Handcrafted Heroes: Rambles on creating characters in a super hero RPG

As I said in the state of the status, I’ve been playing in a super hero RPG. It’s been a lot of fun, but I have had some teething troubles trying to make characters that work well with the group and with the world that their in. SO let’s talk about that.

I had not planned on attending a super hero game. I had been attending their Pathfinder game for a few weeks and showed up expecting everything to be the regular PF game. but the DM didn’t have things prepared enough I guess, so at the very last minute, I had to make a character.

Now, making characters is a key part of any RPG. Some systems pride themselves on having quick and simple characters. What we were playing scoffed at such simple systems, and probably added another layer of complication out of spite.

We call it the Heroes game. That’s not really its name, because its name is long and involved. See, it starts with the D&D3ish OGL content. Then enterprising souls decided to let them play different games in it, so they created D20 modern, which basically means they added a whole bunch of guns. Then we add the super hero adaptation, Phoenix Project, on top of all of that. So we end up with a system that has passed through the hands of at least 3 different design teams, each with their own vision of what the system should look like.

This does not make for an easy system to quickly make a character in. Playing all of this Pathfinder and whatnot has reinforced my love of 5e in two key areas: Skills and Feats.

Yes, I admit that it is really cool all the things you can do in 3ish with feats. It does feel nice to bury my hands in the nitty gritty interconnectedness of the system and chart a course to a character that preforms exactly how I want. But it is not fast. you HAVE to take feats in 3ish. 5e’s ASI let you bypass looking up feats if you just wanted to make a character quick. (Sure, there’s not a lot of feats out right now. I imagine that will change eventually. It will still be nice that you can get ability scores instead of mandatory feats, which was a thing in 3ish and 4. (Feats that if you didn’t take, your character was markedly less useful))

Skills in 5e is a better system as well. (I’d say IMO, but that’s the point of owning a blog, no?) It is SOOO simple compared to previous editions. 5e has a simple mechanic. Take the modifier and if you are trained in the skill, add one number. Simple. 4e was a little more complex. If you were trained in the skill, you got a +5 to checks with it. And then there were feats and items and class features and racial features that let you pick up +2’s here or there. If you wanted to spec for a skill, you could have crazy numbers really early on. (I had a Mystique based character I made once that had something like a +13 disguise at level 4 or something gross like that. Never played it.)

3ish has an extra layer of complication, in that it has skill ranks. Characters get points based around their intellect and class that help divide people good at combat and people good at skills. It also helps you shore up what your character is supposed to be good at, I guess. I am not a fan of this system, as may be apparent (Honestly, I don’t like skills in an attribute based game. I think removing skills from D&D entirely would be amazing).

The thing that makes this Heroes game so aggravating, though, is each of the 3 different system layers has a different opinion on skills. (possibly for legal reasons. Can’t discount that…) You can take feats to give you bonuses in Spot, Observe, Perception, Notice, Listen, and Search. Which seems a bit excessive, no?

Also, in addition to skills and feats, and strange classes I don’t know the exact workings of, and a long list of super powers to choose, there’s all these game rules that are not explained. Apparently in the system, once you get a base attack bonus of +6, you can also make a secondary attack. I spent hours looking for this information and could not find it. It was just something that I was supposed to know. And that irritates me greatly. I have no way of knowing what else I don’t know in this system. (Which is why I would prefer a self-contained system, one intended to stand by itself instead of this building on the other systems version. Too much assumed knowledge, and assumed method of play.)

So with all of the talk about the system out of the way (lol, Jk, we’ll be discussing in again, don’t worry!) we can get back to the situation I found myself. I had my notebook, my phone with the 3 websites on it, and 3 fellow nerds none of whom were actually going to the effort of walking me through character creation. They were, of course, very helpful with my questions, but they weren’t going to the effort of taking me under their wing and walking me through the steps required. Which doesn’t bother me, as I am a fierce independent gamer who needs no assistance. Besides, they had characters of their own they were tuning.

I have a new thing I am doing with characters. Its not a super firm thing, but, in general, new PCs I make are grouped into families, so they can share a similar backstory and I have to make up less. The family I had been thinking about at the time was the K’dock family, which is a half-orc barbarian group in a D&D setting. In a super hero setting, it turns out the barbarian part holds true. I decided to make a simple D&D character for this superhero game and set about making a barbarian.

The only major notable thing about my character creation is that I decided his power was based on an Iconic Item, almost solely for the discount. Kind of foolishly, I decided it was sword, the sword of kings or something. I wish, based on stuff that happened in a fight later on, that I had made it armor or a necklace or something. But the King’s Blade it is. (I still haven’t really found a name to stick with.)

So I loaded this sword with powers and feats until the discount ran out. And I made a slightly scary guy. He was big, had a butt load of HP and could deal some serious damage with his sword. But, you see, he had some flaws. The first of which was that he was hastily made, with a limited understanding of what was useful. He had superfluous bells and whistles and was lacking in certain areas.

It happens, with any first character in a system. Once you play for a bit, you learn about the system and what works and what doesn’t. You also learn about the people you play with and what you need to interact with them. And boy, did I learn that Bonda was not what was needed for our group. The party didn’t need a tank (well, okay, they did. One of the players had a character die where I couldn’t reach them to help. RIP guy who died to a slime)

Now, I am a player with a specific set of talents. Chief among these are my investigation talents, where I keep asking questions about… stuff. Nothing earth shattering. But with each simple question, often just a clarifying question that the DM answers without thinking. No reason not to. But as I ask, I’m building a framework, a structure of logic that give me purchase, that when the tricky question comes up, I have this fortification to sally from that it almost makes rolling for me to find out whatever I’m asking for is unreasonable.

This makes me sound like a scheming Moriarty type, but really, I’m not. I just like to know things about the world. It builds my immersion. Its one of my pillars of fun. And I DON’T KNOW WHY EVERYONE ELSE REFUSES TO EXPAND DETAIL BY ASKING QUESTIONS!!!!! Seriously! They sit there, with the scant details spoonfed them by the DM. I am a DM. I know we toss out the barest details nessicary. Why? because nothing makes a party say “We head immediately to the next room” like having exquisite details for everything in the room. Its wasted effort to detail anything unless the party chooses to examine it. So unless the party shows interest, we just give the briefest of synopsis. The key to being a good player is to ask questions and build the world around your characters, aiding everyone in having the same vision of the space, so they can act together.

Maybe this is part of returning to the far side of the DM screen. We are changed, those of us who assume the mantle of DM and are transformed into, I dunno, superior beings? There is a definite difference between us true DMs and players who moonlight on our side of the screen. Maybe this detail orient game is the answer? I dunno. I need to study it more.

All of that is mostly irrelevant, except that I learned on my second session with this character that a burly barbarian from some distant century can’t do the investigations that were needed. I had to rely on others for the investigation which was a painful experience.

Then we got in some fights and stuff. Really, I’m losing track of what this article was supposed to be about. Oh, I learned in that big boss fight that having my Iconic Item be a sword was bad, as every time I was paralyzed, it fell from my hands and I had to spend a move action to pick it up. This cost me a few attacks. So that was a learning experience.

Basically, I learned a lot about how the combat works, how the roleplay works, and how the world works. So when I built my second character and when I rebuild Bonda, these deficiencies are taken into account and, while I’m not as amazing as I would love to be, I sure am better.

Hey, that sounds like a moral. We’ll roll with that.





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