Inspiration often comes when you least expect it. For the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling with getting the third edition of Victoriana to press as well as getting Cubicle 7′s slate of events ready for Gen Con. I haven’t had a lot of time to think about unrelated GMing, as my weekend games are currently playtest sessions. During a conversation with my editor, we began reminiscing about our RPG experiences and I casually mentioned that we often translated our characters to multiple systems.

Reflecting on that, I realized that I learned a lot about my characters when adapting them to other systems. To take but one example, one of my earliest PCs was Stalker. I initially designed him for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1e) as a half-elven ranger (props to any Gen-Xers out there who know why I named a ranger “Stalker”). When my group moved to Rolemaster, I chose to make his human heritage Northman and learned that he had some psionic ability (we ignored psionics in AD&D). I also discovered that he preferred hardened leather to heavier armors and what his skill list would look like.

Later, we moved onto Palladium. Their ranger class lacked spellcasting abilities, so I had to decide whether it was important enough to multi-class. It wasn’t; I realised that Stalker had always been a warrior first and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice combat effectiveness for a few spells. When we moved to GURPS, I really looked at his advantages and disadvantages. For the first time, I saw some flaws in Stalker’s personality. I also lost the psionics, realizing that they were never a good fit and not worth the points.

When it came time to bring Stalker back to AD&D, he retained most of these elements even though the system didn’t support it. In many cases I never would have considered these elements had other game systems not made me consider them. Stalker was a better, more three-dimensional character for them. Heck, he even came back to AD&D with a real name, as somewhere during the translations I decided that ‘Stalker’ was a nickname.

Translating characters through multiple systems is a good way to really get to know a character, not only for PCs but for NPCs as well. Most iterations of D&D don’t dwell on disadvantages; translating the NPC to a different system may make you consider what they are. Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space uses a minimalist character sheet. When I translated PCs for a playtest (which I wrote about here), the system made me consider what was really important about the PCs that made them tick. Taking a character from that game and putting it through GURPS or HERO would really fill out the details that a minimalist system won’t capture.

You don’t have to design entire character sheets in order to use other games to fill in details. It’s something we do all the time subconsciously. A particular RPG may only tell you that a character is a martial artist, leaving it to us to decide what the martial art is. That said, flipping through another game that has a list of 50 or so martial art forms may help a GM determine a truly fitting and distinct martial art form, rather than the usual suspects of karate or kung fu (capoeira has become a particular favorite in my circles).

So the next time you want to design NPCs, put them through a couple of game systems to flesh them out. You may be surprised at what you discover!

Have you ever translated characters from one game to another and been surprised by the results? Did you find that something you thought was really important to a character disappeared when you translated him or her? Did you discover that something you didn’t think was important became essential during translation?

Walt Ciechanowski

About  Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.



5 Responses to One Character, Many Sheets

  1. Often. Most of our D&D characters never made it out of that campaign (at least none of. Ine did), but my players have recycled several characters from the old DC Heroes cmapaign to espionage , and a few were revived byy me as NPCs for the new Marvel campaign. Babylon 5 characters made the switch to Star Trek. We had a superheroine turn spy in a James Bnd game, turn SGC team leader in another campaign — always keeping elements of her personality and skill set, but adapted for the particular game.

    Recycling helps the gaming environment,

  2. All the time. I’ve got a tavern that I’ve re-used in every campaign I’ve ran. My players think it’s a nice throwback to past campaigns because one player bought it at the end of the first campaign I ran. nope. It’s because all the games I run are secretly in the same world, and most of that world is the NorthWest United States. That got decided simply because I ran a game of Shadowrun, and The Drunk Monk just happened to be in downtown Seattle.

  3. There are a couple of character builds I use to best systems out. A gadgeteer and a martial artist for superhero games, an archer and a wizard for fantasy, just to get a fell for how a new system puts things together, it is useful to have a character you know how they work.

    And, like ggodo, I echo places and characters through my various campaigns.

  4. My namesake is the only character I’ve really translated from one system to another (I have done a few NPCs occasionally). The interesting bit is that she started as an RP character in an mmo, and not at the tabletop.

    Over the translations she’s remained mostly the same, though her elfish heritage has become less important and her personality has superseded her origin and story (hero>anti-hero>villain). All of the various renditions have reached the anti-hero (or began at the anti-hero) step, but only the original ever switched to a villainous character. What has caught me most off-guard with her development lately is my willingness to disregard her elfish heritage. The latest tabletop rendition has her as a half-elf revenant, while my latest video game rendition has her as a human (it’s heresy!, but at least she still has red hair).

    The only other significant recurring character has been a dwarf druid NPC that I’ve used in three different games now. He’s never received a great deal of fleshing out until our current game, where he’s a follower of one of the PCs.

  1. Friday Knight News - Triskaidekaphobia Redux Edition: 13-JUL-2012 | Game Knight Reviews

    [...] my friend Mike about adapting some characters from D&D to work in Vampire: The Masquerade. And Walt Ciechanowski @ Gnome Stew was also pondering character transformations from one system to anoth…. He discovered that adapting characters to other systems really helped him learn about what’s [...]

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