Structured Aspects

Aside

I’ve been thinking a lot about aspects recently as I’m starting to consider what is going to go in my PWYW PDF ‘All About Aspects’, at the same time I’ve also been thinking about submitting a pitch to the Fate Codex, in their writers guidelines they claim to be looking for:

  • Quick Start Adventures that contain a short setting, NPCs and plot hooks, and pregen characters (roughly 4,000 words).
  • Fate Core Essays that explain how to do exciting things with the Fate system in your local game (2,500 – 3,500 words).
  • Extra Systems that can be added to your game to provide new ways for your players to engage the fiction (1,000 – 1,500 words).
  • Short Fiction that will help to inspire you with new worlds and characters that will be statted up along with the prose (roughly 2,500 words).

I quite like the idea of trying to write an adventure that is self-contained but that also does something a little different with the basic Fate rules-set, so I’ve been thinking about how it might be interesting to tweak the structural guidelines that are provided for creating aspects. The default method in Fate Core asks players to think about their first adventure and then each person works out how their characters play a supporting role in the other peoples adventures and pick aspects based on them; some people love this idea and some people hate it, and of course there’s nothing that says you have to use it, however, having some guidelines can be useful to prevent people from stalling or getting that blank expression when aspects are first explaining.

When it discusses running horror games using Fate the Fate Toolkit one of the pieces of advice it gives is:

Compels Aplenty: While compels aren’t tools for forcing outcomes, they are tools for making things go wrong. So make them abundant. Place aspects on the scene, the story, the campaign—and compel them to make things go wrong for everyone. Simply dropping Death Comes for Everyone onto the story and compelling it at the exact worst time (for the players) to make things that much worse will get lots of traction. Yeah, the players affected will walk away with some fate points—which they’ll need in order to survive—but they’ll also feel the emotional gut-punch of the moment—and will wonder when the next compel is going to land. Make them hurt. Make them worry.

Often one of the problems with horror gaming is that, unless the PCs buy into the genre conventions then it can fall flat; after all everyone knows that splitting up is a bad idea, that reading the old book is a death-sentence and don’t even think about going down into that dark cellar. Still, the characters/victims in horror films and stories do exactly that because, unlike the players in an RPG, they generally don’t know they’re in a horror story; if your players are too concerned with survival and playing it safe then the horror RPG experience can seem a bit limp and deflated.

I think aspects could be just the thing to change that; using compels frequently could, if used with appropriate aspects, re-inforce the genre tropes and reward players who buy-in to the setting whilst still allowing those who wish to pay a fate point to avoid the compel, although doing so eventually means they will succumb to the dark forces of whatever nameless horror stalks them.

Taking the standard five aspect approach, I’m intending to define them something like this (I’m using the example of a haunted house investigation below, if the goal/setting of the game were different then some of the wording might change):

  1. What is your job? – this replaces high concept
  2. What brought you to the haunted house? – this replaces trouble
  3. What are you hoping to find in the house?
  4. What do you fear is in the house?
  5. What will keep you investigating when weird stuff starts to happen?

And there are examples below:

  1. What is your job? Newspaper photographer
  2. What bought you to the haunted house? Some people have disappeared here and the place has a bad reputation.
  3. What are you hoping to find in the house? A big scoop.
  4. What do you fear is in the house? Some kind of crazy person or killer.
  5. What will keep you investigating when weird stuff starts to happen? I need the money that the story will bring me to support my family.
  1. What is your job? None, I’m a homeless person.
  2. What bought you to the haunted house? My dog ran off and disappeared into the building.
  3. What are you hoping to find in the house? I just want to find Rex and get out.
  4. What do you fear is in the house? The house was built on an old graveyard and they say ot’s haunted.
  5. What will keep you investigating when weird stuff starts to happen? Rex is the only friend I have, and who knows I might find something worth something in the old place.

I’m hoping to keep refining this idea over the next few weeks and then look at making it into an adventure with a view to playtesting and submitting to the Codex.

All about Aspects: What I’m hoping to do with my first PWYW PDF

Status

I’m going to be started work soon (within the next couple of weeks) on my first solo PDF, I’ve been published in a book joint-authored by Johnn Four and myself (Mythic Gods & Monsters) but in that I wrote content, Johnn handled the layout, posting the pub to leanpub and pretty much everything else (and did an excellent job); this will be the first time I’ve actually published anything entirely as a solo effort. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do for the publication I turned to my favourite system Fate; initially I thought about doing a ‘world’ supplement (and may still get around to doing that later) but I really wanted something that a lot of people could just pick and use and that would immediately be useful in their games.

Aspects are one of the core mechanics in Fate and are used to define everything from momentary advantages, to significant parts of a characters background, signature equipment and even interesting parts of the terrain or environment; however, it’s also a mechanic that a lot of people have expressed confusion about or find bewildering. I can understand this, after all, being confronted with a game mechanic that relies on description and that you can feasibly do almost anything with can be a little overwhelming.

An analogy I’ve often used is the if an artist is giving a blank canvas and told ‘paint me something, anything’ it can often be difficult to get started since there are so many possibilities, however if they are given a bit of guidance or once they are over that initial hurdle it can be a lot easier to begin the act of creation. This is what I want to do with my PDF, provide some structure and ideas that can be taken and used in people’s game to speed up creation of Aspects without unnecessarily restricting the.

One of the things I’ve picked up whilst writing for Johnn Four is that he’s very much a fan of articles that provide content that GMs can take and use in their game rather than in more general advice; this is something I greatly respect since there is a lot of general advice out there (not that this is a bad thing, I enjoy giving advice on my Youtube Channel), if I’m going to create a PDF then I want it to be something that has a use.

So I’m starting to hash out what I want the contents to be and thought I’d jot down my ideas at the moment:

  1. A brief explanation of how the aspect mechanic works and some suggestions for incorporating it into non-Fate games. This will be the introductory chapter of the book.
  2. The main meat of the book will be a number of madlibs that provide a basic structure for an aspect you can then plug in words and phrases related to specific genres; each of these will be provided in tables so that people can roll on them if they want a random outcome, or they can simply make choices if they are using them as a starting off point.For example: A high concept madlib might go I am a [ occupation ] who [ event ] until [ traumatic event ]; you could then plug any number of different words/phrases into the madlib.I am a disheartened academic who researched the occult until I read from the forbidden tome.I am a savage warrior who spend years mastering the sword until my home village was destroyed by marauders.

I’m hoping that I can feature a number of tables that have general suggestions as well as some that are more genre specific; for instance, whilst there are almost as many savage warriors in sci-fi as their are in fantasy, the same is not true of sorcerors. Each of the entries in the book will have suggestions for how they can be compelled/invoked as an aid to players and GMs, and also some suggestions for tailoring them for different types of game.

Given that this is my first solo-effort in regards to publishing, I’m not entirely certain how long the PDF is going to take to write and I’m pretty much doing it as a one-man-band both because the issue with aspects is something that a number of people have mentioned to me, and also because I want to see whether it is going to be feasible for me to release more solo stuff in future. Hopefully once it’s done I’ll be posting it for purchase (on a PWYW basis) on each Leanpub or Drivethru RPG (once I’ve looked into their processes a little more).

Hope you’re as excited about this next phase for Red Dice Diaries as I am 🙂

Circuit board tree image designed by Mastermindsro, you can see the full design here; used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Fate magic – Aspect based magic

One of the questions that I see pop up more than any in discussions about
Fate is people asking how to implement magic using the system; there are
a number of suggestions and possibilities (I offered one such suggestion in my previous possibly the worlds simplest Fate magic system post); recently I downloaded copies of the 1st and 2nd edition of the Fate RPG out of curiosity to see how the system had evolved, and one thing in particular caught my eye in the first edtion, it was a system for improvisational magic.
Effectively the system allowed you to make a series of choices on a number of tables defining the effects of your spell, this would then give you the difficulty of the roll that you needed to make.
I like the flexibility of this magic but didn’t think it would really work that well with the current iteration of Fate, it occurred to me that perhaps magic could be represented by allowing the spellcaster to create aspects; aspects are used to establish facts within Fate, if you have an aspect saying “fastest gunslinger in the west” then the you are in the fastest gunslinger in the west.
Being able to Cast a Spell
In order to cast any sort of spell the character must have an appropriate
aspect that explains either their magical training or innate talent, this aspect can also be invoked/compelled as normal.
Creating a Spell
Spells are used to create aspects, in order to do this the character has to make a roll using an appropriate response or skill (whether this is a magic skill or an existing skill  is down to you, although Lore would probably be suitable from the Fate Core list).
Each use of magic costs a fate point.
The difficulty of the roll begins at mediocre (+0) and is modified by the choices that the caster makes from the following table.
The scope of the aspect is…
  • Boost (gives the caster a temporary aspect that can be invoked free once and then disappears) +0 
  • Situation aspect (lasts only for a scene) +2
  • Consequence (inflicting harm on a target) +2 (mild consequence) +4 (moderate consequence) +6 (severe consequence) +0 (if the target is a mook) +2 (if the target is a significant NPC) +4 (if the target is a PC)
  • Character aspect +4 (permanent but only applies to one PC or NPC) +0 (if the target is a mook) +2 (if the target is a significant NPC) +4 (if the target is a PC)
  • Game aspect (a permanent fixture of the campaign world) +8
Additional modifers
  • Target of the spell is the caster only -2
  • Spell takes a single action to cast +2
  • Spell takes a scene to cast +0
  • Spell takes a session to cast -2
  • Spell takes several sessions to cast -4
  • Spell requires no components +2
  • Spell requires easy to obtain components +0
  • Spell requires difficult to obtain components -2
  • Spell requires extremely difficult to obtain/unique components -4
This system is only a rough system, and may require some tweaking but it should be workable in a Fate game, although I would suggest having even game aspects having only a limited life-span to prevent your game being overrun by loads of aspects.

 

Jade-xalted: Constructing a Concept

One of the complaints/issues that I have often heard laid at the door of the Fate system is that, because there is such a lot of leeway when it comes to designing aspects, that it can often be bewildering for players, especially if they are unfamiliar with the setting or RPG-ing in general; in the forthcoming Cthulhu supplement for Fate (which I have been privilieged to do some of the writing for) it offers a little more guidance for creating aspects and even (should the players/GM wish to use them) a series of random tables for creating aspects. I plan to adopt something similar for the Jade-xalted conversion, the constructed aspects will be quite general to allow for the players to customise them, but should hopefully create a good jumping off point for anyone who is a little bewildered by all the choice available in the Fate system.

Obviously you do not have to use this system but it should help anyone who is struggling.

Concept Aspect

Under this system a concept aspect uses the following format:

“I am a/an [adjective] [type] who is skilled at [verb]”

List of sample adjectives:

  • Angry
  • Calm
  • Clever
  • Clumsy
  • Elegant
  • Famous
  • Fancy
  • Fierce
  • Glamorous
  • Handsome
  • Helpful
  • Honourable
  • Innocent
  • Lazy
  • Mysterious
  • Old-fashioned
  • Peaceful
  • Powerful
  • Scarey
  • Scarred
  • Sly
  • Thoughtful
  • Thoughtless
  • Ugly
  • Violent

List of sample types:

  • Mortal
  • Solar Exalted
  • Lunar Exalted
  • Sidereal Exalted
  • Air aspected Terrestial Exalted
  • Earth aspected Terrestial Exalted
  • Fire aspected Terrestial Exalted
  • Water aspected Terrestial Exalted
  • Wood aspected Terrestial Exalted
  • Abyssal Exalted

List of sample verbs:

  • Athletics
  • Blackmail
  • Craft work
  • Gambling
  • Fighting
  • Larceny
  • Leading others
  • Oratory
  • Research
  • Running
  • Sociallising
  • Sorcery
  • Stealth
  • Storytelling

So, for example, using this system and sample list I could quickly create a ‘violent Solar Exalted who is skilled at leading others’, a ‘sly Lunar Exalted who is skilled at larceny’ or an ‘honourable Fire-aspected Terrestrial Exalted who is skilled at sociallising.’

The aspect could be invoked or compelled whenever the adjective was applicable or when the character’s specialist skill or talent comes into play.

For example: Our violent Solar could invoke his aspect when involved in violent action but may be compelled when he struggles to resist being provoked into such action unwisely, the player of the exalt could also invoke when attempting to lead others in some sort of action but may also find others naturally looking to him for leadership or seeking his advice on important matters (when the aspect is invoked).

Invoking the concept based on the type of Exaltation

Players can also invoke their concept aspect based on what type of exaltation they have received, this is not as immediately obvious as the preceding invokes and so I provide guidelines below for appropriate invokes/compels, anyone familiar with the Exalted setting should feel free to use their own judgement though.

  • Solar Exalted: The Solars were created to lead the gods forces against those of the primordials, a solar concept may be invoked when vastly outnumbered in a combat or in an attempt to rally/lead others against a foe; however the Solars eventually found themselves becoming detached from the humanity that their powers raised them above eventually culminating in the first age solars becoming brutal and violent, a solar concept may be compelled when a lack of empathy could cause issue or when a lack of restraint may cause a problem.
  • Lunar Exalted: Originally the Lunars were bound to their Solar counterparts, but fleeing the wyld hunt they now find themselves uncomfortable in civilisation. A lunar concept may be compelled when a lunar is confronting a Solar Exalted or when their lack of familiarity with civilised society may cause problems; it may be invoked when the characters knowledge of the wild would aid them or when attempting to resist the blandishments of the civilised world.
  • Sidereal Exalted: Manipulators of fate, a sidereal concept may be invoked or compelled when chance may play a part in unfolding events, since people tend to forget sidereals their concept can be invoked to aid with stealth or avoiding detection.
  • Terrestrial Exalted: As rulers of the realm a terrestrial concept may be invoked to aid in any social roll within the realm, however they may likewise be compelled should the exalt be in a situation where knowledge of their heritage might be disadvantageous. Terrestrials may also invoke their concept aspect if there is a significant quantity of their particular element is present in the same zone or if they can convincingly weave the element into their description.
    Please note: If a terrestrial features their element in their description then that element is actually produced (causing no additional game effect beyond the invoke but potentially giving away their heritage); for example, a fire-aspected terrestrial invokes his aspect by describing a flaming punch, his attack will actually produce a momentary gout of flame.
  • Abyssal Exalted: Created as dark reflections of the solars by the Deathlords, abyssals may invoke their concept aspect when dealing with undead creatures or spirits or when manipulating the energies of the underworld is advantageous, however they are ill-suited to the lands outside the underworld and the concept may be compelled in situations where their deathly aura and lack of warmth may prove complicated.

But what about castes John?

Castes were the game ‘splats’ in the original Exalted and were basically used to govern what powers and abilities you could possess, since Fate is a more freeform and i’m hoping to create a quicker more action-packed gaming experience that with the original WOD rules i’ve chosen deliberately not to focus on castes.

However if you are desperate to include castes then I would simply suggest that you assign a character’s caste based on the highest of their professions at character generation, the five professions were created based on the skill spread of the original castes so this should be a fairly close fit. 

Jade-xalted: Character Generation – Aspects & Professions

Since this is a hack to allow Jadepunk to be used to run an Exalted style game, i’m not going to reprint masses of the rules from the Jadepunk book (also i’d like encourage people to purchase the game since it is an excellent RPG campaign), i’m only going to discuss the rules where my proposed hack differs from the Jadepunk rules.

Aspects

Characters in Jade-xalted have five Aspects:
  • Concept: A short sentence that sums up your character; if your character is an exalt then the concept must make some mention of what type of exaltation they carry (please note that if you are playing a terrestrial exalted/dragonblooded then some mention of their associated element should also be included).
    Example: Rough and tumble solar exalted soldier, sly and sneaky lunar exalted thief, proud but honourable terrestrial exalted noble (fire).
  • Background: Where did your charater come from and what experiences they have had in life.
    Example: I was born in the slums and had to fight for every opportunity I got, I was in and out of trouble during my youth for stealing and other petty crimes, I grew up on my father’s estate and received the finest schooling his military pay could afford.
  • Exaltation: Although dragonblooded generally exalt (if they are going to) during puberty, a celestial exaltation can come upon a person at any time; where were you when you became exalted, what did it feel like and how did it affect you?
    Example: I was cornered by imperial soldiers when I felt the light of the Unconquered Sun lend strength to my arm, I was trapped with no way to escape the noose when Luna’s grace allowed me to pull the shadows around myself, my family were proud when I received the grace of the Dragon during my seventeenth year.
  • Belief: How do your characters beliefs colour their lives, were they staunch adherents of the imperial creed or a bit more free-spirited?
    Example: I was always taught that the Solar Exalted were demons and that the Wyld Hunt kept us safe now i’m not so sure, my people always feared that creatures that lurked beyond the edge of the map and now i’m one of them, I was raised to believe that the Dragonblooded were the destined rulers of the world but I don’t know if i’m ready for that responsibility yet.
  • Trouble: Consider your preceding aspects, which of them cause you the most complications in your life, have you made any enemies since your exaltation?
    Example: The local authorities know my face it can only be a matter of time before the Wyld Hunt seek me out, since being exalted I find civilisation increasingly stifling and long for the wilderness, I had so many plans for myself but now they all must be set aside to advance the aims of my family.
Professions

As with Jadepunk, Jade-xalted uses professions instead of Fate Core’s skills to rate a character’s proficiency in a particular area; these professions are:
  • Warrior: Warriors come from all different backgrounds, but they all share a proficiency for violent action.
    • Overcome: Feats of strength and of combative skill.
    • Create advantages: Combat maneuvres and creating advantages in the heat of battle.
    • Attack: Making physical attacks at close quarters and range. 
    • Defend: Protecting oneself and others from physical damage.
  • Priest: Priests travel the world preaching the word of the gods, in their travels they come to know the hearts of men and learn about the world during their journey.
    • Overcome: Priests overcome obstacles through knowledge that they have acquired in their travels, they have to be adaptable and strong in their faith to survive.
    • Create advantages: Using their knowledge of the world to their advantage or rousing the faith of other men.
    • Attack: Spurring others to action through rousing speeches or engaging in a contest of faith with another.
    • Defend:  Defending those of the faith or using your knowledge of the world to help protect your flock in dangerous situations.
  • Sorceror: The sorceror creates engines of fantastic magitech as well as researching into matters of the arcane and occult.
    • Overcome: Building or repairing magitech, sorcery and researching occult secrets of the ancient past.
    • Create advantages: Scrying using magic, temporarily boosting the function of occult devices. 
    • Attack: Using more baroque items of magitech or sorcerous items, casting an offensive spell.
    • Defend: Unless a sorceror is controlling a magitech item that can shield them from damage or is casting a spell to shield them from harm they are unlikely to defend.
  • Assassin: Deception and stealth are an assassin’s main weapons along with other nefarious talents.
    • Overcome: Bluffing/lying, thievery, stealth & disguise. 
    • Create advantages: Creating distractions, cover stories or false impressions.
    • Attack: This profession isn’t used to attack directly, more likely to set up a more devastating attack.
    • Defend: Using misinformation and doublespeak to throw off investigations or disguise their true motives.
  • Diplomat: The diplomat is at home in polite society, always knowing the right words to say and the appropriate palms to grease.
    • Overcome: Influencing others to do what you want, bartering, gaining information.
    • Create advantages: Creating advantages to represent momentary emotional states. 
    • Attack: Only likely to be of use in social situations or perhaps in ritualised duels. 
    • Defend: Defending against attempts to ruin one’s standing or blacken their reputation.

Each profession is rated with a bonus, choose one at Good (+3), two at Fair (+2) and two at Average (+1).

Hindrances in Grim World

I’ve recently been reading the excellent Grim World game supplement for Dungeon World and the Fate roleplaying system; if you’re a fan of either game then I highly recommend that you have a look at it since there are some excellent classes and new ideas listed that can add a lot to any game. A particular section that caught my eye was titled “Dungeon World/Fate hack” and it suggested porting some elements from the Fate system over into the DW game; essentially the player picks three ‘hindrances’ (similar to the ‘trouble aspect’ in Fate) when generating their character and, whenever the GM uses the hindrance to cause them complications (as with ‘compels’ in Fate) the players receive a luck point that can be used to re-roll dice, gain bonuses or add improvised elements to the setting.
Effectively the hack is porting trouble aspects, GM compels and fate points into the Dungeon World setting and doing so very simply with minimal additional complication (always a positive thing in my view); it got me thinking as well that, aside from the actual effects of spending the luck points, the ideas behind this are pretty much non-system specific. I think that this idea could be used to great effect in other games, encouraging players to think a little about what causes their characters problems in their life and it also allows the players to have a little more input into the game setting, for example, if one of the players takes ‘in debt with the mob’ as a hindrance then you can reasonably infer that they are interesting in seeing some stories involving organised crime.
I’d love to think that people will give this idea a try in some other games, if you do, let me know how it goes 🙂

Mooks – Fate Accelerated GM prep time saver and one of my favourite things about the game.

Please note that in this article I am mainly talking about the mook/henchmen systems out of Fate Accelerated, however Fate Core has a similar (but slightly more detailed system) for the same thing and much of what I say in this article applies to that rules system as well (although the specifics of the actual rules differ slightly).

Recently I was preparing the session notes for my Serpents Fall Fate Accelerated fantasy game that I am running online for a group of friends via G+ hangouts (further details about this campaign can be found in previous blog posts and videos on my Youtube Channel), and I came to the oft dreaded part of the proceedings, generating the stats for the many NPCs to be included in the session. I often find this part of the session preparation fairly arduous and time consuming as I work out what stats the NPC needs to perform as expected; the complexity of this varies from system to system. Many may point out, it is possible to just fudge the stats of NPCs and run them in an improvisational manner, however I tend to prefer having something written down to maintain consistency in the setting.
In my opinion Fate Accelerated has an excellent solution that bridges the gap between improvising and planning the stats of NPCs and this is the section of the rulebook that deals with generating Mooks.
What are mooks?

Mooks are unnamed thugs and monsters that are there to provide a brief distraction for the players, to use up a few of their resources or to act as henchman for the main villain/s of the piece; they would be the stormtroopers in the Star Wars films or the legions of henchmen beloved of so many James Bond villains.
Effectively in Fate Accelerate you create these mooks by coming up with a couple of Aspects for them to reinforce what they are good and bad at and a give them 0-2 stress boxes depending on how tough you want them to be (this is relative, mooks cannot take any consequences and are taken out once their stress boxes are filled, player characters normally wade through them occasionally sustaining a little bit of damage). The only other stage is that you come up with a few descriptions of what the mook is good at and, when this applies, you add +2 to any rolls they make, you then come up with a couple of things they’re bad at, and these things apply a -2 penalty to rolls when applicable, otherwise the mook just rolls at a skill level of +0.
This delightfully simply system allows you to generate all of your background NPCs and henchmen (with accompanying stats) in a very short space of time, it still allows them a narrative impact and allows you to maintain consistency should this NPC (or NPC type) ever be used again; if a henchman should be “upgraded” to a main NPC it is a simple matter to add additional Aspects and full Approaches as you would do for a main character in Fate Accelerated.
Overall it took me about fifteen minutes total to come up with the stats for the mooks that were featured in my recent Serpents Fall game, I have included some of the stats below so you can see what a potential mook looks like:

Wild BoarAspect: Ferocious charge, Blind to pain.Good (+2) at charging, goaring, shrugging off pain, tracking. Bad (-2) at intelligence, resisting provoke attempts.Stress [ ][ ]

Saxon commander (Aedelred)Aspects: For the safety of the village, I fight for honour and my lord, the law must be upheld.Good (+2) at commanding his troops, throwing/fighting with an axe. Bad (-2) resisiting challenges to his honour.Stress [ ][ ]

Please note: The following stat blocks use the group rules from Fate Accelerated, which essentially just involves lumping a group of similar mooks together into a mob and assigning the mob one stress box for every two members.

Saxon warrior group (6)Aspects: Glory & honourGood (+2) at fighting in a group. Bad (-2) at fighting on their own.Stress [ ][ ][ ]

Outlaws (20)2 bands of 10.Aspects: We’ve given all we’re going to, rob from the rich, the woods are our home & shelter. Good (+2) at fighting from ambush/in the woods or when lead by a strong leader. Bad (-2) when fighting against organised opposition.Stress [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]

In conclusion, the system is a great time saving and removes one source of potential stress from the storyteller/GM during session preparation, given that getting a session ready can involved a fair amount of work and plannning, anything to minimise stress has to be a good idea.

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.

RPG Blog Carnival – December 2013: Taking Charge

The RPG Blog Carnival is an idea to get groups of bloggers to all writing about a monthly topic, the aim being to build a dialogue across many different blogs, providing different viewpoints and ideas to the viewer. The way it works is that a blog discussing a monthly topic will post the RPG Carnival Logo and will link back to the ‘hosters’ post.
This month the topic is taking charge.
Original post :

“Taking Charge. This could be interpreted in any number of ways, such as (not limited to), outlining ways a group of characters can be more proactive in their affairs, a group of players choosing to improve their existing gaming habits (including the GM), players stepping up to make more effective use of their agency as co-conspirators an contributors to a campaign, and/or getting a good grip on a game that is out of control and going nowhere. It could entail fiction, examples of actual play, discussion of tools like social contracts or statements of purpose, and more. As the year comes to a close and people get retrospective (and wonder why there is so much left-over turkey still in the fridge despite days and days of sandwiches) a topic like ‘taking charge’ might take a tone of cleaning house, evaluating the current state of affairs in your own game, or your chosen niche zone within the hobby, or setting the stage for what will come next at your table, real or virtual. There are many places this topic can take writers and readers during the December Blog Carnival. “

Okay, i’ve arrived fairly late at this months RPG Carnival post, slipping in on the final day of 2013 just as the shutters are being drawn and moments before the ‘closed’ sign is going to be turned on the previous year, however, I think the concept of “taking charge” is a great one to discuss because it is a topic often raised during RPG sessions and campaigns and has a lot in common with recent discussions on GM roles amongst the Youtube RPG brigade (my video response to this topic can be found here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aURyyMSXFqM ).
Campaign Preparation Sessions
One thing I have been looking at recently following my reading of the Odyssey Campaign Management Guide (which is a very useful book and I review it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-350PrvUUA on my Youtube channel) is the idea of having either one or several structured meetings with the players when you first start to plan an RPG campaign to ensure that everyone gets what they want (as much as is possible) out of the game that you are going to run and that you, as a GM, also get a level of enjoyment from the session. I think this is very important because i’ve seen and run a few campaigns where one or two players have gone along with the campaign concept because others liked it and haven’t really invested in the game as a result, this is a sure-fire way to end up with players losing interest and perhaps dropping the game altogether; by the same token i’ve also seen (and been in this situation myself) GMs so bent on ensuring player enjoyment that they forget or sacrifice their own enjoyment in the game, since such a lot of the campaign management (both during and between sessions) rests on the GMs shoulders, although it’s certainly possible to delegate and share some of this work amongst your player group, having a GM who isn’t enjoying themselves rarely leads to a long running campaign and usually in my experience results in a campaign slowly sliding towards inevitable collapse as the GM becomes burnt out and loses all enthusiasm.
So how does this relate to taking charge?
Well, if you just ask your players what sort of game they want, you are taking a scatter-gun approach to the whole thing and will inevitably end up with a whole mess of ideas that do not work together or that you have to wade through in order to get to any useful information; a far better way to manage these initial brainstorming ideas is for the GM to take charge and direct the course of the discussion. Asking specific questions from your players will normally yield better and more targetted results that asking something vague like “what sort of game do you want?”
What sort of questions should I ask?
My Rogue Trader campaign will be coming to an end soon (probably within the next 3-6 games depending on player action) as the players resolve the nefarious actions of the Word Bearers chaos space marines in the Endeavour system and, wanting to plan a little further ahead than I normally do after reading the excellent Odyssey Campaign Management Guide, I gathered the players for my next campaign together recently and sat them down with the intend of discussing what i’d run for the next game.
I came in with no real preconceptions of what sort of game we might end up with, but I did note down a few things about my players:
  • One of the players prefers heroic fantasy.
  • One really enjoys a sense of place and recurring background NPCs that change and can be interacted with.
  • One of the players generally prefers to play a mage or something magical.
  • The other player is pretty flexible and will try most games.

When I sat them down I first of all asked the following questions:
  • What sort of genre would people prefer to play in?
    • My group, having been currently engaged in a dark science fiction setting wanted to try something a little different and after a bit of discussion decided that they wanted to play a fantasy setting, but not the normal faux-medieval fantasy that we were all so familiar with from a number of previous games.
  • What rules system would people like to use?
    • After a bit of a debate the players were quite keen to use the Dungeon World rules, having played a couple of one-offs we all really enjoyed those rules and wanted to keep to a fairly fast-paced, story-based system but, given that the current game is Fate based (and i’m already running an additional Fate game), wanted to try something different and Dungeon World seemed like a good match; it also encourages a group world creation and collaborative story-telling between players and GM, something that we have all been enjoying in recent games.

So armed with the knowledge that my players wanted to play a non-standard fantasy game using the Dungeon World system, the next thing I asked them were what their ‘must-haves’ (their ‘deal breakers’ if you will) were for this game and, after some discussion we eventually whittled it down to the following list:
  • A rougher, grittier, more survival based game.
  • The PCs playing underdog heroes fighting against overwhelming odds.
  • A semi-permanent base of operations/game area with a number of background NPCs.
  • A Robin Hood-esque feel where the PCs are outlaws fighting for the right against an oppressive government.

With these four deal breakers in mind we started discussing whether there were any sort of campaign worlds available that met these criteria and, given that Dungeon World has very much a D&D feel, we started with D&D campaign worlds and eventually chose the Dark Sun world of Athas, with the player characters working outside the law to overthrow the despotic sorceror king of a small city state. A quick question fired off to the Dungeon World G+ community (https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/100662698267895582168/communities/100084733231320276299) and some judicious scouting on the web revealed that some people had already kindly produced some DW material for the Dark Sun setting and also lead me to the official Dark Sun website (http://www.athas.org/).
So how did taking charge help?
In addition to allowing us to more quickly get to the meat of the matter at hand rather than spending hours talking around the subject (and probably getting nowhere) directing the flow of conversation into specific channels resulted in making us all aware of the elements that interest the various players (and myself), this will be great for the health of the game since (as the GM) I will be able to refer back to this list and ensure that I am including elements to draw all of the players in and keep them interested in the game.
The meetup we have done so far is only the first of several that I plan to do in advance of creating the campaign, and in the following meetings I also intend to take charge and target the discussion at specific areas, in the next meetup I intend to discuss some of the particulars of the game area and highlight whether the players actual want to run the game within the Dark Sun setting or whether they just want something similar.