How "Constant" Must a Character Be?

I really trust people here, so I’d love to ask a question that’s been gnawing at me for a few days: How much do you want to see your character change between sessions? Like, what’s the maximum they can change and still feel like your character. As a point of scope, I’m going to use the word “should” in terms of “what do you expect, and what feels okay to you?” I’m less interested in, y’know, appeal to RPG authority, and more interested in where we butt up against you as players or GMs feeling bad about certain experiences.

Characters can switch gear up, sure. Upgrade your sword, change to lighter armour, maybe take a level in rat catcher or whatever, but how much “should” be constant.

Here’s an example of what I’m considering, but I want to address one thing first. I don’t think this would be a great fit for the kind of character and system I’m going to reference below. I simply will use it because it’s easy to conceptualise the shared language we already have. I think this is something I’d take to a “special forces” type game, a la Stay Frosty, rather than a fantasy dungeonfuck. However, bear with me for this, please:

The usual suspects of 7 stats (6+HP). Roll-Under on a D10. Stats are between 1 (bad), and 10 (great).
OSR characters all start with 1 point in each stat. Now my character is STRONG so I get +2 to Strength, and Constitution. I’m also GORGEOUS so I get +2 in Charisma. My background is DESERT FOLK so I get another +1 to CON and +2 to HP.
My Character starts off looking like this:
HP 3

Now my character looks pretty poor. This is early level Warhammer kinds of bad character here. I’ve got a max 4/10 chance on Con, so less than 50/50 across the board.

But instead of adding things like damage or armour or whatever, all my gear just goes onto this:
My armour is Leather? +1 hp. It’s Well Made? +1 CHA. It’s Enchanted Well-Made Leather? +1 INT, +1 CHA, +1 HP. Which means with this armour, a lucky pendant, a broadsword, and Gloves of Handling my fighter may look more like this:

HP 7

Now, the root of this question is while that “feels” right for this character, how does it feel when the player comes back and refits their character? Perhaps expecting a stealth mission, they drop the leather armour for some Black Fur-Padded Sneakers (+2 DEX), an Assassin’s Dagger (+2 DEX), a Thief’s Guild Hood (+2 CHA), and a Silence Amulet (+2 WIS, +2 DEX)

The Character then looks like:
HP 3

The same character gets a wholly different degree of proficiency within this system based more on “slots” and gold or item availability. Early on, characters are likely to maintain their niche pretty closely due to gear availability (“I have a sword, not a sword and a bow and a gun and plate mail and leather and like four different amulets depending on which job we’re going on”).

My biggest concern (in the pre-playtest phase, admittedly) is that characters will feel less like constant parts of the setting, with skills and abilities, and more like a collection of tools for the day. From a verb perspective I don’t mind this at all (“Did you bring your sniper rifle today?” “No, I only brought the assault rifle” is a great example of Verb-based limitations on gear), but I don’t want it to move into noun-based limitations (“are you a good shot today?”), because the primary noun, the character, isn’t changing, just their equipment, which impacts HOW they interact with the world.

Two big questions are:
1. Anyone know a game like this that I give a read to see how it’s been implemented?
2. What are you thoughts re:my concerns? How much can your character change and still feel like a consistent character? Especially in terms of capability and proficiency. At which point do you feel a disconnect from the persistence of character, and what would you still need to anchor onto that character? What would have to be immutable about them (for example, the backgrounds and tags I cited above that persisted through each iteration).

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I’ve never found that the mechanical aspects of a character are what gives them life. The numbers can change radically as long as the motivations stay the same.


I’m not sure I entirely agree. Maybe with a great deal of framing, but a character being exceptional at something, and then moving to terrible at that same task feels…disatisfying to me. Am I alone on that though?

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Strikes me in some ways as very much like OD&D where the expectation is that equipment, magic items specifically will provide the bulk of character’s mechanical difference. It’s not a skill and stat focused game (stats have almost no effect in RAW 1974 whitebox), more just AC and to hit bonus, but these come only from equipment & level.

OD&D forces thematic consistency on PCs by limitung equipment. I.e. only fighters can wear plate armor and use magic swords, only magic users can use wands. However more limiting is the small number of expected upgrades. There’s only a few magic swords, and all do basically the same thing (+1 to +5 bonus to hit and damage). For the very gamic, even board game like approach to proto D&D that one can maybe see in the rules and accounts, I suspect this works. The character isn’t really imagined much, they remain largely a game piece conceptually.

I don’t think equipment based advancment is bad, even for games with greater character development/theatrics/identification, but I suspect you are right in that it can createconfusion or indifference to character identity. For example if I swap equipment with another PC in your system the characters have almost been traded, likewise if my character dies and my new character gets thier stuff - old character is back.

So two ways to avoid this are limits on equipment - based on early design you can use x type of armor, this can be light, heavy etc, but it might be more complex, e.g. your noble will only wear armor that’s engraved or of high quality - no magic armor made of turtle shells. It might be setting based - join faction and get bonuses but also get limited to its equipment. Second you could shit more stat nchanges to specific experiences: adventuring traumas or victories say, so that it’s not just equipment.


Having recently finished The Elusive Shift this line of thought is somewhat fresh in my mind: I think this all depends on how a player interprets their stats. Some players will see that they have a low Intelligence on their character sheet and play their character accordingly (ie as not smart, making a lot of mistakes, etc.). Some players don’t do this - they just play their characters however they feel like playing them no matter what the numbers say. My sense is that players in the former group would feel weird with stats shifting a lot due to gear and those in the latter group wouldn’t really even notice.

(I sense though that play groups with folks in the latter group are more likely to be nudging those with the better stat to do the thing where the better stat would help - a kind of post-chargen group pigeon-holing.)


I think the thing you are having trouble with is the level of abstraction. Your characters base stats are not actually changing, it’s just that the game is modeling both their skill and their equipment as one number and one roll as opposed to breaking it out into multiple mechanics like in D&D (roll to hit, roll damage based on weapon etc.)

I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to say that my ability to fight is lower today than it would be if I were geared out for a hunting trip.

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I’ve been known to do some unusual things that are along these lines in some of my games via House Rules. One is how I handle the Elf Class (they physically change/transform into different beings based on the “Season” they’re in, so there’s Spring “High” Elfs, Summer “Wood” Elfs, Autumn “OD&D Elf With Beard” Elfs, and Winter “Dark” Elfs (not Drow, more Mystara Shadow Elf).

Another is how I’ve been running Hit Points lately (PC’s roll their HD anew after Initiative to determine their HP/disposition for “this engagement” (I’m doing it for the Monsters on the fly, why not PCs too was my line of thinking). They were skeptical, but it did solve the whole “1 HP for an entire level” Fighter problem, so they came around to it pretty swiftly.

As far as Attributes/Ability Scores go, those change somewhat frequently in play in my games. The rigors of adventuring life can reduce them (kind of like a Retirement Timer) but there are also all sorts of ways to improve them through adventure. Some other conceits (like Class approaches to solving problems) are perhaps a little less mutable…but you never know if a Fighter might find a Magical Tome that lodges a Spell in their brain or what-have-you.

I think the mechanical interfaces present on the Character Sheet can sometimes be a powerful silver cord for some players that ties them to play and having those interfaces alter to swiftly/frequently might be a little disruptive. But for something very episodic or picaresque I think it could be a feature not a bug.

Thank you, all. This is bringing out so much good stuff that I definitely want to take forward. I’ll maybe link in where I result if my experiment on this works this week.

So appreciative of this great spot to put out ideas like this .

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