Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Character Creation: Valherjar

Home sick again, taking a little break from Demon redlines. And I've had this song in my head all day:


So I wanted to find a game that would allow a character inspired by that song, and I think this one, from the long-ago Haiti bundle, is a good fit.

The Game: Valherjar: The Chosen Slain
The Publisher: Game Monkey Press
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one. There's some errata on that linked page, so I'll keep it handy.

The premise of Valherjar seems pretty cool, actually. You're playing elite warriors taken at the moment of death and given new life in Valhalla, trained against the coming Ragnorak and sent back to Midgard for occasional missions. You can die as many times as necessary, can speak all mortal languages, and can use Rune magic as well as various ass-kicking techniques.

The execution is somewhat less successful. First of all, the system is a pretty eye-glazing 3d6 affair called the AOR system (I can't easily find what that stands for). The book, to its credit, has a lot of examples of play and shows the system in action, and I'm pretty sure I could puzzle it out given sufficient incentive. But it doesn't say "run me." It says "hack me into Fate and then run me."

The artwork in the book is pretty nice; a lot of it is Ron Spencer, and I'm a fan of his stuff. The writing is thorough, at least, but they need an editor and someone with some sharp knives, because it's really overwritten in places.

As an aside, I'm a fan of game fiction inserts and in-character breaks and so forth, but you've got to be pithy with it, otherwise you run the risk of losing the reader. And the fiction has to be good, and good fiction is hard to write. Valherjar's fiction didn't really grab me, and I wound up skimming a lot.

But, anyway, let's get to work!

Step One: Concept. So, characters in this game are meant to be warriors, but that doesn't necessarily mean soldiers. I'm actually having trouble finding anything that tells me if I should make a modern-day character or if I can make a warrior from any period in history. Oh, wait, found it. I can totally be a historical warrior. Hmm.

Well, I like the idea of a watchful, contemplative sort of character. I like the image of him on a tower, looking down over a valley, and eventually seeing fire as everything below him burns. Doing a bit of quick Wiki-research, I find the Peel towers, basically watchtowers constructed in England in the 15th century to watch out for Scottish invaders. I think my character was the son of a laird, and their lands were invaded. Everyone died, and my guy was the last survivor, keeping the watch-fire burning as everyone was pulled out of the tower and killed. (That's bleak.) We'll call him John Forster.

John's last words before the raiders got him were an oath that he'd die before he let the fire go out. And he did, so that's good. But when the Valkyrie took him, she asked "Was it enough?" and he replied, "No," because he knew that all his death had done was hold back that dark for a moment. Hence, Valherjar.

John's brooding and contemplative now. He can party and drink with his compatriots, but he's introverted, and prefers to be alone, high up, so he can watch. He's tall, thin, and has red-blond hair and bright blue eyes. He laments that cloaks aren't in fashion anymore, but makes do with hoodies and long coats.

There, that's enough for concept, I think. What's next?

Step Two: Choose an Aett. "Aett" is basically which Norse god is my patron. The splat pages look decidedly White-Wolfy, so that's a point of familiarity, anyway. Gjall, the Chosen of Heimdall, are very much what I picture for John.

Step Three: Assign Priority Points. Ooh, this looks mathy. The game tells me this system is "innovative." C'mon, guys. That's like assuring me the urban legend you're about to relate is "true." Don't tell me it's innovative, show me with its innovation.

Anyway. I get 12 Priority Points, which I then split up between Attributes, Skills, Rune Magic and Prestige. The suggested split for Gjall is 3/4/3/2, but I'm going to look at this a bit more closely and make sure that fits.

Well, I think I want to put 3 into Prestige, which makes me respected, but not very well known (and gives me an extra Luck point). That leaves me 9 points. Could just spread them out, I guess. I think that I'll put 2 into Skills and 4 into Rune Magic, because I enjoy playing magic-y people.

So that gives me 3 in Attributes. That gives me three packages to choose from; I choose to have two Attributes at 3, three at 2, and three at 1. I'll do my 1s first.

Well, Charisma isn't my guy's strong point. Neither is Intelligence, I think. But the third one, hmm. I'll put it in Strength; I see John as a distance-attack kind of person.

For my 2s, I put them in Dexterity, Agility, and Will. John's not bad here, but his real strength lies in...

...Perception and Endurance, just what every good sentry needs.

OK, then. Now Skill points. I have 2 Priority Points here, which gives me more packages to choose from. The question here is how much I want to specialize. I tend to spread my points out a lot, normally. I think we'll do two Skills at 3, two at 2, and eleven at 1. The book tells me I actually pick Skills in the next step, so we'll move on to Magic.

Again, packages. I don't know what the hell these mean, though. Hrm. Guess maybe I'll come back to this, and move on to the next step for now?

Step Four: Select Skills. For every Skill with a rating of 3 or better, I get a Specialization. OK, then. Let's, again, spend the 1s first, since I have 11 of them. I take 1s in Animal Ken, Concealment, Crafting, Demolition, Diplomacy, Gambling, Larceny, Law, Leadership, Streetwise, and Pistol.

Now I have two Skills at 2 and two at 3. For my 2s, I take Athletics (always take Athletics) and Resolve. For my 3s, I take Observation (kind of John's strong point; I take a Specialization in Scouting) and Hurled (which covers bows, and I'll take Drawn Bow as the Specialization).

Step Five: Rune Magic. Here we are. OK, now, there are primary magics, and then Foci within them. I get that. But then my Aett can grant me Boons...but it doesn't say if I get them, how many I get, and where those points come from, and since there's no freaking example of chargen, I'm not sure how that works. Let me dig a little more. Oh, I see now. I don't get Boons unless I dump at least 4 points into Prestige. That...could be stated a little more clearly.

Well, whatever. I have 4 points in Rune Magic, so I can take bunch of Primaries, or Primaries with Foci. I think I'll do the latter. That gives me four Magics with rating 3 and two with rating 2, plus 5 Foci among the rating 3 Magics. Oy.

Ooh, well, I kinda like Blade-Kenning, which would allow me to summon a weapon. Since John likes to use a bow, that's probably useful. I don't really want the Foci, though, so I'll make that a rating 2.

Fallacious Senses lets me screw with a target's mind and senses, and I like that. I'll take the Hush Focus, too, letting me silence someone.

Flying Hammer is pretty cool, but it's a little overt for my guy. Gangrad's Cloak, though, lets me hide my supernatural status, and I can see that being useful. I'll just take it at 2 (and it keys off of Charisma, dammit; that's the danger of using Charisma as the dump stat).

Anyway, nerdity aside, next up is Maiden's Blessing. Now, the magic itself isn't especially interesting, but the first Focus allows you to use a power that normally only works on Touch at Line of Sight. I kinda dig that.

I get two more Magics and three more Foci. There are a few more magics I like, actually. I think going with the theme of the character, though, I'll take Runic Eye and Windspeak, which allow me to draw a rune and then see through, and communicate with everyone in the area, respectively.

Runic Eye first. I like the Sound From Sight Focus, which lets me hear from the Rune as well as see. Then for Windspeak, I'll take Knowing Gaze (which enables two-way communication with eye contact) and Lullaby (which allows me to put people to sleep).

The last step in chargen is to request equipment and weapons, because when you get transported to Earth you're "effectively naked." (No word on whether that means you're actually naked.) But as usual, I shall skip that step because I find it boring.

I actually like this character, and I like the premise of this game. I just think it's overwritten like whoa, and I'd need someone to teach me the system because it's very numbery and makes my eyes twitch to read it.