Today’s guest post once again comes from Jonathan McFarland. He’s contributed to all of the Chill 3rd Edition products in one way or another. Jonathan spends his days as a police detective investigating crime and his nights designing and writing for roleplaying game publishers like Onyx Path and Growling Door. He used to believe in ghosts and still believes in people.
My introduction to pen and paper roleplaying games happened long ago, in the before time – specifically, before the internet. The player groups’ conversations about the games and developing our ideas for characters happened almost entirely in person. I spent some of my favorite game sessions creating characters with the other players. Each character represented more than traits and lists of starting equipment, because they began with a rich narrative vein of backstory combined with a potential for future arcs and exploits. Creating characters as a group allowed players to help each other learn how to play the game while deciding what kind of story to tell. As someone who quickly learns and understands rules, I often became a resource for new or inexperienced players during the character creation sessions.
Chill 3rd Edition provides guidelines for the Chill Master and players to develop a vision for the specific setting and story they want to create, but the process of creating the envoys as a group together can allow veteran players to help other players who are new to the game or who aren’t as versed in the rules. The tips and ideas below will help your players create Chill characters ripe with personal drama to add to the game.
Find a starting point: With the needs of the group and the themes of the game in mind, dig in. Sometimes, a player comes to the table with a clear idea of where to start, but more often new players need some help finding where to begin. One of the simplest ways to get the ball rolling is asking the player to pick any one thing on the character sheet that catches their eye. Maybe they are curious about what Drive means, or they see Edges and decide to look through the list in the book. They may hone in on the Investigation skill and decide right away that will be important to the character. If they want to know more about the Art, provide a quick overview of the six Schools of the Art, and they can start by spending points for an Attunement. Whatever the starting point, let the new player enter the process at their point of interest and then transition to…
Ask questions: Become a biographer of the character. After they find a starting point, ask questions as prompts for the player. If they picked Drive, you can begin with the obvious “why does this character fight monsters?” If they singled out a skill or ability, ask how the character learned. “Who taught you” or “why is he an expert marksmen” not only helps the player branch out into making other decisions about the character’s stats, but she can start filling in the character’s history and consider the envoy’s arc within the story of the game. Questions directly related to SAVE, the Unknown, or the character sheet are obviously relevant, but if those questions aren’t getting the player’s creative juices flowing, ask about the character’s personality and life in a way that points to a deeper story. For example: Who broke the character’s heart? What was the character’s worst day? Best day? What is the character most proud of? What are they most ashamed of? Have they ever seen a dead body? What’s her guilty pleasure? How would her best friend describe her? Has she sacrificed anything to fight the Unknown? How did her childhood pet die? When did she realize her parents didn’t know everything? How did she spend her last paycheck?
Mundane questions that provoke small details about the character can also help build a three dimensional envoy with plenty of personality and human elements for the Chill Master to exploit for story hooks and extra horror.
Connect the dots: As the player decides in which traits to invest Character Points and talks through the character’s personality and backstory, look for themes or plot points in common with the other characters, as well as overlap of traits. If the group’s envoys seem entirely disparate in background or theme, consider having everyone add or change one aspect of their character to create some commonality. Conversely, SAVE can become a powerful plot device to throw envoys together with little in common. An international team of characters with wildly different origins might make for an especially exciting game about envoys all willing to move to a new locale at the bequest of SAVE to replace a missing or eradicated HQ.
While everyone should create a character they will enjoy playing, the group should also be mindful to create a team of envoys at least competent in each of the information skills (Interview, Investigation, and Research). Beyond diversifying traits, also be on the lookout for subject material in the character’s story to emphasize or downplay, based on the group’s previous conversations about what kinds of horror they enjoy.
Crunch the numbers: For Chill (R) 3rd Edition, Growling Door’s design team worked to bring modern sensibilities while keeping the feel of a ‘90s era pen and paper RPG. That being said, character creation involves some math, and crunching numbers excites some players as a mini-game unto itself, while other players may feel intimidated or bored by the process. The core book provides some options to handle spending Character Points, but trading character sheets and checking each other’s numbers will help. If you’re group is using the optional HQ building rules from SAVE: The Eternal Society, make sure to decide how many CP everyone is spending for the HQ.
Now grab your team and get to work! If you don’t stand up against the Unknown, who will?