Tweaking Archetypes

By Trip.


A common desire among players of archetype-based systems, even ones like Feng Shui that allow a bit of customization, is to modify the archetypes just a little more to reflect their own peculiar conception of their own peculiar character. This is not always appropriate: for something like a con game, where the objective is to pack as much action as possible into a limited number of hours, excessive character design fiddling should generally be discouraged. However, for a long-running campaign, it often makes the players happier to have characters that are just the way they want them, and not completely constrained by the list of available archetypes.

It is of course perfectly possible to have the GM grant permission for modifications on a case-by-case basis without any formal guidelines. Some people, however, like having things written down, so that they can make consistent decisions or believe that other people are doing so. This document is for them.

Disclaimer: Any written system of rules will provide potential for abuse in direct proportion to its flexibility. Therefore, any GM who contemplates allowing archetype tweaking must be morally and physically prepared to make frequent use of the magic words, "I don't think that would be appropriate for this game.". The use of less formal or more emphatic variations on this incantation is left to the discretion of the individual GM.

Since the Feng Shui system is based heavily on the system used in Nexus: The Infinite City, which does include a complete point-based character generation system, I dug up my copy of Nexus and stared alternately at it and at my Feng Shui rules while meditating on what I remembered of the archetype customization rules from the Feng Shui beta, until blood oozed from my cranial sutures. When I regained consciousness, I found that the text of this file had miraculously engraved itself on my monitor.

I haven't playtested these rules, but they look like they should work for minor modifications to existing archetypes. I would recommend against trying to create entirely new archetypes or even radically modifying existing ones; I added up some sample archetypes from the book (using fairly arbitrary assumptions as to the value of unassigned skill adds and such) and got totals ranging from 284 (Big Bruiser) to 387 (Old Master). If you feel that you absolutely must start from scratch, the most common totals were in the 300-320 range, so shoot for a total of 310 or so.

The Numbers

At any rate, here are what I think the values of the various characteristics are for being sold down, bought up, or traded around during character creation. Please note that these numbers apply only during character creation; once play begins, your character can only be improved by experience, as described in Chapter 12 of the Feng Shui rules. By default, any unspent character creation points vanish when play starts, although a kind GM may allow players to save some to make changes after they see how their characters perform in practice.

+1 Primary Attribute: 10

This is the arbitrary number by which all the other values are scaled. I originally chose 10 because that's how much primary attributes cost in Nexus, and it's a nice round number with many integers smaller than it. I believe the Feng Shui beta charged 8, and 3 for secondary, but 10 and 4 is reasonably equivalent and more round.

+1 Secondary Attribute: 4

In Nexus most secondary attributes cost 3, except for a few particularly worthwhile ones that cost 5 (mostly the ones that have lots of skills based on them). If Feng Shui costs were to be structured the same way, then the 5-point attributes would be Agi, Cha, Dex, For, Fu and Mag; the others would all cost 3. However, since the archetype customizations appear to regard all secondary attributes as equal, giving them differing costs leads to the obvious abuse of putting the secondary attribute points from the archetype into Dex, then selling them off for 5 points apiece and buying half again as many points of Int. So, I too will treat all secondary attributes as equal.

New non-Info Skill (+0): 3

+1 non-Info Skill: 1

In the beta, this was 2/1, but since I scaled up stats, some sort of increase seemed to be called for. Also, adding new skills seems to be a fairly big deal in the book.

New Info Skill (+0): 1

+1 Info Skill: 1/2

As in the beta. I suppose increasing the new cost to 2 might be consistent with the other changes, but encouraging a wide variety of Info skills seems character-building to me.

Schticks: 10

For simplicity, I gave all schticks the same value, even unique ones. However, staring at the existing archetypes (especially the Ex-Special Forces) might lead one to believe that Fu schticks should cost more, perhaps as much as 15. Some of the unique schticks should probably also cost more, like the Old Master's, which would take approximately 2 1/4 schticks to duplicate with creature powers, and might therefore be considered worth 20 points or more.

One might also choose to believe that special limitations count as negative schticks (-10 points), but buying them off probably falls perilously close to making up new archetypes, which the reader has already been enjoined against.

Weapons: 2

An arbitrary small number, since it doesn't seem very important. You can always mug a mook and take his weapons.

Wealth: 5

An equally arbitrary but somewhat larger number, since it's hard to go from Working Stiff to Rich by mugging mooks.


It is probably not more than a venial sin to buy one primary attribute up to 11 and one secondary attribute of that primary attribute up to 12, since we see this in one of the book archetypes. It is probably equally acceptable to buy one secondary attribute up as high as 12 if no primary attributes are above 10, provided that the corresponding primary attribute is 9 or higher.

It is probably a sin to buy a secondary attribute more than 3 higher than its primary attribute. It is probably also a sin to buy schticks of a type not already mentioned in the archetype writeup.

It is definitely a sin to increase attributes specified with an = in the archetype description, and possibly a sin to decrease them as well. It is utterly forbidden to sell back the points you think you save by raising the attribute upon which a skill specified with an =. It is probably all right to sell back any excess in a skill which is raised over its listed maximum by having its base attribute increased if it doesn't have an =.

If you want to convert the specific customization adds for the existing archetypes to generic points, take 10 for each point that can be added to a primary attribute, 4 for each point that can be added to a secondary attribute, 1 for each skill add, and 3 if there are 1-6 skill adds or 6 if there are 7 or more. These are approximately the guidelines I used when calculating the total values of the various archetypes above.

Additional Disclaimer: As with any other activity which takes place almost entirely in the minds of the participants (feel free to provide your own list of clichéd examples), gaming is almost entirely a matter of taste and opinion. Which is to say, your mileage not only may vary, but is in fact almost guaranteed to do so.

Final Disclaimer: You can't pin that on me! None of the witnesses could possibly have survived!

Last modified: June 30, 1996; please send comments to