Friday, January 9, 2009

Crazy Characters

Last night's session at Wayward was a one-shot (sort of an opening to a once-per-month ongoing game) called Omniverse.
Setting: It was described in advance as being vaguely Sliders-esque, but turned out to be actually more Farscape-esque, bordering on SpellJammer-esque. Minor quibble, really doesn't matter, as even with that unexpected change, the game was great fun. We were encouraged to come to the session with a bizarre character concept in mind - nearly anything would be okay. We could steal from any show or genre, blend them mercilessly, or make up our own unique character.
System: The GM had said he'd be using a modified version of Risus. He'd run Risus for this group once before. In that game, he'd allowed a very liberal definition of our Cliches (that's Risus-speak for Attributes), and also had house-ruled away the prohibition against using the same Cliche for attack and defense in a round. The end result, I'd discovered, was that having as few Cliches as possible, and thus all highly rated, was significantly superior to diversifying into several medium-ranked Cliches. Since Risus is famous for the unforgiving spiral of death that starts whenever you fail a roll, this conclusion was fairly important.

Going into this game then, I knew I'd want a character that was fairly simple, with just a couple things they could do - though, those things might be fairly broadly defined. For example, it'd be far better to be a rank 4 scientist, then to be both a rank 2 chemist and a rank 2 physicist.
First Concept: My planned character was going to be named Larva. He'd look like a big rotting dinosaur. In reality, he'd be a couple feet long, and grublike. He'd be a child form of an advanced alien species, capable of reanimating the recently dead. However, to do so, he'd have to burrow inside the dead body and attach his sensory organs to the corpses degrading nerve center. This would mean he could only reanimate one corpse at a time, and it would have be big - at least the size of an oxen. I figured I'd wear the biggest dino the GM would let me get away with.

My cliches would be something along the lines of "Gentle (but rotting) Giant", "Reanimator" and "Looking to Prove Himself". As a youngster, he'd not yet earned a name. In his culture, you were all just called "Larva" until you'd proven yourself worthy of becoming a named adult. He'd have a big inferiority complex, and not be completely aware of his own (borrowed/rotting) strength.
GM's curve-ball: Turns out Malachi (the GM) wasn't just using normal Risus character creation rules. Instead, he wanted each person to use the following structure to describe their character.
(Name), the [Descriptor] [Species] [Profession] of [Planet]
You'd fill in the blanks, and things you dropped in the brackets would become your Cliches. Each different bracket had limitations as to what sort of thing you could fill it with. Descriptor had to be an aspect of your physical body or your personality. Profession needed to be a job.

Planet was fairly open, but if it wasn't immediately grokkable to the rest of the group you wouldn't be able to roll it for much. Species had a similar hurdle. Being a Fzghuhoyt of the planet Snizlukka would be sub-optimal, but being a Werewolf from The Death Star would give you lots of abilities and story hooks.

Larva, the Puppy-Like Body-Snatcher-Bug Child of Bugworld just wasn't going to work. I could probably get away with putting in something dinosaur-related into one of those brackets, but it was an awkward match. Chances are my Descriptor and Profession would be redundant, as would my Species and Planet. It was the whole Chemist and Physicist problem I'd previously identified, except worse because being a child is not so helpful as being a scientist. My concept was just too narrow.

By contrast, if you were (as one of my fellow PCs was going to be) Despotron, the Badass Motorcycle Politician of Cybertron, you were getting combat skills, a mode of rapid transit, social skills, a robotic body and shapeshifting powers out of your required 4 Cliches - that's pretty sweet.

Needless to say, I was going to have to think fast and change my concept. I needed something with a broader skill base and more than one schtick. More importantly, I needed to belong to a species and world that communicated something to the GM and my fellow players.
Thank my lucky Starr: A friend of mine once made a really cool Amber character that was a Narwhal - well, sort of. Technically they were a Kangaroo-Legged, T-Rex-Armed, Parachuting Psychic Narwhal from a Non-Euclidean world, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of having been kidnapped by a Dimension-Hopping Circus. Actually, the backstory was far more complex than that, and involved shape-shifters and secret parents, a Matriarchal society where males were forced into breeding programs, a magic parachute, multiple personalities, secret magical soul names, and a huge opening bid on Psyche.

I wasn't going to need anything nearly that complicated. But it did occur to me that I could take a cue from Starr's old character, emulate (aka steal) a few of the better (aka simpler) bits, put my own twist on it, and have a character I was comfortable with in under a minute.

That's how I ended up playing Dr. Fiddlesticks, the Bat-Winged Narwhal Parapsychologist from MCEscherLand - a concept which communicated volumes to everyone.
The rest of the cast: I don't remember every bracketed Cliche from every character, nor most of their names, but here's what I do recall (and my best guesses) about my fellow PCs...
  • I already told you about the Badass Motorcycle Polititician from Cybertron
  • Nard, the Space-Faring Glow-Jellyfish Combat-Specialist from some planet I'd never heard of. (She'd originally envisioned the character as using a mini-mech battlesuit and a fireball cannon, but instead ended up using Jellyfish Kung Fu.)
  • Buck something-er-other, the Two-Fisted American Fighter-Pilot from WW2World. (He later clarified his version of earth had just two continents: "America, F*** Yeah!" and "Over There", and that, yes, American was his Species.)
  • Farnsworth, the Dashing Human Explorer from Steampunk Victoriana. Or maybe his descriptor was Brave and his Profession was a Gentleman. Or his job might have been an Officer, and his description Gentleman. The exact details escape me, but was the sort of character who'd be perfectly at home wearing a Pith Helmet and a Smoking Jacket while firing an Elephant Gun from the deck of his Airship. He was decidedly British.
  • and a Mutant Half-Vampire from the Marvel Universe. For some reason, I'm blanking on this character's name and profession, as she was more cerebral and understated then you might expect from a Mutant Vampire of the Marvel Universe. Part of that may be because most of the session was daylight, but she did get to turn into mist, hypnotize mooks, and have Wolverine-ish healing factors.
Overall, the characters were awesome, and the game was a blast. What might not be obvious from those descriptions was what a disfunctional band we were. Everyone had lots of skills and powers, but the GM also gave us the option of choosing a flaw to get some extra perks, and we happily handicapped ourselves in various ridiculous ways that nearly imploded the scenario more than once. Luckily, our GM was also a skilled improviser.

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