Harbinger had a really cool idea about drafting from custom cards to make a character for an RPG. Go read it for the explanations, as I’m just going to riff on it here for Pathfinder.

Under this version:

  • For each player, pull 11 cards plus one per player (so if you have four players, pull 15 per player or 60 total). Keep the extra to the side in a blind-draw pile for players that get stuck with only cards they can’t choose (certain cards prohibit keeping further cards of the same type). 11 cards results in 21-point-buy characters, so increase or decrease the number of cards (at 3 points per card) if you want stronger or weaker PCs.
  • Shuffle them thoroughly and then distribute to the players to draft per Harbinger’s guidelines. There are two options
    • Give them all the cards at once, evenly distributed. This gives the players maximum control over their characters but they’re going to see the same cards over and over.
    • Separate them into smaller pods of as few as one more than the number of players (so every set of cards goes around once and leaves one discard). This makes character creation far more random, but makes it far more likely that you’re going to feel like the hand of cards you get at the start is full of possibilities for you.
  • Every player should ultimately keep 11 cards, which should leave a discard pile of unchosen cards.
    • The player gains the listed KEEP effect of every card in his or her hand. If the player kept a DISCARD card, only the listed ability score matters.
    • The GM should look at the remaining cards not held by any players. Any DISCARD effect on those cards now applies to the campaign. The ability score and any KEEP effects on the cards are ignored.
  • Every player should total up the number of cards of each ability score, and raise the ability score from 8 using those points (e.g., if you have three cards in Strength, you have a Strength 15, because it takes 9 points to go from 8 to 15 using point buy).
    • Once all scores are assigned, take the remainder points and distribute them freely (e.g., if you have two cards in Dexterity, you have 13 with one point left over, because it would take seven points to get to 14; you can move that extra point to push something else up to the next level, or find another point somewhere else to raise Dex to 14). Scores cannot go above 18 (which would require at least seven cards of the same ability).
    • If you want more integration of PCs, you can have each card be worth 2 points to the player that kept it and 1 point to the player to his or her right. This will likely result in PCs with scores closer to the average.
  • If a player did not keep any cards that assign a race, he or she may choose Human, Half-Elf, or Half-Orc. If a player did not keep any cards that allow access to a class, he or she may choose Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, or Wizard (and must justify later multiclasses into a class not among those four with in-game training with a member of the class).
  • Players should now know their race, scores, class options, relationships, quests, and secrets. They will also know if their discards created ramifications for them in the campaign world. They should start discussing character backgrounds to fulfill all these details and the other stated goals of the campaign.

I’ve made printable cards for the examples listed below. You can download the PDF here or the editable DOC here.

Example cards:

STRENGTH

  • CLASS – KEEP: Barbarian; You may start play as a Barbarian, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Druid; You may start play as a Druid, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Monk; You may start play as a Monk, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Paladin; You may start play as a Paladin, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Cavalier; You may start play as a Cavalier, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • SECRET – KEEP: Blackmail; You have blackmail material on the local captain of the city/town guard
  • SECRET – KEEP: Blackmail; You have blackmail material on the local leader’s personal bodyguard
  • QUEST – KEEP: Heirloom Weapon; One of the weapons you purchased at creation is your family weapon; it is automatically masterwork and has hidden magic potential unlocked via quests
  • QUEST – KEEP: The Dragon; You know the exact location of a dragon’s hoard… now you just have to take care of the dragon
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Sporting Rival; You have a healthy rivalry with the PC* with the matching card; +2 Morale bonus on any Str- or Dex-based skill check to accomplish something your rival just did successfully; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Sibling/True Friend; You are the sibling (or lifelong friend if different race/also lovers) of the PC* with the matching card; Aid Another to help sibling/friend is +3 instead of +2; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • PARAGON – KEEP: Built like a Bull; You are massively built and able to exert surprising strength; you gain +4 to all Strength-based rolls to open, break, or move inanimate objects, but you’re automatically as tall and heavy as possible for your race and gender (pass all further PARAGON cards)
  • RACE – DISCARD: Racism vs. Halflings; Due to an unfortunate strain of racism, all Halflings start at one disposition step lower with most locals
  • RACE – DISCARD: Racism vs. Gnomes; Due to an unfortunate strain of racism, all Gnomes start at one disposition step lower with most locals
  • CLASS – DISCARD: Arcane Fear; Recent unexplained phenomena cause fear of Arcane spellcasters; all characters revealed to have this ability start at one disposition step lower with most locals

DEXTERITY

  • RACE – KEEP: Elf; You are an Elf (pass all further RACE cards)
  • RACE – KEEP: Halfling; You are a Halfling (pass all further RACE cards)
  • CLASS – KEEP: Ranger; You may start play as a Ranger, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Sorcerer; You may start play as a Sorcerer, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Gunslinger; You may start play as a Gunslinger, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • SECRET – KEEP: Blackmail; You have blackmail material on the leader of the local Thieves’ Guild
  • SECRET – KEEP: Secret Passage; You know a secret route past the nearest city wall and a secret route into the nearest fortress/castle
  • QUEST – KEEP: Heirloom Weapon; One of the weapons you purchased at creation is your family weapon; it is automatically masterwork and has hidden magic potential unlocked via quests
  • QUEST – KEEP: Pirate Treasure; You have a treasure map to a lost island and a pirate’s long buried treasure… but the island is now infested with monsters
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Sporting Rival; You have a healthy rivalry with the PC* with the matching card; +2 Morale bonus on any Str- or Dex-based skill check to accomplish something your rival just did successfully; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Classmate; You went to school with the PC* with the matching card; When you both roll a skill you have ranks in for the same challenge, you both get to use the higher d20 result (plus your own skill bonus); *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • PARAGON – KEEP: Flexible as a Cat; You are little, double jointed, and extremely flexible; you can squeeze through any opening big enough for your head, but you’re automatically as short and light as possible for your race and gender (pass all further PARAGON cards)
  • SITUATION – DISCARD: Eyes on the City; Due to better trained and positioned guards and a strong neighborhood watch, +2 DC all Bluff, Disguise, and Stealth checks in local cities and towns
  • SITUATION – DISCARD: Crime Wave; Due to an ongoing crime wave, there is a 20% chance of a pickpocket attempt on the PCs during every scene set in the streets of local cities and towns
  • SITUATION – DISCARD: Rats!; An infestation of plague rats means that any time the PCs visit the local slums or sewers, there is a 10% chance each visit of encountering a Rat Swarm at some point

CONSTITUTION

  • RACE – KEEP: Dwarf; You are a Dwarf (pass all further RACE cards)
  • RACE – KEEP: Gnome; You are a Gnome (pass all further RACE cards)
  • CLASS – KEEP: Barbarian; You may start play as a Barbarian, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • SECRET – KEEP: Blackmail; You have blackmail material on the General of the nearest army
  • SECRET – KEEP: Parentage; You know the identity of one of the local leader’s bastards and have proof of parentage
  • SECRET – KEEP: Immunity; The first time you fail a save vs. Poison, you’d secretly been building up an immunity to that toxin, and get to reroll the save (and subsequently get to keep the best of two saves whenever you’re affected by that toxin again)
  • QUEST – KEEP: Heirloom Armor; The armor you purchased at creation is your family armor it is automatically masterwork and has hidden magic potential unlocked via quests
  • QUEST – KEEP: Key in the Blood; Your family has passed on a blood-based immunity to the deadly magical defenses of an ancient fortress, which might be a powerful retreat or hold wondrous riches, if only you could get through the surrounding guardians
  • QUEST – KEEP: Unpetrified; For some reason you’re immune to the petrifying gaze of a Medusa; how you found that out is a story for another time, but there are rumors of just such a creature terrorizing the wilderness a few weeks’ ride from here
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Lover; You are in love with the PC* with the matching card; +2 Morale to Attack and Damage against any enemy that attacked your lover on its last action; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Classmate; You went to school with the PC* with the matching card; When you both roll a skill you have ranks in for the same challenge, you both get to use the higher d20 result (plus your own skill bonus); *An NPC if there is no match(pass the second copy of this card)
  • PARAGON – KEEP: Healthy as a Bear; Your natural healing of hit points and nonlethal damage is doubled, you need to make half as many saves to end a disease or poison effect, and alchemical effects with a duration (even beneficial ones) only last half as long for you (pass all further PARAGON cards)
  • RACE – DISCARD: Racism vs. Elves; Due to an unfortunate strain of racism, all Elves start at one disposition step lower with most locals
  • RACE – DISCARD: Racism vs. Half-Elves; Due to an unfortunate strain of racism, all Half-Elves start at one disposition step lower with most locals
  • CLASS – DISCARD: War Weariness; A recent, damaging war causes a pacifistic dislike of soldiers; all characters revealed to be Fighters, Barbarians, Cavaliers, or Gunslingers start at one disposition step lower with most locals

INTELLIGENCE

  • RACE – KEEP: Elf; You are an Elf (pass all further RACE cards)
  • CLASS – KEEP: Bard; You may start play as a Bard, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Alchemist; You may start play as an Alchemist, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Magus; You may start play as a Magus, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Witch; You may start play as a Witch, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • SECRET – KEEP: Cipher; You know the cipher for the local leadership’s favorite secret code
  • SECRET – KEEP: Convergence; You found a place of powerful magical convergence, and sleeping on it gives you an additional spell slot of your highest arcane spell level the next day; trouble is, the spot is on grounds owned by a local noble
  • QUEST – KEEP: Break the Curse; The ruler of these lands has promised a great reward to whoever can destroy a cursed artifact, and you just happen to know a legend about where and how that might be accomplished
  • QUEST – KEEP: Riddling Rhyme; Your parents used to put you to sleep with an elaborate rhyming song, that you’ve never heard anyone else repeat, and you recently a rumor that’s right out of the song… maybe it was secret instructions or prophecy?
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Intellectual Rival; You have a healthy rivalry with the PC* with the matching card; +2 Morale bonus on any Int- or Wis-based skill check to accomplish something your rival just did successfully; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Business Partner; You work well with the PC* with the matching card; Double downtime income when you and your partner both use the same Craft or Profession skill to earn money; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • PARAGON – KEEP: Memory like a Fox; You have an eidetic memory, and recall the details of anything you have witnessed (+4 on any relevant rolls), but you cannot easily forget your fears: take one point of Charisma damage any time you fail a Will save vs. a Fear-based effect (pass all further PARAGON cards)
  • CLASS – DISCARD: Sectarian Violence; A recent religious conflict causes intolerance among the various religions; displaying religious symbols or divine casting abilities causes the PCs to start at one disposition step lower with all locals not of the same religion
  • SITUATION – DISCARD: No Funding; Due to lack of public scholarly funding, there are steep fees to use the local libraries and PCs pay double to make use of scholarly NPCs like Sages or to borrow spellbooks to copy spells
  • SITUATION – DISCARD: Poor Item Trade; The limited local magic item trade means that there is half the expected chance of any given item being for sale in the local shops

WISDOM

  • RACE – KEEP: Dwarf; You are a Dwarf (pass all further RACE cards)
  • CLASS – KEEP: Druid; You may start play as a Druid, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Monk; You may start play as a Monk, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Ranger; You may start play as a Ranger, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Inquisitor; You may start play as an Inquisitor, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • SECRET – KEEP: Infiltrating Aide; You appear to be the only one who’s noticed that one of the local leader’s top aides is constantly wearing a disguise
  • SECRET – KEEP: Illness Charm; The first time you fail a save vs. Disease, you’d secretly been taught a charm for that illness, and get to reroll the save (and subsequently get to keep the best of two saves whenever you’re affected by that toxin again); gain +4 to Heal checks to treat others for it
  • QUEST – KEEP: The Secret Master; Your village was insidiously taken over by a powerful mind-controlling creature; you barely resisted its domination and fled, hoping to become skilled enough to return some day soon and save the town
  • QUEST – KEEP: Illusory Hillside; A hillside you frequently travel past always struck you as strange; recently, you managed to disbelieve the illusory wall and see that it protects a dungeon full of elaborate illusions and traps
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Intellectual Rival; You have a healthy rivalry with the PC* with the matching card; +2 Morale bonus on any Int- or Wis-based skill check to accomplish something your rival just did successfully; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Business Partner; You work well with the PC* with the matching card; Double downtime income when you and your partner both use the same Craft or Profession skill to earn money; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • PARAGON – KEEP: Empathy of the Owl; Lies make you physically ill; gain +4 to Sense Motive to detect lies, take one point of damage whenever someone lies in direct answer to a question you asked, and take 1d6 points of damage whenever YOU knowingly tell a lie (pass all further PARAGON cards)
  • CLASS – DISCARD: Crime Wave; A recent crime wave causes distrust of anyone with criminal sympathies; all characters revealed to be Rogues or Bards start at one disposition step lower with most locals
  • SITUATION – DISCARD: The Big Store; A grifting syndicate has come to town; in each scenario, there is a 50% chance of adding a “helpful NPC” that is actually a con artist looking to scam PCs
  • SITUATION – DISCARD: Alignment Static; Recent planar events have caused alignment static in the local area; Protection from Alignment spells do not prevent mind control and all Detect Alignment spells treat targets as 5 HD lower for determining aura strength

CHARISMA

  • RACE – KEEP: Halfling; You are a Halfling (pass all further RACE cards)
  • RACE – KEEP: Gnome; You are a Gnome (pass all further RACE cards)
  • CLASS – KEEP: Bard; You may start play as a Bard, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Paladin; You may start play as a Paladin, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Sorcerer; You may start play as a Sorcerer, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Oracle; You may start play as an Oracle, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • CLASS – KEEP: Summoner; You may start play as a Summoner, or multiclass into it without further in-play justification
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Performing Partners; You are part of an entertaining group with the PC* with the matching card; +2 to all Perform checks when your partner is performing with you; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Performing Partners; You are part of an entertaining group with the PC* with the matching card;
  • +2 to all Perform checks when your partner is performing with you; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Lover; You are in love with the PC* with the matching card; +2 Morale to Attack and Damage against any enemy that attacked your lover on its last action; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • RELATIONSHIP – KEEP: Sibling/True Friend; You are the sibling (or lifelong friend if different race/also lovers) of the PC* with the matching card; Aid Another to help sibling/friend is +3 instead of +2; *An NPC if there is no match (pass the second copy of this card)
  • PARAGON – KEEP: Grandeur of an Eagle; You are strikingly attractive, probably outshining all locals in your good looks, but this makes you unforgettable and instantly recognizable to those that have seen you before without a disguise (pass all further PARAGON cards)
  • RACE – DISCARD: Racism vs. Dwarves; Due to an unfortunate strain of racism, all Dwarves start at one disposition step lower with most locals
  • RACE – DISCARD: Racism vs. Half-Orcs; Due to an unfortunate strain of racism, all Half-Orcs start at one disposition step lower with most locals
  • SITUATION – DISCARD: Class Warfare; The social status levels in the local area are highly stratified; start at one disposition step lower with most locals unless you are dressed in the same style and properly introduced (and even then, take the penalty if they “know” you aren’t their status level)
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