“So, I’m playing Eddard Stark of Winterfell. He cares about justice and all that shit so he’s Lawful Good.”
Would he lie that Joffrey is the true king – selling out the memory of his best friend – to save his innocent daughter?
“Hmm … that depends. After she’s dead, could I get a Revenge feat to boost his damage bonus when fighting Lannisters to avenge her? I’ll call it For Sansa!“
In lots of role-playing games, role is a package of skills and character is just the color of the box these skills come in. FATE Core focuses on character first, skills are simply the tools they use.
Step one of Character Creation is actually Setting Creation cause it gives context. Someone could truthfully say Game of Thrones is medieval political intrigue with a few fantasy notes. They could also call Star Wars a coming-of-age sci-fi faerie tale – but these are the descriptions of an uncreative nerf-herder.
Descriptions make a world, threats make a story and Aspects express Descriptive Threats. Remember how Aspects work? They’re so important I bold AND italics them!
What details define the character of Westeros? What disturbing issues are at the core of the saga? Everyone playing brainstorms and discusses these answers until agreed upon by the group. Once listed, combine the descriptions with the threats, shorten them and give them a punch:
- Competing Families bonded by Lies, Gold and Sex,
- The Cuckold King is as Lusty as he is Stupid,
- The Dragon’s Children struggle in the Savage East,
- Cold Horrors stalk the Forgotten North,
- Winter is Coming … With Death for All.
THAT sounds like a Song of Fire and Ice! Compel any of those and you have a novel-length adventure scenario, or just a scene:
“Your new husband is a from the Savage East, and it is your wedding night. This goes wrong when …
Now the players decide what kind of characters they want to create in a world like this.
FATE Core players characters (PCs) have five starting Aspects that dramatically flesh out what’s unique and important about them. These are categorized as High Concept, Trouble and the three of the Phase Trio (one to describe your coming of age and two to define relations with other PCs). I want to customize these for the feel of GoT as I explain them.
The first Aspect is the High Concept, its a bite sized summary of who the character is. What immediately makes them unique? When they first meet Arya, what’s the first thing she’ll rudely ask about? I love the idea but don’t like the term “High Concept” for this game. Any piece of art has a high concept.
I think of this central defining Aspect as a kind of “Character Portrait”, but it’s more than what they look like – its also their actions. I prefer the term Portrayal cause its the action of displaying who a character is.
To determine Ned Stark’s Portrayal, lets look at how he relates to the setting.
Competing Families bonded by Lies, Gold and Sex,
- His own family is pretty nice and his vassals respect him. He’s got a bastard son his wife hates but Ned cares for Jon like his legit kids. Even Theon is well treated, and he’s an enemies son.
The Cuckold King is as Lusty as Stupid,
- Eddard is a Stark 😉 contrast to Robert Baratheon. Disciplined, serious and faithful.
The Dragon’s Blood struggle in the Savage East,
- He’s glad the Mad King is dead – Aerys murdered his father and brother – but the dishonorable means bothers him. The killing of innocent Targaryen children disgusts and saddens this lord.
Cold Horrors stalk the Forgotten North,
- Ned has respect for Knights Watch, especially cause Wildlings raid his lands. He wants to take Benjen’s warnings seriously but there’s other priorities at hand.
Winter is Coming … With Death
- “Winter is Coming” reminds the lord that preparing for the worst is what’s most important. There’s no room for pettiness and conniving. The cold doesn’t care how rich you are.
Lets shave down each of these five observations to their core points:
- Kind & just
Let’s mix these into a statement that captures the Truth of Ned: A Grounded and Good Man of Honor Who’s Serious enough to Know what’s Important.
Accurate but a bit long. Let’s cut out the redundant: An Honorable Lord who’s Grounded and Focused.
Tight, but kind of dry. Its impersonal too, more like an outsiders point of view. To capture the character we should get into his voice. Show who Ned is, don’t tell who he is. Take out saying “serious” and “focused” – instead, focus on making it serious:
This Aspect can be Invoked to help Impress upon his grieving wife that he MUST leave to protect King Robert as his Hand.
It allows a single FATE point to declare a new story detail like Tywin Lannister must Answer for the Mountain’s Atrocities.
The Portrayal can be compelled to have him choose to warn the Queen of Robert’s wrath to save her children.
Speaking of which, the next character Aspect is Trouble. FATE Trouble can be external or internal, but in GoT it should be something internal because its more dramatic. I prefer the more active alternative, Struggle.
This is a deep personal issue they seemingly can’t separate themselves from. The Portrayal gives us a foundation to launch from. A Struggle can come from a problem the character has because of their Portrayal. What are the ramifications of An Honorable lord Must Focus on what’s Right?
What the fuck is “right”? Ned is the lord of the entire north. He’s gotta reign in these Viking farmers. Sometimes he has to cut off heads, personally.
He’s a father to six kids: a pretty boy, a depressed bastard, a slow-witted prom queen, a tomboy assassin, a wall-crawling peeping tom and the pirate foster kid.
In his off time, he’s a caring husband trying to make up for the sullen dark-haired oopsie he had 17 years ago.
Oh! I forgot Rickon – like everybody else does. There you go!
That fits. Just ask Bran, once he wakes up from a coma without a Dad. Ask Sansa when he betroths her to Prince Bitchy Sadist, first of his name.
Now that we have the core duality of the character represented, FATE moves to the Phase Trio of Aspects. One describes your coming of age and two define relations with other PCs.
I want to stick to the general framework of the Phase Trio but spice it up for GoT. Because the sword is such a symbol of the genre, we’ll make the character’s origin story emulate the forging of a sword. I’ll collectively call these three the Forging.
First is the Family Formed. It represents the substance that a character comes from based on his family, or lack thereof. Eddard is a Stark who have the blood of the First Men, worship the Old gods of the north and are hard and vigilant. Aspect: Hard as Ice & Steely like a Dire Wolf . (Don’t feel the need to use metallic metaphors, I’m a hacky writer)
Tyrion’s Aspect for this phase might be The Lowest Lannister is Still a Lannister.
Come at Me, You’re Dead would fit Bronn’s mysteriously awful childhood – he did kill a woman at 12!
Next is the Tempering Hardship. This comes from a tragedy that happened early in the characters life.
Ned’s father and brother were burned to death when they demanded his abducted sister (who later died) be returned by the Mad King. Yeah … that’s a tragedy. It led to him joining Robert’s Rebellion.
Stark and Baratheon were long time friends but this was the darkest point in young Eddard’s life. Aspect: Killing Corruption saves the Innocent.
Mix up ideas with another player to determine a hardship you went through. If your group has an odd number then bring in another player too. This is also when your characters bonded. Maybe the PCs helped each other through it. The other players involved draw their own Aspect from this shared experience.
Robert’s player chooses Love Died with Lyanna.
The last phase is the Sharpened Wisdom. This is a piece of insight that guides the character. If Portrayal is what they present themselves to be, this Wisdom is how they approach problems.
Being from the distant north, Ned is a kind of a wild card. Unlike the vain lords of the south, he isn’t proud or flashy. His player explains this to another player he hasn’t collaborated with before to derive the final Aspect. The other PC could have given him this idea, as Ned could have demonstrated another lesson to them.
Jaime Lannister’s player looks over Ned’s character sheet and decides he could use just a little guile – which Jamie showed when he killed the king he swore to defend. He suggests Stark choose the Aspect: Never let’em Know What You can Do.
Even though he ended the Mad King’s reign , and saved the people of King’s Landing from being burned alive, Jaime is a villain and Eddard is a hero of the realm?! He learns from this hypocrisy. Lannister’s Sharpened Wisdom is Reputation makes the Best Armor.
We have the Aspects that define a player character. By considering the character’s place in the setting, and relation to other important characters, we come up with something way richer than Lawful Good:
Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North, Hand of the King
- Portrayal: An Honorable lord Must Focus on what’s Right.
- Struggle: A Lord’s Duties Neglect Family
- Family Formed: Hard as Ice & Steely like a Dire Wolf
- Tempering Hardship: Killing Corruption saves the Innocent
- Sharpened Wisdom: Never let’em Know What You can Do
Now that we know who we’re playing, we know what skills to give him. Some Fighting, tons of Disapproval, good Discipline, NO Aware at all; and yes, you can take the Rage feat For Sansa! but Robb will have to inherit it.