Relationships with Influence
by Steve Radabaugh
Relationships with Influence
Unlike most roleplaying games, traditional fiction often has a single central character exerting influence over multiple side characters. In this variation of Fate, the players play all of the characters that surround that central character. Each character relationship, expressed as an Extra, allows influence to be exerted and received, shaping the decision-making process. Playing stories where one player ends up playing the main character makes it difficult to let all the players feel like they’re contributing equally. The mechanic presented here allows you to play those stories giving all the players an equal footing.
While it may sound like a hard sell to convince a gaming group to spend some time playing secondary characters, it is fun to play games from a different perspective once in a while. Think of space pirates all influencing their captain, college students influencing the star football player, or a game based on a reality TV show where people compete for the heart of one bachelor or bachelorette.
Central Character Creation
Creating this central character is a collaborative activity, and should be done before the players create their own characters. Grab a piece of paper and start asking the players about their main character. Start with broad questions: who are they, where did they grow up, what makes them special? As you get answers ask more specific questions based on those answers. Watch for places where the players disagree on the central character’s beliefs or morals. Those disagreements might breed aspects that some of the player characters will try to change about the central character. The players don’t all have to be a fan of the central character, but they should all find the character compelling.
Once your group has started to develop the central character, give that character a high concept, trouble, and three additional aspects. Don’t worry about skills, stunts, and refresh. Make sure that all of the players are happy with the character. If you don’t yet have a set world, you should also go through that process as described in Fate Core. In fact, world building and the central character building can happen concurrently, each influencing the other.
After the world and central character are created, the players each create their own character. The players need to keep in mind that their characters are not the stars of the show, but rather they are the secondary characters. They may not be creating Picard, but they are creating the rest of the bridge crew. The characters should still be compelling and interesting. However, the most important part of these characters is their relationship with the central character; make sure that you know the connection of each player character to the central character as you create them. The natural thing to do in Fate is to express the relationship as an aspect; the better solution here is to make the relationship an extra.
Relationship as an Extra
Each player character has a relationship with the central character as an Extra taken at no additional cost. The relationship starts with a connection aspect that states the nature of the relationship and who it is with. Our sample character, Ricardo, has the relationship “Nephew of Major Marge.”
Point of Contention Aspect
Because happy-go-lucky relationships aren’t as interesting, this relationship needs a point of contention aspect. It is something that the central character and the player character don’t agree on. It should be something that adds some drama to the game. Ricardo’s relationship has the aspect “Marge Doesn’t Approve of Lucy, My Girlfriend.”
Bonding Moment Aspect
The relationship also starts with one bonding moment aspect that describes a specific event between the player character and the central character that helped forge their relationship. This bonding moment can be invoked to influence the central character when trying to convince them of a course of action. Over the course of a campaign a character will add new bonding moments to this relationship. When something happens between the player’s character and the central character that you think makes a good bonding moment, write it down and save it. When the player reaches a milestone they get to add a bonding moment aspect to the relationship. You will hopefully have several written down for the player to choose from.
Ricardo is trying to convince Major Marge that they should keep more guards posted around the perimeter of the camp to watch for zombies. He rolls his Rapport and gets (+2) Fair, but needed to get (+3) Good. He spends a fate point to invoke Camping Trip in the Ozarks to remind Marge of the dangers in the wild and raise his roll to a (+4) Great.
The relationship also has a stress track. The number of stress boxes in it is equal to the number of bonding moments that the relationship has. A new relationship will have one stress box, with more being earned as bonding moments develop.
There may be other characters who see things differently than the players do, and find that relationship a hindrance to their goals. They can work to undermine that relationship.
Mr. Thompson doesn’t like that Major Marge keeps deferring to her nephew on all of her important decisions. In an attempt to disgrace Ricardo, he brings in some fake evidence that implicates Ricardo in some nefarious things to a meeting with Ricardo and Major Marge. Thompson rolls his Provoke (+4) Great and gets +0++ for a total of (+7) Epic. Ricardo tries to defend with his Rapport, but only rolls a total of (+3) Good. With four shifts, he needs to use up two of the stress boxes on the relationship and take a Mild consequence of In an Argument. Until that consequence passes, the GM will be able to invoke it to give Mr. Thompson bonuses to convince Major Marge that Ricardo is wrong.
High Concept: A Natural Leader
Trouble: So Many Lives Rest on My Shoulders
Other: De Facto Leader of Ft. Koni • Tough as Nails • The World is going to Hell and I Have to Stop It
Physical □□ Mental □ □
High Concept: Former Marine Looking for His Own Place
Trouble: Haunted by the Horrors of War
Other: The Cautious Survive • I Have to Protect Everyone • Marge is all I have left
Great (+4) Shoot
Good (+3) Empathy, Physique
Fair (+2) Drive, Fight, Notice
Average (+1) Athletics, Investigate, Rapport, Will
It’s Easier to Make Them Dead Again. +2 to shooting when targeting a zombie.
Determined to Help Others. May use Empathy to overcome obstacles when doing so directly helps another.
All That Training Paid Off. +2 to athletics when marching or running a distance.
Physical □□□□ Mental □□□
Relationship: nephew of MAJ Marge
Point of Contention: Marge Doesn’t Approve of My Girlfriend.
Bonding Moments: Camping Trip in the Ozarks • Mom's Funeral
Relationship Stress: □ □
High Concept: Civilian Leader of the Survivors
Trouble: Am I in Charge, or Is My Ego?
Other: Aging Politician • That Old Fox • Getting Tetchy
Great (+4) Provoke
Good (+3) Rapport, Will
Fair (+2) Contacts, Deceive, Resources
Average (+1) Empathy, Investigate, Lore, Stealth
I Fight with Words. +2 to Rapport when Survival is on the line.
Always Able to Work a Crowd. When faced with a crowd, roll Rapport against +0 (Mediocre) and count shifts. For each shift you may ask the GM one question about how the crowd would react to a certain situation.
Intimidating With Age. You may use Provoke instead of Will to defend against Provoke.
Physical □ □ Mental □□□□
Relationship: Marge and I were once lovers
Point of Contention: We Never Did See Eye to Eye
Bonding Moments: We Will Always Have Paris • Despite our Past, We Can Be Friends Now
Relationship Stress: □□
Progression and Milestones
As the campaign progresses, relationships will evolve, just like characters do. Each time a character reaches a significant milestone in addition to normal advancement, they can add a bonding moment to the relationship up to a total of three times. After the third, the player can replace an existing bonding moment with a new one. These should be things that have happened between the characters in the story. The number of stress boxes in the relationship will always match the number of bonding moments the relationship has. It will start with one, and get up to three.
Ricardo has reached a couple significant milestones after surviving several weeks in the zombie apocalypse. He and Marge saw quite a bit of combat together. He replaces the “Camping in the Ozarks” bonding moment with “We Had Each Other’s Back When The Zombies Took Ft. Koni.” Also, since it makes sense in the story, “Marge Doesn’t Approve of Lucy, My Girlfriend” gets replaced with the new point of contention aspect “Marge Didn’t Cry When the Zombies Ate Lucy”.
Your group may use this mechanic just as presented, or it may end up being a smaller part of your campaign. Meaty relationships can be tricky when it comes to roleplaying, and this system will give you more options to incorporate dynamic, evolving connections.