Donjon: Character Creation

Initial concept

The players and GM should sit down before play to discuss the sort of world they want to play in. While Donjon is always set in a fantastic world, there are many variations on the fantastic. The world could be like a fairy tale, full of curious goblins, mushroom-cap soldiers, and knights clad in silver on dragonfly mounts. The world could be a gritty Dark Age land, with flesh-eating trolls, demonic sorcerers, and steel stained red with blood everywhere. The world could even be far in the future - characters could explore abandoned lunar stations, using their rayguns and psi-powers to guard against alien predators and zombie spacemen.

Once the players and GM have a good idea of what the world they are going to play in is like, each player should sit down and think about what sort of character they want to play. This can be only a rough idea at this stage, but things to consider are:

  • Does my character think first or swing first?
  • Does my character make a strong impression on others, or does he skulk in the shadows?
  • Does my character often find himself in trouble, or is he always on top of the situation?
  • Does my character use magic or a big freaking sword? Or both?
  • Does my character dominate a situation with his overbearing wit and charm, or does he grunt and flex his muscles?

Dial: Seriousness level

An important thing for the group to determine before play is the seriousness level of the game. Donjon is a very different sort of game in that the players have the ability to create as much of the outcome as the GM.

Playing a game with high humor can be rewarding, but can also be grating if attempted with the wrong players. Likewise, some players may not enjoy the visceral horror of a grim rust-and-blood sort of game.

This dial must be set before the game begins, and has the settings of: Monty Python and the Geeks (over-the-top), Slapstick (lots of funny), Tongue-in-Cheek (full of allusions to role-playing cliches taken deadly seriously by the characters), Black Humor, Serious, and Rust-and-Blood (fantasy horror). This dial should be set by agreement between the GM and players.

Attributes

Once you have a rough outline of the type of character you want to play in your head, you need to create scores for your character's Attributes. The Attributes are:

Virility (Vir), a measure of one's raw strength and power. It is used for physical actions, determining the weight of armor and weapons you can carry, and inflicting damage.

Cerebrality (Cer), intellectual bearing and knowledge. It is used in contests of wit, for spell-casting, and remembering to pack the right supplies for a donjon adventure.

Discernment (Dis), the ability to think clearly and wisely. It is is often called "common sense," and used to perceive hidden or unclear things, resist the influence of others, and ignore mind-affecting magic.

Adroitness (Adr), one's capacity for litheness and speed. It is used in actions requiring finesse and skill, attacking with a weapon, and dodging blows.

Wherewithal (Whe), the ability to take and absorb pain and suffering. It is commonly known as "grit," and is used to take damage, exert yourself, and resist body-affecting magic.

Sociality (Soc), a measure of your charismatic charm and power. Persons with a high Sociality may be as frightening as they are compelling. It is used to bargain for goods and convince or intimidate people.

Each Attribute will start with a number between one and six in it. Zero indicates a total lack of ability, three is equivalent to average human ability, and six is superhuman in nature.

To create your character's Attribute scores, you will need three six-sided dice (d6's), exactly like you'd find at the corner store or in a game of Monopoly. Roll these dice and look for the median roll. Place this number in your first Attribute. Repeat for all six Attributes in order.

Jonathan is rolling the Attributes for his character, Fiera Thick-heart. His rolls, and the associated Attributes look like this:

Roll: 1, 5, 6 = Virility of 5

Roll: 1, 2, 2 = Cerebrality of 2

Roll: 4, 4, 4 = Discernment of 4

Roll: 2, 5, 5 = Adroitness of 5

Roll: 3, 4, 6 = Wherewithal of 4

Roll: 1, 1, 6 = Sociality of 1

Dial: Attribute generation

The method of attribute generation used here is very random, and will often not result in the type of character a player originally envisioned. It is a type of attribute generation used in the classics of fantasy role-playing, and so I include it out of nostalgia and respect. It can be highly rewarding to let the dice fall where they may. When players have a strong character concept, they need a different option, though.

This dial has three settings:

Standard: The method described in the main text.

Whiff-Proof Standard: If a character's scores add up to 15 or less, that player may re-roll all the scores.

Player-Allocated Bonus: As Whiff-Proof Standard, but the player adds add one to one score and subtracts one from one score after rolling.

Player-Chosen Random Rolls: The player rolls 3d6 and records the median rolls as in Whiff-Proof Standard. However, he places these rolls in whichever attributes he likes. This setting gives the players options while limiting extremes in attributes.

Player-Allocated: The player is given 21 points to distribute however he likes among the six attributes. No score can be lower than 1 or higher than 6. The setting gives the players the most options, but can produce characters with wild attributes.

The GM sets this dial before play. Each player, however, has the option to turn back the dial to the Standard method for his character.

Class or Race

Each player creates his character's Class or Race at this point by simply creating a name for it. A Class or Race may be anything one likes, given that the GM deems it suitable for her campaign. A Class or Race may have a simple name, like "Thief" or "Elf," or a more complex name, like "Knight of the
Silver Lance," or "Granite-Bone Troll."

The only real difference between a Class or a Race is nomenclature. A character with a Class is deemed to be human, as humans have a globe-spanning reach that includes myriads of cultures and potential careers. A Race, on the other hand, is a unified group of one species in which all members have the
same Abilities. By creating your character with a Race, you are actually defining the entire species.

Examples of Classes: Mercenary, Archaelogist, Purple-Robed Sorcerer, Wilderness Scout, Tinkerer

Examples of Races: Pebble Gnome, Sentient Forest Ape, Red-Nose Goblin, House Ogre, Snap-Tooth Dragon-Kin

No two players within the same group should create characters of the same Class or Race. Party diversity is important in Donjon.

Dial: Humans and other races

A GM may determine before the game that humans are not the dominant species, or race, in her campaign. If this is the case, the GM may set this dial to the dominant race, be it elves, goblins, or blue-skinned aliens.

If this dial is set to anything but humans, that race has a plethora of careers - or classes. All other species, including humans, are treated as normal races according to the rules.

If, for example, the dominant species is goblins, characters might be: Cave Guard, Pumpkin Bomber, or Grub Hunter.

The GM may also allow all species to have diverse classes. In that case, races work slightly differently: all members of a race (except humans) have the same Main Ability. All characters are assigned a class (so you might have, for example, a Rock Troll with the Class Mountain Raider), which is how their Secondary Abilities are determined.

In all honesty, this is an inferior way to play Donjon and should be frowned upon, but the good heart of the author forced my pen to give you the option.

Level

All characters usually start the game at Level 1. Mark this on your character sheet.

GM's may sometimes instruct players to create characters of a higher Level than normal. In that case, create a Level 1 character using this chapter, then use the advancement rules in [[running_donjon]] to increase your character's Level.

Flesh Wounds

Flesh Wounds are a measure of how much damage a character can take before becoming gravely wounded. These are different from other scores that define your character in that you will never roll these. Characters start with few Flesh Wounds; however, these will increase during play as the character grows
hardier and learns to suffer more.

Provisions and Wealth

Provisions are a measure of your current state of readiness for donjon adventures. It is an abstract quantification of the goods you are carrying to help you through trials. These are things like food, rope, ten-foot poles, crampons, and tent stakes.

Wealth is a measure of your finances - gold coins, gems, and the like. This is used to buy weapons and armor, as well as more Provisions.

Saving Throws

Saving Throws are scores used to determine a character's ability to resist magic and misfortune. There are two Saving Throws in Donjon.

Save vs. Illusion and Confusion: This saving throw is used to resist all magic that affects the mind, be it illusions, confusion, or other mind-manipulating magic. It is normally rolled with Discernment.

Save vs. Poison, Paralysis, and Transmogrification: This saving throw is used to prevent any sort of natural or magical body manipulation. This could be poison, disease, turning into a frog through magic, paralyzation, or any other body-affecting magic. It is normally rolled with Wherewithal.

Abilities

The last and most important thing you have to do to create a character is determine his Abilities. Abilities are what make a Class or Race unique - things they can do that not everyone else can. In Donjon, you invent your character's Abilities.

You must choose one Main Ability, and four Supporting Abilities. A Main Ability is what defines a Race or Class: it is a broad Ability that they are renowned for. A Main Ability should be very versatile.

Supporting Abilities are tangential to the definition of the Race or Class. They are Abilities that help the Race or Class, but are much more specific in nature. Examples of some Classes and Races to illustrate, with each one's Main Ability listed first:

  • Mercenary: Hit People With Weapons, Run and Charge, Knock Down Doors, Intimidate, Take Damage in Melee Combat
  • Purple-Robed Sorcerer: Cast Spells, Understand Demon Languages, Avoid Magic, Lie Convincingly, Damage Demons
  • Granite-Bone Troll: Take All Sorts of Damage, Play Dumb, Eat Rocks and other Hard Things, Leap Across Chasms, Hand-smash
  • Elf: Be One With Nature, Cast Nature Spells, Use Bows, Attack with Longswords, Find Secret Doors
  • Noble: Influence People, Knowledge of Heraldry, Dodge in Melee, Bargain with Authorities, Ride Horses

Note from the above examples the difference between Main Abilities and Supporting Abilities. A Mercenary can use any weapon at his disposal, but an Elf can only use a longsword or bow. (Actually, both can use any weapon. The Elf can only use his Ability with a bow or longsword, though.)

The Granite-Bone Troll can absorb damage from any source, be it a weapon, a falling rock, fire, or magic. The Mercenary can take more damage than the average character, but only in combat. Traps, backstabs, and falling would hurt him like normal.

The Noble can use his Main Ability in any social situation. The Purple-Robed Sorcerer is useful in social situations as well, but only if he is lying.

A Main Ability should affect all of one type of roll - all attack rolls, all damage rolls, all influence rolls, or all attempts to hide. A Supporting Ability should be constrained so that it only works in specific situations.

The constraint on a Supporting Ability can be equipment-based, opponent-based, or any other sort of constraint. Note the Purple-Robed Sorcerer compared to the Granite-Bone Troll. They both have Abilities that let them increase their damage. ("Hand-smash" is used to do more damage when hitting things.) The Purple-Robed Sorcerer can use his Ability whether attacking a demon with magic
or a sword. The Granite-Bone Troll, on the other hand, can hurt anything, but he must hit it with his hand.

Because you can invent any Ability you want, you may need to stop here with the GM and define what your Abilities do. If you wanted to backstab, for example, you'd make a "Backstab" Ability. How does Backstab work, though? Your GM will be familiar with these rules, and can help you out with these
questions now. (Backstab would add to your damage roll whenever you hit an opponent facing away from you. Alternatively, it could add to your attack roll whenever an opponent is facing away from you. It could not do both, however. This is why it is important to make sure your Abilities are
well-defined before play.)

Player Tip: Choosing Abilities

The option to choose any Abilities you want for your character may be daunting. Remember that successful actions will let you narrate what happens in the game, and plan your Abilities around that.

If you chose an Ability like "Hear Noise," you could use this at any time, not just when your GM called for a roll. A successful roll would allow you to create an encounter by saying that your character hears footsteps behind him, the sound of a giant eagle in the trees, or the scraping of a huge worm ahead in a tunnel.

If you chose an Ability like "Find Secret Doors," you could use this to find a short-cut around big trouble in a dungeon, or even use it to find a way out of a combat that's not going in your character's favor.

Also remember that successes can be used for bonus dice on another roll, and choose Abilities that can be used as "combos."

If you chose an Ability like "Speed of the Ancients," you could use that to increase your initiative in combat.

If you chose Abilities like "Run and Charge" and "Strike with Broadsword," you could run at an opponent, using successes to add to your ability to strike him.

If you chose Abilities like "Find Treasure" and "Evaluate Worth," you could search for treasure, evaluate the worth of it, and then make a roll to loot, using successes from each roll to build up a huge pool of dice.

Magic Abilities

You've probably noticed above that the Purple-Robed Sorcerer has "Cast Spells" as his Main Ability, and the Elf has "Cast Nature Spells" as a Supporting Ability. A general Ability to do magic - Cast Spells, Magic-Slinging, or whatever else - must be taken as a Main Ability.

If you want a very specific type of magic, you may take it as a Supporting Ability. Examples would be Cast Nature Spells, Mystical Stealth, Create Illusions, or Psychokinesis.

All these Abilities are spell-based magic, and use the magic system outlined in Chapter 6: Magic. If you make a character that uses spell-based magic, you should read this chapter before play. It tells you how to define your magical style and choose your Magic Words, which you'll have to do to finish making your character.

You do not, however, have to have spell-based magic at all to have a Ability that is magical in nature. For example, if you want to create a spritely little creature whose only magical talent is making light, you could choose "Making Light" as an Ability. If you wanted to have your hands burst into flame in combat, you could choose "Hands of Flame," and define it as adding to your damage when punching. Since all Abilities use the same resolution system, and are rated identically, these sorts of Abilities are not over-powering even though they are magical in nature.

Powerful Abilities

Some players may take Abilities the GM determines to be too powerful for her game. This should be very hard to do, as all Abilities are rated identically.

If you are a GM, and a player has an Ability that seems too powerful, discuss a way to tone it back with him. Most powerful Abilities can be translated into a perfectly fine Donjon Ability.

Jonathan wants to play a Snap-Tooth Dragon-kin. He writes down "Immune to Fire" as a Supporting Ability. His GM notes that there is no sort of "immunity" Ability in Donjon. She asks him, "Wouldn't that work better as 'Resistant to Fire?' That way, we can rate it easier." Jonathan agrees, and takes "Resistant to Fire."

If the Ability can absolutely not be toned down to a level appropriate for your game, a good solution is to set a limit on its use with the player. Most powerful Abilities are fine when used only once per encounter. If you are a player, and want an Ability that seems over-powering, suggest this to your GM.

Jonathan, the trouble player in this group, also has "Regenerate Damage" as a Supporting Ability. His GM frowns. "But, Nikola," he whines, "I can only use it when I'm damaged." Nikola shakes her head. "That's not nearly limited enough for a Supporting Ability."

"What if I make it 'Regenerate Adroitness Damage'?" Jonathan asks.

"Ok - that's fair. But, you can only use it once per encounter," Nikola adds. "Otherwise, you could just use it over and over until all your Adroitness damage was healed every encounter."

Distributing initial dice

At the end of character creation, you should have Flesh Wounds, two Saving Throws, and five Abilities with unallocated scores on your character sheet. You have 20 initial dice to allocate to these scores however you see fit. However, you may not have more than your Level + 3 in any of these
scores.

You should also have a Wealth score and a Provisions score. Set one of these at 5 dice and the other at 3 dice to determine initial Wealth and Provisions.

Your character is now completed and ready for play.

Some examples of character creation

Three players, Robin, Ron, and Jonathan, sit down with the Game Master, Nikola, to make characters for Donjon. They have decided that the game will be fairly serious, although none of them object to a little humor, and Nikola has decided that Attributes will be allocated with the "Player-Allocated" method.

Roland the Wilderness Scout

Robin says, "This game, I want to play a character that'll let me narrate a lot. I think someone who can find monsters and know all about them would be best. I'm going to play a human - his Class is 'Wilderness Scout.'" He writes down the Class on his character sheet.

He's got 21 points to allocate to Attributes. He says, "I want this character to be almost supernaturally perceptive, but he's got to be quick, too, so as not to get killed. I'm going to set his Discernment and Adroitness really high. I don't think he's that strong or imposing, though - kind of a smart, quiet guy." He allocates his points and ends up with Virility 2, Cerebrality
3, Discernment 6, Adroitness 5, Wherewithal 3, and Sociality 2.

Ron says, "Great. Aragorn. Whoopee."

Robin turns to him. "Hey, buddy. If you want to comment, get your head out of that book. Otherwise, keep it to yourself. Anyway, this guy's nothing like Aragorn. He uses a machete, and climbs trees."

For Abilities, Robin already has his Main Ability in mind: "His Main Ability is 'Track Anything.' I should be able to use that to find tracks of people, monsters, or whatever else I want to encounter." For Supporting Abilities, he thinks of three that will help him out: "Sneak in Forests," "Climb Trees," and "Swing Machete." He can't think of another one, though.

Jonathan says, "What about 'Wild Animal Lore'? You could state facts about the creatures you find." Robin thinks that's perfect, and adds it on. (Having other players help you with your character is highly suggested.)

All Robin has left to do is distribute his 20 initial dice. He puts four dice, the maximum, into Roland's Main Ability, as he wants him to be great at it. He wants Roland to be relatively tough, sneaky, and decent in combat, so he puts three dice into Flesh Wounds, "Sneak in Forests," and "Swing Machete." He doesn't particularly care about mind-affecting magic, so only puts one die
into Save versus Illusion and Confusion, and puts two dice in everything else.

For Provisions and Wealth, he puts five dice into Provisions and three into Wealth.

Azar the Purple-Robed Sorcerer

Ron's been reading some other role-playing game while Robin made up his character. He looks up and says, "I like the idea playing someone who uses magic, but his magic revolves all around demons. I'll call him a 'Purple-Robed Sorcerer.'"

Jonathan and Robin laugh. "Man, you always play that character."

Ron sneers. "And he always kicks ass, so shut it." He writes down the Class on his character sheet and continues, "This guy's weak as he can be from all the other-worldly forces he's summoned, but he's smart, and his flesh has turned leathery and tough. He's not the sort of guy you'd like to know, but he's powerfully frightening, too." He assigns his Attribute points, and ends up
with Virility 1, Cerebrality 6, Discernment 2, Adroitness 3, Wherewithal 5, and Sociality 4.

Ron says, "Well, 'Casting Spells' has got to be my Main Ability. What else can I use to make this character cool?"

Jonathan says, "Um… how about make a different character?"

Ron growls. "Keep it up, man. Just keep it up. We'll see whose character's lame when we're knee-deep in human feces under Da Nang."

Jonathan laughs, "Dude - Da Nang? What?"

"Never mind," Ron grimaces. "Robin - can you help me out here?"

Robin says, "How about 'Understand Demon Languages'? You could roll it to understand what a demon's saying to you, and use the successes to actually state what he said."

Ron agrees. "That's awesome. That and "Damage Demons" in case one gets out of control. Hmm… what else? I'd like to be able to roll some extra dice in Damage Tests against magic, and lie to people. 'Avoid Magic' and 'Lie Convincingly' sound good."

Like Robin, Ron puts four dice into his character's Main Ability, "Cast Spells." He does care about mind-affecting magic, so he puts four dice into Save vs. Illusion and Confusion as well. With only 12 dice left to spend, he puts three into "Lie Convincingly," one into "Save vs. Poison, Polymorph, and
Transmogrification," and two into everything else.

He also puts five dice into Wealth and three dice into Provisions to finish the character.

Fiera the Snap-Tooth Dragon-Kin

Nikola asks Jonathan, "What sort of character are you planning on playing?" Jonathan says, "I was thinking about playing a non-human - maybe a cute female dragon-person."

Robin says, "Dude, you always play chicks."

Jonathan says, "Shut your punk mouth before I shut it for you. Anyway, there's lots of dragon-kin, right?" Nikola nods. "She's one of the Snap-Tooth Dragon-Kin, a group of strong, but non-flying dragon-kin. I think I'll call her Fiera." He writes down Fiera's Race on the character sheet. "She's going to be a bad-ass, but doesn't get along with people well. It's not because she's
mean, though, although people think she is - she's actually shy, as she thinks people won't accept her, so she's always trying to prove herself." He takes his 21 points, and allocates them as Virility 5, Cerebrality 3, Discernment 4, Adroitness 4, Wherewithal 4, and Sociality 1.

Ron looks up again. "Man, it's just Donjon. Cease with all the back-story and just create your combat-ready chick so we can play already."

Jonathan says, "Hey - I like this character. You're just upset because we're not playing the game you wanted to this week." Ron mutters and looks back down at his book. "Ok, Abilities," Jonathan thinks out loud. "Well, 'Breathe Flame,' of course. And since that's a Main Ability, I can use it in combat, or to destroy flammable things, right, Nikola?" She nods again. "Ok. Let's
see. I'm going to add 'Thick Hide' to absorb damage."

Nikola says, "But that's a Supporting Ability. What sort of damage do you want to avoid?"

Jonathan thinks for a second. "All damage from sharp things - they have a hard time getting through her hide. I'm also taking 'Resistant to Fire,' 'Intimidate People,' and 'Regenerate Adroitness Damage.' Remember, we talked about that one, Nikola."

She agrees. "Yeah - it seems to be an alright Ability, as long as you only use it once per scene. What about your dice?"

Jonathan puts four dice into "Intimidate People" to make up for Fiera's low Sociality, and also puts four dice into Flesh Wounds, since she's supposed to be tough. He puts three dice into "Breathe Flame," one into "Regenerate Adroitness Damage," and two into everything else.

He finishes up by putting five dice into Provisions, and three into Wealth.

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