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Exterreri Design Notes: Creating a Reiver

Now that the pre-launch page for Exterreri is live on Kickstarter, here’s the first in a series of posts detailing my design decisions for the system. Today’s topic is character creation.

Character creation should be fun and painless.

That’s the ethos that has guided my hand when designing the character creation in Exterreri. Seems simple enough, but in practice how do you design a system detailed enough for people who enjoy crafting page-spanning backstories that is easy enough for new players to work their way through without the GM’s constant supervision?

The mortality rate of PCs in the game is quite high so players can expect to make at least a couple of characters over the course of a campaign.
The mortality rate of PCs in the game is quite high so players can expect to make at least a couple of characters over the course of a campaign.

The best character creation systems aid the storytelling aspect of our hobby by providing the player with prompts for their character’s backstory.

In Exterreri the PCs are reivers. They are inspired by the stalkers from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s sci-fi novel Roadside Picnic. That is to say, they are desperate explorers of a dangerous wasteland searching for arcane treasures to sell back in the waking world. This is generally considered reckless and frowned upon by the typical “heroes” who wouldn’t lower themselves to such tasks when there are epic quests to undertake (preferably somewhere more constrained by the laws of reality).

The following steps are taken to hammer home the low-power level of the PCs:

  • Players roll a d4 for each of their character’s attributes and the result is that attribute’s bonus.

I’ve purposely avoided a point-buy system for character attributes. In my experience, it encourages power-gaming and goes against the “heroes not superheroes” aspect of OSR.

  • Starting equipment is limited to travelling supplies, a dagger and d4 pieces of gelt.

If reivers started too well-off then they wouldn’t need to venture into the nightmare in the first place. I toyed with the idea of random starting equipment but this was met with confusion by some players.

  • The standard shop inventory consists of items of dubious origin and repurposed farming equipment.

If the players want a sword then they’ll need to borrow one from a less fortunate reiver’s remains. I want players to make difficult choices when it comes to increasing their power-level and a stereotypical fully-stocked RPG shop doesn’t support this.

To further emphasise that the PCs are not the typical hero-types, players roll on a table of quirks as part of their character’s creation. I purposely avoided adding “good” results to the table as I find that players unconsciously avoid introducing the negative aspects of their character’s personality to their backstory. My hope is that the results from the quirks table will cause players to pause for thought once they learn that their character is “incredibly hairy” for example.

The last aspect of character creation that is designed to aid player creativity is the curiosities table which consists of an unusual assortment of items like the banner of a forgotten noble house, a fake gelt coin or a list of victims. No further explanation or origin is provided for these items in the interest of allowing players to graft them into backstories of their own creation.

The steps above condense into a single page of simple character creation rules and a handful of rolling tables. This should make the prospect of creating a character less intimidating for new players and allow them to handle the process themselves before session 0.

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