Chargen: Immersion vs. Agency (specific example)

So I’ve gotten artsy and set up Chargen for my very WiP Warlock game up as a sort of Tarot reading. Cards, suits and Arcana are native to the game world however and representative of its magic.

As it currently stands, the person doing the reading will explain what the next card will represent (eg. “This card represents the circumstances of your birth”) and the player would get to pick from several card descriptions (“The card is almost entirely black, showing a night sky dusted with specks of starlight. Two larger white circles sit in its center like twin moons… or a pair of cold eyes staring out of the darkness.”). The only information the player would have is that white circles represent the suit Marrow which deals with intellectual matters, the rest they’d have to figure from the image. Only upon selecting the card would they get an explanation of its exact meaning (“Marrow Two. You are of two minds, born as you were under not one but two stars. Was it the changing of the seasons? An equinox? Whatever it was, you belong to two worlds and both have marked you as theirs.” This particular card would result in even boosts to the ‘Marrow’ and ‘Ichor’ Domains of Magic (Ichor representing emotions/urges and having a spiritual component)).

This is obviously done for flavour and immersion. I realize the CYO/IF crowd is a multi-headed beast and you won’t be able to please everyone. I’d just like to get some community input on whether this is too vague. The protagonist could as easily know the cards and at least intuit their meaning though that might cause a lot of redundancy when the person doing the reading does their bit of exposition. And I’d be sorely tempted to have the protagonist misinterpret the occasional card.

The minmaxers will log the results of each choice anyway, though not all will have tangible stat results. Some cards will unlock vignettes or entire side plots further along in the game. Not having a good idea should encourage players to pick what they think is cool and run with it (and in a pinch they can stick with a single suit and have a specialized character who can at least complete the game).

So, help me out here gang. Do you think that’s over the line as far as vagueness goes?

1 Like

Vagueness will work fine. What may cause wailing and tears is picking a card and then being stuck with it. Perhaps, after providing the vague interpretation, you can give the reader/gamer a choice of accepting it as is or redoing their choice.


Personally I have come to ever so much prefer games that are not reliant on stats and stats alone. To some degree, certainly, as in whether or not you actually know how to fix a car engine, fly an aeroplane and so forth, but I find my enjoyment of games take a sharp nose dive if I am being punished for role-playing as opposed to roll-playing. That is, not being a munchkin (RPG term for a min-maxer) means the game will punish me - no thank you.

In other words, I probably would be fine with it. Hard to say 100% until I have seen it, but this is my gut reaction. :relaxed:


TBH, at least to me, vagueness is not something horrible; an abomination of design.
In fact, it’s something enticing! If there’s an aura of mystery that’s up in the air and we (as the player) can try to work it out, it will be a satisfying experience on itself.

Of course don’t be too vague and leave everything half-explained. Vagueness is best used to incite player’s curiosity, not to confuse them.

I agree with @Eiwynn at this one. Being stuck by a card, especially when it’s the one we don’t like, especially when it’s from the result of an RNG, can be a frustrating experience to have.

Speaking from a game design perspective, this can be a rather challenging task (The Immersion vs. Agency). But I believe both things is not an opposite end of a spectrum.

If you can find a way how to give the player their agency while making stuff immersive enough (and probably canon), it’ll be a blast to play something like that!


@Eiwynn I did consider the option of allowing the protagonist to basically say ‘screw this, I make my own fate’ at the end of this and allow them to have a set of basic options to determine their stats. Something of a last resort if you accidentally gimp yourself in your own estimation.


There won’t be any RNG involved. There’s three… Classes of sorts you can rank up in and four Domains of Magic. Those will mostly be set at Chargen and you’ll know when you can get further boosts to them since they’ll involve study or magic. The Domains correspond to the Suits of the Fetter Deck but it’s not always that straightforward.

I’d compare this to Sabres of Infinity where not every Chargen decision raises your stats but some increase Reputation or give you money if you need an idea.

I’m a big fan of tarot-style character creation. I recall Tactics Ogre had a similar system for choosing your elemental type, framed in the form of a fortune telling.

1 Like

I was partially inspired by Ultima V. No Tarot cards but you were in a witch’s wagon and she’d ask you questions and add ingredients to a potion depending on your answers. The other half is probably Dragon Age and its use of Tarot-style art.

If only I could get the missus to draw these for me…

I don’t think it’s over the line for vaugness, if you’re trying to be vague, but it does tread the fine line between choices, and consequences (which is fine if that’s what your going for). The difference is that a choice is something which you stop, and think about before you make the decision on what to do, meaning you have if not all, most of the information needed to make a decision. A consequence is something that happens after you take the action, as a result of that action, but in games this is often a result of doing something without knowing what will happen because of that. Again, both have their pros and cons, it’s just what you’re trying to do that needs to translate into it.

1 Like

I don’t know if it’s quite right to emphasize “immersion” as one side of the trade-off here. There are plenty of ways you could make chargen immersive without removing player agency. A sense of powerlessness will markedly reduce immersion for the players who find it frustrating; plenty of players define immersion as the ability to shape the main character to be as much like the one in their head as possible.

Personally I like what you’re describing, but then I also enjoy CYOA/IFs that give us defined or semi-defined main characters and challenge us to think how they (not “I”) would respond in a given situation. So I’d bite the bullet and just describe the issue as one of whether you want to maximize player agency or limit it. Non-agency – i.e. responsiveness to externally given facts rather than getting to make up your own facts – has its pleasures for many readers/players, too.


I’d love to give this more likes than the one. Have these instead! <3<3<3

At the risk of sounding like a jerk, if people want to play exactly the character they want they’ll have to make their own game or look at something more freeform than CYOA/IF. Like Collaborative Fiction or Tabletop RPGs or LARP. I’ve done all those and enjoy them for their own merits but any prefabricated game only ever allows for you to make the choices someone built into them anyway. Like in those Skyrim vs. Dragon Age debates when people would say, ‘You can do whatever you want in Skyrim!’? That’s a phallacy.

But I digress. I’d argue that immersion is achieved by choosing as your character would. Players might enjoy the end result in spite of it not being what they expected. Which would be cool.

1 Like

These ideas are either the most fun I have with character creation or just a heap of frustration, depending on the execution.

If I’m limited in what I can do (for instance, choosing any cards but the ones in Marrow prevents me from succeeding on a “thinky” playthrough), odds are I’ll just min/max for the stats I want, code surfing and resetting if you’ve got a trick card in the suits. If the build is more versatile (either because the stats aren’t solely dependent on your build; or there’s enough of a selection that I can, say, pick one of several cards that assist in building a “thinky” character; or because you’re not building a stat heavy game, etc.), then I’ll go through and have a blast with it, try out the different options to see what they unlock, and probably play through character creation when I’m bored.

Having a way to back out/redo the options clears up most of the arguments. Your suggestion to Eiwynn or just a simple yes/no #“Wait, the lighting was making it hard to see. That’s not the card she picked” to reset that current card would work.

1 Like

Just for the hell if it I thought I’d paste an example of a choice split to give a better idea of what I’m talking about. Maybe this helps.

Annotations in square brackets exist to add information the player / MC would have had prior to entering the scene. I’m just curious if people would think these images clear enough to convey a rough meaning. I can also post the relevant reactions if there’s an interest in seeing what’s what but I don’t think it’s terribly mysterious. Just not straightforward.

“The Scion of Blood, how fitting.” The soothsayer remarks not without humor before taking the card and placing it off to the side. In doing so she reveals the next one in the stack, explaining, “These next three cards serve to define you. Where you came from, where you have been… where you are now. Should you find yourself disagreeing with them, consider that you -none of us, truly- do not know everything there is to know about anything. Least of all yourself. But the Fetters [the cards] react even to things above or below our notice.”

As you turn your attention to the card thus revealed you see…

  1. A majestic tree, not unlike an oak but bearing rich fruit in the form of seven red triangles [suit of Blood]. To its side stands a resplendent robed couple while children dance around the tree’s trunk. Its roots stretch deep into the earth, winding around an eighth triangle.

  2. A wooden bridge across a raging current, each of its six posts crowned by a white square [suit of Bone]. To its left a path continues to a faraway town while to its right stand three people. In its center however, a tall figure in reds and blacks stands imperiously, as if to challenge anyond who sought to cross.

  3. A book, held aloft and spread open by a female figure clad in blue robes. While you recognize none of the letters on either page visible it’s hard to miss the four white circles (suit of Marrow), one at the top of each yellowed page, one at the bottom.

  4. A closed book, bound in leather and suspended in a nightly sky dusted with the faintest of stars. On its cover is the number XVII [there are 16 Arcana, each with a Roman numeral] and below it symbols you cannot honestly profess to know. You cannot shake the impression that they are not symbols but the abstracted outlines of a face in the leather. The face itself remains frustratingly elusive though.

1 Like