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D&D General Session 0 Character Prologues (FATE Style)

BookTenTiger

He / Him
When I played the Dresden Files RPG (which is powered by FATE), we came up with some of our unique traits by telling stories about our characters. Other characters could get involved, too. I loved this, and I thought it would fun to create a system that would start new characters with some Boons or Banes based on prologues they tell about their characters.

I'm also thinking of putting this together into something I could put for free on DMsguild or other sites, so any feedback is welcome!

Here's how this would work:

1) Introduce a Problem

During Session 0, or whenever a new character is introduced, the player tells a brief story about their character, focusing on something that took place in the past. This story should introduce a problem the character faced.

This could be a small problem, such as a conflict with a family member or neighbor, or a dire problem, such as a fight with a monster or escaping a cataclysm. The problem should end on something of a cliffhanger, without resolution. Here are some examples:

“Our village was being attacked by a band of orcs. I grabbed my father’s sword and ran out to fight…”

“I knew of a wizard’s tower full of strange magical items. One night I tried to break in and steal what I could…”

“My brother had become lost in the Wolf Woods. I went in to find him…”


2) Secondary Character

Another player steps in and describes how their character helped.

Maybe they already knew the first character? Maybe this is the story of how they met? The second character shouldn’t solve the problem, but they can describe how their particular skills, ability, and knowledge would help. For example:

“You see a fiery explosion from the tavern, and two orcs go flying out the window. Barnabus, town drunkard and powerful wizard, steps through the broken pane of glass, a wand in one hand and a full tankard in the other. He burps, then says, ‘Let’s run these orcs out of town!’”

“When you snuck in through a previously locked door, you found a dwarf prisoner chained to the wall. She offers to help you sack the tower, if you free her.”

“In the woods you come upon Dunzen, an elf priest, who is setting up an altar to Sehaine Moonbow. After you describe your missing brother, he offers to use his keen sight and hearing to help you.”


The second player then rolls a d20 to see what effect they had on the story:

Secondary Character Results
1-9
: I attracted more trouble! (Bonus Bane die.)
10-19: I improved fortunes! (Bonus Boon die.)
20: I increased chaos! (Bonus Bane and bonus Boon die.)

3. Prologue Conclusion

The first rolls a d20 to find out how successful they were at solving their problem:

Prologue Results
1-6
: Failure or a Great Cost; roll once for a Bane, and once for a Boon.
7-14: Success at a Cost; roll twice for a Bane and choose one, then roll once for a Boon.
15-20: Success; roll twice for a Bane, and twice for a Boon, then choose one of each.

The first player will then roll on the Banes and Boons Tables (below), rolling between one and three times on each table depending on the results of their Prologue Results roll and the Secondary Character Results roll. No matter what, the character only chooses one Bane and one Boon out of any they rolled.

The player then tells the conclusion of their prologue story, describing how the problem resolved in success, failure, or success with a cost.

Bane
  1. Start the game with counterfeit or foreign coins that can only be used with a successful Charisma (Deception) check.
  2. Start the game with one important item broken.
  3. You have a perceivable scar as a consequence of your failure.
  4. One item you own is now cursed; when wielding or wearing it, subtract 1 from all Saving Throws.
  5. A loved one, or close ally of yours, dies.
  6. You start the game with a bad reputation; for those aware of your reputation, you suffer Disadvantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks. Depending on this reputation, you might gain advantage on Charisma (Intimidation) or Wisdom (Insight) checks.
  7. You start the game sick. You suffer -1 to all Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution Saving Throws. During a long rest, you may make a Death Saving Throw. After three successes, you are no longer sick.
  8. You start the game injured. You suffer -10 ft. to your walking speed. During a long rest, you may make a Death Saving Throw. After three successes, you are no longer injured.
  9. You start the game with a strange magical aura. Though it is not perceivable to normal vision, it shows up to those who can sense magic, as through a Detect Magic Spell. This makes you a target to those who seek magical power.
  10. You start the game with an eyepatch or eye infection. You suffer disadvantage on all Intelligence (Investigation) and Wisdom (Perception) checks using sight. During a long rest, you may make a Death Saving Throw. After three successes, you regain sight and no longer suffer disadvantage.
  11. You owe a debt to someone important; this debt will grow over time, and you may find yourself targeted by those who work for your debtor.
  12. You lose a part of a finger, a tooth, a toe, a bit of an ear, or some other small body part; this has no negative mechanical effect, but serves as a constant reminder of a harrowing event.
  13. Animals feel nervous around you. Dogs growl and cats hiss when they first see you; horses shudder at your touch.
  14. You start the game with an injury or illness that effects your voice. Subtract 1d4 whenever you make an ability check related to speech. During a long rest, you may make a Death Saving Throw. After three successes, you regain your voice.
  15. You have become sensitive to acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage. Whenever you take damage from that energy source, you receive one more point of damage.
  16. You start the game with an old injury that aches during rainstorms. You gain advantage on Wisdom (Survival) checks made to predict rain. When in rainy weather, when you take the Dash Action you take 1d4 psychic damage from the pain.
  17. You suffer from terrible nightmares. Anyone attempting to sleep within 20 feet of you must succeed at a Constitution Saving Throw DC 10 or be awoken, due to your unconscious mutterings, gasps, and screams. A creature does not have to make this check if they are sleeping in another room beyond a closed door.
  18. You start the game reliant on the regular consumption of a specific food or drink. As long as your character consumes this item each day, there are no negative effects. For every 24 hours that elapse without consuming this item, your character’s Maximum Hit Points drop by 1, to a minimum of 1 Hit Point. During a Long Rest, you may make a Death Saving Throw. After three successes, your character loses the negative effects of this Bane.
  19. You have become sensitive to force, necrotic, radiant or psychic damage. Whenever you take damage from that energy source, you receive one more point of damage.
  20. Your character died, but was returned to life by a cleric or druid to whose god or gods you now owe a debt. To repay this debt, your character must sacrifice one magic item of rare value, two uncommon magic items, or three magic items of common value. These cannot be consumable items. Until this sacrifice is made, your character cannot be returned from the dead.

Boon
  1. You gain a pet.
  2. You gain a great friend or ally in an important place.
  3. You start the game with a common magic item.
  4. You start the game with a number of temporary hit points equal to your maximum hit points at 1st Level.
  5. You start the game with 100 gold pieces.
  6. You gain proficiency in one of the following skills: Arcana, History, or Nature.
  7. You gain proficiency in a new language.
  8. You gain proficiency in one set of artisan’s tools, a gaming set, an instrument, or vehicles.
  9. You gain a title.
  10. You start the game owning some property.
  11. You start the game with a non-combat mount, such as a riding horse, mastiff, or camel.
  12. You start the game with one masterwork item; when using it to make an ability check, you gain Advantage.
  13. You start the game with a positive reputation. When interacting with people who know your reputation, you gain advantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks.
  14. You start the game with a blessing. Add 1 to all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma Saving Throws. During each Long Rest, make a Death Saving Throw. After three failures, this blessing goes away.
  15. You start the game with a set of fine clothes, an hourglass, or a magnifying glass.
  16. You start the game with a loyal servant. They do not go into battle for you, but they will be masterful at one of the following: setting up camp, maintaining gear, cooking, taking care of your mount or animals, telling stories, playing music, keeping a journal and maps, impressions, or another similar skill.
  17. You start the game with a letter of introduction from an influential NPC.
  18. You start the game with a cart, a rowboat, or a sled.
  19. You learn one of the following cantrips: Druidcraft, Prestidigitation, or Thaumaturgy.
  20. You learn one of the following cantrips: Control Flame, Mold Earth, or Shape Water.

EXAMPLE:

Iron Tom is a Halfling Paladin with the Knight background, who rides around with a pack of trained dogs.

1. Introduce a Problem: One day Iron Tom was on patrol when he saw a Hill Giant heading towards a halfling village. He rounded up his pack of dogs to intercede, knowing he was facing a problem (literally) too big for him to handle alone.

2. Secondary Character: A player with a Half-Orc Druid Hermit named Typha is invited to enter the scene... As Iron Tom nears the Hill Giant, he is joined by other swamp creatures swarming by his side. He recognizes the work of Typha, the local water witch, and together they try to turn the Hill Giant from his path.

Typha rolls on Secondary Character Results and gets... a Natural 1! Uh oh! She attracts more trouble!

3. Conclude Prologue: Iron Tom rolls on the Prologue Results table and gets... a 13! He has Success with a Cost. He will roll three times for Banes (once for Typha's roll, twice for his own), choosing one, then roll once on Boons.

For Banes he rolls a 7, 10, and 17. He chooses: "You start the game sick. You suffer -1 to all Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution Saving Throws. During a long rest, you may make a Death Saving Throw. After three successes, you are no longer sick."

For Boons he rolls a 17. He gets: "You start the game with a letter of introduction from an influential NPC."

Iron Tom's player then narrates the rest of the scene (taking suggestions from Typha and other players). Iron Tom and Typha manage to stop the Hill Giant's path, swarming him with dogs and other creatures. Unfortunately, this just enrages the Hill Giant, who starts picking up huge fieldstones and hurling them at the nearby town. When there are no more rocks within reach, the Hill Giant chooses to leave rather than face this hoard of beasts. Iron Tom manages to save most of the town, despite a few knocked down buildings. He is given a letter of introduction from the master of a powerful Halfling Merchant's Guild! However, surrounded by animals and mud and a Hill Giant, he did catch a nasty flu and will start the game sick.
 

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Aldarc

Legend
Great ideas. You may also wanna check out the Cypher System for another way to approach this. A character is composed of a Descriptor, a Type, and a Focus. Each one of these elements asks the player to make or roll for a hook/connection to the other PCs (or NPCs, if more appropriate). One could do something similar using Race, Class, and Background.
 

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