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The Travels of Mendes Pinto: Team Game

Character Creation for Dummies

by Sergio Mascarenhas
Aug 08,2002



This month it's time for character creation. As you can see, I present an early draft of this section of the TToMP AB01 book. The reason is simple: I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would like to have character creation to be done. In other words, the development of the concept and thinking about the character traits absorbed me a lot. In time I'll fill in the blanks.

I also have to mention that what I present today is only the standard way to create a character in TToMP. I plan to have advanced / optional rules that allow for other ways to handle, like a free-form narrative approach sort-off Hero Wars.

As you can see, I'm leaving section II (Fast Play) for a latter stage in the design of the book. I'll handle it after the rest is done. There are no updates to section I.

In the next column I'll go through the basic mechanics for TToMP.


I - First, let me stress what's the basic underlying philosophy of character creation in TToMP:

1. I want a character creation system that stresses qualitative over quantitative measures. The reason is that this is what fits the setting. You can see this from the excerpts of the Mendes Pinto book I included at the start of Section I and Section III. I want a character-creation system where, when the player finishes defining his character traits, he can turn it directly into a narrative as the one present in the excerpts. This means that the character has to be meaningful in plain English, not in some sort of artificial language made up of abstract symbols and numbers.

2. As I mentioned in previous columns, I want setting and rules to be tightly linked. I don't want to have the book divided into two parts, the first being all setting without mechanics and the second all mechanics with minimal setting material. No, I want to have setting and rules to be seamlessly integrated. Also, I want to express everything in a consistent, natural language, descriptive manner.

So far, the way I attempted to do this is by providing a lot of setting data for the purposes of character creation. As you can see, when reading section II you're getting both the data that allows you to create a character and a deeper understanding of the setting (or, at least, of the components of the setting that are relevant for character creation).

I hope that this simplifies and reduces the learning curve needed for getting into the game, makes the reading more enjoyable and leads to a deeper game experience.

3. A consequence of all of this is that the mechanical aspects of the game have to depend and be tightly linked to the plain language used to describe the character. The way this is handled is by assigning dice pools to some of the traits (you can check how dice-pools are defined by looking at section I). The record of these dice-pools is the only instance of game-specific lingo. To minimize it and to simplify record keeping, most of these dice-pools will default to the Basic Die and don't need specific recording.

Anything that requires a dice roll and is not covered in the traits assigned by the player to the character will also default to some pre-defined dice-pool so will not require recording. The end result is that the record sheet will be almost devoid of game-specific, mechanical jargon.

Of course, you will only be able to judge whether this works or not after my next column that will be about the mechanics of the game.

II - A second issue concerns the choice of traits. This took me a lot of time. I ended with the next 6 categories with a total of 16 traits:

Generalities. Includes sex, place of birth and age.
Social status. Includes social class, previous occupations and relationships.
Personal traits. Includes personality, values and abilities.
Personal situation. Corresponds to reasons to go to India, what the character owns and his goals.
Rounding up. Is name, defining trait and physical description.

I tried to cover all the important aspects of a character based on my reading of the book. In the future I plan to include several descriptions of characters present in the book and turn them into formal record sheets that demonstrate the character creation rules.

III - A third issue relates to the random vs. random-less character creation debate plus the issues connected with maximizing/minimizing usually associated with point based character creation rules.

There are no such issues in TToMP. Character creation is random-less and point-less (I hope it's not pointless, though). For each trait you have alternatives. All you need to do is to pick the one you want (or to devise one of your making). Plus you need to ensure that the GM accepts it. For this purpose you may need to provide a convincing explanation for why your character has a given trait, but that's all.

A note about that convincing explanation. "Convincing", in this context, means that it fits the setting. What players are required is to have characters that are reasonable from the point of view of the setting. Both the setting in general terms and the precise features of the setting as the GM is working out his game. This means that character creation is an interactive interchange between each player and the GM, on one side, and the players among themselves, on the other side.

This is a feature of character creation that is really the result of a design decision. I hope it works.

IV - Formal issues. Notice that the tables with traits that are all around the draft will disappear from the final version of the section. I'm keeping it for now as a remainder of the expressions I plan to cover.

The draft also lacks examples. I'll mostly use quotations from Mendes Pinto's book or other books. In fact, I plan to have handy three or four of the main characters in the book (Mendes Pinto himself, Pero de Faria that was captain of Malaca, Cristovao Borralho a soldier and Antonio Faria de Sousa a privateer captain). These four provide a good glimpse on how characters with different backgrounds can be handled in TToMP.

V - The character sheet. You can get access to a draft of a character sheet below. As you can see, the character sheet has the text for the different fields in light yellow. There's a reason for this. The final sheet will have borders in a different colour separating the fields. The field descriptor text will be very light so that you write the contents right away above it. The end result is that the player gets more space for his character notes and all that is visible will be the data on the character, not formal, standard data like the names of the fields. (The sheet is not complete. It still lacks data for combat and health.)


Of course, the main issues are connected with the points above:
What do you think about how I'm handling character creation?
What about the concept of qualitative traits I'm using?
What about the integration between setting and rules?
What's your take on the traits themselves?

Another issue on which I need feedback is the way I'm writing the rules. Do you like the tone of it? The "you and your character" writing style?

What do you think about the approach for a "meat only" character sheet I propose above?

Thanks once again for your feedback.

-- Sergio



- DOC (48K)
- PDF (16K)

- DOC (224K)
- PDF (272K)

Fast play

Character creation
- DOC (120K)
- PDF (84K)

The basics of action or the action resolution system

Descriptors and activities




Character advancement and development



- DOC (44K)
- PDF (32K)
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What do you think?

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All The Travels of Mendes Pinto columns by Sergio Mascarenhas

  • Not Dead Yet by Sergio Mascarenhas, 18jul03
  • Still Struggling With Section 4 by Sergio Mascarenhas, 07mar03
  • It's Time For Combat by Sergio Mascarenhas, 31jan03
  • The Criminal Always Comes Back to the Scene of the Crim by Sergio Mascarenhas, 31dec02
  • Tahahahahime Is On My Sahide! Yes It Isn't! by Sergio Mascarenhas, 07nov02
  • Character Creation for Dummies by Sergio Mascarenhas, 08aug02
  • Thus Do We Start by Sergio Mascarenhas, 01jul02
  • Can You Give Us a Descriptor of the Subject? (Part II) February 21, 2002
  • Can You Give Us a Descriptor of the Subject? (Part I) December 6, 2001
  • Time for a Hiatus October 23, 2001
  • System as Language September 27, 2001
  • Don't Forget the Damn Index! August 30, 2001
  • R-O-L-E-P-L-A-Y-I-N-G  G-A-M-E  C-O-R-E  R-U-L-E-B-O-O-K.&nb\ sp; UFF! July 26, 2001
  • Who is this Mendes Pinto, Anyway? June 28, 2001
  • Once Upon A Time ... (How It All Started) April 25, 2001

    All Ruleslawyer For Free columns by Sergio Mascarenhas

  • Experience: From Fiction to Roleplaying Games September 11, 2000
  • The Applied Experience Curve Concept June 26, 2000
  • Experience Curves May 30, 2000
  • Trait Curves March 28, 2000
  • A Change of Course November 28, 1999
  • Spotlight on Alternacy, A Roleplaying System October 26, 1999
  • Introduction September 21, 1999

    Other columns at RPGnet

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