Making a Real American Hero
Whether you want to be a stealthy espionage master, a blow-in-the-door heavy weapons specialist, or a high-flying fighter ace, the first step is always character creation. In the G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game, character creation starts with the initial concept. If you were a fan of the G.I. JOE action figures, you probably remember the ubiquitous file card included with each. These detailed each trooper, with information like their real name, hometown, military rank, and serial number, but also some text that usually encapsulated the chosen Joe’s way of thinking and fighting. For example, “Recondo hates the cold. He loves hauling a rucksack through the bush and sweating through his cammies. When he’s in the jungle, he owns it.” Or for covert operations specialist Lady Jaye, “(she) doesn’t go in for that phoney wig and rubber mask brand of disguise like those jokers on Mission Improbable… She becomes the subject: body language, subtle gesture, correct shading of dialect…” This is a great way to think of your character concept! What will their chosen role be within the team? Do they favor a head-on approach or more subtle methods? Pick a code name, a hometown, and think about how you’d sell your character if it were an action figure. This concept can serve as a useful guidepost as you go through the rest of the character creation process.
The G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game breaks character’s abilities into four Essences, Strength, Speed, Smarts, and Social. Strength is all about power and endurance. Speed covers agility, balance, and reflexes. Smarts is a must for techy characters, fueling awareness, intuition, and analysis. FInally, Social represents a character's confidence, charisma, and leadership, an important Essence for officers or commanders! Each of the four Essences starts at 2, representing an average Joe, and each level in an Essence will allow you to invest a Skill Point in one of that Essence’s associated skills.
Now that you’ve defined your Joe’s stats, it’s time to look at how they got where they are today, with Influences and an Origin. Every Joe will have at least one Influence, and can have up to three. Each Influence bestows certain benefits, as well as great roleplaying potential, and any chosen beyond the first bring a Hang-Up as well. A Hang-Up represents a flaw or weakness of your Joe. The additional benefits given by Influences also mean more great roleplaying potential thanks to Hang-Ups! For example, a character who has an Athlete Influence has grown up learning to follow the rules of the game, and playing fair is an important value to them. If you take this as a 2nd or 3rd Influence, your Joe will gain a Hang-Up, suffering a Snag on Social and Smarts Skill Tests whenever they are knowingly breaking rules.
Origins are the next step. Were you a line trooper recruited to the elite G.I. Joe team? You may choose Army as your Origin, but that doesn't restrict your past as being a typical soldier or even being in the U.S. Army. Perhaps you served in the Armée de Terre in France or served in the National Guard. Alternatively, you could have been a U.N. Peacekeeper or been enlisted in the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. There are countless options within the choices of Army, Navy, and Air Force Origins, in addition to Origin choices for Non-specific Branch and Non-military options. Your Origin will boost an associated Essence, grant some new Origin-specific skill options, and determine your starting health and movement.
Now, we know who your character is, and how they got that way. The final step is determining how they fit into the team your group is assembling, and for that we’ll choose a Role. Roles grant role-specific perks to set your character apart from the rest of the team and can help determine what sort of weapons and equipment they are able to utilize. Later on, you’ll be able to delve into Sub-Roles as well, but for now just choose a top-level one. For example, you may choose to take the Commando Role for your character at 1st level. As your character levels up, their Role can become a more specific type of Commando, with the Role Focus of Infiltrator, Sniper, or Spy, each serving a different and important function on the team. With just the basic options for Influence, Origin, and Role, there are hundreds of combinations, enough to suit any character you can come up with!
All that’s left now is to describe your character and form your team. When describing your character, you can look at your Essence scores to get an idea of how they may appear. A Joe with high Speed Essence could be described as energetic or agile, while a low score may imply clumsiness or very laid-back. While of course you’ll also need weapons and equipment, you don’t need to worry about that at this point. In the G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game every mission will begin with equipment requisition to outfit you and your teammates.
Speaking of teammates, the final step of character creation is to determine the bonds or even conflicts your character may have with their squad mates. Maybe one of the other members saved your life on a previous mission? Maybe you had an intense rivalry with one of them at Ranger School? These bonds will help frame character interaction and enhance your roleplaying experience so don’t skip out!
Follow this guide and you’ll have a fully-fleshed-out G.I. Joe of your own, ready to take on Cobra and foil their schemes all over the world. The only limit to the adventures you and your squad can embark on is your own imagination, so pick up the G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game this March, and in the meantime, start thinking about your character concept!
Matt Holland is a husband, father, gamer, industry veteran and Star Wars nerd based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Catch up with him at @pbpanchomatt on Twitter.