OK RPG Rules: Character Definition

For purposes of the rules, characters are defined by Attributes which describe what they can do and how well. There are many other (and more important) aspects of an RPG character such as personality, background, and relationships with other characters, but most of them do not require objective resolution of conflicts, being either subjective (internal moral struggles) or generating conflict only on the player level (working out history that the GM will approve), and therefore do not need game mechanics.

The rules do not specify any particular list of Attributes, nor limit how many you can have, nor at what levels: all that matters to the rules is that when something happens, you can produce a value that you and the GM agree represents your ability in that respect. Because the possibilities of character action are infinite, the possible Attributes are thus also infinite. Attributes might describe learned skills (Autogiro Pilot, Master of Lightning Fist Kung Fu), innate physical or mental qualities (Strength, Agility; Memory, Perception), social connections (Contacts, Military Rank), powers beyond those of mortal man (Levitation, Radar Sense); hopefully, they can also be use in ways undreamed of by the designer.

What matters to your GM is another matter entirely. Frequently, the GM will establish a list of Attributes that apply to this particular campaign. This list might be very short (Fighter, Magic-user, Thief, Ranger) or very long (...Arm Strength, Whole-body Strength, ... Broadsword Attack, Broadsword Parry, Longsword Attack, ... Knowledge: Northern French Flora, Knowledge: Northern French Fauna, ...) depending on the level of detail the GM thinks appropriate. If there is a list of Attributes, there will probably also be rules for how many you can have at what levels, depending on the power level of the campaign.

Some particularly indolent or trusting GMs may not make a list ahead of time, letting each player take whatever Attributes seem to best represent his character. Even in this case, there will probably be some explicit or implicit guidelines about the breadth of Attributes, depending again on the level of detail desired.

Attribute Ranks

Regardless of how you determine what Attributes your character has, they will all be ranked on a scale from Pathetic to Mythic.

The names and descriptions of the ranks on the scale are relative to an adult modern human in reasonable physical and mental condition. Nonhumans (aliens, orcs, angels, whatever) can in principle end up anywhere on the scale, or even beyond, but the GM may have something to say about such characters.

Each rank is quite broad in terms of the range of ability it encompasses: only three ranks separate the man in the street from an Olympic athlete or a Nobel prizewinner. To better differentiate levels of ability, you can record being at the top end of a rank by adding a + to the rank name: Average+, Good+, etc.

Mental and physical Attributes at this level are typical of an imbecile or cripple (or, more generously, of a very young child, or very senior citizen); for a learned skill, this ranking indicates that not only have you never learned the skill, you've never even seen it done.
Not as bad as Pathetic, but still notably bad. Somone with a Deficient Attribute will probably be known for it among friends and acquaintances. To have a learned skill at Deficient rank means that you've seen it done, or read about it, but never done it for real yourself. Or maybe just that you're completely lacking in talent.
This is the rank the average person in the street has in a field she has normal innate ability at, and some familiarity with, but hasn't practiced or developed.
This rank indicates either a significant amount of practice or development (most people are ranked Good in the Attribute(s) they use to earn a living), or considerable natural talent.
For a normal human to have a Great Attribute requires both plenty of natural talent and plenty of experience; few are likely to have more than one unless they're closely related. Someone this good will probably rise high in the ranks of her chosen field, and be at least locally famous.
Realistically speaking, this is the upper end of human ability. People of Extraordinary ability will be at the top of their respective fields: Nobel prizewinners, Olympic athletes, leaders of nations.
This is the realm of action movie heroes: real humans aren't actually this good, but it's not completely inconceivable that someone really really cool could reach this level. Chow Yun Fat's characters have Heroic Gunplay; James Bond has Heroic Seduction.
A Legendary Attribute is inarguably superhuman, beyond the ability of even an implausibly good action hero. The supernaturally powerful and skilled characters of wuxia films or anime might be this good.
Someone with the appropriate Mythic Attributes can accomplish feats such as lifting a full-loaded truck, running fast enough to get a speeding ticket, and defeating scores of professional fighters without breaking stride. More intellectual pursuits are difficult to quantify, but figure that someone of Mythic ability can think ten times as fast as the owner of a merely Extraordinary brain.

Default Ranks

Unless the GM has established a short list of very broad Attributes, you probably will not have the energy or paper to record your rank in every single Attribute possible within the game, or the time to search through such a long list during play. This is infinitely more true if the GM permits players to make up Attributes at will. You should therefore only record the Attributes that are particularly relevent to your character, and accept the default value for the rest.

For Attributes that every normal adult human has (strength, running speed, command of the local language, ability to drive a car/ride a horse, ...), the default for PCs will be somewhere on the scale corresponding to the power level of the campaign. If the PCs are supposed to be fairly normal people, the default will be Average. If they are supposed to be highly trained and talented doers of great deeds, it might be Average+, and in a campaign revolving around larger-than-life capital-H Heros, the default might even be Good.

This does not mean that *every* unlisted Attribute has this value: even if he is a character in a larger-than-life campaign, Ugar the noble savage from the Lost World will not default to Good when trying to fly an autogiro.

It is also possible to have Attributes in the game that a normal adult human doesn't have: telepathy, flight, pulling a magic sword out of your own heart. These Attributes are called Powers, and the default, regardless of the power level of the campaign, is to not have any ability in a Power you haven't specifically taken: you just can't do that. Resistance to Powers that are used directly against someone else does get a default rank, whether the campaign default or some other.

This file was last modified at 0949 on 23Dec99 by trip@idiom.com.