It's common knowledge that I possess old-school character-creation sensibilities. My preferences lean towards the 3d6-in-attribute-order method. I'm suspicious of those who avail themselves of the ability-score adjustment rules, and consider the use of 4d6-drop-the-lowest to be needlessly decadent. Don't even get me started on point-buy systems.
Knowing that about me will be of assistance, then, in understanding why I experienced some initial resistance to The Dying Earth RPG character creation system.
The Dying Earth RPG (DERPG) is a deliciously punctilious role-playing game adaptation of the fantasy world conjured by Jack Vance bearing the same name. The introductory chapter to DERPG sets the tone for Dying Earth campaigns, by promulgating the following admonishments:
1. If you're in a fight, something has probably gone horribly wrong ... far better to gain the upper hand through cunning, wit and treachery;
2. Characters are more or less alike ... Dying Earth characters have lightly characterised, streamlined personalities;
3. Killing? How uncivilized ... the accepted way to defeat an opponent is through humiliation, impoverishment and slavery; and,
4. Your character will inevitably suffer reverses. Try to enjoy it ... since character improvement comes from entertaining the other players and GM, look at dismal and ridiculous predicaments as opportunities to use your creativity.
Having been properly forewarned in the introduction, the second chapter of DERPG dives into character creation. Like most role-playing games, every character has certain attributes. In the case of DERPG, there are six principal attributes, which I will equate, roughly, with a D&D equivalent:
Persuade (Charisma) -- this attribute determines how convincing you are
Rebuff (Wisdom) -- this determines your resistance to being hoodwinked
Attack (Strength) -- this determines your combat ability
Defence (Dexterity) -- this determines your ability to avoid blows
Health (Constitution) -- this determines your capacity to absorb damage
Magic (Intelligence) -- this determines your magical aptitude
I use those purported equivalences only as a blunt instrument, to provide some conceptual signposts. The actual employment of the DERPG attributes differs significantly from the use of the cited D&D attributes. Each DERPG attribute, above, will have a score attached to it. In combination with that score, each attribute has six styles. For example, I might have a Persuade score of 9. In addition, I will have one of the following persuade styles: glib, eloquent, obfuscatory, forthright, charming, or intimidating.
In addition to the above attributes, DERPG characters utilize a "faculties" system, that encompasses attack styles, skills, relationships, retainers, possessions, and temptation resistances.
DERPG uses a point-buy method of character creation. Between the six principal attributes and the additional "faculties", each player begins with 60 points to distribute between the attributes and faculties. If players are prepared to allow their attribute 'styles' to be generated randomly, they are awarded an additional 6 points for each attribute style so generated. Since the Health attribute has no related styles, a player could have as many as 90 points [60 + (5 attributes x 6 points)] to distribute between the attributes and faculties.
Points can be allocated to the following faculties:
Attack Styles: there are six attack styles, with each style costing 2 points from the player's pool. Each attack style comes with a melee and missile weapon skill.
Skills: there are 23 skills (Appraisal, Athletics, Concealment, Craftsmanship, Driving, Engineering, Etiquette, Gambling, Imposture, Living Rough, Pedantry, Perception, Physician, Quick Fingers, Riding, Scuttlebutt, Seamanship, Seduction, Stealth, Stewardship, Tracking, Wealth, and Wherewithal). More than one point can be allocated to a particular skill, so a player may give his character a "gambling" skill of 4 -- thus increasing his chances of success should he engage in a game of cards, for example.
Relationships: players can assign points to relationships with certain notable figures (a prince, famous wizard, captain of the watch) giving them the possibility of enlisting their aid.
Retainers: the cost of those depend on how loyal the retainer is expected to be, whether they be diligent (expensive), unctuous, or recalcitrant (cheap).
Possessions: points must be spent to furnish yourself with worldly goods. Whether it be a foppish hat, fashionable cloak, a length of rope to bind a deodand, a treatise on edible plants, or a good stout cudgel to subdue your foes, each possession costs at least one point. Extra points can be spent to ensure you and your possessions are not easily parted.
Resistances: DERPG characters are notoriously susceptible to temptation, whether it be through arrogance, avarice, gourmandism, indolence, pettifoggery, or rakishness. Players who wish their characters to resist those temptations during the game must spend points during character creation to do so.
There, then, is an overview of the DERPG character creation system. As I mentioned earlier, i'm naturally pre-disposed to dislike point-buy systems, and just as equally resistant to skill systems (despite my affection for Traveller). I will grudgingly admit that this works for DERPG, insofar as the game itself presumes that "characters are more or less alike". Thus, it stands to reason that the character creation system is going to provide roughly equal points to each player. Still, I can't help but wonder whether the DERPG attributes themselves could not be randomly determined ... but there again, my old prejudices rearing their heads.
Several days ago, I passed the 200 followers milestone. I am humbled and honored. There seems to be a tradition in the blogging community (albeit imperfectly observed) that the affected blogger celebrate the occasion by running a contest. Since I have recently become infatuated with The Dying Earth RPG, it is only fitting that I should award a copy of this illustrious RPG tome to one of my wonderful readers. Therefore, from those responders who comment on this post, I will select one, randomly, to which I will bequeath a relatively unblemished copy of that RPG. I ask only that, in your response, you use a Vancian phrase, or Vancian language. From those who respond in the requested manner by 11:59 pm, November 12, 2010, one will be randomly selected and will be mailed the RPG, at my expense.