Saturday, May 30, 2015

How To Create a Character Conversion in 4 Simple Steps!

Those who've been regular readers of my work for the past two years know that one of my favorite RPG hobbies is character conversions. For those who haven't been reading me that long, now you know. All you need to do is stop by the Character Conversions page, and you'll see my takes on the Avengers, Gotham City's vigilantes, and on a pretty big swath of the Game of Thrones cast.

Some swaths are bigger than others.
Since I started writing character conversions I've gotten a lot of praise, some thoughtful additions, and one recurring question; how do you make a character conversion?

It's harder than it looks, but I guarantee you it's easier than you think it is.

Step One: Choose Your Character

This seems self-explanatory, and at least some of you reading this had a character in mind before you got to this step. That's good. Now ask yourself, can I play this character?

Also, just because you CAN, that doesn't mean you SHOULD.
I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. After I finished my most recent character build for Loras Tyrell, the Knight of the Flowers a Reddit user asked me how I would build Prince/King Joffrey. I answered that I wouldn't, not because I find Joffrey to be a repugnant human being, but because he doesn't fit the mold for a player character.

In an RPG the character you're playing has to have both the ability to act, as well as the desire to do so. The problem with characters like Joffrey Baratheon, his mother Queen Circe, and even (it could be argued) Tywin Lannister is that they are not characters that do, they are characters who have it done. While these characters might make ideal NPCs for a game, their preferred methods of "order an underling to do my bidding," makes then passive participants.

Put another way, M is a necessity to MI-6, but I'm pretty sure you'd rather play James Bond.

Step Two: Identify That Character's Traits

Characters are known by their traits. Think about the Hulk. He's inhumanly strong, durable, brimming with rage... oh, and he normally looks like this guy.

A character's defining traits are what make them who they are, and as such they represent the core ideas you're going to have to convert. Whether it's how Sir Lancelot was a knight who only kept his legendary strength as long as he remained true, or how Wolverine has adamantium claws, the nose of a tracking hound, and a regenerating anatomy, you're creating a list of things your final conversion needs to have in order to accurately represent the character's abilities.

Step Three: Represent Those Traits

It seems pretty easy, at a glance. Once you have your complete list of traits all you have to do is figure out some way to translate them into your game world. The question you have to ask yourself at this point is what things must be translated in a certain way in order for the conversion to work, and which things can be re-skinned or hand-waved simply to give you the feeling of the character?

I feel an example coming on...
Thanks to the power of movie magic (and the charisma of Robert Downey Junior), Iron Man is one of Marvel's most popular characters. With three movies all his own, as well as appearances in two Avengers movies at time of writing, Iron Man has inspired somewhere between dozens and hundreds of gamers to try and create their own armored titan in their games of choice.

If you were to go to Paizo's forums and post the question, "How Do I Build Iron Man in Pathfinder?" you'd get a dozen different suggestions within the hour. You might also start a flame war that will get the question shut down pretty quickly, because everyone has an opinion on this issue. The most common suggestions you're going to get are:

- Play a straight Magus. Stark is a genius, and this class lets you cast in full armor with no penalties pretty fast.

- Play a Summoner with the Synthesist archetype. This lets you summon your eidolon and wear it like armor, allowing you to wreck shit at level 1.

- Play a Wizard/Fighter/Eldritch Knight. You'll be able to fight and cast spells without really losing the access to what you can do as a wizard, and you'll be able to craft your own armor.

- Play a 3rd party class. This thing was specifically built to have an Iron Man feel to it.

Now, none of these are inherently wrong. If you examine the motivation behind the choice, though, you'll find different players are interested in different aspects of the character. For instance, the Magus players often feel that the ability to use magic while wearing armor is enough to accurately portray the character, especially since magi draw their power from their intelligence. Summoners, on the other hand, often feel that Iron Man should be a powerhouse, and that they should be able to throw their weight around at level 1 instead of building up to the armored Avenger by level 15 or 16. The third option is typically offered by players who take a long-game view, and will re-enact a fantasy version of Stark discovering and refining his armor, instead of simply being a spellcaster who can do his thing while encased in steel.

Players who suggest 3rd party material often feel that if someone has already gone to all the hard work of creating a class that is meant to let you play this specific archetype, thereby rendering conversion on your part minimal, why not do that?

When I decided to write my Iron Man Pathfinder conversion I had a single goal for it; actually creating the armor. That was why I advocated a wizard with all of the feats and skills necessary to forge magical construct armor, which protects the magic user inside, and grants the wearer all sorts of additional strengths and powers. Flight? Sure. Durability and strength? Covered. Gauntlet loaded with wands for disposable searing ray? Yup, got that, too.

Step Four: Whip Cream, Cherries, Enjoy!

The last step in a character conversion is figuring out how much of the initial character's story gets poured into the new mold. For example, if you want to make Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane, how much of him are you putting in? He's monstrous big and monstrous strong, yes, but is he also a knight? Is your version a brutal killer, or is he a misunderstood monster who uses his size to stop problems so he doesn't have to pull steel?

Do you go all the way, find a halfway point, or scrap the story entirely and create one of your own?

Lastly, remember how I said there's no wrong way to do a character conversion? It's an extension of the rules that says there's no wrong way to enjoy playing a character. While there are some conversions that are more accurate than others (making your Hulk a Master Chymist who actually changes forms when he hulks out according to game mechanics, instead of simply playing a barbarian who has a mental schism when he rages according to player flavor, for example), how much accuracy you need for the conversion to be complete is entirely up to you as a player.

As always, if you want to support Improved Initiative then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page and become a patron today! If you want to make sure you don't miss even a single update then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter to stay plugged-in.

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