There are a few outstanding features of the game that really need to be addressed before character sheets can be properly developed, and since we've been plunging headlong into design concepts both nebulous and specific, drifting in some areas and stabbing corwar in others, it's probably a good time to look at the original design goals and see if we're still within those parameters.
There needs to be a system for tracking conflict through bashing one another with padded weapons.
(This is definitely still one of the core features of the game. TICK)
It needs to be quick, avoiding the need for books to be carried around.
(This is still an aim, starting players/characters don't have much to remember, and the general mechanisms of the game are more commonsense than anything else, at worst I'm seeing a quick "cheat sheet" for new players getting used to certain game concepts, and maybe a second one for GMs to carry around. BASICALLY ON TRACK)
There needs to be enough autonomy in the characters and setting that a GM doesn't have to be present all the time.
(This seems to be coming along well, but will need playtesting. TICK)
There should be a magic system of some type.
(There are systems in place to start addressing magic at some level. TICK)
There should be a few ways to make characters distinctive. This might be through races, occupations, cultures, factions, background options, or something else that we haven't considered yet.
(This has been addressed, but is definitely an area that needs more clarification and work. BASICALLY ON TRACK)
It should be convenient enough that most rules can be remembered by most people. (Maybe a limited exception based design).
(Definitely where we seem to be heading. TICK)
There should be an ecosystem, an economy within the setting and the rules. Something to perpetuate stories and narrative, triggering new ideas through the actions of players and characters.
(Again, the structures for this have been laid out, but only playtesting will tell. TICK)
There should be a system for character advancement, and possibly some system of benefits for players who contribute outside the game.
(Definitely falling into place. TICK)
Everything needs to be capable of occuring in 'real time'. We don't want to break the action over there so that we can spend a few minutes over here resolving something that should generally be instantaneous.
(Since everything is basically commonsensical, and the only things that take up time or cause possible breaks of immersion are things like crafting and heLing that would take time to perform anyway, this one has been taken care of at this time. It needs to be monitored in future development stages though. TICK [PROVISIONAL].)
Avoid the system getting to complicated and clumsy. It should be welcoming to new players.
(We still run the risk here, and it's a common problem in game design. You want the game to cover all potentials, but don't want it to become too imposing. NEEDS WATCHING)
Perhaps avoid dice, because it's inconvenient to roll them in the middle of combat, and sometimes just hard to find a flat surface to roll them on (revealing cards might be quicker/easier, maybe something else).
(I've been told that in this style of game, the concept of dice should be shifted to a Negative Non-Negotiable, and I'm really tempted to do that. At the moment we've kept most numbers out of the game altogether, except for a limited pool of hit points [resources to build things or cast rituals might use numbers later]. We can certainly avoid dice altogether through the use of cards, and that's probably where we are heading [with cards only being used by GMs] the question is what type of cards will be used. TICK)
Avoid 'perfect builds' where certain traits/skills/effects combine with others to give massive advantage over those who don't possess them (we want variety in the characters).
(With a diversity of possible story types, I think the 'perfect build' is short circuited. The 'perfect' warrior will not be able to compete in a social/court arena, the near perfect warrior/courtier will be out of their depth among magicians. The game will be aiming more toward getting groups of players to confront goals, and the many will almost always outweigh the few. TICK)
Players shouldn't be able to disrupt the pleasure of others without feeling consequences.
(This hasn't really been looked at. NEEDS WORK)
Still plenty of work to do, but generally on track. Basically I've constructed a few subsystems with open ended connectors on them, the next few stages of the design process will incorporate ways of connecting these subsystems to one another to create a coherent whole.
Abilities (inherent capacities of characters)
Techniques (special skills/spells/weapon-specialisations/crafts/etc. that require action tests)
Traits (not really explored yet, but these may modify action tests, or allow abilities to activate)
Influence/Honour/Status/Wealth (also not explored yet, but hinted at, these are pools of points that get things done behind the scenes or modify interactions socially)
Story Relationships (tell us what the character is interested in, and how they intend to grow)
But some of these connectors don't match up to one another, so we need to start working on the game elements that will allow them to mesh.
Time to start looking at occupations, races and cultures. In many cases, these elements are the direct interface of one subsystem to another. They are also the points where systems integrate with the genre of the setting, which is probably one of the reasons why I haven't specifically addressed the so far. I haven't really wanted to specifically narrow down the genre to a certain ouevre, this way groups of players could define it for themselves. A look at most popular games on the market shows that the original product can (and typically does) have a very specific genre it emulates, if the game is popular then players will adapt it to new settings on their own and hack any specific rules to accomodate their new setting.
I posed the idea of a renaissance/pirate/steampunk LARP with rapier duels (using rubber swords) and pistol duels (using NERF guns) at my Boffer group a few months back...a third of the players wanted to defect to my new game on the spot. I know that steampunk and pirates have been doen to death on the tabletop, but I don't know of many LARP groups who've been down that road. There's certInly plenty of steampunk cosplayers around, and I'm sure that there are quite a few of them who would be happy doing something more than just posing in their outfits.
Honour and intrigue certainly fit a setting like this, there is a diversity of possible occupations and cultures. Races could be addressed in an Imperialist commentary, but that's becoming a loaded gun in many RPG circles over the past couple of years, so maybe we can do better than that. It gives ideas for stories involving exploration of new lands, confrontation between groups of the law, dastardly pirates, freebooters who work between the extremes, natives who might work with (or against) any of these groups, and others.
The setting even gives hints about how to design the character sheets (as letters of marque) and rule books (journals), without breaking the look of the game and the immersion of the players.
For the actually "grittiness" of the setting, I'm thinking of the Warhammer Fantasy RPG, and that might gives some hints about how to address occupations (and by extension, races and cultures).