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[SotC/Fate] Setting via character aspects...

System: Spirit of the Century / Fate v3 (http://www.evilhat.com/?spirit)
Hack Type: Setting Hack / Advice

I've been lucky enough to have the time recently to respond to a lot of SotC-related posts on the Yahoo group and on forums, and I've been sort of on this kick of bantering about cool tricks you can do with the system.

Here's one of them.

In most good fiction, you learn about the features of a setting because of the way in which one of the protagonists is connected to that feature - the whole backstory of Sauron and the Rings of Power is pretty much meaningless until Frodo has to go destroy one of them. That's why it doesn't show up in The Hobbit. In the Dresden Files novels, the White Council is mainly there to be a pain in Harry's ass.

You can use this to your advantage in Fate by allowing the characters' aspects to act as a fulcrum for establishing world details.

Let's look at a character from one of my earlier posts, the Princess Ilaria. She's a fantasy version of Zorro, basically a noble who goes out by night as a champion for the peasants, torn between responsibilities in both worlds. Her aspects are:

A Princess by Day
Cutter, Hero of the People
Duke Raster
(her father)
Am I Fit to Rule?
A Fly on the Wall
Your Title Means Nothing to Me
Sheriff Bothun Knows My Secret

So, suppose the GM actually only came to character creation with very sketchy notes, and really knows nothing about the nation that Ilaria comes from. He looks at her aspects, and decides on the following:

* It's mainly a city-state with very small land holdings despite its wealth (probably from a good central position for trade among the different nations on the continent), making it plausible for Cutter to have a kingdom-wide reputation.

* The laws of the kingdom are probably rather draconian and written to heavily privilege the nobility. There is very little justice for the common man or woman. Protection from the city guard is minimal at best, and its ranks are mostly filled with badly trained dullards and thugs, such that Cutter's only barely considered a vigilante in any sense. The Royal Guard, however, is a huge contrast - fearsome and deadly to a man, existing primarily to protect the nobility and shield them from bad stuff.

* Because of this, there is an undercurrent of very deep dissatisfaction and anger among the peasantry, which could perhaps be turning into organized rebellion despite the general public's fear of the Royal Guard. If such a group forms one day, they may expect Cutter to lead them.

* By now, nobility is more a matter of money than heritage - the merchant class has come to dominate it, making a lot of meaningless, honorary titles that nevertheless cause their bearers to act with a great sense of entitlement. These people have turned the court into little more than organized debauchery, playing at politics only as a game. The hereditary nobles who are left generally despise them, and there is a heavy rivalry between them. Duke Raster, the current ruler, is a hereditary noble, but prefers to spend his energy on keeping the conflicting parties balanced than taking any proactive steps himself. No one knows if this is because of some agenda he has, or if he's simply paralyzed by the state of things.

* Things weren't always like this, and many remember a time when the kingdom was generally more fair and more noble. No one is precisely sure where it all started to go wrong, and this is something to explore during the campaign.

* Many members of the city and Royal guard units, caught between the peasants and the nobles much like the Princess is, are deeply conflicted about the state of things, but feel that doing their duty is the most important thing, and so they tend to grin and bear it. Sheriff Bothun is the personification of this, and it's the main reason why he hasn't turned the Princess in yet - he sees her as an opportunity to do some good without technically breaking any of his vows.

And there you have it - all of these details are things that come out of exploring the context behind all of Ilaria's aspects. I could easily have gone a bunch of different ways with it, like having the vigilante thing be a bigger deal, have the guard actively hunting for her all the time, and have Sheriff Bothun's motives be a big "but why?" in the face of that. But the point is, all this stuff I've made up is stuff I can use directly to interact with Ilaria, and so none of it is just color.

If you do this with all the PCs' aspects, you'll find yourself with a lot of setting detail, very suddenly - a huge playground of interconnected awesome for you and your group. Try it.

Comments

Hm... as an illustrative example, I think it needs a little more work, drawing explicit/direct connections between Aspect X and Setting Detail Y. I didn't always see the direct connections that you did, so I end up feeling like there's missing "behind the curtain" bits.
I feel you. To be honest, not all the connections *are* explicit - most are, but then those thoughts inspired other thoughts. I'm reluctant to revise the entry too much, because that would go against my "no protracted effort" clause, but here's a list of the explicit stuff that came out of each aspect:

[A Princess by Day] - none

[Cutter, Hero of the People] - I decided that Cutter had to be known across the kingdom, but realized that practically speaking, her range of motion was very limited. So I decided the kingdom was actually a city-state. I also had to figure out how she was able to get away with doing this crap, so I invented the unjust laws and lax guard.

[Duke Raster] - I knew I had to explain what the deal was with this guy, and I decided that it had to be a classic figurehead ruler type of situation - what he's mainly good for is maintaining the status quo. What status quo is that, though? Hadn't figured that out yet.

[Am I Fit to Rule?] - almost none, except the footnote that the kingdom was once a nobler place than it is now... I figure, part of Ilaria's issue is that she's trying to figure out what kind of kingdom she wants, so I wanted that vague note as a point of contrast.

[A Fly on the Wall] and [Your Title Means Nothing to Me] - It felt to me like I had an obligation to provide a royal court full of politicking and intrigue. And I thought about how to do that, and it occurred to me that maybe a lot of the noble titles really were trumped up, meaningless honorariums, so not just insignificant in Ilaria's perception. And that gave me the idea for having merchants who literally bought their way into the nobility, making the "real" nobility their natural enemy.

[Sheriff Bothun Knows My Secret] - I'd already made up the facts about the city guard, but I didn't want to characterize Bothun in that way, because I didn't feel it was interesting enough for a major NPC. So I introduced an exception to the rule that he could represent, and that's where I came up with the small contingent of people in the guard who are gritting their teeth through what they know is a bad scene.

All the other stuff derived off of the explicit connections above, like as soon as I knew there was little justice for the common man, I knew there had to potentially be rebellion in the works, and it tied back around to Ilaria's conflicting obligations nicely. In a way, I guess you could say it's an explicit "reading between the lines" of those two conflicting aspects, but I think that's stretching it a bit far - the cognitive process had nothing to do with that.
My concern is that this isn't really a repeatable method without those direct connections. If it can't be demonstrated, it can't be taught, dig? :)
Well, hence the reply. Hopefully, most everyone will go ahead and take a look at the comments, too.
Yep. Just keeping an eye on your future dominance of the v3 Core draft, dude. :)

December 2010

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