In House Games, there is no class system or pre-set character progression. Additionally, because the storytelling responsibility rotates each session, there is no real overarching plot that gives the games a story arc. Because of these things, there is a large emphasis on Character Concept as a means of driving a character’s growth and progression in both flavor and mechanics. Your concept will inform all of the decisions you make as your character progresses through the Games.
House games characters are required to be:
- Rich in style, unique, and individual
- Driven by a goal or ambition that encourages them to risk their lives every month
- Extremely capable and competent
Let's break each of these points down into a bit more detail.
1. Snowflakes of Carnage
The most characteristic element of the House Games system is the ability for players to make absolutely any character they want. There are no classes to choose from. Instead, each character can be completely unique in terms of their supernatural element. Want to make a were-puma? Sure! How about a chef that can influence people through the food that he cooks? Of course! How about a magic-is-science professor who uses complicated devices to control and influence the elements? No problem.
But while supernatural paradigm is an important aspect to consider, personality, background, morality, theme, and flaws are just as important. A well-developed house games character is just like a well-developed character in any other work of fiction. They each have flaws that define them, childhoods that have shaped them, regrets that haunt them (or if they don't yet, they soon will), and strengths they draw on. Characters have moralities that shape their lives, and beliefs they hold dear or find shattered.
Of course characters take time to develop. While it is a good idea to have a pretty clear inclination of what you want your character to be when you start (personality, ambitions, beliefs, flaws, potential powers, etc), you will find that the longer you spend with a character, the more they begin to find their voice. Don't feel obligated to front-load a 20-page bio into a character that might die on their first game.
2. Ambitious and Tenacious
As unique as all characters are, there is one thing they all must have in common: their insatiable drive and ambition. Each character has a unique goal, or perhaps set of goals, that defines them. These are individuals who will shape the world in their image, protect it from the dangers that face it, or rule over it with an iron fist. These grand ambitions are what drives the character to risk their lives month after month for even a small step down the path to their ultimate goal.
However, many new players have a very difficult time choosing a good ambition. In fact, developing good House Games goals is very challenging. Goals should fit the rest of the concept and encourage interaction with the world, setting, and other characters in some way. A good place to start is to consider what YOU would do if given the opportunity to change the world in any way you want. Would you end all wars? Would you erase religion? Would you drive all the non Native American people out of North America?
A common trap that people fall into is choosing an inward-facing goal such as “being the best at [insert any skill here].” This includes “Be the most dangerous man in the world,” “Be the best warrior ever,” “Make people weep at the sound of my music,” or any number of other permutations. These goals aren’t ideal because they are not only boring and generic but they also lack any inherent interaction with the rest of the world. They don't produce conflict, and they don't challenge the setting at all. Think about what ends a character means to achieve by acquiring power; don't focus on them gathering power itself. Ask yourself what your character wishes to achieve by being the best warrior in the world. Does he wish to conquer the world? Does he want to someday kill the dragon that burnt down his village? Does he want to eventually enslave all non-human species in the universe? Get more specific.
Also make sure that your ambition, while grounded enough to affect the world and setting, is also lofty enough to not be truly achievable. Characters become very powerful, and you would be surprised what a 30-game vet can do… Scale-able goals that will likely bring your character into conflict with other characters are best.
Examples of good ambitions: Blow up the world, create a new religion and convert everyone to it, replace humanity with its successor, become the leader of the entire world, usher in a new era of technology where computers reign supreme, return the world to the garden of eden, eliminate sex from all culture, explore space and colonize new worlds, etc.
Although ambitions can change over time, you should have a clear idea of your character's ambition before they go on their first game. It should be on your character sheet.
3. The Best of the Best of the Best
The games are a trial by fire designed to separate the wheat from the chaff. Only the most competent, dangerous, resourceful, and skilled individuals are even chosen to participate in the games themselves. Though there may be an initial pool of hundreds, only a dozen or so will survive their first decade in the games, shaped into the most formidable creatures that ever existed. Your character has been invited. They're not just some bum that's never applied themselves. They're probably the best in the world at at least one thing, if not more. They're the leaders of their fields, and they're willing to sacrifice almost anything to accomplish their goals.
The story of an average everyday Joe who is thrust into the world of the supernatural is not necessarily one that can be told in House Games.
At creation, you are given enough skill points and attribute points to be the strongest, smartest, or most disciplined person in the world. You could be an Olympic athlete that shatters records, a brilliant scientist, or the world's most renowned surgeon. Perhaps you are not famous, but that makes you no less competent.
Some Character Concept Examples
These are a few totally acceptable character concepts. If you've got about this much figured out, you're definitely ready to start filling out your character sheet.
These characters are admittedly a little same-y. More examples incoming. . .
- Concept: Famous Italian boxer with serious Mafia ties. Is a raging (but high functioning) alcoholic, and practices new-agey spiritual bullshit centered around drinking.
- Ambition: Drink the Nectar of the Gods and ascend into divinity as the God of Brawling.
- Possible Powers: Drunken Master-type stuff - alcohol fuels his powers and enhances him physically, Super Powered Fists - Can punch so hard he can manipulate sound, light, etc… eventually punch rifts in space to teleport.
- Concept: Wealthy and well-respected practitioner of Chinese Traditional Medicine. Also poaches for business and for the thrill of the hunt.
- Ambition: Create "holy grail" level medicine drawing from ingredients sourced in supernatural creatures. Arrange for mass production of new treatments by hunting/ranching the populations of those creatures.
- Possible Powers: Chinese traditional medicines of all types (cupping, acupuncture, etc), Poaching / hunting powers, population control powers
- Concept: Major action hero (not a movie star, IRL). Was Special Forces, is now a bounty hunter because he refuses to play by the rules.
- Ambition: End war by destroying all armies.
- Possible Powers: Standard shooter type stuff, camouflage powers, tracking and stalking, powers centered around fighting as a lone wolf, or possibly commander powers, depends on roleplaying experiences.