Characters in the Abstract

A few weeks ago I started contemplating the idea of having much more abstract rules for character creation. But what do I mean by abstract in this case? “Abstract” for me means having a player create a character less by filling out a character sheet, but more about writing out some description of the character and running with it.

Abstract Dice Image

Abstract Dice Image - from

When it comes right down to it, your typical party of PCs doesn’t really need much to describe it. Sure, most games use character sheets to note scores, skills, and stuff for each character as reminders of how to describe such things, but do we really need it?

What if we could simply take a character concept and describe a few basic things:

  1. How does your character appear to the others? (A brief paragraph that you can read or hand to a player to answer this essential question.)
  2. How does your character see him or herself? (Another brief paragraph that is more for the player than anyone else.)
  3. How does your character behave around other people? (What is the character’s personality like? Are there any behavioral triggers that produce an emotional response?)
  4. What is your character good at? (A list of the top 5 things the character does well.)
  5. What is your character bad at? (A list of the top 5 things the character does poorly.)
  6. What does your character own? (A list of the “stuff” your character has currently on his or her person.)

Now… Some may not like that this approach takes a lot of writing. I know many people who think writing is evil, difficult, and to be avoided at all costs. So it could probably be boiled down to a set of lists.

Some of these qualities would change over time, so you’d still need a character sheet to write things down on.

And the only thing missing is a way to resolve actions and/or damage in combat. If you boil #4 and #5 down to simple lists of common skills or actions (i.e. Swordsmanship, Acrobatics, Jumping, etc…) you could use a single die and modify it…

So let’s say you get, in your top 5 “good” actions – an Amazing, an Excellent, two Goods, and an OK. Your “Amazing” action would get you your base die + 4 dice. Your “Excellent” would get you your base + 3, etc. Or perhaps it’s just the base die + 4, 3, 2, 1… Though people like to roll lots of dice sometimes, so who knows…

Same on the other side… A “Horrible”, “Poor”, etc… Maybe we don’t really need this and just go with the base die for anything not explicitly called out in the “good” actions. Naked roll.

And it’s just roll vs. roll. Each character would have 5 “hits” before unconsciousness and a coup-de-grace hit after that kills them. Each time an action resolves not in favor of the PC, it counts against a “hit”. And they heal a “hit” per “day” in the game.

This is beginning to sound suspiciously like the old Vampire game with its dots. :)

Are there any games out there that already work this way? Or have you played with more abstract roleplaying concepts in the past? Let’s start a conversation! I’d be interested to see where things end up…


This article has 2 comments

  1. callin Reply

    Amber did much the same thing only they took it one step further and eliminated die rolls. Instead of rolling dice you compared the descriptors and that would tell you who won. Awesome swordskill beat Pretty Good swordskill.
    The problem with “abstract” stats and systems is that you are one step away from turning your RPG game into a narrative/storytelling game and I don’t mean in the context of something like Vampire, which purports to be a storytelling game. I mean, you sit around the table telling stories…and nothing else.
    For me, a RPG has to involve the test of chance and for that you need numbers. Anything else is a bunch of people sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories.
    callin´s last blog post ..Quick Tip- Cheap Miniatures

    • Fitz

      @callin – I definitely agree. There has to be dice involved. I’m just trying to figure out how to jumpstart the initial character dev time so that you can create a character and *bam* you’re in the adventure immediately. But without dice, it’s almost an improv session on stage rather than roleplaying. And I’m not much of a LARPer. :)

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