Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Character Creation: @ctiv8

So, I want to make a character today, and I figured maybe I'd make one from the long-ago Haiti bundle.

It's not Crap Game Friday, but man, it sorta feels like it. I may actually make a character from a better game, later, just to cleanse the palate.

The Game: @ctiv8
The Publisher: Portmortem Studios, but I'm not linking them
Degree of Familiarity: None, thank god. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one, and apparently a massive sense of self-satisfaction.

So, @ctiv8 is written by James Desborough, who made headlines in the RPG world some time back when he wrote a blog post called "In Defence of Rape" in which he opined "rape is fucking awesome" and then added "as a plot device," because being inflammatory is super cool, yo. He's responsible for some really terrible additions to the world of RPGs, and has pretty much made it clear that if a woman expresses a desire to not have rape staring her in the goddamn face from games everywhere, well, tough shit, but that he as someone who suffers from depression should be given special consideration.

Let's say I'm not a fan. But I'm gonna make a character for his game, anyway, because I follow my own rules.

This game (I'm not gonna type the name anymore because whenever I do, Blogger assumes I'm typing in someone's Twitter) assumes you're playing members of a titular organization, fighting for freedom against an oppressive government. Much about the game is left unspecified, but the game seems to assume a high degree of physical danger (we're told, over and over again, that characters die easily and players shouldn't get attached to them) and extreme politics. Which is all well and good - I'm fine with games that kill characters easily (obviously), and I'm happy to play games that pit the characters against the forces of oppression (see also: Misspent Youth). But I have two major complaints.

One is that the game doesn't seem like it would support quick chargen and multiple fatalities, but I freely admit that without having played it, that's just a gut feeling. But you'll see what I mean when I dig into chargen.

The other is, like I said, the author is so smug and self-satisfied. Like, check it out:

The World of Darkness and the New World of Darkness: Previously a fan of White Wolf’s work I have been turned off from their more recent work by a combination of disappointment and dissatisfaction. Nonetheless, the World of Darkness and the New World of Darkness present some inspiration for the Xpress system used to power @ctiv8, largely due to the perceived flaws in Storyteller system as well as appreciation for what can be done right with relatively simplistic dice pool systems. 

That's from the "Inspirations" section. Here's another, when he's talking about playing/running the game:

Characters are less ‘precious’ than they are in other systems. Character deaths and total group kills are not the end of the world as far as an @ctiv8 campaign is concerned. There are always more.

It's the use of the word "precious" that gets me. I can't imagine that was accidental. The contempt for everything just drips off the writing, and it's not even especially compelling writing.

Now, in all fairness, this game came out in 2005, which was nearly a decade ago, so perhaps the author's writing has improved. I don't know, I won't give him money. Oh, one other thing. The cover of the book is a collage of images taken (without permission or credit) from many, many different sources, most of them Livejournal avatars. He then goes on to say that he knows people get "pissy" when people take their work without credit (can't imagine why) and that he thinks he's legally in the clear because [reasons]. He also makes a point of saying that he's clear under US law because "US Citizens and companies being the most litigious and US copyright and IP law being the most stringent."


OK, so, I'm actually making a character. Let's do this.

Making a character is actually just a matter of dividing up some points. We're told that characters fall into one of four categories, but those categories don't actually mean anything in game terms, so I'm ignoring that.

Statistics. We used to talk about "statting" characters or a character's "stats" when I was in high school/college, but I can't think of another game that actually refers to game traits as "statistics." There must be some, though.

Anyway, we've got 10, and they're paired. Stats in a pair have to be within two points of each other, and I have sixty points to divvy up between them. But you don't buy them one-for-one (which is why I balk at this "make characters quickly" thing).

OK, so I guess I should think a little about concept. It's hard, because the game doesn't really have a "hook" - it's basically "be vigilantes in a world that's maybe like our world." Well, since it's an annoying game, let's make an annoying character. My guy is in his 20s, a college dropout, fairly smart but unable to focus, and the epitome of selective cognition. He believes that the government really is poisoning us with chemtrails, that vaccines are really harmful, and that school shootings are often false flags (god, I hate this guy already). He keeps himself fit, is a strict vegetarian (though he consistently claims he'd eat an animal if he could raise it himself). I hate this guy already. Let's call him Martin McAllister.

Well, I want Martin to be relatively fit, but strongly mentally. Not at all strong socially. Let's see. 3 is average, supposedly. So let's do this. I want his Strength fairly high, and his Resilience can be, too (he's healthy for day-to-day things, though his immune system might cop out quick if he gets TB or something, since he's an idiot and doesn't vaccinate). Dexterity and Speed can both be average. Intelligence and Perception...I think I want his Perception higher than his Intelligence, so let's splurge and put Perception to 5 and Intelligence to 3. Charm and Control can both be below average (2). And Resolve, which is strangely out of alphabetical order in the game, can be high; it's what you'd use to reach into a fire to get a marshmallow, and I see Martin as being dumb like that.

Strength 4/Resilience 3
Dexterity 3/Speed 3
Intelligence 3/Perception 5
Charm 2/Control 2
Resolve 4/Resistance 3

So, given that and looking at the wonky-ass costs for these things, I've spent 71 out of 60 points. I'm a shade over. The book points out that I can use my Skill points to spend over here, but maybe I'll bust Perception down to 4? Save myself 5 points? Sure, why not. That puts me at 66 points. I'll put Charm at 1 and Strength at 3, which puts me at an even 60.

Now, Skills. Skills operate on a sort of shrinking scale. A lot of games offer specialties or focus areas of skills, but this game does a second tier of that, meaning you can have Athletics specialized in Running and further Specialized in 100 metre dash, whatever the fuck a "metre" is. That seems like a level of hyper-specialization that is unnecessary for a game in which I'm supposed to die easily and often, but whatevs.

I get 70 points for Skills on the same scale. There's a whole list of them, but it includes things like "Comedy" and I'm supposed to make my own Skills if I want, so I'll do that.

Athletics 2
Gardening/Home Grown 4
Research/Online/Dubious Sites 4
Hacking 3
Chemistry 1
Architecture 1
Firearms/Pistol 2
Notice/Paranoid 3
Intimidation/Crazy 4
Writing/Blog Posts 3

Sounds good for a start. I'm at 80 points, though. That's maybe a little high, I don't know how viable taking 10 points of Flaws would be. Let's trim. It's actually pretty easy; I'll just knock Research down to 3 (which takes me to 76 points) and get rid of Chemistry and Architecture; like most conspiracy theorists, Martin only thinks he understands those things. That takes me to 74. I guess I'll bump Intimidation down to 3. That puts me even.

So now I can do Merits and Flaws, because why not wear your influences on your sleeves? Oh, christ, there's a list of suggested ones, but mostly it's guidelines for making your own. Mind, I'm generally fine with this, but I don't want this to take any longer than necessary. Ok. So basically it's just points based on how much of a bonus/drawback the merit/flaw gives you, modified by how often it comes into play. Which is silly, if characters die easily. Hmph.

Well, I figured Martin is annoying as shit. He's one of those trolls that says "what everyone's thinking," which really means "what he's thinking," and then tries to put it on everyone else (I work with a guy like this). That's probably worth 1 point.

Martin, however, doesn't sleep much, and he can go on only a few hours of rest a night. If he has stimulants, he can stay up for a day or two without slowing down too much. That's probably worth a point.

So there. Oh, hey, there's a fillable character sheet, so we got one thing right at least. Oh, wait, except the Skills are fucked up so when I type into one, it immediately copes that to all the other ones. Fuck it, just putting Skills into psychological profile. It does the same thing for Merits and Flaws, but I can fit that one on line, so fine, I'm done.


Oh, wait, one other thing, also from the Inspirations section:

Internet Community Sites: Tribe.net, Friendster, Hi5, Livejournal, MySpace, forums, MMORPGs, Usenet, blogs of all stripes, you name it. All of them, even with all their bickering, flaming, spam and awfulness are still, collectively, an inspiration. The net may be full of pig ignorant, homophobic, shockingly tactless morons but the miracle is that you can now talk to these people, all around the world and realise just how many of them exist.

Yep. It just may be.