Project Update: Character Creation in Orchestra

I mentioned a few things about character creation in the last post about Orchestra, but I never really touched on it entirely. One of my major goals for Orchestra is to create a complex and deep but accessible and fast system that combines the best of both game design worlds in terms of allowing players a large degree of flexibility in character roles and giving everyone enough to do to be valuable to a party, and I hope that the character creation reflects this.

One of the things about Orchestra’s character creation is that I want there to be examples of what players will want to do as well as ways to quickly and easily create a character without ruining the potential fluidity of the system.

First, Orchestra’s system depends on letting characters build in any given way, but there is far too much to do in order for one character to really master everything. For instance, a character might excel in one or two fields, maybe three fields that do their synergy well, such as proficiency in various types of weaponry, including both melee and ranged combat, and driving, all of which tend to prioritize Agility, Awareness, and Brawn. This means that no two characters need to be alike, and indeed you may want to have multiple characters who can drive the getaway car or lay down various types of fire on hardened enemies in case one is injured or the group has to split its attention.

Second, Orchestra should allow all starting characters, at least at the Heroic level of play that’s standard for the game, to be specialists in the field. Orchestra differs from many other cyberpunk games in that it wants the players to be special, to have the apparent ability to overcome the machinations that surround them, and even if this isn’t necessarily true they are the protagonists of the Matrix or Equilibrium rather than those struggling with day-to-day life in the gutter. Rules will be included, of course, for playing these, but my goal is to create something that isn’t seen as often and allow characters to be powerful out of the box, even if they’re still vulnerable (remember that a deficiency in any area is highly difficult).

Finally, Orchestra wants the players to be capable of succeeding more often than not without help, using Resolve only in emergencies or to finance powers. Characters off the bat start out with the level of power that could perhaps be described as a fifth or sixth level character in a d20-based game, though there is a hard-cap to power of a character (twenty levels between skills and attributes, which means 50% of the total probability curve) that corresponds to roughly level ten or eleven characters. Of course, some of this is a little unfair as a comparison, as Orchestra includes plenty more variability and is not level based, so it’s actually possible for characters to have high power in certain areas and glaring deficiencies in another, or use traits and augmentations (or powers) to do better than would normally be humanly possible.

I haven’t yet talked about traits, but they’re another part of Orchestra that’s important to define characters; depending on the level of the campaign you get a free trait for Dominance (Latent, Traditional, or Awakened, depending on the difficulty, though dropping down can give bonus points), as well as a few points to spend on traits. I won’t get into details about how exactly that works, but you’ll be able to buy a couple more important traits (such as Quick Thinker, which makes actions without a physical component, such as hacking or the Awakened manifesting Dominance cost fewer AP) or four or five minor traits (like Plain, which causes you to be resistant to the effects of ambient Suspicion) and still create a character whose skills and attributes.

The primary method of character creation, and the one I’ll focus on first, is the “categories” system, where players are given a number of points to spend on certain things (attributes, skills, traits, and gear), which narrows down the character creation options and helps people out; this also ensures that they do not forget important elements of their character like skills that may prove valuable (for instance, the fact that Latent Dominance or better traits are required for a character to use Resolve).

Of course, this is not necessarily the forced way to play; by default there will be three ways to create a character: a true “point-buy”, a “categories” system as described above, or “package buy”, which will present a number of pre-built options (each with a permutation or two for additional flexibility) for new players or players who just want to make a character quickly. In addition, the package system can provide more insight to how certain things work; a player who wants to make a truly epic hacker can look at what the hacker packages have and build around them, so they serve a dual purpose as examples and speedy help. All the character creation systems are compatible, though GM’s may wish to limit players to all using the same method to prevent min-max builds.

Next week, I’ll touch on augmentation in Orchestra, something which is going to hopefully be pretty interesting.

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