How complex is Fate Core character generation?

This blog post could have alternatively been titled “how long does it take an 11 year old to generate a character in Fate Core?”

Following the recent running of my skytrain scenario (details here) for my face-to-face group, one of the members of the group expressed their dissatisfaction with the 3 stages character generation system for determining character Aspects.
What is the 3 stage character generation?

For those who aren’t aware, in Fate you have 5 Aspects, these are little story tags (“best gunslinger in the west”, “MI5 superspy”, or whatever) that you can invoke (call upon by spending a fate point) to either get a +2 bonus on a dice roll or a complete re-roll, they can also be invoked against you by the storyteller, they essentially offer you a fate point to accept a narrative complication based on the Aspect, for example: “Since you’re known as the best gunslinger in the west a young up and coming gunslinger wants to make a name for himself by taking you down and calls you out in the town square.”

If you accept the complication then you receive a fate point and the scene plays out as any other scene in the game, if you don’t except it then not only do you not get a fate point but you actually have to pay one to avoid it. Aspects are a great way of building a narrative around a character and of steering plot towards what you (as a player) find interesting, since, as a storyteller if one of my players has “best gunslinger in the west” then I know they’re interested in high-action gunfights and it’s in my best interest to include some in the game.

Okay, but what about the 3 stage creation?

Well in the game one of your Aspects is called your high concept and in a summarisation of your core concept whilst the second is your Trouble, the main source of complication in your live; in Fate Core it suggests that you determine the other three using this 3 stage creation. Essentially, in stage one you come up with a first adventure or scenario involving your character and jot down what occurred in that adventure and then pick an Aspect related to it; in the next stage you pass the notes on your adventure to the player sitting on your left (and in return receive the adventure notes from the person sitting on your right) and come up with an idea of how you had a guest spot in their adventure and pick an Aspect based on that. This repeats for stage three, the idea being to build up a web of connections between player characters before the game even starts.
I like to liken this process to superhero films, with the actual session being the Avengers film, where all the heroes come together and the three stages being the solo-hero films (with odd guest spots from other heroes) that came before.
So what does this have to do with an 11 year old generating a character?

I have to admit to being taken by surprise when one of my players expressed dissatisfaction with the 3 stage process (a part of the character generation that I had always thought to be fairly straight-forward and useful to avoid that often stilted ‘meeting up’ scene in RPGs), since i’ve used it in a number of Fate Core games and it’s never been a problem. Of course, this part of character generation, is easily jettisoned, characters can simply invent their Aspects with no real harm to the game; however, my more pro-active player also seemed a little taken aback by the idea that the character generation was in any way difficult (having being unable to make the character generation session, but still managing to create his character in about fifteen minutes at the start of the session).
He proposed an experiment, his 11 year old son had recently expressed an interest in roleplaying, so he bought the lad over and both him and myself went through creating a couple of characters using the Fate Core system. Wanting to stick to something that the boy was familiar with (since he’s never really done any RP before), we created military characters in a Call of Duty style. Timing the character generation we took half an hour to create the two characters using the 3 stage method, and this included time to explain a few things about Aspects, Stunts and Skill. Granted the characters we ended up with (a ghost-like stealth operative who had been sequestered for this mission after successfully blowing up an enemy submarine and a mercenary pilot who had been bounced from the regular army following an incident with collateral damage) weren’t the most nuanced characters, nor were they the most detailed, however they were both perfectly playable and already had links and a reason for working together.
Think about it, I believe that the Fate system in general seems to work better for people who think more about the story/narrative of a game (although granted it isn’t a great fit for every type of setting, since no game can do everything perfectly) whereas those who prefer to jump into the stats of a character and then fit a background of this seem to not enjoy it so much. That is just my own experience though; when I next run Fate Core, if it’s a one-off then i’m going to have pre-generated characters created (with some limited customisation options) and if it’s a campaign I may adopt something similar to how background and character connections work in Dungeon World to help determine Aspects.

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