OK, so the new two-posts-a-week thing has yet to take off. I’m putting it down to moving a load of my girlfriend’s stuff during a move. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
I’ve begun reading A Game of Thrones again recently, and I’m having some thoughts on weather, year cycles and fantasy climates, but that’ll have to wait another day while my thoughts crystalise into something worthy of a post. There will also be something on the Mists of Albion cosmology and it’s impact on the weather. Basically, a re-engineering of the British climate from metaphysical scratch.
In the meantime, I’m going to present some of the process of character creation for the Magic: the Gathering roleplaying game Hypersleeper and I have been working on, and discuss some of the implications, in effect mashing together the “talk about the homebrew games” and “talk about issues in fantasy” sides of this blog until I can get regularly posting things.
Firstly, as we’ve been converting a card game into a roleplaying game, there are immediate conversion issues. As I’ve mentioned previously, replicating the card game in its entirety isn’t going to be completely possible or worthwhile, as there would be little point; if I liked the card game that much, I’d just play it. Instead, we’re looking to create a game around the feel of the novels, which I’ve recently been consuming voraciously.
All the “new”* planeswalker characters in the novels have strongly thematic magic, tied to who they are as a character. Even their planeswalker cards are evocative of their indwelling magic, rather than the scattershot gamut of spells commonly found in a Magic deck.
What we’ve taken from this is that characters need to be built conceptual relations and themes, and that interplay creating the character. The idea here is to have a system which strongly discourages the “game” thinking which might arise from employing cards and the strongly competitive element of Magic and encourages story thinking. Ideally, player and GM should probably sit down together and talk it through.
The “think through” format we’ve come up with before even before thinking about a character sheet are below. A lot of this may be pretty generic, but they will serve the bedrock of a character, in the same way that the Old World of Darkness’ Nature/Demeanour coupling did; the idea is to make a definite basis to the character that can be referred to in a “what would my character do?” situation that is a lot more personal than the Alignment system.
Character concept – Who was my character before they became a planeswalker? Which plane did they come from? What skills and personality traits defined them before they could rely on magic?
Magic concept – How does my character’s magic shape the world around them? What principles is it based on? What colour is it? What cards and effects fit its theme?
Card concepts – What do my character’s cards actually represent in game terms? How many creatures are represented by a single creature card? How big is an artefact, where is it located and how do I activate it? Do any of my spells require special preparation or conditions to use?
Each of these sections should ideally be a few short phrases, like say “Maverick Telepath” for Jace Beleren’s initial Character Concept, and “Mind Magic and Illusions” for his Magic Concept. These phrases aren’t hard and fast outlines for what the character, but it helps to ground the characters as things other than just bundles of stats.
Card concepting might seem really vague, but the purpose is to give actual narrative weight and physical dimensions to the abstract concept represented by each card, so rather than just playing a Gutwrencher Oni I’m spending an hour performing an ancient blood-rite used by the ogres of Kamigawa, or rather than simply putting Crucible of Worlds into play I’m venturing outside of time and space to activate this huge transdimensional engine which can rebuild entire lost worlds.The other advantage is that this provides both player and GM and chance to personally hammer out any balance issues which might crop up in the course of selecting cards. Magic is not a perfectly balanced game already, and in a roleplaying environment there are inevitably going to be problems, so having this kind of mediation gives a chance to make overpowered/underpowered cards more playable by adding some extra flavour to the way they are used.
This does mean that the card conversion process from Magic the card game to roleplaying game (which will be outlined soon) will be a little flexible, but no more so than any roleplaying game, where GM decree should be the final word. This does mean that it won’t mesh perfectly with the conversion system I’ll present later, but the assumption is that the GM will adjust the templates to make the game fairer and/or more fun for the players, resulting in a better game for all.
All this should, we hope, result in a character creation process that is grounded not in getting the “best” spells, but instead focus the creative effort on choosing spells and abilities that are most in line with a character’s concept. It also potentially opens up new introspective plot arcs, where game storylines can revolve around a character developing from one thing to another, involving a change in either of their concepts, which will ultimately mean that their kinds of spells may change, and the results will be displayed on the character sheet and in players’ minds as more than XP gained. It would be an integral part of that character’s story.
The transition between these two cards must be worthy of a story or two…
Next time, I’ll either be presenting some of the crunch of character creation or talking about weather and climate in fantasy worlds. Exactly which I’m not sure, that’ll have to wait until the weekend. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions/thoughts/criticisms on how to do Magic character creation, please leave a comment below, I’d love to discuss it with you.
*New as in post-Mending; before this event in the Magic multiverse, planeswalkers were godlike in many ways. Being a planeswalker meant you didn’t need to eat, breathe or have a definite shape or physical dependence of any sort. After the Mending, an event that sealed up numerous “holes” in the multiverse, being a planeswalker just meant that you could walk between planes. This opens up many more opportunities for learning new magic, but it doesn’t immediately make people omnipotent any more. This is a much better way to make fallible roleplaying characters!