Thursday, February 19, 2015

DCC Donnerstag: Emergent Characters & You

The problem was simple enough: +Doug Kovacs was in town and it was game night. I typically run DCC at the +Tap Room Games Night events, and Doug had offered to run something for us instead. But it turned out he didn't have any pregens on him and had left his deck of zero-level nobodies in the car which he didn't exactly want to hike back to, so we came up with a plan. What if all the player knows about his character going into a session are the absolute minimal details? Everything else could come out of play, I suggested. Doug bit and we ended up having a damn good session with characters that started out as just a few lines on an index card and ended up being pretty well-fleshed-out adventurers.

Since that night, I've used this minimalist emergent character system several times in order to go from sitting down at the table to actually fucking playing as quickly as possible. For DCC, I've found that most halfway decent players (or better) only need a few scraps of information to get going:

  • What's their character's class? 
    • In this case, the player is deciding outright, rather than their decision being "informed" by ability scores.
  • What's their profession? 
    • Roll d100 ignoring inappropriate results or reinterpreting them to make sense; this way you know where you started -- the profession -- and where you ended up -- the class.
  • What's their Birth Augur? 
    • Roll d30; note that as of yet, you don't know how big of an effect this is going to have on the character because you don't have a Luck score. 
    • This information can really help flesh out the character from the beginning, especially when its one of the three things you know about a character and that's it. When ability scores get in the way, it's really easy for Birth Augur to get overshadowed by showier stats. 
Everything else gets rolled only when it's needed. You're making an attack roll? Well, you'll need a Strength score (or Agility), so roll it. You're making a Fortitude save? Well, you need a Stamina score, so roll it. You're casting a spell? You'll need Intelligence or Personality, so guess what? Roll it. Now, this can lead to some really screwy characters, such as wizards with a 5 Intelligence and not everyone likes that. Draw two little check marks in the corner of each 3x5" index character sheet. A player can check one of these boxes to assign the 3d6 Ability Score roll he just made to any unassigned Ability Score rather than the one in question and then re-roll. Yes, he can check the other box and re-roll again, but once both check boxes are used up, we're done, folks and the dice are just going to lie where they fall. Players can trade in any left-over check boxes for a bump to Luck on a one-for-one basis. 

Doug used this system (minus the re-roll mechanic; that's a more recent innovation) for zero level characters, but I've used it exclusively for 1st-level PCs. For zeroes, especially if you're running with multiple zeroes per player, I wouldn't use the re-roll mechanism, but that's me. Do what you want with this. 

For first-level characters, here's the stuff that I think is important to remember: 
  • Remember that folks get the d4 hit points from the level zero that they never experienced. Since these characters didn't actually survive a funnel, I sort of feel like they didn't earn this d4, but since they also didn't get winnowed down from 3-4 significantly less awesome dudes to one badass 1st-level, I think they just might need the crutch of a few extra hp. 
  • This works great for con games, especially ones of an improv nature, which is a lot of what I do. Because of this, though, I'm not sure how useful the PCs produced by this method would be in a campaign environment. The one time I tried it was by experimenting on poor +Diogo Nogueira, but he seems to have come out the other side no worse for wear. That and the guy is a total champ who rolls with whatever punches I throw his way.
  • Starting equipment can be strange here, and I don't really like to wait for folks to pick gear. Boring. Rather, at the start of the session, I prefer to ask each player what's the one useful thing they've got (other than their d24 starting item roll) or that they recently obtained. So far, no one's been too narrow-minded with this. +Pete Schwab ended up with mildly hallucinogenic and euphoric honey from bees who pollinate a particular breed of lotus. Fucking perfect. Do that. A longsword? That's the best you can come up with? Psssshhhh...
  • You may also want to give folks a few uses of untyped, generic "Dungeon Gear" that they check use to have something like a rope or some torches or (if they're clever) a lantern. Maybe a tent. Grappling hook. Something stupid like that. I don't like to keep track of that stuff in DCC because, to be perfectly honest, it kind of harshes my DCC buzz. 
  • I let wizards, elves and clerics pick 1/2 their available spells and roll the other half randomly. No one takes Invoke Patron & Patron Bond because I treat those as class features. If anyone wants to start with a Patron (and it makes sense), and here's the kicker, use their Intelligence score as the die result, modified by level. Oh, they want to Spellburn on that bond? Well, they're starting off having taken that Spellburn. No free rides, chumps. 
So, there you have it. That's what's been working for me in impromptu sessions when folks don't have characters at the ready. It works out. It's fast and fun and makes finding out more about your character at the table a really interesting experience. Sure, you may think everyone likes your halfling, but what's your Personality score say about you? Bam. 

Finally, I want to thank the folks who let me try this crazy idea out on them over the past few months: +Pete Schwab, Larry +Follow Me, And Die!+Jared Randall+Laura Rose Williams+Andrew Moss+Roy Snyder+Diogo Nogueira+Shane Harsch+Kathryn Muszkiewicz, Robin, +Jon Hutton, Evan, +Tyrus Eagle and probably a bunch of other folks who I'm struggling to remember right now. Thanks for letting me experiment on you!