Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Demon City Character Generation

This is stuff for the new game I'm writing and painting, Demon City, donate to the Patreon here.

This is the OLD VERSION the new one is all done with tarot cards and clarifies a bunch of things.

--------------------------- CHARACTER GENERATION

This'll all be laid out in a fancier, easier-to-follow way in the final book, and I
m pretty sure I can get it all to be obvious right on the character sheet, like I did with Night's Black Agents, but this'll do for now to get people up and running who want to roll...

There are two ways to make a character: totally random and custom.

To make a custom character, simply read down this page in order and follow the directions.

To make a totally random character, scroll down to “Characteristics” roll 1d10 divided by two (round up) for each characteristic. If you roll a 9 or 10 roll again--if you roll another 9 or 10, the stat is 5, if not, it is 2.

Then scroll up to Roles—pick or randomly roll a Role (keeping in mind each group can only start with a maximum of one Problem and must include at least one non-Friend), adjust your Characteristics (points over a maximum for a given Role are lost), then follow the directions for Occupation, Contacts, Skills, and The Rest.

Random characters will, on average, have better Characteristics than custom characters.


Roles are kind of like classes in other games, but instead of jobs, they describe what your relationship to The Corruption that Demon City characters investigate when the session starts. Characters can grow out of their original motives over time, but this is why they start.


The Curious character is motivated by fascination. Typically an academic or a former paid Investigator, the curious character wants to know what’s causing this problem, where did it come from? And maybe even…can it be controlled?

-The Curious character cannot regain (or gain) Calm during Downtime if they run away from a situation where they might learn more about the origin of The Horror during a session.
-The Curious character gains 3 extra Knowledge Skills or 5 extra free points in existing Knowledge Skills.

Panic mode:

The curious character's panic will come in the form of fascination. In addition to this general role-playing prompt, in the round after they hit 0 Calm they must try to find out something new about the situation they're in.


The Friend doesn’t know what all this is about and doesn’t want to guess. But the friend is loyal to someone else on the case and that’s what counts.

-Every party must include at least one non-friend.
-The Friend can have one of their alotted skills "float", unassigned--yet to be determined. They get to choose it whenever they like--if it will help whoever they are friends with.
-The Friend maintains a sense of detachment and perspective, giving them a +1 to Perception or Calm, free.

Panic mode:

When in a panic, the friend character's loyalty will override everything and they'll try to get whichever character they are most loyal to (or one of the characters they are most loyal to) out of the situation. In addition, they must spend the next round after they hit 0 Calm trying to get their friend out of the situation.


Someone wants to get to the bottom of this, and they’re paying the Investigator to do it. The Investigator is typically a private detective, or--up until the supernatural gets obviously involved and the department decides it's bullshit--a cop, but they can also be a journalist, an insurance adjuster, or almost anything else.

-The Investigator gains one extra Skill, free.
-The Investigator gains one extra contact, free.
-The Investigator gains one extra Skill or contact, free.
-The Investigator's maximum starting Cash is 3.

Panic mode:

Used to relying on method, and here for practical reasons, the investigator in a panic is simply less effective. In addition, the must spend the next round after they hit 0 Calm either fleeing or acting with only 1 die.


Like the Victim (below), the Problem starts the game having already come in contact with the enemy, only for the Problem, the scars are not just mental, but physical and even spiritual. The Problem is manifesting strange abilities and aversions. The Problem may be possessed, they may have dawning psychic abilities, they may be turning into something more than human. 

-There may only be one Problem per game group
-Problem’s max starting Calm is 3
-Each session, the Problem gains abilities specific to the brand of Problem they are. In the final rules, there’ll be an option available for the kind of players who want to actually choose what kind of paranormal creature they’re becoming, but for now only the option where it’s a surprise is available.

Panic mode:

The problem will revert to instinct when in a panic. In the round after they hit 0 Calm they must use their special abilities


They say victimhood doesn’t define you--well, for The Victim it does, at least at the start of the game. Something terrible has happened to the character or one of their loved ones and it’s left a scar.

-Victims max starting Calm is 4
-Victims’ earnestness is manifest—they automatically gain the Persuasion skill equal to their Appeal plus one.
-The Victim is almost preternaturally aware of signs relating to the Horror--add one to their Perception stat. If it's already at 5, add one to all Perception-based skills and add 2 to one of them.

Panic Mode

The victim in a panic is energized. In the round after they hit 0 Calm they will act with 1 additional die if it is against the entity or entities they believe to have hurt them, and will keep that die for that purpose until the menace is defeated or driven off.


Characters in Demon City have Characteristics and Skills. Characteristics are broad descriptors, skills are things which require specific training that not all modern humans can be expected to possess.

Some common learned aptitudes like swimming, driving, using a cell phone are so common that they do not have a specific skill associated, but the lack of that ability is noted separately. All of these numbers are called “Stats”.

To make a new custom character, roll 1d10 divided by two (round down, unlike a totally random character) seven times, then assign the characteristics as you see fit. If you roll a 1 on the die or a 10 on the die roll again. If you re-roll a 1, your score is 0, if you re-roll a 10, your score is 5, otherwise your score is 2.

If you decide your character has a major disability not covered by a low Toughness score—they can’t, for instance, see or can’t hear or can’t walk without assistance or have one arm or one hand—they gain 2 extra points to put into Characteristics of their choice. 

Characteristics for humans are ranked 0-5 
0: Terrible
1: Bad
2: Average
3: Good
4: Very good
5: World class

These are:


(CATPACK for short)


Any modern occupation is fair game in Demon City. In the final game there’ll be a list of jobs you might have for inspiration but other than determining what your Occupational Skill is (see below) and your Contacts, it doesn’t directly impact anything in character generation. So just go ahead and pick something for now.


The number of contacts you have when the game starts is equal to your Appeal or Cash, whichever is higher. 

Contacts are people you know and can ask for a favor. One will be associated with your job, you can assign the rest at the start by randomly rolling on a Vornheim-like chart I haven’t made yet or let them float until you decide you want to have a contact in a certain field.

(If you let them float, when you want a contact you make an Appeal check against a Host-chosen number (depending on how likely your character as-played-up-until-that-point would know such a person) to see if you happen to have one. Once you’ve filled up all of these slots you have to meet new people in-game.)


Skills are associated with a characteristic—they are ranked 1-9 for humans and are always at least one point higher than their associated characteristic score.

New characters start with 1 Occupational Skill at Perception +1, which is a custom skill representing what they know about their own job (things like student and stay-at-home-parent count). If your job already is a skill on the list, like, for instance, you’re a burglar so your job is basically Burglary/Theft, you may choose to take that skill at Perception +2 instead of taking the Occupational skill. 

In addition to any Skill budget provided by their Role, new characters get:
-The Simple Way: 5 Skills at (whatever the associated Characteristic is) +1
-The Complicated Way: 10 Skill Points which work like this-- a whole new Skill at (Characteristic+1) costs 2 points, and adding points to a Skill after that costs 1 point. Maximum of 9. Spend them all now.

If your character can’t swim, drive, read, or use a cell phone/computer, you get 2 extra skills or 3 points to use on existing skills for each of these problems you have.

The Skills and their associated characteristics are:
(purple stuff was added March 25th)

Driving (it’s assumed you can drive, this is fancy driving, and also general car trivia)

Exotic Weapon (this includes pre-modern things not covered under melee or firearms like bows, throwing knives, whips, etc. You have to pick one specifically, but you get it at +2)
Pilot/Drive Other (anything not a car that requires training: motorcycle, boat, helicopter, plane--pick one)

Toughness or Agility, whichever is higher
Athletics (choose a specific sport or kind of training: swimming, triathalon, tennis, mountain climbing, etc)
Hand to hand combat (includes using most melee weapons like swords, clubs, brass knuckles, etc, and knives when not thrown)

Occupational (soldier, student, truck driver, etc—this represents your current job)
Outdoor Survival/Tracking
Therapy (talking other people down from disturbing incidents)

Deception (this includes both ability to disguise yourself, and acting/lying generally)
Persuasion (this is mostly just what Appeal is used for, but it’s a skill because otherwise a character with Deception would always be better at lying than telling the truth)

Humanities (you get Humanities equal to Knowledge+1 and choose a specific subject—Literature, Anthropology, History, etc—you get that free, at Knowledge+2. Additional concentrations cost the same as getting an all new skill but are also at Knowledge +2.)
Local Knowledge (this is for wherever you live now unless you specify otherwise)
Other Languages (Pick one)
Science (you get Science equal to Knowledge+1 and choose a specific subject—Biology, Chemistry, etc—you get that free at Knowledge+2. Additional concentrations cost the same as getting an all new skill but are also at Knowledge +2.)

Perception or Knowledge, whichever is higher

The Rest

Looking at the details you’ve got, tie it all together. Give your PC an age and a name and decide what they look like and you’re ready to go.


Jojiro said...

Why the "whichever is higher" scores?

Is that a reflection of you just wanting to boost the average competency of the character, while still maintaining unique characteristic ability-score-likes?

Also, and this is a broader, less Demon City question, I've noticed a few indie games that use Cash or Coin or Wealth as a stat instead of a resource management system, but I've never played those games.

How does it work, and does it ever stretch belief that you can handwave having cash or not?

Zak Sabbath said...

The "whichever is higher" score has 2 main reasons:

-In terms of imitating life and genre:
There is more than one way to be good at something. So you might be good at hand-to-hand because of how tough you are, you might be good because of how agile you are.

-In terms of playability:
If it didn't work this way, there'd be a lot of times where a Characteristic would be higher than a Skill that's closely related, and so would involve the player in dull system-mastery challenges where they're trying to find a way to solve a problem that relies on Agility instead of Athletics for instance.

This way, you are good at Athletics, you describe the way you're good at Athletics and the Characteristic that makes you good at it and the player can play their character more like the way it looks on the page.
The Demon City system for Cash will have 2 parts...

1-You roll a test to see if you have enough money on hand to afford something

2-If you don't, you can risk losing points off Cash permanently (or at least until something external boosts them) to buy it anyway, depending on how close it is to your Cash level.

Marvel Superheroes works like 1 and I've never seen it give any problems--thought that's largely because buying stuff isn't that big a part of most games as usually played.

As long as cash isn't a species of treasure (ie an engine for xp) it usually works fine.

jopoland said...

"There may only be one Problem per game group"

How about changing this to "if there is more than one Problem per game group, all of them must have had the same contact with the same enemy at the same time"?

The change would make it easier for people who want to play a Problem to avoid needing to roll up a second character to play if the Problem slot is already taken. And "touched by darkness" is too tempting an origin to expect it to be a rare choice.

Konsumterra said...

calm based skills?

im reminded a little bit of marvel

Zak Sabbath said...

Marvel Superheroes by Grubb definitely is a touchstone.

Those aptitudes (which would be Characteristics) are definitely Calm-influenced in the moment but not in a way that the game needs to run and make sense--except "courage" which is folded into "Calm".

Anonymous said...

Your persuasion delima comes from misclassifying deception as a skill rather than treating it as what it is: persuading someone something you don't believe. If you just had persuasion and give penalties for lying (or bonuses for Ruth telling) the dilemma goes away.

Zak Sabbath said...

That's not a "misclassification" you've made a mistake--basically what you're saying is there's two ways to do exactly the same mechanic and both of them require doing something unusual.

One requires recognizing that some people are trained in for example acting and the other one requires recognizing that for example acting is specialized and would incur penalties either way it's exactly the same mechanic expressed in two different ways

Anonymous said...

I failed to get my idea across, sorry, allow me to try again.

RPG skills (in whatever system) are for resolving a conflict (PC vs NPC or PC vs environment) by "modeling" things people can do in real life. If there is no conflict, there is no need for the skill: you barista is willing to sell you a coffee, you don't need to persuade her. Now if you want her to give it to you free, we have a conflict.

What real world skills to "model" is down to the choice of the designer, so what follows is totally my own thoughts and I am total cool if you think they are off target.

I start by focusing on the conflict - I want to do X and the NPC doesn't want me to. I am going to overcome their resistance by communicating with them, verbally and non-verbally, using appeals to both reason and emotion. My communication may include a mix of truth, half-truth and outright lies and I have a range of approaches available from begging to threatening. My choice of technique is influenced by my source of power in the situation (Yukl, 1998, French and Raven, 1957).

So, the RPG designer decides that a skill is needed to model this conflict resolution. D&D 5e decided this should be 3 skills (Deception, Persuasion and Intimidate), you have decided to make it 2 (Deception and Persuasion) and have indicated that you are not happy with introducing persuasion. My idea is to just have one, I would call it "Negotiation" to make a clear break with the preconceptions we all carry from other RPG experiences.

Havinga one skill fits all allows minor conflicts to be rolled and resolved without worrying about the PC's approach: do we care if you got your free coffee because you lied or because of your roguish good looks? No? Roll the dice and move along.

For major conflicts where approach does matter or will have longer role-playing effects (someone who was deceived or threatened will usually have a negative attitude to this) then you can engage the players in how they approach the negotiations. If their technique corresponds with their power base you can give bonuses. If their technique is based on a bald-faced lie you can give penalties. Alternatively, you can give the other party the chance to perceive these lies - they do have a Perception stat after all - this would make the negotiation more difficult or impossible.

As an aside, I also think its a mistake to conflate lying with acting. Lying involves a conflict: the person you are lying to is trying to detect that lie. Acting involves willing suspension of disbelief: the audience knows you're lying but doesn't care if you do it well enough. Acting skills may make you a better liar but I don't think it automatically follows.

Zak Sabbath said...

Going on what I know about actors and what I've read about Espionage and Police Undercover work I think it's very safe to say that acting and lying are closely Allied and their own skill and that they are not simply outgrowths of General charm or appeal.

People who are generally unappealing can be good at lying or acting therefore it's a skill if it's something that comes up a lot in the game and it is something that would come up a lot in the game

spike said...

i think the curious deserves a better example than an unpaid investigator, especially since you already got the investigator as a class. maybe priest/spiritualist/monster obsessed alt chick? they crop up alot in monster films to serve the same role as an academic

Charlie said...

If there is ever a physical book for this game, and that book has a marketing blurb on it, I hope it mentions CATPACK. That is fuckin awesome.

Jojiro said...

The acronym is nice. Whimsical and endearing in a setting that looks to be grueling or at least ominous.

I wonder if it's a foreshadowing of theme - this game may end up (at the table) being about finding endearing moments of whimsy in a crapsack, ominous city.

Charlie said...

I think that it's inevitable people playing a horror game will have some moments of whimsy and humor, like with any other genre of tabletop. CATPACK is there to remind us.

Also reminds me of SPECIAL from the Fallout games. Maybe when someone makes a horror spiritual successor to Fallout 1 & 2, with the big open sandbox and all the ways through conflicts and quests, they'll base the system off of this one, and send Zak lucre.

Bruno said...

So would Ash Williams be a Victim as the last survivor of the first Evil Dead, or could he arguably be a Problem given that he's a chainsaw-handed Promised One?

Zak Sabbath said...

@bruno galan

i think in 2 & after he's the Problem

Bruno said...

Will there be a system in place for a non-Problem player to transition into that role or will that be up to house rules?