Characters are comprised of abilities that fall into various categories. Creating a character is a matter of selecting several keywords, each of which suggest various abilities.
Abilities are what characters use to achieve their goals, and come out on top when there is conflict. They define the character at a low level. There are several categories of abilities, each with its own nuances.
These are often physical descriptions of the character, innate abilities such as “Strength” or “Fleet of Foot.” But they may also just as often indicate important mental facilities that are more basic than personality traits; abilities such as “Quick Witted,” “Good Memory” or “Likeable.” Note that those these are innate, they can improve over time, the result of them being honed by the character. But, generally there are strong elements of nature and talent involved in attributes, and the character is good at them without trying.
One attribute from one keyword must be selected to be the character’s health attribute. It may be named something appropriate for the keyword, but if named something other than health, it should have an asterisk placed next to it. This ability is important because if it is reduced to zero, the character dies.
Skills, as opposed to attributes, are abilities that the character has learned through training or practice. “Swordplay” is a skill, as is “Sailing.” Yes, a character may have a talent with such things, but even a talented character who has never studied or practiced a skill will not be any good at it.
These represent the character’s predilections, motivations, desires and interests. Or even quirks. “Dedicated” is a personality trait, as is “Laughs Easily.” Where a mental attribute might tell you what a character is naturally good at, a personality trait will tell you how the character is likely to behave. personality traits do not include relationships with specific individuals, which have their own category. Though a personality trait such as “Taciturn” might well indicate how the character tends to relate to others in general terms.
These are the valuable (or sometimes painful) bonds that a character has with other characters in the game world. To create a relationship, the player indicates the name of the character or group with whom their character has the relationship, as well as an adjective or short phrase that describes the nature of the relationship. “Elmaria” is just a name. “Loves Elmaria” is an appropriate relationship, as is “Hates Orcs,” or “Honored Member of the Silver Order.”
Gear external to the character falls under this category. Items put on the character sheet indicate those of superior quality, or otherwise special nature. Magic items certainly qualify, but so items of great sentimental value to the character.
Magic abilities are a special sort of ability, the sort that allows the character access to perform actions that are otherwise impossible for those who do not possess them. Magic tends to be mechanically potent… but having magic often puts limits on characters who must behave in certain ways, or go to lengths in order to be able to perform their magic. Some characters will have very little in the way of magic abilities. Even in the World of Greyhawk, not everyone has access to grand magic.
See the Magic section for more details.
A keyword is a centrally identifying concept for a character. It contains, in theory, every ability that such a keyword should contain. Though rarely will all of these abilities be enumerated, or available through play. Instead only select abilities are listed on the character sheet, and made available for use, ones that the player feels will be most indicative of the nature of the keyword, or simply the most fun to have in play.
Some keywords function slightly differently than others, and these are addressed individually below.
One important general rule tends to apply to all keywords: an ability that is in a keyword is a statement that the typical individual with that keyword also has this ability. These are not just abilities that are gained in association with the keyword, but abilities that are part of the keyword.
For instance, a character who is a soldier may be assigned to be a cook during his time in service. The player may well use this as a rationale to put a cooking skill ability in their individuality keyword. But unless the notion is that in the army in question that most every soldier does time enough as a cook to gain this skill, it should not be taken under the keyword. It is not central to what it means to be a soldier for most soldiers.
Again, this is why the individuality keyword exists, as a place to put abilities that come from experiences that the character has had along the road of their lives, that simply are not part of the other keywords.
In addition to the normal sorts of abilities that one gets with a keyword, a character with a magic keyword may be able to take magic abilities. See the Magic section for details.
Constructing a Character
Understanding the above about what abilities and keywords are, the player should be able to make up their character by simply selecting a number of keywords and the abilities under them. What follows is a standard set of keywords types for a character to select, to create a complete character. Then the player may decide to start selecting abilities from their “free slots.”
Typical Set of Keywords
Players should all start play with the same set of keywords just to balance out the interest between them all. Below is a suggested set to start with that makes characters that are complete, and yet not particularly broadly experienced. For each keyword other than Individuality, the keyword must be named so as to indicate its specific nature (one doesn’t just take “Homeland” or “Occupation” as keywords).
The player decides with this keyword not just the land from which the character hails, but also the character’s racial stock, and perhaps something more specific about the region the character grew up in, or their social class. “Oeridian Peasant of Keoland” is probably quite a different keyword from “Suel Noble of Keoland.” And both are very different than “Elven Expatriate from Keoland.”
Naming the character’s occupation answers the questions, why doesn’t the character starve to death? How does the character obtain the sort of compensation from their community or others that one requires to survive? A characters occupation is often most important to their identity, as it is likely the strongest source of their self-esteem.
Note that an occupation must be taken in the context of the homeland in which the character plied their trade. A “Warrior” of Furyondy will likely get substantially different training than a “Warrior” from a tribe in Hepmonoland.
Though not every character is an active user of magic, everybody in the World of Greyhawk has some sort of beliefs regarding magic. If, in fact, a character wishes to be an atheist, then put that as the title for the magic keyword. But most often, even non-devout characters will have a keyword such as “Erstwhile Worshipper of Pelor” or the like. Another term for magic keyword might be “belief system.”
For those who are more steeped in magic, the player should select the order or organization from the setting to which the character belongs. Or, even better, invent one that they find really interesting to investigate. For more details on magic keywords, see the Magic section below.
As noted above, this keyword gets no particular name. This is because this keyword is the keyword of “all other things which the character is good at, but which do not fit in any keyword.” In many ways it represents the amount of time the character has spent exploring things other than their homeland, occupation, and their selected form of magic.
Selecting Ratings for Keywords
With the set above, the player should distribute the following dice as the rating for the keyword: d10, d8, d6, d4. These ratings represent the typical level of abilities inside the keyword. A d6 ability is typical for the average individual, so this distribution tends to make characters that are slightly more powerful than the average person on the street.
A character with a d4 Homeland keyword is probably less educated than most of his people, while a character with a d10 in their occupation is probably quite well-regarded as a professional.
A player begins with five “free slots” available for abilities in each keyword. Using the Intensity rules, a player may always buy more abilities if they can afford them. But these free abilities exist to get the player to flesh out the character to at least a minimum extent.
A player may take one of each category of ability in each Keyword:
- Personality Trait
Abilities selected as part of a keyword start as a default at the level of the keyword. These may be adjusted up or down slightly however to represent strengths and weaknesses of the character. A player may reduce an ability just selected by one or two, in order to raise up another ability in the same keyword by the same number.
Revealing In Play
Certainly abilities, and even keywords in theory, may be left un-enumerated before play begins. The player should try to fill these in when they think of appropriate abilities, but they can be revealed at any time for free (and even abilities in the Individuality, keyword may be revealed sans explanation).
A player whose character has just crawled through a tiny hole may not suddenly reveal that their character has a “Huge d10” attribute. In general, if revealing an ability would be implausible because of previous narration, the GM should disallow it. Players are warned that waiting too long to reveal free abilities may result in options being limited. The player has their maximum creative free space before play to create abilities.
A player starts with 10 points of Intensity. These may be used immediately to upgrade character abilities per the rules in the Intensity section (and usually the GM will forego any requirement for explanation of the expenditures as play has not yet begun, and it is assumed the expenditures were made at a suitable time in the past).