The brainstorming continues…

So, last time we discussed the impulse and rapid development that led me to formally brainstorm a Fate Accelerated con scenario. Once I decided on a game system, a couple of very different paths opened up. The first path was a very psi-heavy anime inspired game that could have woven from Bliss Stage to Voltron with mecha formed from the talents of a team of young heroes. That seemed to match much of the rules system fluff. The second path hewed closer to my original vision on reading Troy’s plot: a near future modern scenario with people you could plausibly read about in a newsstand magazine.

I finished the article at the end of the first brainstorming session, which just happened to match my lunch hour. I had come full circle, and had six scenes sketched out that sounded like a fun session. Could I create a selection of interesting characters to match?

Generating One Dazzling Character Is Difficult. Let’s Create Six.

Because Fate Accelerated is a new game, I couldn’t just instruct people to show up with characters ready to play. Beyond that, there are many advantages to pregenerated characters.

The process I used looks well organized (well, relatively…), but the actual sequence of writing things down wasn’t quite as orderly as the page looks.

Step One: Who Is The Crew?

So, I knew that realistic limitations were going to anchor my game. That suggested a small crew, given the reaction mass considerations. That works great for justifying a limited number of PCs, though it eliminated some concepts. (It’d be hard to lead a drop squad if you have a squad of two people.)

My game was setup for 4-6 players, so I decided to create six PCs. (You could instead create a few extra—say 8 characters–scrub the extra characters from the mission if they’re not picked by players. For a longer scenario that included some training for space/ astronaut camp scenes, that’d be great. You have a better chance of providing a character that excites a player when you provide more characters to pick from. But I liked the tight design constraints of “these are the characters”, and that let me make them all essential.)

The six characters I decided on are listed in the image: A pilot, security, a diplomat, and three scientists. The scientists specialized in microbiology, planetary body composition/structure, and astronomy/signals. This felt daring—and dangerous—to me, since academic characters often fall flat. In most games, people gravitate towards combat competent characters—after all, dead characters get no screen time. I tend to do the same, often picking a solid fighter or tough guy for first play in an unfamiliar system. (My players surprised me here.)

The one sentence sketch of each character expanded out as follows.

  • Pilot/Astronaut. Retired Russian? (m)
  • Security/Man of Action; from Seoul, Knows the Secretary General (m)
  • Diplomat/UN Ambassador at large; Ivy League (Columbia) (f)
  • Scientist/Astronomer/Navigator. Used to working opposite people (f)
  • Scientist/Experimental life sciences-Adapt to sustained life under thrust, bioexperiments, “xeno sciences”, various weird microbes, deep sea, caverns, etc. (m)
  • Scientist/Materials-originally slated for asteroid investigation. Deep mine experience. South African. + Flight engineer training. (f)

These quick sketches altered as the characters developed further, but they’re actually pretty good shorthand for most of the characters.

Delving Deeper: Meet Felicia Powers

felicia powers I’m not going to bore you with by detailing out all of the characters. My general process was to skip down 15 lines or so and write down the primary role from the sketches above. Then I’d add a name and a nationality (if one recommended itself), since I really wanted to embrace the “minor powers/UN centered” nature of my setup. Usually the nationality came first, since Ivan Notovich doesn’t make sense as an Argentinian…

Flight Engineer/Materials Scientist > Felicia Powers [S Africa]
HC: Premier Extra-Planetary Materials Scientists
What process can’t be optimized?
Amazing Toolbelt
Grew up around South African mines
T: Getting too old for space

+3 Forceful, +2 Flashy, +2 Quick Careful, +1 Clever, +1 Quick, 0 Sneaky

S1: Knows her ground: +2 to forcefully overcome environmental/material obstacles.
S2: As a meticulous materials scientist, objects I make or modify get +2 defense.

After the name, the next thing I jotted down was usually the High Concept—Fate Accelerated’s equivalent of a class. This was often a rephrased version of the sketch—the character’s role in the mission.

Sidenote: Fate Accelerated Characters have three major components that need developing.

  1. Aspects: How you’d quickly describe a character if they were in a book or novel.
  2. Approaches: There are six approaches to problem solving, a loose equivalent of stats in traditional games. You distribute one +3, two +2, two +1, and a zero among the six approaches. HC: stands for high concept, while T: stands for trouble aspect.
  3. Stunts: Stunts are cool things that your character does, or things your character does particularly well. Unlike Aspects, Stunts are “always on” and don’t require fueling with fate points.

If I had a strong image of the character’s interactions, personality, training, or anything else, I’d usually list an extra aspect or two. I rarely had all five aspects spill out of my brain quickly; usually I’d write one or two more, hop to write out a stunt, backtrack to the approaches and assign values, work on another aspect that had presented itself, “upgrade” an aspect I’d already written with a better, punchier description, grind out the last aspect or two, and decide on another stunt.

Even more often, though, I’d stall out with a few aspects, one stunt, and the approaches. That was fine! I just skipped ahead to another character and laid out what was obvious until I hit a stumbling block. If the process had inspired something about a past character, I’d pop back and add an extra detail or two. Often I’d think up a better phrasing for Aspect–something that would “pop” or excite a player reading the character a little more. So even “complete” characters still got tweaked.

One thing that I tried to work in were subtle links between the characters. For example, the “deep explorer microbiologist” had an Aspect that “Scuba? Real men descend a mile”. I prepared that to link into Felicia’s “Grew up around mines”–they could share a love of the deeps, or compete for deepest descent. In a short slot, not all of these hooks and potential interactions came up, but it was fun to build in.

Well Crewed, The Ship is Ready for its Mission

At this point, I’d completed the bulk of my prep. I had a skeletal plot and six characters that seemed interesting. From here, much of my prep was imagining the scenes, trying to build up the pictures and sounds, so that I could describe the scenes engagingly.

Does this sound anything like your early plotting/scenario prep process? Do you love creating pregenerated characters, or is that a burden–you’d rather be working on the scenario? If you were prepping the same scenario, in what order do you think you would develop the elements? Characters first, plot last? Work the ship out in detail, then figure out who you’d need to crew it? I’d love to read some different approaches.

About  Scott Martin

Scott is an engineer turned gnome and game store owner. He lies awake at night building intriguing worlds and plotting your character's demise.

8 Responses to Prepping Dot-Dash-Dash-Dot, Creating Characters

  1. I do not love creating pregenerated characters. It is the most draining experience for me in game prep. I’d much rather be working on the scenario and crafting the allies and foes. That said, it is almost always a necessary task for Con games. No doubt about it

    I would definitely plan scenario/plot before doing the pregenerated characters just so that I could make sure that characters would be built to handle the scope of the adventure.

    It would be a rather poor decision to have a pilot character when no piloting skills would be needed or perhaps even worse to have no pilot at all when a key scene requires a character capable of weaving through asteroids at high sublight speeds. Sounds obvious, but I have seen it happen!

    • True to everything. I suppose “make characters then plot” is an extreme position. For the more likely scenario the question is along the lines of “To what degree would you detail the scenario before creating the pregens?

      I can imagine a very iterative process–sketchy scenario outline, then sketchy characters, then a few scenes detailed out, then work on a character or two… an unstructured follow your interests as cool ideas come to you. I think it would be interesting to build the characters first, then build a plot around them–after all, that’s how most campaign sessions seem to be prepared!

  2. Yeah creating pregens can be a hassle, especially in a new system, but with FAE seems like character creation is a breeze. It’s the first version of Fate that really appeals to me. All the others seemed way too rules-heavy & fidgety for a story game.

    More often than not I start with a map. Once I have a clear picture of the stage and the set dressing,everything just sort of grows organically from there. I also try to keep the particulars pretty vague so I’m still open for input from the players during actual play; I try anyway, really I do. Sometimes it’s easy to get too entangled in the minutia.

    I’ve learned, through bitter experience, to not just cold stop while I’m prepping until something is fully realized, but to instead, jump around and get down on paper everything that comes easily. Afterwards I can go back and fill in the blanks with way less frustration.

    • That’s a very interesting process! I like that style when I’m prepping my own games–follow inspiration where it guides you; number crunching can always come later. Though that prep style can feel a bit like eating dessert first and always having the messy detailed stuff waiting, getting kicked further away because it’s not as interesting.

      You might enjoy FAE, since it’s slimmer than even Fate 1. To my eyes, it provides a good balance of structure enough for rules and thorough guidelines, but avoids defining skills, stunts, or chunky setting bits in any detail.

  3. Amusingly, I’m most interested in the step you haven’t written about yet – brainstorming scenes. Is there intent to write about that stage of the process as well?

    • Do you have a specific question about scene brainstorming? Are you most interested in how I picked the scenes, what I was trying to do with the scenes I picked, how I imagined the scenes for later description, or something else?

      • Mostly how you structured your brainstorming and any tricks you might have for inspiration; When I’m designing scenes, I have a tendency to get sortof bogged down writing down too much stuff, or throw my hands up in the air and say “Well, if the players haven’t derailed the game by this point I guess I’ll just have to wing it.”

        • You might try listing things out that will happen, might happen, and things that depend on what the players do.

          Will Happen:
          There will be a hurricane.
          An armored, loaded-with-loot Orc corpse will wash ashore.
          PCs help with the rescue efforts.
          PCs talk to NPC-A about the Orc.
          NPC-B will chat the Players up about the orc body find, if they aren’t dicks.
          If they hear about the wealthy orc find and investigate they might be able to stop the orc army advance party and warn the city.
          If not, the orcs attack the city in the night. Chaos ensues. Enjoy.

          I’ve gotten good use out of this method. YMMV.

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