Monday, April 14, 2014

Bulldogs! Review Pt 2a- Crew Creation

One of the changes from typical FATE games that really grabbed me when reading the Bulldogs! core rulebook is the chapter on Crew Creation. Specifically, the fact that the chapter is titled Crew Creation and not Character Creation. Its not semantics - the process starts top down, with characters emerging at the end, and it really helps sell the flavor of the setting.

Now THIS is a Bulldogs! crew! I'm requiring at least one of my players to have their character roll up their pants leg.
First up - the players create a ship that serves as their home base. If there were a High Concept aspect for Bulldogs!, it would read thusly:

TransGalaxy, an interstellar shipping company, runs a cargo operation they call Class D Freight. The company buys cheap ships, crews them with anyone who applies, and insures the hell out of them. These ships run high-risk cargo—hazardous or volatile materials, deliveries to hot zones or hostile planets, etc. The idea is to make good money on the deliveries that actually arrive, and to collect insurance on those that fail. The crews of these Class D ships are nicknamed “bulldogs” because of the Class D Freight logo. Class D crews also have a reputation for not letting go once they've got hold of a job.

Simple and wonderfully evocative! 

Again, its the players who are creating the ship, not the GM. I'd imagine that in many games the GM would create the ship and captain in advance. The fact that the writers explicitly state that the players generate this content makes me giddy. The players assign three aspects to the ship: Concept, Problem, and Strength. I would have liked to see some text in this section referring to the actual mechanics of ship creation, a section later in the book though. In that chapter, sidebars do a bang-up job of walking you though the process of building the starting ship, but I think I'll talk about that a bit more in a later ship rules review.

A Class D Freighter - art by Dan D.
Next up, the players create the captain of the ship. This person calls the shots, and while perhaps not overtly resented by the crew, certainly makes things difficult. The captain also has three aspects: Concept, Trouble, and Leadership. Essentially, this spells out how this person came to have this crappy job, how this person makes life difficult for the crew, and his/her leadership style. While the designers speak about allowing one of the players to be the captain, the recommend this person as an NPC, which, in my opinion, is the best approach. Structurally, the captain can serve as the 'mission-generator', can work as a limit on funds, and can serve as a complication for the players whenever necessary. While no detail is provide here in regards to the captain as a mechanically functional character, Galileo Games has a free download of sample characters here, in which the captain is a fully fleshed-out character.

By this point, the players should have a whole lot of flavor and narrative to inform the characters they wish to create. The players then decide what power level they want the game to have, from barely able to breathe at Fresh Meat, to John Matrix levels of power at Serious Badass. This determines the starting refresh, skill-cap, and skill points available.

Finally, its time to make characters! This follows the standard FATE format in most ways, though the Phase 1-3 steps from FATE core are bypassed here. This even has an in-game explanation, as the PCs are from different walks of life, ending up as bulldogs in a myriad of ways. After choosing a species (which I go into here), there are ten aspects the players craft:

Heritage (2): You can select two aspects from your species list, or make up others to reflect your upbringing.
Homeworld: This can be where you are from or how you grew up.
Personal Strength: What does your character do well?
Personal Weakness: You know your character is a fuckup somehow.
Associates: This represents the people in your past - are you running from them? Resourceful contacts?
Desperate Situation: Nobody chooses to be a bulldog; life forces it upon you. How did life screw you over?
Job: This is what you do on the ship - how you fit into the rag-tag team.
Shipmates: Like the Phase 1-3 aspects, here you represent some connection to the other characters.
Captain: &*#@! captain! This aspect describes your 'unique' relationship with said authority figure.

The authors do an outstanding job providing examples of these aspects, as well as suggesting how they can they can be invoked and compelled. For example, I love this Personal Strength aspect:

“Keys? Who needs keys?”
Invoke: you can get things started without keys, “Just attach this, plug this in, tap here, and…voila!”
Compel: when you do need keys, “You forgot the keys again, didn't you.”

Suggested skill trees are then provided for each of the power levels you selected previously, catered to a thematic distribution, to create characters who specialize in only one skill, maybe have two at their peak, or are really good at loads of skills, not not outstanding at any.

With whatever refresh is left over after assigning your species abilities, you may then use this to purchase stunts. There are many suggested stunts in the book; some unique, some widely-used FATE stunts re-flavored. The writers recommend players create their own stunts to match their characters, and provide guidelines about how to do so.

The last step I would expect to see in this process, outfitting your characters with starting gear, does not make an appearance in this chapter. While I would have liked to have seen that here, its detailed later on, in the section describing how to buy and trade things. This process is rather open-ended and narratively flexible, allowing characters the chance to start the game with more than just a beat-up blaster pistol and some worn Kevlar.

In summary, the presentation of the character creation process as an end-result of world-building, while certainly not a novel concept these days, is done very elegantly. Well-thought out examples of fictional players doing the same are interspersed throughout the process, and plenty of colorful examples of aspects go a long way towards stirring a player's imagination. 

Next time, I'll share the gonzo approach my players took in setting up our upcoming game. SPOILER ALERT (highlight text to read): My players are insane.