The Starting of the Game
From the top of this hill, it feels like you can see forever as your eyes cast their gaze against the green woods and golden fields, all the way to the horizon and the sky of deepest blue. The sun beats down strongly, characteristic of this region which they call the Sunshine Plains in the local language, and glitters playfully from the rippling river that flows from where you stand and threads its way through a multitude of villages.
The nearest of these is a place they call Arcadia. By local standards it's a big place, for it supports nearly thirty citizens and even boasts its own weekly market – which, it seems, would explain today's colourful flags and pennants that decorate the village. People from all around the countryside are already flocking there, and in the distance the first of the merchants' wagons are making their way to Arcadia too.
From the youngest to the eldest, villager and foreigner, everyone is in especially high spirits today. Today is no ordinary market day – it's the day everyone's looked forward to for a year. A day when everyone is happy and rejoicing, a day when everyone feels blessed to be alive. Today is the Festival of the Sun, the beginning of Summer. Down in the village, the preparations are just getting started. It'll be a day to remember, for sure!
Who Can the Characters Be?
The game itself starts in the mostly-sleepy farming village of Arcadia, on one of the few days in each year when sleepiness just isn't an option. Today Arcadia hosts one of its four yearly festivals, and many people from all over the countryside and beyond have arrived to take part.
Arcadia is a small and almost self-sufficient village. Most of the villagers are employed in some form of farming – traditional crops are the most common, but there are also vegetable gardens, fields for grazing livestock and an orchard. The village also has a miller, a baker, a blacksmith, an elder and a few people who maintain the inn. Of course, pretty much everyone has a family too. Feel free to put your character anywhere in among this lot, including taking the place of NPCs.
On market days and especially on festival days, the village is crowded with people from the nearby countryside and villages further afield. It's not uncommon to see people from villages 20 or 30 miles away who come to stay in Arcadia for a few days in order to enjoy the party and trade their wares. Although Arcadia is the only place in the area that has a weekly market, the villages thrive on trade with each other. Bartering is the common form of trade between people of different villages, as money is mostly regarded as impractical. Your character can be anyone who might conceivably travel to Arcadia on such a day.
Although it's a special festival day, it is still a market day like any other. As a village on one of the main trade routes between Dephinia in the south and Lacerta in the forests to the east, merchant wagons frequently pass through Arcadia and trade with the villagers there – mainly buying food, metal wares and hospitality in exchange for more exotic items. As a merchant, you could be from just about anywhere, heading to just about anywhere, selling or buying anything. You could equally be part of a merchant's retinue – a family member, or maybe a retainer or bodyguard.
By local standards the road through Arcadia is a busy one, and all sorts of people wander along it from time to time. Wandering priests, the homeless, mercenaries and those who have set out aimlessly to seek their fortune are all possibilities, although they are not especially common. It should be noted that, as the villages are mostly self-sufficient and insular communities where everyone works for everyone else's good, outsiders may be welcomed for a while but would not be invited to stay.
Giving Life to your Character
The first stage, before worrying about anything like attributes or skills, is to form the character fully in your mind. What is the character's name, age, sex? What do they look like? What clothes do they wear? Where are they from? What's their job? What is their personality like? How do they see the world around them? Is there anything special about them? It is important to answer these kind of questions before thinking about numbers that represent the character.
Next, think up a brief list of “Resonances”. These are broad ideas that appeal to the character, and are generally not mundane (i.e. they are in some way supernatural). The purpose of this is to come up with a list of things that the character believes are real or wants to believe are real, but yet are not part of their everyday experience. What does the character dream about? What kind of stories does she like? What kind of magic does he believe in? Perhaps the character dreams of flying a lot, or maybe likes stories of flamboyant swashbuckling. Whatever you choose, a character's Resonances are things that really strike a chord with them.
Time, I guess, to get on with the numbers. First of all, every character has a stat called “Shiny”. This is the most important statistic in the game, and everything and everyone has a Shiny rating. It represents belief, fame, power, and many other concepts. It is how powerful you are. It is to what extent that when you speak, the world listens. Not just the people of the world – the higher something's Shiny value, the more that reality warps to its will. To start with, you have a Shiny rating of 0. You are, for the moment, mundane.
Next up are the attributes. There are eight of these – four physical (Strength, Toughness, Agility and Dexterity) and four mental (Ego, Faith, Intelligence and Perception). Each one starts off rated somewhere between 1 and 9, depending on to what extent your character possesses that attribute. 5 is a sensible human average, and ratings can go beyond 9 in special circumstances. There's no real set number of points to spread around these attributes, although sticking to the 40-50 region should keep all the characters at roughly the same power level.
* Strength – a character's physical strength, their ability to lift heavy weights, arm-wrestle, smack someone with a flail, draw back a bowstring, knock a door from its hinges.
o 1: Your lack of strength is crippling, your legs find it hard even to support your weight.
o 3: You are weak. Strength really isn't your strong point, although you can get by.
o 5: Nothing spectacular, you can do your job with no problems.
o 7: You're pretty strong – farming isn't exhausting for you, and your strength is recognised.
o 9: You're easily the strongest person around, you've yet to find one who can beat you an an arm-wrestle!
* Toughness – a character's pain endurance, stamina, resistance to damage, resilience in the face of extreme conditions.
o 1: You're very vulnerable. Maybe motion makes you feel unwell, you are allergic to something common, suffer badly in sunlight, etc.
o 3: You're not tough, and are often looked after by others. You probably stay at home rather than working the fields.
o 5: You are hardy enough for most jobs, farming included.
o 7: Pretty tough, you can ignore pain like a soldier or the weather like a farmer.
o 9: Famously tough, you're undaunted by armed combat, driving rain or a marathon race.
* Agility – a character's swiftness of movement, balance, footwork, suppleness and reflexes.
o 1: Perhaps due to illness or weakness, you cannot move without the aid of a walking stick or another person.
o 3: You may be lazy, overweight, or maybe half-asleep. Either way, you don't move quickly.
o 5: Averagely agile, you can run, jump, dodge and dance without a problem.
o 7: You could be a fast runner, a trained fighter or a gymnast; your agility is pretty good.
o 9: If you don't regularly impress people with your ability to dodge arrows, you should probably try it.
* Dexterity – a character's accuracy, aim, fingerwork, and co-ordination.
o 1: For whatever reason, your dexterity is terrible – you find it tricky even to hold things in your hand.
o 3: “Whoops! Butterfingers!” you cry as you drop the pan of hot water. Again. One day you're going to get yourself into trouble if you keep doing that.
o 5: You should have no problem with anything that requires dexterity, such as writing or needlework.
o 7: Your handwriting is beautiful, your archery renowned.
o 9: Pah, William Tell's nothing! You could do that! From behind your back! Whilst wearing mittens!
* Ego – a character's belief in herself, conviction, willpower, personal drive.
o 1: Maybe something terrible happened in your past, but now you're self-loathing.
o 3: Although you joke a lot about how incompetant you are, there's a part of you that really believes it.
o 5: Whilst not exactly self-centred, you have confidence in your own abilities.
o 7: Extremely confident in yourself, there are ways in which you believe yourself better than those around you.
o 9: Your will is almost unshakable, your belief in yourself is absolute.
* Faith – a character's belief and trust in friends, family, society, or even the spirits or gods.
o 1: You revel in your self-sufficiency, you have no need for others. You rarely make friends.
o 3: While there isn't anyone who you'd trust with your life, you have a few friends and family who you can rely on.
o 5: You probably have quite a few friends, or may have a religious belief.
o 7: You are sometimes accused of being overly trusting, and you tend to treat strangers as if they were friends.
o 9: Believing absolutely in those around you or in some higher power, you trust that everything will be just fine without you having to interfere.
* Intelligence – a character's raw mental powers, how quickly they learn and how logical their thought is.
o 1: Maybe you always were the big dumb ox, but regardless of your past your mental capacity today is distinctly lacking.
o 3: Lacking any real schooling, you find common things understandable but language, maths and science still a little tricky.
o 5: Averagely educated, you tackle most subjects well.
o 7: You're intelligent, and probably know a lot about a large number of things. You are a good critical thinker.
o 9: Almost a genius, your talents are known and respected. You have advanced knowledge of many fields.
* Perception – a character's sensory and spatial awareness.
o 1: You may be blind, deaf or in some other way lacking an important sense.
o 3: You've made good friends with many lamp-posts and doors over the years. You just don't notice things like that when you're walking along.
o 5: Your senses are about average, you can see fairly well without glasses and you pay attention to subtle sounds.
o 7: Remarkably perceptive, you may have eagle eyes, acute hearing or a real taste for good food.
o 9: Even the most stealthy of assassins wouldn't slip by unnoticed.
A character has both physical and mental health, both of which can go up and down through various means. Although keeping yourself alive (by not losing too much Physical Health) is essential, it's also important to keep your mind working properly and not going gooey and dribbling out of your ears. So, it's important to watch your Mental Health too.
Each of these stats has a maximum value, which represents “fully healthy” for a character. A character's maximum Physical Health is equal to their Toughness, while their maximum Mental Health is ten times whichever of their mental stats is greatest. While Physical Health is a rough estimate of how many wounds a character could take before being crippled, Mental Health is a much more gradual scale. You will see why when you play!
Next, it's time to decide on what skills the character has. As you probably already have a background for your character (if not, now would be a really good time to write one!), you should have some idea of what kind of things the character knows how to do. There's no set list of skills, nor a set number of points you're allowed to spend on them. Just make up the list for yourself, and beside each one give an indication of how good your character is at that thing. Appropriate numbers range from 1 (basic understanding) through 3 (experienced) to 5 (mastered). In some cases negative numbers may be appropriate, to indicate that a character actively has a disadvantage doing a certain thing.
A few example skills and their implication follows.
* Survival 1 – You know a few things about surviving outdoors, like how to start a fire and which berries you can eat.
* Dual Weapons 5 – You teach at a martial school which specialises in fighting with two weapons at once, and you are virtually unbeaten in competitions.
* Art 4 – You are an accomplished artist, and your work is greatly admired, although you still yearn to be as good as your tutor.
* Astrology 2 – With a knowledge of the positions of the planets, you can give people rough but convincing advice on what they fortell.
* History 4 – You are a well-known historian who has spent many years researching the history of a place. You can quote names and dates easily, and discuss the importance of many historical events.
These follow exactly the same method as Life Skills, but these are for how well a character uses certain things. Again, some examples follow.
* Shield 3 – A veteran of a few battles, you've used a shield to great effect – after all, it's kept you alive until now!
* Kitchen Utensil 4 – From flipping pancakes to flambéing, when you get to cook you use the cutlery and crockery extremely well.
* Sword 1 – “So, I hold the blunt end, and…” swish, swish “Hey, I'm getting the hang of this!”
Finally, it's time to note down the stuff that the character carries around. There's no need to worry about trivial things like candles, bits of rope, trail rations and so on, but it's going to help to have a list of things like clothes, armour, weapons, tools, things like that.
Each item has three attributes. Firstly, it has Shiny (remember earlier I said that things had Shiny, not just people?). For mundane items (that's most of the kit you start with – see the next paragraph) this is 0. Items also have a power (for example how sharp a weapon is, how tough a suit of armour is) and a weight. Don't worry about these for now – it'll be up to the person running the game to fill these in, so everyone has the same idea of what scale Power and Weight correspond to.
Now, to the Shiny. Although characters themselves aren't Shiny at the start of the game, one item they carry is allowed to have 1 Shiny. This isn't compulsory, and it needs to be justified – how did you get such impressive clothes? Who forged that huge sword for you? Where did you get that magical talisman from?
Possession of a shiny item is likely to give you quite an advantage over using a similar but mundane item.
Congratulations, that's it! Your character is complete and ready to play!