Character Creation, Part II: The Stat Line
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Today we continue our series on character creation, walking through the process of making a character to use in The Warriors of Zurn roleplay game. For a quick run-through of the full process you can visit our website for a two-page handout on character creation (which you can find here).
In Part I of this series we discussed the high concept of the character. Today we will be discussing how you build the stat line for your character. We will start with a general discussion on the four stats in Zurn, followed by helpful tips as you decide how to allocate your points.
First, as we note in our handout on character creation, Zurn is designed to avoid the problem of game imbalance at the start of the campaign: each player will build their stat line as either "Strong," "Average," or "Weak," which determines how many dice they can assign to their stats. Characters with "Strong" stats will be naturally gifted all around, while an "Average" or "Weak" person will have less natural ability, but will either have an abundance of items (Strong in equipment) or honed skills and enchantments to supplement their stats and equipment (Strong in enhancements).
So with this in mind, let's look at the four stats in Zurn.
1. The Strength Stat: Physical Ability
Strength is an interesting stat. In most game systems, there are relatively few skills under this stat, mostly because two of the most important rolls in the game are tied to it: damage dealt and damage sustained.
In rare cases, this is almost the entirety of the stat's existence in the game. In the now-defunct Star Wars D6 RPG by West End Games (may they rest in peace), there were a total of 5 skills in Strength: Swimming (you can imagine how often that was used), Climbing (again, very circumstantial), damage resistance, melee damage output (blaster damage was set by the item), and Stamina (which, again, was circumstantial). Read: if the GM wanted to use the stat, they would incorporate it into the mission. If they didn't...it was basically never used beyond armor saves.
This meant that if a person invested heavily in Strength, they would be playing over 80% of the game without their strongest stat. This is frustrating for characters, as it makes a stat obsolete when other stats can cover the same bases (a person who traited high in Dexterity could simply dodge all of the attacks instead of having to armor save, or a person who invested in Perception could hide and never be targeted by an attack).
In Zurn, we didn't want this to happen. Strength covers the physical ability of the person: it includes damage resistance and melee and ranged damage output (though some weapons, like crossbows and siege weapons, have a static damage output), but also includes all forms of movement (running, jumping, climbing, swimming, and flying, though fine motions like dodging and parrying are separate), as well as stamina, shouting volume, and how much the person can lift or haul.
It can also be used as a crafting roll (hewing trees, mining ores, ploughing fields), but that's a discussion for another day, :) Suffice it to say for now, though, Strength is quite versatile, and easy to work into every mission, including missions where combat is not the answer.
2. The Finesse Stat: Physical Acuity and Perception
Finesse as a stat refers to the acuity and fine motor skills of the person: how well they sense and react to their environment, aim an attack or parry, and maneuver themselves in relation to other people. It is much akin to the Agility/Dexterity/Perception/Prowess stats of other games, and is most important to the archers, rogues, thieves, and other precision-based characters of the world.
Finesse governs the spatial awareness of the individual, as well as the deftness of their movements, how well they can sift through a crowd (or blend into their environment), hide a piece of contraband from sight, and much more.
3. The Charm Stat: Social Interaction
Charm governs the arena of social interaction: how do you relate to a group of people or an individual? Charm-related rolls are usually lacking in most games (they will build a series of Charm "attacks" as we refer to them: Persuade, Con, Intimidate, etc.), and some games (like Iron Kingdoms by Privateer Press) simply say, "Eh, roll whatever your GM wants you to roll."
Now for the record, there is a side of the Iron Kingdoms approach that I like a lot (though that may be due to my GM for our campaign more than anything). It does make it hard, though, to play the role of the party "Charm Cannon" if you don't know which stat you're rolling before the check is declared (or you're forced to be an all-around player which is expensive and difficult to boost).
Zurn has a highly robust yet streamlined social mechanic, breaking up all rolls into three arenas. Charm attacks involve persuading someone, be that through winsomeness (Persuade), fear of force (Intimidate), guile (Con), and more.
Society rolls demonstrate the ability of the character to successfully interact with others in a particular social strata, from the finery of a court setting, to barking orders on the battlefield, to carousing with the low-life at the tavern.
Finally, utility rolls govern the modifying rolls that can set up a character for a Charm attack or society roll, including social rolls (how a person looks when they move through a crowd, dance at the ball, etc.), taming rolls (to avoid problems with wild animals, and potentially make a furry friend), and the like.
4. The Lore Stat: Mental Strength and Fortitude
Lore rolls involve the ins and outs of the mind. This includes memory-related rolls (the history of a place, charting a course on a map, and remembering something you were told previously), as well as casting magic spells, reciting prayers and curses, etc.
Lore rolls are critical. While a high-Finesse character may see, hear, or smell much of what is going on around the party, without the knowledge of what they are looking at, disastrous things can happen (are the satyrs dancing around the fire out of joy after a long day at work, or are they on the war path?).
All four stats have value - the question, then, is what the character wants to do well innately. And this brings us to assigning the dice for the stat line.
Tips for Building Your Stat Line
To begin assigning your stats, you will need to select a race for your character. The race selection determines the minimum dice that must be assigned to each stat, and the class selection within that race (there are usually two classes for each race) determines the maximum value for that stat.
This means that some races will find it difficult to be naturally exceptional in a given stat (minotaurs are not naturally gifted in social interaction, just as elves are not naturally gifted at being hardy and resilient to damage). To assist in deciding which stats to invest your starting dice in (as you'll be able to advance these later in the campaign for a hefty price), a few thoughts to consider:
Tip #1: Invest in What You Want to Do Well
If you want your character to swing a mace well Finesse is going to be important, and Strength will matter if you want to do damage when it hits someone. If you want to be an excellent magic caster, invest in Lore. If you intend to be the mouthpiece of the group, Charm is what you need.
Characters who have a Weak stat line can usually perform rolls in one stat well. Characters who are Average and Strong can perform rolls in 2-3 stats well, with Strong characters having a slight edge. But if you intend to do something, make sure that you invest in it. This leads us to an important clarification point.
Tip #2: Invest in the Stat You Want to Use Often
It is possible to build a character who is mediocre in his everyday Finesse rolls, but happens to be very good with maces. This does not mean that he has built his character poorly: he just intends to not use a lot of Finesse rolls beyond the 1-2 he has invested in (using a mace and searching for things, for example).
Instead the character should invest in stats they intend to use often. The player may opt to build a high-Strength, high-Lore magic caster who uses a mace, and thus not placing a lot of dice in Finesse makes him a better magic user, more adept at chasing down opponents, helps him unravel ancient mysteries, and sustain incoming blows.
Invest in the stats you intend to use a lot in-mission. Use your enhancements and items to boost the few skills you need from a given stat, and use your stats to boost the group of rolls you intend to make often.
Tip #3: Watch Out for "Dump Stats"
In most games a player will basically say, "Eh, I don't intend to make [INSERT STAT] rolls ever, so I don't need to invest." The danger in Zurn with this approach is that every stat is, to some extent, a "hitpoints bar," with all stats being open for attack by opponents (albeit in different ways). So leaving yourself weak in a stat, while not bad per se, is leaving yourself exposed, so just be aware of that.
If you are a one-dimensional character who is only built for one thing, you could find yourself having a terrible session because the one thing you do well is not what the situation requires (or allows).
And perhaps most important of all...
Tip #4: Keep the Character High Concept at the Forefront
The easiest way to tell whether you have built the character's stat line correctly is whether it keeps with the high concept of the character. If the character is intended to be a sacrificial knight who defends the helpless with his mace and virtuous honor and he has a low Strength rating, will he be able to defend the helpless? Perhaps - he may do so through parrying and dodging on their behalf (Finesse rolls), talking down opponents who would hurt them (Charm rolls), or wearing lots of armor (thus rolling high for Strength even though his stat is low).
There are many ways to accomplish the high concept, but the imperative still remains: don't just build a character. Build a character who has purpose, who has a background, and who thus has room and a direction to grow.
We hope that this post has been useful to you as you create your character. In our next post we will move on to our discussion on equipment. We look forward to seeing you then!