[ROLEPLAYING GAMES] Character Generation Challenge: Granny Thermeister

I woke up today to discover something – unusual. One of my friends on Facebook (yes, I still drop by there) had posted a unique challenge. I don't think I have ever seen someone randomly drop a character idea with so little supporting fluff but with some very specific traits. The challenge? Include the character as an NPC in something.

For my RPG geek friends (Alexander Williams I’m looking at you):

Someone needs to include an NPC who is an old granny. Her weapon should be a sawed-off broomstick. Her superpower: skin impervious to harmful chemicals and temperature extremes.

But you can't really include the characters in NPC without actually having some stats, so I went to one of my off-the-shelf solutions which I cheerfully use for almost any character design thing when it comes up – Wushu: Black Belt Edition. It's fast, easy, and I enjoy working with it as much as I do old-school Over the Edge. (Yes, that link goes to the 2nd Edition version and the free SRD of the core mechanics because screw that new edition.)


I needed a context to drop the character into, so I started with a basic street-level superhero action idea. Because why not?

That's -- very specific. Dare one to ask why?
I mean, it's easy to do near off the top of my head in Wushu (http://danielbayn.com/wushu/). Let's go with street level superheroes for this general idea.

Granny Thermeister

  • Hungry for Vainjance (5): The li'l 'uns need protectin', especially her family Don't go lookin' for trouble, but sure bring it.
  • Sawed-Off Broomstick (4): It's great as a staff, a blow-your-face-off weapon, and can do some light cleaning around the house (though you'll have to stoop).
  • Chemically Neutral (3): Put her hands onto hot pots and pans? Never get red skin from scrubbing with caustic chemicals? Go out in the dead of winter in the same old dress she always wears and just tosses a light shawl over it with a cluck of her tongue? Wears that same old dress to summer church with only a tiny hand fan to ride out all-day homecoming? No question.
  • Grandmother Thermeister (3): Baking cookies, puttering around the house, and having charming conversations with the neighbor-folk make Granny a joy to be around. Except when she starts asking when you'll FINALLY be giving her some grandchildren. JESUS CHRIST, Granny.
  • Busy-Body (1): Granny just can't keep her nose out of everyone's business or her tongue from wagging. Gossip? She's on it; probably started it. Prying into your love life or lack thereof? Oh yeah. "Are you going out in that?" In the worst kind of way. Talking out of school? Mastery.
  • Old (1): Granny's getting on up in years, there's no way around it. She creaks when she gets up, her lombago's actin' up somethin' fierce, and she can't really take much of a punch, anymore. "Live long enough to resent it,", she always says.

Good ol' Two-Fisted Granny Thermeister. Don't mess with her kids. Or people she thinks of as her kids. Or their kids. You know what, just leave her family alone. Though they're not always that thrilled with her either, the old biddy. Up in everybody's business all the time, don't know how to keep a secret, always asking about kids. Honestly, outside the cookies, maybe we should put her in a home?

Amusing that even in my extremely mechanics-light RPGs, I feel compelled to write characters who can take up an entire page – it's just because I like narrative descriptions of things and just can't be stopped.

But that's just a good start. The reason I don't use Wushu for a lot more gameplay is that it is GM-full. While it it is easy to run and gives you, as the GM, every opportunity to do a good job and keep the story paced well – I just don't want to GM for the most part. Surely I have something else on my shelf that would be strangely appropriate for a street-level superhero granny and requires no GM, right?

Of course! Capes!


It's always a good time to get to use the Flash-based character creation tool that doesn't run in anyone's browser anymore because no one embeds Flash anymore. Luckily, there is a standalone tool for running such things.

By necessity, Capes doesn't have as much description on the character sheet as Wushu, but you can get a reasonably good idea of what the character is like just from the numbers.

Granny is primarily motivated by duty, and that will be the Drive that generally provides the tokens for stake in her Conflicts. Love also provides a pretty significant motivator, so it has an extra point in Drives as well.

I started with the Shootist template on the left but made a couple of changes. Sure, she can still stake Drive to shoot you in the face with her sawed-off broomstick but she also needed a couple of Attributes for being immune to temperature changes – and specifically knowing your emotional weakness at a low level. Why? Because it seemed like it would go with the character and I firmly believe that every character, no matter the context, needs the ability to engage in some sort of social struggle. Also, the idea of a fragile old granny with a shotgun in the middle of a street level superhero slugfest going all sharp tongued and shaming villains into slinking away fills me with joy.

The Styles in the middle are often a bit of a problem for me, but pairing Grandmotherly Kindness with Know Your Emotional Weakness seemed like the right thing to do. Tear you down, and then offer you a hug. Chain Reaction, being a Style, can apply to anything – and once you start thinking about the fact that it's not just shoot a thing and have it blow up and blow up something else, all sorts of options open up.

Curmudgeon was obvious from the default pile of click-and-locks. Passive-Aggressive and Busy-Body came from the previous imagining of the character, but seem to fit in really well here.

I keep meaning to get in contact with Tony about doing a new edition of Capes because it really deserves another bite at the apple, especially if someone folded in some extra setting options, a little more discussion about how to build interesting Conflicts (because being GM-less, if the people at the table who introduced Conflicts in a game mechanical way which attract the attention of other players and engage them), and just a general revamping in style. There was talk of a second edition at some point, but that never happened. I'm not even sure if the developer is still in the business.

That's a shame.

But I bore of all this heroism. Let's see how Granny looks in @grimjim's Actual Fucking Monsters, because I think it is one of the best games released in the last few years. Not the least reason being that the protagonists are all – unsurprisingly – actual fucking monsters.

Name: Granny Thermiester

Nature: Torturer d6 - Draws power from the emotional suffering of others +1-3 Satiation


  • Body: d4
  • Mind: d10
  • Spirit: d10

Mask: Kindly Grandmother d6, Homemaking, Comforting, Knowledge (Town/City)


  • Cult: d8, Slippage: Glowing eyes, soft-focus look, voice dips into the uncanny valley of media-suggested "grandmother", beautific glow
  • Doubts: d6, Slippage: Forked tongue and sickly-sweet honeysuckle breath
  • Harm Transference: d4, Slippage: The pallor of age, the ravages of time, thinning hair, flat glassy eyes

Banes: Cold iron (d8), thrown salt (d6)

Boosts: -Body, Mind x2, Spirit x2, Cult x2, Doubts

Health: d12

Satiation: d12

  • d8 - Pallor of advanced age
  • d6 - Forked tongue
  • d4 - Hyper-stylized look of "grandmother"

Initiative: 16

  • Who were your parents?

John and Jenny Thermeister, of Secaucus, New Jersey. He was an elementary school teacher, she was the inheritor of an ancient line originating in Italy which split in the mid-1400s with one side going into the Church and the other into organized crime. By the 1930s, a number of the latter who had immigrated to the US were no longer interested in the Mafia – but sometimes the blood runs true.

  • Who raised you?

Her parents, up until her mid-teens, when her compulsions made it entirely too difficult to stay at home. Despite her native inclinations, "Granny" would prefer not to destroy her own family, not least reason being that some of her relatives could figure full well what she is and know how to kill her.

  • Who is in your family?

Both of her parents are dead but at least two cousins are still active in "disposal management" in New Jersey and who knows how many of her bloodline are kicking around between the East Coast and Western Europe.

  • When did your monstrous nature manifest?

Early teens, with signs of serious social ability alongside a deeply embedded sadistic urge to destroy the emotional well-being of those in her immediate circle. Needless to say, Mean Girls was kindergarten play by the time Granny was in high school.

  • How did your family cope with your monstrous nature?

Poorly, predictably. The trail of human wreckage that Granny left in her wake was relatively indiscriminate and the emotional toll on those in her family who had not inherited "the family curse" was significant. Unlike many other Monsters, Granny never suffered "abuse" (since she was far more likely to be dishing it out) but refraining from retaliating in a like fashion made it nightmarish for everyone. Eventually, her parents kicked her out and she made her own way.

  • How did you cope with your monstrous nature?

Without hesitation or remorse. It is, in fact, debatable whether Granny thinks of herself as something unnatural at all. When she would otherwise take personal harm, an "accident" commonly befall someone in her circle/"chosen family," and she thinks nothing of it. She generally considers her ability to keep a menagerie of hangers on who would sacrifice themselves for her to be her just do for "looking out for them" and "giving them good advice."

  • How did you first satiate yourself?

How many opportunities are there to make someone cry in grade school? How many opportunities are there to break hearts in high school? How many opportunities are there to talk someone into doing exactly the wrong thing between the ages of 10 and 21? It's probably impossible to work out when Granny first satiated herself, even for her.

  • How did you come to be on your own?

With an ongoing, ultimately insatiable hunger for the suffering of others, eventually too much misery and broken people builds up in one place – and that doesn't actually make Granny unhappy but it does make it extremely hard to keep feeding. Moving on to a new retirement community, small town, or out-of-the-way urban neighborhood brings all new people with all new "problems to be solved."

  • Are you reconciled to what you are?

Absolutely. While Granny doesn't necessarily fixate on her essentially supernatural nature, she wouldn't have herself any other way. Ultimately, she's convinced that she is improving the lives of the people around her and it's just their inherent weakness and inability to cope with life which brings suffering on them as a result, not her actions. This leads to an endless cycle of self-justification; as more misery piles up as a result of whispers in the right ear, the more Granny is absolutely reassured that she needs to be right where she is.

Needless to say, I absolutely adore AFM for the kind of characters that it lets you – nay, compels you – to create. I would love to see someone take on a fan-rebuilding of the World of Darkness using AFM as a base grounding. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and changelings all work just fine, but I would have to actually think about how to take care of mages in this framework. They never really fit philosophically within the original text either, so that's not a big surprise.

There you go, one character seen through three different lenses with three different applications. If this is the sort of thing you find interesting, by all means join the Tabletop Role-Playing Community, submit your own content, and enjoy the company of other like-minded souls.

Comments 5

Interesting - so far I only heard about Wushu, never saw more of it. That's a character I'd like to play for a one shot. Though as a "well aged" female that likes to knit while playing, I have to be careful with the stereotypes. They can be fun for playing with them, but playing a granny while knitting a sock is... strange ;)

10.01.2020 19:55

Whereas I would say that playing a granny while knitting a sock is – perfectly reasonable immersion for everyone at the table and should be aggressively encouraged. If you brought cookies to the game, extra points.

Wushu is one of the best games ever created, and I say that as someone who literally lives in an RPG library with a collection of a couple of thousand books, not to mention the ones in storage. As a system that you can pick up, show to anyone, get the basic idea across to them, create a character, and get playing in mere moments – it is literally unrivaled. Because the core mechanic ("you get dice for every cool detail you describe, you roll those dice, you allocate them based on whether they are over or under a number, and then we move on") is so simple, and because character generation focuses almost purely on "what is going to make a difference at the table?", it's hard to beat.

Literally, my biggest objection is that if I want to play I'm going to have to be the GM and not "a player."

10.01.2020 20:02

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10.01.2020 20:21

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10.01.2020 21:25