Character generation: starting at the other end

I don’t know how you guys out there in internet-land prefer to generate characters for the various different RPGs that you play in, I suspect everyone has their preferred methods and ways of approaching this, whether it is banging all your stats down first or coming up with a personality and building the stats around; it only really occurred to me recently how easy it is to slip into one method of character creation because it is familiar and comfortable, but that trying something a bit different can be an interesting experiment.
So what made me think about this?

Well recently I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in a Demon the Fallen game being run by a friend of mine (anyone interesting in the gameline can find more here), the game is taking place in Seattle and we will be playing the roles of demonic essences freed from the abyss where they have been consigned (with some possible brief intermissions) since the Fall; now freed to return to earth, these monstrous demons protect themselves against the spiritual gravity of the abyss by anchoring their spirits into a vacated human body. Some of the demons find that remnants of the humans memories and personality remain, acting as a bulwark against all the years of hatred, giving them a second chance for redemption.
When it comes to character generation in the World of Darkness I generally start with a broad idea of the character’s personality, then I start working out the stats and refining the idea as I go, starting with their attributes, skills and finally moving onto the supernatural elements of the character (ie. what they have become) before rounding the character off with a few merits and flaws if I think that they are warranted. This is pretty much the standard order of things in the World of Darkness rulebooks and it’s how i’ve done most of my WoD characters in the past.
However this time, I still had an idea of what sort of character I wanted to play, since i’d played a physical character in the last Demon game that my friend Simon had run I wanted to do something different and had set my mind on a more social character; I had a vague idea that he’d be some sort of radio or talk-show presenter, possibly a cunning Devil or Defiler. Instead of starting with attributes and working my way through the sheet, this time it occurred to me that as someone with skills in networking and contacts throughout the business, I would instead start on my characters backgrounds (ie. resources, contacts, influence, etc) and build my character from the outside-in. I found that doing this still resulted in a very playable character at the end, but the mere act of approaching it slightly differently caused me to consider my choices more carefully rather than just banging a load of dots down.
So what did I end up with?

Before he became host to an infernal spirit Max Price was a struggling radio DJ, trying (and failing) to balance the demands of his career as he fought to keep his ailing show on the air and his wife and child. Things came to head when one night he was out with a friend, the friend was nervous because he had to give a best man speech and help organise the wedding and lacked the confidence to do the job justice; trying to be helpful Max had taken his friend out for a drink, they’d done some light recreational drugs (nothing too heavy), when Max received a phone call from his wife saying that she couldn’t take it any more, she had moved out and taken their daughter.
Despairing Max threw himself into the evening, consuming alcohol and drugs without thought or care for the toxic mixture brewing in his stomach; only an hour later as, shuddering, he vomited profusely into the latrine of a sleazy club did Max have time to regret his choices, and then only briefly as a darkness fell over his vision and his heart began to spasm. A few minutes later, She who draws shadows on men’s heart looked out from behind the now burnished red eyes of Max Price at the concerned face of his friend, willing the heart to beat anew; with a new confidence in his honeyed voiceMax said, “I think I know how to help you with your speech.”

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.

Numenera style Fate Accelerated character generation

Just before this Christmas I spotted a copy of Monte Cook’s Numenera RPG in my FLGS (Spirit Games) and, having read some interesting reviews on the book (and being quite a fan of Monte Cook’s variant D20 supplements) thought i’d treat myself to a copy as an early Christmas present. The setting is an intriguing blend of science-fiction and fantasy sent in a future version of our own world, but many million years in advance of present day; the inhabitants of this world call it the ninth-world since eight great civilisations have risen and fallen back into the dust before the beginning of the game, each leaving their mark upon the game world. A large part of the game involves the inhabitants of the ninth-world digging in the ruins of the past, discovering oddments and technology that can help them survive in their own world.
So how does this relate to character generation in Fate?

I hope to do a full video review on Numenera for my Red Dice Diaries Youtube channel, I wasn’t massively sold on the rules system, but the background and the blending of sci-fi and fantasy (along with the theme of exploration and discovery) is a great one and extremely compelling.

One of the mechanics that I did like was that a short sentence is used as a character descriptor that takes this form: “I am adjective noun who verbs.”


For example, a suitable description might be “I am a tough warrior who carries a sword forged from dragons scales” or “I am wise shaman who speaks with the spirits of the dead.
In the Numenera rules the adjective helps to determine your character stats, the noun determines character class and the verb determines your characters focus (the various cool abilities that you can call on during the game).
It will come as no surprise to those who know me that, as soon as I starting reading this, my mind turned to how this could possibly be used in a Fate game; although I plan to give this more thought after the Christmas period, my current idea is that it could be used to aid character generation in a streamlined version of Fate.

So how would that work?


Well the player would start with the sentence and would pick one of the Fate Accelerated approaches as the adjective, the noun would be the high concept of the character and the verb would be a stunt.

For example: “I am a quick pirate who is captain of the ship, the Crimson Dagger.

The player would get a default skill roll of +0 for all approaches and a +2 for the approach chosen in their adjective, the noun would represent the high concept and could be invoked/compelled in a normal way; the verb would be a stunt using the normal Fate Accelerated rules for stunts (either a +2 bonus in specific circumstances or a 1/game rules exception).
For example: If I created a character with the sentence “I am a sneaky thief who is deadly when striking from the shadows.

This character would get +0 on all approaches besides sneaky (one which he would receive a +2), could invoke/have compelled the concept of thief as per the normal rules and would have a stunt that allowed them to gain a +2 when striking from the shadows.

This isn’t a 100% foolproof or completely defined method at present, but I certainly think that it has potential.

RPG dilemnas – Fate and Encouraging hesitant players

It occurred to me recently, following a character genning session that took an awful lot longer than I expected for a Fate Core game (so long in-fact that we had to reschedule the game for another evening), that a character creation system that seemed so streamlined and simple for myself may not be so for other; as a die-hard Fate fan I personally find the creation of Aspects and generating a character very simple and easy to do, because i’ve always got a fair few ideas for characters and the system allows me to create something that matches these ideas.
But what about people who perhaps don’t have such a lot of character ideas buzzing around in their head? This doesn’t make them any worse roleplayers by any means, however, whilst there has been some discussion about the fact that Fate adopts a certain approach towards a game and that it doesn’t suit all games equally (after all no one system is going to be perfect for all styles of game “out of the box” as it were), perhaps the default method of character generation isn’t necessarily suitable for all people.
I observed a few main “issues” during the character creation for a repeat of my Wild Blue one-off during character generation (I have put some suggestions for resolving this in blue underneath each point):
  • Some players had difficult thinking up suitable powers or working out how to frame them within the rules system.
    Greater familiarity with the rules would help here and perhaps creating a list of example powers would have given them a good starting point.
  • There was some trouble with thinking of reasonable ways to link the different characters together using the ‘three phase method’ listed in the Fate Core rulebook.
    Perhaps toning down the number of phases to just having a starting story/phase for each character and then allowing them to come up with their Aspects in a more freestyle manner; although doing this would then require a different method of linking the characters together.
  • Stunt creation caused some notable pauses as the players struggled slightly with deciding on what they wanted their stunts to do.
    The example stunts listed in the Fate Core book helped in this regard as did referring back to the characters core concept.
I think that in retrospect I would probably have been better to create some (either fully or partially complete) pre-gen characters that the players could choose from and perhaps tweak to make more to their liking since, whilst I think having a full session for character generation is all well and good for a longer running campaign, it seems a little OTT for a one-off. Hopefully coming up with some pre-gens in future would also make it a little easier on those people who struggle with getting over that initial imagination ‘hurdle’ when it comes to creating a character idea.

Serpents Fall – Cast of characters

We’re now on the run up to our third G+ hangout session for our Serpents Fall Fate Accelerated game so thought i’d post up a little about the characters that are taking part in the game:
* * *
Captain Benito, deposed Pirate King

Captain Benito was once the chosen King of the Sword Isles, ruling over the Scarlet Brotherhood, however the treachery of his black-hearted colleague Horningold Blythe laid the flashy pirate low; a great and powerful curse was laid upon Benito, it was intended to kill him but the strength of his Lemurian heritage allowed the Captain to avoid this fate, but the sea would forever afterwards shun him, visiting disaster and misfortune on any ship should Benito try to use it to voyage across the waves. Spat out by the seas of the mainline, Benito quickly discovered his curse and immediately set about trying to find a way to have it removed, even seeking out help from the renowned spirit shaman of southern Stygia, it was here he encountered the wandering outcast Ozuchi Komodo and the death priest Horesh Komani, each also seeking their own destinies.
Benito has recently encountered an old enemy of his in the shape of Captain Hannibal Hawkins, a lieutenant of Blythe’s and one of the first people to call for his disposal; Hawkin’s black corsairs seem to be in league with the savage Picts, kidnapping people for some nefarious purpose. With the aid of his friends Benito has captured Hawkins, taken his ship and freed the prisoners, although he sustained a severe skull injury in the process.
* * *
Gunnar Kron, norsican warrior seeking to atone for his past

As part of the Timber Wolf raiding fleet that ravaged Stygia, Kron spent many years as a terror to the more civilised people of Serpents Fall, proving himself worth the murderous and savage reputation that grew up around him; however when he was commanded to butcher those who could not fight back Kron refused and found himself forever outcast by the fleet. Ozuchi Komodo, the person who Kron had refused to kill, saw that the warrior had some part to play in the destinies unfolding and suggested that the forceful warrior join them. Kron now fights within his own code of honour, but the red spectre of his past constantly plagues him.
* * *
Horesh Komani, khemrian death priest

Born amongst the death-worshipping tribes of Khemri, Horesh showed an early aptitude for the death magics and spiritual workings of the country’s priesthood, attracting the services of a death-raven spirit companion during his younger years; his rise to prominence however was watched with jealous eyes from certain quarters and, during his initiation exploring an ancient tomb, Horesh found himself forced into a position where he had to choose between the life of a fellow or advancing his own knowledge of death. Horesh found this decision easy to make and channeling death energy through his body slew his fellow priest.
As Horesh continues to expand his knowledge of the spirit world he finds himself increasingly drawn into situations where he must rely on the power of the spirits, but ever so slowly he finds himself owing a tangled web of favours that must someday be paid.
* * *
Ozuchi Komodo, last survivor of the komodo tribe

From the moment he was born Ozuchi knew that he had a destiny, the spirit world revealed it’s secrets to him, that one day he was destined to help re-unite the fractured kingdoms of Stygia; however it appeared that his dreams would come to naught when the Timber Wolf raiding fleet were sighted on the southern coast and norsican raiders began to pillage and burn their way across the country. As his tribe fell, Ozuchi prepared to sell his own life dearly when again fate played it’s hand and one of the warriors (a norsican by the name of Gunnar Kron), disgusted by the brutality of the slaughter, turned against his fellows and helped Ozuchi to escape.
Some time later whilst exploring a ruined temple in the jungles of Khemri, Ozuchi witnessed two death-priests battling and, as one fell, he recognised the survivor Horesh Komani as his khemrian counterpart, he knew that together the two of them could re-unite their splintered homeland.
* * *




RPG game mashup – Grand Theft Cthulhu

For those of you who watch my Youtube channel you will probably be aware that soon i’m going to be running a G+ game for some of my friends and that it is going to combine elements of the computer game Grand Theft Auto with elements from the Cthulhu Mythos.

I have christened the game Grand Theft Cthulhu and you can see some of the material I have produced for the game below:
Cover Design
(based on a modified version of the GTA cover layouts)
Player handout
(based on the layout for a GTA V manual I found on the web)
My original video that I posted about mashing up games
Mashing up Games

In the video I discuss how it is very important to decide what is going to be the main structure of your game, which of the elements of the mashup is going to be most important and then build the game around that, flavoured with elements from the other genre or system; if you try and put equal parts of both games in then you can end up with a muddy mess that doesn’t really capture the flavour of either of the inspirations.
So how do I choose which to focus on?

Think about what stories you want to tell with the game and the audience that you’re telling the game for and then choose appropriately; in my Grand Theft Cthulhu game i’m running it for three people, once who has a lot of TT RPG experience like myself and is no doubt familiar with the mythos and two who have little/no tabletop experience but who both have played computer games either in the present or in the past.
The aims of my GTC game are as follows:
  • Give the less experiences players someone easily recognisable that can be used to give them easy entry into their first tabletop session.
  • Facilitate this with a rules system that is easy to pick up and understand.
  • Add some additional elements to make the game more interesting that a standard computer game and to show how versatile and imaginative tabletop roleplaying can be.
  • Run a game that is fast-paced and exciting so that it encourages the guys to come back for more.
  • Don’t get bogged down in minutiae since this is our first attempt at a G+ online roleplaying game.
Looking at these aims it seems obvious that using GTA as the main inspiration and bedrock of the setting is the way to go, it’s a game concept that all of us are familiar with and that will serve as a good foundation for me to expand on; although the players might not all be familiar with the mythos, but sprinkling some names, concepts and elements from the mythos into a setting that they are familiar with it is my hope that this will give them a taste of Cthulhu and will encourage them to get involved in more tabletop.
It is also my hope that if the G+ session goes will then both them and myself might participate in the wider world of G+ tabletop gaming.
“But doesn’t everyone go insane in Cthulhu? Can’t say i’m keen on that…”

Was the response from one of the potential players when the game concept was being bandied about, showing that there’s not much point trying to draw him in using a ‘purist’ mythos campaign; so the game will focus on the high-octane, underworld focused style of GTA and won’t be so much a game of cosmic horror but more a game of criminals and high-speed chases that liberally uses references to the Cthulhu mythos and such horror games.
Things that I want to include in the game

Looking on the wikipedia page for GTA (and from my memories of Vice City) I can see that the following concepts are central in GTA:
  • Underworld/criminal involvement
  • Trying to climb to the top of the heap
  • An unfortunate event (normally a betrayal) motivating the character to climb the criminal ladder
  • Fictional city (in this case I have named the city Arkham and am using a map from the Chaosium Cthulhu supplement of the same name)
  • Cars
  • Gangsters
  • Violence
  • Fixers
  • Crime families
So I intend to incorporate most of these elements into the game, however, I will also be dropping in some of the following concepts from the Cthulhu mythos:
  • Names and places.
  • Some of the more iconic mythos creatures.
  • Evil and mysterious cults.
  • Strange tomes and forbidden icons.
  • The Innsmouth Look.
It’s my hope that by focussing on a handful of game aspects that I can meld them into something memorable and enjoyable for my players; my plan is (assuming no technical difficulties) to post the video of the session to Youtube after completion.

So what characters did we have in our recent Dungeon World game?

Recently I ran an impromptu tester game for Dungeon World for six of my local player, you can see my review of how it played here:
For this initial game we decided to just go with the basic options as presented on the Dungeon World character sheets, after genning characters we talked out the player characters bonds to each other and some elements of their backgrounds as directed by the rulebook; we ended up with the following characters:
  • Rundrig – Dwarf fighter – Come from a loud and proud family of warriors who have helped guard their dwarven mountain hold since memory began, his ancient axe has been handed down from father to son for many, many years. A few years before the game began, Rundrig freed Sistranalle from orcish slavers, allowing the elven bard to advise the barbarian Priscilla (saving her life); Rundrig considers that she owes him a life-debt although the barbarian woman does not agree, however the dwarf has sworn to protect the human wizard Xenos and worries about the abilities of Durga and Sistranalle to survive in the harsh environments where warriors such as himself tread.
  • Xeno – Human wizard – A sharp eye, wild haired human who comes from a mysterious land rules by powerful mages that lies somewhere across the western sea, knowledge of it having faded into myth and legend; not satisfied with the religious zealotry that his people head as a central tenant of their magics and outcast for his belief in magic as a science, Xeno fled eastwards to the known world. His arcane powers lead him to Priscilla, a vision of a shadow dragon and the girl telling him that she would play some pivotal role in the future of the world.
  • Jack – Human thief – A mysterious figure shrouded in mystery, the shifty thief tells contradicting stories of his background and wears the talismans of many gods hanging around his neck; working for Xeno he has stolen many things and arcane baubles for the wizard, including what seemed to be a roughly hewn jewel from the barbarian woman Priscilla, but that the human wizard Xeno knew to be a fossilised dragon egg.
  • Durga – Dwarf cleric – The older dwarf cleric has a sadness in his eyes and seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders; a follower of the Dwarf Father, god of honourable combat and conquest through strength of arms he places less value on upbringing or race and more on actions and deeds. Distrustful of Xeno and anyone who doesn’t believe in the power of the deities he none-the-less admires Priscilla’s strength and sees his attempts to convert her as a test worthy of his skills.
  • Sistranalle – Elf bard – One of the rare elves enamoured of the lives of the younger races, who chose to stay behind when his people sailed westwards across the sea to the mythic lands beyond human knowledge, Sistranalle finds beauty in the chaotically short lives of the younger races and, after being freed from orcish slavers by Rundrig and helped Priscilla escape from a desert basilisk he has set himself the task of chronicling her (mis)adventures. Delighted to have met the famous fighter Rudrig (who he had sung many ballads about), the elf has a friendly rivalry with the dwarf cleric Durga who, he thinks, takes life far too seriously; he accompanies the band playing ballads and histories on the mandalin that his father left behind as a memory of him. 
  • Priscilla the Triumphant – Human barbarian – A warrior from the icy northern wastes who travelled south, forsaking her tribe, when a new chief took over and outlawed women fighting alongside their men-folk; this did not sit well with Priscilla and she travelled south, reasoning that she could make a legend of herself in the soft southern lands beyond the deserts. She finds many of her new companions ways bewildering, especially Durga and his (amusing) attempts to convert her, she has appointed herself protector of Jack, knowing that the thief will eventually slip up and get himself in trouble; although unwilling to admit it she is flattered by Sistranalle’s attentions and sees in him someone who shares her thirst for glory.


All of these characters were created using the basic rules (including the names and epithets chosen) and by spending a bit of time chatting about the world elements connected with them; it probably took about half an hour in all, if that, to get ready to play.