Monday, 19 January 2015

Through the Breach RPG - Character Creation Basics

I've been asked several times about the character generation system for the Malifaux 'Through the Breach' RPG so rather than answer a lot of individual queries I've decided to write an article on the subject instead...

Let's begin at the beginning then...

As with the miniatures game of Malifaux, Through the Breach (abbreviated to TtB from now on) uses cards rather than dice but despite that the fundamentals will be familiar to any-one who has created a character for an RPG before and will be fairly simple for any-one new to the concept.

The creation process has fourteen stages but don't worry...not all of them are very big stages and the explanations for each one are more than adequate...

Stage One - Concept
It's nice to have a basic idea of what character you'd like to play and others have written articles on how to avoid ending up all playing the same trench-coated, Katana wielding bad-ass that due to certain films seems to be the standard lately...one such article can be found here.


The process itself will give you prompts in certain directions should you have no idea at all but knowing whether you want to be an expert gun-slinger, knife fighter, archaeologist or whatever will help with some of the decisions you'll be called upon to make, Later on in the process you'll be called upon to pick a starting pursuit (think of it as a class or career) that effects starting equipment but can be changed as we go along though the starting equipment only comes with the first selected Pursuit so no swapping every session so you end up needing a cart to carry your gear in. As Malifaux encompasses a lot of different genres then you should be able to select pretty much anything and make it work...albeit in a Steampunk compatible form...

Stage Two - Deal the Crossroads Tarot
You'll need a Fate Deck for this...it needn't be a fancy one...the standard Malifaux one works just fine. After shuffling the deck you deal out five cards into a cross pattern like so...


...and it's these cards that the face value and suit of will be going some way to deciding our stats in a number of important areas.

Note - The books instructive picture (that one above in fact) has all the cards face up which once you know how the system works gives you the chance to 'plan-ahead' slightly however recently we've been trying a variant locally whereby we only flip the cards over as the stage is reached which I personally prefer as I think it's truer to how the character creation is intended.

Stage Three - Station
You don't get to choose your parents in real life and the same is true of the world of Malifaux. The first card flipped therefore indicates what life you were born into and ranges from the fairly mundane (Labourer, Servant, etc.) through the interesting (Assassin, Alchemist, etc.) through to the downright unusual (Neverborn Stolen, Mad Scientist, etc.).


Mechanically this just means that you get a single point in an appropriate Skill. So a person born to shopkeepers gets 'Barter', Thieves would get 'Pick Pocket', a Harlot 'Bewitch' and so on. If you want to build upon this area you can select the Skill at a higher value at one of the appropriate stages and get a point of XP instead or just leave it sitting there on your character sheet in the hope that it might come in useful later, lol.

Note - I had decided from the very beginning to be a Pugilist so flipping 'Ten Thunders' at this stage (which gave me a point in 'Martial Arts') took a bit of explaining but we simply decided that his family was connected to the Ten Thunders rather than being actual members as implied in the description. One of the other players with no fixed idea flipped Coachman...and so created a Coachman. Either approach can be made to work...

Stage Four - The Body
Now we need to start making actual decisions...


TtB uses four physical stats referred to as Aspects (Might, Grace, Speed and Resilience) and they're fairly self explanatory. Each potential card flip gives you four values which you allocate as you wish so you might get -3/0/0/+3 or -3/0/+1/+2 or whatever and you then decide which stat gets what value. It's probably worth having a quick look at the Skills section before deciding as each Skill relates to a Stat so if you want to be an expert Martial Artist you'll want points in Speed, whereas a gun-slinger is going to want Grace and so on. You get a couple of 'free' extra points to spend later but bear in mind that there's very little opportunity to increase these stats once the campaign has started...

Note - As this is a roleplaying game it's okay to suck at some things. My character has both a Shotgun and a number of Throwing Knives and despite having Skills in both the controlling Aspect (Grace) is -3 meaning he may well be the worst person in Malifaux to stand in front of when he decides to use a range attack of any kind...

Stage Five - Root Skills
This section is where we choose the Skills we learnt early in life and as you'd expect a card flip is involved...

In this case our card flip gives us a number of values to which we can apply any skill we wish though the intention as stated above is for them to represent Skills more representative of your formative years. Overall there's no bad flips in this section though you tend to end up with a lot of average Skills or fewer though only two out of fifty two potential flips doesn't have one at 'three' and that has a far greater than average number at 'two' instead.


Note - Most people are going to allocate the higher values to the things that they're wanting to be awesome at though you may want to deliberately make those low so you can roleplay your characters development in those areas...

Stage Six - Mind
This section is functionally the same as 'The Body' but applies to your characters mental Aspects instead which are referred to as Intellect, Charm, Cunning and Tenacity and are pretty self explanatory.


The same points mentioned in section four apply so if you're creating a doctor you may want to make your intellect fairly high (unless of course you want him to be incompetent...that may well be why he's stuck in Malifaux City in the first place) though it's more important if your plan is to be a magic user of some kind (unless you want them to explore the role-playing opportunities of being more Rincewind than Gandalf that is...). Social Skills are also associated with your mental Aspects so leaders will need a certain amount of charm...though the ability to shout loudly will probably do...

Stage Seven - Endeavor Skills
Functionally this works the same as 'Root' Skills though they're meant to be more personal in that they're more likely to be related to your chosen Pursuit (Career) as these are conscious choices rather than a result of your upbringing. For example it's likely that your parents really wanted you to stay at home and help run the farm rather than be a Graverobber, Harlot or Outlaw (though it's possible I suppose...) but if you always dreamt of being a Lawyer then you're going to have needed to head off to the big city to turn that dream into a reality...


By this point you'll have anything from six to thirteen Skills (though most likely you'll be in the middle somewhere) so once you've reached this stage you should have a good idea of what your characters strengths and weakness are and have pushed them towards a particular concept of one kind or another so you might want to have a quick look at Pursuits (Step Ten) before you commit yourself completely.

Stage Eight - Modify
Remember that Skill you got at Step three when you flipped for your Station? Well if during Steps Five or Seven (the Skill ones) you allocated points to the same Skill then you get the point back in the form of a single XP. If however you left it at one then you can either forget about it forever, build on it later or just consider it as part of your background but it stays on your character sheet regardless.


You also get two points to improve any of your Aspects (Might, Charm, etc.) by one per point and can even put both into the same Aspect if you wish though no starting character can up an Aspect to greater than three. However you do need to spend them now...no saving them for later...

Note - I should probably logically have used mine to make Grace better than -3 but instead I spent them elsewhere as I actually wanted my Pugilist to suck at certain things...

Stage Nine - Divining Fate
Have you been keeping note of the values of those card flips you've been making? Hopefully you have because this bit is important, lol.


Each of those five card flip stages has a sentence or phrase associated with it that together forms the 'Fate' of your character. Essentially this is what the Fatemaster (your GM) uses as a rough basis for the campaign and generally each 'mission' will concentrate on one line from the 'Fate' of an individual character. Each stage complete gives you either plus one to an aspect of your choice or potentially the ability to gain a 'magic' power of some kind though the powers are very much of the 'at your Fatemasters discretion' variety. Essentially a campaign will last until every-one's Fates are complete though not every session needs to complete some-ones Fate if you have something longer in mind...

Stage Ten - Pursuit
These are the potential career paths of your character and include a number of Malifaux archetypes such as Gunfighter, Performer, Wastrel and the like.


Each session complete while on a certain Pursuit moves it up a step and will subsequently allow you access to either a General Talent (more on those in a bit) or a choice of a Pursuit Talent but those are mostly specific to certain Pursuits so a Scrapper is the only character who can get 'Melee expert', only Gunfighters get 'Quick Draw' etc. There's also usually an ability specific to that Pursuit that gives some kind of situational benefit and your free to change Pursuit between situations.

Note - My 'Scrapper' for example will probably switch to 'Criminal' next session as we're exploring the criminal underworld of the town we're in and we've already been informed that the mission will be mainly social in nature. This means that instead of going up to Step six on the Scrapper 's progression at missions end I'll stay at Step five and move to Step one of the Criminal's progression chart. You do still keep any Talents you acquired from previous Steps you just lose access to the previous Pursuits specific ability.

The reason this initial choice is important however is because you only get the Gear associated with it the first time around. A 'Drudge' gets a 25 Scrip Pneumatic limb, a Scrapper gets 25 Scrip worth of melee weapons and armour, a dabbler gets a Grimoire (a book of magic basically) and so on. Should you plan to switch to a Pursuit later that requires specific gear to make work then you may need to discuss with your Fatemaster how that's going to happen....

Stage Eleven - Derived Aspects
We now calculate things such as our Defence, Willpower, Wounds, etc. based on certain set formula. The reason this is done at this stage is that some stats are increased by certain Skills. Defence (for example) is two though this can be modified upwards if you have a positive Speed Aspect or the Evade Skill. This bit is very simple indeed...It also might make you re-think several of your Skill and Aspect choices...remember though that it's okay to have weaknesses...

Stage Twelve - Choose a Talent
As mentioned in the Pursuit Stage there are two types of Talent (Pursuit and General).

You are now allowed to select a single Talent from the 'General' section in order to develop your character a bit further. Some of these have prerequisites for taking and a few even have negative requirements and go some way to compensate for Aspect weaknesses. 'Sturdy' for example requires you to have a Grace Aspect of -1 or lower but increases your Wounds by one as presumably falling on your face a lot toughens you up a bit...


They range from the obviously useful such as Hard to Kill to the more situational like Governors' Gift that gives you a positive flip when attempting to Bewitch a certain sex (you pick either male or female regardless of your own characters sex so a male character can be charming to male NPC's if you wish) though there are no useless ones,,,with the possible exception of Hobbling Attack that I can't really see the usefulness of....

Stage Thirteen - Equipment
You now get 10 Guild Scrip to spend but before that it's worth noting a few things...


It's presumed that you have a couple of sets of clothes, that initially you have somewhere to live that's appropriate for your characters background and overall concept and you also will have gained some initial gear when you selected a Pursuit. As well as this you are also presumed to have five reloads for any weapon you own so if you have a six round revolver you will start off with thirty standard Bullets...however should you own more than one firearm the largest amount is spread across all you weapons you own...

You're also not allowed to sell your free clothes and home to buy more stuff....no really...it actually says that in the rules, lol.

Stage Fourteen - Twist Deck
As with the miniatures game you get a hand of cards that you can use to cheat the results of the main decks results. This deck is unique to each character and begins with thirteen cards (one through thirteen or Ace through King depending on your point of view). The card suits in Malifaux are quite important for certain abilities and their Triggers so you get a certain amount of choice in what suits your cards have...not a lot...but some...


Once you have these thirteen cards then your character is complete...from a mechanical point of view at least...

Now you just need another few people, some-one willing to be your Fatemaster and a convenient place to play....preferably with comfy chairs...try to pick at least one person who brings snacks as well, lol.

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the thorough guide to chargen. Does that deck come with the core book? Can a normal deck of cards be used as a substitute?

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    1. The core book doesn't come with a deck. You can use an ordinary card deck if you want (you need one with two jokers though) but it's much easier to get an official Wyrd Games one as they're not that expensive.

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