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.