This past 12 months has seen a surge in the popularity of solo games (something I’ve very happily benefited from). I haven’t written anything on this blog in a while – not since I finished writing trinkets for all of the sets of starting equipment in the dragon game – and I’ve been looking for a new reason to do small bits of writing that I don’t try to make money from.
The current Bundle of Holding is for Classic Traveller, and last week I picked them up and ended up playing through the character creation mini game in a Twitter thread. I really enjoyed the emergent storytelling that came out of that lifepath system, and I felt like it taught me a lot about what kinds of stories Traveller is meant to tell.
So I thought fuck it, why not turn character creation into a series of blog posts? At least until I get bored of it or forget that I was meant to be doing it. I’ve got a ton of games that I probably won’t get a chance to play any time soon and the books are simply gathering dust on my shelves, so I can at least crack them open to roll up a character. And then I can write about it, maybe.
These aren’t reviews. They’re a look at the first part of a game that players engage with, annotated with my thoughts as I’m going through the process. Since I’m writing this introduction before I’ve actually done the thing I don’t know whether these posts are going to be worth reading, whether anything will come of them, what kinds of conclusions (if any) I’m going to draw, etc. I imagine the format will refine itself as I go along and I’ll have more interesting things to say as I engage with more systems and am able to draw comparisons.
We’ll see how it goes I guess.
I also couldn’t figure out what to call this series. Cat Evans suggested Naming The Faceless and it’s better than anything I could come up with so I’m stealing it. Thanks, Cat. (Also you should pick up her Wretched & Alone game Final Girl while I still have copies in stock.)
Today I’m doing Spire by Grant Howitt and Chris Taylor. I picked it first because I’m playing it tonight and need a character. Which goes directly against what I just said about having these games I won’t get a chance to play, but whatever. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want.
Here’s the pitch for the game:
You are a dark elf. Your home, the towering city of Spire, was occupied by the high elves two hundred years ago. Now, you have joined a secret organisation known as the Ministry, a paramilitary cult with a single aim – to overthrow the cruel high elves and restore the drow as the rightful rulers of the city.
What – or who – will you sacrifice to achieve your aims? Will you evade the attention of the authorities, or end up shot in the street like so many before you?Spire RPG
I know literally nothing else about it other than that. So let’s roll up a character.
The first thing to say is that the character creation rules seemed like they were buried really deep in this book. They’re actually only on page 25, but I think it’s the fact that some of the stuff that came before them wasn’t needed that made it feel like they were further in. I don’t mind having the core rules come before character creation – it’s nice to know what you’re going to be doing in a game and how the numbers work before you make a character (sometimes) – but I don’t need to see equipment lists that span multiple pages, and I don’t need to see things that won’t be relevant until later in the game (like crafting rules, to give a specific example from Spire). That’s only a mild criticism, though – that stuff has to go somewhere, character creation can’t always be the first thing in the book, and figuring out the right place to put character generation rules is often the most difficult part of laying out a rulebook.
Anyway. I’ve found the character creation rules, so let’s get down to it.
The first thing to do is choose my character’s Durance – the 4 year period of indentured servitude that all Drow undergo before play begins. I’m immediately drawn to the Duellist – a prize fighter for an aelfir lord who’s equally at home in a brawl or at a fancy party – the Hunter (I love the idea of hunting prey across the rooftops, that’s very atmospheric), and the Occultist. In most games I play I end up as a melee character of some kind, so I’m going to pick Occultist. Here’s what it says:
You plumbed the depths of arcane knowledge for your master, risking your sanity by poring over forbidden tomes in an effort to unlock the secrets within. You are used to concealing your activities from the authorities and decoding ancient spells.
I note down that I start with +2 Shadow and Occult.
Now we select a class and two Low abilities. If the Durance is what I was doing before I joined the resistance, the Class is what I do now. (Another note on the rulebook here – I would have appreciated a list or a table showing all of the classes with a one-sentence description of what they are, rather than having to flip through them all to figure out what I want my character to be.)
I’m drawn to the Idol (I’m a sucker for a bard and this feels close to it) and also the Vermissian Sage, which is the kind of class I like to see in a game – something that doesn’t really have an analogue in any other games, that is a product of the specific setting that we’re playing in. In the end I choose the Idol. I like the idea that after 4 years of fucking around with weird magic, I’ve come out the other side filled with ideas and a strange means of manifesting them,
With that chosen I write down my Resistances – Silver +1, Mind +1, Reputation +1 – and my Refresh trigger (“Someone feels deeply moved when they witness your art”).
This is where I hit a snag. The Idol class gives access to the Occult domain, which I already have from my Occultist Durance. It’s not clear here whether I should just pick another one myself. I assume I should, since the game seems to want me to have 3 of them. I decide to pick Academia, and I figure I spent a lot of time pulling dusty tomes out of libraries for whichever aelfir bastard I used to work for.
Now for Bonds. The first states that I have a street-level bond with my adoring fans, and asks me to name 3 of them and say what they’re most excited to see next. (Another note – I don’t like it when games ask me to come up with a name without giving me some examples of the kinds of names that exist in the setting.) I do a quick search of the PDF for names and spot an NPC called Quince, and that reminds me of The Eve of St Agnes by Keats, so I name my three adoring luvvies Quince, Plum, and Gourd because I have a Masters degree in English Lit and I’m going to fucking use it, damn it. They’re most excited to see a piece I’ve been teasing for months, a living meat sculpture formed by summoning different bits of demons (do demons exist in this setting? I don’t know) that I smash together in real time into some weird chimera creature, before banishing it again. What could go wrong?
The other bond says, “You have a bond with another PC who you know has feelings for you, even if they wouldn’t admit it. Describe the moment when you knew for definite.” Since I’m making this character on my own I can’t answer that yet, so I’ll figure it out when I get to the table.
Now I have to choose two Low abilities. I pick Incorruptible (“Your mind is crystal, shining and pure, and madness rolls off you and onto others.”) and Majesty (“You become so beautiful that none would dare raise a hand against you”)
The final thing to do is to name my character. Again, I’m struggling with this because I don’t really have any examples of names in the setting (and searching the PDF again didn’t help this time). So I go back to the poem I used earlier, choose the name “Porphyro”, and decide that my character exclusively wears purple. And I’m done.
So, conclusions. The first thing is that when I read the setting and rules before the character creation section, I wasn’t expecting to come out of this with a character quite so fabulous. The mood I got from the rulebook was definitely more Blades In The Dark with drow than anything else, so to end up with a flamboyant artist who people worship was quite a surprise. The character feels fairly anachronistic to the setting, and while I enjoy that in games I know well I’m not sure how it will pan out in a game I’ve never played before. We’ll see.
Maybe the trad gamer in me is showing, but I missed getting to roll dice during character creation. There’s something about random number generation to dictate a character that I really enjoy, and that itch wasn’t scratched here. Choosing backgrounds and classes felt a lot like making a character in the latest edition of the dragon game, and I don’t like making 5e characters. Being asked to pick starting abilities is tough when you don’t know how often they’re going to come up in play or how useful they’re going to be. (I had the same problem with BitD, where I had a lot of fun building a ritual that I have never once used in ~10 sessions of play. But that’s for another day).
This possibly wasn’t the best game to start this series of posts with, but that’s fine. I expect that some games will work really well for this and others just won’t, and I’ll deal with that as it happens.
Next week we’ll do Mӧrk Bӧrg, because I always run that game and never get to play it and I want to roll up some horrible bastards.