Customization, Part II: Physical Appearance

In the first part of this series I mentioned how suprising it was that players are not encouraged to customize thier gear more, as it had fairly little effect on the game overall. Todays topic, characters physical appearance, is a little more complicated to make sense of customizing, but is so personal that I felt it needed to be part of this series.

First off, I think the base physical appearance of a character needs to stay roughly the same, unless you want to make plastic surgurey a prominent feature of your RPG world. That being said, there are still a ton of options for customization, some of the most obviouse that come to mind are changing hair color or getting a tattoo. It’s not nescessary to go even this far to make a substantial change though.

I like to draw on TV shows or movie series for inspiration. Consider Luke Skywalker from the original Star Wars trillogy. As the movies progress, in each one his hair gets shorter and he holds his jaw more firmly. If you saw a picture of just the actors face, you could tell which of the movies it was from. TV shows tend to do the same sort of thing, slightly altering the characters appearance from season to season.

I like to think of my RPG characters lives in “seasons”. For instance, I have a character in a western rpg, who’s on the run from a wizards guild, trying to hide out in the frontier as a gambler. For his first “season” I described him as looking very put together, with a black suit and well combed hair. During that time he was a little ackward and tended to panic in danger. I view his first season as ending in our last campaign we played, which involved a botched heist in a big city, a lot of running away from gaurds, and then my character being suprised and blasting an innocent gaurd in the chest. After alot of debate the gaurd died, and I feel like that’ll have a huge effect on my character.

I plan on describing him as looking a little less put together, with his hair always just kinda in need of a cutting and his jacket unbuttoned. I also intend on playing him as resisting his panic and trying to think in danger.

I don’t think physical appearance gets enough thought in RPG’s after the initial setup, so I’d encourage players to bring it up to thier GM’s or GM’s to ask every few adventures “Do these last few events make your character look any different?”

Game Review: Adventures in Middle Earth, Part 1, Intro

“You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Adventures in Middle Earth by Cubicle 7 is an RPG built using the 5th edition Open Gaming License from DnD. Sort of.

What a magnificent beard! Oh look, a dragon.

In 2011 Cubicle 7 published The One Ring RPG using a proprietary d6 system. (TOR is a popular game in it’s own right and has a 2nd edition coming up soon.) Five years later, Wizards of the Coast released the OGL for 5th edition. Seizing this chance to use the well established d20 system, C7 released Adventures in Middle Earth the same year. AiME is a direct port of TOR’s content into 5e’s toolset.

Halflings? Nope. This is authorized LotR.

Although this could be seen as 5e in Middle Earth, the two games are very different. I’ll be diving into more of the nuances in later parts of this review, but here are some of the basics:

AiME says yes to 5e combat and says no to magic (but not completely.)

AiME greatly expands on traveling. There are whole supplements around journeys and there is even an optional Journey Phase added to the game.

On the road again….

Goodbye alignment. AiME is about heroes. A corruption system is even present to possibly turn your hero PCs into evil NPCs.

There is definitely more to cover over the coming weeks. Adventures in Middle Earth is a real gem in the dragon hoard of 5e expansions.

Customization, Part I: Weapons and Gear

Last week I began work on my character for an RPG a friend of mine is starting. My thought for the character is a sort of “tomb robber” archetype, someone fast, clever, and very knowledgeable about artifacts and lore.

As I looked at this new character I began to wonder about his equiptment. The dagger made sense to me, it seemed like the weapon my character would most prefer. However, I also had a bow and a shortsword. The sword I could explain away, he ackwardly carried it befause his mentor said that he had to. The bow made sense for hunting but seemed kind of bulky for tomb raiding, so I decided that I’d describe it as a very small bow, even if the GM gave me a penalty for that. I came up with quite the custom design for this bow, and because of that I feel more attached to the character.

I’ve noticed a trend in RPG’s both those I’ve played and those I’ve listened to, that during character creation the GM will allow a lot of gear and weapon customization, so that players will get more invested in thier characters. Then, as the game progresses, GM’s tend to resist customized gear. Shops only offer simple, standard weapons and equiptment. Customizing weapons is costed out, either with time taken, risk of failure, or actual gold cost.

Based largely off of how much customizing this characters weapons has helped me visualize him, I want to try to allow more creativity throughout any games that I run. Easy examples of this are giving simple, cheap oppertunities for costume changes, having shopkeepers ask things like “Ya want anything engraved on the blade?”, and allowing players to work on gear without much chance of destroying it.

One easy way to allow custom weapons that I’ve though of would be to allow players to embed jewels in the hilts of daggers, swords, and revolvers. I GM’ed a game in which I rolled on loot tables. Very quickly the players accuired s few small bags of gems. I had no ideas for them other than “Trade them in for gold at the next town.” The gems were a bit of a disappointment to get in that campaign, but imagine how much fun it would be to have a customized sword hilt, or bow, or gauntlets. A player could decide to make a certain gem part of thier characters “theme”, and might even rejoice when they get that last ruby they needed to craft a complete set of ruby arrowheads.

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