Slow-Paced Character Generation

Apr 7, 2010
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Several months past, I tossed out some setting ideas for our Spring Convergence. Around the same time, I gave the players the same information posted here and told them to start considering character ideas. In typical fashion, a few people responded with ideas and we’ve exchanged a few emails regarding them.

I admit the details they were given were sparse — a general background, a likely location of play and a few insights into what I have in mind. In fact, up until a couple of weeks back, I had not even chosen a rule system to use. The players were left to consider the character, the crumbs of a setting, and little else. The sandbox was completely open for potential characters.

The wide-open, slow approach is not useful in most groups but it can lead to surprising results. One of my players, Randall, discovered a spark in the idea of the game that lead him to produce a pretty great background. He’s still not transformed it from a detailed history into a rules-generated character. Randomness will not be a factor when that occurs. Translation will occur, not randomness.

I present his concept evolution through time in his own words beyond the break.

Initial Concept (1/29/2010):

-Ex Corp Spec Op who at the end of his employment served as a bodyguard for a high ranking corp exec. (Justifies having over and above the norm gear/implants)
-Corp attempted to “terminate” employment but he survived
-Termination attempt due to a moderately damaging piece of black mail that was obtained and possibly for diverting corporate funds to the nomad pack or personal vehicle/vehicles
-Send monthly copies of the blackmail to the exec as a reminder plus intel of interest to the corp that is either non damaging or even beneficial to the pack for the corp to know. What I’m thinking is enough carrot and stick to keep the corp from actively trying to eliminate us or interfere with the pack above the norm and possibly could provide some periodic benefits
-Close pack ties friends/family
-Vehicle/vehicles old school American muscle car or bikes converted to ethanol
-I’m thinking my usual scout/scavenger/sniper tendencies mixed with hard core solo
-Possibly have a reflex booster implant and links for vehicle
-Pre-collapse hobbies: Cars or Bikes and hunting

Also I brain stormed about a hundred potential skills for this guy. I don’t have a clue how skills are going to be figured but I thought it would be cool to just come up with some, with no specific rules set in mind, based on the skeleton idea.

-possibly basic pistol/knife
-sub machine gun
-martial arts
-spanish and possibly chinese
-moderate mechanic and possibly body work
-hunting/butchering/meat prep
-combat first aid
-combat reflexes (doesn’t flinch in combat)
-basic leadership/tactics
-LUCK I really want Mark to do luck points, but if not then I have to cover my characters ass! hehe
-mountain/forest survival
-basic electronics
-basic demo
-basic gun repair
-possibly archery
-possibly brewing
-I thought of a cool skill but it probably doesn’t apply to this potential character, weapon improvisation coupled with anatomy, use anything and know where to make it count the most!

In mid-March, I got an update from him on the character concept for review. The draft had went from a sketch into a pretty significant statement of who the character was. I was very pleased with the concept at this point and would have gladly helped him convert into statistics with no more effort on his part.

James Maxwell Roberts: White Male

Born: Hanscom AFB, MA 06/16/1993
Father: Colonel Maxwell Roberts, USAF
Mother: Mary Jean Wilcox Roberts, deceased
Siblings: Lt Jonathan Carson Roberts, USAF, 12 years older
Other Family: Michael Simon “MS” Wilcox, Uncle (“Retired” Sons of Silence Motorcyle Club member based in Niwot, CO)

James was raised in a military dictatorship of a home, bouncing from base to base. His father was “strict” in the 19th century use of the word. Nothing short of perfection was tolerated by his father of him and his mother, although Jonathan was a favorite and could at times slide by his fathers wrath, but being significantly older was not a steady fixture in James’s life. Bruises and the occasional broken bone were just part of the Roberts house’s world. At the age of 13 his mother, Jean, passed away from a brain aneurysm, a complication of a nasty “fall” down the stairs.

At this point, James began separating himself from the family residence whenever and however possible. He hooked up with a group of “locals” when his father was stationed at Pope AFB, NC, and got heavily into cars, specifically the boosting and illegal racing of them. Upon his third detention, at 14, by local authorities his father sent him to Camp Spirit, a military boot camp outside of Fort Collins, CO, run by a retired close friend of then Colonel Roberts. James managed to survive a 2 year stint inside Camp “Broken” Spirit, although at times his previous home experiences looked good by comparison, with NO outside communication of any kind from his father or brother. Up being released from “Camp”, he was met at the gates by Michael Wilcox, an uncle that until that moment was completely unknown to James. Michael informed James that his father was now posted at Osan AFB, South Korea, and that Michael had tracked down James on his own volition, as the youngest son of his sister Jean.

James lived with his “Uncle Mike” in Wiggins, CO for 2 1/4 years, where he went to school, worked in his Uncles’ Motorcycle Repair Shop, “MS Scooter Repair”, and was taught to hunt by his uncle. He flourished during this period and devoted all his time to these three pursuits. Also, it was during this period that James learned to speak Spanish, taking it in high school it allowed him to communicate better with the large Hispanic population in the surrounding area.

Two major life-changing events took place on the 18th birthday of James. First, his Uncle Mike gave him the love of his life for a birthday present, a 1941 Indian Inline 4 Police Special, repainted in blue. Second, that same evening he was involved in an altercation at a party which left a 17 year old “minor” seriously injured. Being an “adult” and having a previous juvenile record, James was given only two options by the judge, prison or military service. Colonel Roberts, who James had not heard from since before he was sent to Camp Spirit, even sent a USAF Recruiter to the proceedings. Upon the urgings of his Uncle Mike, who had an old history with the Colorado Penal System, and his attorney, another acquaintance of Uncle Mike, James chose military service, but to annoy the Colonel, who viewed “ground pounders” as little better than civies, chose the army branch instead of the air force.

Randall wasn’t quite done. He had some more details to add and sent me a second update on the character’s background on April 2nd. More details were fleshed out expanding beyond an already solid concept.

Upon completion of basic at Fort Jackson, SC, several aspects about James were obvious to the army. He had natural aptitudes with both a rifle and a wrench. The question was motor pool or sniper school? Also noted during basic, however, was that even when faced with the ideal situation meant to promote bonding with ones squad mates, James did not bond easily with others. Comments from team members and instructors included “aloof”, “cold”, “friendly but reserved”, etc. His MMPI/CPI psychological examination served to confirm this with definite trust issues and slightly disconnected as pertaining to relationships with others. Based upon this information as a whole, James was given orders to report to Fort Benning, GA, sniper school, for the initial 5 week training. During this period, he once again excelled, developing to rank in the top 1% in the nation with the M24 Sniper Weapon System (SWS), his preferred weapon.

After the Fort Benning training, James was sent to “participate” in the South American Conflict, where, despite accruing a few small reprimands/disciplinary actions for slight insubordination issues and taking “undue risks” in the field, he quickly acquired 22 confirmed kills. His slightly better than normal high school Spanish proved extremely useful and became fluent Spanish in no time. As was seen during basic, James still had troubles playing nice with others and his performance could definitely be seen to suffer when on team ops larger than a couple persons. Also during this time period, the sporadic communications with his Uncle Mike became worrisome. Uncle Mike now calls the Wiggins/Fort Morgan/Brush area “Mexican Shanty Town” as illegals continue to flow northward over the border into the area, but fewer and fewer jobs are available for them. He suggests James send every dime h that can be spared north to Uncle Mike for increasing “investment opportunities”, which James promptly does with no questions asked, except about the bike.

Shortly after this, James had his first encounter with one of the major corporations of the day, United Pharmaceuticals, or UP for short. He was assigned to a joint operation between the army and UP special ops on a mission to neutralize the leader of a strong insurgent group and secure the area for future operations in Columbia. (UP takeover of the Columbian cocaine fields) After the success of this mission James was approached by the UP Spec Op field commander to possibly take on some freelance work in the area when he was on leaves. High risks for high compensation, all equipment provided. With the communications with Uncle Mike and all James’ money going north, this appeared to be a no brainer to James and he began freelancing for UP and sending more money than he could hardly imagine to Uncle Mike. After the first few “missions” for UP, James’ original CO in South America was replaced and the under the new CO James was given more and more frequent leaves, that coincidentally coincided with UP missions. (UP had diverted extensive resources into the US Army branch of the military, as other Corporations had to the other branches, using it in part as a training ground for hand picking the best to work for the UP private forces.) News comes from Uncle Mike that he is closing down the shop and joining up with other ex-bikers and their families to move down the road towards greener pastures, but will keep James informed of where, as they know, and also sets up a bank account for James to keep depositing money, although the name on the account is unknown to James (assumed name).

After about a year of actually doing more UP missions than Army ops, UP bought out James’ 8 year military contract and, upon his request, based him out of Denver, CO. Although the mission pace greatly increased with this move he still was able to periodically meet up with Uncle Mike and his group as they ranged across the Rocky Mountains area, and Mike tells James that the investment money was pooled with the others of the band and has gone to cached food/IDs/weapons/vehicles/parts/medicines(and drugs) on properties purchased throughout Colorado/Nebraska/Kansas/Wyoming/South Dakota under assumed names for a “rainy day”. James could not even imagine ever needing such precautions as the work for UP was increasing as was the size of the pay checks, but he does not bother Mike about it. He does reclaim his bike and spends all his free time tinkering or riding it. He even invests, with the increased scarcity of fossil fuels, in converting it to alcohol use.

After James declined a mission to eliminate an unknown woman, who was later recognized by James to be the “robbery victim” wife of the US Surgeon General, he began to be disillusioned in his role within the corporation and acting upon the suggestion of Uncle Mike, took a bodyguard position with the Denver branch CEO, Elizabeth MacNamura. However, this merely exacerbated James’ feeling of disillusionment, as he was now exposed to more of UP’s inner dealings through his employer. Within 6 months of his new position with MacNamura, James had reached a decision. He wanted out and resigning was not an option. People who resigned from UP in his position were “neutralized” as a security risk.

Finally, after multiple late night discussions with Mike and several bottles of tequila, James had a plan. Grab some incriminating piece of data and disappear. Nothing so bad as to bring in the national headquarters teams or any of the international “specialists”, but just enough to keep everybody off his ass as long as he didn’t provoke anything serious. It only took two more weeks for what appeared to be the perfect opportunity to present itself. A small data chip thought to contain some useless clutter and a small list of FDA personnel directly on Elizabeth’s personal payroll. He simply made a quick copy and walked. Unfortunately, this did not go unnoticed. Upon arriving at the storage unit with the Indian in residence, he was met by a local response team. By pure luck, James managed to evade the squad and make it out with the bike. He met up with Uncle Mike at a prearranged location, but discovered, upon review of the chip, that there was also a report located within that showed the results of the original FDA testing of the new UP product Maxicilan, a “super” penicillin strain that was being hyped as the wonder drug of the 21st century. The report, which had came out prior to the death of the Surgeon General’s wife, stated that Maxicilan was highly addictive to it’s users. Nothing about that on the pop-ups! However, it was highly doubtful that a CEO of a mid-level branch was supposed to have a copy either. Uncle Mike quickly made multiple copies of the data chip and sent them off to parts unknown to James, for leverage. As a result, there is currently a stand off of sorts between James, who now rides full time with Uncle Mike’s pack, and the Denver UP branch. James sends monthly copies to Elizabeth MacNamura along with any beneficial info for the corp that is deemed unlikely to hurt the pack, and, to date, Elizabeth has not had James and the pack destroyed.

Imagine my surprise when he ended the email asking if he’d messed up anywhere and what he needed to change. Change it? I think not. Randall knows this character completely and has internalized it before the first dice gets thrown. I’m not about to muck with the concept. Instead, I’ll adjust my campaign toward him. Not for him. Characters with deep backgrounds lead my campaigns and his is a shining example.

Before I published it, I asked him if he was open to the character being published. Obviously he agreed but he still hasn’t mentally finished.

No problem. As you could tell, it was a bitch for me to get started but once I got past that initial momentum needed it really took off. I’m pretty proud of it, so I don’t care who sees it. There are plenty of vague areas I’m not too happy with, but overall I think it’s the best history I’ve done. As I was writing it I actually thought it would be cool to play Uncle Mike sometime too.

If he’s still not satisfied, I wonder what he’ll show up with on the 15th when we kick off the campaign? Kudo’s to you Randall for pushing the idea from concept to history and beyond.

I’m certain he could play this character in any game system or in the complete absence of one.

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