X-Com RPG – Character Generation: Making the Grunts Matter

Now that more of the big picture of the game is semi-nailed down, we can re-visit soldiers and their missions with much more clarity. Since they use their commanders’ Role stats, each soldier doesn’t need a lot of additional detail, which is good since it cuts down on tedious bookkeeping. So how can we give each trooper uncomplicated individuality to stir maximally immersive role-playing experience and attachment? In a game where troopers face lethal danger every turn, players may need incentive not to view the grunts as faceless alien fodder.

So what are X-Com troopers made of?

Sharing Commanders Stats

Players use their Commanders’ Roles for any troopers they control.

  • Soldier-focused troopers excel in all the needs of veteran soldiery: they are durable, strong, dependable, highly-trained in team maneuvers, marksmanship and the usage of standard weaponry and equipment, including armor, and heavy weapons.
  • Technician-focused troopers are McGuyvers and hackers, proficient with building, repairing, and jury-rigging mechanical and technological objects, viewing situations as blueprints, and maximally utilizing the benefits of hi-tech weaponry, gadgets, and intricate explosives.
  • Inquisitive-focused troopers are investigators, researchers, and detectives: alert, perceptive, deductive, rational, and therefore hard to catch off-guard, and excellent at exploiting their surroundings and enemy weaknesses; they make great medics, explorers, tacticians, and scouts.
  • Agent-focused troopers are diplomatic, charming, deceptive, encouraging, brave, and cool under pressure, making excellent spies and gamblers, as well as natural leaders and officers that allies will look to for stability and encouragement even if their strength, aim, or expertise with weapons are less impressive.
  • Ace-focused troopers are daring and reckless, mobility experts, thrill junkies, and masters of improvisation, and of course expert handlers of all kinds of vehicles; they approach combat as a game or test of skill; they are sometimes foolish and trigger-happy, usually haughty, and always willing to take crazy risks, especially if they involve jumping, falling, climbing, charging head-on, and utilizing flight suits, jet packs, or the like in order to take down threats and add notches to their belts.

Generating Rookies: Giving Your Grunts Uniqueness

As previously stated, trooper deaths will be more tragic when players are invested in their characters. So let’s add some individuality to each trooper, both to increase tactical options in team dynamics, and to make each loss more poignant.

Troopers gain individual value through their unique combination of Talents, Distinctions, and Rank. Below is a draft of a mini-character sheet for troopers with all the information they need.

1st Draft Trooper Mini Character Sheet (designed by my good friends Kelsey and Aaron)

Draft of Trooper Talent Table


Roll for a random Talent for each new Rookie.

Half of these Talents (1-9) grant a free increase to the Time die in certain situations. Some do more unique things, such as allowing oneself or others to ignore a certain number of Wound or Nerve Dice.


Fill in brief details about each soldier, giving them individuality. Each of the following details (besides Name) are treated as Distinctions.

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Nationality
  • Hometown (Urban, Suburban, Rural, Other/Wilderness)
    • I’m considering changing this to Background instead.
  • Personality/Outlook


All troopers have a rank. Each new recruit starts as a Rookie and advanced through experience, heroism, and surviving missions:

  • Rookie d4
  • Squaddie d6
  • Sergeant d8
  • Captain d10
  • Colonel d12

Troopers include their Rank die in all action rolls, that is, whenever they include a Time Die in a roll. (Rank is not included in passive defense rolls from attacks, with the exception of Nerve attacks, as noted below) [EDIT: Amended as of 2/1/2011 post]

A trooper’s Rank die can be added to one of their rolls, once per Round; Either Offensive, Defensive, Maneuver rolls, or Rank can stand in for a trooper’s Soldier or Ace rating to stave off Wounds or Panic at the beginning of a round. Also, Rank determines the number of TUs trooper’s refresh each Round:

  • Rookie d4 = 4 TUs
  • Squaddie d6 = 5 TUs
  • Sergeant d8 = 6 TUs
  • Captain d10 = 7 TUs
  • Colonel d12 = 8 TUs

Getting Promoted

Whenever Trooper Joe survives a mission, he rolls Experience d6 vs Current Rank, and if the Experience d6 is higher, he gets promoted increasing his Rank die one step. If he would increase his Rank die beyond d12, he chooses an additional Talent.

Honors: After each mission, players and GM vote for the top two characters who contributed the most to the mission (whether with a pivotal shot, a risky move of self-sacrifice, a creative plan, a stirring example of leadership, or an emotional narration of a loss of friendship or one’s own death, etc.). The top contributing characters roll a d10, or a d8 for the Experience Die instead of the usual d6 respectively.

If a dead character is voted for one of these honors, the dead character’s player can increase the Experience Die of another of his/her characters. An onlooking ally was inspired by the dead trooper’s example.

Example: Trooper Joe (a Squaddie d6) normally rolls a d6 when he survives a mission. In this particular mission, he was voted top contributor for a daring act of sacrifice running into the open to provide cover fire so a wounded ally could crawl to safety. He rolls 1d10 vs. 1d6 (Current Rank) with results of 5, 3 respectively. Since his Experience Die result was higher than that of his Rank Die, he gets promoted to Sergeant d8.


Questions, comments, ideas? Next I’ll tackle trooper injury and morale with Wound and Nerve Dice. These allow for some tricks hinted at on the Trooper Talents Table.

About Adam

Adam is a husband, an explorer of the inexhaustible, and a hunter for unexpected synergies and collaborative potentials. His explorations into RPGs began with DMing D&D, though lately he enjoys mining the potentials of diverse systems, especially Cortex Plus.
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5 Responses to X-Com RPG – Character Generation: Making the Grunts Matter

  1. Dave Bozarth says:

    One of the things I would want to put a bug in your ear is the meta level of making grunts matter is in their budgetary costs. It should always be at the back of the agency’s mind how much a grunt is worth vs an experienced soldier vs the tech that they will retrieve (say if retrieved tech offers free TUs to the research process or if you can only unlock a specific item of tech by first having found one, it may be worth saccing a few grunts to get out of there… But if you have to have an item to unlock that item, you might find it worthwhile to let even an experienced soldier go to retrieve that item that a rookie lucked upon…..though in regards to the tech tree, I would suggest that tech trees be more generic like you need Plasma d6 to build rifles and so plasma rifles before that level give a higher amount of free TU towards research).

    Though, a lot of this depends on a randomized “looting chart” to make these choices possible… heck you can even throw a complication on to the chart for live grenade or booby-trapped ammo, which would disposition you to using rookies as fodder to search but then they have the gear and become important… new forms of tension are created.

    New thought; have you thought about there being a limit population of units available? I mean how many Aces can there be in the world with the mental fortitude to handle dealing with aliens? Also will there be a cost difference in getting an Ace or a general soldier or a technician (thats mind is capable of grokking Alien tech)?

  2. atminn says:

    Great thoughts Dave. You’ve got an angle I don’t have, so I appreciate it. Keep them coming, especially in areas I haven’t worked out quite yet, like Commander Talents, base management, zones, global politics and negotiation, etc.

    Value of troopers and retrieval: I haven’t yet thought about additional examples of an alien tech helping research. I had thought it would just be a matter of unlocking. Less bookkeeping that way. I also don’t plan to have players track ammo, or specific quantities of guns, I don’t think. Unless maybe with fancy weapon that cost a lot for a single unit. I have a feeling that in the RPG players may wish to leave before killing all aliens more than in the game in order to save troopers or nab key tech, but I have no idea about that.

    Looting Chart: That kind of chart with odd occurances would be neat, but I think aliens would just have what they were using. I’m not yet sure how best to handle recovered alien artifacts without resorting to an awkward inventory list.

    Population limit: I think that I’d rather have trooper #s balanced by how many each player controls. That means, when Walt’s 2 soldier-focused troopers die, but Jen’s Technician troopers don’t, the next 2 troopers hired are Walt’s and therefore soldiers. That would keep a general balance between the types across the organization. I imagine, before long, each player will have a stable of available troopers at various locations from which to build a team. At deployment time, each player will choose whether to send in their Colonel’s or Rookies probably depending on the other players’ choices. Also does it seem like Ace is the role to resist fear? I had pegged that on Agent, but maybe Agent is the Role to help others resist fear/calm down, while Ace is one’s own bravery.

    • Dave Bozarth says:

      Well, this depends on how you want to handle the research, but the looting chart was meant more for odds and ends things, like this suit has a module that is worth more research than normally available for just the standard gear that the alien would be carrying or sure he was using a Plasma Rifle, but its worth more damage because he overcharged it (good reason for a Hard Die as per Robs examples) or actually has a more effecient ammo feed so its not going to overheat or some such… really though its for the complications adding tension.

      Have you thought about multi-national organizations or mega-corp identities? I am just thinking of players having competing goals and a little player vs player tension. So if Walt’s Soldier gets the tech this round is it helping his home nation or the current organization? This would make for an interesting antagonistic relationship… also some PvP, which some people (my self included) dislike.

      • atminn says:

        Multi-national orgs and mega-corp’s were a big part of X-Com Apocolypse (never played it) where befriending one group would secure more funding from them, but would also earn the enmity of their enemies. I hadn’t thought about it beyond that. I guess depending on a groups desires, there could be more of an MIB espionage and investigation angle rather than all weapons and instant hostility. I’m thinking some of the Goals or Methods of the aliens can differ in this way. Instead of overt military invasion, they may more strongly work in infiltration. I’m also not a fan of PvP although differing attitudes and approaches to situations will probably produce enough interesting character disagreement.

        I also hadn’t thought of special items that could be claimed by a certain character and become signature, or get handed down when he dies. Adds a new element of attachment to individual troopers. I’ll have to think about that.

  3. Pingback: X-Com RPG – Negotiating Trooper Injury and Morale | Exploring Infinity

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