After running nearly two dozen campaigns as a gamemaster, I kept bumping into a recurring issue: vague and useless values.
Without strong, clear, and opposable values, it was really hard to grant determination when players claimed to challenge them.
Do you want to have values that matter? Then read this carefully. To begin with, let’s remind ourselves about values.
Remember, the Core Rulebook p.87 says, “However, Values can also hinder a character’s judgement, make them biased, blind them to possibilities, or otherwise impair their ability to confront a situation effectively. Nobody is immune to their own preconceptions, as much as they might wish to believe otherwise. If the character is in a situation where one of their Values would make the situation more complicated or more difficult, the Gamemaster may offer the Player one Determination in exchange for suffering a Complication: this may take the form of a course of action, or a decision not to act, but any kind of Complication is suitable so long as it fits the circumstances. The Player can choose not to accept this offer — and Players can choose to suggest situations where their character might face this Complication — but if they accept the Complication, then the setback occurs, without any ability to avoid it. The Gamemaster is the final arbiter of this, but Complications from Values should only ever happen if both Gamemaster and Player agree.”
For example, I had a player with a character whose value was “No stranger to violence”. Weeeeaaaaaakkk! I feel that value left too much open to interpretation. Did the character engage in violence? Did they witness the violence? Were they good at fighting in the holodeck? Not much to challenge as a value. Too wide open.
So, I made my Player refine and update their value. They ended up with “If pushed, I may kill”. Now we’re talking! This is something that I as the gamemaster can use to create plots that force them to confront their past, challenge a directive, or create conflict with other characters. It can also make for great flashback stories, which my group seems to love to delve into from time to time.
One more example, a Player had the value of “First through the door”. We worked to update it. It ended up as “First through the door, no matter what my CO says”. This allows the Player to create a backstory wherein the original value came to be. And, boy, will it cause a kerfuffle when they disobey the captain’s orders.
So, how can you make sure your character has values that give the gamemaster amazing plots from which to pull? Let me introduce a 4 part process:
- Don’t be a Wimp
- Create Conflict
- Own Your Past
- When the Value is Weak-Ass, Change it
1. Don’t be a Wimp
When creating your initial Values, go hard. For instance, don’t select “I get angry when I see injustice”. Go for “Injustice? Punch first, ask questions later”. Or instead of “Insanely interested by technology” how about “I block out everyone else when I spot new technology”.
Give the gamemaster something to work with, people! Think about it! What Star Trek episodes are your favorite? When we found out Spock had a wife! When we found out Worf had a kid! When we had Maquis mashed with Starfleet officers on Voyager. That makes for great stories, not some pansy values.
(Yeah, I said “pansy”. What of it? I’m doing what #2 emphasizes.)
2. Create Conflict
Screw being politically correct, you Federation lapdog! When push comes to shove, create conflict! Remember, “Values can also hinder a character’s judgement, make them biased, blind them to possibilities, or otherwise impair their ability to confront a situation effectively.”
Didn’t we love it when Kirk manned up and challenged Spock to a duel to win the green-blooded Vulcan’s wife? Or how about every other episode when Seven of Nine would commandeer Voyager to “help”? And don’t even get me started on how much science officer Michael Burnham annoys me with her antics. (That deserves an entirely different blogpost.)
Do the same with your characters!
Now that you no longer have wimpy values, puff out your chest and tell the gamemaster that you demand a point of determination because you are fen4 to create some chaos with the crew. I am not saying that you should drown each game in drama. Don’t steal the spotlight on the regular. Use this sparingly, maybe once every 3 or 4 episodes. But use it! I promise it will add some great depth to your characters.
Remember this rule:
Don’t forget, at the end of a mission, the character may alter the Challenged Value to reflect the challenge to the character’s beliefs or replace it with a new Value that represents some other aspect of the character’s beliefs. In either case, the new Value can now be used freely.
3. Own Your Past
Remember, values are based on a character’s attitudes,
beliefs, and convictions. These did not develop the minute your character first stepped onto the bridge of your fine ship. These values came to be after years of experience, trials, tribulations, and being knocked around by life (and death possibly).
The young punk Jean-Luc’s stabbing at the hands of a snarl-faced Nausicaan. The crew of the Enterprise’s general trauma at the loss of Tasha Yar. Captain Janeway’s fiancee. Deanna Troi’s mother. Sisko’s dead wife. Bashir’s parents making like Felicity Huffman. O’Brien’s dark past. Data’s “dad”. Chakotay’s Native American past. Spock as a hybrid. McCoy hating Vulcan logic. Riker the playboy. Neelix’ people wiped out; then not.
Should I go on? I think you get the point. Each value needs to be rooted in the past; attitudes, beliefs, and convictions built up over time. Values cannot be shallow. Go deep, people! Find the hurt. Find the pain.
4. When the Value is Weak-Ass, Change It!
The one thing all Trekkies agree on is that we love it when we see characters change and grow.
You may really love a controversial value. Maybe it lent itself to 2 or 3 juicy nights of gaming where you really pissed off your fellow players or came out the hero (or both). However, even Seven of Nine loosened her britches and starting exploring new facets of her existence, and I don’t just mean chocolate cake.
If you have a value that isn’t provocative enough or is boring the gamemaster to death, change it. If you have a cool gamemaster (as cool as I am, I mean) they might let you change it even though you haven’t challenged the value or earned a Milestone.
I am so preeminently cool I let all of my Players completely rewrite their values between two episodes. I was so tired of soft-shelled values. I wanted true grit. Hence, I made is so.
I hope this post helps you push push push for more intense gaming, richer characters, and some true suspense. Please let me know what happens when you guys take values to the next level. I hope to hear about some great controversy and amazing stories.
I think “No Stranger to Violence” is an excellent value that is easy to use positively or negatively (and is an example value in one of the books if I’m not mistaken). Whereas “I once killed a man in cold blood” is inherently negative and would have greater uses as a means to gain determination, but few to spend it.
It seems like you’re attempting to roll all of the character’s backstory and personality into 4 values, which really isn’t possible. I think the values should nutshell the most meaningful parts of a character, but should be broad and open to interpretation. The GM needs to be aware of the actual backstory of each character so that he can interpret the value as intended, but if you try to make it to where every value is extremely narrow it becomes very limiting and often makes the values themselves excessively wordy.
I see your point.
You gave me food for thought, so I updated the post.
Another helpful resource on Values can be anything FATE has on Character Aspects. The two concepts resemble each other relatively closely. https://fate-srd.com/fate-core/making-good-aspect
In short, FATE suggest Aspects should be double-edged (i.e., useable both positively and negatively, the thing your “I once killed a man in cold blood” lacked”), phrased clearly, and cover more than one area (e.g., “I will kill to protect my crew” establishes two things: A tendency for violence and a relation to a group of people). Not all of this carries over cleanly, but it surely can be a good source of inspiration.
Deanna Troi’s mother didn’t die. Her sister died.