Building a character for an RPG can be mildly intimidating if you're not used to it. You might think it takes special knowledge, or that it's a chore, or that it's just overwhelming. But I find building characters to be fun and invariably easier than sometimes the rulebooks make it seem. And building a character is also an important part of understanding the game you're about to play. Just what exactly are you getting yourself into when you decide to play this particular RPG? Well, when the character build process consists largely of armour class, dexterity and strength, and weapon specialization, you can predict that you're in for a game that focuses on combat. When the character build process focuses on levels of education, social skills, and sanity, you can expect a game that's about social interaction, deduction, and horror.
Whatever game you're starting, the character build process shouldn't take you any longer than a quarter of an hour, unless you choose to spend longer on it. The Quick Fire Method on page 48 of the Keeper's Rulebook is the fastest way to get playing. However, some steps in that method amount to "go read page 32", so what looks quick could slow you down in the end.
My method uses the Quick Fire Method for guidance, but adds context to the choices you're making, and allows for greater flexibility in the build. This is not, however, an optimised build. The goal isn't to build the most powerful investigator. It's to build an investigator quickly so you can start playing the game. This is how I build characters for the Call of Cthulhu RPG in just 12 minutes.
Roll some dice to determine your stats. There are two kinds of die rolls you need to make. For some, you roll 3d6 and multiply the total by 5. For others, you roll 2d6, add 6, and then multiply the total by 5.
Alternately, just use the standard array: 40, 50, 50, 50, 60, 60, 70, 80.
How fast you move, which is significant when you're being chased or when you're in combat, is affected by your strength and size.
Pick an age. Your age does affect your characteristic stats.
Some allow you to make an improvement check on your EDU score. to make an improvement check, roll 1d100. If you roll above your EDU, then add 1d10 points to EDU.
Divide each characteristic score (STR, CON, DEX, POW, APP, SIZ, INT, EDU) by 2 and record the value as its ½ value (rounded down). When the game master ("keeper") asks you for a Hard test, this is the number to use.
Divide each characteristic score (STR, CON, DEX, POW, APP, SIZ, INT, EDU) by 5 and record the value as its ⅕ value (rounded down). When the game master ("keeper") asks you for a Extreme test, this is the number to use.
To avoid doing the math yourself, refer to the chart on page 49. Alternately, you can use either my LibreOffice spreadsheet character sheet, or the autofill PDF from Chaosium.
In melee combat, you get a damage bonus. To calculate this, add STR and SIZ, and refer to the chart on page 33 of the Keeper's Rulebook.
You also have a build factor, which influences some fighting techniques and chases. This is also provided in the chart on page 33.
Hit points represent how much damage you can take.
(CON + SIZE) ÷ 10 (round down)
Sanity represents your mental health. Your Sanity stat is equal to your POW.
Magic represents your attunement to mystical forces. Your Magic stat is equal to ⅕ POW.
Choose an occupation from the list on pages 40 and 41 of the Keeper's Rulebook. For more choices of occupations, purchase the Investigator's Handbook.
Your occupation specifies a Credit Rating range, and some number of points you can spend to boost your credit rating and your occupational skills. Occupation Skill Points are derived from your characteristics, as specified by each occupation.
For example, the Drifter occupation from the Keeper's Rulebook grants Occupation Skill Points from these stats:
So if you have 65 EDU and 60 APP, that's (65×2) + (60×2) for a total of 250 Occupational Skill Points.
First, use these points to boost your Credit Rating within the Credit Rating range specified by your occupation. In the Drifter example, your minimum Credit Rating is 0 and your maximum is 5, because that's what's listed in the Drifter description. Your Credit Rating affects your finances. Refer to the Cash and Assets table on page 47, and write your character's Spending Level, Cash on Hand, and Assets on your character sheet.
Use the rest of the points to boost the skills listed in your occupation description. In the Drifter example, those are Climb, Jump, Listen, Navigate, Stealth, and one interpersonal skill (Charm, Fast Talk, Intimidate, or Persuade), and any two additional skills. Each skill has a base percentage as a default value, so add your points to that base percentage. Turn to page 57 for details about what each skill enables your character to do.
In addition to occupational skills, you have a number of Personal Interest Skills equal to INT × 2. You can use these points to boost any skill you want.
You can develop your background as you play, but if you want a starting point, roll on the random tables on pages 42 to 45.
Personally, I find this a potential quagmire for indecision, so if you roll on these tables, force yourself to roll on them exactly ONCE, accepting whatever you roll. There's no rule that you have to use the exact statement you get from your roll, so if you roll something that you don't like, just treat it as inspiration, or anti-inspiration. Turn the thing you don't like into something you do like.
Jot down a few details about your character on your character sheet, and move on. Trust me, this will develop as you play, and you can always develop it further between game sessions.
If it's not autofilled for you, enter Unarmed combat into the Weapons section of your character sheet. Enter the value of your Fighting (Brawl) in the Regular column, half that for Hard, and a fifth in the Extreme column.
It's not necessary to "go shopping" the way you might in, for instance, D&D or Shadowrun. The assumption is that your character is at least 15 years old. Over the course of your lifetime, you've accumulated the usual stuff, and you have access to whatever gear your occupation implies. If you want your character to own something that you suspect everyone at the table would stop and stare at you when you take it out, talk to the game master ("keeper") in advance. At the very least, make sure it's not absurdly out of reach for your character, considering your occupation and finances. There's a price list for equipment starting on page 396, and a weapons list on page 401.
That's it. You have an Investigator now, and you're ready to delve into the dark mythos of the ineffable Cthulhu. Or are you?
Lead image by Klaatu, Creative Commons cc0.