Here's a look at how we're handling what's arguably the most important part of character creation -- phases -- in the "SotS" game we're starting next month.
In SotC RAW, as you probably know, character creation happens in five phases: Background, The Great War, Your Novel, and two "guest-starring" roles in two other characters' novels. That works well for a game built around human characters all born on the same day and adventuring in the pulp era, but taken out of the 20th-century context I think it can feel a little forced.
For one thing, putting it in a different time necessitates coming up with another "Great War" to fill that second phase, which can come off as arbitrary unless you're working with a specific timeline and setting. Second, while the idea of "starring" in "novels" is absolutely perfect for pulp, with the fantasy genre it rubs me the wrong way. There's a deeper layer of metagaming going on when you talk about your character having starred in a novel, and the implication that he or she is merely a protagonist in a book instead of a living, breathing person. Third, if you're taking out the idea of a novel for the third phase, then the fourth and fifth phases have to be revamped, as well, just to be consistent. Fourth, when I think about all the things that would be important to a character, following a fairly strict chronology seems overly restrictive.
Instead, we'll use conceptual phases. This is hardly my invention; I've seen this, or a variation of it, as a house rule here and there, and I like it so much it's going in.
The possible phases, then, are Origins, Profession, Goals, People, Beliefs, Possessions, and Adventure. Pick five in any combination. It's possible to take one more than once, if you really want to emphasize some portion of your character that much more. It doesn’t have a mechanical effect, the way it would in FATE 2.0, but it helps to focus your character.
Origins: Where are you from? What's your race and/or culture? How were you raised, and with what values?
Profession: Do you (or did you) have a "day job"? What trade(s) do you know, and where did you learn it/them? Are you a mercenary? A pickpocket? A sorcerer's apprentice (or the sorcerer himself)? A Jack-of-all-trades?
Goals: What do you hope to accomplish in life? Where do you see yourself going? Do you want to rid the world of evil, or merely rule it? This can be as specific or as general as you'd like.
People: Who are the important people in your life, if any? Friends, enemies, superiors, lackeys, secret admirers, the secretly admired... who and where are they?
Beliefs: Does your character have any important beliefs that drive him as a person? Note that they don't actually have to be true.
Possessions: Does your character own something that helps define who he is? Or maybe he used to own something like this, but lost it -- and wants to get it back.
Adventure: Briefly recount an adventure you've already had. Did you ransack some ancient ruins? Escape from the city guard with a purloined loaf of bread? Conduct a magical experiment gone awry? Engage in a public debate? It doesn't have to be life-threatening, but it does have to be exciting.
Instead of waiting for the final two phases to establish connections, players are encouraged to cross-pollinate with other players at any time. All phases are game for this. For example, two characters raised in the same village could appear in one another's Origins phase; if they've remained life-long friends (or enemies) and helped defend their village from a bandit raid, they might also appear in each other's People and Adventure phases. Or, given the propensity for PCs in fantasy games to start out as total strangers, they might not cross-pollinate at all.