Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ad Astra Character Generation

Header.  First off, spell out some of the very basic details of your character at the top of the sheet. What's his name? What does he look like? How old is he? At this early stage of character creation, you probably also want to think about the concept of who your character is, much as an author coming up with a quick and dirty profile of a character he will use in a novel or screenplay. You don't have to come up with a long or detailed backstory (I certainly don't necessarily encourage it, although if you like to do that kind of thing, knock yourself out.  Just don't throw a fit if you spend all that time on a character backstory only to have him killed in the first half hour of play) but these kinds of early thoughts should also lead you towards what the race and class choices you will make are likely to be, as well as getting you to think about how you will assign your stats.

Stats.  "Stats" is a shorthand term for three scores that your character will have. These basic scores give a quick, simple and abstract number that quantifies some of your innate traits and capabilities. The three stats are Strength (abbreviated STR), Dexterity (DEX) and Mind (MND.) Your STR score describes how tough and strong you are physically, while your DEX score describes your reflexes, hand-eye coordination, agility and speed. Your MND score speaks to your intelligence, wisdom, personal magnetism, and other traits that have less to do with your physical body and more to do with your presence or wits.

Stats are, by design, quite generic and abstract, and describe innate traits. Skills, on the other hand, while also fairly generic and abstract, will describe abilities that you have learned, practiced and developed. If the GM decides that there is some inherent risk in a task you have elected to do, he will have you make a "check" to see if you are successful. Most of the time, these checks will consist of rolling a d20, taking the result of that roll, adding to it your Stat bonus and your Skill bonus, and comparing the result to a target number, which by tradition is called a Difficulty Class (DC.) Generating the score of a stat is a little bit convoluted, but the range of numbers is traditional, and I have elected not to buck tradition here very much. Roll a d8 four times. Ignore the lowest roll on the four dice.  Subtract 4 from each of the three remaining numbers, which will turn them into three scores with a range of -3 to +4.  The average should be about +1 or so, although of course it may vary.  If you are quite a bit lower than this your GM may allow you to reroll these scores, if you're not whiny about it. Some GMs, on the other hand, feel that playing with the hand the dice deal you is part of the fun.

For these scores, higher is better. Assign the scores to your stats as you see fit, to best fit the concept of your character (for example, if you envision your character as a scholarly or quick-witted fellow, put your highest score in MND—if you picture instead a big, athletic bruiser, you probably want to put your highest score in STR.) If your STR score ever falls to -5, your character dies. If your DEX score ever falls to -5, your character is completely immobile and cannot move at all. If your MND score ever falls to -5, then your character is brain dead and effectively removed permanently from play.

Derived Stats.  A few stats are not "rolled" but rather are derived from the stats noted above.  Hit points is one such.  Your maximum hit point score for all characters, regardless of class, is generated by using the STR score plus 10 plus 2 for every level (excluding first.) Hit points indicate how much damage a character can take before being too injured to continue. Your maximum hit points, when uninjured, can never be surpassed, except possibly under the influence of a psionic or high-tech effect (which will usually be temporary.) However, when injured, you will lose hit points. If, for example, your character is hit by a pirate against whom he is fighting and takes 7 points of damage, your current hit points will be reduced to 7 below maximum.  It won't stay that way; characters do heal lost hit points, but even so, it never will go above his maximum hit point total.

Characters who, for whatever reason, reach 0 hit points or lower, collapse into unconsciousness and shock, and are at risk of dying. Every round, the character must succeed on a check of his STR + character level, DC 20 every round or die. Naturally, it behooves the rest of the group to "stabilize" the character before he dies, while he is still unconscious and in shock. Another character can attempt to administer quick and dirty first aid by taking a round, while adjacent to wounded character, and making a MND + Knowledge check, DC 15. This represents very minimal bandaging or other first aid, and the character will be stabilized, and will no longer be at risk of near-term death (unless, of course, he takes more damage while unconscious and starts the process over again) but the character will not at this point regain any lost hit points, and he remains unconscious.

The other derived stat is Armor Class, or AC.  Your AC is calculated by starting with the base number of 10 and adding your DEX score, whatever armor bonus your armor confers, as well as your character level.

Skills.  Characters in AD ASTRA have access to five skills—Communication, Physical, Subterfuge, Knowledge, and Psionics. The skill rank for every character is equal to his level plus any class or race bonuses. A skill check is made by rolling a d20 and adding both your skill rank and the stat bonus applicable as described above.  The GM, again, will tell you what applies, but those are general guidelines. Hacking a computer, to give an example, would probably be MND + Knowledge.

Only characters who take the Psionic Abilities class ability can use psionic powers. But all characters have rankings in the skill anyway, if nothing else, to use in resisting certain psionic powers (which, as in d20 opposed skill checks, require both characters to make a check against each other.)

All of the m20 skills equate to a few skills on the standard d20 skill list, but they are "collapsed" into fewer selections. So, for example, Communication is equivalent to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, etc. while Subterfuge can be used for such varied tasks as Hide, Move Silently, Disguise, Forgery, etc. For the most part, it should be obvious which of the skills on this simplified list apply to any given situation, but as in all things, defer to the judgment of your GM.

Classes.  There are a number of class abilities available for your character.  There are no pre-fabricated classes, however—you simply pick two class abilities.  I do provide some sample classes, but you are not restricted to using those;  you can mix and match class abilities as desired. There also isn't really a mechanism to multiclass, so pick your concept, pick the class abilities that best suit it, and run with it. Given how rules-lite the system is, the a la carte class ability system is easily flexible enough to accommodate a lot of variety in concept anyway. As always, NPCs don't necessarily always follow all of these rules.

Class special abilities:
  • Combat Bonus: +1 to Damage and attack at 1st level.  This increases to +2 at 4th, and +3 at 8th.
  • Skill Bonus: +3 to a skill (Communication, Physical, Subterfuge or Knowledge)
  • Psionic Abilities: Although all characters have ranks in all skills, correlated to their level, unless you take this ability, you cannot use psionic powers.  You can still use your ranks in Psionics defensively in some situations, such as to resist the effect of a psionic suggestion, for example.  
  • Sneak Attack: add Subterfuge modifier to damage roll when sneak attacking.  May require successful subterfuge + Dex check to sneak up on the character in the first place.
  • Affinity: an affinity adds the ability to reroll a check if desired if it falls within the spectrum of a specialized area.  This includes (but may not necessarily be limited to): Vehicle Piloting, Vehicle Repair, Robot Repair, Computers, Medicine, Investigation, Nobility, Deception, Stealth, Wilderness Survival, Acrobatics, Psionics, Perception, and Demolitions.
  • Psionic Weapons: can use the Combat Bonus to attack and damage (as described above), but only when using psionically generated energy weapons.  The ability grants the ability to manifest psionic weapons.  These weapons, made of energy drawn from outside of the known universe directly from the bulk usually resemble a slightly glowing, translucent sword and shield, or other melee weapon that the character desires.  Any character with this ability can, instead of attacking, deflect missed ranged fire back at anyone shooting at him with a shield-like energy construct (rolls as if making a ranged attack, can only apply to shots that target him but miss; hits still do damage as normal and cannot be deflected.)  If the character doesn’t move or take any other action, he can use his psionic weapon to "fight defensively" by adding +4 to his AC against ranged attacks.  Missed attacks when "fighting defensively" can be deflected.
Some example class configurations:
  • Soldier: Combat Bonus and Physical Skill Bonus.
  • Scoundrel: Sneak Attack and Subterfuge Skill Bonus.
  • Expert: One Affinity and Knowledge Skill Bonus.
  • Knight: Psionic Weapons and Psionic Abilities.
  • Gunslinger: Combat Bonus and Affinity Demolitions
  • Bounty Hunter: Combat Bonus and Sneak Attack
  • Agent: Sneak Attack and Affinity Stealth
  • Space Wizard: +3 Psionic skill and Psionic Abilities
There isn’t really any way to create any type of Knight other than using the sample Knight class, since the two psionic class abilities use take up the two class abilities, leaving no room for anything else.  Tough.  Knights are supposed to be rare and unusual, not commonplace with a variety of styles. Also; taking the psionic weapons without the rest of the psionic abilities is technically possible, it would be really weird from an in-setting perspective.  The reverse isn't necessarily true, however.

Races.  Pick a race for your character. Because in most space operas, all races tend (mostly) to be just regular people in funny masks, any characteristic can apply to any race if desired (subject to GM approval.) But feel free to try and play your race to type, or at least to construct it to type. Picking a race is an a la carte option in AD ASTRA. Rather than picking a race and applying preset bonuses, you can decide exactly what being a member of a given race means. The system for constructing race bonus is to use two Racial Template Points (RTP) and add them to your character at creation. The same RTP can be taken, if desired, more than once. One RTP is equal to either:
  • A +1 Stat bonus. This could also include a +1 to AC as natural armor, even though AC isn't a "stat" per se.
  • Two skill points (i.e., +2 to one skill of your choice, or +1 to two skill bonuses of your choice.)
  • A special trait or ability (usually an affinity, as described above in the Expert class. If a character has the same affinity for both race and class, allow them to reroll twice! They clearly really want to be good in that area, and are spending character generation capital to do so at the expense of something else.)
  • Another special ability, which can be designed to suit, if desired.  Here are a few samples:
    • The ability to breath water as well as air.
    • Retractable claws which allow you to climb vertical surfaces
    • The ability to see in the dark as if you have biological night vision googles.
    • The ability to run twice as fast as a regular humanoid creature.
Subject to GM approval, some races may give up the equivalent of a negative RTP to gain an effective third RTP, but I wouldn't do much of this. Otherwise, however, players are strongly encouraged to play around with this race system to create the customized version of their character that they want.  Here's a few samples from the AD ASTRA setting material:
  • Human (Earth-extraction): +1 to all skills (except Psionics.)
  • Altairan (alien human): +2 to MND
  • Ubrai (alien human): +1 to DEX and Pilot affinity
  • Arcturan (large, furry aliens): +2 to STR
  • Cetians (amphibious aliens): +1 to MND and ability to breath water or air equally
  • Sirian reptoids: +1 to STR and +1 to natural AC
  • Idacharan (alien human): +1 to DEX, +1 Physical and +1 Knowledge
  • Carinan Hulks (physically powerful aliens): +3 to STR, -1 to MND (NOTE: Uses the rule above that I recommended against doing much of. But a few exceptions here and there don't bother me much.)
Sentient robots can also be created using the rules for RTP. Robots cannot be Knights, and have no psionic skill ability. They do not receive stat increases upon leveling as biological characters do, but in return are immune to mind-influencing powers and several physiological conditions which are problematic, if not fatal, to biological creatures (such as no need to breathe, immunity to poison, immunity to pain, etc.) They never age or die as long as they are maintained. Here's a few sample robot types:
  • Diplomatic model: +2 Knowledge and +2 Communication
  • Combat bot: +1 to DEX and +2 to Physical
  • Repair bot: Vehicle Repair affinity and Computers affinity
  • Soldier bot: +2 STR
Keep in mind that robots are a combination of their racial traits and the equipment that they're built with, even moreso than other characters, since their equipment is usually integrated directly to their frames and cannot be easily taken from them. Soldier bots would have heavy armor, while regular combat bots would not, but that's a case of their built in equipment, not their racial stats. PC robots should be allowed similar flexibility (as can PCs of other races, of course. Equipment is an important part of modifying stats in any d20-like game.)

Robots must make a STR + Physical check (or DEX + Physical check in the case of an area effect, such as a grenade) when hit with an EMP attack. If they fail, they will be shut down. To be reactivated, they usually just need to be switched back on and then make a STR + Physical check (or have the character switching them on make a MND + Knowledge check DC 15) to quickly bypass the power outage caused by the EMP attack.  Otherwise, the robot is incapacitated for the duration of the combat. A damaged robot with access to the necessary tools (and in some cases, someone else to make the repairs, but usually they can do it themselves) heals like a normal character.

To Hit Scores.  There are three To Hit scores.  These are used mostly in combat situations.  They operate very similar to Skills; they could perhaps be called specialized combat skills.  The first is Melee To Hit, and represents the ability you have to successfully hit (and damage) an opponent with or without a weapon in hand to hand combat.  It is calculated by adding your STR modifier to your character level, plus any class based bonus you may have (such as the Combat Bonus.)  When added to a d20 roll, this is the modifier you will use to attack an opponent in hand to hand combat.  The Ranged To Hit represents your ability to throw or shoot a weapon.  It is calculated the same way, except that instead of using your STR modifier, you will use your DEX modifier.  Do the same for the Psionic To Hit, using MND.  Keep in mind that characters may not always have the means to make a certain kind of attack (this is especially applicable to psionic attacks, where characters most likely do not have any access to psionic attacks.)  But make a note of it anyway; you never know what may happen in the course of the game!

Heroism Points.  Heroism points represent a character's determination and their importance to the  forces of fate, or destiny, or luck... or just a second chance at something critical, sometimes. A character gets three heroism points per session to start with. Heroism points can be used to add a +10 to any d20 roll that the character makes. It can also be used as a "healing surge;" to instantly heal 2d6+2 hit points as needed.

When your Heroism points are completely spent, they are gone for the rest of game session. A character's Heroism points are restored to their starting amount at the beginning of a game session. However, the GM may (and should!) decide to give extra "reward" Heroism points to characters who do something particularly exciting, interesting, harrowing, or entertaining. These points can be saved to be used later during the session, or spent immediately. Heroism points do not carry over from session to session; they must be used in the session in which they are granted, or they are lost (although the next session will give you a new evening's worth of Heroism points to spend again.)

Heroism points can be noted any way that works for you, but my preference is with counters that are returned to the GM when spent. Any type of counter will work—small paper chits, poker chips, potato chips, pennies, etc. My favorite are toy coins which I bought at a party favor store for a buck or two. They're cheap, utilitarian and yet evocative at the same time.

Level Advancement.  In general, characters advance when the GM says that they do, rather than against some formula of antagonists defeated. I expect in normal play to treat advancement as happening once every 4-5 sessions or so, but that can be sped up or slowed down to taste and depending on the desired length and scope of the campaign overall. I do not anticipate ever having a campaign go higher than 10th level, so it becomes an effective level cap on the game and on characters.

Every time a character levels, he gains the following advantages.
  • +2 hit points
  • +1 to all attack rolls
  • +1 to all skills
  • On levels divisible by three (3, 6, and 9) add one point to STR, DEX or MND (except for robot characters.)  If adding a point to STR, this will also cascade to your hit point total.
  • On each even numbered level, remember that your AC increases by +1 as well.
  • Remember that characters with the Combat Bonus or Psionic Weapons class abilities gain an additional +1 to attack and damage at level 4 and 8.

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