Design Journal 4: Character (Rough)

This is the very rough Character section of Parsec – thus far.

Two: Character

Everything Starts With A Story

In order to create a Character in Parsec, you have to have a story. It doesn’t have to be detailed, or filled with adventure – those will come once the game starts. Rather, this story is your Character’s story – her history up to the point that the game starts. What is her family like? Where did she grow up? What did she study in school? What does she do for a living? What, or who, does she truly love? And what has happened in the past to hurt her? Those are the first questions you need to answer for your Character.


There Are A Couple of Ways to Do This

When you’re creating a Character, you make decisions about the Character’s story and these determine what kinds of things your Character will be capable of doing in the game – what she’ll be good at, who she’ll know, what she’ll own, and so on. This is one method, and it leads to pretty balanced characters who are ready to go. Another method is to just tell your character’s story up to this point, plug some numbers in (once you know what they mean of course), and go! This chapter assumes that you’re taking the first option, since if you’re taking the second option, there isn’t much we have to tell you.


Birth
Even in the future, where you’re born has a lot to do with what your life will be like. Its unlikely, but possible, that you were born ‘offworld’, that is, not on Earth. You might have been born on one of the geosynchronous space stations surrounding the Earth, or on Luna (the Moon), on Mars, or even on one of the distant colonies on the moons of Jupiter or Saturn.

One important thing about where you’re born is that it will help determine where the game takes place and even what kind of game it is. All of the Players need to talk about what kind of game they want to play so that everyone’s Character fits together from the beginning. This is called a group template, and it is just a way to keep Characters from being redundant (no one needs two hotshot space pilots – unless that’s what you want) or from being too hard to get together for the start of the story (“You all meet in a space cantina…”).

When you decide where your character was born and what her family is like, you need to determine whether she is a Citizen or a Pariah. Citizens are born to privilege, and have the benefit of gene therapy and medical care from birth. They are the oligarchy of the solar system, and the majority of the people in space. Most of them have positions in the world government or in a major corporation virtually guaranteed. On Earth, they live in sealed arcologies protected by security personnel, and if they commute to work at all they do so in sealed commuter tubes riding maglev trains. Citizens start with higher Attributes and will have more Property than Pariahs. The main languages spoken by Citizens are Portugese, Mandarin and English.

Pariahs live on the edges of society – and those edges are vast. For every Citizen, there are at least 10 Pariahs, living in tenements and slums all over the world, sleeping in factory dormitories or in tiny berths in space. Pariahs do not have the full rights of Citizenship. Their main options are to either join the military police or indenture themselves in the hope of earning citizenship for their children. The common languages for Pariahs are Arabic, English, French and Afrikaans. Pariahs – the ones who survive – are tougher than Citizens, physically and psychologically. They have seen more and have had to endure far more, and are much harder to break.

You also need to decide whether your character was Terraborn or Colonyborn. If she was Terraborn, she is pretty ‘normal’ for a human being. She may make the move to space, but she will be unaccustomed to long periods of time spent in zero-G and will need to become acclimated. If she was Colonyborn, she is unusual, and there will be something different about her. Reproduction in fully artificial settings, even with artificial gravity and excellent medical care, is still unpredictable. She will have one negative Trait as a result, physical or psychological. However, she is already acclimated to work and live in zero-G. In fact, her problems will come when she is someplace where the gravity is constant, like Mars or Earth, for a long period of time – it is like a sailor having to get their “sea legs”, and is disorienting at first.


Education


Education might be take place in a government orphanage or school, in a private academy, or on the mean streets of a slum. This part of your character’s story covers her late childhood and adolescence, and it is the time when your character will learn her basic Skills. It is also when she will begin to build Relationships.


Work

Only the very wealthy can afford not to work at all, and they will still have hobbies or pastimes of some kind. For most of the rest of humanity, if you don’t work, you starve. (For many, you work and starve.) Work is what you do. It is the stage where you choose which of your basic skills you have improved in, and how far.

In Parsec, there is a lot of specialization. General education is for the most part something of the past, and jacks of all trades are rare. If you are a Citizen, you are valued for the way you function in society, the way you contribute, and to make this contribute as efficient and predictable as possible, you are strongly encouraged to specialize. If you are a Pariah, you often have a little more bredth of skill, but it is very difficult to survive as a migrant worker, so at some point you settle down into some kind of work, and that will still be what you are best at.

Characters will have a Relationship to their employer and to society in general. They may also have Relationships with coworkers or adults they know socially.


Passion

Your Passions are what really drive you. You might be religious or love art. You might be deeply in love or have children you care for. You might have a cause or a vision that drives you. Through your Passion, you build further Relationships, you might gain some new Skills, and most importantly, you tell the Director what you want your character’s story to really be about.


Scars

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If only this were true. What does kill you Scars you – you survive, and are probably marked forever, but you are also stronger in a certain sense. Your Scars don’t just provide great ways to develop your character’s story – their game effect is to add weaknesses to your character which will drive the story forward. They also increase your character’s Resilience – despite the Scars, you did survive, and you learned how to survive better next time. Fear, Pain, Privation and Temptation are the four things that Resilience helps you resist – and your Scars make you better at doing so.


Attributes

One of the most fundamental things about your character are her Attributes. These are basic measurements of what she’s good at and where she’s weak. The amount of dice she rolls for a given conflict will be mostly based on her Attributes. In Parsec, there are six of them: Power, Mobility, Precision, Connection, Appeal and Resilience. (These are also the Attributes that every spaceship has – more on that in the Space Conflict section in the next chapter.) For human beings, an Attribute of around 4 is average.

Power is a measure of physical strength and overall health, including endurance. Energetic athletes and muscular soldiers have a high Power score. Power helps keep you from getting tired when you exert yourself, and it also helps in any conflict that involves strength or physical prowess.

For spaceships, Power is the amount of energy that a ship has available to dedicate to different tasks. It is the output of the ships engine at any given time, as well as the amount of reserve energy a spaceship has.

Mobility is physical speed and agility, and also represents how accustomed a character is to working and living and maneuvering in zero-G. Acrobats and characters who spend most of their time in space have high Mobility scores, and without a decent score working in zero-G can be incredibly disorienting.

Spaceships depend on Mobility to maneuver, which is absolutely crucial in combat.

Precision is not only hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills but also the ability to reason quickly and decisively. It involves some critical thinking as well as accuracy with most weapons. Skilled technicians and stealthy assassins have high Precision scores.

For spaceships, Precision is the quality and speed of the targeting software of the ships’ weapons as well as the speed of the central processor. It also represents the sensory instruments the ship has and how much detailed information it can receive.

Connection represents the ability of a character to find and understand information. With worldwide information networks, memorization is no longer an important skill. Even offline, vast stores of raw information are available at any time. The trick is to understand what information is important, and how it all fits together. Researchers and social networkers have high Connection scores, and they know how to find things and people in any situation.

For a spaceship, Connection represents what is available on board and how connective the ship is to whatever networks might be available. It also represents how powerful the ship’s communication array is.

Appeal is physical attractiveness as well as social skills. It is the ability to get what you want from people when you meet them in person. Sexy socialites and clever spies have high Appeal scores.

For spaceships, Appeal is not only how shiny and smooth the ship appears – it is also the ship’s service record and reputation. If you want respect, or at least work, for the ship then it needs high Appeal.

Resilience is simply how tough a character is. Slum scavengers and spiritual gurus have high Resilience. Resilience helps you resist fear, pain, privation and temptation. Resilience is increased when things go wrong for your character but she survives to fight another day.

For spaceships, Resilience is simply how well the ship holds together when it is stressed or under attack. Space is a hostile environment without taking into account pirates and privateers waiting for the next score. Resilience is increased by armor, shielding and reinforcement of a spaceship’s design


Skills

Skills represent what your character is good at. Anyone can attempt to do any task, even lacking the requisite skill, but the roll is going to be against the Default target number of 6, meaning that only 6s will count as successes. This means that significant success is very unlikely without at least some skill.

Any significant training in a Skill gives your character a Basic rating. That means that when she uses this skill, the target number is 5 – so 5s and 6s count as successes. Basic represents a talented beginner or someone who has just begun to train in a new skill. The next step in training is Intermediate. For Intermediate Skills, the target number is 4 – so 4s, 5s and 6s count as successes. Intermediate training is at the low end of professional Skill but enough to earn a living. It is appropriate for an apprenticeship or an internship, or possibly a Bachelor’s degree equivalent. After Intermediate, a Skill is raised to Advanced. With an Advanced Skill, the target number for rolls becomes a 3 – so 3s, 4s, 5s and 6s count as successes. Advanced skill is a high-level professional making significant contributions to their field or with plenty of responsibility. The highest level of Skill a person normally has is Master. With a Master Skill, everything but 1s count as successes. Masters in a given Skill are rare, and are almost always well-known. Masters of a given field are the ones who make the breakthroughs. Masters of professional Skills are renowned and sought-after.

Each Attribute has Skills which are linked to it. The level of the Attribute determines how many dice are rolled for that skill. So, for example, a character with a Power of 5 has 5 dice to attempt a grapple or to lift a heavy object. The target number for the roll is based on the Skill that applies in the situation. Here are the Skills for each Attribute:

Power: Striking, Hand Weapons, Athletics

Mobility: Zero-G, Acrobatics, Evasion

Precision: Firearms, Gunnery, Larceny, Analysis

Connection: Research, Networking, Science, Navigation

Appeal: Deception, Seduction, Persuasion, Intimidation

Resilience: Fear, Pain, Privation, Temptation (Remember, these are a bit different from normal skills…)


Traits

Traits are a further way to describe your character. Every Trait either adds dice or subtracts dice from particular kinds of rolls. Of course you can describe your character in ways that aren’t represented by Traits as well, but Traits are aspects of your character that are not covered by Attributes and Skills but that still affect the dice you roll in a conflict.

Traits are selected based on the work you’ve done in character creation, and they can also be awarded during the course of the game. Spaceships also have Traits, which are a way to customize a ship in a way that has an effect on the game.


Relationships

A character has many relationships, but only a few of them need to be mentioned I character creation. Minor relationships can come up organically in-game – there are even rules for that, which we’ll talk about in the System chapter.

In character creation, you begin with a story, and we break that story into five categories: Birth, Education, Profession, Passion and Scars. For each of these categories, a PC needs to have one major relationship. Relationships brought out in this way need to be ones that will have bearing in the game if possible, or at least influential ones for the character herself. In writing down what your character’s significant Relationships are, you as a player are telling the other players and the Director part of what you want the game to be about.

Birth: the Relationship from this category is almost certainly a family relationship – it could be a parent or a sibling, a grandparent, and so on. This Relationship might also be someone from an orphanage or a foster system if the character doesn’t have living parents or doesn’t know who her parents are.

Education: this Relationship is most likely a friend or a mentor who was influential during your character’s formative years.

Profession: the main Relationship here is going to be with the character’s employer or patron. Who does the character work for? If the character is self-employed, there will still be professional relationships based on what your character does.

Passion: this Relationship could be to an individual or an organization. In the case of an individual, that individual is very likely your character’s significant other – spouse, lover, and so on. This Relationship is probably the one that your character fears to lose more than any other. This Relationship is one that the Director is almost certainly going to push in some way.

Scars: Relationships drawn from your Scars are very like with antagonists, even enemies. Who are the people who are scarred you? What did they do? What is your relationship like now?


Profile

Here you take a chance to step back and look at your character overall. What stands out? What themes have emerged? What do you need to ‘flesh out’ or expand on in their background? Do you need to switch any Traits around to make more sense? How will this character fit with the other characters and with the overall game as your group has envisioned it? And so on.


Property

It isn’t important that you write down every object that your character possesses. In fact, its probably just going to slow the game down. In some situations, it will be important to know what your character is carrying with her – the Director should let you know when that is, and there is a place on the character sheet to write down what you have on your person.

Aside from some specific items you have on your and a few major things you own such as ships or vehicles or homes, everyday objects can just be assumed to be available. The game system that determines whether you can afford a given piece of property is your Status. Status is pretty much equivalent with financial wealth – there is some variety here, but the powerful are also the wealthy and vice-versa.

Status is determined in a cumulative way by your Birth, Education and Profession, as well as whether you are a Citizen or a Pariah.

Spaceship Building

Spaceships are built, in game terms, much the same way that characters are created. It is very rare that the ship your character might be living in or serving on was built yesterday, and it is also unlikely that it hasn’t been tampered with at all since it came off the assembly line. The rigors of space travel alone require constant upkeep and maintenance, as well as sometimes drastic repairs. Also, once a ship is out, it might change hands, peacefully or otherwise, and be put to uses that weren’t the original intent – piracy, smuggling and so on.

As mentioned earlier, spaceships have the same Attributes that characters have, though they mean slightly different things. Often, on a ship, the ship’s Attributes determine die-pools for the crew’s Skill rolls. That is, if your ship only has a Connection of 2, because of a damaged communications array for example, it doesn’t matter if your character is a master computer scientist. There just isn’t the Connection available to accomplish much. On the other hand, if your ship has a Precision of 8, almost any idiot sitting in the gunner’s chair is going to be able to do some damage because of the superb targeting system and HUD.

Resilience, as mentioned above, functions differently for spaceships (and any vehicles, but we’re just concerned with spaceships here). Resilience protects against four things: Concussion, Electromagnetism and Radiation. (Yes I know heat is radiation…) A given ship will have different ratings against different kinds of damage that it might encounter in space.

Concussion is obvious. Things banging into the ship, including other ships, small asteroids, and so on. Bear in mind that it is the job of the astrogator and the sensor array to make sure that the ship doesn’t bang into anything on long-term, high-speed trips. Hitting a tiny meteroid at thousands of miles per hour on a trip from the Moon to Gannymede will be disastrous. Fortunately, space is very, very empty. This reinforcement is more concerned with someone banging on the ship, or other mishaps that happen when maneuvering tactically.

Electromagnetism is a threat when maneuvering near things like neutron stars or planets with strong magnetic fields, but electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, is a very popular way to incapacitate a ship. If you don’t want to have your hardware fried, you’re going to need specific kinds of shielding and system redundancy to deal with this kind of threat.

Radiation, including heat, is simple – most military-grade weapons function by essentially blowing up near you or burning a hole in you. A missile, for example, is both Concussion and Radiation, whereas a laser is Radiation alone. If a hole is burned in your ship, all of your air (and possibly your crew) will be vented out into space, so heat shielding is crucial. Also, if the ship is intended to enter and exit any significant atmosphere, or to travel anywhere near an active star, Heat will be a serious threat. Space is actually full of all kinds of Radiation, and what dosen’t fry you in the short-term will probably fry you in the long-term

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