Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Relic Hunters: Characters

One of the strongest tools for a GM in getting across the feel of a setting is the choice of character types available. Compare these lists of character archetypes and see what comes to mind about the settings they represent:
  • Fighter, Magic-user, Cleric, Thief
  • Barbarian, Sorcerer, Cultist, Assassin
  • Musketeer, Scholar, Priest, Spy
  • Street Samurai, Decker, Streetdoc, Fixer

Reveal something about the world with each character idea.
Even though the character concepts are very similar, just the names of the classes can tell you something about the setting.  Simply renaming them changes the game to Howard, Dumas, or Gibson in the mind, which is a powerful tool if you are going to do something different with your game.

Another interesting tool for flavor is removing a character type or types.  In the original d20 Relic Hunters, I forbade any races (with the exception of humans) or classes from the Players Handbook. Since I had a shelf or two full of supplementary material, this wasn't exactly a hardship—and I think it did what I wanted it to, which was give the campaign a different feel from regular D&D. The two original Relic Hunters wound up being a human gunmage (from Privateer's Iron Kingdoms) and a changeling akashic (race from Eberron, class from Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved), which actually covered three of the major archetypes between them.

For Savage Worlds, of course, there's no character classes, so I instead included a list of suggested character concepts:
  • Airship Captain: Owning a ship—even a tiny skiff—can get expensive. Sometimes you need to take on the more dangerous assignments, and sometimes there's a relic too big to be brought back any other way.
  • Alchemist:The wilderness is a great source for components for your potions, and Relic Hunters are some of the only people crazy enough to wander around out there—and good enough to come back.
  • Artificer: Some people want to bring back the glory of the Ancients—or even surpass it. Artificers are a prime market for relics, but some choose to search for them more directly.
  • Cartographer: Charting the lands of man and the Wastes that surround them for travellers,airship captains, and the like. Relic hunting is one way to make your profession profitable.
  • Delver: Part explorer, part burglar, you can bypass any trick or trap between you and your haul. If you couldn't, you would have been dead by now.
  • Gunfighter: Duelist, lawman, bandit, bodyguard—anyone who lives and dies by the gun. Gunfighters may not be the most cerebral of Relic Hunters but they are worth their weight in flying lead when beastmen or mutants attack.
  • Gunmage: An alchemical warrior, channelling magic though powder, lead, and steel.
  • Scholar: The scholar sees knowledge as an end, and relic hunting as the means by which it can be reached. They may be employed by universities, wealthy patrons, or nothing more than their own thirst for knowledge.
  • Sorcerer: Unlike others, you aren't afraid to dip your hands directly into the rivers of magic. Most sensible people avoid you, but sensible people don't become Relic Hunters.
  • Wildrunner: Scouts and hunters for the beastman packs, Wildrunners are used to surviving in a place where even the sand can draw blood—and a renegade might be willing to show you where the holy sites are.
This list is firmly fixed on relic hunting of course—not to say that these are the only types of people in the world, but they're the ones we are interested in. Some games suffer from a loss of focus when it comes to character classes, which means players will suffer that same loss of focus when thinking about their character.

The other thing I tried to do with this list is reveal something about the world with each character idea.  Players in general don't want to sit down and read pages and pages of history to find out about the setting, but just from the character descriptions we can tell quite a bit about what a Relic Hunters game should look like.

When you're designing your own setting, think about the character classes or archetypes you've got.  What do they say about your world?  Where do they fit in—and is that where you want them to be?  Consider what you can do to get the focus more tightly on the game that you want to run, and on the aspects of your setting that are unique.

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