Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Messing with FATE Core: Character Generation

After a very, very long time I am finally warming up to what FATE has to offer, specifically FATE Core, the generic edition of the game from Evil Hat. FATE is not an easy game system to understand, especially if you are used to a more traditional/old school approach to gaming, but it's a system which offers a ton of interesting potential for unique settings that are otherwise hard to do in more conventional game systems, is great for pickup games and collaborative designs, and most interestingly is designed around a core conceit of cinematic/storytelling conventions as key to the experience. Movie logic, if you will, is more important in a FATE game than verisimilitude in design.

Anyway, I recently got inspired to work more with FATE Core when I picked up a copy of the rules and then (many months later!) finally read them. Now I'm kind of hooked on the idea of running this. To try it out I worked out a character to get a sense of how the design works, what things such as aspects (and the associated Invokes and Compels mean) and how FATE Core handles a range of genres. Although it's got a genre Toolkit book out, the FATE Core rules seem pretty well able to handle this as written.

I based the first character design in a setting I ran many years ago for GURPS and then later retooled for Traveller. Ad Astra is a futuristic universe with lots of potential for crazy and unusual high-concept sci fi, so it feels like a good choice for some SF-based FATE gaming. I may revamp prior entries on it for an updated FATE version soon (once I'm done learning the system, anyway!)

To make the test character simple I aim for a pilot. Here's what FATE Core created....I'll talk about how in the notes afterward.

World Ad Astra
Name Tane “Solar Rider” Jones
Description  A rough and world-weary traveler with a scarred right eye, sandy blonde hair (usually short cropped), wears a dusky blue flight jacket from his old Human Commonwealth days.

High Concept:     Freelance pilot of the IF Wildstar operating in Human Space (Freeworld Zone)
Trouble:               Driven to fight fascism and oppression wherever he sees it
Phase Aspects:    Don’t Tell Me the Odds
      Some of My Best Friends are Aliens
      Repay My Debts, No Matter the Cost
Great (+4): Pilot (starship)
Good (+3): Drive (vehicles), Shoot (energy weapons)
Fair (+2): Shoot (slug throwers), Resources, Provoke
Average (+1): Rapport, Physique, Notice, Fight

 The Independent Freighter Wildstar (Aspects could include: "Souped-Up Engine; Turbo-Lasers; Armor Plated Hull) 

Stunts (refresh 3)
Pedal to the Metal
Provoke Violence
Called Shot

Physical Stress  3              Mental Stress    2              Consequences  3

The Phase Trio Story:

Tane stumbled into freelance piloting while working for Exocorp on the terraformed moon world Eodus Prime. He was recruited by locals to help run guns to freedom fighters working against the oppressive corporation, which was backed by Kephran interests. While working to fuel freedom fighters he stumbled across two allies, including the Praektorian rogue Gossamer and the Anageni engineer Teski, who helped him repair his ship during a major firefight from a blockade (Don’t tell me the odds). Gossamer and Tane worked together on a ground operation to help extract guerilla fighters pinned down during the “Automated Offensive” of 2250, a major leap for Tane as he had a general loathing for most non-humanoid species until then (Some of My Best Friends are Aliens). A year later Tane was involved in the strike on Commodus Prison, where he helped free both Gossamer and Teski after they had been captured (Repay my debts, No Matter the Cost).

Design Notes:

FATE builds characters out of the following materials: Aspects, Skills, Stunts and Extras. The Aspects are essentially character descriptors, but the rules provide a lot of context for what these mean and how to make them work.

One Aspect needs to be the High Concept, which you could imagine is the "class+background+archetype" you might see in other games such as D&D. A "Tiefling Warlock Outlander" in D&D could also use that as the High Concept Aspect for a FATE game. In our sample, I went with "Freelance pilot of the IF Wildstar operating in Human Space (Freeworld Zone)." This says the following: he's a pilot, he's got a ship (more on that later), and he's known to operate in the zone, which if this were a collaborative character generation session would likely have been established by the GM in the initial setting discussion phase.

Next up you need a Trouble Aspect. This is the second of five aspects and it needs to be the one which will drive your character into interesting and plot-laden situations. The rules caution against limited trouble aspects....and I imagine a trouble aspect like "Is too awesome to describe adequately" should be vetoed unless the GM wants to read between the lines that the "PC is blinded by his own hubris and false sense of accomplishment." In our case I picked "Driven to fight fascism and oppression wherever he sees it," since that sounds like an easy way to drive conflict: when my dude Tane sees someone oppressed, some system failing the little guy, he is compelled to act.

The next three aspects are defined by creating the "Phase Trio" story, which is a narrative that talks about how he came to be who he is. It's designed in the base rules to create connections with other player characters, but if you have only one or two PCs, or are limited for time the rules provide direction on what to do in those cases as well. For my purposes I went ahead and imagined a couple other PCs in this process just to get a fully functioning Phase Trio story worked out. Each of the three remaining aspects need to reflect some element of the story as presented....this encourages players to get creative, especially if they want specific aspects for their design. I revamped my choices a couple times before settling on the ones I selected...the idea is to make them interesting for both invokes and compels.

These aspects need to show some versatility, because they will be subject to what are called "invokes" which are where you use the aspect to justify a helpful bonus as well as "compels" which are where you use the aspect against the PC in an interesting way (such as the GM saying, for example, "Tane, you are now in an alien bar where the Spulgrot are drinking nectar from the Humfly, which is kind of nerve-wracking since even though Humflies are allegedly non-sentient, they scream just like tortured babies and puppies when being drained by the chitinous spulgort. Would you like to accept a compel to see if you can really negotiate unbiased with the spulgort gangster in the bar while drinking his humfly?")

If you use an invoke, it costs a fate point. If you accept a compel, you gain a fate point. Fate points are limited resources, so essentially you are getting a chance to do something cool later on by accepting your limitation now. The player may also want to see the compel in action since it might lead to a more interesting story, or have consequences in the game that are still desirable....even if the means of getting there require accepting your character's failings.

This, needless to say, is interesting stuff.

Skills are a lot more straight-forward, and FATE Core provides a default skill set with advice on customizing. Each skill includes example Stunts, about which more in a minute. Skills for PCs are ranked from +5 to 0, with zero being untrained. There's a specific formula for skills at the start of char gen, witha "pyramid" of talent dictating what you get. It's a perfectly fine system....but you can tweak the allotment up or down if you are increasing (or decreasing) the number of skills relevant to the setting. The example character is based on the default expectation.

FATE Core's basic mechanical approach to all tasks is to roll four FATE dice, which are labelled with two "-" symbols, two blanks and two "+" symbols. Add the "+" and subtract the "-" and you have your die roll. Then, you add skill bonuses and a +2 bonus if invoking an aspect (you can also invoke an aspect to re-roll). If you exceed the target goal, which the GM sets from +1 to +8 then you are successful. Fail, and you get more interesting and unintended results.

Anyway, stunts are a way to pull off specific effects in the game, which in turn can affect skill checks or aspects depending on what is going on and what the stunt is. The examples in the book provide about 3 per skill, and give you a good idea of what the range is. You could conceivably use these as-is is with minimal or no adjustment for setting or genre. A new PC starts with 3 stunts, and you can get up to 5 if you are willing to reduce what is called your "refresh," which is how many fate points you start with (and regenerate). So the more stunts you can do....the fewer fate points you have to invoke with, and the more you need to accept compels to fill out your points.

In my example, I picked three "from the book" stunts for Tane Jones. Basically he can push his starship (or any vehicle) to the limits of its speed, he can piss off people easily, and he can take a called shot at a moment's notice like nobody's business.

Extras are a catch-all for literally all the extraneous trappings of a genre you can imagine. I've thrown the starship here, with suggested aspects, but I'm still absorbing this chapter so more to come. Needless to say, Extras are basically "characters" which you stat out according to whether they are actions, things, perks, NPCs, or "other." For example, magic, super powers, gadgets, weaponry, vehicles and more all fall under the Extras category.

In the end, character survival in FATE Core is calculated by physical and mental stress, which start at 2 and go up if you have certain skills (physique and will). Consequences are layered in 3, with each one getting progressively worse. You get a consequence with a major risk or failure, and these can be things ranging from "Madness induced by Cthulhu" to "sucking chest wound" and usually disappear after a designated period of time (sessions or even scenarios).

Anyway....more to come....I am quite intrigued at FATE Core and also appreciative that I am at last starting to grokk how this system works. FATE Core is far and away the best iteration of the system I have encountered, and makes much more sense then some other FATE-powered games I tried to delve in to.

FATE Core is PWYW at rpgnow.com, so if this sounds interesting, you should check it out!

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