Our recent adventures in Fate have seen a few attempts at speedy character generation. The Dresden Files RPG “Your Story” book has a page on this which gives some good concepts, but (as our last few sessions have shown) are tough to execute in practice. Here is a concept I’m calling the “You M.U.S.T. Go Fast!” method of high-speed character generation. Note that “high speed” is a relative term–this process will take about a half hour for a group of 4 plus a GM to do.
The M.U.S.T. method has four concepts:
- Moderate: Speedy character generation requires a strong moderator who can keep the group on taks.
- Unify: Unless you want a party who doesn’t work well together, a group template is an essential part of generation! I’ll teach you how to do it in 10 minutes.
- Script: Don’t let speed character generation be an experience in abstraction. Use your strong moderator to keep players to a script when generating characters.
- Test: Leave things malleable until they become declared as “facts” in your game when your players choose to benefit from them.
This article describes these four concepts, and give practical advice of how they might be implemented in a Dresden Files RPG game. They can easily be tweaked for other systems and settings. Enjoy!
Most of the concepts listed below are stolen from process work I do with groups working together to make decisions. The most crucial part of these groups is to have a moderator who generally sticks to the plan, and who recognizes when it’s better to deviate from the plan.
My experience with roleplaying games tells me this is the foundational skill of GMing. Good GMs know when to be a hardass about rules, and when to hand-wave things. Apply this same skill to your group/character creation.
State the rules. Enforce them. Keep track of time!
We here at Intwischa love the character template, but for some reason, it hasn’t made it’s way into our high-speed character generation exploits yet. I think this is a critical piece before character generation begins–without it, you’ll end up with people who don’t get along.
Bryan and I did a variation of this for our last game, as we wanted to come up with a complementary superhero duo. (Yes, we were labelled ambiguously gay, but Bryan and I are used to that.)
Dedicate 10 minutes to generating your group template following these steps:
- Give everyone sticky notes and sharpies, and 60 seconds to write down words (1 word or very short phrase concept) that represent what this group is supposed to be.
- Give each player 30 seconds to present their words and state some brief ideas about them. As each word is stated, the player sticks it to the table, grouping like words or concepts into sticky note “clouds”. Go around the table in order to expedite this process. With four players and a GM, this step takes 2.5 minutes (3.5 minutes total used).
- Take 30 seconds to condense “clouds” into single words or short phrases. Each player gets to condense one cloud into a word or phrase. Starting with the person who went last in the previous step, go around the table in the reverse direction for this process. (4 minutes total used)
- Using these words, the players take 1 minute to generate the “What is this group supposed to be?” statement. The GM starts this by making a statement of what she thinks she’s hearing, using the words on the cards. She asks if anything needs to be removed or made more generic, and tweaks as appropriate. She asks if anything needs to be added, and tweaks as appropriate.
- Repeat these steps to generate the background, focusing on defining a conflict that these characters were part of. DON’T TRY TO DEFINE CHARACTERS YET–simply define the conflict!
Experience with gamer-types tells me that this is the most nuanced part of doing things on-the-fly. When most of us think of “scripts” for games, we go toward storyline–whether it is the story for the campaign or the backstory for our characters.
Ironically, even though we’re talking about character generation here, it isn’t a character or even campaign script I’m talking about here.
It’s a player script.
That’s right–a list of cues for the player to follow when making his character. Sound too railroad-y? Well, take a look at the “character creation” chapter of just about any roleplaying game, and you’ll find an expanded version of this script. What we’re looking for is the condensed version–a recipe one can follow to generate the most bare-bones framework needed for a character.
For a Dresden Files RPG game, here’s what I’d go with (in the order I’d generally follow). Each player gets 5 minutes–with 4 players, that’s 20 minutes for character creation plus the 10 minutes for group template creation.
- Ongoing Aspect Brainstorming: Pick someone at the table to be your secretary. Throughout this process, words or phrases that might be part of aspects will be suggested by you or your friends at the table. You’re going to be busy following the script for your character–so your secretary is there to make a simple bulleted list of these words or phrases that you can use as fodder for your aspects. (Later.) Note that no one should have a character sheet in their hand except for the player generating his character, and no one should have a pencil except this player and “the secretary.”
- High Concept Aspect Concept: Note the last word here–if you’re trying to perfect a high-level concept in five minutes, you’re probably not going to do anything else. Don’t go over-clever here–remember, Harry Dresden’s High Concept is “Wizard Private Eye.” If time isn’t a compelling enough reason to “go generic” on this step, take note that step 2 has you choosing a template, which very well might place a requirement on your concepts. The High Concept here must define who your character was in the conflict described in the group template.
- Template/Role: All that work you did in the “Unify” bit? It comes into play here. Think of what your character does, find an approximate template, and generate a list of “musts.” If you’re tweaking a template, add your tweaks to the “musts” list.
- Powers/Stunts: Don’t worry about writing this stuff down now–just figure out what refresh you have after “buying” requirements, and write down a couple phrases describing things you’d like your character to be able to do that might not be covered by these powers/stunts.
- Signature Skills: Draw a line across the middle of a scrap piece of paper. Take the “skill cap” of your game, divide it by two (don’t round), and write that on the line. Choose your character’s two or three most important skills, and write those above the line–you haven’t yet chosen how many points to put into these skills, but you’ll surely put them in the top half. Choose one or two skills that you know you’ll want for color (say, Investigation, Scholarship, Weapons) and write these below the line–you likely won’t want to put a significant amount of ranks in these. NOW STOP, and move on to the next step!
- Trouble Aspect Concept: Why is this listed so late? My experience creating DFRPG characters says that the character abilities figure heavily into the trouble–if trouble ties in with what you can do in some way, it tends to get invoked a lot. Jot down a generic phrase representing your trouble–again, don’t worry about perfecting it yet.
- Required Aspect Concepts: If your template, powers, or stunts require you to take specific aspects, jot down concepts for those now.
- Items/Spells/Other Custom Stuff Concepts: For me, this is the most time-consuming part of creating a DFRPG character. Don’t worry about mechanics or color yet–just jot down the equivalent of a “high concept aspect concept” statement about what custom stuff your character has. For instance, someone running Harry might write, “Fire staff. Shield thing. Force punch thing. Some sort of armor.” Fill in the details later.
OK, I wanted to name this step “Improvise,” but wanted to come up with an acronym for this method that spells a word.
In this step, you “test” your previous concepts by putting them in place during game play. Everything here is malleable until you get a mechanical character benefit for it. One caveat: the GM should not be allowed to make an aspect a fact by compelling it at this point.
Here are sample actions that make things “facts:”
- Declaring that your “some sort of armor” is a enchanted item described as a magic duster that gives a +2 armor. Not only does this define the “fact” of the item, it also sets your Lore at a minimum +4 (representing the shifts required to create +2 armor).
- Declaring that the aforementioned armor lasts for two rounds–again, this is a both a fact about the item, and a fact that your lore is at least +5.
- Invoking the aspect “Man of Science” to get a +2 to your spell that makes use of knowledge of chemistry makes this one of your aspects. So, for instance, when you’re later trying to summon up your conviction to create a very supernatural veil, the GM might “compel” this to suggest you fail because you yourself don’t believe in your spell.
- If you had listed “Endurance” in your “top half” skills, and in the first combat, you take a 4 shift hit, you might choose to say “My endurance is 5.” This is now a fact.
Aspects work the same way–if you want to “invoke” something or have it compelled, you must define it. The wording of aspects can change subtly after they become facts, but should represent the same spirit. (For instance, if Harry had an “I’m On Fire!” aspect, he might tweak that to “I’m On Fire–and so is everything around me!”)
For things that just don’t fit your character as you play it, you have 3 choices. First, if you haven’t benefited from the thing yet, just change it! Second, if you have benefitted from it, change it after the game. Make sure to share the nature and rationale of the change with your party–and make sure everyone knows this is a special rule for the first game! Lastly, if you must change something in-game that you’ve already benefited from, spend a Fate point for it.