Games with Lifepaths?

edited February 2008 in Story Games
Hey gang,

What are some games out there that have any sort of lifepath system in character creation?

I know of Burning Wheel/Empires/Jihad/Taft/etc. I was recently recommended to look at Cyperpunk 2020. But most of my gaming hasn't involved lifepath games, so I'm hoping ya'll out there will help me out.

What games have lifepaths? How do they work?



  • Cyberpunk -- though I liked the system in 2013 more than 2020.

    Now that I say that though, I'm hazy as to why. I seem to remember that 2013 was more about choosing the life that lead to the character you wanted to play, and 2020 was more about getting bonuses and penalties and making up random stuff.

    Linked to that, Artesia: Adventures in the Known Worlds.

    With a system that grew right out of Cyberpunk, Artesia uses a similar kind of lifepath system.

    The think I like about Artesia is that the lifepath system sets up all sorts of situations and complications, if you use it more or less straight. Any given character is likely to have family drama, with a brother than hates them and a sister that loves them but a father who is judging between the loving sister and the PC to see who gets the inheritance... It also does pretty well at setting up opening for PCs to link their backstories together through taking common contacts and events and using them in tandem. The game won't actually do this for you, but it does make it pretty damn easy to do it for itself.

    Oh, Warhammer does suchlike things. But I've never actually played, so I'll leave it to others.

    Pendragon has a similar thing where there is a long series of charts you can roll on to see what your father did -- and thus what things, traits, and enemies you will be inheriting. It has some of the same features of the other random-roll life paths (bonuses and penalties and interesting bits of background accruing) but does it in a way that focuses the game, from the start, on the fact that what you inherit -- the dynastic angle -- is often more important than your personal choices. After all your character, until inheritance, does nothing interesting and follows the same path as everyone else. But the legacy your father passes to you? That's golden.
  • Ones i can think of off the top of my head.

    Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has a system of careers that works like an in-play lifepath, or if you stack a few careers on, like a lifepath.

    The earliest of these would be Traveller with it's oft-lampooned chance of dying while traveling said lifepath.

    Cyberpunk has been mentioned, and it always seemed that my characters were a lot older than the others because they usually had spent time in the joint and the service.
  • Posted By: OgremarcoWarhammer Fantasy Roleplay has a system of careers that works like an in-play lifepath, or if you stack a few careers on, like a lifepath.
    Could you tell me more about that?
  • sure, You start by choosing or randomly determining a career (there are some prerequisites) it comes with a number of numerical advances for your stats, some skills, some gear (called trappings) and a number of exits of other careers you can go to from there. If it's your first career you get all the skills and a free stat advance, then you pay 100 exp apiece for other stat advances, and you can jump careers by spending 100exp, once in the new career you have to pay 100exp for new skills from the list as well as stat advances.

    When we were making characters that were further along the path we would give a number of exp in units of 100 to advance with. Hence 1000exp is ten advances, about enough to grab all the goodies from your first career and pick and choose one or two others.
  • Twilight:2000 was my first experience with life paths.
  • Posted By: xenopulseTwilight:2000 was my first experience with life paths.
    How did that work, Christian?
  • Oh, I forgot about Twilight2000. Damn, I can't remember how it went.
  • edited February 2008
    Does Spirit of the Century count? I mean, during party generation, you talk about your characters' early lives and The Great War, and make some decisions there that relate to your Aspects. Or are we talking about something totally different?

    I've played CP 2020 (a long time ago). Lifepaths give a bunch of fodder for determining like enemies and lovers and little things like what you're wearing. It goes into a lot of detail, but keeps enough questions in the air for gameplay. The system really just forces you to flesh things out.

  • SotC totally counts.
  • L5R has what are effectively lifepaths for your ancestors. You roll on a table, up to three times, and get one of either a 'good' result, a 'bad' result, or a 'mixed' result. So one of your ancestors might have run away from an important battle, and you are charged with restoring honor to the family, or another ancestor might have dabbled in forbidden blood magic, lending your family great financial success but with a dark and terrible secret. And so on.
  • edited February 2008
    Posted By: Jason TimmermanDoes Spirit of the Century count? I mean, during party generation, you talk about your characters' early lives and The Great War, and make some decisions there that relate to your Aspects. Or are we talking about something totally different?
    Totally is. In fact, here's the context of the thread: I want to blend some of the more "classic" styles of lifepaths with SOTC-style, and use that in making a Mythender character (the beginning of the idea is here). So, I seek to get educated.
  • I'd argue that Misspent Youth has very loose lifepaths. You've got the shit that happened as a youngster that lead you to be how you are, and two other ones about now, one's your personality and one's your methods. Same (sorta) with the Authority.
  • Posted By: Robert BohlI'd argue that Misspent Youth has very loose lifepaths. You've got the shit that happened as a youngster that lead you to be how you are, and two other ones about now, one's your personality and one's your methods. Same (sorta) with the Authority.
    For the sake of this thread, could you unpack that a little more?
  • I'd be happy to, but in what sense do you mean?
  • For years I used Central Casting: Heroes of Legend from Task Force Games as kludge on AD&D 2nd Ed., GURPS and Fantasy Hero. Central Casting is a system for randomly generating a character background, and is strongly related to the "lifepaths" idea. In addition to Heroes of Legend (fantasy), they had Modern Heroes and Heroes of Tomorrow.

    You start by randomly determining your character's race (Human, Elf, Dwarf, etc.), culture of origin, social status, family of origin, birth order, and unusual circumstances regarding your birth. While most characters generated by the system tended to be the human children of middle class crafts people of typical medieval societies, every once in awhile you'd roll up the odd half-dryad barbarian orphan that is secretly the result of a mad wizard's experiments in alchemy.

    From there you then determined a handful of significant events of your characters childhood, which could range from making a few friends about town to watching your entire nation be destroyed by a vicious tyrant wizard who sold your family into slavery after marking you with a cursed brand. As a result of what I would call "good system design," the latter was actually more likely than the former.

    From childhood you move into adolescence and finally young adulthood. Characters can train under wizards, acquire magical pets, sail around the world, be sold into slavery, fight in wars -- and recount the exact number of battles they fought in, who the enemy was, why they were fighting, whether they won or lost, and how great the casualties were, I mean this fucker gets into DETAILS. When a character falls in love, it sends you on a table chase leading to a dozen more rolls, and by the end you know not only who your love was (in staggering detail if you want to run them through the system to), but if it ended, how it ended, what the highlights were, and how their family felt about it.

    The final section deals with how all of these events affected your character, and uses a very simple and elegant system to tabulate your life experiences and generate a set of attitudes that matches what you've been through. A character whose life is a never ending series of hardships and struggles, full of slavery and imprisonment, will be bitter, hard, and angry. Another character might live in the lap of luxury and live a life full of exploration, adventure, good friends and greta loves,a nd come out of the experience a happy, generous, and well adjusted person.

    The system is most fun, I think, when you walk in with no expectations at all and simply let it create a full character for you. But you can easily steer the system, or just use the bits you want. Like if you want to play a Thief, you might pick "Meet a Mentor" as a childhood event and select a Fagin type character, then have yourself sent to Prison where you'll gain skills and meet contacts and develop a reputation, then spend some time employed by Guild and learn even more. Or if you want to play a Soldier, you might just use the military careers tables to find out how many battles your character fought in, and earn yourself a signature scar or two.

    A quick search of the web shows that it is sadly out of print, and apparently hard to find. I know I wouldn't let my copies go for less than a $100, they're simply too damn useful. I'm pretty sure you could write the outline of novel using Heroes of Legend.
  • edited February 2008
    Posted By: Robert BohlI'd be happy to, but in what sense do you mean?
    A couple examples maybe of these lifepaths you're talking about? I played in your game, and I'm not seeing it -- not saying it's not there, as it has been a bit since we played and there was a lot of new information shared in that playtest.
  • edited February 2008
    Here's what I can think of:

    Burning Wheel and Burning Empires

    Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Dark Heresy

    Traveller and MegaTraveller, etc

    Twilight 2000, and Dark Conspiracy

    Cyberpunk 2020, and Artesia, also the R. Talsorian version of Mekton (oh and Cyber Generation?)

    some Iron Crown Enterprises games: Cyberspace, and I think Middle Earth RP (but not Rolemaster)

    Fate 2.0 and Spirit of the Century

    The three Central Casting books - Heroes of Legend, Modern Heroes, Heroes of Tomorrow. (gonzo!)
  • Twilight 2000 and Dark Conspiracy work like this:

    Character starts at 17, then you add careers on top, like Burning Wheel, but each career is 4 years long. It gives you skills, and sometimes some other advantage (like military rank). In Twilight 2000, you have to roll to see when you stop adding, so you never know how old your character is going to be. This is for character creation only.

    The Fuzion system for R. Talsorian games - Cyberpunk 2020, Artesia, Mekton works like this: you make a few rolls for family background, ethnicity, etc and a few rolls to see what your childhood was like. Then for each year after age 16 or something, you roll for an event. Maybe you roll up a romance, a crippling injury, a friend or an enemy, maybe you get some cash. Keep going every year until you get to your character's age, then stop. Not much having to do with jobs or training, which you get from your "character class" and whatnot. Artesia's system is a bit more involved (actually its pretty OCD). This is also for character creation only.

    Ogre described WHFRP - that career system continues during play. Dark Heresy is similar, but way more restricted - you have to stay within your character class - more of a leveling-up DnD feel.

    I only have one Central Casting book. Man, would I love to get the others! Whoever owns those things should reprint them or stick a pdf up somewhere.
  • I haven't played it, but I've heard that character development in the old Star Trek RPG basically meant progressing through Starfleet Academy, which sounded to me like a really great idea for a lifepath, especially given the setting.
  • Let us not forget Better Games' "Barony," in which with great exertion one could eventually attain the title of "Heinous One."

    Gads, that game was bizarre.

  • Posted By: edheilLet us not forget Better Games' "Barony," in which with great exertion one could eventually attain the title of "Heinous One."Gads, that game was bizarre
    How did that work? Again, I haven't played many lifepath games, so there's nothing for me to remember.
  • Johnstone is right about T:2000. Each time you pick a job, you get a list of possible skills, somewhat similar to BW. I think that's the only advantage you got out of it.
  • Barony was nuts. It was one of those games that was full of crazy cool ideas but didn't really add up to something you could sit down and play. (IMHO)

    There was this huge graph of character types/classes/life-path-things/whatever, in boxes, which all had arrows from one to the other... you started at the top, with very weak ones, and then moved towards the bottom where it got more epic. There was basically no description of what something was besides the name of it and, I don't remember, some bonuses or skills or something that you got with it... Think Burning Wheel lifepaths but 10 times more terse and enigmatic.

    You stayed on the lifepath thing throughout play. It was kind of a level chart too. Maybe... think D&D levels mixed up into a giant graph where everything's connected to everything else?

    There's a review on somewhere that's probably a lot better than my vague recollections. But now I have to go downstairs and see if I can find my copy...

  • Reign has a one roll character creation option, that is basically lifepaths.

    Like so: Roll 11d101 (I think it's 11). Each set (pair, treble, four-of-a-kind), that'll be a certain lifepath. For each solo (single-of-a-kind), there's some random event that happened to you.

    So if you rolled 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6, 7, 7...
    Then you'd get the 3x2 Lifepath (Experienced Beggar I think?), and also the 2x2 Lifepath (Lowly Beggar),
    And the 2x3 Lifepath
    And a random event #4 (there are three lists of 10 numbered random events... so three different #4 events to pick from).
    And a random event #5 (same thing),
    and the 2x6 Lifepath,
    and the 2x7 Lifepath.

    So, if you got a lifepath, you got all the earlier parts of that "chain" as well. If you had 5 two's, then you'd count the 2x2, the 3x2, the 4x2 and the 5x2.

    It's a ton of fun to roll 11d10, and then be like "I was a Beggar Monarch and I own a Magnificent Garden! Rawk!"

    You had the option to set aside any amount of those dice, automatically getting the results. So if Beggar Monarch sounds cool, I can set aside 5 one's, ensuring I get that. In that fashion, you COULD set aside all 11 dice and not have to roll. But rolling was all of the fun.
  • Duty and Honour, in playtest, has fun lifepaths for creating English soldiers and officers during the Peninsular War. There's a light touch of randomness that's really fun.
  • The new Battletech RPG was so full of lifepath, without any real definition of what the hell you were making, or even what the f!@* you were playing, that it made the Baby Jesus cry. Literally.

    Alright, actually it just gave me a blistering headache and a full-on rage, but that's nearly the same thing.
  • i worked on a lifepath/class system for a game called QuickDraw (now defunct). Characters had history points to spend on among other things, events in their lives that advanced them in their career. In our version of The Matrix the path might be:

    Coppertop (all but the Zion born) + Took Red Pill = Cybernaut (Neo)
    Cybernaut + Experience = Captain (Morpheus)

    /my first post here
  • The cool thing about REIGN life paths/one roll character is: It's totally [i]fair[/i]: Every die accounts for 5 Points of character abilities, plus a base increase in abilties. 11d characters are the same as 85 point "build-from-scratch" characters.

  • Last Unicorn / Decipher's versions of Star Trek and Dune both had lifepaths, though they were more like career paths. The settings lend themselves well to the idea of being on a particular path. I think their Lord of the Rings game did as well, though I can't remember right now.
  • oliof,

    In a purely mechanical, point balance way... it is fair. If you compare a 11d10 character to an 85 point character, though... I'm unsure if it's fair. Because that 85 min/maxed the skills a bit more (3s and 4s instead of 2s and 3s), and picked Advantages (is that what they are called?) that reinforced their skills.

    So although an 11d10 character will be exactly 85 points worth of character... it might not be as well invested.
  • joepub,

    It is however more satisfying to take the random pseudo-lifepath system instead of the standard point buy route. I haven't met a person yet who when presented with the vaguely life-pathy system didn't immediately want to use that instead of the rather boring point-buy rules; not even the hardened powergamers of my group.
  • Tulpa,

    Agreed. One Roll Lifepath is totally fun and I'm all over it. I played in a game with a point buy character and the difference was pretty noticeable in my mind. The point buy character was more elegantly and economically focused on what it was about, IMO.

    This isn't a knock on the lifepath system, because that's fun and full of odd results and I like it. And yes, it is technically "balanced" with point buy. My observation is just that in practice, it doesn't FEEL balanced with point buy.
  • Living Steel. And other games using the Leading Edge house system, a stripped-down Phoenix Command. Presumably this includes The Lawnmower Man.

    You'd randomly roll to see what assignments you'd had each year of your past; each assignment was associated with a bunch of skills, and you'd roll to see if you got increases in those skills in that year.

    In its favour, there was no way to die in character creation.
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