Overlord – Update #008

Character creation

Life path method is seldom used character creation method. It is based on player making choices on a list of available careers or backgrounds that reflect possibilities available to character in particular moment in her fictive history.

For instance Traveller (by GDW) is table top RPG that allows player to select a life path which character follows gaining skills, organizational ranks and various advantages.

Another method is to give player a group of choices which describe what character can do in particular phase in her life. For instance Only War (by Fantasy Flight Games) employs these packages to make player answer series of questions of character’s background. Similar method is also employed in Blue Planet (by Biohazard Games).

Life path systems are supposed to depict possible life of a character in a given setting. Thus they must be ”realistic” for society that is depicted as game’s background. This effectively means that life path system for every different society must be created separately. This makes life path based games very labor intensive for game designers.

Life path’s main idea is that it creates a life history for character. If randomness is used the end result my have twists player did not even thought possible when she started doing character. However, it is equally possible that end result is not what player wanted in the first place. Well designed amount of randomness is thus critically important part of a good life path system. At least results that finish character as too crippled to adventure should be avoided.

Major questions for game designer when thinking use of a life path system should be:
–Is society so well thought out the system can be built? At least social class and wealth should be factors in modern game. Race, Religion and Ideology could be as important as well.
–Do you want to do the same work for all different societies if you have different factions?
–Do you have time/resources to do play testing?

For player the life path gives perhaps the best introduction to game’s background and society to player. Characters are also far more varied than characters created by other systems. Some players put special emphasis to role-play from the start and exciting life path can serve as a springboard for that.

It’s major weakness is that life path systems take longer time to go through than other character generation methods. This can be insurmountable barrier to some players.

Overlord – Update #007

Vitality Game Mechanics III

Since game deals with generational characters it is also important to add mechanics for birth as well.

Again demographics rides to the rescue. I used ”The causal relationship between fertility and infant mortality” by Hillard Kaplan et al for those years where previous sources gave no data.

Chance of childbirth depends heavily on mother’s age. Following data is based on Hutterite women. Following percentages are used based on mother’s age: (10-14 years) 2%, (15-19 years) 30%,(20-24 years) 55%,(25-34 years) 45%, (35-39 years) 41%,(40-44 years) 22%,(45-49 years) 6% and (50-54 years) 1%. These numbers should go directly to a game.

Second important question is how often births happen. Typically in pre-modern societies the childbirths happen roughly every other year. The numbers above confirm this by calculation of expected value of childbirth as (assume 25-39 yar old) 1 / 0.45 = 2.222… years.

Downside of childbirth is the possibility of mother dying with the delivery. It was roughly 0.9% in pre-modern time in Germany in early 19th century. This number was 2.5% when mother had multiple children.

Chance of death depended on mother’s age: (<20 years) 1.0%,(20-24 years) 0.8%,(25-29 years) 0.6%,(30-34 years) 1.1%, (35-39 years) 1.2%,(40-44 years) 1.4%,(45-49 years) 2.3%.

Simple way to simulate all this is to set mother’s possibility of death as 1% normally, and twice this when she is over 45 or under 15 (latter assumption seems reasonable given dangers of teenage labor). The numbers should be multiplied by 2.5 when mother is giving birth to multiple children. Again one can simply give mother value 10 with 1D1000 roll and add modifiers as necessary for health and bad habits.

The lesson learned: One should read and study in research but individual numbers and relationships between different issues should be simplified in a game so players learn rules quickly.

Finally I revisited the question of infant mortality. I was satisfied with the previous system but I noticed that it did not handle issue of infanticide which was quite common method for birth control in many pre-modern societies (Classic Greece and Rome for instance).

First choice was to simply set infant mortality to suitable rate (for instance 50% for neolithic societies and 30% for Greece and Rome).

Alternative choice would be to have option for players to have their characters to kill their newborn after childbirth when they choose to do so.

I chose the second one because it would give players a real choice with real consequences in dynastic game.