by Peter Lindstrom edited by Ghost Archer
The reason I am
writing this discussion is because I remember what it was like when I first
started playing Champions. Compared to D&D, this game is obviously
much more complex. It also gave players the freedom to create their
own character from scratch. This meant we were going to see a lot
of characters based on both good and bad ideas. In either case, many
heroes were well-conceived but poorly or inefficiently written up.
It took me awhile to get the hang of the game and start creating characters
that were both efficient and worth keeping around. As a matter of
fact, I got too good for my own good, because I was hounded by fellow players
to help them with their characters. I finally got tired of wasting
all of my good ideas on other player's heroes so I announced a retirement
from this activity, but here I go anyway.
This is the initial spark that inspires you to sit down and write-up a character. As the character is developed, this conception becomes the basis of the write-up itself, the hero's background, how he is role-played, and often the events of his career as unfolded by a GM. Some of the types of conceptions I have seen, fall into one or more of the categories that follow. My recommendation is to be aware of them so that you will not fall into some of traps that result in a character that becomes poorly received by your fellow players or the GM.
Gimmick characters are those characters that are based on a power or set of powers that become his main "shtick", and then he comes up with a shallow background to support it. These kinds of characters are fun at first, but eventually the gimmick gets old to all parties involved. Such characters are short-lived for anyone who takes the game somewhat seriously.
Sometimes a character in a novel, movie, or comic book interests you so much that it would be a great hero to play. Not necessarily. If you "rip off" such a character, then you will find that the other players and the GM will be more than happy to inform you if the write-up is "wrong" or anytime you role-play the character "wrong". Avoid unnecessary pre-conceived notions about your character. If you are inspired by an outside source, then steal the conceptual ideas but not the whole character.
Have you ever tried to create a character but then something goes wrong that prevents you from finishing it or running it? It may have been a flawed conception, but with a few good character or background ideas. Maybe the conception was so ambitious that there were not enough points. I say save all of these abandoned projects because some excellent characters can come from the best ideas of those earlier projects!
Active characters refers to the ones that get into the fray of combat situations. As Rob Bell says "Be a Hero." The opportunity and risks involved in saving the day, to commit acts of heroism, is what Champions is all about. Passive characters, who stand on the fringe of combat hiding in crowds of normals (i.e., those egoists and those using invisible powers), are boredom incarnate to the other players, GM, and hopefully the players who run them. If you have to run an egoist, then run one who is not hesitant to leap into combat when it is due!
The reason I included this topic next is because you should be thinking about the character's background as you write up the hero. This actually makes it easier to pick the appropriate skills and powers as well as come up with disadvantages. Your character's background should include your hero's life story, the events that affected him as a superhero, and those that helped convince him to become one. The background should include the following:
PERSONAL DATA: Information on the hero as a person, not necessarily as a hero. Take this as an opportunity to give your hero character. This is what makes him interesting to role-play no matter what the situation is. Go beyond your psychological limitations, never forgetting that your hero has a life besides being a hero. He has his personal identity, or is looking for one. He has his own personality, hates, loves, friends, enemies, a past and a future. Bring your character to life.
THE ORIGIN: The events involved in how the superhero got his powers. The origin not only justifies your hero's powers and other capabilities, it also should justify his Disadvantages.CHARACTER CREATION:
Now here is the really tricky part. There is no way to master the art of character creation without experience. I am hoping that this discussion, which imparts much of my experience, will save you some time. Here are some more words and ideas to keep in mind as you write up the superhero.
I am sure that he or she will be more than happy to impart you with this information. Follow them, because he can always say no when you show him your character.
All heroes should have their strong points counterbalanced with some weak points. If you want to be a brick, then you should be slow and ponderous. If you want to be invisible at will or have a high DCV, then that should be balanced with lower defenses. Get the idea?
Your hero should be useful in both combat and non- combat situations. So don't skimp on skills just to be a dominant force in combat. Some believe that quality role-playing can take up the non-combat slack. Although role-playing is the name of the game, it will not substitute for skills when they are called for.
Most character conceptions are based on the hero's powers. When they start to get expensive, abilities that promote role- playing are usually sacrificed first for the good of the conception. I say it is bad for the conception, and everyone involved. If your hero has 10's in Presence and Comeliness because you couldn't spare the points, something is wrong. If your character lacks knowledges or other useful non-combat skills, then again something is wrong. I say either cut back on the powers or find another alternative. One is to give the heroes more points!
The GM's house rules will provide the specifics, but I will detail a power level that is balanced and used by the group I game with. There are always exceptions, for a good conception can transcend all if the GM likes the idea
Power House characters are usually bricks, egoists, powerhouse energy blasters, and powered armor suits. Mid-Ranged characters are mostly energy blasters, gadgeteers, and those unusual or weird characters that tend to have a wider range of powers. Finesse characters are most commonly martial artists, speedsters, and shrinking-type characters. Those are not the only characters in each category, they are provided merely to distinguish the three categories.SPECIAL DEFENSES:
One should consider how his hero rates with these defenses, which include Lack of Weakness, KB Resistance, Mental Defense, Flash Defense, Power Defense, and Hardened Defenses. One should never take even most of them, and if he rates "high" on one of them, then he should rate "low" on the other. Unless of course your character specializes in special defenses. Low defenses are characterized by 0 points. Moderate defenses are 5 points, while high defenses are 10 points. One should not exceed these amounts unless there is a dramatic change of power level, or it is strongly conceptual--such as if a hero uses a power that the defense is based on. KB Resistance is -0, -4, and -8 respectably. Full hardening should be rare so that AP is a viable advantage. The range of hardened PD or ED should be 0 for low, 10 for medium, and 20 for high levels.UNBALANCING POWERS:
Some powers annoy GM's because they overwhelm the villains or cut the climactic battles short. They can include autofire NND's or area effects, full invisibility or darkness, area effect telekinesis, attacks while desolid, INT drains, extra-dimensional travel (and usable on others), fully invisible power effects, and so forth. Try to avoid what we here call abusing or raping the rules by looking to exploit some of those loopholes (and we know there are a bunch). For characteristics, just consider fleshing out your character by buying up some of those often ignored characteristics like INT, EGO, PRE, and COM. A good way to decide where your character stands on a given characteristic is by comparing him to normals and to other heroes. For skills, a roll of 11- means competent--your hero can make a decent living. A 14- means your hero is an expert, and 17- implies mastery of the skill. I am saying this so that you will not feel a need to buy skill rolls over 17- unless your conception says that you are virtually unrivaled by your peers.SKILL LEVELS:
With some exceptions, beginning characters will be beginning heroes. Therefore skill levels should range from +0 to +2. Those heroes that are supposed to be veterans may have more, but try to stay within the OCV/DCV range for your power level.PICKING SKILLS:
Knowing your character's background makes this real easy. Where did he grow up? In the streets, in suburbia, in the echelons of high society, in another country or world, in another dimension or time? Next consider where the character has been, where his travels have taken him. Most importantly, what is his profession? Knowing this leads to the professional skills, backup-knowledges, and other skills that are handy to one in that profession. What are the character's interests or hobbies? Skills are essential to a hero's use in non-combat situations. Some heroes are almost entirely skill-based by conception. They are usually martial artists and scientists. All heroes, though, should at least have a skill niche--something he is good at. Please note that your hero should be able to communicate. I cannot tell you of the boredom enjoyed by players that run a mute character with no way of communicating. Not knowing the language may be fun role-playing at first, but it gets old real fast-- so quickly learn one.POWERS:
This section includes mostly recommended House Rules, with some suggestions. In this first powers section, I discuss the categories that players draw from in creating a versatile character.
KILLING ATTACKS: These should not be a hero's primary or only attack because it will get him into trouble with the law and other heroes. The use of killing attacks is not really heroic anyway. It is an unspoken honor code between heroes and villains that neither side will pull out the killing attacks unless there is a real good reason. Of course, crazy heroes and maniacal villains are exceptions, as always.
NND DEFENSES: The defense should be appropriate to the attack's special effect. The defense should also be common and affirmative. This means that if your initial defense is not very common, then add another one or two. "Not having something" is not an appropriate defense, and should not be allowed.
DEFENSES: Remember that besides the obvious, these include high DEX, DCV, and STUN. Powers such as invisibility, Desolidification, and shrinking also fall into this category. If a hero depends on not being hit in combat then the GM will feel challenged to hit the annoyance anyway. So don't tempt fate by going overboard on these powers, or else watch out for area effects! A player was once asked why his big and stupid brick had ego defense, and his reply was "Because I don't want to be screwed over." This is an honest but not a very good reason to justify a defense. A hero should not have a contingency for every kind of attack or bad situation. All defenses must be justified by character conception.HOUSE RULES:
A hero should not have more than two of the magnifying glass or stop sign powers. Classify life support as a special power. Figure in aid, absorption, and transfer when you determine the power level of your attacks or defenses. Start a little below so that you can max out a little higher than the power level. For damage reduction determine the power level of your defenses by comparing a 35 stun attack against you. The following are suggested changes for your GM to consider. They are no way universal so discuss them with your GM before following these guidelines. Change darkness, flash, and images to affects 1 sense, and affect that whole sense group for +5 points. For discriminatory sense, change it to identify requires a base PER roll, and to analyze a -3 PER roll. Change targeting sense cost to 10 pts. for a specific sense, 15 pts. for a sense group, and 25 pts. for all senses. Tracking scent can be renamed tracking sense, this will allow it to be used with detects. Immunity to normal drugs or poisons costs 5 pts. in life support or either, 10 pts. for both. It is highly recommended that those heroes buying tunneling buy life support so that they can breathe and N-ray vision so that they can see where they are going. In a broader sense, some powers just seem to be meant to go together.POWER LIMITATIONS:
Don't overload powers with gratuitous limitations that will probably never come up in a game. Limitations like "Doesn't work in a vacuum" must be strongly conceptual, and the hero must be able to survive in the environment in order for it to be a limitation of worth. Another house rule is to allow activation that are only made when the power is activated, then the limit is 1/2 value or -3 steps, whichever is lower. The limitation always on can never be qualified by another limitation, or the value is 1/2. Examples include an always on power based on a focus, hero ID, or that doesn't work under a given circumstance. As stated in the book, foci eventually get taken away. Unless you enjoy you hero being helpless, I would not suggest you base all of your hero's powers on one. The GM usually frowns on focused characteristics, especially when they affect a hero's DEX or SPEED. The limitation independent should only be taken on unique items, not anything easily replaceable like a common gun.POWER FRAMEWORKS:
ELEMENTAL CONTROLS: This is good for those powers with a common tight special effect. Unnatural special effects like powered armor suits are not appropriate. Broad special effects like magic are equally inappropriate. The special effect should be tight enough that the player will not be able to justify every power under the sun for the elemental control. They are good when the hero will want to use an attack, movement, and defensive power simultaneously. Additionally, if the conception does not call for the hero to expand much beyond those core powers. Any non-END using power should be allowed in EC's only with GM's approval.DISADVANTAGES:
Since disads are no longer divided into half and quarter values, make them good ones. They should be based on the hero's background and origin, his powers, and so forth.THE WRITE-UP ITSELF:
GM's don't like surprises in the middle of the game, so be clear and legible. Each power should clearly list it's active and real costs as well as itemized limitations. Cross-referenced common limitations are fine as long as they are well documented somewhere. Disads should include a break-down of how you arrived at the value on the character sheet. There is no need to write down all of the elements, numbers will be sufficient for most cases. Here are some examples:
Use the breakpoints and round-offs to your hero's advantage because the points here and there will enable you to buy more of those non-combat characteristics and skills.
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