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Wordplay

Wordplay has a strong narrative basis and shares many similarities to Heroquest. Characters are described in terms of open traits that are assigned values that represent pools of d6. The traits are categorised into the generally applicable Body, Mind and Soul taxonomy. Since the system is broadly applicable and unstructured (the book comes with five very different settings) I thought I would try to create a few different types of characters. For games I am interested in running.

Characters can be created via the Heroquest style of writing a concept and small description but the game advocates thinking about traits in terms of Pre-Play (which is really clunky, why not just go with Past?), People, Place and Profession. Each trait has a default value of three dice and then a limited number of traits can be raised to higher values according to the level of the game you want to play. Dice generate one success on a four or five, two on a six and the more successes the better. Tests are always made against an opposing pool and pools are unlimited in size.

Gothic fantasy

The first is a gothic fantasy character (gothic more in the romantic sense here) for a setting where the heroes are on the run from an oppressive evil. The setting is a gentile renaissance but with a Victorian London atmosphere of fog and occult danger. The character is a gentleman who is studying medicine and is straddling the line between his restricted and “proper” life as a scholar and respected physician and the demi-monde of dissection and grave robbery. Let’s call him Alexander Stratton.

Past

Alexander wanted to become a great doctor after witnessing his mother dying as child. He studied with many of the great men in the kingdom but realised that much of their knowledge was not based on facts or even the outcome of their various prescriptions. He began to study the progression of disease in those unable to afford treatment, discovering that some people survived illnesses that killed others. Determined to find why some survive and others succumb Alexander is at risk of crossing the line between valid study and unethical experiment.

People

Although his mother is dead Alexander is still very much in awe of his father who is a man in the grand patrician style. He married the beautiful, clever and devoted Elsbeth when still a student. Elsbeth and Alexander have a young son called Rabak.

Alexander relies on the help of Cax, his manservant, and a notorious fence called Fharms to help acquire bodies for study and desperate people willing to try his experimental cures.

Place

Alexander has always lived in the most privileged strata of society, free to pursue his interests amongst the beautiful hunting lodges and castles of his wealthy family. He spends most of his time in a large, beautiful townhouse near the palace where he has his study, library and where he performs his consultations. When Elsbeth can tear him away from his work the couple go to fashionable dances in beautiful ballrooms and attend the opera in a private box.

Profession

Being a healer is both a profession and an obsession for Alexander. He is willing to go to nearly any length to help a patient. His real skills and successes are much in demand but most of his patients are from his own class. Alexander would dearly love to take on students and lecture on his methods and techniques at the university but the origin of some his knowledge makes is difficult to be public and open about how he conducts medicine. Others may consider his studies to be blasphemous or necromantic in nature.

Creating traits

The game recommends approximately ten traits in each category, since any else that might be valid from the concept will be rated at three dice there is no need for long lists.

Body Mind Soul
Dancer Medicine Healing the sick
Horse riding Accurate diagnosis Compassionate
In good health Learned Gentleman Family man
Handsome Quick study Hates charlatans
Steady hand Possessing dangerous knowledge Haunted by the past
Graceful Aristocratic upbringing Well-mannered
Rapier No-one knows more about plague or disease Will do anything for a patient
Custom made instruments Experimentalist Driven
Quiet and discrete Decisive analysis Conservative

Not all of these traits need make the final cut but they are the main ones I am finding most interesting now. I’ve mixed single words with phrases but I could have created a very simple character with just the traits: doctor, scientist, medical knowledge, caring. What is interesting is whether the division into the three categories really matters that much. The rules state that by default a challenge occurs within just one group but that with consent any trait can be pitched against another, which is more typical for games like this.

Goals, wealth and relationships

In addition to traits characters have three goals and three relationships. Goals can roughly be divided into long-term, medium-term shared and session goal. Alexander’s long-term goal is clearly going to be about his life-long goal to heal the sick, but I could give it a negative spin by going for something like “Become the greatest doctor in the kingdom” that emphasises personal ambition. As I am creating this character alone the shared goal is a bit tough but I can go for something that is maybe more community orientated. The session goal is obviously related to an actual session of play.

The relationships are interesting because while I have described a lot of people in the text not all of them are really going to be interesting in terms of the game where they really have to be active. I think it is an interesting question as to whether Alexander’s wife should be a subject of the game or treated as loyal supporter of the character.

Here are the final choices:

Goals

  • Cure disease and illness in the kingdom
  • Have the other doctors adopt my ideas

Relationships

  • Impress my father
  • Protect my son
  • Get what I need from Fahrms

Elsbeth and Cax are more companion or supporting characters

Wealth

You assign a wealth-rating by comparing your character’s job or lifestyle to a chart, Alexander has a very rich and privileged life so I select the Celebrity level of wealth, 7d.

Finishing the character

Now I just need to assign my dice pool values and I am done. A standard character has two traits at 6d, five at 5d and nine at 4d.

My top two traits must be Medicine and Accurate diagnosis (the latter of which I will also be using for observation and perception style checks). The next tier are mostly going into my Mind and Soul traits, I choose Learned Gentleman, Aristocratic upbringing, Quick study, Will do anything for a patient, Handsome.

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