Step by Step

Creating a Character: the how-to

You’ve all already done the hard part: coming up with a bit of a backstory, a name, and figured out how your character’s history intertwines with all of the others. Now it’s time to put some numbers on a character sheet. Here’s how that works.

Helpful references

You should already have a character sheet (PDF), with a name, occupation, and drive on it. The condensed rules will be very helpful here, too.

You should get a piece of scrap paper, your character sheet, and a pencil.


  • Every occupation comes with a set of “Occupational Abilities”. These indicate abilities that will be easier for your character to learn, and help you become more stereotypical, which is to say: narratively better :). On your character sheet, mark Occupational Abilities with an asterisk next to their name. You can find these in the condensed rules or in the email I sent out :).
  • If you’ll recall, abilities are measured by their rating—the top end of their “mana bar”—and you’ll buy ratings in abilities using a pool of “build points”. Just as abilities are divided into Investigative and Action abilities, you’ll get separate pools of “build points” to buy ratings in those abilities.
    • In this game, you get 14 points to spend on Investigative Abilities, and 65 to spend on Action Abilities.
  • Health, Stability, and Sanity are Action abilities, and you start with Health 1, Stability 1, and Sanity 4 for free. Credit Rating is an Investigative ability, and you start with the lower bound of your Occupation’s Credit Rating for free.
  • Each build point lets you raise an ability by one. Occupational abilities are half-price, so one build point gets you two points of rating.
  • To give the action in this game a pulpier feel, Action abilities all have Perks for higher scores. You’ll get to pick a perk if you have a rating of 8, and one additional perk for every 6 points thereafter.
    • After you’ve settled on which abilities you want, note down your perks in the space provided. The list of perks can be found here.
  • Once you’re done putting numbers down, it’s time to pick a couple Pillars of Sanity.
    • A Pillar is a core belief of your character. Something like “My life has meaning”, or “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”, or “We can stand against the tide”. There is no game mechanic at work with these; but they are fodder for genre-appropriate roleplaying :).
  • Last, but certainly not least, you should work on your Sources of Stability.
    • Your Symbol needs to be a physical artifact that you can carry with you when you decamp for the wilds of Tibet. It should be something personal to you.
    • Your Solace is an important person in your life: a fast friend, beloved mentor, close family relation. Someone you’d turn to for help or guidance when you’ve been through hell.
    • Your Safety should be a place that has special importance to you. It could be your family home, or just some part of it. Maybe it’s the science lab at your alma mater? Regardless, it’s a place where you always feel safe and at peace.

What is a good rating?

You may wonder what a “good rating” is. The answer is “that depends” :). For investigative abilities: 2 is good, 4 is superlative. Remember that having even one point in an ability means that your character is presumed competent and will garner you much information. Feel free to spread yourself thin once you’re happy with your character’s core skills.

For action skills, I think the perk system above suggests some thresholds: 4 is pretty solid, but 8 is great (one perk). A rating of 14 is exceptional (two perks!), and 20 (all three, for those skills that have three) would put you in the top-tier internationally.

You probably want Sanity and Stability of at least 8 to start with. For your character’s health I would consider 10 a minimum. A real hard-case would have 16, and 20-24 means you’re basically Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

Advice and odd little things about ratings

I’d assign Health, Stability, and Sanity first, so you don’t forget. They are Action abilities, so you have more than enough points.

In order to model neurasthenic academics better, a Fleeing rating more than twice your Athletics ability is half price. i.e. if you have Athletics 1, every build point beyond the first in Fleeing gets you 2 rating points. Flee, you fools!

Each point in the Languages ability allows you to know two languages beyond your “mother tongue”. Note those down in the space provided.

Feel free to leave a few points unspent to start with. Trail is loosey-goosey like that. We can find out what you need to have during the first couple sessions :).

Art and Craft skills are intended to be specialized. When you put a point into one of those skills, indicate what kind of Art or Craft you are good at. Examples: painting and dance are arts. Writing and carpentry are crafts.


Here’s how I built Elizabeth “Jackson” Pierce. You all know she’s a journalist and her drive is curiosity.

To start with, I put an asterisk next to her Occupational Abilities: Assess Honesty, Cop Talk, Oral History, Reassurance, Languages, Evidence Collection, Photography, Disguise, and Shadowing. It says I can pick one other Interpersonal ability as well, and I choose Streetwise.

First, let’s figure out her Investigative abilities. I have 14 points to work with. She knows a ton of Languages (she’s traveled internationally), and she’s also really good at getting stories out of both people (Oral History) and places (Evidence Collection). She’s also got a knack for convincing people to open up to her (Reassurance). I want those all at a rating of 4, and since they are all occupational abilities, it costs me two points per. Four abilities, two points per: 8 points spent of my starting 14. Six left. I want her to know her way around the cops (Cop Talk) and the robbers (Streetwise), and I want her to be a good judge of character (Assess Honesty), so I put one point into each of those. Three left. She’s a writer, so I take Craft (writing) for 1 point.

Elizabeth has had a fascination with the Occult since she was a teenager, so I spend her last two points to give her Occult 2.

Now let’s tackle her Action abilities.

She’s quite sane and is almost unflappable in the face of danger, so I give her Sanity 9 (costing us 5 points, since we start with 4) and Stability 12 (costing 11). That costs 5 + 9, or 14. 49 points left.

I decide that she’s no shrinking violet—she’s tough as they come—and give her health 12. That costs a further 11 points. 38 to go.

As a journalist, particularly one who focuses on infiltrating, documenting, and exposing secretive cults all across the globe, I decide that she needs to be great at Shadowing—a rating of 8 costs her four points, since it’s occupational. 34 left. I decide that she’s pretty good at Disguise, with a rating of 4 (costing 2 more). 32 left.

That’s all of her Occupational abilities accounted for.

Moving along, I give her ratings of 4 in Athletics, Scuffling, Sense Trouble, and Stealth—all sound pretty good for someone who might antagonize the wrong sort of people. That costs 4 × 4 = 16 points, so we have 16 left. Since she’s gotten herself out of more scrapes that you or I could care to count, I decide she has a Fleeing rating of 14. That costs her 8 points to but up to 8, but then only 3 more to go to 14 (because of the weird Fleeing rule about ratings more than twice Athletics). So we have 5 left.

She’s always found it useful to understand how various contraptions and devices work, so I give her two points in Electrical Repair and Mechanical Repair, meaning we have but one point to go. I decide that she’s probably shot a gun on more than a couple occasions, so I put her last point into Firearms.

Fleeing 14 means she gets both Perks associated with that ability: “Make a Mess” and “I Can Fit Through!”. Shadowing 8 gives her a perk as well, and I choose “Stakeout”, so she gets a nice bonus if she can observe her adversaries undetected for a while.

Languages 4 means she knows 4 languages beyond English, her mother tongue, so I go with French, Spanish, Swahili, and Arabic, for reasons that may become clear during play :).

Step by Step

Trail of Nyarlathotep hypomodern