Character Creation: Roles

Twelve years ago, I tried out a new form of character creation for a play by post game on the Giant in the Playground forum. The general concept was that players would audition for specific roles in the game. If the audition was successful, the player would then design their character around the role. The roles were basic; bound demon, monster, secret royal, etc. The player was empowered to add the specifics including elements of world building. Each role provided unique mechanical benefits and penalties, as well as setting up a special connection to the plot.

I can’t claim that the idea was mine. I had a few Dungeon Masters do something similar with one or two characters in a previous campaigns. Usually the player would be designing a character to serve as the team leader, the traitor, the ‘one who dies’, or some other role central to the plot. But the idea has stuck with me.

I used roles in character creation one other time for a one off sitting and I’ve created full sets of them a few times for campaigns that never took off. I’ve scrapped the audition idea in favor of providing each player with a unique list of roles to select.

For my upcoming Pathfinder Second Edition campaign on Fantasy Grounds I’ve decided to give roles another try. This has proven more challenging than I anticipated because I took mechanical mastery for granted. I knew how to make really interesting mechanical bonuses and penalties for D&D 3.5/d20 Modern/Pathfinder. I had decades of experience. Not so with the new system, I was an active participant in the Pathfinder Playtest but I haven’t actually played Pathfinder Second Edition proper yet.

In general, I write roles using a combination of the following elements.

  • Title
  • Class Restriction: If any. Example is Non-Caster.
  • Ancestry Restriction: If any. Example is Changeling.
  • Region Restriction: If Any. Example is Isengard.
  • Mechanical Bonuses: Usually two to three.
  • Mechanical Penalties: Usually one to two.
  • Hook/Motive: This gives each player character a unique reason to pursue the plot and stay with the group. The goal is to improve group cohesion while allowing for different character types.
  • Premise/Description: This provides a general description of the role as it fits into the world.

I don’t always balance roles mechanically. Some roles are intentionally written as ‘hard mode’ for experienced players while others have neutral mechanical benefit while providing a strong roleplaying hook. There’s also the opposite, roles that have a strong mechanical benefit but are restricted in roleplaying; the demon role I mentioned is an example of this, borrowing a plot device from Wu Kong, Suicide Squad, or Inyusha where this powerful evil character is bound to a weaker good character. This is a way to allow a player who really wants to play evil to participate while preventing the campaign’s tone from going dark.

I’m going to close this by sharing some roles that I’ve written up for two campaigns.

This first batch are from a Phantasy Star campaign that never happened. I was using Pathfinder First Edition with material from the Technology Guide and Ultimate Psionics. The release of Starfinder postponed this campaign and I’m still waiting on that Starfinder Psionics kickstarter to deliver.

Examples from Phantasy Star Setting

A group of five android miniatures

Race: Android
Class: Any non-caster/non-psionic
Bonuses: Gain Skill Focus(Bluff), Bluff is always a class skill.
Downside: None.
Premise: You love life. Palmans. Motovians. Dezorians. Even Fishfolk. Just not Humans. You want to destroy all humans. Well, you’re not too sure about Numan either, they are kind of half-human…aren’t they? You learned the hard way not to be overt in this unusual prime directive of yours…that’s how your data ended up uploaded into this new body after your old body was destroyed…by humans. You’re smart, you’ll try a different approach this time. Infiltrate, sabotage, and undermine. Opps. Did your Positron Bolt cannon miss and accidentally blow up that human village? So sorry. But, to be clear, you would run into a burning building to save a muskcat…after setting it on fire because you thought only humans were living there.

Race: Any but Android
Class: Any psionic (Must multi-class into caster and then Cerebremancer)
Bonus: You gain favored class bonuses in all psionic and caster classes, including Cerebremancer. Certain equipment can only be used by ESPers.
Downsides: Must multi-class into caster and then Cerebremancer.
Premise: You have joined a secret order known as the ESPers. Already gifted at psionics, though this membership you have begun to learn the ancient and forgotten art of magic. In exchange for this tutelage, you have sworn to further the order’s mission even though you don’t fully understand it. You have been told that the head of the ESPers is an ancient entity known as the Lutz but this figure is shrouded in mystery even to you.

Sandworm Rancher
Race: Any
Class: Any non-caster (or non-psionic if Android)
Bonuses: Handle Animal is always a class skill. You can use Handle Animal on Sandworms.
Downside: Must put max ranks in Handle Animal and Knowledge(Nature).
Premise: You have a dream… To grow the biggest and best Sandworms in the known universe. After a lot of sacrifice you’ve bought your ranch and hired your ranch hands, now you need some quality Sandworm stock and a good amount of meseta to get things going right. Fortunately, you had a great insight that the best way to find both was to take on some missions from the Hunter’s Guild. That’s how you ended up here.

Savage Hunter
Race: Fishfolk.
Class: Psychic Warrior
Bonuses: Gain Reckless Offense. Choose one melee weapon of up to 500 meseta, start with the laser, zero, or arc version of that melee weapon.
Downside: You cannot read any languages that you know. You may not put ranks in Linguistics.
Premise: You were the greatest warrior of your tribe… You killed many surface dwellers before curiosity lead to you try to understand their ways. It was life changing. You abandoned your tribe and learned the ways of the surface dwellers. You became a member of what they call the Hunter’s Guild. By doing so you became even more powerful and obtained wealth that would be incomprehensible to your tribe. You don’t care that the other Hunters look at you with distrust, all that matters is that you successfully complete your missions…earning meseta…and that you are the best Hunter in the guild so that you get the best jobs.

Chainsaw Lunatic Hunter
Race: Any but Android, Tarantul, or Muskcat
Class: Barbarian
Bonuses: Gain Exotic Weapon Proficiency(Chainsaw). Start with the laser, zero, or arc version of a Chainsaw.
Downside: You are illiterate. You can never learn to read or write. You may never put ranks in Linguistics.
Premise: Some Hunters prefer blades, some prefer firearms, some prefer psionic powers… You prefer something more intimidating. Nothing strikes fear into an enemy quite like the sight of an energy chainsaw revving up. That’s a good laugh. Some say you have a temper problem, you say that your chainsaw has the temper problem. You may not be the most booksmart Hunter…reading is overrated…but it would be a mistake to get on the wrong side of you and your chainsaw in a fight.

Zombie miniature from Reaper Bones. Viewed from front.

Bucket List
Race: Any but Android
Class: Any non-caster
Bonuses: Gain Iron Will. Start with 10,000 meseta.
Downside: You have stage 1 “Black Energy Wave” sickness.
Premise: You are dying. The caravan that you worked in was attacked by a sinister evil that unleashed a “Black Energy Wave” that killed most of your comrades. You were on the periphery of the “Black Energy Wave” and, at first, it seemed that you were spared it’s terrible effects. But slowly it’s effects have been felt. The best Doctors you could consult had no hope to offer, giving you only a few months to live… So, while you still had some health, you set out into the world to accomplish the things that you always wanted to do. You took with you the wealth of your fallen comrades. But who knows, maybe you’ll get a chance to avenge yourself against the sinister evil that caused this while you’re checking things off your list like riding a sandworm and visiting the soldier’s temple.

Kasatha Technomancer miniature from MistwalkerMinis Shapeways store

Greedy Miracle Worker
Race: Any but Human, Numan, or Android
Class: Egoist
Bonuses: You may select powers from the Vitalist power list. Psychometabolism(healing) with a range and target of personal have their range increased to touch and their target increased to touched living creature when you manifest them.
Downside: You may not select powers from the Psion or Egoist discipline power lists.
Premise: You have always possessed a knack for using psionic healing. It’s a gift. Well, no, that’s not true…it’s a unique talent that makes you a very special commodity. You don’t give your talent away for free. You seek proper compensation for it. That’s why you never settle down as a town doctor or noble’s healer, there’s more money in wandering from place to place… Plus most nobles of any worth already have access to an Autodoc. Stupid ancient technology. But showing up in a poor hovel and healing the sick, that can get you a surprisingly large amount of meseta. Especially if you go from place to place. Oh, and Hunters, that’s another great market. Just don’t forget to charge them a danger fee.

This second batch are from my upcoming Pathfinder Second Edition campaign. It’s high fantasy using the standard Pathfinder Second Edition materials but focused on conflicts between a world’s first democratic state and the noble controlled states around it.

Examples from Liberatio a Draconis

The Spy
La venganza es una confesión de dolor.
Ancestry: Any
Home Realm: Išten
Bonus: Persona – When targeted with a supernatural effect that gathers information from you (eg read thoughts) or that compels you (eg circle of truth) to provide information, roll Deception to defend instead of Will. If you successfully defend you provide false information. Facade – You can fake the bonuses of other roles. It takes one week of work to fake a role bonuses using a series of Deception (Impersonate) rolls. The fake bonus will not be as effective as the real thing but have some effectiveness and will be sufficient to fool others. Coordinate with the GM on the fake bonus’ effect.
Requirements: Deception must be increased to Master at level 7 and Legendary at level 15.
Premise: Espionage. Sabotage. Assassination. You’re not like those sheep back home. You’ve seen the world. For years you have been living in the Republic under a false identity. Serving your liege lord with your special skill set. However, your liege lord took your loyalty for granted. The nobility did not even pause to think of you before they took what you held most dear. What did they take? Your family. Your best friend. Your love. Your homeland. That’s up to you. Now you’re out for revenge alongside the very people you’ve been betraying for years.

Aglanda Herald Of Razmir miniature from Reaper Bones. Viewed from the front.

Living Regent
Pulvis et umbra sumus
Ancestry: Any (Dhampir Heritage)
Class: Any non-caster
Home Realm: Išten
Bonus: The living regent gains bonuses as they recover the missing pieces of their body. Access requirements for Runescarred Dedication Archetype are waived.
Requirements: You must take the Dhampir Heritage. You must take the Runescarred Dedication Archetype. Select one other player characters as the benefactor who rescued you. You should be protective of this player character. Proceed with caution, you are being actively hunted by the nobility and vampire hunters.
Premise: Once you knew you were human, what else could you be… It was just that you didn’t seem to work the way other humans worked. The light stung, the darkness was comforting, you had a strange desire to bite people… Your mother use to tell strange stories about your father…that he was something more, or was it less, than human. Then came the day that the noblewoman came to your village with her acolytes. She heard rumors that a child of the night dwelt here. The villagers were quick to offer you up. That was the last time you saw your mother, the only family that you’d ever known. For decades, you were a living – or was it unliving – experiment in her mages’ conservatory. Pieces of you were carved out to use as regents in spells. Then, one day, someone rescued you from the conservatory and took you to a place of safety – a ‘republic’. The parts of you that were taken for regents, you can still feel them…they call to you… You need to find them and restore yourself, even if that means going up against the nobility.

Halfling Cook miniature from Reaper Bones viewed from the front

Brewer Quest
In vino veritas
Ancestry: Any
Class: Alchemist
Home Realm: Išten
Tavern – You own a tavern and brewery. It generates a steady stream of additional income, provides a safe hideout, and has reliable employees.
Magical Spirits – When you have access to a brewery you can craft alcohol that has the added effect of an alchemic item that you know how to make. You can use your daily reagents to add an alchemic effect to the alcohol for ‘free’, though you still must consume the standard ingredients for brewing alcohol. The resulting item is permeant and does not lose its alcohol properties when you use your next day’s reagents. This alchemic alcohol has the effects of both alcohol and the alchemic item, adding an element of risk to overconsumption.
Requirements: You must take the Barkeep background.
Premise: You were always close to your grandparent who ran a tavern. That’s how you learned to brew alcohol and how you came to love the craft… You always wanted to experiment and find new brews. When your grandparent passed away you were shocked to learn that they had left the tavern to you. It came with long term employees who could run the day to day functions without you, but as a brewer your skills are lacking. Then you learned that nobles across the world were mocking the republic’s breweries. That’s when you decided to travel out into the world, visit other brewers to learn new tricks, gather new components for brews, and research new methods to make your process more efficient. Then, as a point of patriotic pride, your tavern would become the pride of the republic and offer the best alcohol in the world. But it’s dangerous to go alone…so you kept an ear pricked for adventurers in your tavern knowing that would keep you safe and that they always know where to get the best alcohol.

The Red Mantis Assassin miniature from Reaper Bones painted gold and purple.

Bound Outsider
Sic ego nec sine te nec tecum vivere possum
Ancestry: Special
Class: Any
Home Realm: The Planes
Bonus: You get to play as a monster. An outsider specifically.
Requirements: Your life force is bound to another player character. If they die, you die. If you leave them, you weaken and then die. They also can, with a command word, render you helpless.
Premise: Summoned from beyond the astral veil, you are a cosmic being of great power who is being forced to belittle yourself serving a mere…mortal. You may be a fiend or a celestial, an elemental or an astral. Now you find yourself traveling alongside another player character trying to keep them alive so that you can stay alive. You are immortal. You are so patient. You will find a way out of this and when you do…

I hope that gives you an idea of how roles could impact character creation. This is just a small selection, I wrote many more for these campaigns from a grounded sky sentry android to a mysterious character hidden behind a silver mask to a senator.

What do you think of the idea? Have you ever used something like this for character creation?

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