System: Spirit of the Century / Fate 3.0 (www.evilhat.com/?spirit or www.faterpg.com)
Hack Type: Genre Mod / Alternate Mechanics
One of the things that comes up a lot on the Fate Yahoo group is how to handle the phases of Fate character creation differently than Spirit of the Century does, either because someone wants to use the system for a different genre and requires different baseline assumptions, or because they're not fond of lifepath-type constructs, or whatever. So I've had one method in my head for a while, mainly coming from jealousy at Primetime Adventures, in the way that you can go ground-up from concept to play in a single session, or sooner if you have the time.
In this method, as opposed to centering the phases around events in your character's life, you center them around the different "categories" of aspects that are in the Spirit of the Century rulebook. To briefly summarize, they are:
* Phrase - Delineates something significant or unique about the character, be it a personality trait, inherent trait, belief or conviction, behavior, social/professional status, whatever. In this post, I'm going to rename that category description, because that's what those aspects primarily do. ("Strong as an Ox", "Follows the Pirate's Code", "Wealthy Beyond Avarice")
* Person/Prop - Delineates an important connection of the character, be it to another NPC, another PC, an organization or cause, a special or sentimental piece of equipment... some entity outside of the character, in the game's setting. I'm going to condense these also, and call them connection aspects, because that's what they do. ("My Sick Mother", "Excalibur", "The King's Ear")
* Story - Suggests a source for stories involving that character, and usually are synonymous with connections, but not always. These are the primary tools the GM uses for coming up with scenario material. Can be very similar to Issues from Primetime Adventures. ("Hunted by the Mob", "My Lost Sister", "Fated to Confront Ultimate Evil")
* Situation - Suggests a source for scenes involving that character, and are usually synonymous with descriptions, but not always. You can look at the difference between story and situation aspects as the difference between "why" and "what" in terms of your adventure - situation is what's happening, story is why it's happening. ("Nick of Time", "Brunt of a Joke", "Unlucky in Love")
Keep in mind that these aren't hard and fast categories, and it is very likely that you'll get overlap. "Top FBI Agent" is both a description and a connection, and immediately suggests situation as well. The main reason the categories exist is to break mental blocks and ensure a variety of useful stuff for player and GM on each character.
So, with those in mind, the actual method is pretty simple - each phase involves answering a question about the character, and those answers translate to aspects. So, once you have a strong concept idea in mind, you go over one of the following questions:
* What is the most important stuff we need to know about this character? (Description)
* What connections does the character have - who and what is important to them? (Connection)
* What is the most significant stuff the character is dealing with right now? (Story - remember I said similar to PTA's Issues? There it is.)
* What kind of stuff do you see happening to this character most often? (Situation)
You can do this like in SotC, where each question is a phase and you go round-robin and get input from each player, or you can lay out the four questions in a sort of open forum, letting the players tackle each in whatever order helps inspire ideas the best. As always, much discussion between players and GM is encouraged. Also, in terms of total number of aspects, I'd refrain from assigning a set number you need to come up with per question, and instead just pick a total number you need and mandate that you need at least one for each question. So if you want to do a six aspect game, four are used to answer the four questions, and the last two can put more detail on any one or two questions you want. I'd also refrain from forcing people to have the total number of aspects set before play starts - it's way better to leave a few spaces blank than to have aspects that don't grab you immediately.
For connecting to other PCs, like in SotC's "guest star" phases, you can do it in one of two ways: have a custom fifth question, something like, "How do you know X?" or, just encourage cross-linking when you're answering some of the other questions.
So, let's run through an example of how this might be done. Suppose we're in a Fate game that is a fantasy romp, about a group of co-conspirators who are ferretting out secret corruption in their home nation. The GM decides that 7 aspects is a good number. Tammy thinks of a character, a princess named Ilaria who hates the royal life and often slums it in the disguise of a Robin Hood type named Cutter. Basically, Zorro with a fantasy twist. So, Tammy goes about answering the questions, and comes up with the following:
Description - She goes with "A Princess by Day" as a description aspect, as well as "Cutter, Hero of the People". These aspects provide a lot of compel potential as her dual identities pull her in different directions.
Connection - She decides her most important connection is her father, whom she worries is part of the corruption plaguing the nation. Taking a suggestion from another player, she makes this character "Duke Raster", who is also on the character sheet of Grog, a big dumb mercenary being played by someone else. That also connects them through mutual association.
Story - Tammy decides that one of the biggest problems facing her character is that she's unsure whether or not she's really fit for her life as the princess, and has a hard time grappling with conflicting obligations there. She decides that she needs "Am I Fit to Rule?" as an aspect - she tends to be less arrogant and more open-minded than other nobles, but she also suffers from indecision at critical moments.
Situation - Tammy says she sees Ilaria doing a lot of sneaky espionage-type stuff both in investigating stuff at court and as Cutter when doing scoundrel stuff. She also thinks that Ilaria would find herself in a lot of comedic "fish out of water" moments in formal court ceremonies like galas and whatnot. She goes with, "Your Title Means Nothing to Me" and "A Fly on the Wall" as her two aspects - basically, she can be confident and sneaky, but sometimes she's a little *too* boorish or *too* curious for her own good.
So, now she has six aspects, and needs to fill in one more. She's already got a lot of story potential coming out the gate, though - setting up conflicts of interest between her royal and popular obligations, having her father do controversial stuff, forcing intense responsibility into her hands, having her need to slog through keeping up appearances in pursuit of a goal, etc. She decides she needs another connection, and says that she's in a tentative alliance with Raster's head sheriff, because he discovered her secret identity. She names him Bothun, and calls the aspect, "Sheriff Bothun Knows My Secret". The GM giggles and adds a note to puzzle out the Sheriff's motives along with her other stuff.
The cool part about this approach is that it focuses on providing stuff you can use in play immediately - the GM will definitely get a whole campaign out of all the story aspects that come up, at the very least. Taken as part of a ground-up approach, where you get together and brainstorm what the campaign's going to be about, make the characters, and then the GM starts cooking stuff up with the story/situation aspects, it allows you some of that awesome PTA-style magic, and adapts to nearly any genre or game setup.