Friday, 3 January 2014

Characters in Monitors, a first glance

So, making Monitors. Which is to say, PCs for the game.

My basic plan is something like this (in approximate order):

  • Select Species. Now or at any future point, make fluff choices as necessary.
  • Select Background.
  • Allocate spare Attribute points, or choose a template.
  • Select 2 Spells (note to self, design more spells!).
  • Select any 3 of Spell, Enhancement or Relic.
  • Select equipment.

Because they are fun, I will probably aim to create an alternate chargen system that uses background history to determine Attributes and some of the other options, but that's very much a nice-to-have.

While I think things like connections to other PCs, family and so on are nice in games, I'm not convinced they are necessary as mechanical or even obligatory-fluff aspects of Monitors, a game about being a cybernetic reptilian secret agent space warlock.


Background offers some situational bonuses when your characters deals with things that should be familiar to them. I'm not sure yet whether I'd rather do this with loose and player-defined backgrounds, or with something more like Traits/Feats that offer specific advantages. Careers will probably be loose. Things like homeworld and upbringing could be "pick some stuff about your background", or could be "pick three traits from this list". Everything apart from career will be optional, because it's easy to say your upbringing was nondescript, whereas the job that got you into the Monitors seems a lot more significant.


Monitoring isn't like adventuring; nobody grows up as a Monitor, so you must have done something before you were admitted to the organisation. You might still do a bit of it. So what is your character's previous career? Common options might include:

  • Private Eye
  • Armed Forces (pick one)
  • Law Enforcement
  • Criminologist
  • Doctor
  • Academic
  • Experimental Scientist
  • Anthropologist
  • Paranormal Investigator
  • Programmer
  • Diplomat
  • Accountant
  • Technician
  • Performing Artist
  • Librarian
  • Engineer
  • Naturalist

You can invoke your career for a +2 bonus when you're dealing with situations relevant to that career. For example, a Doctor has experience of how things are done in hospitals, knows how to socialise with other doctors, can probably clear a way through a crowd, and is at an advantage in impersonating a nurse or anaesthetist because they understand something of the role. A performing artist will know industry rumours and personalities, knows theatre layouts and procedures, understands what circus gear or lighting equipment is for, and has probably picked up a smattering of all kinds of skills from other performers that aren't directly modelled as Attributes. A technician has rapport with other mechanically-minded types, is used to getting into places where nobody recognises them, can probably invent plausible excuses for being somewhere, and may have a lot of experience of building layouts, naval procedures, city infrastructure, or whatever is suitable to their area of work.

Background should offer bonuses for familiar situations and background knowledge, not simply act as flat bonuses to Attributes. Being a Doctor does not grant an effective +2 to your Medicine rolls.

As a theme note, the Monitor Organisation is keen to keep its reputation clean, and that means a wary eye on recruiting policies. Criminal backgrounds should be avoided; if your character was a bit of a tearaway in their youth that's one thing, but actual career criminals are not going to make it into the Monitors without some seriously exceptional circumstances. In particular, serious crime will be an absolute no-no.


Homeworlds are an optional background step. A homeworld can be basically anything, from a lush jungle world to a dystopian colony ship to a freezing moon.

A homeworld with high or low gravity means characters are more used to those situations, and less likely to be inconvenienced. In the opposite gravity, though, they are more likely to struggle.

A homeworld with dense or thin atmosphere means characters are more practiced with respiratory gear and handling the effects of atmosphere sickness, but they are more vulnerable to the opposite atmosphere.

Traits like high or low temperature affect a character's competence with suitable survival gear, but don't affect their thermal capacity.

A planet's social traits, like being densely-populated, remote, low-tech or autocratic, give the character some insight into other planets with similar societies.


Upbringing is an optional background step. It relates to the circumstances of your childhood, the opportunities and connections you had, and your place in society. You might be from a privileged noble family, part of an egalitarian herding tribe, or brought up in a commune by anyone who was passing. Whatever your adult attitudes and career, you can't help picking up something from your childhood environment.


Templates are a quick and dirty way to create a particular type of character, by giving pre-spent blocks of skill points. I'll rustle up some basic archetypes like Infiltrator, Grease Monkey, Detective and Special Forces.


I already talked about spells a lot elsewhere. Most likely, if I can ever come up with a decent list of interesting ones, everyone will have about three.


Ah, cybernetics. All Monitors have a few minor implants that I've mentioned before. Enhancements are the real deal. Bionic limbs. Electonic eyes. Biomechanical organs. Expensive nanotech. Implanted weapon systems.

As yet I am not entirely sure how these will work.


You can't have a sorcerous game without arcane relics. At least, it seems less fun that way. Relics aren't compulsory because, while I want both science and magic to be core to the game, I feel like Spells already handle the magic thing, and making everyone have a relic and cybernetics and spells would make them just a little bit too copy-paste somehow.

Relics will cover things from magic rings and amulets to enchanted statuettes, mystical capes, boxes of mysterious powders, wands, staves and rods, magic boots, runic blades, ensorcelled shields, crystal balls and all that magical jazz.

As yet I am not entirely sure how these will work.


Monitors is supposed to be more of an iconic than a dramatic game, so as with all those weekend cartoon shows and other inspirations, characters very rarely make significant changes to their equipment. This is not a loadout-of-the-week game. During character creation, you pick your character's favoured and habitual gadgets, clothing, weapons and other gear. Individual adventures might require things like atmosphere suits, diving gear, harpoon guns or experimental jetpacks, but those are specific to the plot.

For now, I'm going to keep it loose and say you pick "an amount of equipment that you reasonably expect to use, most of which you can reasonably carry simultaneously". I don't want people having loads of stuff because I think it'll water down the interestingness and fun of what you do pick. I also don't want the classic issue of people allegedly carrying six broadswords, a fusion rifle, four hundred arrows, a thousand gold pieces, the head of a manticore and six weeksworth of rations, despite being a scrawny 5'4" wizard with a knife sheath and a belt pouch.

I'm pretty happy to handwave outfits. Characters wear stuff, or not, if you prefer.

As yet I am not entirely sure how these will work.

Hey, look at that well-defined game right there! ....sigh.


  1. Generally liking the shape of this. Although I appreciate that you're keen on everybdoy being a secret-agent-cyborg-wizard, I do wonder if it wouldn't be better to just let everybody pick five spells/relics/enhancements rather than insisting on everybody having two spells. Currently you have the option to be an *all* magic character (taking all spells) but not a no-magic character.

    1. Technically not quite - you have the option to take only the default enhancements (which are pre-selected), and the option to take only the two default spells (which aren't). You're also always going to be using technology, whether it's welded to your flesh or in a rucksack. There is no option to be magic-only and more than there is to be tech-only. But I know what you mean and it's something I was already mulling over.

      To some extent I'm not convinced, though, because it sort of comes down to what is assumed to be basic to the system. As an analogy, nobody in D&D* gets to choose whether or not they can use weapons - they might choose different proficiencies, or pick classes with varying competence, but using a weapon to fight stuff is an intrinsic part of the system even if you have zero weapon proficiencies and suffer a -20 penalty to attacks. On the other hand, casting spells is a very specific skill, as is backstabbing, and only specific people can attempt it. My concept of Monitors has always been that every PC has spells - apart from anything else it ties in to the heat point system. I might well play around with the numbers for everything, but I'm not really keen to allow the option for no-magic characters, both because it seems to undermine what I was going for, and because if you're running an organisation of people who use magic and tech to sort out supernatural and mundane problems, it doesn't particularly make sense to employ staff who don't want use magic.

      From a slightly different angle, I'm also slightly concerned that it would cause balance problems, because it's quite possible that five enhancements is flat-out better than five spells, since they're designed to be complementary rather than equivalent. Or vice versa, though that seems less likely.

      *Okay, I'm sure there is a splatbook somewhere.

  2. Shock! How could I forget the most important thing? Selecting languages!