Continuing with Part 3 of my excerpt from the draft Campaign Creation section as I write the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions; it’s based on the process as described in Fate Core. Part 1 (Premise and Scale) and Part 2 (Big Issues and Faces & Places) were posted earlier this week.
Making Characters As A Group
You’ll probably find yourself discussing character concepts in parallel with the campaign creation steps discussed above. That’s fine, just don’t close your mind to changing details along the way. We talked about the nuts and bolts of character creation in How Do I Make the Character?, but let’s consider character creation here as a group activity.
Mixed Nuts or Assorted?
Before you start creating player characters, you’ll want to discuss party composition.
How and why you would play characters from a single people: A group of heroes aligned with one of the factions—Elvorix, Vidaar, or Jaarl—makes party cohesion easier, makes it easier to connect the characters, and provides impetus to readily accept certain types of missions as adventure seeds. Heroes from one faction will generally be welcomed or blend in among the lands of their own faction, and face grave danger and hostility in the other factions’ lands.
A single faction does not mean sacrificing character individuality or niche protection. For example:
- A party of attendants to an Elvorix high mucky-muck, chosen for their ability to act as lightning rods away from their boss: Roles could include resident scholar, foppish noble friend, jolly entertainer, spy posing as a servant, practical majordomo, poor relative, stalwart bodyguard, dour confessor, long-suffering tutor, etc., all probably chosen for they eccentricity or originality.
- A splinter group of Vidaar Late-Comers left on some Island-That-Wasn’t-Garigla or another and now finally catching up with everyone else: Roles could include captain, shaman, navigator, freebooter, strange “pet” from a distant island, and the keeper of all oral history of the clan’s voyages at sea. Because a ship is a world unto itself, everyone could have a variety of secondary abilities from cooking to carpentry.
- Last Best Hope for the Jaarl to recover volcanium: The Jaarl are looking for a way to forge swords and other volcanium objects again; they would prefer another suitable volcano, but perhaps another sufficient source of heat can serve too. The heroes’ mission is to find a solution. Roles could include elite Military escort, Arcane specialist studying the effect of Sacred Rock, metallurgist or smith from the Provider affiliation, Preserver scholar who serves as the expert on pre-Catastrophe volcanium forging techniques, Elvorix or Vidaar slaves serving as guides, porters, and interpreters in exchange for their freedom, etc.
How and why you would play characters from different factions or peoples: Maybe not everyone in your group shares the same interest in a particular faction. Mixed groups will likely face suspicion and a measure of struggle to get help almost everywhere, and some group members will face outright hostility in certain areas.
If your group wants to mix origins, you’ll want to come up with a good solid reason the characters will hand out and have adventures together instead of killing one another or just splitting up. For example:
- Odd man buck out: If you have only one player character from a different faction, the onus is on the player of that character to come up with a good reason to be there, such as a war captive in a group of another faction if there are some bonds of obligation or friendship with other PCs.
- A mixed Elvorix-Vidaar party from a region that has had a lot of inter-breeding: Sure, the past of Prolyus collapsed three years ago, but that doesn’t mean that family and friends were forgotten.
- Descendants of Elvorix and Vidaar sent to check on Murmadon’s mysterious cities and captured by the Jaarl: Generations later, the descendants of the original prisoners had become part of Jaarl society, but after the Great Catastrophe and exodus their status was reduced again. The loyalties of current-day descendants, born in Agaptus but raised to think of Murmadon as the homeland and Jaarl as friends, are sorely tried.
- A group of mismatched escapees from the advancing Kuld army: The Kuld don’t care about distinctions between Elvorix, Vidaar, and Jaarl; the heroes found themselves hiding and running away together, pooling their meager forces to defeat a small Kuld force, and bonded. You’d want to make this either part of the characters’ backstory when making PCs, or tell the players upfront that this is what the first adventure will be about, and get their buy-in.
- The Company of the Rock: Not everyone in the lands of Agaptus is blind to the necessity of cooperation between peoples. The heroes are tasked with the epic mission of finding a way to slow, stop, or even reverse the effects of the Great Catastrophe. Theirs is a secret alliance that could save all of Agaptus!
Can You Play Something Unorthodox?
Some players look for their kicks on the margins of the game’s society. Perhaps they will ask you whether they can play a Nhilde troll, a Kuld, or a member of a sentient species from one of the more distant islands. The gamemaster may have some additional work to do, or the players may dislike the resulting “flavour”; but if the group agrees, this is doable. Look at the description and stats in Antagonists and Monsters to get inspiration, then make your character as normal.
Just like the mixed party, you need to come up with a plausible rationale for this, such as:
- Nhilde troll with a party of Vidaar
- Lizard-man or giant sentient bird with a party of sea-faring explorers or pirates from any faction
- Visionary Kuld ostracised by its own people for wanting to make non-alimentary contact with other species
The better connected your characters are, the more fun the team will be. This doesn’t mean you can’t have rivalries, enmities, other other antagonistic relationships between PCs; in fact, the most dramatic relationships are those in which there is a certain tension, both something your character wants from another and something she refuses.
But you can start with straightforward connections of family, friendship, profession, politics, clan, and so forth. The important thing is for PCs to have a reason to work together.
In addition to connections between the player characters, try grounding your character into the War of Ashes setting in general, and the details of your campaign in particular; identify connections with the Faces and Places you just create.
Example: The group opts for a mixed collection of heroes from diverse factions, adopting The Company of the Rock as described above not only as their concept, but as the name of their group and an aspect for the campaign.
- Sharlene creates Rustica Bibulus ix Atronia, an Elvorix scholar showing too much originality for her elders at the Academy. Rustica studies the mystery of the Great Catastrophe and the connections with the eruption of Mount Murmadon.
- Ian creates Ulf Long-Teeth, a young Vidaar with a love for the old heroic sagas who longs to return to the life of swashbuckling seafaring adventures instead of this inhospitable land. He and Rustica are distantly related.
- Ben creates Iva the Stubborn, a Jaarl Virian mother torn between fulfilling her duty to the Virian Order and the Stone-Seekers by assisting Rustica’s quest, and the wish to go looking for her banished lover, who lost his sword.
Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.