Friday, 10 April 2015

PowerFrame: Characters

Six illustrations to go for PowerFrame RPG! This week I drew a picture for the "Nuts & Bolts" chapter, which is a reference for the various elements that define characters. In this post, I'll introduce those elements.

Characters in PowerFrame are defined through three major categories: Abilities, Attributes, and Traits.


Abilities are the primary means by which characters, creatures, and even objects are described in game terms. Characters are differentiated by choosing which Abilities they are good or bad at.

Abilities can represent physical traits (Strength, Toughness, Looks), learned skills (Melee, Engineering, Driving), and knowledge (Languages, Appraising, Bureaucracy)There are also some Special Abilities which either work in unusual ways (Fortune, Magic) or have restrictions on which characters can use them (Berserk, Fly).

Abilities start at 0, which is the level of an average untrained adult human. That baseline varies depending on whether we're talking about Strength, Riding, Medical, or Magic. Abilities can go up to 5, and you can also take some at a negative to represent weak areas. Races often have special modifiers that raise or lower the starting and maximum allowed values.

Intelligent Races can improve their Abilities through learning and practice. The list of Abilities is quite long, but it combines everything that would be separate "stats" and "skills" in other systems. Once you're familiar with them, you can probably pick a dozen or so Abilities to build your character around and ignore the rest. 


Unlike Abilities, Attributes are assigned rather than chosen. Most are either dictated by a character’s Race, or derived from one of their Abilities.

Attributes normally can’t be improved using Experience Points, although those based on an Ability will improve as the Ability increases.
  • Health: How much damage the character can take before they pass out or die. Normally 6 for humans. Health is a static value because being Tougher and better Armoured reduces the amount of damage you take.
  • Size: Humans are Size 0. Things larger than 2 metres are Size 1 or more.
  • Hit Locations: Characters usually have six Locations, which are used for equipping Armour.
  • Carry: Based on Strength and Size, this determines how much Encumbrance you can carry before suffering a Burden penalty.
  • Endurance: Based on Toughness, this is used to track things like hunger, thirst, exposure, and exhaustion.
  • Movement: Based on various Movement Abilities and Size, you have several Movement Rates for walking, swimming, and climbing. Some Races also have access to flying or burrowing.
  • Threat: A measure of advancement and dangerousness in combat. Used when calculating combat XP.
  • Ranking: Arbitrarily-assigned ranks in organisations.


Traits are special descriptors that represent unusual capabilities or weaknesses that can't be modelled with Abilities or Attributes. They are assigned to Races and creatures, and aren’t available to characters that don’t start with them.

Traits describe things that make a character or creature different from the standard human baseline. They include things like natural weapons and armour; the ability to fly, burrow, or use another type of movement more or less effectively than a human; breathing underwater or not needing to breathe at all; fast-healing regeneration; phobias, aversions or reactions to various things; innate powers that mimic spell-like effects; and many more. Traits are a catch-all category, and it's possible to invent new ones to represent powers that work in specific ways.

Traits are rated in Threat, to give some indication of their effectiveness. Drawbacks have negative Threat.

Flexible Creations

By putting together a set of Racial Ability Modifiers, Attributes, and Traits, you can quickly and easily define a new fantastic race or creature. If the existing Traits don't have what you need, you just need to define how something works and assign a Treat rating to it and you can plug it into the existing system.

Create your own original races for your own original worlds. It's possible to stat up and play the Oni-Faced Naga pictured above (Natural Armour, Natural Weapons, Comfort Zone: Warm, Dark Vision, some Racial Modifiers; possibly some additional weaknesses or powers). Heck, I once created and played a five metre tall pearlescent chipmunk-thing, the spawn of a holy sky-squid, with fleshy "dreadlocks" that dropped off and turned into small versions of itself. It made sense at the time...

I'm not sure what I'll be drawing next, but my list of possibilities is getting shorter!

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