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High Quality Characters

July 24th, 2008 · Luke · 10 Comments

This is the first in what is to be a semi-regular series of essays and articles here on The PodgeCast blog. This is not just something for the hosts (like we don’t talk enough!), we’d like to invite the whole community to contribute. If you’d like to submit an article about any of the extremely broad topics we cover here at The Podge, just shoot any of us an email at mail@podgecast.com and we’ll talk it up.

Follow the link to the article.

High Quality Characters

A Savage roleplaying tool inspired by FATE 3.0

by: Luke Meyer

Creating a deep, multi-faceted character is the goal of just about any gamer. While Savage Worlds provides the tools to make well-rounded character, the broad strokes the system is painted in (which is arguably one of its best features) sometimes leaves a little to be desired on the character sheet. Qualities are a new addition to the ruleset that help to bring the important details of the character into the spotlight without unbalancing the system.

Qualities are heavily inspired by Spirit of the Century by Evil Hat Productions. Spirit of the Century is an excellent game in its own right and can be considered a spiritual sibling of Savage Worlds. I highly recommend the game to anyone as it is one of the best and most well-designed games to come out in the last few years.

1. What are Qualities?

Qualities are descriptors that tell the world what is important about your character and important to your character. They can be just about anything you can imagine from relationships and beliefs to quotes, reputations, and simple statements describing your character.

Sample Qualities- Strong Like Bear, Sworn Enemy of Duke Welston, Well-Traveled, “I’m getting to old for this *#@!,” Protector of the Golden Flame, “Inconceivable!”

2. What do Qualities Do?

Qualities tell the world what’s important about your character. It also tells the GM exactly what you’d like to see show up in the game. If you have a Quality of “Protect my daughter, Maddie” then you’re telling the GM that you want your daughter to be a feature in the game. Similarly, if you tie any organizations into your Qualities you better believe that they’re going to show up in the game…for good or for ill.

Qualities also provide the player a bonus to rolls which are tied into that Quality. This is called tapping the Quality. A character with the Quality of “I Never Miss” may tap that quality for a bonus on his attack roll with a ranged weapon. Someone with the Quality of “Fearsome Presence” can tap that to get a bonus to Intimidation rolls or any social rolls where such a description could affect things.

Lastly, Qualities provide a way to get bennies. The GM can provoke a Quality in order to challenge that player to perform certain actions or limit choices that fall under the description of that Quality. This is done in order to introduce complication to the story that come directly from what the character holds dear. Characters are rewarded with bennies for making their own lives a little tougher and a lot more interesting.

Why should you include Qualities into your game? The main reason is that it allows players to put the things they define their character with in the spotlight. Sure, Edges and Hindrances give a lot of variability, but with Qualities a player is limited only by his imagination. How many times have you played a game where someone has put in their background that they’re well-traveled (or something like it) but has no Edge or anything else that reflects it on his character sheet? In the standard rules (and with most roleplaying games) it’s just a background detail…something he might ask the GM to give him a bonus for once in a while. With Qualities, the player can put that part of his character in the fore-front. He’s Well-Traveled and can get bonuses on all sorts of rolls that would relate to his travels, if he’s willing to spend a benny.

Qualities allow the background and roleplaying aspects of characters to have a more concrete impact on the game without breaking the balance of Edges and Hindrances.

3. Tapping a Quality

In order to tap a Quality, first the player and the GM must agree that the Quality in question applies to the situation. There may be some negotiation involved in this. Next, the player spends a benny to tap the Quality. The player then rolls an additional d6 with his regular dice and adds it to the roll. This die may ace as normal.

Example – Barrett has a Quality called “No one touches Silvanna.” Silvanna is another PC who is a mage that has had a long-standing relationship with Barrett. When the orc berserker wound Silvanna, Barrett spends a benny and taps his Quality to gain an addition d6 to attack the orc. He then chooses to spend another benny and tap the same Quality for an addition d6 on the damage roll. Seriously, no one should mess with Silvanna.

Example – Joe is playing Lars a pilot of a transport in Steve’s sci-fi game. Joe’s character has the Quality “I am a leaf on the wind” which Joe has defined as a state of mind that allows his character to ignore distraction and keep level-headed in even the worst situations to pilot the ship through. Sure enough, the ship gets caught between two enemy fleets and must maneuver through sheer hell to get to safety. Battered and beaten, the ship must evade one last exploding vessel to get to safety. With flak, explosions, and carnage all around him, Lars spends a benny to tap “I am a leaf on the wind” and get an additional d6 to make that piloting roll.

An additional die is a pretty large bonus and for those that don’t want Qualities to have that much power you can tone them down by having them supply a flat +2 bonus to the roll. You can even knock that down to a +1 if you’re feeling stingy.

A Quality may be tapped either before or after the roll is made. A Quality may only be tapped once for each roll, but if multiple Qualities are applicable then you can spend additional bennies to tap additional Qualities.

4. Provoking a Quality

Provoking is not meant to punish players, but to actually put their Qualities in the spotlight and put them in interesting situations. It also adds a mechanical aspect to certain Hindrances that are usually solely in the purview of roleplaying (and often forgotten about, in my experience).

For instance, how many times have you seen a GM introduce a situation which was mysterious that no
player would send his character to investigate because it was too dangerous? Even a character with the Curious Hindrance might not delve into the mystery because his player knows it’s trouble.

With Qualities, the GM can provoke a player with Curious to go investigate. When provoking, the GM offers a benny to the character with the Quality in question. The player may then choose to take the benny and give into his Quality or spend a benny to ignore his Quality.

Example One – Cole Treller has just discovered the abandoned lab or the evil genius, Dr. Strobe. As he and his companions explore the place he comes across a strange panel that seem completely alien. Cole has the Curious Hindrance and thus has linked that to the Quality “What’s that?” The GM provokes “What’s that?” by offering Cole a benny to begin fiddling around with the alien device. Not looking to press his luck, Cole begrudgingly spends a benny to ignore his Quality.

Example Two – Lucky Lou is a character with the Quality “High Roller, Baby.” He’s been tapping that Quality all session in order to win big on the tables down at the strip. He’s also been using it on Persuasion rolls to get into back room games and have the casinos roll out the red carpet. He’s earned a fat pile of cash but he’s just gotten word that the contact he and his crew were sent here to find has agreed to a meeting in twenty minutes. The contact is known to be skittish and he knows he has to be there to back up his crew. As he makes his way through to his car, Fat Carl and the boys from last night’s game approach him and let him know that they want a chance to earn back their money. The Gm offers Lou a benny as he provokes “High Roller, Baby.” The player knows that if he accepts the benny he’s not going to make the meeting, but he’s low on bennies from tapping the Quality so much.

Lou accepts the benny and prepares to make a few more gambling rolls while his friends walk into danger across town.

Provoking Qualities gives the players the fuel to later tap Qualities.

5. Other Uses of Qualities

There are other ways that Qualities provide bennies to the players. If the GM uses a relationship or organization from a player’s Qualities, he’s obliged to give that player a benny for introducing something so inspiring to the game. Also, for those times when the GM needs to use a character with a certain Knowledge skills as a mouthpiece for critical game info (which we all know happens), that player should be awarded a benny.

Also, a player may spend a benny to edit the details of the story.

Example – Josh is playing Rhupert, a mage, that is a member of the Magus Academy. As his affiliation is important he even has the Quality “Ascendant in the Magus Academy.” Rhupert just took a long voyage and has arrived in a foreign port. His travels have uncovered a conspiracy and he needs to contact the Magus Academy as soon as possible. He asks the GM if the Academy has a presence in the city. The GM tells him no as the local religion believes all mages to be evil. Josh offers to spend a benny to have the Academy have some sort of presence in the city. The GM considers it and agrees that there is a small underground group of Academy mages in the city working to both stay alive and undermine the church. Of course, finding such outlaws will be an adventure in itself…

Having the players take an active role in world creation isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it usually ends up creating far more interesting adventures if the GM knows how to spin it.

6. Creating Qualities

Qualities are really only limited by the player’s imagination. Anything that can be thought of as important to a character can be turned into a Quality. The key to creating good Qualities, though, lies in honing them into a double-edged sword. Since you generate bennies by having Qualities provoked, it’s in the player’s best interest to make sure that each Quality is designed that it can be provoked easily. That’s not to say you can’t create a Quality that would be difficult to provoke, but while those types of Qualities provide bonuses, they’re not going to net you any bennies.

Example – Cale has the Quality “Bookworm” which he taps frequently when doing research. His player has described the Quality as being born from all the hours Cale has spent isolated in the library. As Cale hasn’t had great social exposure, the GM takes great pleasure in provoking Cale into awkward social situations where his bookwormish ways tend to make a poor impression.

Another key to Qualities is giving them an interesting name. You could have the Quality of “Strong” (which is one of those Qualities that isn’t terribly provokable), but it’s much more interesting to give it a bit of flair. Perhaps you Russian woodsman is “Strong Like Bear” or your brawny dwarven miner has “Strength Borne of Granite.” Your ex-cultist researcher could have a Quality of “Ex-Cultist,” but isn’t “Hunted by The Crimson Hand” more interesting?

It is up to the player to define what his Qualities can be tapped and provoked for. The GM has final approval though, as some Qualities may be far too broad or uselessly narrow.

A character gets 5 Qualities. While he may never have more than this, Qualities can change during play as long as the GM agrees. There are two methods to picking Qualities.

Pick and Choose – The easiest of the methods. Pick 5 Qualities that are important to your character and go play. Simple and quick.

The Lifepath Method-
This is the more interesting of the methods. Divide the character’s Qualities over the course of his lifetime. His first Quality might be from his childhood and reflect his place of origin or upbringing. The second Quality could cover his pre-adventuring career. The third Quality relates to the character’s first adventure. The fourth and fifth Qualities should be tied to the adventures of other characters. This instantly creates a backstory to the party and gets around the whole “Your characters all know each other” issue that many games begin with. Think of you third Quality as a novel, movie, or comic starring your character. Your fourth and fifth Qualities are from guest-starring in the other player’s novels or movies.

You can also adapt the lifepath to focus on a major event. In Deadlands, the paths may look like this:

Quality 1 – Childhood and Upbringing

Quality 2 – The Civil War

Quality 3 – After the Recknoning

Quality 4 – Starring Role

Quality 5 – Guest Starring role

7. Linking Hindrances and Edges

There is really only one hard and fast rule when creating Qualities. Any Hindrance your character takes that doesn’t have a direct mechanical effect (ex: Vow, Curious, Overconfident) must be linked to a Quality. This gives the ‘free’ Hindrances some mechanical beef so they actually have an in-game effect. You can still name your Quality as you like, but the description must be tied into the Hindrace in some way.

Example – Seth is playing a space pilot named San Holo. He’s taken the Overconfident Hindrance and must somehow tie it into the Quality. He deices to create a Quality called “Never tell me the odds!” which he’ll tap to get bonuses in situations where he’s completely outnumbered or in executing plans that have minimal chances of success. The GM can provoke that Quality in situations where San’s overconfidence can cause complications. Any GM that can’t think of situations like that to put the character into isn’t worth his salt!

It can be useful to tie Edges into Qualities too, though it doesn’t have to be done. Trademark Weapon just screams for a Quality that applies to the weapon.

Example – Aragorn has the Trademark Weapon Edge that applies to his sword, Narsil. He also takes a Quality called “Narsil, the blade reforged.” Aragorn can tap that Quality to give bonuses to hit and damage rolls and also any Persuastion or Intimidation rolls regarding those who know what Narsil is.

8. Famous Examples

Let’s take a look at some famous characters and see what Qualities they may have had.

Inigo Montoya – Spaniard, Lousy Drunk, “You killed my father, prepare to die!”, Master Fencer, “Fezzik is my only friend”

Spider-Man (focusing on just the first movie) – Science Nerd, “Thanks, Aunt May,” With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, Unrequited Love – Mary-Jane, The Worst Luck

Harry Potter – A Mother’s Love, The Boy Who Lived, Quidditch Prodigy, Friends Until The End (Ron and Hermione), Gryffindor!

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10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Seraph // Jul 24, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    I started reading out of boredom, but finished due to interest.

    This is an inspiring idea, and I’m really digging the props you guys have been giving to game designs and concepts that work to integrate storytelling and system structure. Keep it up.

  • 2 Rob Justice // Jul 24, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    I’ve actually been toying around with this idea for World of Darkness… of course my inspiration came more from Dogs in the Vineyard and my desire to integrate their “betting” mechanic into every freaking game I play. Hahaha

  • 3 Luke // Jul 24, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Seriously, though, follow the links in the article to Spirit of the Century and check out the source. This is nothing more than adapting a fantastic mechanic from there to Savage Worlds.

  • 4 Brad // Jul 24, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    I’m a big fan of mixing & matching to achieve a better system for a game, and this is one I hadn’t come across before. I’ll definitely give this a go in campaign.

  • 5 Rob Donoghue // Jul 25, 2008 at 7:55 am

    This is pretty sweet! It feels like you’ve hit just about the right mechanical balance to Savage Worlds, which is really the tricky part. So, kudos!

    -Rob D.

  • 6 Shawn // Jul 25, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    I’m thinking of adapting this to nWoD. Not sure how it would work on top of Virtues, Vices, Merits and Specialties though.

  • 7 Luke // Jul 25, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Yeah, Virtues and Vices already does this…kind of. It’s be a bit tougher to kludge into nWoD.

  • 8 McNutcase // Jul 28, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    I’m shamelessly stealing this idea and taking it a little bit further for the Savage Worlds one-shot I’m dorking around on at the moment. Since it’s a one-shot, I’m pre-making the characters… so they’re getting gimmicks that fit in with their concepts.

    One of the characters is based heavily on Phil. Yes, that Phil…

  • 9 Joe // Jul 29, 2008 at 4:42 am

    …why would you do that to the world?

  • 10 McNutcase // Jul 29, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Because it doesn’t need to survive. It’s just a one-shot, designed to get people to be loud and silly (for instance, some of the extras will obey commands given by the PCs – but only if shouted in the right accent…)

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