As regular readers may have noticed, I really like the Smallville Pathways method of group character generation. It’s the best system I’ve seen for simultaneously getting player buy-in, starting the PCs as relevant, and crowdsourcing setting ideas for the GM.

But, being as it’s all about the players and GM sitting around a table and drawing on a big sheet of paper, it doesn’t translate directly when playing online and/or playing with a bigger-than-normal group of players. Since I’m currently thinking about running a play-by-post game where I’m expecting at least a dozen participants, both elements need to be solved. Below is my attempt. Notes:

  • It’s obviously tuned to a Camarilla Vampire: the Masquerade game where the players are new vampires. You should be able to toggle pretty easily to lots of other things. The focus on NPCs is because I plan to ultimately spin them out into Technoir-style contacts/plot sources, so the players need to have a feel for them and their motivations early.
  • Distinctions are bolted on and I intend them to work very similarly to Marvel Heroic Roleplaying/Leverage. You can easily replace them with Aspects or similar mechanics. Care should be taken to have them not directly replicate attributes if you’re using them.
  • You may want to do this live via chat to make sure everyone’s thinking about it and responding quickly. If you coordinate via post or email, be sure to give the players reasonable deadlines but enforce them to keep the process moving.
  • The GM should turn all of the feedback into a graphical web as the process goes on, both for player visual interest and to keep the amount of information manageable.

Step 1: Clan

Choose a Clan for your character and name a Theme.

  • Available Clans: Brujah, Gangrel, Malkavian, Nosferatu, Toreador, Tremere, Ventrue
  • Themes: This is a one-word idea noun (e.g., Power, Loyalty, Fear, Loss, Immortality, etc.)

Step 2: Identity

The GM will consolidate Themes into 14 (or 7 if there are less than 20 players). Final themes may combine multiple ideas. The GM will send you a list of other players in your Clan and a list of the final Themes.

  • Communicate with the other players in your clan. Decide which of you will share a Sire. There should be no more than three players to a Sire. Coordinate with your siblings to name your Sire.
  • Choose one of the Themes from the list, and write a High-Concept Distinction that is based on it.
    • Your Concept should be something you see motivating you constantly and coming up often.
    • The Distinction is written as a short phrase or quote. It does not have to include the Theme precisely, but should be obviously derived from it.
    • “Power” might be “Occult Aspirant,” “Political Mastermind,” etc.
    • “Immortality” might be “Playing a long game,” “No Death means No Fear,” etc.
  • Name your character.

Step 3: Difficulties

The GM will send out a list of all Sires listed with their Childer (PC name and player name).

  • Assign a Theme to one Sire (it doesn’t have to be your own).
  • Invent a Location (a large building or small contained area of a few blocks within the city) and assign it to one Sire (it doesn’t have to be your own).
  • Choose one of the Themes from the list, and write a Trouble Distinction that is based on it.
    • Your Trouble should be something that is your biggest flaw, and which usually works against you; suffering for this failing and yet succeeding anyway will be a major source of Willpower.
    • It is written in a similar fashion to the Concept Distinction.
    • “Power” might be “Too easily tempted,” “Intimidated by others,” etc.
    • “Immortality” might be “Afraid to lose eternity,” “Already becoming anachronistic,” etc.
  • Write five adjectives or short adjective phrases that someone who just met your character might use to describe her appearance.

Step 4: Dangers

The GM will define each Sire’s Concept Distinction out of the assigned Themes, define each Sire’s relationship to the assigned locations, and assign the Sires roles within the city power structure and add new NPC names to fill vacancies. Once you have received this information:

  • Assign a Theme to any of the NPCs (Sires or new ones).
  • Write a short phrase that explains what you think of/how you feel about your Sire.
  • Write a short phrase that explains what you think of/how you feel about one other PC (you may want to coordinate with the player of that PC).
  • Connect yourself to one of the Locations and explain why it’s important to you.
  • Name an Antagonist or Macguffin:
    • An Antagonist is an individual or group that is hostile to most of the Kindred of the city.
    • A Macguffin is something mysterious or otherwise important to the supernaturals of the city, that they might hunt for and fight over. It could be a person, place, thing, or idea.
    • At this point, just try to give the thing a descriptive name that inspires the creativity of others. What it actually is will be further defined later.
  • Describe (in three sentences or less) what your character’s life and career was like before the Embrace.

Step 5: Ambitions

The GM will turn the assigned Themes into the NPC’s Trouble or High Concept Distinction (depending on whether it already had one) and send out all updated information.

  • Connect a Theme, Location, or NPC to an Antagonist or Macguffin (it doesn’t have to be the one you named) and define the connection.
  • Write a short phrase that explains how one NPC feels about another NPC.
  • Choose one of the Themes from the list, and write a Nature Distinction that is based on it.
    • Your Nature should be some additional facet of your character that is your biggest strength or weakness outside of your Concept and Trouble. It might be specifically tailored to help with something you expect to be your core competency.
    • It is written in a similar fashion to the Concept Distinction.
    • “Power” might be “Comfortable among the powerful,” “Discipline Prodigy,” etc.
    • “Immortality” might be “Eternally youthful beauty,” “Endlessly patient,” etc.
  • In one sentence, describe a goal your character wants to accomplish in the short term.

Step 6: Realities

The GM will send out updated information.

  • Connect a Theme, Location, or NPC to an Antagonist, Macguffin, or NPC (that do not already have a connection) and define the connection.
  • Connect your PC to a Location, NPC, Antagonist, or Macguffin (to which you do not already have a connection) and define the connection.
  • In one sentence, describe how you think your character fits into the local Camarilla society.

Step 7: Conclusion

The GM will:

  • Determine the Generation (from 7th to 12th) of each NPC based on number of connections (more interesting NPCs get lower generation). This will define the generations of each PC based on Sire.
  • Establish a final city hierarchy and titles (for both NPCs and PCs), possibly adding additional NPCs not tied directly into the hierarchy to round out the city numbers.
  • Choose the top four most-connected Themes and use them to write two city-wide Distinctions. These will effectively be truths about the city that anyone can use when appropriate, and serve as broad direction for the setting.
  • Assign two Themes (or one if there were only seven) to each Clan based on how many members of the Clan linked to that Theme, and then write a Clan Distinction based on those Themes. This Distinction will be available to all members of that Clan when appropriate, and will explain the high-level goal of that Clan within the city.
  • Use all that information to finish plotting the Chronicle.

The players will finish character creation normally based on the information decided in these steps.