Friday, April 12, 2013

Flashback Friday: Central Casting

Andrea? Where's Carl?

I'm not sure when I got a hold of it or from where, but sometime when I was in highschool I found myself in possession of a book called Central Casting: Heroes of Legend. It was a random background generator - a particularly lengthy one - for fantasy characters. It was useful for when we were stuck on a character concept but we could never just let it sit at only rolling on a table or two - we'd always wind up going for the gusto.

The tables covered pretty much everything including the character's heritage, life events, personality, occupations, etc. It also came with its own mini-homebrew system which I'm sure has been used by no one, ever. The results provided various bonuses and penalties for the system.

The books were known for their tone. These days it probably would be a full-fledged controversy, but this was the Eighties so the outrage was somewhat subdued. With only a cursory reading I can't pick out an overwhelming number of offensive things in the three books, but there was definitely a pre-neocon The 700 Club fundamentalism vibe running through them. The problems range from mildly offensive illustrations to odd assumptions. For example, democracies are listed as one of the common governments for "Decadent" societies. When rolling for birth legitimacy, if you roll an illegitimate birth one of the possible results is "Mother raped, never remarried" - implying that had she married the rapist the character would have been "legitimate". "Religious experiences" are always "lightside traits". I'm sure the Pope can use this piece of information when defending clergy against accusations of sexual misconduct.

But the worst of them all - and the one that caught the most criticism was a table of  "sexual disorders" that not only unapologetically listed gender identification, homosexuality, disinterestedness, prudity, or promiscuity but categorized them all as "dark side" traits.

By the time the third book, Heroes Now, was published (the second book was Heroes of Tomorrow), it sported this wonderful disclaimer:
"Political Correctness" Warning
It was decided well in advance that this book would definitely not be "politically correct." In fact, its contents tend toward the socially, politically, morally, ethically, and religiously conservative side. To tell the truth, the authors and editors think our heritage of western culture, heterosexuality, traditional families, Judeo-Christian values, Jesus Christ and God are all pretty neat. While we won't force them on you, we do recommend them to everybody - your life can only better for it. As such, this book contains expressions of the authors' personal value structures that could be quite unpopular with those who assign equal value to all cultures, religions, lifestyles, sexual, or moral choices. As to those who may feel that adventure gaming is an incorrect forum in which to express editorial views on these matters, just look at the burgeoning presence of opposing views and decomposing values aired in television, movies, books, "art," public schools, the news and indeed, adventure gaming itself. It's difficult to buck the trends, but someone has to balance the scales. Consider this book to be one of the "Op-Ed" pages in gaming. So if your sensibilities will be offended by exposure to values other than those of the "pop" philosophies of the moment, you had best return this book to the shelf now. We'd sure like you to buy it, but not at the cost of compromising our own beliefs.

The art in all three books was mostly done by Jacquays himself, padded out here and there with some other pieces. All of the characters tend toward being ugly or oddly proportioned, like all of the characters were drawn by those caricature artists at the county fair. I'm pretty sure that some of it was recycled from Jaquays' earlier work because I recognize some of them from various micro-games and a number have copyrights in the early 80s. There are a couple questionable illustrations.

According to that disclaimer, this image would be neat
A quasi-review like this wouldn't be complete without a character history being rolled up. I won't go into the gory details of the rolls, but I do want to point out that the mere act of becoming well-known for his occupation (at age 11) changed his adulthood experience from a religious one to meeting a half-elf.

This character, who we'll call Rand o'Mness, was born into a nomadic culture in the "palace" (probably the tent) of the leader. All of the glassware in the home shattered for no apparent reason when Rand was born . Given later developments, I'll say it was because of his voice. He was raised by his uncle, who was a fisherman. I'm going to take artistic license and decide mom and dad were part of the leader's household in some way but died. He was the middle child out of a brother and three sisters - I'm assuming they were his cousins and not brothers and sisters. His uncle was intensely religious and devoted to a healing god of some kind. At age 11 Rand became well-known for his "occupation" - being a kid and with the glass shattering incident, I'm going to go with having a good singing voice because it makes some sense. This had the effect of making Rand's family more comfortable...perhaps this culture has some bardic tradition. Still, he didn't let being a rock star go to his head and was able to keep his thrifty nature. After reaching adulthood, Rand encountered a half-elf lad of the type that leads young men raised in devout households astray (take that Jaquays), and decided that gutting fish just wasn't terribly exciting anymore . He is more self-confident because of it though, probably after informing his uncle that running off with someone you love is okay but whatever his uncle was doing with this fish was just plain weird.

UPDATE: Apparently Paul Jacquays has become Jennell Jacquays and may have apologized for the content in Central Casting. In that case, the phrase in the above paragraph should read "(take the Paul Jacquays).


  1. Warts and all, the CC books are still full of interesting ideas and build rather wacky characters . . . but really not that much stranger than the PCs backgrounds I see.

  2. It's funny--I'd never heard of the Central Casting books until a few years ago, picked up some second-hand copies with great excitement, was dismayed by the "disclaimer" in Volume 3, then Janelle Jacquays announced her transition publically maybe a year after that, and I just had to laugh. I mean, I don't want to assume that everyone who vocally protests against the LGBTQ community is desperately trying to cover up their own related insecurities, but...isn't that always the way?

    At any rate, the nice thing about the books is that they really are still useful despite the "warts" and I've used them a few times, either in whole or in part. They tend to produce "special snowflake" characters, as your example shows, so they're not great for designing your typical Cthulhu investigator or old-school D&D murder hobo.

    1. Here's the thing...people who are passionately for or against something often have something at stake. People who don't - for example, I fully support the LGBT community but I have no feelings on the matter if an individual is gay or straight or anything else. So when someone protests something vigorously, and then it turns out that there's some connection to the person and what they are protesting, it really shouldn't suprise anybody.