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My game group ran a character-creation session for Spirit of the Century on Monday, and it was a blast. The character generation process definitely felt more involved than the default process for D&D. In part, I think this is because SoTC characters are already supposed to be established heroes with several adventures under their belts. As such, the number of abilities the players need to select is similar to a mid-level D&D hero. The collaborative nature of SoTC's FATE system also makes the process much more involved, because, in a way, the players are creating the world itself in addition to their characters. While you can certainly do these things as part of a D&D session, it is optional. With SoTC, it is the default.
The SoTC creation process has a lot going for it, and I can see value in adopting it for other game systems, or even for creative writing purposes. As the process develops, the characters establish relationships, and strongly tie their own traits into their backstory.
The process breaks down into five phases:
- Background: After each player comes up with a general concept, and name for his or her character, they describe how their character spent their childhood up through age 14. As members of the Century Club, from which the game derives its name, the PCs were all born on January 1, 1900.
- War Years: Each player describes how their character spent World War I, which takes place during their formative teens.
- First Novel: Each player comes up with the title and description for a novel that featured their character. The novel is set after the conclusion of the War.
- Guest Appearance 1: Here's where things get interesting. The players all swap novel titles, and work with another player to work that other character into their novel as a guest star.
- Guest Appearance 2: The players swap novels again, and add a second guest star in the same manner.
Once the characters' backstories are complete, they come up with skills and special abilities (called "stunts").
During our three hour session, my players only got through the first four phases of the backstory generation. This was largely because they were having a lot of fun generating cool concepts, but also because we were all new to the process, and because I only had one rule book handy.
Nevertheless, the characters are shaping up to be really cool! The group consists of:
- Sophie Steele, globetrotting tycoon, purveyor of advanced mechanisms, jingoist, and president of America Corp.
- Ruby Valentine, an orphan who clawed her way up through the mean streets to become a successful singer and owner of her own speakeasy/club. She possesses an air of cynical glamor.
- Violet Fairweather, Ruby's long lost twin. Violet was raised by a loving foster father, who taught her the ways of machines. She has a sunny disposition beneath her grimy exterior. She took up barnstorming after the war. Though she is the spitting image of Ruby when cleaned up, they couldn't be more different.
- Heinrich Stumpf, the "Bavarian Machine", a German scientist afflicted with polio as a child. Stumpf worked on early chemical weapons experiments during the war. Afterward, he acquired a set of powerful mechanical legs, which he uses to stomp out evil.
- Sri Lumani, Avatar of Vishnu manifested strange powers at an early age. Sent to the legendary land of Shangri-La to gain control of her powers, she now finds herself in the West, with only her mysterious companion to accompany her.
The group has one more player who wasn't able to make Monday's session who will be worked in after the fact.
One of the core mechanics of the FATE system is character "aspects". These are things that define each of the characters, and which ideally will indicate what the players want out of the game. The characters choose two aspects during each of the five character creation phases. These aspects can be anything from a signature item, to a catchphrase, to a personality trait. Some of the aspects my group invoked include, Violet's "Subtlety is not my strong suit", Ruby's "wrapped around my finger" and Heinrich's "indoor kid" They are meant to sound a little ambiguous to outsiders, and to have the potential to cause both help and hinder the character's progress.
Another change-up that I'm making from my D&D game is that I plan to run this one from notecards! I'm trying to go with the limited-prep, improvisational spirit of the FATE system. We'll see how that goes.
I have posed the idea of giving each of the player characters a feature post here on the ol' blog, some have already expressed interest, so you may get to hear more about the exploits and adventures of this little game as it gets rolling.