Hexagram Character Generation Draft

Learned traits are referenced in the lists of prototypes, but definitions will need to wait for posts focusing on the different paths. I am not satisfied with all the trait names yet (or even all my terminology in general), so in some cases I have simple descriptive names which may be replaced later (such as “listen”). Prototype names may also change, but should get the basic idea across.

Note that by default prototypes provide pretty much all of the game benefits of traditional classes, and default (though not set in stone) advancement up to at least level 9 if players focus only on improving the starting path traits (3 traits to begin with, two improvements per level, leading to three traits at 6 by level nine). This, then, is your stereotypical mechanically simple fighter, magic-user, thief, etc. The variety of traits (hopefully not overwhelming) should, however, give a sense of how more specific character concepts could be represented (or, even better, developed through play).

I like the idea of backgrounds, but they are certainly the least core element of Hexagram so far, and could easily be omitted (though I like having a named thing that differentiates one soldier from another, for example; it gives players an easy descriptor to hang meaning on). Still considering how to handle them exactly, but I have some ideas about plugging them into the scenario design system (as a way to quickly communicate the tenor of a particular game).

Zero level play is supported by not picking a prototype or any learned traits at the beginning. In this mode, all advancement is considered off-path and requires diegetic justification (finding an item or teacher) for every point gained. Path may also be selected at any point diegetically in a similar fashion. Gaining 100 XP is perhaps a good threshold for path selection (and is how I’ve been determining when zero level humans get a class in my OD&D game). To summarize, a player need only perform stems 1, 4, 5, and 6 in the checklist below to create a zero level character. See also the section on scenario design to work diegetic goal features into the beginning campaign (basically, one can place a few options for how to pick up a prototype within the game beforehand as a kind of treasure).

As always, I expect the language to tighten up in future drafts (I always start out too wordy). Also, thanks to Paul from Dungeonskull Mountain for the trait name thrall-binding.

Character creation checklist:

  1. Ability scores (3d6 in order or arranged to taste)
  2. Path: steel, guile, or sorcery
  3. Prototype (or distribute three +1s among path traits)
  4. Background
  5. Possessions, both general and trait-specific
  6. Intrinsic and derived traits (HD, AC, saving throws)
Talisman of Saturn

Ability scores are the measure of basic character potential, and consist of the traditional 6: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, charisma (see ability scores section). Unlike many fantasy roleplaying games, ability scores do not have a strong determining effect on character power, potential, or survivability. They do not control things like maximum power attainable, do not provide large modifiers to other tasks, and are not used in life or death situations such as catching yourself if you fall off a cliff (saving throws, which are dependent upon level attained, are used to resolve those sorts of situations). However, ability score checks are used to resolve the outcome of less critical actions, such as how many characters are required to lift a heavy gate and provide minor modifiers (such as +1 to missile attacks for extraordinary dexterity). They are also an aid to individualizing characters. 3d6 in order can assist you in developing characters that you might not otherwise play, but if you have a clear concept in mind, feel free to arrange them to taste. In general, below average ability scores (less than 9) will come with a small penalty, and above average ability scores (above 12) will come with a small bonus.

Path determines what capabilities characters have to confront adversity. There are three paths, in service of three broad traditional fantasy archetypes. The path of steel, for characters than focus on solving problems through force of arms; the path of guile, for characters that focus on solving problems through cleverness and misdirection; and the path of sorcery, for characters that focus on solving problems through magic and the intercession of arcane powers. Path controls only what traits characters advance in most easily, and the final degree of power attainable; it does not limit which traits may be taken. For example, in the default mode of play, Hexagram characters may only attain level 5 (of 6) in any off-path trait. See the section on advancement and the sections on specific paths for further details. The specific selection of the three starting traits is governed by prototype (see below) or may be selected directly by players.

Prototype is a selection of starting traits in service of a narrow archetype. Selection of traits by prototype will support progression up to ninth level with no player choice required (though, of course, players may deviate from expected prototype progression at any level gained). Characters who draw all or most of their traits from a single path will end up advancing slightly faster due to their focus, but at the cost of flexibility. A prototype is not required, however. Players may opt instead to select three initial learned trait improvements. No trait may be selected more than twice at the beginning. Note that off-path traits will advance more slowly (see the section on advancement). Off-path traits are noted in italic.

Path of steel prototypes:

  1. Soldier: melee combat, missile combat, HP bonus
  2. Archer: ranged combat, defense, stealth
  3. Commander: defense, melee combat, warband
  4. Barbarian: melee combat, frenzy, defense
  5. Knight: melee combat, missile combat, defense
  6. Paladin: melee combat, defense, banishment

Path of guile prototypes:

  1. Scout: tracking, stealth, missile combat
  2. Assassin: assassination, stealth, missile combat
  3. Thief: climb, stealth, pick locks
  4. Acrobat: climb, tumbling, unarmed combat
  5. Antediluviest: listen, pick locks, antediluvia
  6. Infiltrator: listen, stealth, pick locks

Path of sorcery prototypes:

  1. Sorcerer: spells, magical devices, scrolls
  2. Warlock: supplication (demons), spells, thrall-binding (demons)
  3. Necromancer: thrall-binding (undead), spells, magical devices
  4. Witch: potions, spells, banishment
  5. Artificer: magical devices, potions, thrall-binding (constructs)
  6. Spellblade: spells, aegis, melee combat

Some prototypes may draw from all three paths:

  • Demon hunter: banishment, assassination, melee combat

In such cases, path determines which single starting trait is “on path”; the other two will advance more slowly and have extra diegetic requirements. Such is the cost of flexibility.

Note that it’s relatively easy to put together fun goofy prototypes, which should work within the game framework just fine. For example:

  • Ninja: assassination, stealth, unarmed combat
  • Super villain: thrall-binding, assassination, warband
Note: these prototypes are preliminary, and will probably change as I work more on the traits.

Background determines what your character did prior to adventuring. A small list of potential backgrounds is provided here, based on the idea that the referee will grow the setting slowly through play (see scenario design section). In general, all backgrounds should be an answer to the question: why is my character an adventurer? Note that any die may be rolled on this table, including d1, providing for a reasonable default “treasure hunter” type background. (The background table is still incomplete, and will be included in a later draft.)

Possessions at the beginning of the game are a function of path, prototype, and background. The general idea is that you get one thing relevant to each learned trait in addition to a random selection of adventuring gear satisfying some basic needs (such as light sources and at least one weapon). For example, a character with ranged combat +1 starts with a bow or crossbow. “Possessions” should be understood broadly as anything external to the character; for example, a sorcerer with the thrall-binding trait begins play with a thrall. I plan on building a default table per path for people who want to pick the three starting traits directly, plus more specific tables per prototype (players roll on one or the other, not both). Background will also add one or two items, or, if I’m feeling ambitious, perhaps there will be a random table of extra equipment per background.

Intrinsic and derived traits are the finishing touches. All characters begin with 1 hit die at first level, so write that down on your character sheet (characters with extraordinary constitution and/or the path of steel bonus HP trait will add a small amount of bonus HP). You don’t need to roll for hit points until your first session; maximum HP is transient (the number of HD and bonus HP is the persistent measure of a character’s survivability). Write down the AC based on your armor (which should have been determined from the equipment granted by prototype, background, and any purchasing) and your starting saving throw numbers (which will all be 15 to being with other than the one path-specific bonus).

18 thoughts on “Hexagram Character Generation Draft

  1. Gibbering Mouther

    I like it – may I humbly suggest 2 more skills that can be added to make interesting choices?

    1. Medicine (or Surgery)[Sorcery]allows more clerical style magicians with non-magic healing ability – or dangerously unhinged medical students for that matter.
    2.Animal Handling[Stealth/Steel?] Allows the use of larger more dangerous warbeasts or packs of them. Great for Ranger types.

    Both are desirable but a bit different. Allow slightly odder archetypes.

    1. Brendan

      You know, I did have a beast-master prototype that used the thrall-binding trait from sorcery, but to be honest the GP cost aspect of thrall-binding (which will be clear when I post the path of sorcery traits) doesn’t really fit the animal companion thing. It should probably be a separate trait as you suggest here, and could also be used for characters that want to make calling a mount a thing (like the First Edition paladin).

      Maybe chirurgy for the medical trait? I don’t have a good mechanic for it though, and I’m hesitant to introduce a cure light wounds alike. Ideas? Perhaps something like liquid courage that can be used directly after combat. I don’t know. Healing abilities are super tricky to get right.

    2. Gibbering Mouther

      I would have Chirurgy be straight up medicine – at least I have it as such on my Apollyon table for Specialists & Clerics. It allows A) Better HP recovery on Recovery rolls (1D6 vs. 1D4) B) Surgery allowing additional save vs. death or save to stop penalties from going negative HP – maybe just to stabilize a person in negative HP rather than having them bleed out. C) Slow Posion/Cure Poison (additional save) [higher skills levels] D) Cure Disease [higher skills levels].

    3. Rusty

      Disappointed at the lack of weighting with attributes. I understand the desire to follow the OD&D model, but really like the symmetry of the BECMI -3 to +3 scale.

      Keep writing! Enjoying this!


    4. Brendan

      I too am actually fond of the +3/-3 scale, but in this case I feel like the weight is too much. Expected value of 1d6 is 3.5, so for things like damage rolls, the bonus would totally overwhelm the randomness (the die variance in B/X and BECMI can support a much higher bonus, I think, varying as it does from 1d4 to 1d10 and even occasionally 1d12). Further, the focus on development through play as opposed to formed from the beginning makes me think ability scores should have less emphasis. At least that is the reasoning; it is always possible it will work out different in practice.

      There is still a symmetry, from -1 to +1 (below 9 and above 12), so the particular bonuses are not quite as arbitrary as they are in OD&D (which have different thresholds for bonuses from different ability scores, and do nothing at all with the original three prime requisites (strength, intelligence, wisdom) other than as earned experience modifiers (and extra languages for intelligence, I suppose).

      (Also, I’m not moderating comments, Blogger has been extra aggressive about flagging comments as spam recently for whatever reason.)

    5. Gusty L.

      Animal Handling/Pack-Master/Beast Handler/Beast Keeping

      (1) Animal Handler – Handler is able to handle 2 + LVL of regular (1-2 HD) war beasts and/or a string of up to 5 + LVL of pack beasts.

      (2) Evaluate Animals– Handler knows how to evaluate and train warbeasts and any normal beast purchased will have maximum HP for its type. Beasts with greater than 2HD will gain a +1 HP per HD.

      (3) Large Animal Handler – Pack Handler may now handle beast of greater size and ferocity, including any domesticated warbeast up to Handler’s own HD.

      (4) Trainer – The Pack Handler may train his beast to get the best from their breed. All beasts in his possession gain +1 hit and +1 Damage.

      (5) Beast Handler – Pack Handler has the skill and empathy to train and handle strange and unusual beast that have been subdued – Beasts must have less HD than handler and handler must take 1 week per HD of the beast and pass a Wisdom check in order to successfully tame a beast, even after it is subdued.

      (6) Animal Companion – The Pack Handler has become more comfortable around animals than around other sentients and has developed a special relationship with one special creature. This creature will have the same HD as the handler and attacks for +2 damage, it is remarkably intelligent and can communicate with the Handler almost as well as if the two could speak.

    1. Brendan

      Yes, there is no separate path of faith. However, sorcery does not preclude submission to a higher power. The source of a wonder-worker’s power could certainly be God, and the way I see a cleric being modeled in Hexagram is a prototype that uses traits from both the path of steel and the path of sorcery (an inquisitor or witch hunter might even take some traits from the path of guile).

      Many of the supposed sorcerers in real world occult traditions include men and women of God. See, for example, the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, and Solomon.

      Of course, one could take a more Lovecraftian, polytheistic, or Shinto (small gods, spirits, and kami) approach to a campaign world’s theology as well, and I think this approach would also work.

      Does that make sense?

    2. Ed Dove

      It does make sense in and of itself in a self-consistent way.

      But the fact that enlightenment/faith/spirituality/whatever doesn’t give access to any abilities that are any different from those accessible without it implies things about the nature of the game-world. And I was wondering if you consciously intend those implications.

      If you do intend those implications, then what you have seems good as is to me. But, if you don’t want to imply that enlightenment/faith/spirituality/whatever doesn’t give access to any unique abilities, then you might want to change or add to what you have.

    3. Brendan

      Who says that elements of the path of sorcery don’t require enlightenment, faith, or spirituality? Consider daoists or yin yang masters, for example.

      It could also be called the path of wonder.

      In the end, the details will of course be up to individual referees, and I don’t plan on explicitly dictating the metaphysics with the implied setting, though I am certainly suggesting several different possibilities through various rules, and yes it is intentional!

    4. Brendan

      Also: path shouldn’t be read as power source. Path is more about how you solve problems, and several of the traits are abstract enough that several different underlying mechanisms could be at work. For example, thralls could be walking dead or nature spirits (among many other possibilities).

    5. Ed Dove

      I like the term “Path of Wonder”! Not only does the word “wonder” convey the idea of everything mystical better than the word “sorcery” does, but it also seems to me to go even better with the words “guile” & “steel”, too.

      (Thinking about more fully evocative words for the paths made me wonder if either “battle” or “bloodshed” might be even better than “steel” as well?)

      If you do provide suggestions for how to make some or all mystical abilities dependent on enlightenment, faith, spirituality or some such, then that would make the system more useful for referees who don’t want to run game-worlds in which divine power is at least apparently no different from arcane power.

    6. Brendan

      You know, I did kind of dislike how two path names started with “s” (steel and sorcery). And I discovered after I had been working on this game for a while that Paolo’s game has something called the “way of steel” in it. So maybe battle works better. I’ll let it marinate for a while and see if it grows on me.

      I’ll keep the split regarding divine and arcane power in mind (the diegetic development stuff should work into that nicely, I think; consider, for example, if it’s only possible to take the banishment trait with a churchman prototype or by lessons from a priest in-game).

    7. Ed Dove

      I noticed the “s” thing, too, but didn’t want to say anything. ;o)

      In the case of “steel”, I thought you might be intentionally referring to “The Riddle of Steel” in the old Conan movie.

      I actually expected that you’d like “bloodshed” better than “battle”. But, if you prefer “battle” over “bloodshed”, then would you prefer “violence” over either of them?

      So banishment is already linked to faith/etc.? That’s interesting. But do you really want to imply what that implies? ;o)

      (I suppose it could imply only that banishment requires unreasonable certainty that you can do it.)


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