Character Creation using the Inverse Barker Mechanic

Posted by on October 11, 2017
'A Taste of Africa' by DaPuglet on Flickr

‘A Taste of Africa’ by DaPuglet on Flickr

As I’ve been thinking about how to use the Inverse Barker Mechanic (roll d100 in any difficult situation; higher is better), I think there are (at least!) 2 immediate problems to solve:

  1. How do you create characters that are “balanced?” That is, how do you keep one player from just having maximum stats in everything?
  2. How does the GM officiate an interesting story with this system?

I have two answers to the first problem.

Solution 1: Let the GM Figure It Out

If the GM builds characters ahead of time, or at least defines the majority of each character’s abilities, then he or she can ensure balance.

This isn’t as weird as it may at first appear. A lot of LARPs and story games use pre-gens, as did the earliest tabletop RPGs like Braustein.

You can also divide the character sheets into skills and personality, letting a player choose a predetermined skill set, but defining whatever personality he or she wants.

Think of playbooks in Powered by the Apocalypse games: picking a playbook defines a large majority of your character, and the game generally works better when each player uses a different playbook.

Solution 2: Point-Buy, a la GURPS

I know, some people really dislike GURPS. We’re not using the system here, though; we’re using the approach.

Imagine this: The GM (and/or the group) defines the abilities, powers, attributes, and such that may come into play in the game. For each “universal” attribute in the game (like strength), each player gets 50 character creation points, and for each “uncommon” attribute in the game (like paranormal investigation), each player gets 25 character creation points. Players then distribute these points among the game’s abilities, powers, attributes, etc., where each can be between 0 and 100. For traits that are either on or off, you let each character have, say, one of these.

With this solution, you still don’t necessarily use those numbers directly in the game, trying to roll over/under those numbers (though you could certainly apply the unmodified Barker Mechanic to do so). While you could, you quickly run into questions about overlapping abilities. This is just to establish relative ability.


Now, figuring out how to help a GM run a cool story with a relatively loose system like this is a very big task, and one for which I don’t have a great process. I think it would involve the basic stuff: create antagonists with strong goals, put them directly in the PCs’ paths, etc.

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