Synapse: Character Generation Review

Browsing around on a new RPG kick I come across “Synapse”. The pitch is cool. Mind matters more than combat skills. I download the beta PDF and start reading. 12 pages of fluff and flavour later I’m starting a character generation.

So I split a crap piece of A4 in half with a ragged black line and get to it.

Step 1. Brain Chemistry.

Oh-oh. Am I going to get stung and roll up a paranoid-schizophrenic?

It says I need at least one d6. I grab four. Back to brain chemistry.

I get 7 attributes, five talents, and a lack of talent. OK – that sounds like something that does not suspend my disbelief. At Attributes I see Synapse, Cognition, Spatial, Empathy, Stability, Focus and Heroism. Hmm… this looks interesting – quite a few terms I’ve toyed with in my own homebrew system. Validation through others is nice.

Normal humans have a value of 3 in each. 8 is the absolute pinnacle. Nice. There’s a list of Synapse Skills and a Talent against each one. Only three talents that I can see. OK – there’s these purple boxes that tell me what to do. 3 points in each Attribute and spend 8 more points as I see fit. I choose:

Synapse 6, Cognition 3, Spatial 3, Empathy 4, Stability 3, Focus 6 and Heroism 3.

Based on the attribute descriptions I think of a character who is fast, a good communicator, and can process a few things at once – so can probably handle lots of innuendo. That’s how I interpret boosting Synapse, Empathy and Focus.

I’m wondering what I need these dice for but continue.

Synapse aids me in things like Bluff, Block, Dodge, Hide and Probe. It also handles Smuggling. I’m starting to see Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly/Serenity. I’d probably need Stability instead of Focus to make someone like him.

I get to the Spatial page and all the combat skills are there. That’s okay. I flirt with the idea of making Dixon Crow – my stand by veteran mercenary scout character that I test systems with. I’ll do that later as a second post.

Empathy has Torture listed as a skill. I guess psychopaths have understanding of Empathy in this system, enough that it functions like the real thing – that actually makes sense. I’m still on board with Synapse so far.

A quick read of Heroism and it only helps if you have above average value in that Attribute. I guess average people suck at being heroic. That fits with the world as I know it.

Now I get to talents. Each attribute has three. Now I have to choose five. There are restrictions on how many I can take. I can’t take a Talent on any Attribute with a value of 1-3. Then it progresses up from that point.

I take:

Deception & Reaction – for Synapse

Persuasion – for Empathy

Precision & Multitasking – for Focus

I find Deception can mimic other skills but for nefarious purposes. Reaction is pretty  much initiative.

I see one called Trajectory for Spatial and think I really want to make Dixon Crow.

Not taking Persuasion is a real crippler – no social skills. Ouch! Synapse will make munchkins and combat monsters very unhappy; so much so they’d probably run screaming back to DnD 4e.

Precision seems to control concentration and keeping steady – it says making long range shots with a weapon will require this.

Multitasking – Apparently can take two different actions in a single synapse phase. That sounds interesting – will find out more later.

Now I have to take a lack of talent: Sacrifice. The Ratling is incapable of Sacrifice type stuff.

As I scan through the Heroism talents I see there’s a thing called Morality Type – nice. I’m very much on board.

Step 2. Biology

Alright – this feels like the scientific method of character creation for RPGs. Already I can see it will put a lot of people off. It’s quite technical and requires a high degree of semantic understanding, but I feel like I’m making a person!

Body: I see that we all start the same here. 3 points. This may change based on other choices. OK. That’s good. I read more and realise that it’s 3 points for each body characteristic. How many are there? my lazy-gamer synapses react.

Strength: I find that when wounded I can lose Strength, and if I lose Strength I lose Focus. Death Spiral combat systems are easy to get wrong. I ponder briefly and move on.

Endurance and Resilience are set to 3. They make semantic sense.

I get to Race: and 17 more characteristics. I feel the heavy dark cloud of stat-bloat but push on. As is par for the course humans get nothing – which ends up with a poke in the eye from a sharp dirty stick in actual play in other game systems. Wonder if it’s the same here. I can see the edge of the deck that I’m on board. There’s some fluff about what race is biologically and we avoid that most heinous of crimes in modern western culture.

There is also a few other races. I see High Elf and then realise it is a template. I decide to make this character a Ratling, or man-rat, type race. I need to allocate points to the 17 different things.

Size, Locomotion, Intraspecies, Blood, Gender, Lifespan, Diet, Sleep Cycle, Skin, Grip, Feet, Language, Vision, Augments, Lungs, Heightened, Intelligence. At the end there’s a Culture Rollover. I read up on the process. Appendix B has more templates – I skip to it. They mention cat people but they’re not in the Appendix. I figure that a Ratling is a bit like a Hobgoblin.

  • Size, -3, ratlings are only 4-5ft tall
  • Locomotion, 0, bipedal (I wan them to be able to go to all fours to run fast but there’s no option)
  • Intraspecies, 0 cosmetic
  • Blood, warm blooded
  • Gender, -3 Gonadal (the differences aren’t very obvious; because of this the character has -2 connections, I guess it really is a human dominated world, whatever the world is at this stage)
  • Lifespan, -4 Short (Ratlings don’t live very long, 20 points on Motivation but can’t use Boosts, Stress level is never below 1 and other things)
  • Diet, 0, Omnivore (Ratlings eat everything that’s organic)
  • Sleep Cycle, 2, Metaurnal (lots of naps day and night)
  • Skin, 1, Fur
  • Grip, 2, clawed hand with thumb
  • Feet, 4, clawed paws
  • Language, 0 Expressive
  • Vision, 5, Low-light
  • Augments, 1, tail, balance only – no attacks
  • Lungs, 0, Oxygen
  • Heightened, 2, Hearing (+2 listen)
  • Intelligence, -2, Berserk (Ratlings are still animalistic in heightened fear states)

Culture Rollover is 4.

OK – so I’ve got a template for Ratlings. Thankfully you only have to do this once.

Step 3. Culture

I find out there’s 25 more cultural characteristics. The first thing I see is Medieval Franks. I don’t really want to make my own culture at this point so I look for more templates. I figure Ratlings are kind of parasitic in their culture, living within or under other human cultures. Given the obscurity of some of the cultures I’m surprised there’s no listing for Romany/Gypsies. The book references that there is Elven and Dwarven culture templates but they’re not actually there. I go with the Byzantine Empire. To do this bit I have to flip back and forward a lot so I take a grab of the culture template and sit it in another window. Fewer culture templates with their net results would be a better choice for any finished work.

It’s tedious. I have to look everything up. The template needs the results in it. I very nearly give up at this point.

I substitute Enclave into the build. I also set Religious Attendance as Optional. Violence point cost for Defensive is listed incorrectly as 7 points. It should be 4 points. I re-total the package with the substitutions and it’s 84 points – which is perfect for Medieval + 4 points for the Culture Rollover from the racial template! Some inconsistencies in terminology make me remember it’s a beta. I make it through. So far I’m thinking this is a good toolkit to create characters for long term campaigns.

Step 4. Life Experience.

Another packaged process. You can spend 15 points on what you’d like or buy  a package. I choose “Spy” and realise I need another sheet of paper. I contemplate some extra Life Experiences, negative and positive at balanced point cost, but decide against it since this character won’t be played.

Step 5. Personality

Motivations: an oft forgotten part of a RPG character. This should be interesting. So far I have a lot of pluses against various motivations from the culture and life experience. I read the section and it tells me I have 15 points to spend on top of those points already accumulated. It also tells me that everything has a base value of one, so that’s in addition to all the other points. I end up with:

Abasement 1
Achievement 4
Acquisition 5
Affiliation 3
Aggression 4
Autonomy 3
Blame Avoidance 1
Construction 1
Deference 3
Dominance 2
Exhibition 2
Exposition 3
Nurturance 2
Order 3
Play 2
Recognition 4
Rejection 4
Retention 5
Revenge 4
Sensuality 2
Succorance 3
Understanding 2

Morality: I read over this and there are categories but not a lot of discussion about how to apply them. I avoid it instead. Later on it suggests types of moral decision making. I think this a better. For the Ratling I make it based on Self-Interest for most things. For other Ratlings he thinks in terms of Rights.

Next is a discussion about Motivation Boosts. A character can overcome their motivations by taking on a stress point and rolling for a chance of success. Interesting mechanic.

Step 6. Connections

You get 5 times Empathy as points for Connections. The example lists other party members, some of which have a “rank” of Family. There are types of connections: Rivals, Enemies and Debts. Great ideas and will help the character be part of something – instead of being spawned into the world with whatever background happened to have been made. I write that I’m skipping this three times then decide to do it anyway.

20 points for Connections. There’s some mod’s from the char-gen so far (-2 from Gonadal gender, +2 from Attractive from Spy template) but they balance out at +0.

I’ll say there’s three other party members. They cost one point each. The rules state that each party member must reciprocate the Connection to you. Agreement must be reached before this is done.

A rebel connection, as a lover. Lots of exciting rendezvous. Transporter, friend; Merchant, friend; Criminal, friend; Transporter (Illicit), favour; Military, friend; Mechanic, favour.

Step 7. Skills

Now I’m in more familiar RPG char-gen territory. Skill points is 3 x Cognition + 10. Hmm… that needs some brackets. A bit more reading (3 x Cognition) + 10. For our Ratling, 19 points, bog standard. However, his culture and life experience gives him a net of +4 skill points. So 23 points. I get into it.

Already have a bunch of skills from the char-gen process so far. I better find out if all those repeats at rank of Amateur stack up or not. They don’t. Some of them give +1, though, so I have to take it that they are at Trained where they also have Amateur. I received Combat skill of my choice but it didn’t say at what level. Since I have Combat training as a Spy and there are so few points I have to assume I have it at Trained.

Appraisal, Amateur –

Beast; Claws, Trained (Ratling tail gives +1 balance, which seems to apply)
Dodge, Amateur – Reaction (Ratling should be good at this)
Barter, Trained – persuasion
Etiquette, Amateur – knowledge
Haggling, Trained – persuasion
Negotiation, Amateur – persuasion
Socialization, Amateur – persuasion
Probe, Amateur – deception
Solider, Amateur – Knowledge/Strength
Meditation, Amateur -willpower
Research, Amateur – deduction

Now to spend those points. I quickly realise that I can’t spend all my points. The leftovers will be used in play for making Connections.

Assassination, Amateur (4 points) – precision
Body Language, Amat (4 points) – awareness
Cartography, Amat (4 points) cover skill – precision
Shadowing, Amat (4 points) – deception
Traps, Amat (4 points) – precision

Step 8. Possessions

Wealth – with -1 to 5d6, I find out I lose a whole dice. Roll 4d6 and get 1300 florins as my starting cash. The Ratling didn’t get any property so I skim that section.

Step 9. Mechanics

Strictly speaking I’ve finished making the Ratling. I’m having fun with this and drinking an Old Mout scrumpy so I continue into the mechanics section.

Basic mechanic is dice pool vs. TN, another skill roll (opposed roll) or combination. On further reading a TN is number of required successes and  you get a success with a 5 or 6. I’m reminded of Shadowrun 4th Edition. The number of dice becomes important so I read on, not very well, then realise that  you use the Attribute for the skill. If you have the Talent you get an extra die. You also get extra dice based on the skill level.

Bartering, trained, persuasion. Ratling gets +3 dice, and Attribute value is 4, so roll 7 dice. Wow. I do a few tests. 3 successes, 2 successes, 3 successes. Cool. That’s straight-forward enough. There’s some fluff about how to roll dice in secret.

Conversational Resolution: this sounds good. I realise I’m back on-board, can’t see the edge of this ships deck so I’m firmly in place. Damn! When can I play this Ratling spy who’s also an assassin and works under the cover of being a cartographer of distant lands and dangerous places. Back go Conversational Resolution. The first paragraph sets the premise that the dice rolling is only when you want to control the outcome of the conversation in some specific way. You appeal to a motivation in the NPC. I can see that you need to Socialization with them first. Then Probe to find out their motivations. Then setup an appeal to the Motivation you think you detect in return for what you want. The complications come when you have to deliver (or decide not to deliver if your character is like that). Nice!

I find out what these conversation resistance dice are and am glad that I took spy package. It means the NPC get -1 resistance die against my attractive Ratling spy. He must be well formed, like the gallant mouse in Prince Caspian.

On that note I reach Combat and decide that it merits a separate post – this one is gargantuan.

Synapse: Character Generation Review

3 thoughts on “Synapse: Character Generation Review

  1. gregorychristopher says:

    Thanks for doing this. The stream of consciousness nature of it gave me a lot of insight into where I need to put more attention and clarity.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on combat.

    1. It was fun. From what I’ve been through the highlight is playing with Motivations – it really makes one think about the character’s personality in ways no other game design has done for me in the past.

      I think there are a lot of good “bones” in the Synapse PDF that I downloaded (dated created 22-08-2010).

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