Head first into the pool of character creation

My Experiment with the Extremely Detailed Character Creation Method and the Lessons I learnt.

Since the release of Apprentices and my discovery of Angus MacDonald’s brilliant example I have been motivated to try out the Extremely Detailed Character Creation Method.


I would eventually like my players to use this method but I wanted to give it a thorough go before turning it loose. My hope was that if players do what Angus has done and justify what is happening it will give a better understanding of their characters.

So to begin;
The first thing was to set some guidelines for myself. As Apprentices points out characters developed using this method depend heavily on what resources are available.

Like Angus I assumed that I would be using the characters and resources of the covenant of Semita Errabunda, as these are available and checkable. Players can mix and match the Library as they wish but the levels must remain. Also any of the Grogs or Companions from the AM5 Main rulebook are available to act as teachers.

For the Master I established the following rules.
Attribute matching. He will have the same Communication that the apprentice does. No using your Com as a dump stat but giving the Master Legendary levels. My assumption is that teachers will tend to attract students who are similar to themselves. Or the pupil adapts to match the teacher.
Virtue Matching. If the player wants the master to have Good Teacher, or Puissant Teaching then the Apprentice also has to have it. This will discourage players creating a master specifically designed to be a great teacher, unless the player also wants his apprentice to grow up and be a great teacher. I have no problem with a Great Teacher inspiring a line of Great Teachers.

Players can choose whatever childhood packages they like.
Before apprenticeship begins players may have their characters spend time with whatever companions they wish. A master will quite often utilise the services of a scholar to teach Latin and give a basic education. Semita Errabunda has an appropriate level scholar as does the AM5 rule book.
I am assuming that the master has at some interest in his apprentice’s education. Not much interest, but some. So he can have Teaching at level 2. And because the master is not a complete arsehole he can have an appropriate speciality (usually Apprentices).
The master will provide the usual 1 season of training per year plus an addition season once every five years. Isn’t he a most generous master? Of course The Opening of the Arts has to be one of these seasons.
The apprentice must have at least 30 seasons of gaining nothing but Exposure XP.
The remaining 12 seasons can be spent any way the player wishes, either in the Library or training with an expert, or anything else.
I did all of this on a spreadsheet.

The Flavour Text.
Rather than this being a bookkeeping exercise I want players to describe what they are doing and why. It doesn’t have to be much, just a line or two. It they can do a paragraph if they feel it is an important character development moment they want to explain in greater depth.
An example from Angus’s work “Darius is spending time working on new spells in the lab. He brings in Steffan to help him out a bit. Steffan gains Exposure to Magic Theory, so now he has a score of Magic Theory 1 (5). While the boy is not so happy about being forced to help out, at least he is learning something about magic”.

Then I thought about Virtues. Write a line or two about the apprentices Virtues. Do this in 3 seasons for each point of Virtue. This means a major virtue will have to be written about 9 times. I suggested that the first mention could be how the apprentice got or recognised he had the virtue. The second could be how he uses it or how it affects his normal life. The third mention an unusual or unexpected side effect.

Now do the same for Flaws.
This means that every season there should be a line or two talking about virtues or flaws.
“Darius receives quite the surprise when he discovers that Steffan takes to Ignem rather better than expected! The Source Quality is 8, but due to Affinity with Ignem, this actually counts as 12. In a single season, Steffan jumps from Ignem 0 to Ignem 4 (2).”

I decided that I wanted to do more than this so instead of a line or two I did a paragraph or two. For those that like math this means 90 paragraphs on training and another 90 on virtues/flaws (15 years times 4 seasons times 1 or 2 paragraphs).

By this stage I was having a fine time writing about my character. More flavour text was obviously in order.
Once a year write a line or two describing what is happening in the world outside your covenant. My suggestion is to use wiki to find a battle or some other historical event happening that year.
“Later that year the King and his knights passed by on their way north to put down a rebellion. Eric would have liked to have joined the covenants boys cheering them on but there was lab equipment to clean after the mishap with the soup”

Once a year write a line or two describing what is happening in the Covenant. The consequences of an expedition gone bad, or renovations of a library. The Covenants book is full of ideas. Perhaps the covenant is on half rations until a money problem is sorted out.

Each year describe an interaction with an NPC, preferably one with an emotional effect. This can be used to describe the apprentice’s emerging personality traits. A line or two about a fleeting romance is always a suggestion.

Each year describe the apprentice’s interaction with one of the Covenants Features/Boons/ or Hindrances.“Igor threw the offending item into the covenant’s stagnant moat knowing no one would ever look for it there.”

For me this added up to an extra 90 paragraphs, for 270 paragraphs in total with about 27,000 words over 37 hand written pages. I imagine players are going to baulk when told to produce character backgrounds in novella format.

Lessons Learned
I finished this last night and have a chance to reflect on what I have done. While I have had a great time I do seem to have veered from the original goal of creating a character for use in a game.

I have learnt two important lessons

  1. What seems like a good idea in your mind does not always work out that way when you get it on down on paper.
  2. It’s a good thing I can still do my day job as an accountant as I make a terrible novelist.

I just thought I would share my experience.

My own forays into playing with extremely detailed character creation resulted in a similar discovery: it's very, very, very time consuming!

While it does create a character with a very detailed backstory, I think you can get similar results by asking for a quick line about stuff that happened every year or two. Thinking about things like where the character was born, where they grew up, when their Gift manifested, what the start of their apprenticeship was like, where they apprenticed, some anecdotes about their apprenticeship overall and finally a brief outline of the Gauntlet will give you pretty much the same level of story-relevant detail for a lot less work!

I have a couple of senior magi NPCs in my current saga - one of which I did a detailed development of, the other of which I used the quick-build system for. The second is actually a more interesting character to play because I didn't let the numbers get in the way of a good backstory.

Working through the same thing with two characters. One is an apprentice that is supposed to be just two years shy of Gauntlet and the other is a 45-year-old very wealthy merchant.

I got 15 minutes in and realized that it would take far too long so I caved and did the normal character gen process so I would have the characters ready when needed, but then I went BACK to the write-your-own-character's-diary mode. I have to say it is helping out a bit in that having a roadmap speeds up the process a great deal. Still working it through, but it does make it go faster.

SO, my advice is to follow the same approach. Do regualr characer generation first as an outline and then do the extreme. Much easier on time.

Just my two pawns...


That's what I did too, Exocet that I used a spreadsheet as a template.

I will say that I did have a lot of fun writing up the character but it is a labour of love and should be optional for players