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I would love some feedback on the following idea. It's long, and I truly appreciate anyone who is willing to push through the whole thing to offer critique. I'm not interested in critique on the philosophy of the system, but rather on its implementation. If you're familiar with Fate Core, much of the information will be familiar, but this is the full text of a document that I wrote for my group, with the assumption that they weren't familiar with it - even if you've never heard of Fate Core before, this should tell you everything you need to know. Thanks in advance!
There are elements of character creation and mechanics from Fate Core that I’d like to lift and adapt for a Pathfinder Campaign (specifically, the Hell's Rebels Adventure Path, though I think there are many campaigns where this would work). There are a number of reasons for it, but ultimately, it comes down to encouraging thoughtful character backstory, having links between characters in place before the game begins, and reducing Trait twinking. :) This system is built on Aspects and Fate Points, and starts with Character Creation.
From the Fate Core SRD: An aspect is a phrase that describes something unique or noteworthy about whatever it’s attached to. It can be thought of as the title of a Feat or Trait, though there is some crafting that needs to go into writing a trait to make it work with the proposed system. (see below).
Traits will be replaced with Aspects. Each character will have 5 Aspects that are developed during the character creation process, which are a High Concept, a Trouble, and three Qualities.
An Aspect can, if appropriate to the circumstance, be Invoked to allow a character to add a +2 Aspect bonus to any d20 roll. Multiple aspects can be Invoked on the same role if they are all appropriate, and multiple aspect bonuses do stack.
If an Aspect might hinder a character in a particular situation, a GM may ask to Compel a character’s Aspect to give them a -2 Aspect Penalty to a d20 roll, or an enemy a +2 Aspect bonus to a d20 roll. Players always have the option to decline this Compel.
Fate Points are a mechanic to rein in abuse of Aspects and to make their use a more judicious thing. Each scene, a character will begin with one Fate Point.
In order to Invoke an Aspect, the player must pay one Fate Point. Invoking multiple Aspects on the same roll costs multiple Fate Points - the same as the number of Aspects being Invoked. If a character has no Fate Points, then regardless of how appropriate the Aspect might be to the situation, it may not be Invoked for that roll.
To earn more Fate Points, characters must accept Compels on their character. Whenever a player accepts a Compel offered by the GM, they earn one Fate Point for their character. Fate Points may be banked, but at no point can a character have more than 5 Fate Points. Once a character has banked 5 Fate Points, they may no longer be Compelled by any of their Aspects.
Making a Good Aspect
Aspects should be double-edged, flexible, and clear.
Double-edged Aspects let you Invoke them, but also give the GM opportunity to offer to Compel them - remember that without Compels, you won’t have the Fate Points to Invoke later. Greenhorn sailor is an example of a double-edged Aspect - it speaks to both inexperience and training in a particular area.
Flexible Aspects let them be invoked and compelled in a variety of situations, which makes them useful more often in game. Local celebrity tavern singer is a good example of a flexible Aspect - it might allow for bonuses on Diplomacy while on home turf, bonuses to Perform when earning money, penalties to Stealth if trying to stay unnoticed in a tavern, and so on.
Clear Aspects are important to define the boundaries of their flexibility. A vaguely-worded or metaphorical Aspect might seem to be useful in every situation, which will get overused and just slow down play. Aspects should also be worded in plain, system-neutral language - within an Aspect, Warrior means someone who fights rather than an NPC class, and Fighter just sounds strange, unless you mean it in the sense of organized sporting slang to refer to a boxer or MMA competitor.
Using the following structure helps to create fleshed-out characters with pre-existing connections to each other. The mechanical advantages of Aspects should allow them to gel nicely with Pathfinder and make the Phase Trio meaningful for the remainder of the game.
Once you have your character mechanics created, this part of character creation begins with developing a High Concept and Trouble for your character.
From the Fate Core SRD: 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. If someone asked you for your character concept, this is the answer, as brief and complete as possible. Connected to the discussion on Clear Aspects above, you should avoid using, for example, their class name.
While it’s not specific to high fantasy, the Fate Core SRD has some good advice on different ways to develop a High Concept that can be found here.
From the Fate Core SRD: 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? Troubles are usually fall into the categories of personal struggles and problematic relationships.
As the Trouble is an ongoing element of a character’s existence, it shouldn’t be easy to solve. (If it were, they’d have already done it.) On the other hand, it shouldn’t be an ever-present threat in the character’s life, lest it take over their every waking moment. Avoid making your Trouble an extension of your High Concept - you have a limited number of Aspects, and duplication of circumstances for Invoking or Compelling aspects should be avoided. Finally, remember that every Aspect should cut both ways; so your character’s Trouble should do so as well.
Your Story - The Phase Trio
Once you have a sense for your character’s High Concept and Trouble, you will develop a story from their past, and connections with two other characters, along with associated Aspects for each of those instances.
Phase One - Your Adventure
This may be your character’s first adventure, or something that happened very recently. It should be a time when they were the star of the story, though, and not merely a bit player - you can think of it as “that movie or book that starred my character.” It usually takes place after their coming-of-age, whatever that means for your character, and should be recent enough that it allows other characters to cross paths. For that reason, and for this Campaign, Your Adventure takes place in or around Kintargo.
Determine a title and jot down the basic details of the story. There shouldn’t be a lot of detail, because others will add to it in Phases Two and Three later. Limit your summary to a few sentences to avoid from getting too detailed.
If you’re stuck for ideas, look to your character’s High Concept and Trouble, and think of a dilemma or problem that might arise because of one of them or both. Then, imagine what happens next.
Once you’ve got a title and a summary, write an Aspect that connects to your story. This is the first of your three Qualities.
Phase Two - Crossing Paths
In this phase, you’ll be a minor supporting character in someone else’s adventure, and someone else will play the same role in yours. The GM will determine who contributes to each other’s adventures.
Begin this phase by reading the adventure of another character, and envision your character’s supporting role. Supporting roles come in three forms: they complicate the adventure, solve a situation, or both.
If your character complicates the adventure, they manage to make some part of the adventure uncertain. Obviously, since this has already happened, they got out of it alright, but the method of resolution doesn’t matter - leave that for someone else or leave it open.
If your character solves a situation, they have resolved a complication that the main character had to deal with. How that complication arose is irrelevant, you just need to determine how your character took care of it.
If your character does both of these, then your character either solves a complication while creating a new one in the process, or creates a situation but later solves a different one. Mash up the two ideas using the word 'later' between them.
While your character isn't the star of this story, your role needs to be important and cast a spotlight on them for something specific - you will be developing your second Quality Aspect from the role you create, so what happens should highlight something you’re known for, something you can do, something you own or have, or someone who have a relationship with.
Once you’ve decided on your role, summarize it in one sentence, and then write an Aspect that connects to it; this is the second of your three Qualities. The limit of one sentence is to reinforce the idea that this isn’t a story that stars your character - you’re a bit player on someone else’s stage. If you can’t summarize it in one sentence, it’s likely too big a role.
Phase Three - Crossing Paths Again
Phase Three is a repeat of Phase Two, but in a different character’s adventure. Develop your role in their story, and create another Aspect that draws from that role; this is the last of your Qualities.
Now your character has five Aspects: a High Concept, a Trouble, and three Qualities
As a character grows and develops, so too do their Aspects change with them. In Fate Core, this is built into Character Progression. In Pathfinder, this will be more informally represented using Milestones.
Milestones represent key events in a story, and will be decided on and announced by the GM. As a general rule, Milestones will take place approximately once every two levels.
When a character reaches a Milestone, they will have the opportunity to change one of their Aspects. Their High Concept may evolve as they live their adventures, or they may have dealt with their Trouble and move on to a different conflict. Qualities may become less important due to experiences and fade into the background as more prevalent Qualities take the fore.
Aspects can change by Evolving, (From Bumbling Apprentice to Mostly-Competent Spellslinger to Feared Archmage, for example.) or they may be replaced by something completely different. High Concepts usually Evolve, Troubles are usually Replaced, and Qualities change in both ways, though there are exceptions to every rule. In general, new Aspects should reflect some element of recent adventures.