This is a repost of an older blog entry because
a) someone asked me to bring it back
b) Aos made this great post on his blog and I think it fits well with what he was talking about.
There is something to be said for games with very simple, fast character creation. Systems with a small number of classes are usually great for this; you just pick one, roll some dice, make a few choices, and you’re ready to go.
However, the unfortunate side-effect of that kind of simplicity is often a feeling that every character of that class is essentially the same. A starting thief in B/X D&D is pretty much the same as every other starting thief–you might have slightly different ability scores or different equipment load-out, but things are what they are.
Yes, you can make characters feel different through back-story and role-play, but that’s not what I’m on about here.
What about adding on something small, "mechanical," flavorful, and player-defined, that makes characters feel different in practice?
Here’s my attempt for Beyond the Wall’s three basic classes. (It would work for various retro-clones as well.) To give each character in the game a bit of differentiation, I’m stealing a page from 13th Age’s One Unique Thing and a bit of inspiration from the BtW playbooks: each player gets to write down a Singular Curiosity that is something special about their character not covered by the usual rules:
Singular Curiosity: Write down one thing that is peculiar to your character, something that differentiates them from the people around them. See below for some examples you can choose from or use as the inspiration for your own.
• Your senses are linked to those of a loyal animal companion.
• Your dhampir lineage allows you to see perfectly in the dark.
• You have made a dark pact with an eldritch entity; each day you may ask the entity three questions and expect reasonably truthful answers.
• You are haunted by the ghost of an executed murderer. Once per day you can allow the specter to possess you; when it does, it gives you +2 to hit with melee attacks and damage, but afterward you suffer a -2 penalty to all rolls for the rest of the day.
• You were kissed by a dryad; once per day you may step into a tree and emerge out of another tree you are familiar with.
• Your father gave you a silver chain that has the power to bind witches.
• Your pilgrimage to an ancient shrine has blessed you with a miraculous resistance to disease.
• You carry your grandmother’s enchanted sword; it does +1 damage and will fly to your hand if you will it.
• Your master taught you how to cut spirits using a regular blade.
• You bear a special enmity against a type of supernatural creature; you get a +1 bonus to hit that creature and can sense when they are nearby.
• You have a profound connection to the spirit world and can converse with the recently deceased.
• Your photographic memory allows you to memorize any map you see with a stunning degree of accuracy.
• You have a face that is always missed in a crowd (when you want it to be).
• Your clockwork heart makes you immune to poison.
• You can still remember the things you learned in your past life.
• Your tattoos alter daily, revealing cryptic clues as to the things yet to come.
• You have access to a personal library that seems to have a volume on every imaginable subject.
• You are a changeling and the fairy folk are apt to give you respect. You have +2 Charisma when dealing with the fae.
• Your family follows the Old Ways; once per day you can transform into the form of an animal, such as a wolf, bear, or hawk.
• Your childhood in the slums has made your fists as deadly as a knight’s sword.
• Your grandfather gave you a key that opens all simple locks.
• You are a talking bear. Your claws do 1d8 damage and your AC is naturally 13, but you have trouble using your paws as hands.