I’ve always had a sneaking fondness for lifepath systems*, ever since back in the days of Traveller. I thought, and still think, there’s something cool about a system that was so hard-core you could actually die during character generation, and I whiled away many an hour in study-hall rolling up Traveller characters and joining the various services. Back then I wasn’t experienced enough, or parsimonious enough with my time, to even use all those characters as NPCs. Nope, I was purely rolling them for the fun of rolling them. It was almost like a slot machine: maybe this would finally be the one who could muster out with a suit of powered armor!
Much later on, I glommed onto a copy of
Paul Jennell Jaquays’ Central Casting: Heroes of Legend (still got it around here somewhere), which was a non-system specific set of tables for coming up with a character history for a fantasy setting. I liked that idea so much that I went to the trouble of coding my own version of it in Python as part of an open-source generic table-roller program I wrote. The web version of that is still running here, though I don’t think anyone but the robot spiders ever hits it.
So I picked up the Savage Worlds Fantasy Character Generator Toolkit, and it’s probably no surprise that I like it, even though I doubt any of my players would want to use it. While it’s nowhere near as detailed (or as wacky) as the 180 or so pages of Heroes of Legend, it does a really good job of producing a playable Savage Worlds character with a background meaty enough to sink your roleplaying teeth into. You start out with a d4 in each of your attributes, and no skills, edges, or hindrances, and you go through the tables step-by-step, sometimes being directed to sub-tables or to roll a certain number of times on a specific table in a later step. Each entry in one of the tables tells you more about the character, and alters your attributes up or down, or assigns you extra dice in traits or specific edges or hindrances. Some of the time you have a choice as to how to split the dice or whether to roll, but it’s mostly mechanical. So far, none of the characters I’ve tried rolling have wound up as complete scrubs, and a couple have been well beyond what a Novice character could afford by the normal point-buy system. In fact, I’d say that on the whole the system is weighted to give you slightly better than normal characters as a compensation for the randomness of it all. On the other hand, the characters are decidedly not optimized for their roles; a mage is pretty much as likely to end up Burly, or a fighter to be Anemic, as anybody else, though everybody should end up with a fair degree of competence for a Novice in their profession.
As written, you don’t really have much of a choice as to what that profession is. You roll randomly for your family background, which might assign you a starting profession or the option of one; if not, then you roll randomly for your starting profession. Depending on your character’s age, you have a certain number of rolls to make on the specific chart for that profession; if you don’t like your profession after each roll you can roll again on the starting profession chart and if you prefer that one switch at the cost of one of your allowed rolls.
One obvious change to make if your players don’t mind a certain amount of random chargen but draw the line at being forced into a profession would be to just let them pick their starting profession. The tables aren’t so delicately balanced that forcing that one result throws things out of kilter.
Also, as written it requires a lot of rolling on tables…thirty or more rolls, and a lot of the rolls having to do with your family have no mechanical effect. A completist might want to roll for the birth order, current status and attitude towards you of each of your up to eight+1d3 siblings, but I’d say that most of the time you can write down the number and move on. If you want to know your own particular birth order, just roll a single 1dN (where n is the number of siblings including yourself). Depending on the kind of campaign you might also elect to skip things like determining the reason your family originally emigrated to the land of your birth.
If you like lifepath systems, and play Savage Worlds in a fantasy setting, I can whole-heartedly endorse this PDF (take it to Staples or someplace and get it spiral bound, though…loose pages are a pain in the butt to work with when you have to do a lot of flipping). I suspect that doesn’t describe all that many people, which is too bad, because it really is pretty well done. You’ll have to excuse me now, though…I’ve got to get back to seeing if I can roll up a character who starts with a nifty magic sword…
update: Cool! You can actually die during character creation in the FCGT, too!
* RPG character generation systems that took you through the early life of the character, from circumstances of birth up through career training prior to the start of the game.