Parallel Lives

Everything that is destined to happen is destined to happen again.

Introduction

In Parallel Lives you play a series of characters in an anthology-style story, each part of his or her own isolated chapter. Your characters might all have vastly different personalities, abilities, and situations, but they all share one common factor: they are all you. That simple idea is the core of Parallel Lives. Whatever differences your characters share, and regardless of their eventual fates, your job is to ensure they achieve their full potential. In most games of Parallel Lives your characters will never meet one another, but they will always be able to have an indirect effect on one another. Whether it's reincarnation, a shared soul, or something else, it's deliberately built into the stories of the system that your characters are linked.

The game hacks out the aspects system of FATE Core as well as other ancillary bits. Other than that, the system just tries to get out the way.

Setup

Parallel Lives is a very structured game. Compared to more freeform RPGs most of a Parallel Lives game is planned out in advance, with a set number of chapters for players to play through. The length of thesse chapters can vary, but players should be aware of the total number beforehand. For example, in a one-shot supposed to last six hours, players might be told up front that they will be playing four chapters. Thus, players will have a general understanding that they will play each of their characters for 90 minutes before moving on. It is GM's job to close out a chapter, but they should take into account whether the chapter has approached a natural end. If that means a chapter goes on for another half hour, so be it.

In a Parallel Lives campaign GMs can be more creative with their structure. It might mean players don't know how many chapters the game will consist of, or how many sessions of each chapter they play. We recommend sticking to a chapter per session, but if your plot demands otherwise change it up.

The rough plot might also already be figured out. This may sound heretical to some roleplayers, but in Parallel Lives much of the fun comes from working out how every individual character fits into the overall tapestry. Historical games lend themselves particularly well to this strategy - spoiler alert, the Nazis lose the war. What matters is the personal nature of each story, as well as the cosmic significance of each character's connection.

GMs, as well as the above, your preparation should involve determining the context in which each chapter takes place (so you can tell players beforehand what type of character they will play - if you cut to a chapter in a warzone and don't tell them first, they will probably be mad that they didn't give themselves combat skills).

Character Creation

For each chapter, players will create a character, but all the characters share a combined sheet. The process of character creation happens multiple times in each game (once before each chapter in fact) but the process differs slightly each time.

Initial Character Creation

Characters have ten skills and three aspects. Aspects are described in more detail in “Character Aspects” below. The list of skills is as follows:

  • Athletics
  • Burglary
  • Contacts
  • Crafts
  • Deceive
  • Drive
  • Empathy
  • Fight
  • Investigate
  • Lore
  • Notice
  • Physique
  • Provoke
  • Rapport
  • Resources
  • Shoot
  • Stealth
  • Will

Of these, you will pick ten to rate. Ratings go from +0 to +4, and you can rate four at +1, three at +2, two at +3, and one at +4. All other skills are rated at +0.

Beyond that your character generation is all about story - your character's role and the way they fit into the plot. Often, your player party will work as a team, in which case it's helpful to define the things each of you do. Give them a name, and you're good to go. Initial character creation should take no longer than twenty minutes, whilst all subsequent character creation should take less than ten.

Subsequent Character Creation

Subsequent character creation occurs between chapters. You'll be given a briefing on the kind of characters required for the next chapter, and then will be given the chance to shuffle around your skills. You can move any rating up or down by one provided you do the opposite with another rating, and may repeat this process any number of times. For example, if your character has Physique +3 and Will +0, they can change this for their new character to read Physique +2 and Will +1.

Finally, a character can't have more stats rated at a higher rating than they do each level lower than that. In other words, there should always be more +1 ratings than +2 ratings, more +2 ratings than +3 ratings, and more +3 ratings than +4 ratings.

All three character aspects can be changed, but any that remain become motifs - see “Motifs” below.

Aspects and Motifs

An aspect is an element of the current situation that players can use to their advantage. They can be invoked and compelled - invoking is generally good for the character, while compelling is generally bad, but both are good for the player. Aspects are short descriptive phrases designed to be open to interpretation. Two main kinds of aspects exists - character aspects and environmental aspects.

Example aspects could include Rigged Elevator, Sand in the Eyes, Bounty on My Head, or Hungry for Knowledge. The first two are situation aspects, the latter two are character aspects.

Character Aspects

When you create your character you will include three character aspects. These can be positive or negative, but whilst one should always be treated as a flaw (in most situations) the very best aspects are double-edged swords.

Character aspects can be significant personality traits (Never Leave A Man Behind), a character's profession or background (Educated at The Iron Academy), a noticeable feature (My Father's Sword), relationships, problems, goals, titles, or reputations.

Environmental Aspects

Environmental aspects might exist naturally in a scene, or you might create them by performing an action. Either way, they should be written in a place all players can see them such as on index cards or a whiteboard. These might evolve or disappear as the scene changes, but while they are active they can be invoked and compelled.

Environmental aspects can be physical features of the environment (Obscuring Snow), positioning or placement (Sniper's Perch), immediate obstacles (Burning Barn), contextual details (Security Cameras), or sudden changes in a character's status (Cornered).

Any aspect that has ever existed in the game should be stored and visible to all. When you move to a new chapter, write up all the old aspects. They can't be in play as you move to a new chapter, but if a player in that new chapter tries to create an aspect with the same name it becomes a motif.

Motifs

Motifs are like super-powered aspects. They work the same way, but can only be created if an aspect in the current chapter matches an aspect in a previous chapter. In the case of character aspects they have to belong to the same player, but situational aspects can become motifs in any context. Motifs are like special moments of importance in the tapestry of the story, points of light along the intersecting arcs of your characters.

Appropriately, motifs have resonance. This is a number that appears after the motif name and indicates the number of chapters in which it has invoked. This makes the motif more powerful the more it is used.

For example, if a player does something to annoy the people of the local town in the first chapter, they might be able to invoke Disgruntled Townsfolk in the future. In the second chapter, if an entirely separate town becomes annoyed by an entirely separate event, a player can still invoke Disgruntled Townsfolk (2), this time as a motif for extra resonance.
Another example: If a character has the aspect Fear of Heights, and they decide to keep it for their new character when moving into the second chapter, it becomes a motif: Fear of Heights (2). This doesn't mean the character is even more scared of heights than the first one, just that if it ever becomes relevant to the story it will have a deeper impact.

Invoking & Compelling

Aspects describe the world around you, but also have mechanical implications.

If an aspect would help you in making a roll, you can invoke it. This means spending a fate point (giving it to the GM, or another player if it's their aspect you're taking advantage of) and getting +1 to the roll in return (motifs get you +1 per resonance). You can do that with as many aspects as you want (provided you have enough fate points), but you have to do it before you roll the die.

If an aspect would hinder you, the GM can compel it. This means giving you a fate point but causing some kind of trouble narratively. You can refuse the compel, but you have to spend a fate point to avoid the negative consequences. Generally it's better to take the compel, not only because you get points you can spend later but also because it creates interesting dramatic situations.

Fate Points

Fate points are tokens you can receive during the game. You start with two, and will receive one at the beginning of each subsequent chapter. They represent your characters' ability to have destiny and fortune twist around them, mostly in ways they can't quite understand. Uses of fate points are covered in “Invoking and Compelling” above.

Rolling Dice

When an action requires a roll, choose a relevant Skill. Roll a D6 and add your Skill Rating to the result.

If you get a 6 or higher, you succeed. If not, you fail. In the case of a contested roll, you compare your roll to the opponent. The higher result succeeds, and ties are rerolled.

Before you roll, you can invoke an aspect by spending a fate point to get +1 to your roll. This can be a character aspect or an environment aspect, provided you adequately explain how it's relevant in that situation. You can invoke as many aspects on one roll as you want. Invoking a motif works the same way except you get +2 instead.