Lifepath design system?

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I like Lifepath systems.  I happen to like systems which have a consistent logic to them and which help guide character development.  I think a properly designed lifepath system gives enough leeway to not caricaturize all PC's, and yet still give enough enforcement of the background premises to make the character believable.  If you want that kid from the streets who grew up to go to a prestigious University or become a TV can do it, it's just gonna cost you more.

But a major problem with lifepath systems to me isn't so much that they railroad a character into "classes" (I think that's a false assumption), but rather that they are extremely tied into the world background itself.  In other words, the lifepath is a direct extension of the game setting, and in particular what background you come from within that game setting.  For example, in a real world context, a person growing up in the United States is going to have different likelihoods (ie costs or probabilities) of certain educational and career paths (not to mention childhood events and primary education).  Even hobby skills will be different.

Therefore lifepath systems are difficult to implement effectively for a Universal RPG.  But I've been trying to come up with a "cookbook" so to speak that will help a GM design a Lifepath system.

There are two components to the Lifepath system:  The character's Background and the Faction he comes from.

Character Background in turn is made up so far of 2 elements for certain, and a couple I'm debating on.  Social Class and Wealth are the two I'm definitely including, and Race, Religion, and Ideology are ones I'm considering.

The Faction a character comes from is very important, because it not only works in conjunction with the Character Background, it  defines the very Character Background possibilities.  Thus, Background + Faction determines what choices are available on the lifepath.  The Lifepath can not assume a socially, civically, religiously or racially free society.  In fact, perhaps the most basic choice a player must make for his character is in which faction (my term for the society in game terms) the character was raised in.

So now I have to basically build not just a character, but a society as well.  But I don't mind, because as a potentially Universal System, I want rules to help the GM design the game background as well as the people that populate it.  In fact, I can not envision how you can separate the two.  Character concept is greatly influenced by the world in which the character lives.

I was wondering if people could add to the list of factors of a society that are relevant to how a character can be developed on a lifepath system?

Technology- Obviously technology determines what kinds of jobs, schools, industries, etc are available
Freedom- an abstract quality representing freedom of choice.  Maybe some societies will require a draft or some other forced civil servitude
--Slave: society has slavery
--Caste: society has a hereditary caste system
--Meritocracy: you earn your place in society
--Authoritarian/Police State: Big brother is watching you and decides what you are going to do
Tolerance- Whereas Freedom can prohibit options or make some choices mandatory, Tolerance just makes things more or less difficult to get into
--Religious: are people of minority religions denied or restricted from certain positions
--Racial/Ethnic: are ethnic minority groups denied access or have a harder time gaining certain path options?
--Ideological: Is there a "commisar" or "party official" to keep you in line?  Not sure how this affects lifepath options though
Prosperity- How wealthy overall is the society?  A 1st world nation will have more opportunities and easier entry requirements than 3rd world nations

Here's a few I was toying with, but I don't know how applicable they are:
Government/Law- What kind of government does the society have?  It seems like this can be merged with Freedom...
Military- Is the society pacifistic or have restrictions placed on it by other nations?
Economics- What kind of economic system does the society have?  Some industries might be government regulated thus requiring that option to have the character be a part of the government

Hi, I've been struggling with lifepaths myself... Some random thoughts:

First most of your examples seem to fall into 2 categories so you don't have (IMHO) to go in so much detail, especially if the goal is to have a "cookbook" giving guidelines:

Are some lifepaths restricted and if so why ?

Mandatory military/civil service, family/social duties, religious obligations (pilgrimage)...

Social Class
What are the social classes present in the gameworld:
_Poor, middle-class, rich, the Party/The Proles, serfs, landlords...  Which leads us to:

Social mobility
Is it possible to go up the social ladder ? At what cost ? Is it possible to fall ?
What are the advantages/disadvantages of each class

Random events
Is there any random events ( la Cyberpunk) ? Are they related to the social class (being drafted), the career (risking prison when you're a criminal) ? Are they outside events (romance, winning the lottery...) ?

Does each step have the same value in years ? If not, is it defined by the chargen rules or is it random ?

Step values
Does each step in the lifepaths have the same value ? (i.e = give the same amount of points/advantages/whatever to the character).

Clyde L. Rhoer:
Hi Dauntless,

If you haven't come across it before, I would suggest checking out Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth if you can find it. There were two books; a Worlds book, and a Roleplaying book. They were put out by Last Unicorn Games. While I don't remember them having a Lifepath system, the world book broke down societies beautifully in a way somewhat like what you are doing now, where the game had different ratings for society like freedom, technology, etc. It was a really crunchy game, but I've found it great in the past for setting up realistic feeling societies and then just dropping the numbers and using it for setting.

I found this link where someone modified Aria to work with Fudge. It's really stripped down but it maybe of some use:
Clicky here.

Also Ray Winneger's Underground had a lifepath system that was fun (if you are a satire fan), and it also allowed players to make changes to society, which means it broke society down into different sections and therefore might also prove useful and maybe cheaper to acquire than Aria as I don't think it's as rare.

  OK, I am a fan of Lifepath systems as well, check out:

  I think you might be over complicating it a bit. I thikn the key to good and useful Lifepaths is 3 things:
1) Allow for creativity - Meaning, try to exapnd what skills or whatever you are picking with your lifepath, to every possible outcome. So if it is possible for a rich, spoiled brat to learn stealth in order to sneak out of the palace and go slumming, add that option.
2) Keep it simple - Make sure that a novice gamer can use your lifepath system, don't over complicate it...
3) Game Balance - Make sure that one path is not optimal. Otherwise, everyone will pick THAT path...
4) It's about outcome - Wealth and stuff doesn't matter until the end of the lifepath. A character can grow up nin the hood, dirt poor living on government cheese, then win the lotto right before the first session and be rich and street smart, you know?
5) Scale matches actual options - Most settings have the players all on the same tech level, so taking tech level into effect is not necesary. For instance, not all societies are homogenous. I can imagine Bushman in Africa accumulating the skills to be a superhacker or genetic engineer, can you?
  So, in conclusion, I would say make the divisions be a reflection of how they effect the character (Motivations, social standings, teen occupations, social liasons, etc.), instead of arbitrary divisions.

It's not quite a lifepath, but it's got its lifepathy elements.  Click on and scroll down a bit, and there's a system where you roll 11d10 and get all the character's skills, stats and some meaningful life events.  But it's hardly generic.



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