Your Character Idea
Table of Contents
Come up with your character’s high concept and trouble aspects.
Character creation starts with a concept for your character. It could be modeled after a character from a favorite novel or movie, or it could be based around some specific thing that you want to be able to do (like break boards with your head, turn into a wolf, blow things up, etc.). Just like you did with the game’s issues earlier, you’re going to take your ideas and turn them into the two central aspects for your character—high concept and trouble.
Player characters should be exceptional and interesting. They could very easily find success in less exciting situations than those that come their way in play. You must figure out why your character is going to keep getting involved in these more dangerous things. If you don’t, the GM is under no obligation to go out of her way to make the game work for you—she’ll be too busy with other players who made characters that have a reason to participate.
Keep Building Your Setting
As you’re making stuff up for your characters, you’ll also make stuff up about the world around them. You’ll end up talking about NPCs, organizations, places, things like that. That’s fantastic!
You might also come up with a character concept that adds something fundamental to the world, like saying “I want to play a wizard” when no one talked about magic yet. When that happens, discuss with the group if that’s a part of your setting and make any necessary adjustments.
Because picking a high concept and trouble are linked, they’re grouped together. You’ll likely have more success coming up with a compelling character idea if you think about them as one big step rather than two separate steps. Only after you have that (and a name, of course!) can you move on to the rest of character creation.
That said, don’t worry too much—if your character idea evolves later on, that’s great! You can always go back and tinker with the early decisions.
Dials, Dials Everywhere
Fate Core isn’t the be-all and end-all of Fate. It’s just a starting point—a set of default decisions that will work if you use it as-is.
As you get more familiar with the system, you’ll be tempted to change things in order to suit your individual game or play style a little bit better. That’s totally okay. These defaults aren’t sacrosanct. It is expected that you will change them. In fact, throughout this system, the dials will be pointed out. Another book, the Fate System Toolkit, is all about how to change and configure the Fate system to meet your needs.
So, tweak away.
Your high concept is a phrase that sums up what your character is about—who he is and what he does. It’s an aspect, one of the first and most important ones for your character.
Think of this aspect like your job, your role in life, or your calling—it’s what you’re good at, but it’s also a duty you have to deal with, and it’s constantly filled with problems of its own. That is to say, it comes with some good and some bad. There are a few different directions you can take this:
- You could take the idea of “like your job” literally: Lead Detective, Knight of the Round, Low-level Thug.
- You could throw on an adjective or other descriptor to further define the idea: Despicable Regent of Riverton, Reluctant Lead Detective, Ambitious Low-level Thug.
- You could mash two jobs or roles together that most people would find odd: Wizard Private Eye, Singing Knight of the Round Table, Monster-slaying Accountant.
- You could play off of an important relationship to your family or an organization you’re deeply involved with (especially if the family or organization are well-connected or well-known): Black Sheep of the Thompson Family, Low-level Thug for the Syndicate, Scar Triad’s Patsy in Riverton.
These aren’t the only ways to play with your high concept, but they’ll get you started. But don’t stress out over it—the worst thing you can do is make it into too big of a deal. You’ll come up with four other aspects after this one—you don’t have to get it all nailed right now.
If You Get Stumped On Aspects
The golden rule of making aspects in character creation: you can always change it later. If you’re struggling to make an aspect, write out the idea in as many words as you need to, in order to get it down on paper in the first place. If a specific phrase pops up after you write it down, great! If not, maybe someone else at the table can help you come up with an aspect. And if you’re still stuck, leave it for now—you’ll have plenty of time during play to refine it.
And if you really need to, it’s okay to leave some blank. Look at Quick Character Creation for more on leaving parts of your character sheet blank.
High concepts can have overlap among the characters, as long as you have something to distinguish how your character is different from the others. If high concepts must be similar among all the characters, such as if the GM pitches an all-swordsmen story, it’s crucial that the troubles differ.
Lenny and Lily settled on the “guy and girl with sword” idea, and Ryan’s going with “guy without sword.” But those are just starting ideas. Now it’s time to turn them into proper high concepts.
Lenny latches onto the idea of tying his concept to an organization, and starts with “Disciple of…something.” He envisions a character who has trained in some mysterious martial art, and that involves rival schools and foes that want to learn those secrets. The group helps him come up with a suitably mysterious name: Disciple of the Ivory Shroud. (And now we’ve made a bit more setting: there’s an Ivory Shroud, mysterious martial arts, and all that implies.)
Lily, on the other hand, doesn’t really know where to go from “girl with sword.” She’s not interested in the organization thing, so she’s thinking about adjectives. Eventually, she settles on Infamous Girl with Sword. (Keeping the “girl with sword” part makes her giggle, so she wants to say it often during the game.)
Ryan’s idea of “bookish guy without sword” would be a pretty dull aspect. He thinks about what’s been declared so far: an evil cult who can summon Bad Things and a mysterious martial arts school. So he asks “hey, can I be a wizard?” They talk a bit about what that means, so that being a wizard doesn’t overshadow the swordsmen and isn’t a weak idea. After that, he writes down Wizard for Hire.
In addition to a high concept, every character has some sort of trouble aspect that’s a part of his life and story. If your high concept is what or who your character is, your trouble is the answer to a simple question: what complicates your character’s existence?
Trouble brings chaos into a character’s life and drives him into interesting situations. Trouble aspects are broken up into two types: personal struggles and problematic relationships.
- Personal struggles are about your darker side or impulses that are hard to control. If it’s something that your character might be tempted to do or unconsciously do at the worst possible moment, it’s this sort of trouble. Examples: Anger Management Issues, Sucker for a Pretty Face,The Bottle Calls to Me.
- Problematic relationships are about people or organizations that make your life hard. It could be a group of people who hate your guts and want you to suffer, folks you work for that don’t make your job easy, or even your family or friends that too often get caught in the crossfire. Examples: Family Man, Debt to the Mob, The Scar Triad Wants Me Dead.
Your trouble shouldn’t be easy to solve. If it was, your character would have done that already, and that’s not interesting. But nor should it paralyze the character completely. If the trouble is constantly interfering with the character’s day-to-day life, he’s going to spend all his time dealing with it rather than other matters at hand. You shouldn’t have to deal with your trouble at every turn—unless that’s the core of one particular adventure in the story (and even then, that’s just one adventure).
Troubles also shouldn’t be directly related to your high concept—if you have Lead Detective, saying your trouble is The Criminal Underworld Hates Me is a dull trouble, because it is already assumed with your high concept. (Of course, you can turn that up a notch to make it personal, like Don Giovanni Personally Hates Me, to make it work.)
Before you go any further, talk with the GM about your character’s trouble. Make sure you’re both on the same page in terms of what it means. Both of you may want to find one way this aspect might be invoked or compelled to make sure you’re both seeing the same things—or to give each other ideas. The GM should come away from this conversation knowing what you want out of your trouble.
Lenny wants to contrast the whole “I know an ancient martial art” vibe. He’s not playing an ascetic monk or anything like that. So he wants something that will get him into social trouble, something that has to do with him and not with any specific people or organizations. So he writes down The Manners of a Goat. His character will unconsciously make an ass of himself.
Lily likes this idea of her character being her own worst enemy, so she’s also going for a personal struggle. She’s had the idea for a while of playing someone who can’t help but be Tempted by Shiny Things, so she writes that down.
After seeing the other two go for personal struggles, Ryan wants to add a bit to the setting by having a problematic relationship trouble. He wants something that’s involved with his high concept, someone he can’t just fight openly against—he wants to see intrigue in his story. So he writes down Rivals in the Collegia Arcana (which also names a group of people in the setting, that Ryan’s character is a part of).
The Bright Side of Troubles
Since your trouble is an aspect, it’s something you should also be able to invoke, right? Because you've been so focused on how this complicates your character’s life, it’s easy to miss how a trouble also helps your character.
In short, your experience with your trouble makes you a stronger person in that regard. Dealing with personal struggles leaves you vulnerable to being tempted or cajoled, but it can also give you a sense of inner strength, because you know the sort of person you want to be. Problematic relationships often cause trouble, but people do learn hard lessons from the troubles they deal with. They especially learn how to maneuver around many of the smaller issues their troubles present.
Lenny’s The Manners of a Goat could be used to the group’s benefit. Maybe he turns that up intentionally, to draw attention away from Lily’s character sneaking around.
With Lily’s Tempted by Shiny Things, it could reasonably said that Lily’s character is well-acquainted with the value of various shiny things (and well-acquainted with getting caught and locked in prison, so she knows a thing or two about escaping).
Ryan’s Rivals in the Collegia Arcana can come in handy when dealing with rivals he knows well—he knows what to expect from their tactics. He could also use this aspect to gain aid from people who share his rivals.
Intro to Choosing Aspects
A lot of character creation focuses on coming up with aspects—some are called high concepts, some are called troubles, but they basically all work the same way. Aspects are one of the most important parts of your character, since they define who she is, and they provide ways for you to generate fate points and to spend those fate points on bonuses. If you have time, you really might want to read the whole section dedicated to aspects before you go through the process of character creation.
In case you’re pressed for time, here are some guidelines for choosing aspects.
Aspects which don’t help you tell a good story (by giving you success when you need it and by drawing you into danger and action when the story needs it) aren’t doing their job. The aspects which push you into conflict—and help you excel once you’re there—will be among your best and most-used.
Aspects need to be both useful and dangerous—allowing you to help shape the story and generating lots of fate points—and they should never be boring. The best aspect suggests both ways to use it and ways it can complicate your situation. Aspects that cannot be used for either of those are likely to be dull indeed.
Bottom line: if you want to maximize the power of your aspects, maximize their interest.
When you’re told you need to come up with an aspect, you might experience brain freeze. If you feel stumped for decent ideas for aspects, there’s a big section focusing on several methods for coming up with good aspect ideas in Aspects and Fate Points.
If your character doesn’t have many connections to the other characters, talk with the group about aspects that might tie your character in with theirs. This is the explicit purpose of Phases Two and Three—but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it elsewhere as well.
If you ultimately can’t break the block by any means, don’t force it—leave it completely blank. You can always come back and fill out that aspect later, or let it develop during play—as with the Quick Character Creation rules.
Ultimately, it’s much better to leave an aspect slot blank than to pick one that isn’t inspiring and evocative to play. If you’re picking aspects you’re not invested in, they’ll end up being noticeable drags on your fun.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to give your character a name!
Lenny names his character “Landon,” a name that’s been in his head for years. He used it years ago for another roleplaying game, and decides to bring it back for nostalgia’s sake.
Lily names her character “Cynere,” which is Greek for “thistle.” She sees Cynere as a beautiful plant, but one that’ll prick you if you get too close. That fits nicely.
Ryan names his character “Zird,” because it just hit his mind as an appropriately ridiculous wizardly name. Then he pauses for a moment before adding “…the Arcane,” because he sees Zird as the sort of guy who would demand to be known as “Zird the Arcane.”