Steps of Character Creation
- Think about your character concept, reviewing the ideas below.
- Make up a cool pulp name for your character.
- Go through the phases (see below) in order, picking two aspects each phase.
- Assign your skills.
- Select five stunts for your character.
While players have the leeway to explore any ideas that interest them, it’s worth remembering that the pulps have a handful of easily recognizable character types. While you are far from obliged to fit characters into these neat little “boxes”, we encourage you to create characters that match the overall flavor. Beyond that, you’re free to fill in details as you like. A pulp setting can support characters of almost every stripe, but there are a few common themes worth taking a look at.
The academic lives somewhere between the scientist and the explorer. The academic is compelled by his interest in his field, which is usually something like history, linguistics, anthropology or (most famously) archeology. The academic knows that lost, hidden, and forgotten knowledge exists all over the world. Ancient ruins, obscure libraries, mysterious artifacts – all these can offer answers to questions that have not even been asked yet.
What are you doing: You are answering questions, finding what was lost, and trying to expand the breadth of human knowledge.
Though much of the map of the world is filled in, much of it remains blank or is simply wrong. The explorer thrives on discovering who and what is in those unknown places. The khaki-clad, pith-helmeted image of the explorer is perhaps the most compelling, but the same spirit can beat in the hearts of ship captains, spelunkers, or even ambassadors.
What are you doing: You’re discovering the world, opening new doors and seeking lost secrets and treasures.
The gadget guy is the recipient of the wonders of science. He is the keeper of a unique piece of technology, usually at the behest of its creator. The creator may or may not still be alive and serving as a patron for him (and in some cases, the creator and the gadget guy are the same person!). The device in question is usually quite potent, and serves as a signature for the character – something interesting and immediately recognizable, like a jet pack, a super car, or an exotic weapon.
What are you doing: With great technology comes great responsibility. Your gadget has made you more capable of taking action (whatever action you pursue), so you have embraced it.
Crime is usually a brutish thing, fueled by necessity, but for some it is the only true challenge available. Usually possessed of copious talents, enough that they have already found success elsewhere, gentleman criminals pursue a life of crime because of its excitement. Such characters enjoy the good life and civilization, so the adventures of exploration hold no appeal to them, especially when compared to the thrill of the chase, outwitting investigators, and similar brushes with danger.
Often, these criminals turn into sociopathic masterminds as they turn more and more to crime. But others maintain a certain basic, albeit twisted, honesty that informs their crimes. A burglar may have a strong code to harm no one, or may rob from the rich to give to the poor. An assassin may only accept contracts on those he feels society is better off without. Most such ethical criminals can be convinced to leave their past behind them and use their talents to more challenging, world-bettering ends, but true retirement is not often in their nature.
What are you doing: You’re trying to find something worth doing. When you find it, you seize upon it with gusto.
When we speak of the jungle lord, we’re speaking of characters like Tarzan or Mowgli, a man raised by animals, possessed of great strength and ability to communicate with or command animals.
Usually awkward in the face of civilization, these heroes act with a simpler understanding of things like justice, but with time, they can become bridges between two worlds.
What are you doing: You’re protecting your home and your pack, and attempting to understand the world outside.
Man of Mystery
There is no magic, only things science does not yet understand – and there are a lot of those. The man of mystery has delved into these secrets, be they the true workings of the mind, the “kung fu” of the eastern warriors, or perhaps a handful of syllables of the true name of God.
Whatever this knowledge is, it separates him from his fellow man, often so much that the hero adopts a persona to allow separation between his heroic personality and his normal life.
There’s a proximity to madness which mystery invites that can mean these heroes are of a darker, more disturbing character than the norm.
What are you doing: You’ve seen the darkness, and you’re on a mission to strike it down. You’re punishing those who think they’re above punishment.
The Operator is an agent, perhaps for a government agency that can’t be acknowledged, perhaps for a secret organization. He may not know, himself. But it means he’s connected (well connected), and is privy to secrets that others just don’t know about.
His job? Whatever the agency says it is. Thankfully, that is usually exactly what the Operator would be interested in doing in the first place. When conflict eventually arises between the operator and the agency, it usually goes very badly indeed for one of them or the other.
What are you doing: You’re serving a greater cause – perhaps for your government, or perhaps a higher or more secret authority than that.
One of the things that makes the world so much smaller is the news. A few decades back, if something happened a few states away, or anywhere else in the world, it would take time to trickle into the awareness of the average person.
Now, with the telegraph and radio, people know what’s going on almost as soon as it’s happened. The demand for regular news is fierce and competitive, and in this day and age, “The Scoop” means a substantial advantage for newspapers – if you’ve got the story, there’s no alternative, so people buy papers.
With this in mind, newspapers are always looking for news of the exotic and interesting, and they’re willing to tolerate a lot of foibles from a reporter who can bring in the big story.
What are you doing: You are finding out everything you can so you can share it with the world.
Usually of a people that some explorer has ‘discovered’, the primitive is an outsider in the world that other heroes operate in. The subject of condescension and curiosity, he is also the keeper of knowledge that has been lost, or not yet discovered, by the white man in his tall cities.
Perhaps this knowledge is some form of “magic” or something more recognizable as science, like a knowledge of botany far beyond what “modern” man has discovered. One way or another, the primitive is usually quite sophisticated, albeit in a way that most people don’t recognize.
What are you doing: You are representing your people, looking for knowledge to take back to them, or perhaps trying to carve out a new life in exile.
The science hero is the best way to summarize a character like Lester Dent’s classic pulp hero Doc Savage: brilliant, tough, strong, basically better than you at everything, and made that way by science!
Thankfully, most science heroes are slightly less obvious examples of the superman incarnate. A science hero may be very much like a gadget hero, someone who has benefited from extreme science in some way – perhaps making them a little stronger, tougher or faster than they would have been. Such characters tend to be well rounded (though rarely to the somewhat silly level of a Doc Savage himself ) but their specific interests are frequently tied to their origin.
What are you doing: You do a bit of everything, taking all comers.
In pulp, everyone is a scientist. Science is the door to the future, and every educated man has an interest in it. Despite that, it is easy to spot the committed scientist, master of one or more fields, dedicating his time and effort to the pursuit of science. Whereas other heroes seek adventure and appreciate science, the scientist seeks science and appreciates adventure.
While the scientist may have richly appointed labs or shops, there is still too much to be found, too many theories to be tested, too much to do, to simply stay cooped up. Scientists can have one or more fields of interest, which will generally be reflected by their equipment. A chemist or botanist may have a steady supply of bizarre and unique concoctions, while an engineer might have exotic gadgets or weapons.
What are you doing: You’re challenging assumptions and testing theories, bringing science out into the field with the intention of proving a theory that can solve a problem or create something new and beneficial to mankind.
The world is getting smaller as we watch, and aviation lies at the heart of it. Every year, the utility of planes is growing, and their range and power increases in kind. The pilot shares much of his spirit with the explorer, and in many ways is the next step in the chain of discovery. The explorer may find an exotic locale, but it is the pilot who ties it in to the rest of the world.
The Great War made pilots into dashing, romantic figures, and the commercial realities of the post-war era are making them more and more important.
What are you doing: You’re connecting the world to itself. Your passion is in seeing all there is to see, going to strange and exotic locales and bringing the outside world along for the ride, and taking a piece with you when you leave.
Creating the Character
Character generation takes place over five phases. Each phase outlines events in that character’s life. The first phase sets up their general background, concept, and early youth. The second covers the events of The Great War (the common term of the time for World War I), bringing them to adulthood. The new characters become adults in the final year of the War, and the last three phases delve into the character’s post-War adventures.
As laid out, character creation is a group activity, done at the same time, with at least three players (remember, the more players for a character creation session, the better!) in addition to the GM. The character creation process includes a number of built-in ways to establish ties and history between the characters and the setting. Character creation can often take the time of a full session of regular play, and is a good opportunity to lay out the foundations of the setting, and allow everyone to establish a common understanding of each others’ characters. During character creation, players are encouraged to talk out loud about their characters, make suggestions to each other, discuss how to make their characters intersect, talk about relationships and interactions between the characters, and otherwise establish some of the campaign background.
Before the first phase, it’s a good idea to think about the concept for your character. Your character could be modeled after a particular pulp hero, or could be based around some specific thing that you want to be able to do, like fly with a jetpack, blow things up, or break boards with your head. Pulp heroes can usually be described briefly, so try to think of a concept that you can express simply. If you can express it with an exclamation point at the end, all the better!
Pulp names can be like any kind of name, but there is usually a particular cadence to them. The most common model is a short first name and a last name which is also a word (usually a noun or adjective, but sometimes a proper noun will be a good fit). This allows for simple, resonant names like “Drake Devlin”, “Maggie Honor”, “Jack Stone”, and so on.
More “normal” names are fine too, but in the world of Pulp, they suggest a bit of removal from the action. Such names are more appropriate if your character also has an alias (a la Lamont Cranston and The Shadow) or is intentionally cultivating an aristocratic air.
Phase 1: Background
This phase covers the character’s youth, from birth to age 14, but in a more abstract sense also covers the core concept for the character as a “normal person”. While youth may be a time of adventure and excitement, it is also the time when we are most shaped by our family and environs. This phase is an opportunity to reflect the character’s family and upbringing. When describing events in this phase, consider answers to the following questions:
- What were the family’s circumstances like? Rich? Poor? Scholarly? Isolated? Pious? Political?
- How big is the family?
- How well does the character get along with his family?
- What nation is the character from? What region?
- How was the character educated?
- What were the character’s friends like? Did the character get into much trouble?
- Write down a brief summary of the events of the phase.
- Write down two aspects that are in some way tied into the events of the phase, or the character’s national, familial, or cultural upbringing.
Phase 2: War
Phase two is World War I, or as it’s called in the 1920s, The Great War. While the characters may technically have been too young to serve, they may have done so anyway; as exceptional individuals, it would not have been hard for them to fake their age. Because we’re talking about pulp heroes here, while they may have spent some time in the trenches, it’s more likely that they spent most of their time on top secret missions for elite soldiers, spies, researchers or pilots. Alternatively, they may have spent their time in other parts of the world, dealing with the end of colonialism, or exploring the mysterious East.
This is the time when the characters start coming into their own, and begin realizing their true potential.
- Some questions to consider during this period:
- Did your character fight in the war? For whom? Where? In what capacity?
- Were you a member of any secret units? Did you meet any of the other characters there?
- Who was your patron? What happened to him or her?
1.Write down a brief summary of the events of the phase. Include the name and fate of your mentor.
2.Write down two aspects that are in some way tied into the events of the phase.
Phase 3: Novel
Phase three is the character’s first pulp novel, starring him or her! Each player needs to come up with a title for the novel starring his character, in a fashion reminiscent of the pulps. The general pattern is:
Character Name (vs./in…/and) Adventurous Thing!
As such, Diego MacKinnon and the Spider's Web or Drake Devlin in… The Redemption Game would be ideal.
Then, each player needs to think up a story to go with his title. The story doesn’t need to have a lot of detail – in fact, it should be no more detailed than the blurb on the back of the paperback.
- Write down the title and back cover blurb (a couple sentences at most) for your character’s pulp novel. Don’t nail down all of the details of it yet (you’ll find out why below).
- Write down two aspects that are in some way tied into the events of the novel. (You can delay doing this, wait to see how the next couple of phases play out, and then choose your aspects at the end).
Phase 4: Guest Star
At the beginning of this phase, the GM writes down all the book titles on separate sheets of paper or a set of index cards, shuffles the stack, and hands them out. If a player gets his own novel, he should trade index cards with the person to his right until everyone has a title that isn’t theirs. The title of the book a player is now holding is a book that his character had a supporting role in. For each index card, the involved players – the player whose book it is, and the player who has just received that book’s index card – should discuss the story, and add one or two sentences to the description of the novel to reflect the supporting character’s role.
- Add a sentence or two to the description of the pulp novel you’re supporting cast in.
- Write down two aspects that are in some way tied into the events of the novel. (Again, you can delay doing this .)
Phase 5: Guest Star
Phase five is identical to phase four, with the sole caveat that no character can costar in the same book twice.
- Add a sentence or two to the description of the pulp novel you’re supporting cast in.
- Write down two aspects that are in some way tied into the events of the novel.
Adding Characters Later
Players who join after the initial character creation session should ask for volunteers to be in their book (volunteers do not get additional aspects, however). They should also pick two books that sound interesting to costar in.
|1 skill at Superb:||❏|
|2 skills at Great:||❏ ❏|
|3 skills at Good:||❏ ❏ ❏|
|4 skills at Fair:||❏ ❏ ❏ ❏|
|5 skills at Average:||❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏|
Once all players have mapped out their phases and chosen their aspects, it’s time to pick skills. Each player gets to choose skills as shown here. Any skill the character does not explicitly take defaults to Mediocre. Because of the “shape” of this set of skills, this is sometimes referred to as the character’s skill pyramid.
Each player selects five stunts for his character. These are likely to be stunts that are associated with the character’s most highly-ranked skills, but there is no restriction in that regard. In a number of cases, it may be fine to take a stunt that’s tied to a skill that the player has left at the default, if the GM agrees to it.
For more on stunts and how they can affect the game, see the chapter on stunts
At the end of the character creation exercise, each player should now have a complete character with:
- A summary of his childhood (1900-1914)
- A summary of his role in The Great War (1914-1918)
- His pulp novel and two other novels he appeared in, establishing ties to at least two other players’ characters
- Ten aspects
- Fifteen skills
- Five stunts
Advice on Character Creation
We keep coming back to this, but it’s critical to determine why your character does what he does. SotC characters are exceptional, and they could very easily find success in less exciting fields than those that are likely to come the way of the characters, so it is on your head to figure out why your character is going to keep getting involved in these things. If you don’t, the GM is under no obligation to go out of her way to make the game work for you – she’ll be too busy with other players who made characters that have a reason to participate.
This may sound a little harsh, but there’s a habit that a lot of smart, talented players develop over time that leads them to want to “win” the game. By having a character leave the adventuring life and become wealthy, powerful and successful elsewhere, they beat the system that otherwise forces them to constantly grind against an escalating scale of opposition for negligible rewards.
The thing to remember with SotC is that your character has already won. He’s successful enough that he doesn’t need to do anything adventurous with his life, so it’s up to you to figure out why he does so.
One way or another, the answer almost always points to the idea that success is not a goal, it’s a means. The true goal, whatever it is for the character, is something that calls for action. Once you have that pinned down, you almost definitely want to reflect it in your choice of aspects.
Aspects can be both useful and dangerous, but they should never be boring. Whenever you choose an aspect, stop a minute to think about what kinds of situations you can imagine using it for, and what kind of trouble it might get you into. The very best aspects suggest answers to both those questions, and an aspect that can answer neither is likely to be very dull indeed.
When you’re picking aspects, one of the best ways to determine that you and the GM are on the same page is to discuss three situations where you feel the aspect would be a help or a hindrance.
This is especially handy if the GM suggests the aspect – she probably has a pretty clear idea of what it means when she suggests it, but that idea may not be immediately obvious.
At first glance, the most powerful aspects would seem to be things that are broadly useful with no real downside, things like “Quick”, “Lucky” or “Strong”, and a lot of players are tempted to go with those out the gate. Resist that temptation!
See, there are three very large problems with aspects like this: they’re boring, they don’t generate fate points, and they surrender your ability to help shape the story.
Boring is a pretty obvious problem. Consider a character who is “Lucky” and one who has “Strange Luck”. The latter aspect can be used for just as many good things as the former, but it also allows for a much wider range of possibilities.
You’ll also want to have some room for negative results of aspects. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but remember that every time an aspect makes trouble for you, you’ll receive a fate point, which is a pretty powerful incentive.
To come back to “Strange Luck”, it means that the GM can throw bizarre, even unfortunate, coincidences at the character, but you get paid for it. If this doesn’t seem tempting enough yet, remember that the GM is probably going to do something bizarre to you anyway – shouldn’t you benefit from it, and have some say in how it happens?
And that leads to the last point. When the GM sits down to plan an adventure, she’s going to look over the aspects of the players involved. If one character has the aspect “Quick” and another has the aspect “Sworn Enemy of the Secret Brotherhood of the Flame”, which one do you think suggests more ideas for the GM?
Your aspects give you a vote in what sort of game you’re going to be playing in, so don’t let it go to waste. If nothing else, you have just established that the Secret Brotherhood of the Flame exists in the setting, and the GM will probably turn to you for the details.
So in the end, the most powerful aspects are easy to spot, because they’re the most interesting ones. If you consider that you want an aspect you can use to your advantage but which can also be used to generate fate points, then it’s clear you will get the most mechanical potency out of an aspect that can do both. What’s more, aspects that tie into the world somehow (such as to a group, or a person) help you fill in the cast and characters of the world in a way that is most appealing to you.
Bottom line: if you want to maximize the power of your aspects, maximize their interest. For more extensive advice on choosing aspects, see the Aspects chapter, starting at page XX.
Fast Character Creation
Sometimes you simply do not have time to do a full character generation and you just want to get started. In those situations, simply begin with a blank character sheet, and ask each player to choose the following:
- A name and brief description of their character
- by brief we mean a sentence or two will suffice. The character may have a more detailed background, but this is not the time to go into it.
- The character’s apex skill
- Whatever skill the character has at Superb should be selected and written down on the sheet – or, if you want a little more than that, the character’s “top three” skills.
- Two aspects
- one should be something primarily positive about the character, while the other should be a weakness or flaw. This is not mandatory – they really can be any two aspects, but players will have an easier time if they have a little bit of a mix. For each aspect determined in advance, the character earns a fate point, so characters made with this method start with two fate points.
That’s it. Players are free to fill in more details as they see fit, but that’s all you need to do to start playing. If you’re looking to make your game as much of a pickup game as it can be, this may be exactly what you need.
Creation on the Fly
Once play begins, whenever the GM calls for a roll on a skill, each player has three options.
- If they have the skill on their sheet, roll it normally.
- If they don’t have it on their sheet, they can write it down in any empty slot and roll it at the chosen level.
- They can roll it at Mediocre.
This way, the player ends up filling out the skill tree over the course of play. Similarly, the player may write in aspects and stunts at the point where they would use them.
Every time you write down an aspect, take a fate point. This way, when you’ve filled in your 10th aspect, you’ll have earned a total of ten fate points, just like other starting characters.
Players are still expected to come up with their character’s novel and guest appearances in other novels, but this is also done on the fly. Players should feel free to think about their title of their novel over play, and at any point when they need a fate point they can launch into a flashback, generally prefaced by a statement line “This reminds me of * <Title of their Novel> * ”. The players give a quick blurb of a salient point from their novel and how this reminds them of it, however tenuously. As soon as this is done, the player gains a fate point. If the player then immediately spends the FP to make a declaration about the scene, the GM may give it extra weight for falling in line with the flashback.
- Make sure players get values set for Athletics, Endurance, Resolve, and Alertness early on. Those skills are important enough to things like combat that players will end up feeling frustrated if they don’t think to pick those up until it’s too late. A fighting skill like Guns, Weapons, or Fists may be important, too.
- Stunts are a lot harder to choose on the fly than skills are, so the GM needs to keep the character concepts in mind, and suggest stunts when the situation seems to dictate that it might be useful. Look at skills rated close to the top of the character’s pyramid, then look to the stunts chapter (page XX) and locate the skill in question. Each skill has a few sets under it that are conceptually linked and can help quick picking. But for even faster picking, refer to our Quick Stunt Picks appendix, page XX.
- Don’t worry about apparent contradictions, such as situations where a player picks a skill at a high level after rolling it at Mediocre several times, or chooses a stunt which would have made an earlier scene play out differently. There is no contradiction. The character was playing their cards close to the vest, and like in much adventure fiction, their abilities only matter from the point where they’re revealed.
Character Story Worksheet for: Sky Hobo
Phase One (Background)
|Events:||Diego was born Lexington Becksmith. His family had made quite a lot of money from industrial inventions and married into nobility in the 19th century. His father pressed upon him to become an inventor and engineer, and to marry someone of the appropriate social standing. Diego, however, longed for the freedom to mix and mingle with other children his age. He consumed his lessons on mathematics, physics, and engineering of various types with gusto. No one ever realized that he rushed through his studies in order to disguise himself as a street urchin, stealing away to the streets of Manchester to run with the local boys.|
|First Aspect:||Engineering Prodigy|
|Second Aspect:||Dandy Living Rough|
Phase Two (The Great War)
|Events:||It was at 16 that Lexington first knew that he would one day steal away from his family's estate and never return. His father's business was doing well contracting on a secret weapon known as the "tank", and the pressure to learn all aspects of the business kept him away from his friends. When he heard that the older boys were enlisting in the army to fight the Germans, Lexington knew what he must do. His father had taught him to see bureaucracies and societies and organizations as great machines. The right adjustment could improve their function or send them crashing down. A more subtle adjustment, and they do your bidding without even realizing. In the Autumn of 1916, he boarded the ship with a new identity to fight in the trenches in Flanders. His ability to blend in with just about everyone from any upbringing made him an ideal candidate for espionage. He learned the tricks of the trade from Captain Jake Forsythe, who acted the kind father that Lexington (now Diego) always dreamed of. He was as supportive as he was firm, and always covered for Diego. Alas, on a mission in Budapest in 1917, the two were separated and Diego was forced to return alone. When he reached Paris, Diego vowed to find Captain Forsythe before he died.|
|First Aspect:||Tinkerer in the societies of Men|
|Second Aspect:||Man of a thousand faces|
Phase Three (Your Novel!) **
|Title:||Diego MacKinnon and the Spider's Web|
|Guest Stars:||Drake Devlin, Maggie Honor|
|Events:||As our hero tramps through the war-torn lands of Eastern Europe, hoping to find some sign of his long-lost comrade, he uncovers signs of a vast conspiracy. Tripping over a web of clues, he awakes the hungry predator at their center. Stowing away in trains, ships, and aeroplanes, can he stay one step ahead of forces eager to re-carve the world map? And who is the sinister Khronos Group that sends its messengers to contact him via clockwork music-box? And what of the rumors of a devastating new many-legged war machine sighted in the Siberian forests? Diego comes within a hair's breadth of catching the dastardly Drake Devlin, but soon finds himself on the trail of the very core of the Khronos conspiracy.|
|First Aspect:||Catchin' out|
|Second Aspect:**||Hobo Detective|
Phase Four (Other Adventures)
|Guest starring in…:||"The Struggle to Build Zeppelin City"|
|Events:||Battered by his encounter in Siberia and near death, Diego stowed away in the great dirigible Indefatigable. Fortunately for him, the rarefied air at high altitude aided his recovery, and he rose to find that his transport had joined an armada of independent craft. Fearful that the flotilla might be building an engine of war, Diego joined the construction teams that connected the great ships together. As blueprints and work orders passed through his hands, he began to comprehend the grand design of Zeppelin City. As admiring as he was of the elegance of the vision, he imagined there to be flaws in its ivory tower planning. It was a city beautiful, built to be admired and wielded by those in power, and offered little for the lowly prole. As with all systems in motion, it could be brought down with a single carefully placed blow. Or, a more subtle change…|
|First Aspect:||Clinging to life by a thread|
Phase Five (Other Adventures) **
|Guest starring in…:|
|Events:||Living rough on the underside docks, Diego is witness to a cruel murder. Unable to let injustice persist, he moves to track down the killer. Taking advantage of his knowledge of the city, he shadows the men involved. Eventually his investigations lead him to one Clyde Cummings, a ne'er-do-well after the Carter fortune. Diego helps Carter thwart the vile plan.|
|First Aspect:||"I built this city, so I know it better than anyone."|
|Second Aspect:**||Protector of the citizens|
ASPECTS - Engineering Prodigy - A dandy living rough - Tinkerer in the societies of men - Man of a thousand faces - Catchin' out - Hobo detective - Clinging to life by a thread - My trusty Hobo Harpoon - I built this city, so I know it better than anyone. - Protector of the citizens.
SKILLS :Superb: Rapport :Great: Endurance, Stealth :Good: Investigation, Engineering, Deceit :Fair: Athletics, Guns, Burglary, Mysteries :Average: Sleight of Hand, Survival, Pilot, Resolve, Alertness
STUNTS :Engineering: Jury-Rig [juryrig] :Athletics: Mighty Leap :Alertness: Danger Sense :Deceit: Clever Disguise :Personal Gadget: The Hobo Harpoon [harpoon]
The character is adept at putting together small devices and quick contrivances using available materials. He never faces increased difficulty due to poor tools, and can assemble available materials into something of use one time increment faster than usual.
This is a harpoon-gun that can be used like a weapon with the Guns skill. Improvements: Additional Capability (Grappling Hook); Upgrade (+2 bonus when using it to grapple onto something using Athletics); Craftsmanship (+1 to Weapons rolls when using as a weapon)
STRESS :Health: OOOOO OO :Composure: OOOOO O