Shtick Driven HERO
This document describes an alternate method of character rewards that has each player
that wishes to participate in it define five typifying shticks or re-occurring goals
for their character.
Each player using this method defines some number of "shtick" that are central to
their character concept. Subsequently, instead of receiving experience points (xp)
in the normal fashion, the player is awarded xp based upon how many of their character's
shticks they managed to involve in a given session.
The number of shticks can vary by character but there should be at least three,
and generally no more than ten.
Some shticks might be "core" and expected to be at least likely to come up in a
given session, while other shticks might be more niche and serve primarily to round
out the character.
The description of a shtick can take any form that is useful, but the format of
a label followed by some flavorful exposition and then a clear statement of under
what condition the player should expect to receive xp has worked well during actual
Example: Jonas Mailer
The Here There Be Monster player character Jonas Mailer had the following shtick.
Is there a Doctor in the house?: Despite all the crazy bullshit, Jonas is
still a doctor and though he likes the prestige, it can be an incredible inconvenience
as it occasionally forces him to help his fellow man.
Condition: Jonas gains 1 xp when he is able to include his medical background
in an adventure.
Characters using this method gain no experience points at all via the normal method.
Instead, each session a character gains 1 experience points for each of their shticks
or goals that they managed to accomplish in the session.
As an option to ease tracking, a player or GM could make a checklist for each session
and simply check off a shtick (or anti-shtick, if used) when the condition is met
during play. Experience award then not only becomes simple (just add up the checks),
but the checklist can also be kept as a physical record of past sessions.
For extra flavor, a player could attach notes to each shtick on the checklist to
annotate what they did (or didn't do) for that item in the session, which can provide
an amusing journal to read later as a campaign progresses or long after its over.
- Concept Oriented:
- this method asks players to strongly define their character's
concept, and then rewards them for finding ways to incorporate it into play.
- Opt In:
- this method can be used by some players and not others in the same campaign, as
the players prefer.
- Opt Out:
- the GM can at any time allow players to opt out of the model and start earning xp
normally if they change their mind as to where their character should go.
- Hit or Miss:
- in some sessions, a character simply wont be able to fit in all of their shticks
and thus not gain as much experience as they might have under normal means.
- if a player has to go through the motions of acting out or forcing the same shticks
over and over again, it can become tiresome. This can be mitigated by the GM agreeing
to allow a player to periodically switch out a shtick or two.
- from time to time the GM may feel the urge to cap the experience points awarded
for a session, preventing
a character from earning as much experience points as their efforts would otherwise
have allowed for.
- Rule of Unfun:
- though intended to be empowering and to enhance the roleplaying experience for a
given group, this method has the potential to become not fun for some people. For
instance, if one or more of the participants chooses to approach the idea as more
of a checklist of "todos" and just makes sure that they check each box once per
session if possible, rather than using it as a tool to stay true to their character's
concept, the entire exercise can become tiresome.
- the GM should monitor situations where a player abuses this awards mechanism in
such a way as to make the game consistently "unfun" for the group, or as an excuse
to sabotage or undermine the campaign, and take appropriate action.
- at the situational level the GM should feel comfortable imposing an experience point
penalty if they felt a player did something egregious during the session that soured
the play quality for the group, if it seems warranted.
- at the repetitive problem level, the GM should simply switch the character back
to the standard awards process, or at the extreme end bar the player from the group
altogether. This is no different from any other situation where a player, for any
reason, makes the rpg experience consistently suck for the rest of the group.
The following variants might be useful or interesting.
Instead of one experience point each, the GM may instead rate each shtick individually
such that some are worth more than one point and some are worth less, as befits
their magnitude. Thus easily accomplished or minor shticks might be worth a half
while more difficult or significant shticks might be worth two or three points.
Instead of experience points, some shticks might award another form of award like
Heroic Action Points (if they are used), a one time use of some number of dice or
points of Luck, a one time use re-roll, or some other non-experience point benefit.
The GM may allow or require players to also name a few conditions which will cause
a character to lose a point of experience, or does it themselves if they feel it
to be necessary. Some may even be direct penalties for playing against Psychological
Limitations or other Disadvantages. Note that the experience point loss is from
the sessions accrued total, not from previously earned experience points, and there
is a floor of 0 experience points for a session.
Example: Jonas Mailer
The Here There Be Monster player character Jonas Mailer had the following anti-shtick.
Pragmatism, Not Idealism: The rules and regulations of the Accords are fine
a majority of the time, and even serve as a thin veil of protection; but let’s not
set aside the promise of scientific advancement just to maintain the illusion that
everything is upright, regulated, and under control.
Condition: If something valuable to Jonas or the group can be obtained through
a flexible view or outright dismissal of the Accords and does not put him or the
group at significant risk of discovery or Sanction, he must do his best to coerce
and manipulate the group into allowing it (or just do it on the sly), or lose 1
A couple of examples using generic fantasy characters are provided below.
Here There Be Monsters - We Too Unto Darkness
This method was used by some of the characters in the Here There Be Monsters
We Too Unto Darkness campaign. Links to shticks of the player characters
using this method are provided as a practical example.
Andronicus's player defines the following shticks:
- Smart: Andronicus prides himself on his intelligence.
- Condition: Display uncommon book knowledge or figure something out.
- Magic: Andronicus is very dedicated to his mystical arts; he has a good selection
of spells, covering his bases. He's smart so he likes utility spells that give him
options. For damage spells he avoids collateral damage and opts for "smart" spells
that can be targeted precisely / safely over splashy spells that might have unintended
side effects. He should be accurate with his spells.
- Condition: Use magic in a clever or precise way.
- Agile: Andronicus is slim and nimble and fleet of foot.
- Condition: Use agility or mobility effectively, actively seek out advantageous
positions rather than just standing around.
- Rugged: Andronicus is fit and tougher than he looks.
- Condition: Use athleticism, show courage in the face of physical danger,
live rough, go against the "frail wizard" stereotype.
- Connected: Andronicus has ties to academia and intelligentsia.
- Condition: Tap into academic background, use or make new contacts, include
the "academic world" in the game.
- Anti-Shticks: if the GM required some anti-shticks as well, Andronicus might
have the following:
- Imprecision: If Andronicu s misses an important magical attack, or causes
collateral damage he loses 1 experience point.
- Timidness: If Andronicus displays timidity or concern for his physical well
being, he loses 1 experience point.
- Humility: If Andronicus displays unusual humility or denigrates his own capabilities,
he loses 1 experience point.
Uaga the Bold
Uaga the Bold's player defines the following shticks:
- Physical: Uaga is a Howard-style barbarian, this dude is mighty.
- Condition: Uaga attempts to solve a problem that suggests a complex or subtle
approach with an application of pure brute force; smash a lock, kick in a door,
break a device, brutalize a contact, cow an authority figure.
- Killing Stuff: Uaga is super lethal.
- Condition: Wrack up a higher body count than anyone else in the party, fearlessly
charge the biggest combat threat, charge into overwhelming numbers swinging big,
attempt to wreak as much havoc as possible.
- Barbarian: Uaga is skilled in the wilderness, can survive on wood chips and
gravel, and tracks pretty good.
- Condition: Use woodsy skills, eschew "civilization" and comforts, display
feats of strength and athleticism in unnecessary situations around "soft" city folks,
physically intimidate non-barbarians and make them uncomfortable or create socially
awkward situations in normally "civilized" settings.
- Stud: Uaga is well liked by the ladies
- Condition: Hit on, flirt with, or at least swagger and show off for a woman
or women in at least one scene.
- Overconfident: Uaga is not suicidal or stupid, but he demonstrates a seeming
lack of concern in the face of daunting or even ridiculous odds or circumstances.
- Condition: Display total confidence and assurance in the face of improbable
odds, seemingly impossible situations, and despite any evidence to the contrary
that you can succeed.
- Anti-Shticks: if the GM required some anti-shticks as well, Uaga might have
- Logical: If Uaga stops to make elaborate plans, attempts to solve problems
by means other than direct force intimidation or violence, or bothers to explain
himself to others in a reasonable or logical way, he loses 1 experience point.
- Self-doubt: If Uaga acts like he is unsure whether he can do something physical,
beat a particular foe, survive a conflict, or otherwise hesitates to immediately
engage in a dangerous situation, he loses 1 experience point.