Step 1: Concept
Concept is the stone from which well-developed characters are sculpted. Before thoughts of game mechanics focus a player’s attention on microcosmic details of his character’s personality, it is important to hammer out a rough-hewn form, seeing the whole before concentrating on the parts.
Concept needs only to be a general idea — renowned socialite, musical prodigy, heroic savior — but it should be enough to spawn ever more complex ideas about the character’s motives, environment and relationships. Of course, a concept can be far more complex: “My character was a staunch defender of New York’s homeless, fighting for their rights and tending to their needs. His Embrace frightened him into hiding among the downtrodden, who have now come to see him as a predator of the alleys.”
Step 2: Attributes
After the more qualitative aspects of a character have been solidified, players must assign numbers that support their decisions. The first step in determining a character’s numeric traits is to prioritize his Attributes. Attributes represent raw, natural ability. How strong is the character? How smart? How agile? What impression does he make as he enters a room? Attributes take these questions and more into account, ultimately providing the foundation upon which a character is built. Characters have nine Attributes, divided into three categories: Mental (Intelligence, Wits, Resolve), Physical (Strength, Dexterity, Stamina) and Social (Presence, Manipulation, Composure).
First, you must decide in which of these categories your character excels the most (primary). You then select the group of Attributes in which your character is average (secondary). Finally, the remaining category is designated as the character’s weakest area of natural talent (tertiary). Is your character a scrawny intellectual, or possibly a brute lacking in social graces? Your character concept should provide insight into where to assign your priorities, but you may decide to break with that mold — say, by creating a short, sinewy mob enforcer whose intensity and rage more than make up for his lack of size.
All characters begin with one dot in each Attribute, reflecting the basic capabilities of all human beings. The priorities established in the preceding paragraph determine how many dots are allocated for each Attribute cluster. Five additional dots are added to the primary group, four additional dots to the secondary group and three dots to the tertiary group. For example, the scrawny intellectual mentioned previously would have five dots in his Mental category, four in his Social and three in his Physical category, while the tactless brute would have five dots in his Physical category, four in his Mental and only three in his Social category.
The fifth dot in any Attribute costs two dots to purchase. So, a player who wants his character to have a Dexterity of 5 needs to spend five dots. (He starts with one free dot, spends three more to achieve a score of 4, and then spends two more for the fifth dot.)
Step 3: Skills
Skills are divided into the same three subcategories as Attributes: Mental, Physical and Social. Mental Skills tend to rely on knowledge of the world and are improved through study and practical application. Physical Skills rely on training, improved mainly through practice and repetition. Finally, Social Skills rely heavily on interpersonal experience and improve through interaction with others or through trial and error.
Like Attributes, Skill groups must be prioritized during character creation. Players should select primary, secondary and tertiary categories for their Skills. The primary group receives 11 dots, the secondary group gets seven, and the tertiary group receives four. Note that, unlike Attributes, characters do not begin the game with an automatic dot in any Skill, as Skills dots are obtained through dedication to a field, not natural talent alone. As before, the fifth dot in any Skill costs two dots to purchase.
Step 4: Skill Specialties
While characters might have considerable training in Firearms or expertise in Medicine, they excel in certain aspects of these Skills more so than in others. For instance, Officer Grimes might have a special proficiency with his particular sidearm but not with rifles, shotguns or chain guns. He might understand the basic principles of using these firearms, but the bulk of his training has been with his pistol. Represented in game terms, such a character may have three dots in Firearms, with a Specialty in 9mm automatic pistols.
Players choose three Skill Specialties during character creation. These should be very specific, though players may choose more than one Specialty for any given Skill. So, using the previous example, Officer Grimes might have Specialties in both 9mm automatic pistols and 12-gauge shotguns.
Step 12: Health
Your character’s Health is equal to his Stamina or Resolve plus Size. A character’s Health trait reflects his body’s capacity to cope with injury and remain functional. As your character suffers damage, whether accidentally or in combat, each point of damage inflicted lowers his Health by one. When your character’s Health points are reduced to three, he suffers a negative modifier to his dice pools. As his Health points continue to decrease, this negative modifier increases as he is slowly overcome by shock and physical trauma. When all of your character’s Health points are marked off as aggravated damage, he is dead. Obviously, the larger and more robust a character is, the more damage he can withstand before dying.
Health is marked on your character sheet and has both a permanent and a temporary rating. Your character’s permanent rating is filled in on the dots of your character sheet. His temporary points are recorded in the corresponding boxes. Every time your character loses a Health point to damage, mark off the kind of injury inflicted from left to right. When dots and filled boxes are equal, your character is badly hurt or dying.
As your character’s Stamina or Resolve increases through the use of experience points (or through temporary supernatural enhancements), his Health increases as well. Don’t forget to adjust your character’s Health dots when his Stamina or Resolve changes.
Step 13: Willpower
Vampires lead unlives of constant struggle, fighting against their base, predatory natures to retain control of their slipping connections to humanity. Fighting the Beast within them calls for a measure of self-reliance often lacking in ordinary mortals, making large amounts of Willpower a great value. Vampires’ dangerous emotional situations can lead to violent, mindless frenzy, and they hold their bestial tendencies in check through sheer force of will.
Vampires’ experience points can be spent to recoup lost Willpower dots. A player may spend Vitae in the same turn in which he spends a point of Willpower.
Step 15: Initiative
Your character’s Initiative is equal to his Dexterity plus Composure. Your character’s Initiative trait reflects her reaction time and ability to think on her feet in a crisis, be it a barroom brawl, a shootout or a desperate lunge to stop a child from wandering into a busy street. When the Storyteller calls for an Initiative roll, you roll one die and add the result to your character’s Initiative trait. The total determines the order in which your character interacts with all other participants of the scene. Once you roll your character’s Initiative the number does not usually change through the course of the scene. She always acts after characters with a higher total, and before those with a lower total. Possible exceptions are applied through use of the Fresh Start Merit or by delaying your character’s action. In the event of a tie between two characters, she with the highest Initiative trait goes first. If both Initiative traits are the same, roll a die for each with the highest roll going first.
As your character’s Attributes change through the use of experience points (or through temporary enhancement during the course of a story), her Initiative changes as well. If your character’s Dexterity or Composure increases during play, don’t forget to adjust her Initiative as well.
Step 16: Size
A character’s Size is relative to his species (human) and age. The average adult human’s Size is 5. A child’s is 3. Size is one of the two component values used to determine your character’s Health dots, reflecting her overall capacity to withstand damage. Generally, your character’s Size does not change unless she undergoes some strange supernatural transformation.
Here are some sample Sizes for various creatures.
* 01: Human infant (up to 1 year old)
* 03: Human child (5 to 7 years old)
* 04: Wolf
* 05: Human
* 06: Gorilla
* 07: Grizzly bear
Step 17: Speed
Your character’s speed is equal to his Strength plus Dexterity plus Size (5 for adult humans, 3 for human children) Your character’s Speed is the number of yards she can travel in a single turn. This trait is a combination of her Strength (lean muscle mass), Dexterity (coordination and agility) and a species factor that reflects her age, physical configuration, Size and other considerations. Other species such as horses and cheetahs have physical configurations that lend themselves to high travel rates.
Your character’s Speed represents the number of yards she can move in a turn and still perform an action. She can move and perform an action in a turn, or perform an action and move, but she cannot move, perform an action and move again all in the same turn.
Alternatively, she can run at up to double her Speed in a turn, but can usually take no other action. See Chapter 7, p. 164, for details. Also, when your character suffers an injury modifier based on her current Health, her Speed is reduced as well.
If the character is injured and has only three Health points remaining, she incurs a -1 modifier to dice pools and Speed, reducing the trait to 8. If your character’s Strength or Dexterity changes through the use of experience points (or through temporary enhancement during the course of a story), her Speed changes as well. If you change your character’s Strength or Dexterity, don’t forget to adjust her Speed.
Step 18: Virtue & Vice
The Virtues and Vices available to mortal characters are the same as those available to vampires, though they manifest in different ways. For instance, a character who suffers the Vice of Wrath might be prone to frenzy, while one indulging in Gluttony might eave a trail of exsanguinated bodies in her wake, finding it difficult to stop feeding before victims’ hearts stop. On the other hand, a character with the Virtue of Hope might dedicate his nights to achieving Golconda, while a character with the Virtue of Justice might carefully choose his victims from among those deserving punishment (such as rapists or murderers), becoming a crusader of the night.
Step 19: Experience
Apply as much, or as little, experience as required to play the character you’re interested in playing. Keep track of how much experience you spend and report it to your Storyteller.
Step 20: Spark of Life
At this point you should have a character, at least in a purely mechanical sense. You have all you need to use your character as a playing piece in your Storyteller’s chronicle, combining Attributes with Skills and rolling dice as necessary.
Roleplaying, however, is not simply pitting dice against dice, or using spiffy powers left and right. The previous steps have created a basic framework, a rough sculpture of a character hammered out in the most simplistic of terms. Now is the time to break out the fine tools, refining the crude figure with details and nuance. Examine the dots on your character sheet and figure out why they’re there. What in your character’s life made him pick up his first firearm and begin training? How did he learn so much about the ways of the street or the methods of intimidation? When did he pick up his rudimentary medical skills? How will this background come across in the story? What parts don’t you know yet about your character? Just like working a fine sculpture, shape and polish your character’s physical, psychological and background details to make him one of a kind, even among the undead.
Just what exactly does having a Presence of 3 mean? Does your character possess the chiseled features of a runway model, causing all eyes to turn his way as he enters a room? Or doeshe have the hardened look of a dockyard worker who isn’t to be trifled with? Perhaps he exudes an air of old money and confidence from behind his tailored suits and fine jewelry. What features cause others to react to him with such intensity? What color are his eyes, his hair, his skin? Does he have a clean cut, refined look or perhaps a nasty scar running from his scalp down between his eyes to his neck? Is his voice harsh and raspy, silky smooth or does he stutter, relying wholly on his looks to carry him?
While these final touches might seem the least necessary, they are the most important. Otherwise, your Ventrue with Presence 3, Manipulation 4 and Composure 3 will be just like every other Ventrue with Presence 3, Manipulation 4 and Composure 3. You want to avoid such two-dimensional characters and strive for something unique, fascinating and memorable.
Finally, the unlife of a vampire is certainly a place for ironies and fate. You’ve done all the work so far, choosing which traits you want your character to possess and arranging dots on the character sheet. As the final step of character creation, throw a single die. This is how much Vitae your vampire has in her system when the chronicle begins.