The Morrow Project Pre-Release: Character Generation

For me, the character creation rules are often the window I use for getting a good understanding of how an RPG is intended to be interpreted and implemented. This section tends to be my first, best source of first impressions.

Digging into my Pre-Release copy of The Morrow Project, I was quickly given the sense that this is a very detailed imagining of highly trained professionals in a very dangerous place. Unlike many games with a focus on aiding players maintain a sense of realism and accuracy, the writing makes every attempt to keep the reader engaged, while the system respects the mathematically gifted and challenged player alike. Being a game built around the premise of a paramilitary organization cryogenically frozen before WWIII and charged with the task of rebuilding the world after that grim and inevitable nuclear holocaust, characters are defined by factors such as core abilities or attributes, skills, and the era in which they were recruited. As you move through character creation in this game, do not be surprised if you wind up knowing more about your character than you know about yourself – it is that detailed.

Characters

Morrow Project personnel are drawn from many walks of life and trained in their core duties for the Project prior to being frozen. The game touches on the idea that volunteers may have been recruited over several decades – handpicked to serve when the time comes. You may have young men and women from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and the days just before the war all waking up together in a future that was not what they were trained to expect. The game fiction has been updated from earlier editions to place the end of the recruitment phase in the last few weeks before the war in 2017, but the expectation is, as always, that the date of the war is just a few short years ahead of the players’ present.

The Project was intended to have its personnel ready to be revived and begin reconstruction as soon as conditions would safely allow it. In the game’s back story  something goes wrong and the teams are not awakened for 150 years – long after they expected to be revived. They awake to a world which has forgotten much of what was, and has had time to devolve into something else entirely. It is not reconstruction that the Project now faces, but re-education and adjustment – once they can be assured of their own survival.

Core Abilities (Page 31)

Characters have 7 attributes referred to as Core Abilities which define their essential traits and serve as a foundation for how they interact with the game world. These Abilities are on a scale of 10 to 30, with a maximum upper limit of 40, and lower limit of 0. To determine the values, players roll 4D6+6 once for each of the 7 Core Abilities. Two optional methods are provided, such as a die pool generation method, and a very solid point-buy method. These three methods should satisfy the needs of any group, and provide the PD (Project Director) with all the tools they need to make specific NPcs quickly.

The 7 Core Abilities are Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Awareness, Expression, Reasoning, and Focus. These traits are used to determine the basis for rolls in the game. This base, plus the addition of an applicable skill, is rolled on percentile dice and adjusted by modifiers. As a quick example, a character with a Strength of 16 will have a base score (TASK BASE) of 32% + skill % in activities related to the application of physical force.

Reading + Generation Time: 5 minutes

Player decision: male, recruited in 1991 (can be rolled, or determined by group as needed)

Core Abilities:

STR: 16  CON: 12   DEX: 18   AWA: 20   EXP: 15  REA: 21   FOC: 16

NOTE: These traits are scattered throughout the average band, except for Constitution and Expression which are below average. To get a better sense of the scores, turning them into a percentage by multiplying by 5 shows the relationship to the human average. The CON score of 12 is only 60% of standard human capability, while the Reason of 21 is 105%. A character with Abilities in the 30’s would be exceptional.

As usual with this sort of generation, my mind set to work on turning the numbers into a person as soon as the set was complete. Although there is a lot more detail to generate yet, the base framework is showing me a person on the clever end of average intellect, who has no real history of putting effort into physical development, prone to a primarily private nature. In order to take this through to its conclusion honestly, I reigned in my thoughts on the character there, while waiting to generate more information.

What I could be sure of at this point was that this character by statistics alone, was average. For this game, that works just fine. This is a game of Ordinary People, tasked with an Extraordinary Mission. While there is room in the game for adept soldiers, schmoozers, and inventors, the bulk of characters will be ordinary men and women with skills the ruins of the future will need, and the training to survive while they reclaim those ruins for the remnants of civilization.

Physical Attributes (Page 33)

Using derived and rolled traits, the physique of the character is dealt with next. The build of the character (mass), height and weight, endurance, and the traits which govern injury are handled in the next phase. The character generation process flows in order as you go through the book, with each trait described with its basic rules all in one place. Enough information about the traits are given here to demystify character generation without bogging it down.

Reading + Generation Time: 2 minutes

Mass: 10, Medium Build, 76Kg (167lbs)          Height: 1.8m (6ft)

Endurance Points: 12           Structure Points: 140 total, allocated by prepared chart into hit locations

Blood Points: 140 (equivalent to Structure Points)      Blood Type & Factor: A+

Derived Abilities (Page 37)

Now we get into the meat of what a character can do, and how they do it. Using the previously established traits, we identify the number of actions available per turn, the traits governing movement, and check how many training points this character has. This latter aspect ties into age, so that rolled trait is included in this section to keep things simple and easy to reference. This is our first decision point in the process: play a character of standard age (16+4D6 years) or choose to play someone older or younger. Training Points will reflect the years of experience the character has, but at a certain point will also influence their Core Abilities.

Reading + Generation Time: 2 minutes

Actions: 3     Pace: 4m/Turn, 4Km/hr      Age: 31     Training Points Available: 247 for skills

Note: The group can also set a flat score of 250 for the Training Point pool. To do so can make the process slightly faster, and can also mitigate problems introduced by players who have an attachment to what is often called ‘balance’ between characters. I considered raising the character’s age to make it similar to my own, but decided against it for reasons of longer-term playability for the character.

Finishing Touches (Page 39)

At this stage, the character as teeth and tissue exists, but lacks details of personality and experience. As I have been generating and filling in numbers, flashes of inspiration have been illuminating my slowly growing mental picture, but as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t allow anything to settle into place until reaching this point. The game advises us to pause here and reflect on our inspirations and ideas and turn these statistics into a full-blown concept.

Who is this person who volunteered to surrender their ties to the present for an uncertain role in a devastated future? Where are they from? Who are they leaving behind? What type and degree of education do they have? What made them the person they were the day entered ‘cold sleep.’

As a nod to those who prefer to avoid anything resembling personality mechanics the next stage of character generation is optional, but in a good old school tradition it does delve into personality and ways to use scored psychological traits to aid and abet chargen and portrayal.

The game also provides an optional aspect in the form of Psionics. Depending on the type setting desired, these psychic talents can be a small, large, or non-existent part of the game.

If both of these optional factors of character generation are dropped, then players can advance to page 48 and spend their Training Points on skills.

My sample character will be made with the optional personality traits, but will not be made with psionics. For this time out, I think it will be nice to focus on the high level of realistic detail the game allows. As I run through each statistic and build on it, I break it down in point form so that I can come back and edit it as later ideas or changes develop through the rest of the process. I am expecting that the personality traits will certainly influence how these initial concepts actually play out. With below average scores in Strength, Constitution, and Expression; and average traits elsewhere, I get the strongest sense of a quiet man of an unassuming nature, who is often overlooked.

Character Concept:

Lionel (Len) Peter Burnside was born in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, but spent much of his childhood in the US with cousins while riding out his parents’ very messy divorce. Having dual citizenship, he returned to Canada for his college education, but headed south again after graduation to explore the job market and visit family before ‘settling down.’ That short trip of exploration ended up in him drifting from city to city across the US and parts of Canada, doing odd jobs for a while – failing to put down roots or connect with people – and then moving on. Len focused on service and construction jobs and often devoted his spare time to charity housing and development projects.

Personality Traits & Styles (Page 39)

These traits may be developed as much or as little as the group desires. Five categories of personality trait have been provided; Volatility, Extroversion, Compassion, Discipline, and Curiosity. Further, styles within each of the 5 traits have been provided for use or as samples for developing personality styles on your own. A few of these styles can be selected as a reflection of the character’s personality and left unscored as a general indication of personality type, or all 5 can be given a score and used as a guide to roleplay.  I will generate the traits for Len (4D6-4) and then move on to defining how that trait manifests as his style. Alternately, I could allocate 50 points if using the point-buy option.

Reading + Generation time: 10 minutes

Volatility: 40%   (Calm – Will push back if pushed, but prefers to resolve conflict without aggression)

Extroversion: 90% (Glue – actions not words demonstrate his drive to connect with people and build community)

Compassion: 75% (Humanitarian – wants to aid those less fortunate than himself)

Discipline: 80% (Counselor – dedicated to keeping the peace between those he knows and trusts)

Curiosity: 80% (Innovator – there has to be a better way and he is willing to scrap everything to find it)

NOTE: After rolling the trait values and looking over the styles for each trait I found that some I could pick off the rack, some needed tailoring, some required the concept be tailored, and some had to be created whole-cloth. In particular the high scores in Extroversion and Discipline gave me pause, but with a little more thought I uncovered an avenue for the character which I never would have found without the influence of these rolls.

Updated Concept:

Lionel (Len) Peter Burnside was born in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, but spent much of his childhood in the US with cousins while riding out his parents’ very messy divorce. Having dual citizenship, he returned to Canada for his college education, but headed south again after graduation to explore the job market and visit family before ‘settling down.’ That trip of exploration ended up with him joining a charity housing and development project. To support himself, yet still keep his schedule as open as possible, Len took service and construction jobs, devoting all of his spare time to finding newer and cheaper ways to build more comfortable and affordable housing able to stand up to the abuses of daily living and overcrowding.

Skills (Page 48)

Skills serve as a bonus to the character’s Task Base (Controlling Core Ability x 2) and are defined as being Basic, Advanced, or Complex. These ratings define who and when they can be attempted. Basic skills require no training and are often a natural aspect of life such as listening for a sound or climbing over a wall. They can be improved with specific training, but the lack of training does not preclude using them. Advanced skills tend to require training to use with consistent success, but are easy to learn and can be tried untrained. Such skills include firing a gun or cooking dinner. Complex skills require substantial training and possibly equipment in order to be attempted with a serious expectation of success. This sort of skill includes things such as academic studies or surgery.

Skills are rated on a range of Expertise moving from Untrained to 0% to 60%. Incremental descriptions along the range provide examples of how professional or prepared a person at that level of training might be. Skills over 20% are expressed as specialties, although some may require specialties earlier.

Skill resolution is a percentile system, however, The Morrow Project does not deliver binary, pass/fail results. Die rolls deliver degrees of success through counting how high the roll is without going over the skill value, and also offer the means of generating exceptional results of success or failure when doubles are rolled. This combination produces a very robust feedback mechanism for describing results and keeping each roll fresh and loaded with implications.

Skills are initially purchased on a 1:1 basis with Training Points. For ease of calculation and speed, this may be done in 5% increments, but this is not required. Most skills have a cap of 20% which can only be exceeded through specialization. A skill may have several specializations, and each specialization is purchased and added on to the original base score at a cost of its value over 20%. Skills may be specialized earlier if the player likes.

An option is suggested for starting characters to be capped at the 20% level and allow specialties to develop in play to further speed up character generation and reduce the amount new players to have to take in.

One thing the inclusion of which I favor is the chart of training times, which puts the skill scores in perspective in terms of real world time required for study and practice. Better yet, the system also allows for unused skills to degrade over time and require refresher courses.

Skills are purchased with a 50 point block being devoted to the year of Morrow Project training, then the remainder being used to flesh out the knowledge and skill base of the character which got them there in the first place. Packages are laid out for players to choose from to easily organize their thoughts on what the character should be able to do. Of course, skills can be bought without conforming to a path once the players are comfortable with the system.

My sample character, Len, for example will be most easily framed by first looking at his education, then putting points into the path of  Tradesman. That occupational path requires a minimum 20TP investment among the desired skills within that occupation. Each path of training has a set cost of points to invest, but this is not a hard requirement, spending more or less is possible and linked to opportunities for distinctiveness and roleplay. With 247TP, I had 197 points for Len’s experience prior to recruitment and training by the Project. It is tempting, of course, to ensure you pump up the combat skills and survival aspects of the character, but that is to overlook the sort of game it can be, if you run it well, and the mindset of the people who are focused on rebuilding the world – not conquering it.

Len Burnside:

College Degree (University of Alberta), majoring in Engineering

  • Athletics 5%
  • Climb 10%
  • Computer Technology 10%
  • Engineering (Civil) 30%
  • Research 5%

Len struggled in college and graduated near the bottom of his class with little desire to go further in Engineering. After working for the summer at an under-the-table construction job as an unskilled laborer, Len decided to go to Trade School at night to ‘get his head on straight.’

Trade School

  • Bargain 5%
  • Artisan (Carpenter) 30%
  • Construction (Build) 30%
  • Operate Equipment (Construction) 15%

Len worked happily in construction and although he would never distinguish himself to his employers. project managers, or those whose homes he built, he could take real pride in the physical signs of his effort and the safety and security of those dwelling within them. He was also noticed by recruiters for Bruce Morrow for his dedication, his team-oriented, altruistic behavior, and his solid set of useful skills.

Tradesman

  • Artisan (Carpenter, Welder)  +10% raising Carpentry to 40%, 12% for Welding
  • Drive (Heavy Vehicle, Automobile) 15%, 10%
  • Scrounge 10%

At this point, Len is recruited by the Project and enters training for 1 year. 

Basic Training

  • Brawl  5%
  • Drive (MPV) 5%
  • Emergency Procedures 5%
  • Firearms 10%
  • Maintenance (Mechanical) 10%
  • Stealth 5%
  • Survival 5%
  • Swim 5%

At this point, the design of Len is done. Gear needs to be assigned, and his branch of service chosen once and for all (Science, or perhaps Recon). He will of course undergo revision as more characters are made to flesh out his team, and all of these are compared to published characters and the skill descriptions. Still, I think I know who he is, and have plenty of reasons to want to play him. I want to feel his sense of wonder to waking to a new world, his sense of horror at the scope of the project that lies before them, his gut-loosening fear as the first conflict is forced upon them, and his pride as the sun sets on a new structure designed and made habitable by his hands.

By no stretch of the imagination have we created a lethal combat character, or should we think of him as anything other than support in terms of his role in setting up a safe zone around his team’s reclamation area, but once that area has been set up, he will be pushed more and more into the forefront. Perhaps in the ruins of all that we hold dear, he will find his voice and find a way to stand out to those he so selflessly serves.

Speak your piece~

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