Building Characters

Jan 18 2010

One primary design goal for Gunwave is simplicity. I want players to be able to pick up the game and start playing very, very quickly — without needing hours to absorb the game’s rules.

When I first wrote the Gunwave rule set, its D&D roots showed clearly — each player chose a Race and a Specialty, just like D&D’s race and class. Each Race and Class came with a menu of powers, from which the players could select a certain number for their character.

Players enjoyed this process, but I discovered several problems:

  • Players spent quite a bit of time reviewing their options. They wanted to pick just the “right” powers.
  • Players quickly became critical of powers that didn’t seem useful, dismissing them out-of-hand.
  • After one game session, players complained about having picked “useless” powers (sometimes simply because those powers hadn’t been used in that session), and wanted to swap out their powers.

So I built a number of archetypes, common character profiles with a simplified menu of powers. Players now had a smaller menu of powers to choose from, but each power was tailored specifically to that character’s role and purpose in the game.

Did I succeed? No; I just lessened the above effects. Players still worried over their power choices, criticized “useless” powers, and wanted to swap powers.

So I pre-built a dozen characters. Early in the main game document, the players are presented with stats and powers for these characters, and are encouraged to use them for their initial sessions. Straight. The archetypes now reside in an appendix to the document.

This works extremely well for playtesting — players just choose a character and go. I’ve no idea how it’ll work for regular players, though; will they appreciate this structure?

Either way, this solution satisfies my design goals, so I’m going to use it until it breaks. May seem counter-intuitive, but that’s sometimes what happens with specific goals.

Now to try it out.

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