Characters in One Shot RPG exist in two worlds: gameplay and narrative. They interact with game mechanics and have to fit into a balanced party. The characters exist in a sci-fi and horror setting, where they need differing motivations, personalities, and backgrounds. Both of these aspects have to be considered when creating a cast of playable characters.
A character should fulfill a class fantasy, also called an archetype or a resonant theme. Characters should be designed around a short description that any player can understand. The description should make the player feel excited about (resonate with) role playing as the character. An example of a strong sci-fi class fantasy is mystical, laser sword user. While there are no laser sword wielders in the One Shot RPG setting, this description gives off certain expectations about what this character does. An example of a weak class fantasy would be robot. While robots are cool, there isn’t enough depth to this idea, and players will get a wildly different idea of what the character should be like. Robot would be better off as robot of war who gained free will or old, broken robot looking for its creator.
Each playable character should be designed to fill a certain niche. There should be situations where they perform well, and situations where other characters could shine. This requirement touches upon both role play and combat contexts. In a role playing situation, if a single character is good at everything (called a Mary Sue) then the rest of the players won’t be able to act. Players would be sidelined and forced to watch someone else have all of the fun. In combat situations, a character who is good at everything would make encounters a breeze, removing the sense of danger. Each character should have a combat role where they’re strong, with enough areas where they’re weak to balance them out.
The idea of characters fulfilling niches is even more important in a horror setting. If characters don’t have enough areas of weakness, then encounters with unknown, dangerous monsters wouldn’t be scary. Horror works by exploiting our fears and anxiety of the unknown. If players know that their characters can tackle any problem, then there’s no reason to fear the next dreadful encounter.
Without fulfilling niches, the cast of playable characters can also throw off game balance. If all the playable characters are melee only, then a scummed who always keeps their range may be impossible to deal with. Likewise, if all the characters were ranged rail gun wielders, then a pack of wild animal that prefers up close encounters may overwhelm the group. By branching out into different roles, the party can remain well balanced and a wider variety of encounters can be developed.
Not only is accessibility important for a successful game setting, it’s important when designing characters. In this context, accessibility refers to players being able to understand how the characters work by both seeing them and reading their description. Take a large muscular character who carries a giant techno-sword. A player who wants to pick this character would assume that they are best in melee range, and their main source of damage comes from swinging around the weapon. Imagine if the character’s sword is actually ornamental and the character’s main combat ability is hacking, which they do from range. This would go against the player’s expectations, and may lead to confusion and regret after picking to play as the character.
Accessibility also applies to how the character interacts with game mechanics. Take a character who is a chemist that utilizes concoctions with a wide array of effects. One of their main sources of utility in combat is a potion that mutates the enemy, making them grow larger. This is useful because of a game mechanic that makes larger monsters easier to hit and slower to move, thus increasing the efficiency of the party. This type of ability would be confusing to a new player. They may look at the character sheet and wonder why this ability exists. The player may opt to stick with easier to understand, less efficient abilities. Players shouldn’t have to learn how to min-max the game for optimal damage output.
Having the product utilize accessible characters is important for business reasons. Characters that are easy to understand makes it easier to onboard new customers. The new customer could see a character, perhaps on the cover of a book, and understand what that character does. When they go to learn more about the game, say from a friend, they won’t need to have each character explained to them. The new customer will know how each character works by letting their assumptions do most of the work.
Characters should come from a variety of backgrounds and should have differing reasons for fighting the scummed. Having different backgrounds and motivations between the characters adds interest and drama in the story. If all the characters are ex-military mercenaries, then players may not bat an eye at killing scummed—when leaving them alone or attempting the cure would add a lot more drama to the story. If one of the characters was a civilian instead, who had a loved one succumb to scum, they may be more inclined to convince the party to make a different decision.
A character’s background also includes its alien species. There are four playable alien species in One Shot RPG. Characters should come from each of them. There doesn’t have to be a perfect balance, as human characters are more likely to resonate with players, but that doesn’t mean all characters should be human. Characters from each species should be introduced throughout the life of the product. Playing as and interacting with different aliens species is one of the tenants of the sci-fi genre, and I want to capture that feel.
Like differing backgrounds, characters in One Shot RPG should differ in personality. Designing each character to have a unique personality leads to them feeling like a unique individual. Characters can have overlapping personality traits, but each should have their own quirks and facets that set them apart.
Player characters should be varied, but they should all fit in with each other and get along as a group. They don’t have to see eye to eye—and shouldn’t, as opposing opinions can lead to interesting conflict—but the characters shouldn’t hate each other. The party shouldn’t descend into a non-functioning, chaotic mess. A character who never follows orders and gets the party into terrible situations isn’t fun to have in the group. A character who occassionally doesn’t follow orders which causes trouble for the group is much more interesting and fun to play.
Keeping it Fresh
As a player, differing backgrounds, species, personalities, and motivations can also make each character feel fresh. If a player chose a character who was an animal person scientist trying to research and prove the existence of scum in their first one shot adventure, they would have a unique experience if they chose a human character who was trying to profit off of scum for their next adventure. Keeping the adventures and characters fresh increases customer retention and incentivizes players to come back and play more one shots.
Gameplay and narrative are only two aspects to consider when creating characters for the sci-fi and horror one shots. The next article will go over diversity goals.