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.

Trooper Character Sheet


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

I'm a husband, father, explorer of the inexhaustible, and synergy cultivator. Starting with D&D, my explorations into role-playing and game design have brought me to savor mining diverse systems, initially Cortex Plus, then PbtA, ORE, Forged in the Dark, and now anything I can get my hands on.