Saturday, 8 May 2021

[BLOG] The Scoundrel’s Progress (Helvéczia Character Generation)

First, news on Helvéczia’s progress! Production is well underway, and boxes on our checklist are ticked off one by one. It is a complicated list, but there is a point with a large “ENDE” sign, and that sign is approaching. Here is where we are:

  • The book interiors, covers and endpapers have been printed, and are at the binder for assembly.
  • The Ammertal and the Oberammsbund supplement (a 72-page A4 book with hex-level world description and a handful of adventures) is printing.
  • The boxes are being manufactured (these are hand-made by one of the last boxmaker ladies active in town).
  • The maps have been finalised, test prints have been examined, and adjustments have been made. They will begin printing soon.
  • This leaves the reference folder with the “other stuff”. This still needs to be finalised, but will be done in the next days – it is not complicated stuff.

With all things considered, it looks like the first boxes may be assembled in the second half of May. They will not go on sale immediately. The box would be available NOW if it was in my hands, but this kind of work does take time – the increase of product complexity is not linear, but geometric. As the plan goes, I will take a short holiday in late May and early June (during which time the store will be closed), after which Helvéczia will be available. If everything comes together, a small initial batch will be sent to NTRPGCon, and the game will make its international debut there – check the Black Blade Publishing stand!

For this post, let’s delve into the game’s character creation rules – I shall make a random character to demonstrate how the rules work, and how they are balanced between the familiar and the unknown.

Boxed set prototype with a hand of cards

Unless otherwise specified by some special circumstance, all Helvéczia player characters are randomly generated, and at the second level of experience. Since the game encompasses six experience levels, power differences are rarely bad enough to merit starting above second level. Enterprising NPCs can be promoted to adventurers during play (Little Juan, whose adventures we have recounted before, started his career as a servant, and rose to fame and fortune after his master, Don José Emilio de Gálvez y Rivera, had to depart with speed from the inquisitors who had wanted to burn him for practicing black magic).

For our character, we shall generate ability scores with the 4d6, drop lowest method. The scores are always in order, but the player can select between two sets – this results in generally competent characters, but often with a few interesting flaws. We roll the dice, and get...

  • Str 16, Dex 10, Con 15, Int 13, Wis 12, Cha 9
  • Str 15, Dex 13, Con 12, Int 15, Wis 15, Cha 8

Neither of these mostly similar sets make for flattering cads, but both are essentially qualified for any class in the game: there is no overwhelming reason not to run a strong Vagabond, or even Student (who are not as frail as D&D’s magic-users), and Father Taddeo Previti, the renowned inquisitor, had a Dexterity of 18, with an almost supernatural ability to silently appear behind someone’s back (“Nobody expects the Italian Inquisition… in Catalonia!”). For now, we will pick the second set, note down the ability score bonuses on the character sheet (more on this later), and create a fighting-oriented character.

Our character, Pascual de Perales (name generated with this very useful random generator) shall be a Spaniard – somewhere midway between safe bets like Frenchmen and Germans, and wildcards with like Poles and Hungarians (who come with higher benefits, but severe drawbacks). The Catalonia campaign introduced several varieties of smaller groups on the Iberian Peninsula, from Andalusians to Basques and Gallegos, but for now, we shall stick with the rulebook. Accordingly, we can note down the following special abilities:

  • They receive +2 to their Bravery and Temptation saving throws.
  • In all circumstances, they must spend a quarter of their money on elegant clothing and expensive jewellery befitting Hispanic fashion.

Helvéczia’s Fighter class is divided into six sub-classes, and – in keeping with the swashbuckling theme – we shall make Pascual, who seems like a bravo or troublemaker with his high abilities but below-average Charisma, a Duellist. This means the following:

  • They can transfer part or whole of their base attack bonus to AC to protect either themselves or others. This AC bonus can be granted to one person for every odd level. [Here, it is +2, and one person – either the character, or someone he is defending]
  • If it is higher than their Strength bonus, they can use their Dexterity bonus for melee attacks. [Not applicable here]
  • Finally, they receive a +2 to all combat checks. [Combat checks, or CCs, are a general action type for all kinds of “special moves” like disarming, tackling, forcing back an opponent, seizing a hostage, etc. They are played with contested attack rolls.]

We note down this information on the character sheet as well. Pascual currently has 2000 experience points (for 2nd level), and needs to hit 6000 for 3rd level.


As one of its points where it departs the furthest from common “OSR” systems, Helvéczia has a simple skill system. Pascual de Perales has three skills by default, and plus two for his Intelligence bonus. Since Fighters are more versatile than other classes, he will receive one more each on 3rd and 5th level. We pick the following skills, beneficial to a troublemaker:

  • Climb (Str)
  • Gambling (Dex)
  • Jump (Str)
  • Ride (Dex)
  • Science (Int)

All of these skills are rated at a value equal to the sum of the character’s level [2] and the relevant ability bonus [-3 to +3]. In his youth, Pascual must have had some formal education, as he has a science skill... which, for added fun, we shall roll randomly from a table with a d6 and d12 (there is a similar one for crafts): a 2 and 1, making Pascual trained in the useful art of Aesthetics! Note that Pascual shall not be restricted to the use of the selected skills: he can use any skill available to his class (which is “most of them”), he just does not get to add his level to those rolls. Helvéczia characters are jacks of all trades… granted, on low levels, they are also masters of none! Difficulty Classes (DCs) for most rolls are 12 (for Normal tasks) or 18 (for Hard ones).

After these steps, we can determine Pascual’s secondary values, various stats derived from class, ability scores, and a few other factors.

  • First things first, Pascual’s hit points shall be 10 (maximum on first level – this benefit is solely for player characters), plus 1d10, plus his Constitution modifier on each level. We get: 10+2+2=14. Pascual can talk the talk and get into trouble, but he has a glass jaw. (Like all other PCs, he will fall unconscious at 0 Hp, and die at -5 Hp. There is no bleeding rule in Helvéczia.)
  • His initiative shall be equal to his Dexterity bonus, a +1.
  • His Armour Class shall be left for after picking equipment.
  • His attack bonus as a Duellist is Level*1 (other classes are Level*2/3), to which he can add his Strength bonus (for mêlée) or Dexterity bonus (for ranged attacks). Thus, we get 2+2=4 and 2+1=3.
  • Helvéczia has three saving throw categories: Bravery, Deftness, and Temptation. As a Duellist, Pascual is good at Bravery, with a value of Level/2+2, and the others at Level/2. To these, he adds his relevant bonus values (Constitution, Dexterity, and Wisdom, respectively), as well as his special bonus as a Spaniard. Therefore, we get 1+2+1+2=+6 (this is a very good value in the system!), 1+0+1=+2, and 1+0+2+2=+5. We note down the scores.
  • There is one more thing to be done here: it comes later in the book, but we shall roll Pascual’s Virtue! Virtue functions as Helvéczia’s equivalent of an alignment system. The beginning score is rolled with a flat 3d6 roll, and positions the character on a 21-point scale that goes from 1 to 21. This score describes where the character stands in the struggle between Heaven and Hell, who both have a standing interest in the affairs of mortals. Pascual rolls 12, which is right in the middle, and comes with no remarkable effects – but every virtuous or sinful deed shall be recorded in the Catalogue of Sins, moving him towards one extreme or the other, with various consequences! (See the scale in the upper right for the simplest ones.)

We’ve got Pascual, now it is time to give him equipment. At the beginning, he has a set of inexpensive clothes, and 2d6 golden Thalers or equipment to the same value. As a Duellist, he is also entitled to one weapon of his choice. We roll 3+4=7! There are options to take out a starting loan at a sympathetic banking house like the Fuggers, Die Gebrüder Lehmann, Rotschild & Söhne, or Goldmann-Sachs, for those who enjoy paying compound interest on relatively short notice, but this will be enough to get by. We will convert our Thalers to 70 Pfennigs for ease of use, and start shopping.

  • For his free starting weapon, Pascual picks a spadroon, a good fencing weapon: it only causes 1d6 damage (plus the Strength bonus), but it has a good critical hit range (18–20/*2), and it grants +2 to Combat Checks, which will be Pascual’s forte!
  • From the 70 Pfennigs, Pascual also equips himself with a cloak and a main-gauche (parrying dagger): both of these function as armour, granting him +2 AC each. We can now count Pascual’s Armour Class: 10 plus Dex bonus plus armour type, making for 10+1+2+2=15. Later in his career, Pascuall shall try to get his hands on a cuirass, but so far, so good… These two items only cost 11 Pfg, while the cuirass would set him back 15 Th!
  • A gun would come in handy! Pascual can still afford one pistol (40 Pfg), with two pouches of powder and shot (20*, 6 Pfg). Firearms are “first-strike” weapons, requiring precious combat time to reload, but that initial shot can be decisive. Pistols do an impressive 1d10+ damage (meaning the 10 will add an extra damage dice), and have a critical of (20/*3). They take one round to reload.
  • Pascual only has 11 Pfg left. He passes on a handful of grenades (“Some day!”), thinks about taking that loan, then settles for minor personal effects: a feathered hat (5 Pfg) to look like a semblance of a gentleman, a deck of cards (2 Pfg, but they pay for themselves!), a haversack (1 Pfg), and a wineskin filled with wine (1 Pfg). Having only 2 Pfg left in this world, sufficient for four days of poor room and board at some low-class inn, Pascual now has sufficient motivation for embarking on his adventures, and getting more money... at gunpoint if n-eeded be!

The reader might note an “X” in the second column. This is for encumbrance values: characters can carry one object (or a logical combination of small ones) in one slot, and depending on Strength, some may be crossed off – Pascual can carry 15 items on his person, but Szymon Czarniecki, a much weaker Student with a Strength of 7 (-1) would only be able to carry 12.



All that remains are background details. In Helvéczia, it is recommended to give your character a brief and to the point backstory – perhaps a paragraph to establish the hero or heroine – and let the rest emerge over play. It never hurts to have that persona (Pascual is a violent and charmless bravo, but more smart than one might assume), along with a sampler of past sins or good deeds. Since Pascual’s Virtue is average, he might not have done anything bad, or he could have just been a person of extremes – which is what we will go with:

Would you buy a used
glaive-guisarme from this guy?
Character notes:

"There is no greater teacher than Life; and this was the wisdom Pascual de Perales followed when ending his studies and embarking on a life of swordfighting, highway robbery, and daring escapes from places where the previous two had proved unsuccessful. After a misadventure with the stagecoach of a great hidalgo named Don Alejandro Luís de Santillan, he thought it better to leave his native land, and head for the lands of Helvéczia, where the Law shall rarely follow."

The Catalogue of Sins: 

–1 point: Plundering the Inn of the Barbican
–2 points: attack on the stagecoach, and killing the bodyguard
+2 point: defending the peddler from the guards
–1 point: robbery at gunpoint

Pascual is now ready for his first adventure!

In my experience, explaining character generation for Helvéczia takes longer than actually doing it, especially after the first PC or two (initial character turnover can be rapid). Of course, the process above only applies to player characters. If he was a throwaway NPC, here is how the Gamemaster would stat him:

Pascual de Perales: Duellist 2+2; AC 15 (Dex, cloak, main-guache); Atk +4 spadroon 1d6+2 (18–20/*2, +2 CC) or +4 pistol 1d10+ (*3) [1 r]; Spec attack to AC [2], +2 CC; +5/+3/+5; V 12; 2 Pfg, powder&shot*20, wineskin, cards.

Hp       14

You will note that the translation is not entirely accurate – some things are simplified or omitted – but the Gamemaster, who has to move several characters in the game, shall surely appreciate the simplicity!

Pascual de Perales -- character sheet (0.1 MB PDF) 

Hex map test prints (GM/player)

6 comments:

  1. I am very excited to order this!

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  2. Really excited to pick this up and just love that the boxes are hand made.

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  3. Looking fabulous! June cannot come soon enough!

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  4. Thank you for the clarification about the rules, it is much clearer now. Now, concerning the books, the supplement is made like the zines, but in A4 format, or is it different, like the rules book or Xyntillan? And speaking of Xyntillan, it shares the same setting or is it another one entirely?

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    1. The supplement is A4-sized, so the same format as Xyntillan (but softcover, and less thick). It is about half micro-level setting material, and half adventures.

      Helvéczia is by and large the same setting (you can find Xyntillan and Tours-en-Savoy tucked in a corner of French Helvéczia), but two generations later. Is is also much less standard D&D.

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