Sunday, September 19, 2010

Character Generation: Phases - in Practice

As you will recall, last time I laid out the "phases" used in Fate character creation, and some of my players' issues with it. This time, we'll go over what I did to attempt to pacify my players, and how well it worked out.

I created a haphazard, jury-rigged solution, inspired by the two DFRPG Aspects that are unassociated with phases -- High Concept, which is a capsule description of your character, like "Spell-Slinging Anti-Hero" or "Grizzled Soldier of Fortune," and Trouble, which describes an internal conflict or external problem plaguing the character, like "I Know Who I Stand With, What Do I Stand For?" or "On the Run From Jabba the Hutt." The Aspects I laid out for my players were as follows:

  • Bloodline: This Aspect describes the character's Bloodline, as well as their relationship to it. My players had ones like "Grudgingly Power-Hungry Sky-Carver" or "Pariah Pariah"
  • Character Concept: This Aspect is identical to the High Concept from DFRPG, but with a name I liked better. My players had ones like "Mad Philosopher Trying to Improve Humanity" and "Assassin Detective."
  • Dilemma: Again, the same as DFRPG, but with a more evocative name for the mundane Trouble. My players had ones like "Can't Reconcile Myself to My Race" and "Future Good vs. Present Necessities."
  • Youth: Essentially, I simply distilled Phase 1 into a single Aspect, requiring nothing more than a single thought about the character's origins. This was difficult for many of my players, but (eventually) I got ones like "Sons of Light Killed My Mother" and "Old Soul, Young Perspective."
  • First Adventure: Again, I distilled Phase 3 into a single Aspect, asking that each player consider how their character got into the business of "adventuring." Several players bristled at this, considering it my job to come up with the exciting bits, not theirs, but eventually I got Aspects like "New Views of the World" and "My Mother's Resurrection Went Wrong."
  • Aspect 6 and Aspect 7 were free-form, available to be filled however the player liked. However, as mentioned briefly in my first Magic: Rules of the Game post, each Craft a character learned required an associated Aspect to reflect how living that magic changes a person, and since every PC had at least one Craft, most of these free-form Aspects became Crafting Aspects, like "Getting Around the Obstacles" for a Realmshifter and "Revealing the Hidden and Hiding the Visible" for a Lightshifter.
Most of my players ended up taking a long time to fill out these seven Aspects, having difficulty defining their character (and in coming up with pithy names, which several were far too obsessed with). Arguably, because they skipped the Phases step of character creation, they found their characters too loosely defined to easily figure out.

But that was the minor problem. The major difficulty was in the lack of party cohesion. None of the PCs (save two) had any link to one another before the game began, so I had to introduce an artificial force to bring them all together (as I had no intention of using the old "you meet in a tavern, and decide to explore the old ruins together" cliche). This artificial force was a woman offering them a job -- but since the vision for the campaign was epic and open, I knew the job wouldn't last past the first story arc.

As I predicted, they eventually decided their employer was untrustworthy, and chose not to finish her job... and immediately they began to break apart. The party stayed together far more out of metagame necessity rather than in-story reason -- one character in particular, a rather deceitful mad scientist with his own set of priorities, had no plausible excuse for sticking with the rest of the characters -- and all of them hated him, so they had no reason to let him stay. Another character was motivated primarily by a love for explosions, so when I introduced the epic quest that was to become the main focus of the campaign, she had no interest and no reason to embark on this dangerous journey.

Not all of these problems would have been solved through the use of Phases -- certain problems of motivation and intra-party conflicts arise in all campaigns... but I do think a sense of camaraderie and trust would have gone far in keeping the party together and on track.

In short, phases are a useful tool, and one I plan on incorporating into the final City of Lives product -- but perhaps with an optional alternate system in place for players like my current playtesters. Next time, join me as I examine the range of Skills useful in The City of Lives...