Design notes: Occupations

Characters in Amazing Hereos have occupations. These might be literal, maybe the character really does hold down a dayjob as a scientist or a stage magician. Or they might be backgrounds, like years of experience as a martial artist. Characters can have multiple occupations, perhaps you’re a billionaire, chemist, ninja and detective.

An occupation represents a whole bunch of stuff. It implies a set of skills, along with a set of resources, contacts and knowledge. Let’s say your character has ‘cop’ as their occupation. That one word implies a lot. Here’s a partial list of what that one word on the character sheet leads to

  • Your character knows how to investigate crimes, secure crime scenes and use police databases
  • They know how to make arrests
  • They know how to defend themselves and shoot a gun
  • They know how to conduct themselves in court
  • They know first aid
  • They know how to calm a crowd
  • They know about the city’s criminal elements
  • They have a job, a salary, a place to live, and colleagues
  • They have access to police equipment
  • They know which bars their colleagues hang out in

I’m sure you can think of more things that should be on that list.

Trying to capture all those things separately for every occupation players might want to choose would a) be a lot of work and b) imply a very detailed system to support it. Plus once you start trying to make a list of all the things that make up doing a job missing something out becomes inevitable. Much better to write down ‘cop’ and then have a quick conversation with the GM who might want to know things like

  • Are you a street cop, or a detective?
  • Do you have a specialism, like forensics or undercover work?

Superhero fiction tends to handle these things in broad brush strokes anyway. If you look at the TV show The Flash it’s easy to see. Caitlin Snow is a doctor. She’s good at everything related to medicine. You’re never going to have a scene where she says “Barry’s been blinded, but I can’t help, I’m not an opthamologist!” She’s a doctor, she wears a lab-coat, and she can do everything related to medicine. We roll with that as an audience because it keeps things simple and lets the plot move.

I took this idea from Cthulhu Dark, by Graham Walmsey, A very simple, and excellent game that like Amazing Heroes puts a lot of emphasis on GM and players being on the same page. Unknown Armies has a similar approach, which it calls identites, but restricts what each character can use their occupation for. That more limited approach didn’t really work for me, my ex-soldier character didn’t seem to be able to do much soldier stuff, so the rules were getting in the way of the fiction.

One side effect of this approach is that once the characters start having adventures some occupations are going to be much more useful than others. A cop is going to have more to contribute in most scenarios than an accountant. That’s why it’s important that the GM pays attention to what the players have chosen. If someone is playing an accountant give them some white collar crime to uncover or a money trail to follow. Have their professional contacts bound up in the bad guys’ schemes. If someone is playing a nurse set some of the game in the hospital where they work.

As you might have noticed by now occupations also imply a certain amount of background for your game. A cop implies a precinct, a commanding officer, some friends on the force and so on. A nurse implies a hospital, filled with doctors and patients. With three or four players just knowing their occupations is probably enough to flesh out your setting with enough detail for the first few sessions.

That’s it on occupations, tomorrow, escalation!

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