Thursday, November 23, 2017

Gorgon Archer - Chill 3rd Edition - Character Creation Analysis

Chill is a game that I have a fair amount of nostalgia for even though I have never played more than a single scenario. It was the first time I really ran a successful roleplaying game scenario rather than just a succession of combat scenes and also featured a moment of an actual scare. My brother, some friends, and I were playing at night when we were in our mid-teens and I was running the haunting scenario in the second edition core book. We had some tension building and our dog started banging her tail against the glass door scaring the hell out of us for about five seconds or so. This game also represents the first time I started using the official mechanics recreate a concept that was not originally intended by the creators. In this case, I used the "Multiple Personality" disadvantage to create a heroic werewolf. 

The first edition of the game came out under Pacesetter Limited in 1984 during the first period of the hobby's expansion as several new games and systems were coming out at the time. I do not have any experience with the first edition but only picked up with the second edition which was put out by Mayfair Games who were one of the more successful independent studios of the day with licenses like DC Comics. The third edition was released in 2015 by Growling Door Games. The modern version has some definite gameplay influence from more modern games that seem to have aimed at making it run smoother than the second edition version however, as with a lot the games that date back to the 80s and 70s, it very much resembles that earlier edition in core concept. Though I will remind that I have no experience with the first edition.

The game offers three choices when it comes to characters. You can choose one of the twenty pre-generated characters included in the game, build off of a pre-made occupation template, or build from scratch using a pool of points. I'll be building from scratch, but I'd like point out that the the pre-generated characters are mostly quite interesting. In second edition, Genevieve Ashford and BB the bounty hunter ended up in a lot of the example situations, so it was pleasant to see them again, but there were a lot of new characters that really expanded upon the diversity available.
The game is set in a universe where a secret society that calls itself Societas Albae Viae Eternitata, which translates to The Eternal Society of the White Way. That at least was the version of the society in the 1800s. The modern version's members refers to it as the Silver Way. These are investigators seeking to protect the innocent from a force which they refer to as The Unknown. The impression you are given via a number of quotes, archived journals, and emails, is that SAVE is simply the most recent attempt by humanity to combat the evil aspects of the Unknown. Most older mystical societies are assumed to have been corrupted by the Unknown and SAVE itself is just recovering from a major blow that scattered it to the four winds (the meta-explanation for the long hiatus between second and third editions).

As a side note, I am likely to label this character an epitaph as non-human entities in Chill are almost universally evil. The closest I could find to the gorgon's stare is the Astral Attack, which can be used against both physical and spirit entities though it is primarily used to be able to attack spirits. This ability does nothing to anything that isn't supernatural and unfortunately requires touch at the base level, but it is close. I looked for a sort of paralysis ability but there doesn't appear to be one which is odd as binding is usually portrayed as a basic tool in the arsenal of an exorcist in other games.

Characters are built in six steps, some of which are optional. The first four steps involve the allocation of 80 character points to Attributes, Skills, Disciplines of the Art, and Edges and Drawbacks. Attributes range from 20 to 80, with 40-50 being the average person. There are six directly purchased attributes and some derived ones. The six directly purchased Attributes are Agility, Strength, Focus, Personality, Dexterity, and Perception. The average of Agility(AGI) and Strength(STR) becomes your Stamina(STA). The average of Focus (FOC) and Personality (PSY) becomes your Willpower (WPR). The average of Dexterity and Perception becomes your Reflexes (REF). Since Reflexes is the base for the Ranged Weapon skill, our gorgon will likely have high traits in both  DEX and PCN.

Skills are each based on specific attributes with Untrained skills being half the value of the connected attribute. You can also take specializations raising specific application of a skill to Beginner (+15), Expert (+30), or Master (+50) level. Each skill list six sample specializations, but clearly points out that these are simply samples. For example, Escrima and Mixed Martial Arts are both given as examples of Close Quarters Combat, but Swordfighting is not listed even though it is something that be natural expected. Communication, Prowess, and Movement skills always start as Trained unless you have a Drawback that changes it. For example, the Awkward Drawback causes Communication to be Untrained. You can be generally Untrained in a skill and still take Specializations with it to improve your rating in that particular application of the skill. As a note, there is no "Computer" skill because the game assumes that computers are ubiquitous enough that capability with computers is assumed to be manifested in the application of a variety of skills rather than a skill on its own.

The Art, Edges, and Drawbacks are all optional but provide a lot of flavorful options. The Art is sort of the counterbalance to the Unknown. The book leaves it uncertain as to whether it comes from the same source as the Unknown or whether it comes from an entirely different source. This question is debated by those within SAVE though many simply want to focus on "how to lift the bucket rather than ask where the water comes from" to paraphrase one of the email conversations presented in the book. There are six different schools of the Art, one associated with each of the directly purchased Attributes, and it is increasingly expensive to gain access to multiple schools. Every envoy starts with the Sensing the Unknown Art. The game does not encourage making up your own Art disciplines with an in-universe explanation that doing such is a matter of intense scrutiny and caution in order to make sure the practitioner doesn't step from The Art into The Evil Way. Especially there aren't many directly offensive Art disciplines.

Edges and Drawbacks are the same sort of Merit/Flaw or Advantage/Disadvantage system we've seen in other games. I have found no sign of a maximum number of Disadvantages, but the pre-generated characters range from 0 to 9 points of drawbacks with an average of about 5 points (5.3 to be exact).

Step five is the selection of the envoy's Drive and their history in the form of a "Takeaway". These are a narrative element to the character creation. For Drive the book suggests you phrase it so that it could finish the statement "My character joined SAVE in order to...".  There are several examples such as "...make my father proud" or "...experience thrills."

Before I get into the fifth step, I'm going to talk a little bit about the gameplay here. This is to show how this fifth step impacts a character mechanically because otherwise it might seem to be an optional step meant solely to flesh out a character. The game uses a mechanic similar to the Force Points from the FFG Star Wars campaign where there are a set of points available in a session and that they can turn toward Light or Dark sides. The players can turn a Light Token dark to gain a benefit, and the GM can turn a Dark Token light for similar purposes. This represents the ebb and flow of the struggle between good and evil where one side exerts its power for an immediate advantage but also creates an opportunity for their adversaries.

In step five, you choose a Drive and a Takeaway. It is suggested that the Drive be able to fill in the ending of the "My character joined SAVE in order to..." statement. Each Drive has a Light and a Dark box which allows the player or the GM to gain a benefit similar to what they would gain from flipping a token. So, if your drive is "to experience great thrills" and you were about to do something thrilling and dangerous, like jumping out of a burning building, then you could mark your Drive's light box in order to make the effort easier rather than flip a token. Alternately, if you choose to roleplay your Drive in a way that's problematic for the characters, such as performing some unnecessary stunt of daring that just complicates matters, then you can turn a Dark Token toward the Light. Doing so means that the GM will make sure your stunt goes horrendously wrong, but having that Light token might be exactly what the team needs.

The Takeaways represent an experience your character had. Every character starts with one Takeaway representing their character's introduction to the supernatural. Things like "saw a chiang shih", "used insurance records to track a vampire", "read father's SAVE case files", or "werewolf attacked my girlfriend" are among the pre-generated characters' Takeaways. At the end of each case you will add another Takeaway until you have three, at which point you can change out old Takeaways for new ones, or you can spend Development Points in order add a new slot.

There are two kinds of Takeaways: Personal Takeaways and Arcane Takeaways. Personal Takeaways relate to a way the character used their mundane skills to solve a problem related to the Unknown. Arcane Takeaways represent direct exposure to the Unknown. The character that used the insurance records to track a vampire has a Personal Takeaway while the one whose girlfriend was attacked has an Arcane Takeaway. Each Takeaway has a light box and a dark box similar to the Drive, though the Dark box is triggered exclusively by the GM in this case and doesn't provide much in the way of benefit for the players.

The Light box of a Personal Takeaway can be used to improve the target number of a check, either before or after you roll, or reduce the Trauma rank of a Resolve check (similar to Call of Cthulhu's Sanity check but more similar to a GUMSHOE Stability check). The Dark box of a Personal Takeaway can be used by the GM to similarly improve the target numbers of creatures or NPCs.

The Light box of an Arcane Takeaway can be used to either activate a discipline of the Art or to gain Insight, a minor clue about the situation, without having to turn a Token dark. However, the GM can mark your Dark Box to activate a creature's Evil Way discipline without have to turn a Token Light.

The sixth step is to add in background and finalize some personal details like height, weight, hair and eye color, and other such bits of flavor. This is purely to make your character seem more real and doesn't really have immediate mechanical impact on the character as a whole. The last thing you do is go over it with your GM and make sure that everything is fine with your character before moving on.

Gorgon Archer

Attributes / Skills / Specializations
Agility 60 - Movement 60 - Stealth(B) 75
Strength 40 - Prowess 40
Stamina 50 - Close Quarters Combat 25
Focus 55 - Research 28 - Survival(E) 58
Personality 45 - Communication 23 - Internet Chat (B) 38
Willpower 50 - Interview 25
Dexterity 60 - Fieldcraft 30 - Traps and Blinds(B) 45
Perception 60 - Investigation 30 - Tracking(B) 45
Reflexes 60 - Ranged Weapons (Trained) 60 - Archery(E) 90
Sensing the Unknown 12

The Art
Incorporeal - Astral Attack (B) 60 - Can only be performed by touch.

Tough as Nails (2 CP) - You recover twice the normal STA during a transition or recovery.
Peace of Mind (2 CP) - You recover twice the normal WPR during a transition or recovery
Inured (2 CP) - After each case, you integrate two Trauma levels instead of one. In addition, when she is treated by use of the Calm discipline of the Art then she integrates an additional Trauma Level.

Strange Appearance (3 CP) - Due to a moderate case of Ichthyosis Vulgaris, she appears to have scales and this causes her to suffer a -30 to the target number of checks where people would be put off.
Awkward (3 CP) - Your Communication skill is untrained due to your difficulty in dealing with other people.

My character joined SAVE because they accept me.

Was stalked by a strange beast for several days. (A)

Background - Ostracized from an early age due to her strange appearance, she spent a lot of her time learning how to hide and retreating into the wilderness near the small town she lived in. She trained to become a park ranger but was never accepted due to her medical condition. Eventually, she inherited a small patch of land in Alaska. She maintained a hunter's license and would go bow hunting to supplement her diet, often selling the hides and trophies to earn the money she needed to live. Most of her interaction with people was carried out through the anonymity of an online connection.
One winter she found herself cut off from the small town nearby by strong weather. This wasn't the first time this had happened, but there was something different. There was a thing in the snow which began to stalk her around the area of her cabin over the course of several days. She was able to counter-track it using various tricks and finally survived when her potential in the Art awakened with a desperate punch to the white-furred monstrosities face, startling the beast long enough for her to back off and bury it in an avalanche.

Character Point Accounting
Agility - 12
Strength - 8
Focus - 11
Personality - 9
Dexterity - 12
Perception - 12
Total - 64

Stealth Beginner Specialization - 1
Survival Expert Specialization - 2
Traps and Blinds Beginner Specialization - 1
Tracking Expert Specialization - 1
Internet Chat Specialization - 1
Ranged Weapons Trained - 3
Archery Expert Specialization 2
Total - 11

Incorporeal School Attunement - 4
Astral Attack Beginner - 1
Total - 5

Edges - 6
Drawbacks - 6

64 + 11 + 5 + 6 - 6 = 80

Character Advancement
Character Creation and the Gorgon Archer

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