Characters in Primetime are relatively simple things in comparison to what we are used to from traditional RPG's. From a mechanical standpoint all that they consist of are a list of Traits, leaving the player to figure out all the details. There's no math involved, nor are there any sorts of skills or abilities to figure out. All that stuff is up to you, and Primetime makes no mechanical difference between an extraordinary character like a superhero and an ordinary guy who likes to smoke weed and play video games (there is however a mechanic that sets apart plot-important Characters from non-important Extras, which I will detail in a later post).
A Trait in Primetime is roughly equivalent to a Fate aspect in scope and concept (though its mechanical purpose is of course not the same). A Trait could be anything that's descriptive of a character, reaching from simple sentiments like Superstrong and Dead to more creative and evocative things like Once Again Onto The Breach My Friends and Jeeves, My Main Man. The latter is encouraged in favour of the former, but players should not feel restrained with having the express simple ideas in a creative manner unless they want to.
Primetime allows for Traits to be as specific and narrow or as wide and loose as necessary or wanted. This is by no means balanced (in as much as that concept applies to a game as narrative as Primetime to begin with). This is also intentional.
A large theme of this game that I had not originally anticipated would become such an integral part of the system but has throughout the writing process come up a lot is the consensus of the gaming group. For Primetime to work there has to be a spirit of cooperation around the table (which will not fit all groups and players, obviously, but then I always envisioned Primetime as having a quite narrow appeal). This idea of the consensus being above everything else ties into everything in this game, from how you frame your actions when spending dice to what kind of character to chose to create and everything else in this game, really.
What this means for Traits is that you are free to chose any you like, but ultimately the gaming group as a whole will have to judge your choices and agree with them. If it was agreed that you would be playing a serious western game and you make a character with a trait like I'm A Cyborg! then it's up to the other players to stop you and say: "I don't think this will fit very well into our game." Or maybe it will. It's up to you and your fellow players to decide.
The intent is that when starting a Primetime game you will first get together and discuss setting and theme for your game. Since the consensus is so important it's appropriate that all players are involved in the decision making from the start. Having decided upon the basis for your game you would then create characters together as well, tying them into each other and making sure they work well with the plot and story.¨
In any case, the Traits have the mechanical purpose of allowing you to reroll dice that you just spent in an Exchange. The way this works is that you spend a die and describe your action as normally, making sure that your action ties into your Trait in some manner. You may then chose to activate your Trait, and provided the consensus approves, you get to reroll your die and add it back to your pool.
But you can't use your Traits all the time. Each Trait you have come with a Refresh period, that you decide during character creation (you'll have a sort of point buy system where better Refresh costs more points). This Refresh period goes from the shortest one use per scene to the longest once use per story arc (which is the Primetime equivalent of an adventure). Once you've used your Trait you have to wait until the Refresh period is up to use it again (there is a way around this and it is the topic of a later post). What this is supposed to illustrate is different Traits being of different importance to the plot and the narrative. If you think of it in terms of an action television series the combatant marine's extraordinary firearm skills are going to come up several times an episode, but his close relationship to his alcoholic father only comes up once in a while in special episodes.
Some of you may have been struck by the fact that this means that all Conflicts will basically have the same length and the only thing that gives a participant extra staying power is having applicable Traits. This is also intentional, because I want the game to have flow and not stay on scene longer than necessary. I have not yet gotten into what happens when a Conflict ends, but rest assured that failure (aka running out of dice to spend and traits to activate) does not always literally mean failure (yup, future post).
This is the basics of how characters work in Primetime. As usual there's more to it, and in my next post (with the usual caveat that I may change my mind) I will talk about Plot Points, a part of the mechanic that ties heavily into Traits and characters.