Characters in Sageuk! Roleplay in Joseon

Today I released a video on YouTube looking at the elements that make up a character in Sageuk! If you would like to take a look at it, you can find it here. I will also include a transcript of the video below if you would rather just read it instead.


Video Transcript

​​Hello everyone! My name is Bryon of Hessan's County and I'd like to thank you all for joining me today. Today I would like to you all a little bit about a new Tabletop Roleplaying Game that I recently released called Sageuk! Roleplay in Joseon.


If any of you are unfamiliar with this game, it is a Tabletop Roleplaying Game that is designed to adapt the genre of sageuk, which is South Korean historical dramas.


What we are mainly going to be discussing today is the actual character creation process for the Sageuk! roleplaying game for anyone who is unfamiliar with roleplaying games in general or for those of you who are new to this particular style. The main rule system that governs character creation is based on the Harmony Drive, which was created by Cat of Peach Garden Games and was used for several of their own games as well. Links to their itch page and the specific page for the Harmony Drive Standard Rule Guide are going to be found in the links down in the description.



Approaches

Characters in Sageuk! are mainly constructed from six major pieces. The first of these are Approaches.


In many roleplaying games, the character has Ability or Attributes scores that indicate how able the characters are in certain physical or mental characteristics like Strength or Charisma. In Sageuk and other Harmony Drive-based games, we take a different tack. Instead of describing how able a character is, we instead describe how comfortable the character is at using certain approaches in problem-solving. In Sageuk, these approaches are described as Daring, Understanding, Sensitivity, Subtlety, & Adaptability.


To briefly summarize them, Daring is the approach of confrontation. This approach could be used for combat, but it is also used when standing up for what you believe in the face of opposition and the will to keep acting despite potential consequences.


Someone acting using the Understanding approach is doing so based on what they already know about the problem. They could be relying on book smarts, hard-earned experience, or a wisdom that goes beyond their years.


The Sensitivity approach relies on feeling and observing the here and now to inform how the character should proceed. This could be noticing something small out of place, reading the emotions in another person, or creating an artwork that you want to have a certain emotional effect on another character.


A character using the Subtlety approach is attempting to act in small ways or avoid notice to their actions. This could be someone trying to be stealthy, but could also be a person trying to defuse a social situation or helping another character without drawing attention to their efforts.


Finally, the Adaptability approach relies on timing and sometimes having to wing it, so to speak. A character with a high Adaptability score is probably good when having to act without a plan, having coordinating with others on the fly, or doing something new without prior preparation.


These Approaches are the base statistic when needing to make a roll in Sageuk with the number indicating how many six-sided dice the player gets to roll when using it. Normally the approach score is between 1 and 3. When making a character, it is best to start each approach at 1 and then divvy out 5 more points as you think best fits your character. When you are done, you might want to double-check that the total of all of the approach scores comes out to 10.



Professions

The next portion we will discuss, but likely the first element that you will have decided on when making your character will be their Profession. In the base game of Sageuk, there are 10 professions that range from the basic Worker to the Artisan to the high-class Literati. Besides providing some basic information about your character’s likely social class and past experiences, each class provides the player with four of the seven skills that they start out proficient in. For example, with the Soldier profession, the character is automatically proficient in Close-Combat, Tactics, Athletics, and then either Archery or Gunnery.



Skills

In Sageuk!, each character starts the game with 7 skills they are proficient in. Proficiency means you have enough knowledge or practice in doing that activity to be considered somewhat of an expert. If you need to make a roll to determine your character’s success, using a skill you are proficient in means you get to roll an extra die. For example if my commoner character wants to disguise themselves as member of a higher social class or a specific profession, they could use proficiency in the Fashion skill to make sure they look the part, adding an extra die to my Subtlety roll.


Some skills like Science and Performance also have Specialities that can come into play when very specific knowledge is necessary to complete a task like the muscle memory developed when playing a particular instrument or the exclusive mastery a physician would need to succeed in treating a patient with medicine or acupuncture.

We mentioned previously that 4 of the character’s 7 skills come from the character’s Profession. Two more are chosen by the player to describe the character’s backstory or otherwise make them more unique.


The last skill each character has is the Survival skill. This skill demonstrates the basic knowledge, habits, and instincts that your character would have developed because of living in certain environments, but are often not helpful when living or being in other areas. You might think of the stereotypical plotline of the prince being unable to function outside the palace, the country bumpkin getting in trouble when visiting the city, or the city boy not knowing which end of the hoe to use in order to plow the field. A character can get experience in more than one Survival speciality, but can only start off with the one that best reflects the environment they probably grew up in.



Backgrounds

Speaking of growing up, the next section we will discuss is your character’s Background. The Background is a reflection of the social and emotional environment your character spent their childhood and youth in. In the Backgrounds, I have attempted to reflect a lot of the usual starts a character in a sageuk drama may experience. For example, the Family Pariah is a character who was shunned by their family for some reason while the Close to Court background suggests a character that has strong ties to the royal family or other major players in the Government. The base game starts out with 14 Backgrounds, but you are certainly welcome to come up with more if you think of something interesting that has not already been covered.


A background will also help build out non-players characters that may exist around yours as well. A character with the Apprentice background likely has a master or maybe rivals that are involved in their craft with. A Spirit-touched character has one or more spirits that commonly follow them around or may be friends with a monk or mudang who help the character deal with their supernatural experiences.


Finally, the Background gives the character an Ability unique to it. Each background has a two to choose from by default, but I am sure a creative player and storyteller could always come up with more that may better fit your unique character. As an example some abilities, the Learned Background has Consultation and Shared Lexicon. The former allows you to help out another character who is struggling with a roll when using a skill your character is also proficient in. The latter makes it easier for you to communicate with people who are also familiar with Literature and other cultural elements of the day, using things like literary references, metaphors, references to songs, or other things to make your points more clear.



Drives

Another element that helps make your character more unique is their Drives. These are single noun, verb, or adjective or potentially short descriptive phrases that describe your character’s motivations, personality, and self-image. Sometimes these are things they are trying to avoid or change about themselves, things they feel negative about, but more often they are things that your character has embraced and finds fundamental to their identity.


When making a roll that touches on one of these Drives, the player has the option of pushing their character to new heights. Once a Season, the player can use each of their Drives once to add a Drive Qi to their roll. This Qi basically functions like rolling a 6 on one of your dice, which trumps all other results. While this does not guarantee your success, it does make achieving success much more likely.


A second use for the Drives is to create a narrative advantage of the whole group. This gives each character an extra die on their rolls if they did not already have an advantage for the rest of the scene. While this increases the chances of success for everyone, it has a smaller statistical effect on an individual roll than if you used a Drive Qi. As an example of using a Drive, if a character has the drive “Optimistic” and they are attempting to make a rousing speech, then using their Drive will bring out the character’s passion and sincerity, which would likely greatly impress the audience. This could be used to make the roll on the character’s speech to convince the audience much easier or the player could instead choose to give all the player characters a smaller, lingering bonus for the rest of the scene because of their performance.



Aspirations

The final piece in making a character in Sageuk! is the character’s Aspiration. If we look closely at most well-written of Korean dramas in general, each character has a significant medium to long-term objective they like to accomplish during the course of the story. How the character grows and changes depends greatly on how successful they have been at achieving their aspiration.


The point of the Aspiration in Sageuk is not only to help you build out the backstory and also personality of your character. It also is there to help the other players and the Storyteller know where you would like your character to go moving forward. In fact, the Storytellers are encouraged to build the game’s Story Arcs around your characters’ Aspirations and the Season ends when every character has achieved their Aspiration at least once. Finally, it also acts as one of the major character advancement tools in Sageuk. If you manage to achieve your objective during the course of play, then your character gains a Milestone at the end of the current Story Arc. This allows you to upgrade your character’s Approach scores or gain a new ability, which is much more powerful than other means of upgrading your character in Segeuk.


Please, don’t be scared when picking an aspiration for your character. I know that sometimes it can be hard to decide on where you want your character to go, especially when they are new. However, you can change your character’s Aspiration at the beginning of the next Story Arc if you feel that your character isn’t really going in the right direction.




These are the basic pieces of character creation in Sageuk Roleplay in Joseon. I hope you have found these explanations and examples helpful. I can’t wait to see what types of stories and characters your group creates, so please feel free to share them with me on social media or in the comments! If you do not already have the game and would like to know more how it works, you can find more information about it in the description below.


Be sure to subscribe to this channel if you want to learn more about this game, others that I have made, or if you are interested in video blogs about Roleplaying games, tools, and other works of fiction and fantasy. I have several currently in the works about Sageuk specifically and plans to create several Let’s Plays of the wide range of solo RPGs that have come out thanks to world events.


Thank you very much for watching and have a good zone.


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