Ubiquity in Use: Weak Characters?

Are starting characters weak or just misunderstood?

To answer this question for myself, I have decided to build two characters for All for One, then show them in use in standard genre scenes

Character One: Gerard DeMoutiers, King’s Musketeer

Although as a swordsman I tend to shy away from building characters with that archetype for play, for the purposes of this example, I think it is fitting. So, the first sample character will be known as Gerard DeMoutiers, and he will have the character archetype of ‘swordsman’ with the motivation of ‘justice.’   That should keep him in enough trouble to keep a story going at a fast boil.

Attributes

  • BODY                         2
  • DEXTERITY            3
  • STRENGTH              3
  • CHARISMA             2
  • INTELLIGENCE     2
  • WILLPOWER           3

Secondary Attributes

  • SIZE                         0
  • MOVE                      6
  • PERCEPTION        5
  • INITIATIVE         5
  • DEFENSE                5
  • STUN                        2
  • HEALTH                 5

Skills: Musketeer

  • Melee               1
  • Firearms         2
  • Ride                  2

Skill: Background

  • Academics    1   Philosophy (+1)

Skills: Personal

  • Empathy             2
  • Fencing                5 Renoir
  • Diplomacy          1  Spec. Etiquette (+1)
  • Investigation     1
  • Stealth                  1

Resources: Musketeer

  • Followers           0 (1, Healer)
  • Rank                     o (Musketeer)

Talents & Resources

  • Vigorous Defense
  • Riposte

Flaw

  • Skeptic

 Style Points: 1

Building the character

When I start making characters in a new system, I try to go into the creation process with as blank a concept as possible. Later, once I have a familiarity with all the traits and features of a game I will work harder to tailor the character to a more specific end. Until then, however, I let the creation process itself guide me, and explore the result in play. Often, these turn out to be my most memorable characters.

In the case of this generic swordsman, Gerard DeMoutiers, I was hoping to build a more mature man, able with the blade and with logic, fit for rooting out mysteries and corruption in the Court, and defending the crown and himself from what he uncovers. Following through the creation process, I was easily able to lay the groundwork for such a character, but found that to try to be equally competent in two fields would leave him spread very thin. I see this as a sign of good design at work, for a character creation process that claims to generate beginning characters should do just that. Were I able to produce a ‘beginning’ character with that could be manipulated into providing a novice character with 2 significant strengths, I would not trust it. Some games choose to start with more experienced characters, and a commensurately slower rate of development. This is not such a game. Characters seem to be expected to have a core strength or talent, and to learn and progress from there. If more experienced characters are desired, they are easily made, however, simply by increasing the experience points provided at the end of the creation process. Simple.

The next thing I noticed about the process was its ability to generate very specific characters that serve a very particular role in play, and should have little fear of being eclipsed or replaced by other characters. I liked that quite a bit. In addition, the ability of these core talents to be further developed also appeals.

It was a struggle to decide what to do with Talents and Resources. Taking two items in this category, plays a very significant role in limiting the focus of this character, but at the same time, significantly magnifies what he can do within that focus. Riposte and Vigorous Defense will serve to make him a formidable swordsman. The Duellist archetype in the core rules also takes this approach (2 Talents), but chooses to combine Florentine (2 weapons) with Riposte, for a different, more aggressive, more flexible approach to fighting. I chose differently, because while I wish the character to be able to dispatch foes quickly and focus on slashing attacks over thrusting attacks, I wish his style to be calm, and based on divining and redirecting the aggression of the opponent. I see this as an extension of the underlying curiosity which fuels his studies and which will come, should he live, to drive him toward the investigative person I hope to develop him toward.

Character Two: Thomas Martel, Scholar

This character will be made to explore the magical arts presented in All for One, and using the experience gained from generating Gerard above, will begin with an idea of having a strength in a single area, with a foundation laid for expansion into an alternate, but complimentary area with age and experience. This not only makes things clearer for me as a player, it greatly simplifies things for the GM in both establishing the details of the initial setting, and preparing for adventures to come.

This character, a scholar with a deep interest in the magical arts, will be known as Thomas Martel, and while I am tempted to take the archetype of ‘Noble’, I will keep things simple and make him an ‘Occultist.’ For a motivation, I will choose the difficult one of, ‘Mystery.’

Attributes

  • BODY                         2
  • DEXTERITY            2
  • STRENGTH              2
  • CHARISMA             2
  • INTELLIGENCE     3
  • WILLPOWER           4

Secondary Attributes

  • SIZE                         0
  • MOVE                     4
  • PERCEPTION        7
  • INITIATIVE         5
  • DEFENSE                4
  • STUN                        2
  • HEALTH                 6

Skills: Musketeer

  • Melee               1
  • Firearms         3
  • Ride                  1

Skill: Background

  • Academics    2  Religion (+1)

Skills: Personal

  • Magic                    7  Enchantment
  • Con                        2
  • Linguistics          2  Latin, Greek
  • Investigation     2
  • Stealth                  1

Resources: Musketeer

  • Followers           0 (1, Apprentice Magician)
  • Rank                     o (Musketeer)

Talents & Resources

  • Magical Aptitude

Flaw

  • Inscrutable

 Style Points: 1

Building the character

Character creation in Ubiquity is fast; on par with the basic WW games of yore. Better yet, the sticky points where tough decision must be made have been brought into clearer focus, with a more refined sense of how to guide players to one end or another.

In the case of this magician, I had a tough time deciding whether or not to spend my initial experience points on obtaining a second Talent, as I did for the first example character, or using them to improve skills or attributes. While the point costs made me almost want to revert to the drawing board and take a set of slightly higher skills in even fewer areas, I decided to stick to my guns, go with a high single trait, a single Talent, and raise some important skills at the end of the process with the initial experience. The character would seem to be a terrible musketeer, but then again, with his prowess in Enchantment, perhaps compensation against that can be invoked in the form of enchanted blades and armoured cloaks.

This character I see as being older than the first, and called to the king’s service not out of a desire to uncover secrets, but to use his knowledge to protect the crown from the foul things he has learned exist to plague humanity. While not forthcoming about his mystical understandings, and seemingly loathe to practice the fine art of fencing, he can handle a sword, and is a decent shot with a musket.

I tend to prefer characters with a broader base than this, but to be fair, I think men of magic need to go to extremes, so this character makes sense to me.

The original question!

At the start of this entry, I asked a question which I have seen bandied about on various internet fora since I first heard of Ubiquity in its first appearance as the system behind Exile Game Studio’s flagship game, Hollow Earth Expedition. That is, “Are starting characters weak in Ubiquity?”

An exercise like this one, of generating characters along specific archetypes, can quickly lead a person to the feeling that the game lends itself to guiding players to make a character which can perform well in a niche role. The die pools seem small at first blush, as do the Attributes, and the overall effect can certainly make a person wonder what the capabilities of the character really are.

To answer the question, I think we need to look at the difficulty of an average task, and see how the two characters above measure up to accomplishing it.

Task: Sword Combat versus a Typical Guard

Gerard has an Attack Rating of  10 when using a rapier and every success he generates over that of his opponent’s defense will be counted as damage.  A typical Guard has a Defense Rating of 4. If we opt to Take the Average (divide the pool by 2 as automatic successes) that would mean Gerard’s player would need to roll three or more successes to hit and do damage. With a 10-die pool, that seems assured. While against the letter of the rules, Gerard’s player can Take the Average and have 5 successes. If there are modifiers, such as a +1 due to advantageous terrain, he could, by rolling the single bonus die, add its result (0 or 1) to his average success rate of 5 for a hit with 3-4 points of damage. A score of 3, would Stun the guard (lost action from pain, etc) and a score of 4 points of damage would also cause a Knockback effect. If Gerard chooses to slash, fighting within the teachings of his fencing school, he will have an additional die. Moreover, should he go on the defensive and choose to hold back and Parry, his Defense Rating is 7, and his Talent for the Riposte will allow him to inflict damage for every extra success he earns defending himself from the Guard, whose attack rating is also 7. Gerard seems to be doing alright in the sword-work department.

Thomas has an Attack Rating of 5 with a rapier and so is not much better than the Typical Guard. It will be touch and go if he can score a hit and deliver a single point of damage during a fight. Of course, that is where teamwork, Style points, and tactics come in. Not the sort of person to enter a sword fight lightly, we can expect Thomas to tip the odds in his favour with mystical enhancements. While not a fighter, Thomas also seems able to handle himself against the Typical Guard.

Task: Riding in adverse conditions

An average task requires two successes, and that is not an unreasonable expectation for either of these characters. Thomas will not be galloping off to war in the immediate future, but could be expected to ride there with patience and fine control of himself and his mount. In a genre-appropriate chase, we can readily expect Thomas to be unseated by the tricks of the enemy or the treacherousness of the terrain at speed, but can see that Gerard might have a chance to last a little longer. Thomas’ skill rating for this venture would be a 3 plus modifiers for and against him, Gerard’s would be 5. Neither man is a splendid equestrian, but both can ride.

Task: Ferreting out a lead

Seeking information that could be used to foil a plot against the Musketeers, Gerard and Thomas split up to investigate. In this task their strengths are reversed with Thomas having a rating of 5, and Gerard having a rating of three. Modifiers for and against them will be flying thick and fast as each clue, and each NPC will represent a different level of challenge – especially should it come to contested rolls. Still, even Taking the Average Thomas can expect to net 2+ successes in every attempt to uncover information and that will be enough to pry out secrets hidden away with an average level of security, and sometimes to foil tough measures to hide them. Gerard… well, he might just have to use steel to get answers.

Task: Casting a spell

Gerard automatically fails this task, as he cannot cast a spell to save his life, and he resents being asked to do so. Thomas on the other hand is ready, willing, and able. Unlike the previous examples, Thomas cannot Take the Average as that is essentially disallowed in the rules for All for One. I like this restriction. Still, the mechanic lets us predict how many successes to expect on a given roll, and thus guide the actions taken to secure positive modifiers for any die rolls. With a rating of 11 for his Magical Aptitude of Enchantment, Thomas can expect a fair bit of success in his practices, but his player will have to divide the results of his rolls among the various elements which go into making an effect: Range, Duration, Area of Effect, and the Effect itself.

In this case, let us say that Thomas wishes to enchant his rapier to be more deadly. As he can touch it, he need not spend successes there, but duration, and the effect itself will be very important considerations. Assuming a roll of 5 successes, Thomas could spend and hour or so in enacting the ritual and subsequently imbue his rapier with a damage bonus of 4L for a full day, or a 3L bonus for 3 days. Alternately, he might imbue it with a bonus to strike… The options are extensive!

In the earlier case of the sword fight with the Typical Guard, having an enchanted rapier could raise his Attack Rating to 8, making him much more of a threat versus the poor Guard. If he were to enchant Gerard’s blade, he would be unleashing a holy terror.

Conclusion

Are Ubiquity characters weak? It seems so at first, and the basic character generation system does very specifically produce beginner-level characters, but this is not the end of the story. These characters are clearly focused on specific strengths and can be expected to shine within those areas, and if one is playing one’s chosen genre to type, this really should not be a problem. I see this as a strength of the system in that it helps reinforce the mood and notions of a given genre, be it pulp adventure, swordplay, or post-apocalyptic survival.

What is your experience of Ubiquity in play?

Comments
11 Responses to “Ubiquity in Use: Weak Characters?”
  1. Just found your site through the Fate/Mechwarrior thread on RPG.net. Browsing your tag cloud, I came across this entry. Nice work 🙂 I am often frustrated by folks’ perception of Ubiquity characters as weak, especially since the Style economy changes the picture to a greater degree than a first rules read would indicate.

    (Oh, and thanks for linking Mythic Eras! Doesn’t seem to a lot of Ubiquity love on the web. Bummer)

    • Runeslinger says:

      Thanks for dropping by, and thanks for the kind words~

      I am a bit surprised that Ubiquity seems to draw little or no discussion on the web… perhaps there is a lack of interesting things to hate about it.

      I was happy to find Mythic Eras. Your site is great, please keep at it!

      • I think the lack of new product on a regular basis (compared to, say, Savage Worlds) is the major contributing factor to the lack of buzz. I noticed it was picking up some even before All For One came out, and hopefully that trend will continue. I just wish we could get the German Space: 1889 translated 🙂

        • Runeslinger says:

          That would be cool~

          TAG have a fantastic release rate, and if they continue to salt the Daring Tales line with Ubiquity releases, that can only do good, I think.
          I am really looking forward to Rocket Rangers, for example.

          One of the things I see in common with the three lines using the system now is that they are truly for niche play. Lots of people claim to love pulps, but have never read one, and tend to simply equate them with their perceptions of the old serials… which they also have not likely seen. I think that translates directly into liking the idea of pulp RPGs, but not actually playing them.

          If a company releases a pulp game, a musketeers game, or a post-apocalyptic fantasy game, I think those releases will draw a lot of initial attention, and “OMG!” comments, but if few actually play, then there are even fewer people talking about it – which is a shame because the calibre of work is exceptional.

          That, plus the great content, was why I was so pleased to find your site. It’s like a bastion for Ubiquity in a cold, cold, expanse of silence.

          Ah… so many games…

  2. Thanks for the compliment on M.E. There’s a lot of material I’d like to put up (mostly adventures) that I’ve not gotten permission for from the authors. There are several folks who write and run stuff at the big cons and they seem to want to keep them for that purpose only. Oh well. Also, while we really wanted to do a lot with the Danger Magnet mag, a couple of the main guys (myself and another) kinda had life throw us some curves and it ground to a halt. It happens, but it was still a bummer.

    I’ve got several rules pieces of my own I just can’t seem to finish, but I’ll get there some day 🙂

    If you have anything you’d ever like to contribute just contact me.

      • CanuckAlchemist says:

        This thread is a year old, but I just started playing AFO and just found your site. I think characters can be weak depending on how you prepare for an encounter, and enchanters and other caters arer perhaps the best example of this.

        Your enchanter has an Attack of 5 (2 Str, 1 fencing and 2L rapier). If he is planning on attacking a location, he can spend 4 hours enchanting an object the night/day before and put 4L damage on the item. this gives him an attack of 9, which is rather good.

        If he did not realize he needed such a blade, but has 1 minute to prepare, he can enchant for 7 turns without taking damage abd getting 3+ avergage successes per roll -2 for the difficulty means he will get around 10 successes in that time. he could use those 10 successes and make the same blade that will last for 1 combat or scene.

        Now your swordsman does not need to prepare in the sme way, but the swordsman cannot triple the damage his rapier does like the enchanter can. An enchanter could also enchant his fencing gloves, say a simple 3 day version
        Base 2
        Range 0
        Duration: 2 (extended 3 days)
        A of Effect: 0
        Effect: 2
        Rating 6

        So about 4 hours of chanting and he gets gloves of Fencing +4, This would stack with the keen edged rapier damage increase, giving him 13 total dice, 6+ for his attack. SO while it requires more planning and forethought, a beginning character is able to combine enchantments to become very powerful. It will require far more communication with the GM to describe what the enchanter is doing in his ‘off screen’ time.

        The biggest issue for a caster is to need a boost and not have the time to prepare it, either the 7 turns in a regualr short term casting, or the up to seven hours needed for safe enchanting. (gong over the rating in either scenario incurs N damage

        • Runeslinger says:

          Thanks for coming by to raise the dead! An old friend, no matter how long dormant is still a friend.

          Thanks for providing some pointed examples about some ways the example Enchanter above could employ his arts to bolster his combat skill to keep pace with his partner in service. Great game, isn’t it?

          • CanuckAlchemist says:

            To extend the thread, and I will post these numbers to the TAG site as well, I pester poor Wiggy almost daily with ideas like this, I’d like to actually see if a beginning enchanter is actually ‘weak’ in any way shape or form.

            Prepartation is key, and by this I mean extended periods of enchanting to allow extednded duration effects. I freeely admit that without this time the character is weaker than most.

            As soon as he can spend three days hidden away, the power curve skews upwards into the stratosphere.

            Your follower is a rank 1 follower magician, let’s assume he is also an enchanter with at least 4 points in enchanting, this gives +2 on your rolls because he can help you enchant.

            Enchanting rating 7 Averag is 3+, -2 difficulty for all spells = 1+ successes per roll on average.
            You can enchant 7 hours without taking any N damage.
            +2 bonus from helper is 1 success per roll on average,

            So let’s say you work Monday as a mundane enchanter, no problems. Yuesday you fnd a quiet spot to hide away and work and you begin enchanting.

            I would argue that you would want to make a Willpower item, use the jacket example from pg 125, You have 9 dice to roll (7 from you, 2 from your assistant), Your score would be
            Base 2
            range 0
            Duration: 4 (1 week)
            Area of Effect: 0
            Effect: 8 (+ 2 to Willpower)
            Rating: 14

            So you are looking at 2+ successes per roll, so likey 5 – 7 hours to enchant this item.

            At the end of it you have an item that raises your Willpower by 2, to 6! This represents a savings of 55 XP, since a new Primary attribute costs 5 times the new score, so 25 point to go from 4 to 5. Then 30 points to go from 5 to 6, if your GM even allows a stat to go to 6

            Next day, Willpower + 2 makes your rating now 9, +2 for assistant means 11 dice, 5+ on Average, and 3+ succrecces per roll.

            You only took 1 point in fencing, but you worry you will have to fight in the streets, so you enchant a skill bonus into gloves.

            Base 2
            Range 0
            Duration: 8 (1 month)
            Area of Effect: 0
            Effect: 8 (+ 10 to Skill)
            rating 18

            meaning you need 5 – 6 hours to enchant gloves to give you +10 fencing that will last a month.

            These gloves represent 120 experience points to the beginning character. Each new skill level is 2 Xp, so to go from 1 rank to 2 rank is 4 XP, from 2 to 3 is 6 xp. So to go from 2 to 11 is 130 xp.

            Next day you enhance the rapier. You want to add damage,not fencing skill since it will not stack, but damage and skill increases combine. (pg 123)

            Base 2
            Range: 0
            Duration: 8 (1 month)
            Area of Effect: 0
            Effect: 8 (6L damage)
            rating: 18, same as before, 5 -6 hours to enchant this.

            this gives another 6 dice to damage (and quadruples the normal damage of a rapier, from 2 to 8 dice). It also means you will be using 11 dice for fencing and 8 dice for rapier and 2 Dice for Strength is 21 dice damage for attacks, that’s 10+ per roll.

            To get the extra 6 points would mean going from 11 to 17 in fencing, or 174 Experience.

            So a beginning enchanter can enhance thigns to represent over 300 xp worth of experience and have it be functional for a month.

            Of course if he is caught he is hanged as a witch, and he should not lend his blade to anybody.

            Still think he is a weak fighter?

            • Runeslinger says:

              Haha~
              Although I cannot say I am all that keen on effects which enhance attributes like Will, I admire the effort you are putting into getting the most out of AfO’s magic system.

              For the record though, the point of this entry was that *neither* character is weak, and that the idea that Ubiquity PCs are underpowered is a false one.
              😉

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