This morning I finished off the re-write of the first part of FU character generation – Concepts. It took me somewhat longer than I had expected it to, but it also turned out better than I had thought it would.
The original Concept section was one paragraph of information and another paragraph of example. The newly re-written section goes into far more detail on exactly what a Concept is, its purpose, how both players and Narrators might use Concepts, and how to write a great Concept. There is information on using Concepts as descriptors, as a lot of hacks already do this, and also some details on how and why you might change your Concept over time. Overall, I am very happy.
I am going to share the entire new Concept section with you below. I probably won’t do this with every new piece of information but I am doing so today because I wanted to give you an idea of where I am going with the re-write. Some of the below writing will become “optional rules”, though i am not sure how I am going to indicate this in the final text (I am thinking sidebars or boxes).
I would love some feedback on whether you think this level of detail is useful, or if it is too much.
Concept clearly defines who or what your character is. It is the 7-second elevator pitch that you might use when someone asks, “What character are you playing?” Concept is the kernel of who or what the character is, and is best summed up in a few words or a short phrase.
Your character’s concept can define their background or occupation, such as ‘Paranormal Detective’ or ‘Child Prodigy’. It might give insight into their personality, such as ‘Noble Savage’ or ‘Nutty Professor’. Of course, the character’s concept should fit into the setting, background or types of adventures that you will be playing. A ‘Streetwise Cop’ may be out of place in medieval England, though a ‘Worldly Sheriff ’ might be just right. Use the setting to inspire your character.
Your concept forms the “baseline” that indicates the things the character probably has experience with and the things they might not. You will use the character’s concept to guide your roleplaying and make choices about how they approach situations and overcome problems. The narrator will refer to your character’s concept when making decisions about setting scenes, introducing contacts or relationships, and when deciding how much your character knows about a particular situation, location, item or event.
For example, if your character’s concept is “Famous Rock Star” you can safely assume they know something about rock and roll and the entertainment industry; they can sing and/or play an instrument; they have “stage presence”; they are well known to a large portion of the general public; and probably know a host of legitimate and shady characters related to the rock and roll industry. It does not explicitly tell us anything about the character’s education, home life or personality. On the other hand, a character described as “Well-travelled Archaeologist” can be assumed to be university educated; have a knowledge of the ancient world; knows a variety of academics; probably knows enough words in a variety of languages to get by; and has a broad general knowledge of geography.
Your character will encounter less resistance when they take action closely related to their concept. It is plausible the Famous Rock Star has little trouble talking to a huge crowd of people, while the Well-travelled Archaeologist might find that role more challenging. The archaeologist, however, is probably going to be more efficient at research than his rock star friend. You might claim the rock star is also well-travelled due to the jet-setting rock-n-roll lifestyle they lead, but the archaeologist is just going to have an easier time getting around places, navigating customs paperwork and recalling random facts about the places he has visited, by simple virtue of his concept.
In game terms this influences when and why the narrator might call for DICE ROLLS. As a general guideline, a character can complete activities closely related to their concept with little effort. The Famous Rock Star can perform a great show, and the Well-travelled Archaeologist can coordinate a dig in Egypt without really taxing their resources or putting themselves in danger. Most of the time this will mean they can do it without dice rolls – it just happens.
If the action is opposed, or taken under difficult circumstances, without the appropriate tools, with a time constrain or under some other less-than-ideal situation, all bets are off. In these cases the narrator may very well call for DICE ROLLS.
Writing a Great Concept
A good concept will describe a character’s occupation, or a detail of their background, or a personality trait, or an extraordinary feature, but a great Concept will describe more than one of these. If you can sum up your character concept in two or three evocative words then you are on the right track. Here are some ways to write a great Concept:
Combine an interesting adjective with a specific noun: Skilled Swordsman is okay, but Master Duellist is better; Mean Gunfighter is cool, but what about Grizzled Gunslinger? You could be a Hardboiled Detective, or a Singing Detective, Pet Detective, Defective Detective or Accident-Prone Detective.
Describe a personality trait and an occupation: Weary Lawman, Bloodthirsty Pirate, Naïve Nurse, Inquisitive Student, Adventurous Explorer and Lecherous Politician are all possibilities.
Use a physical trait or extraordinary power as the basis of the concept: One-Eyed Gunman, Psychic Detective, Horribly Scarred Bodyguard, Olympic Gymnast, Elastic Kid or Immortal Highlander are all examples of this kind of Concept.
Use a descriptive phrase to define the character’s place in the world: Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, Last Man on Earth, Assassin for the Guild of Haberdashers, Bearer of the Black Blade and World’s Most Famous Astronaut are all phrases that define character Concept.
When you have come up with a cool idea for your Concept discuss it with the Narrator and other players. Make sure that everyone is on the same page and understands what your Concept really means. What exactly do you mean by “Grizzled” Gunfighter? Is your Politician well known or a minor member of cabinet? What exactly is an “Elastic Kid”? Why do the Haberdashers need assassins? Asking questions like these will help make the game run smoother once play begins, and also helps to flesh out the world that you are playing in.
Concepts As Descriptors [+]
As the rules currently stand, concepts are not descriptors – they are a broad categorisation that indicates the things a character can do with relative ease. They do not normally offer a bonus to DICE ROLLS.
If all players agree, however, you can make Concept a descriptor. You should decide if this is in addition to the normal number of descriptors, or takes up one descriptor “slot”. Concept descriptors are likely going to be much broader than standard descriptors, encompassing a wide variety of skills and experiences. It is a good idea to discuss Concept to ensure everyone understands exactly what kinds of actions and activities they are most likely to assist with.
Normally, Concept defines the things a character can do, but don’t overtly penalise characters for attempting things not in their wheelhouse. Designating Concepts as descriptors means they will provide a bonus for related actions, but also means they might generate penalties in other circumstances – the Famous Rock Star is going to have a hard time staying inconspicuous when her face is on a giant billboard across the street!
Concepts and Amazing Powers [+]
If the game setting incorporates magic, psychic talents, superhuman abilities or other amazing powers, character Concept can be used to determine who has access to these abilities. In a setting that includes an order of psychic space knights, a character might need a Concept that indicates a relationship to such an organisation in order to use their psychic powers – “Noble Space Knight”, or “Fallen Space Knight”, for instance. Likewise, in a game of superheroes, Concept might indicate the kinds of powers each character has: Cocky Flame-Generator, Amazonian Warrior Princess, Surly Regenerating Warrior, Fastest Man Alive, Patriotic Super-Soldier, Billionaire Vigilante or Jovial Thunder God might be examples of such Concepts.
Like other Concepts, these define details about who the character is and who or what they know and can do. A Noble Space Knight is going to have a very different role in the setting to the Fallen Space Knight; a Flame-Generating hero can probably do all kinds of amazing fire-based tricks; and a Billionaire Vigilante will have immense wealth and other resources to call upon. It will be up to all players to come to an agreement on whether someone can have access to amazing powers if their Concept does not include a reference to them.
Changing Concept in Play [to go in advancement section]
Most of the time, when a character changes and develops due to their experiences and adventures, their descriptors will change or they will gain new descriptors. Sometimes, though, the change will be significant enough to alter the character’s actual Concept. This should be an important moment in the character’s development, as it represents not just a change in occupation or role, but also a change in the way others see them and the way they perceive themselves.
Players should discuss this change with the Narrator and decide whether a change should be reflected through descriptors or through the alteration of the character’s Concept. If an “Arrogant High Mage of the Winds” turns against their former order then the change might best be served with a descriptor such as “Hunted by the Order of Wind Mages”. Unless losing their position will also result in the loss of their magic powers, there is probably little reason to change the Concept. Perhaps they might lose the “High” part of the Concept. If, however, over the course of time the character learns humility and becomes more compassionate towards others, then it might be appropriate to remove or change the “Arrogant” part of their Concept.