Game: Shadows of Esteren Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Agate RPG, distributed by Studio 2 Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Pretty new. The game came out at the beginning of August in both a Kickstarter and at GenCon Indy 2012. I've just started running it. So, I'm familiar with it, but just doing the best I can.
Books Required: Shadows of Esteren, Book 1 - Universe.
Please note that this post is extremely long, as I've gone into the game mechanics a bit in terms of character creation, and have provided background on the character and the choices. Hence the majority of this post is behind the cut. That said, there is some of the game mechanics and descriptions of game world elements that I've skimped on in this write-up, so if you want to know more, just drop me a line in the Comments.
For those who don't know, Shadows of Esteren is a mediaeval fantasy roleplaying game with horrific and gothic influence. The game is set on a peninsula attached to a continent, but the continent is not the focus of the game (though it definitely has a strong influence on matters). The game also has a bit of a steampunk element to it as well, but that's more along the lines of a fantasy steampunk vibe, so that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's a lot more to it than that, of course, but that sums it up in a nutshell. So, anyway, here's the character creation process. Bear in mind that this material is quite long, due to the way the background section is written up.
In any event, Character Creation in Shadows of Esteren consists of ten (10) Steps, these being:
2. Profession, Birthplace, and Social Class
3. The Ways
4. Age, Setbacks, and History
5. Character Traits, Sanity, and Personality
6. Experience Points, Advantages, and Disadvantages
7. Potential, Defense, Speed, and Stamina
8. Fighting Attitudes and Attack Rating
9. Survival Points, Rindath, and Exaltation
10. Description and Equipment
So, I figure we'll go through the ten steps below.
Step 1: Determine the player character's Ethnicity.
Essentially, the player chooses the People that his character originates from. There are four human ethnicities to choose from, though none have a mechanical impact other than a second language choice. These consist of Tri-Kazelian (the norm for the setting), Osag (an insular society of strong warriors from the south of the peninsula), Tarish (nomadic people from far off lands), and Continentals (slender and slim people, rarely seen in Tri-Kazel).
After giving the matter some thought, I decide that the character is native to Tri-Kazel, and more specifically from the country of Taol-Kaer. This makes the character's ethnicity Talkéride. I also decide at this time that the character is female.
Step 2: Determine the character's Profession, Birthplace, and Social Class.
These are quite obvious in their nature, but I'll detail each of these anyway.
First off, the player chooses a Profession. Each Profession has a bit of a write-up about it, and provides the character with one Domain (aka Skill) at 5, and a second Domain at 3. The Professions include Bard, Craftsman, Demorth*èn (Druid), Explorer, Fighter, Hunter, Investigator, Knight, Magientist (tech wizard), Merchant, Occultist, Peasant, Religious of the Temple, Rogue, Scholar, Spy, and Varigal (a messenger, but more than that.
After giving it some thought, I decide to create a Varigal. They serve as a link between communities, delivering messages news, packages, and are very close to nature in many respects. Therefore, I begin with my Primary Domain of Travel at 5, and must choose between Feats (climbing, running, and so forth) or Natural Environment as my Secondary Domain, and choose Feats as my Secondary Domain, giving it a 3 value.
A character is not just competent at his profession; he also has other activities and skills at which he is pretty good. Each player can choose two additional Domains at 2, and two additional Domains at 1. There are only a total of 16 Domains (Skills), and these are rated from 1 to 5, but Disciplines (Specialties) must be chosen after one achieves a 5 in the Domain, and can be raised up to 15. The Domains in Shadows of Esteren include Close Combat, Craft, Demorthèn Mysteries, Erudition, Feats, Magience, Natural Environment, Occultism, Perception, Performance, Prayer, Relation, Science, Shooting and Throwing, Stealth and Travel.
Looking over the list of Domains, I decide to take Natural Environment and Erudition at 2 each. Contemplating the direction I want to give the character, I choose to go with Stealth and Close Combat each at 1.
Each player must decide on the character's Birthplace, whether they grew up in a Rural or City environment. As part of this step, every character gains +1 to Close Combat, and either +1 Natural Environment (Rural) or +1 Relation (City).
I decide that the character grew up in a Rural environment. Therefore, I add +1 to the character's Natural Environment, and give her a +1 in Close Combat.
Each player must choose the Social Class of the character. Player characters can choose between Commoners, Clergy, and Nobility. The choice the character makes determines which two Domains the character gains a +1 in.
After some thought, I decide that the Varigal is definitely a Commoner. Se grew up among good, simple folk. They were middle-class folks, however, and set a good example for her. Looking at the Domains available for the Commoner of her standing, I decide on a level of Erudition and Relation each.
Now that Step 2 is completed, I have the following Domains for the character: Close Combat 2, Erudition 3, Feats 3, Natural Environment 3, Relation 1, Stealth 1, and Travel 5.
Step 3: Determine the player character's Ways.
The five Ways are mental characteristics that determine the major traits of the character's personality; they are his way of seeing the world and taking action. They effectively act as Attributes in that each Domain has a linked Way added to the dice roll. However, high values in the Ways can cause issues as they will often encourage the character to take actions that complicate matters. High Combativeness, for example, means the character tends to be impassioned, high Creativity means the characters tends to be subversive, high Reason leads to doubt, and so forth. I'm not going to detail this here, but if you have any interest in these, please ask me in e-mail or the Comments section. There are five (5) Ways, and these are: Combativeness, Creativity, Empathy, Reason and Conviction. These need to be ranked from 1 to 5. There is an optional rule for just distributing 15 points, provided 1 Way is at 1 or 5. For the purposes of this character, I will assign the points in the standard fashion.
Looking over what I have as my basic idea for the character, I decide to assign the Ways as follows: Combativeness 2, Creativity 1, Empathy 4, Reason 5, and Conviction 3. Effectively, this character is intelligent and in tune with people and nature, she has a decent set of principles, but is at a loss of what to do with her life and to what she should apply her talents.
Step 4: Determine the character's Age, Setbacks, and History.
The first of these is obvious, but the last is something that should probably wait until the end of the process. So that's how we'll handle that.
Insofar as Age is concerned, player characters start between the ages of 16 and 35. The older you make the character, you gain some Domains, but you also suffer Setbacks. They're exactly what they sound like, and the player randomly rolls for the Setback that he starts off with.
I decide that my Varigal is going to be 25 years old. This gives the character a +1 to one Domain, and I decide to take this in Shooting and Throwing, which I haven't taken as yet, since I want her to use a bow. However, because I made the character 25 years of age, I have to take one Setback for the character, randomly rolled for. I roll a "4" on the 10-sided die, and it comes up Rumour (a mysterious rumour, maybe a truthful one, hangs around the character; it could be a crime, something sacriligeous, and so forth). After a bit of thought, I decide that she was rumoured to have been possessed by a Feond during one of her trips guiding a party between two small settlements, and a stigma now surrounds her as to whether she truly cast off the abomination or not.
Step 5: Determine the character's Traits, Sanity, and Personality.
This is one of my favourite steps and parts of the process of character generation in Shadows of Esteren.
First up, the Traits. The player must choose two Character Traits, one of which will be a quality and the other a flaw. They are determined based on the Ways that one assigned: 4 or 5 in a Way gives access to the major rated qualities or flaws for the Way; a 1 or 2 gives access to a minor rated qualities or flaws for that Way.
Looking at the Ways that I assigned for the character, I see that I've got a 4 in Empathy, 5 in Reason, 1 in Creativity, and 2 in Combativeness. Looking at what is available to me in the Traits based on the values of the Ways, I decide on the Major Reason Trait of Cautious, and the Minor Creativity Trait of Narrow-Mindedness. I decide that these come to mean the character tends to be very cautious by nature, not taking risks in what she does and situations that she leads others into, but at the same time, has a narrow-minded view that borders on stubbornness, and is resistant to trying new things.
Then we come to Sanity. hehe Sanity has various elements associated with it. We'll cover these below.
I determine the character's various Sanity elements. Consciousness is that which shows how important rationality is to the character, how rooted they are in reality, how logical, thoughtful and resilient their mind is. It is based on Reason + Conviction.
Using the material presented above, I determine the Varigal's sanity elements as the following. Her Conscience is 8.
Instinct is about the driving urges of a living being. This notably includes survival, self-preservation, as well as everything related to sexuality. It is determined by Combativeness + Creativity.
Using the method above, I determine that the Varigal's Instinct is 3.
The two values above determine the character's Orientation, which represents a general structure of the character's personality. A higher Conscience indicates a rational orientation; a higher Instinct indicates an instinctive orientation. If they are even, the character is considered balanced. Furthermore, we also take the absolute difference between the Instinct and the Conscience, and this determines the character's starting Trauma points. These reflect the psychic wounds on one's consciousness that disorganises one's instincts.
As per the above, I determine that the character's Orientation is Rational. Not surprising, eh? :) Taking the difference between the character's Conscience and Instinct, we find the character has 5 permanent Trauma points.
The Mental Resistance ability is one where, the player has a chance of seeing his character's Sanity declining due to some of the things his character will witness during the course of the game. Mental Resistance is equal to Conviction + 5.
As above, I determine that the Varigal's Mental Resistance is 8.
Each player should choose one of the mental Disorders that the player character will develop or has in a latent form at this time. This form of madness is likely to afflict your character, giving the Game Leader and the player a common idea where that aspect of the player character is heading. The book has a nice table of madnesses listed by their association with the Ways, and whether it is Minor or Major.
Looking at the various mental disorders and madnesses listed in the book, I decide that given the character is Rational in her Orientation, I shall choose one of the Rational Disorders. I check them out and decide that Mimicry or Mysticism are the two obvious choices. I think about this for a bit, and decide on Mysticism as the character's potential Disorder.
Next, the player comes up with the Personality material about the character. This doesn't need to be a large section, but can take up a paragraph of ten lines or so. So let's take care of that now. I also decide that the character's name is Reyaldine.
Reyaldine is intelligent and in tune with people and nature, but she is at a loss of what to do with her life and how to apply her talents effectively. She tends to be very cautious by nature, not taking risks in what she does and situations that she leads others into, but at the same time, has a narrow-minded view that borders on stubbornness, and is resistant to trying new things. She loves to travel and experience new things, hence her becoming a varigal, but at the same time she approaches each of her assignments in traditional ways.
Step 6: Determine the character's Experience Points, Advantages, and Disadvantages.
This step begins with spending Experience Points on Domains or Disciplines. The character starts with 100 Experience Points, but since the points from Disadvantages can increase this pool, we should start with that. I'm not going to go into details here about the various Advantages and Disadvantages, other than the ones I'm choosing here for the character.
The Experience Point costs for new abilities are:
10 pts. - +1 to a Domain
25 pts. - +1 to a Discipline
Var. - Advantage costs
After giving it some thought, I decide to give Reyaldine the Good Health Advantage (40 pts.) She gains one more box in the "Bad" category of her Health Condition, and the Good Sight Advantage (30 pts.). This means I have 30 Experience Points to use. Turning to the Disadvantages, I give Reyaldine the Addiction (Tobacco) Disadvantage (20 pts.), Poor Hearing Disadvantage (10 pts.), and the Phobia (Mountain passes) Disadvantage (40 pts.), for a total of 70 points in Disadvantages, which balances out the characters Advantages. This leaves me with 100 Experience Points to assign to my Skill Domains and Disciplines.
I decide to spend the Experience Points as follows: Perception +3, Close Combat +2, Relation +1, Shooting and Throwing +2, Erudition +1, for a total of 90 Experience Points spent, and I bank the other 10 points for use at other times.
This gives me Skills as follows: Close Combat 4, Erudition 4, Feats 3, Natural Environment 3, Perception 3 (+1 bonus for Good Sight), Relation 2, Shooting and Throwing 3 (+1 bonus for Good Sight), Stealth 1, Travel 5.
Step 7: Determine the character's Fighting Potential, Defense, Speed, and Stamina.
Several pretty easy steps here.
Potential represents the investment ability of a character in a given Fighting Attitude. Potential is used to modify your combat stats through stances and is based on Creativity.
With a Creativity of 1, our Fighting Potential is 1. Reyaldine is not very good at it.
Defense is exactly what it sounds like. It is based on the Reason + Empathy + 5.
Calculating Reyaldine's Defense, she has a Defense of 10. Pretty good.
Speed is used in fights when quickness is a determining factor. Speed is initiative. It's Combativeness + Empathy.
Determining the character's Speed, she has a value of 6.
Stamina represents general health of the character, ability to resist disease, recover from wounds, and so forth. It is equal to 10, but can be modified by Advantages and Disadvantages.
Normally, Reyaldine's Stamina would be 10, but her Addiction reduces this to 9. Boo!!!
We'll also add the Attack Rating here. The basic Attack Rating is calculated by taking Combativeness + Domain or Discipline, modified by potential bonuses.
In the character's case, we have an Attack Rating using Close Combat which is 6, and an Attack Rating calculated for Shooting and Throwing which is 5. She's not very good at combat, but then we didn't expect her to be.
Step 9: Determine the character's Survival Points, Rindath, and Exaltation.
Survival Points are the equivalent to other games' mechanics such as Fate, Drama, etc., but don't do as much. All characters start with 3 Survival Points, but this can be modified by Advantages and Disadvantages.
Since Reyaldine has no unusual aspects, she begins with 3 Survival Points.
Rindath is used for Demorthèn Mysteries and is Empathy + Combativeness + Creativity. However, Reyaldine doesn't use this as she doesn't have any of these abilities.
Exaltation is used for Miracles, and is Conviction x3 or 9. Since Reyaldine is not a devotee of the Temple of the One God, she cannot use this as she doesn't have any of these abilities.
Step 10: Determine the character's Equipment.
Kind of obvious.
For determining equipment, the game uses several optional methods of determining the character's starting money. Money in the game system is in Ember, Azure, or Frost Daols.
Based on the fact that she is a Varigal, the character starts with roughly 30 Azure Daols with which to buy equipment. I will take a Dagger, a Short sword, and a Bow for the character, as well as 2 dozen arrows. She also wears a studded leather tunic for protection.
And that's the character done. So, here's the final write-up on the game stats and background...
Social Class: Commoner
WAYS: Combativeness: 2, Creativity: 1, Empathy: 4, Reason: 5, Conviction: 3.
SKILLS: Close Combat 4, Erudition 4, Feats 3, Natural Environment 3, Perception 3 (+1 bonus for Good Sight), Relation 2, Shooting and Throwing 3 (+1 bonus for Good Sight), Stealth 1, Travel 5.
ADVANTAGES: Good Health, Good Sight
DISADVANTAGES: Phobia (Mountain Passes), Poor Hearing
SETBACK: Rumour (Was possessed by a Feond)
SANITY: Conscience: 8, Instinct: 3, Mental Resistance: 8, Hardening: 0, Orientation: Rational, Trauma: 6.
COMBAT: Attack/Close: 6, Attack/Ranged: 5, Defense: 10, Speed: 6, Potential: 1, Health: 20, Stamina: 9, Survival Points: 3
Reyaldine was born in a rural town, the daughter of a middle-class family that provided her and her siblings (two brothers, one sister) with all that they could want. The life of a rural townsperson never appealed to her, however, and she was always befriending the varigals that passed through the town, wanting to learn more about the lifestyle they lead, but none would ever talk to her or help her. The frustrated Reyaldine went out into the woods surrounding the town alone, and taught herself the rudiments of wilderness lore, though she received a bit of help from a woodsman and a herbalist who took pity on her, and showed her some of the ropes.
When she turned sixteen, a Varigal by the name of Elenda approached her, and told her that she had potential. Reyaldine was thrilled to be accepted into the ranks of the varigals, and she vowed to do her best. Her excellent health and good vision capabilities stood her in good stead in her new role, but she was found to be cautious and not much of a risk-taker, and thus it was felt that her use to those in varigal circles might be limited. Reyaldine more than made up for this in several respects, but she learned the hard way that the work of a varigal can be risky indeed. During an expedition she led through a mountain pass, Reyaldine had the misfortune of fighting a Feond that literally took off her ear and part of the hearing tissues, thus resulting in her hearing being sub-standard. She managed to fight off the creature, but her behaviour over the next few years led to rumours circulating that she had been possessed by the creature and that it was still influencing her behaviour.
Continuing her work as a varigal, she found herself in one of the villages on the Gwidre/Tao-Kaer border, and has found herself taking a liking to a young woodcrafter, Cheral, who lives in the village. While her minor deafness (she doesn't treat it as being all that serious due to her capable vision) is a bit of a handicap, it has made her more cautious over the last few years, something that has not been lost on other varigals, and Elenda.
Character Traits: Cautious, Narrow-Minded
Latent Disorder: Mysticism
Reyaldine is intelligent and in tune with people and nature, but she is at a loss of what to do with her life and how to apply her talents effectively. She tends to be very cautious by nature, not taking risks in what she does and situations that she leads others into, but at the same time, has a narrow-minded view that borders on stubbornness, and is resistant to trying new things.
30 Azure Daols
Dagger (Damage 1)
Short sword (Damage 2)
Bow (Damage 2, range 20 yds)
Arrows (2 dozen)
Studded leather tunic (Protection 2)
And there you have the character that I created for the Shadows of Esteren Roleplaying Game. Character generation in Shadows of Esteren can definitely take a while, as there are some choices that need to be made in charcter creation that require information about the game world to be given to the player. If one has an idea of what one wants in the player character, the process can definitely take less time, but to be honest, this is a game system that is extremely fun to work with and gives an incredibly wide variation on characters.
Comments and feedback are welcome. :)