group, the Fantasy AGE system may be a better fit for you. And by all means, watch the Geek and Sundry videos to build some excitement about playing the game!
If you have any stories about surprise discoveries with a character, we would love to hear them. Or if you have any questions, feel free to throw them our way!