Welcome back to the Sahara Expedition developer blog! Over the course of these articles we’ll discuss the vision and work that go into a project such as Sahara Expedition, as well as keep you up to date on production and design developments. Keep in mind that some design elements might change during the course of production. This is the beauty (and horror) of live development!
The characters of Sahara Expedition
Characters are a fundamental piece of the larp experience puzzle. Who has never felt love or hatred for a character in a TV series, a movie or a book? Characters are the denizens of stories, the real inhabitants of narration. They allow us to be someone else, to think and act like another person. It’s a great experience to play a character that strikes a chord with us, and a special challenge to wear the shoes of someone completely different.
To design the characters of Sahara Expedition – In Search of the Unknown, we wanted a structure that would be stimulating so that players would get an interesting, well-integrated experience within the plot, and open-ended enough to let players “fill in the blanks” and make the character their own, so that it fits perfectly with their style. This aspect is important to us: we really believe in players and in their ability to co-create narration, becoming authors for their own experience. The information you’ll find in a character sheet are prompts for your own roleplay, think of them as guidelines.
After the characters are published online, you will get a few days to choose those that fascinate you the most, those that you’d like to play as. Every player will receive an email form to fill with the names of their 7 favorite characters in order of preference. Then we will assign the characters.
All character sheets are transparent. We know many games keep them secret, but our choice was to make them publicly available. Why? Because Sahara Expedition is a big collective narration we are going to build together as players (and characters), and never against each other. Even though secrets and conflict will be there, they are always going to be a simple part of the narrative fiction and they’re based on your interpretation of them, on your ability to create a story as a group. With this choice, we believe we’re focusing on this point even more.
We also do not want to put players in a tight spot by making them choose a character they don’t know everything about. All characters have been designed to be central to the story, but they offer different experiences and are tied to different themes. We want all our players to know about the nature of a character before they commit to it.
The character sheet
There are no minor characters in Sahara Expedition: everyone has their own niche, everyone is an essential piece of the puzzle. There are no extras, only protagonists. Every character has an identity, summarized in two documents, containing all their goals, their tasks, their beliefs, their way of being.
Every character sheet is made up of two documents:
- Application letter
- Personal journal
Think of this letter as the introduction sent by the character to the selection committee of the Expedition, with the hope to be hired to participate. It’s a kind of resumé, written by the character themselves, in which they express their reasons for joining the Expedition, their strengths and weaknesses.
This part is made up of:
Surname: The character’s surname has a specific initial, based on the institution they belong to. It’s a little trick to help you know who you’re speaking to in game:
M > Miskatonic
T > Theron Marks Foundation
R > Royal Geographic Society
L > Legion
Archetype: A brief sentence summarizing the character concept
Brief character introduction: a short summary of the character’s story and their intended contribution to the expedition.
Distinctive quality: something good about them, a personality trait that sets them apart in a positive way.
Distinctive flaw: a rough aspect of their way of being, a personality trait that sets them apart in a negative way.
Greatest ambition: what drives the character to the Expedition and to our story, an objective, a goal that motivates them even when everything else seems lost. The reason they wake up in the morning.
Role in the Expedition: below the application letter, you’ll find a small chart summarizing some important data about the Explorer:
Role: the profession they will practice
Professional task: their main job during the Expedition
Institution: the institution they belong to
Department: the field they specialize in
Circle: Circles are social groups of people sharing the same interests. Every character belongs to one. They will be introduced in all their traits in a coming post, but this is the list:
Club 21 – Roulette
WWI Veteran Society
Society of Shared Knowledge
The Silver Key
This is a personal travel journal, something only the character has access to. It’s a vessel for confessions and revelations, like an old friend the character has entrusted their secrets to.
Within each character’s personal journal, you’ll find:
The character’s Background, the story of the most significant events in their past, their own personal history.
Their Trauma (Something within me changed on that day), a pivotal point in the character’s life that would be impossible to erase. After that day, nothing would ever be the same. For some characters it’s sorrow; for others, it’s an epiphany; for others still, a crucial event.
My unfinished business: these are questions, doubts the character needs to find an answer to. They are prompts, to reflect on the character and dive deeper into your roleplay. A starting point to draw inspiration from when you set about making your character come alive, to make them unique and special. Generally, answering YES to these makes the game more interesting for you. Then they become something to act upon, or something that will require a solution during the course of the game.
My bonds: these are the people you have some sort of relationship to. They might be personal or professional, hateful or loving, friendship or rivalry… There are many relationship webs in the Expedition: Institutions, Departments, Circles and individual bonds.
Descent (into madness!): Dealing with the Chtulhu Mythos has a cost! The Descent is the narrative tool that regulates how your character loses control over the trauma you read about in their journal. It sounds similar to the Sanity mechanic in many Lovecraftian roleplaying games, but the way it works is somewhat different. We won’t get into the details of the Descent for now (it will be discussed in a later post), just know that if (and when) your character begins their Descent into madness, they’ll begin behaving a little… Oddly. The Descent marks the unique way in which every character will degenerate.
Triggers: These are tied to the Descent. In practice, they are things that cause the character’s mental stability to progressively crumble. Some characters are more sensitive to certain actions, others to certain words, all based on their personal history. This aspect of the Descent will be explored in a later post as well. In any case, these are flexible mechanics, not rigid or automatically established rules: they have been designed as narrative instruments that work in synergy with other mechanics, which we’ll reveal further down the line.
Character design is very important to us. We try to be aware of the special needs of every narrative, and we’re very happy about the way these characters are taking shape. It’s a complicated job, but a really satisfying one! Take a look at the first draft of a complete character by clicking on the image of their sheet.
Sahara Dev Team