The central character attributes in FATE are called aspects. Aspects cover a wide range of elements and define what makes your character unique—basically, they describe the core of your character's identity. (By contrast, skills and stunts could be said to paint a similar picture of what your character can do, rather than who he is.)
Aspects can be:
Chosen of the Dread Lord)
The Lord Is My Shepherd,
Nothing Is Forever)
Can't Keep My Mouth Shut,
"It's Not My Fault!")
Rugged as the Road)
My Vorpal Sword Goes Snicker-Snack,
My Lucky Rabbit's Foot)
Big Man On Campus,
Anger Is My Constant Companion)
In terms of game rules, aspects are the main avenue by which you gain or spend fate points for your character. Fate points are a kind of currency that can be spent for bonuses, and they are earned when aspects cause problems and complications for the character.
Here's a summary of all the ways that aspects are used in the game:
At the start of a game, you'll place aspects on your character as part of the process of character creation. These aspects are effectively permanent, though they can change over the course of time.
In addition, during the setting creation process you will also place aspects on the setting in which the game takes place—these work just like character aspects do, defining the most important features and elements that make the setting unique.
You will also encounter temporary aspects during the course of play. These aspects might be placed on your character to describe momentary changes of condition or circumstance
Broken Nose), or they might be placed on an environment to highlight elements that might come into play during a scene (
Uneven Terrain). Typically, you will use your skills to create or discover these aspects during play.
The process of using an aspect begins by proposing that one is relevant. Either a player or the GM may make this proposal. Next, determine if the aspect's relevance is working for or against the character that has the aspect.
As a general rule, if it's for, it is considered an invocation and the character will probably be spending a fate point; if it's against, it's considered a compel and the character will probably be receiving a fate point. Each type of aspect use has specific rules governing how it functions, but if you ever find yourself confused about the basics of using aspects, come back to this fundamental idea.
When you can apply an aspect to the situation your character is in, it can be used to give you a bonus. Doing this requires spending a fate point and is called invoking the aspect. In this context, the aspect makes your character better at whatever he's doing, because the aspect in some way applies to the situation.
Invoking an aspect can be used to either:
It is possible to use more than one aspect on a single roll, but you can't use the same aspect more than once on the same roll or action (even if you've re-rolled the dice, that's still the same roll or action). Re-rolls are riskier than just taking the +2 bonus—you can always end up worsening things or not making much improvement—but when the dice just didn't roll your way, a re-roll can be a much cheaper way to recover. The +2 option is the surest way of improving a roll that's good, but not quite good enough.
The GM is the final arbiter of when an aspect is or is not appropriate (to minimize disagreements between players and GM, see "Getting on the Same Page"). Usually this means you must invoke an aspect that is appropriate to the situation at hand. If you want to invoke an inappropriate-seeming aspect, be prepared to describe how the action actually is appropriate to the aspect. The GM's priority here should not be to strictly limit the use of aspects, but rather to ensure appropriate use by encouraging players to make decisions that keep their aspects interesting.
You aren't limited to the aspects on your character's sheet when you make an invocation—any aspect that your character is aware of or has access to can potentially be invoked.
This includes aspects on other characters, on the scene (see "Interacting with Other Aspects" for more on scene aspects), or on the setting. For details on doing this, see "Interacting with Other Aspects."
You can also invoke an aspect for effect, using it to declare a fact or circumstance that would be of benefit to your character. This costs a fate point like any other invocation does. For example, you could invoke your character's
Mob Connections aspect to declare that a nearby business is actually a mob front.
Different groups will have different tastes regarding the potential scope of invoking for effect, and your group should talk this over to see where each player stands. GMs are encouraged to be fairly liberal in this regard, provided that the player's desired effect is consistent with the aspect and the overall sensibilities of the game.
For example, if the GM is hemming and hawing over whether or not your character can spend a fate point to declare that he arrives at exactly the right moment, invoking your character's
Grand Entranceaspect for that same effect should remove any of her doubts. That said, this is not a method for the players to get away with absolutely anything—when in doubt, talk it through with the group.
As with regular invocations, you can also spend fate points to invoke aspects on the scene or on other characters for effect. See "Interacting with Other Aspects" for more details on that.
An aspect can also allow you to gain more fate points by bringing complications and troubling circumstances into your character's life. When this occurs, it is referred to as compelling the aspect. Usually, a compel focuses on only one aspect, but, in certain rare situations, more than one might be compelled for a larger payout.
The GM often initiates compels. When she compels one of your aspects, she's indicating that your character is in a position where the aspect could create a problem or a difficult choice.
However, you can also cause the GM to compel another character's aspects with a similar rationale and results (see "Compelling Other Aspects"). Sometimes, compels even happen by "accident" when a player plays his character's aspects to the hilt and gets into complicated circumstances without any nudging.
When you are the target of a compel, you may negotiate the terms of the compel a bit, just to make sure that the outcome doesn't violate your character concept or create a similarly undesirable effect. Once the terms are set, you have a choice: spend a fate point and ignore the aspect, or accept the complications and limitations on your character's choices and receive a fate point. When you accept the fate point, the aspect is officially compelled.
Keeping the compels lively is your explicit responsibility during play.
Staying on top of your compels and leaning in hard on them whenever the opportunity's there will keep the game exciting. Don't be shy!
If you "self-compel," bring it to the GM's attention to get your fate point!
There are a few ways an aspect can complicate a character's life via compels: it limits the responses available to a character in a certain situation, it introduces unintended complications into a scene, or it provides the inspiration for a plot development or a scene hook for that character.
An aspect may limit actions and choices. If your character would normally have a number of choices in a particular situation and acting in accordance with his aspect is going to make more trouble for the character and limit those choices, that's grounds to compel the aspect.
It's important to note that an aspect may dictate the type of action when compelled this way, but it usually won't dictate the precise action, which is always the player's decision. In this way, compelling the aspect highlights the difficulty of the choices at hand by placing limits on those choices, using the idea of the aspect to define (or at least suggest) those limits.
An aspect may also complicate a situation, rather than directly limiting your character's choices. If everything would be going along normally and the aspect makes things more difficult or introduces an unexpected twist, that's grounds for a compel. In some cases, complications may suggest that certain consequences are mandated, such as failing at a particular action without a skill roll—perhaps your character would succeed at a defense roll against a Deceit action, but his Gullible aspect is compelled, forcing a failure if you accept.
Some compels are used to directly drive the story in one way or another and, as such, are really the province of the GM. A good GM will want to use the aspects of the PCs to create adventures and provide the basis for scenes.
This means that sometimes an aspect may add a complication "offscreen," such as when the GM decides to use a character's personal nemesis as the villain for a session or to give the character an unpleasant responsibility or assignment. She might also use a character's aspect to justify a particular "hook" for a future scene. When this happens, it counts as a compel.
GMs should not rely on a player's particular response to this kind of compel to drive a plot—remember, the purpose of a compel is to create drama, not force people into things. Keep in mind that a player can always negotiate the terms of a compel—he might have an even better idea for a dramatic way to start a scene or move the story along.
You may have gathered this already, but just to be clear, there's a chance that a compel could happen any time you might otherwise pick up the dice. Usually, when you as a player want to try to do something, the GM will have you roll dice if she has an interesting idea of what might happen if you fail. If she doesn't, there's really no reason to roll at all.
But, if there's a good opportunity for your action to complicate things, she might "trade in" the dice roll in favor of making up something that's interesting and engaging. This is great stuff to make dramatic moments with, and it's definitely something you can use as well—as long as you're willing to deal with the potential complications, you might be able to succeed at an immediate task in exchange for future problems.
It's worth remembering that sometimes players simply play to their aspects without thinking to ask for a compel. When that happens, the GM should make a note of it (sometimes—even often—with the player reminding her) and, if possible, award the player with a fate point retroactively.
If it's too late for that, the GM should make a note to give that player one extra fate point next session, after the refresh. It's important that the GM keep in mind what sorts of things would normally constitute a compel. Compels happen in order to make certain choices or situations more difficult or more dramatic for the compelled character. Certainly, staying in character and playing in a way that's appropriate to a character's aspects should be praised; but it should be rewarded only when the player's aspect-consistent play has actively made his character's choices more difficult.
Sometimes, it may seem as though there is no practical way to buy out of a "scenestarter" compel. Suppose you have the aspect
My Dear Brother, and the GM proposes a compel with, "Hey, so you find your brother beaten to a pulp and left on your doorstep, with a note that says â€˜Now we know where you live' on it." It would be pretty lame to spend a fate point and suggest that it doesn't even happen.
Keep in mind, though, that when you buy out of a compel, what you're really buying out of is the potential complication that could arise from what's proposed. You're giving yourself the option of a response that's not as dramatic. So you don't have to say, "No, my brother doesn't show up on my doorstep." You might say, "Man, I've got a lot going on right now in this story…look, here's a fate point, and let's say I call an ambulance and just get him to the hospital."
(What about just delaying the arrival of the wounded brother for a scene or two? Either you buy out of the complication or you don't. If the complication's going to happen and you want to do another scene first, that's a thing for the group to negotiate over—see below—but it doesn't get into the actual mechanics of refusing a compel.)
In play, players and the GM can both initiate compels. When the GM initiates a compel, the process is very simple. The GM remarks that the aspect might be appropriate here and offers you a fate point. Of course, in a perfect world, the GM would always be aware of all aspects and always know when they should be compelled and rewarded. In practice, the GM is keeping track of a lot of stuff and may not realize that you have an aspect that is appropriate to the situation.
When this happens, you should feel free to capture the GM's attention and point to the appropriate aspect, holding up a fate point and raising your eyebrows or giving some other signal to indicate you thinks it's time for a compel.
When you call attention to one of your character's aspects, it may be as formal as "I think my
Green Eyes of Jealousy aspect applies here," or it may be conversational, like, "Boy, that guy talking to my girl is pretty suave, as I watch them with my
Green Eyes of Jealousy" (brandishing a fate point). There's no one way to do it and groups are encouraged to fall into whatever pattern is most comfortable for them.
After a player or the GM suggests a compel, the immediate next step is to negotiate over the terms. Usually, the person who suggests the compel has an idea in mind already, but that doesn't mean things are set in stone. Remember: compels are supposed to make things more dramatic and interesting, not force people into boxes. So, you should feel free to offer a suitably dramatic counter-proposal if you feel it'd be more in keeping with your character, suggest alternate details, and so on. Likewise, GMs should feel free to turn up the heat on a player who's proposing a weak compel.
When judging whether or not a compel is "worthy," the primary thing to look for is whether the outcome provides a palpable sense of consequence to the character and/or the story. If the outcome isn't going to create something that's going to matter much in the grand scheme of things, then it probably isn't enough to work as a compel. Making a compel more worthy might mean that the GM changes the circumstances of a conflict to be less advantageous to a character; it might mean that the session suddenly takes a stunning new direction plotwise; or it might mean that the character has an additional problem to deal with that he didn't before. As long as it's an effect you can feel in play, it's probably good enough.
Occasionally, a situation will come up in play that seems to be relevant to more than one of your character's aspects. This should not be seen as a problem—rather, it's an opportunity for high drama.
When a situation is complicated enough to involve more than one aspect, then all the aspects are subject to a compel. You must decide how to deal with this—after negotiating, you can take every compel for a large payout, or take only a certain number and then buy out of the rest. This might mean that you ultimately break even on fate point gain, but that's okay—it still shows your character's priorities in a dramatic moment, which is a successful compel.
Keep in mind that there should be a clear complication or limitation offered by each aspect; one complication that references two aspects shouldn't give you two fate points unless it's a really, really big deal. And if that's the case, you might want to consider the optional escalation rule instead.
Rarely, in moments of high tension or drama, the GM can choose to escalate a compel. This optional rule should only be used when your character is having a defining moment in his story. As a result, some GMs may wish to require that your character's high concept be in play when this optional rule is used.
Escalation can only occur when you have bought out of a compel. To escalate, the GM slides forward a second fate point and prompts with something like, "Are you sure…?"
If you accept, you'll get two fate points instead of one, in addition to getting back any you've spent to buy out of the compel in the first place; if you refuse, it's going to cost you another fate point (for a total of two). In the rarest of cases, when the story is at its highest tension, the GM may escalate a final time, making the reward and cost to buy out three fate points. If you are willing to spend three to refuse this truly epic compulsion, the book is closed.
You can also prompt the GM to start an escalation. When sliding forward your first fate point to buy off a compel, say something like, "I won't go along for one fate point…" Most GMs will look at the situation at that point and decide whether or not it's a moment of high drama. If it isn't, they'll accept the proffered point; but if it is, the escalation's on!
GMs may also want to consider turning the crank each time a player chooses to escalate. Each step of the back-and-forth between player and GM should add some detail to the story that shows the stakes are escalating—it's not a simple game of chicken via sliding tokens around on a table. For example, if the aspect compelled is
Greedy and escalation is in effect, things should be spiraling rapidly from a simple moment of avarice to an urge so powerful that kleptomaniacs would blush and give pause.
Whatever the case, escalation should be done sparingly. Compels will bring enough heat on their own most of the time—you don't always need to be dropping nuclear bombs.
The aspects on your character are not the only aspects that you can use. Your fellow players' characters have aspects, of course, as do some NPCs. Sometimes even the scene itself may have aspects (called, shockingly, scene aspects), like
Cluttered. Additionally, the setting where your campaign takes place will have aspects on it that your group will make up during setting creation, which can be considered scene aspects on nearly every scene.
To interact with an aspect other than your own, your character needs to directly interact with the object, location, or person that has the aspect you want to invoke, in a way that is appropriate to the action in progress. This means that if a scene has an aspect of
Ill Met by Candlelight, not only can characters be described as emerging from the shadows with eerily under-lit faces, but those characters may also invoke the aspect to aid their Stealth rolls (thanks to the low lighting implied). They might later invoke it to knock the candles over and set the room ablaze, or to trigger encounters that are inopportune to one or more parties ("Ill Met" indeed!).
Your character also needs to have reasonable access to the aspect in question. With scene aspects, this is easy—your character usually just needs to be present in the scene to interact with the aspect. There are several ways you can gain access to an aspect that is on another character or scene:
If your character can interact directly with the owner of the aspect in an appropriate manner and has reasonable access to the aspect in question, you may use that aspect in a number of different ways.
The procedure to invoke an aspect that isn't on your character is precisely the same as a regular invocation: just declare how that aspect is relevant, spend a fate point, and take a +2 or a reroll. The only thing to keep in mind is that, if you're invoking an aspect on another PC or on a NPC to gain an advantage over them, that character will receive the fate point you spent, either at the end of the exchange (in conflict) or at the end of the scene (outside of conflict).
Invocations on other aspects can also be done for effect, allowing you to use someone else's aspect or a scene aspect to make a declaration. All the guidelines for invoking for effect apply here.
A tag is subject to one key limitation: it must occur almost immediately after the aspect has been brought into play. Some minor delay is acceptable, but should be avoided when possible. At worst, a tag should happen sometime during the scene in which it was established. Some assessments are an exception to this time limit.
If you wish, you can allow another character to use the tag for an aspect you've discovered or introduced. This allows for some great set-up maneuvers in a fight; you can maneuver to place an aspect on a target, then pass the tag to an ally who attacks, using the advantage on his own roll. This can only be done, however, if it is reasonable that the advantage could be passed off. A sniper who uses a maneuver to aim his rifle at a target, putting an
In My Sights aspect on it, can't pass the advantage to someone else—the aspect placed is specific to him. But if a character uses a maneuver to put a
Sand in His Eyes aspect on an opponent, he could reasonably pass the advantage to an ally, who moves in for the knockout blow.
Tags, even if they are to a character's detriment, do not award a fate point like a normal invocation would. If no fate point was spent, there's no fate point to pass around.
Tagging often involves temporary aspects that result from maneuvers.
Being able to interact with the aspects of others creates a powerful opportunity for the clever player to set up another character to be compelled. If you are aware of and can access an aspect on another character or NPC, you may spend a fate point to try to trigger the circumstances of a compel on the target. If the GM decides this is a compel-worthy circumstance, then she takes the offered fate point and proceeds with a compel, running it as if she had initiated the compel herself.
This is a chain reaction—the first player calls for the compel, and if the GM accepts it as valid, she negotiates it with the player of the target character, who either decides to accept (gaining a fate point) or avoid (spending a fate point). Once the initiating player spends the fate point, he does not get it back even if the target buys out of the compel.
As with a normal compel, the final result can be negotiated as much as is necessary.
Some GMs may wish to step out to an even more "meta-" level and allow for a game session or even the entire campaign to have aspects on it (game aspects), like
It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn or
The Shadow War Rages On. Such aspects should be used sparingly, since their omnipresence will strongly shape the face of the game. When adding a game aspect to your campaign, ask yourself: am I okay with this showing up in nearly every scene or session (or at least the majority of them)?
Scene aspects may imply some circumstances that will befall any (or many) of the characters in the scene—
Everything Is Burning! is a classic. In such a case, it's entirely apropos to act as if that aspect is on each character's sheet and compel the aspect for each of them, dishing fate points all around and nicely covering the effects the aspect has on the characters in the scene.
Technically speaking, a player could try to use a scene aspect to initiate a mass compel, but it'd be a pretty expensive proposition—he'd have to spend a fate point for every character he wants to be affected by the compel.
More than anything else, aspects are your most explicit way of telling the GM, "This is the stuff I want to see in the game." If you pick an aspect like Hunted by the Mob, then you should be able to expect that the GM will put you at odds with Mafia enforcers pretty regularly. GMs should want players to use their aspects and should design the story of the game such that it is based on and around the aspects the players have chosen for their characters. Players should pick the aspects they want to use, and GMs should encourage them to choose aspects that will be both interesting and useful.
Once you decide on an idea for an aspect, you need to figure out a name that best describes what you intend. There are usually many possible names for a desired aspect, which can make this choice somewhat difficult. However, most of the time an aspect is going to be a phrase, a person, or a prop. These categories of aspects aren't hard and fast, and there can be some overlap among them—they're just intended to give you an evocative way to think about aspects and help break mental blocks.
A phrase can be anything from a simple detail (
Strong), to a short description (
Strength of Ten Men), or even a literal quote (
"No One Is Stronger Than The Green Dragon!"). Phrase aspects come into play based on how often the character's current situation matches or suggests the phrase. A colorful phrase adds a lot of flavor and innately suggests several different ways to use it. This potentially makes phrase aspects some of the most flexible aspects in the game.
A person can be anyone important to your character. A friend, an enemy, a family member, a sidekick, a mentor—as long as someone matters to your character, that someone makes an appropriate aspect. A person aspect is most easily used when that person is in the scene with your character, but the aspect can come up in other ways, depending upon the person's history and relationship with your character (ideally, the relationship should be stated in the wording of the aspect).
For example, a character might take
My Old Teacher Finn as an aspect. Beyond the obvious applications of having Finn show up, a player might also invoke this for a bonus and justify it by talking about "hours spent in Old Finn's knife throwing classes" or something similar.
Keep in mind that an organization can be used in the same way, representing both the ability to call on that organization's resources for aid and the obligation to work for that organization's best interests, even when they conflict with your own. So,
Mafia Wiseguy is technically a "person" aspect in that sense; it gives a character the ability to call on the Mafia for aid, but also requires that character to deal with whatever problems the association might bring.
Props are things, places, or even ideas—anything external to your character that isn't a person. A prop can be useful if it's something your character has with him or if it's the crux of a conflict, but it may also imply things about your character or even be significant in its absence (Ah, if only I had my
Trusty Toolbox!) and thus earn you fate points (see "Compelling Aspects").
Again, keep in mind that these categories are allowed to blur if need be—an aspect like
"Time to Call the Mayor!" has elements of both a phrase and a person, and that's just fine.
A player may want to take a prop aspect for an item that has supernatural power attached to it, to signify a "trademark" item (think King Arthur and Excalibur). This is a great idea, but keep in mind that your character may need to invest other resources (such as stunts, or time and effort) to possess props of particular power.
In other words, it's not enough to give yourself an aspect saying you have Excalibur, Sword of Power—you'll also have to buy the sword as a facet of your supernatural abilities. Or to look at it a different way, the prop aspect is more about the relationship you have with the prop than it is about the prop itself and what it does.
Strictly speaking, the most beneficial aspects for your character are the ones that are most interesting; in this case, "interesting" specifically means that they are double-edged—usable to both the character's benefit and detriment in different situations.
You may have noticed that a number of the aspects throughout this book appear to be "bad" aspects—they indicate a downside for a character or a directly negative connotation. Aspects like
Often Drunker Than a Skunk,
A Born Sucker,
Stubborn as Hell, and
I Can Never Tell a Lie all suggest situations where the character will have to act a certain way—making an ass of himself at an important social function, falling for a line of bull, failing to back down when it's important to do so, or speaking truthfully when truth is the path to greatest harm.
So why put such aspects on your sheet if they're only going to make trouble for you?
Simple: you want that kind of trouble.
On a basic game-rules footing, these are a direct line to getting you more fate points, and fate points are the electricity that powers some of the more potent positive uses of your aspects.
Outside of just the rules, a "negative" aspect adds interest and story hooks for a character in a way that purely positive aspects can't. This sort of interest means time in the limelight. If someone's trying to take advantage of the fact that your character's a
Sucker for a Pretty Face, that's an important point in the story and the camera is going to focus on it. They also immediately suggest story ideas to your GM, providing her with ways to hook your character in.
However, an aspect that has only negative connotations could be limiting to your character in certain ways, because you also need to have an avenue to spend the fate points you're taking in. Aspects that are more "positive" are the channels for what makes your character special and awesome, allowing him to excel in situations where others might not.
Likewise, you also don't want an aspect that has only positive connotations. Not only do they prevent your character from routinely getting fate points but, dramatically speaking, they're kind of boring. Stories about characters who are always competent and always succeed are lacking in conflict and surprise. If your character starts to become predictable and boring, he's probably going to stop being a focus of the story. So, you definitely want to have hints of both.
As a rule of thumb when picking an aspect, think of three situations where you can see the aspect in play. If you have one reasonably positive situation and one reasonably negative situation out of that set, you're golden! If the aspect's uses are all negative or all positive, you may want to reconsider how you've worded your aspect—try to put in a little of what's missing. Ultimately, though, one aspect that's "all good" or "all bad" isn't much of a problem, so long as you have a good mix throughout your whole set.
As an example, something like
Genius-Level Intelligence might seem like it doesn't provide very much in the way of negative output. So you might change the context of it a little and reword that to
Nerdier than a College Professor. You could still justify getting the same advantages as the original aspect, and you could pick up some potential negative uses in the social arena—maybe the character's attempts at social interaction are plagued by people perceiving him as just too nerdy, or no one ever takes him seriously when he's trying to intimidate or impress.
Keep in mind that it is possible to find positive ways to use negative-seeming aspects.
Someone who is
Stubborn as Hell may be more determined to achieve his goals. Watchful eyes might dismiss the guy who's
Often Drunker Than a Skunk as "just a drunk" when he's using his Stealth skill.
Aspects also tend to divide into two camps—situation and story—and it's a good idea to make sure you have aspects of each type.
The distinction between these is better illustrated with examples, but here's a general definition: situation aspects describe circumstances and events that routinely happen to the character, while story aspects describe the reasons why those things tend to happen.
Situation aspects are often phrase aspects, descriptors like
Nick of Time,
Last Man Standing, and
Always the Butt of a Joke. They provide a set of expectations for the kind of stuff you're going to see happening whenever that character is around. Characters in novels, comic books, and other fictional media often have these kinds of reliable, schtick-like qualities as a way to make them more vivid and interesting. Over time, they create a sense of familiarity that helps people become more invested in and sympathetic to the character.
By themselves, though, situation aspects only do half the job. There are things in a character's life that drive him toward the events where those situation aspects are going to come into play. This is the role of story aspects.
Story aspects are most often people and prop aspects, representing those elements of the game world that your character is tied to. They provide a set of the likeliest candidates to bring trouble to your character's door and provide a reason for him to go out into the night.
These things serve as an inherent imperative for a character to do what he does, providing essential context for understanding his actions. For your character, they will also do something else—provide a ready source of material that is guaranteed to get your character into a story. Story aspects help the GM come up with material for the game that will involve your character personally from the get-go, which helps make a more satisfying game for all those involved.
The real mojo happens when story aspects and situation aspects work together. Imagine your character has both
Stubborn as a Mule and
Samantha, My Long-Lost Sister as aspects. During the game, the GM is definitely going to provide clues as to the whereabouts of your sister, bring in adversaries who try to use the knowledge that she's missing as leverage over your character, or even just introduce the potential to get more information.
Because these things are happening, your character is going to have a lot of opportunities to demonstrate that stubbornness in scenes and conflicts, pushing against all odds in the hopes that he can track his sister down. He'll make enemies, get into trouble because he's too stubborn for his own good, conquer foes, and generally shake up the world around him.
That's why it's important to make sure you have aspects like these. And again, keep in mind that these are not hard and fast categories—some aspects might straddle the line a bit. Consider a hitman character with an aspect of
I Hate the Person I've Become—this might be both a story and a situation aspect in some sense, even though it doesn't imply a connection. Personal issues can be a very strong source of motivation for some characters, and it's easy to imagine this hitman getting drawn into a story in an effort to redeem himself in his own eyes. Likewise, the aspect also suggests a number of behaviors that might become trademark for him, like having an uncharacteristic merciful streak, or engaging in wild, destructive behavior out of self-loathing.
Aspects are one of the major sources for igniting ideas and story hooks for your character. They're the first thing a GM will look at on your sheet when trying to work out what sorts of stories to throw your way. This is powerful juju, and the best part is that you are in total control of it with the words you choose for your aspect. If one character has the aspect
Quick and another has the aspect
Sworn Enemy of the Secret Brotherhood of the Flame, which one do you think suggests more ideas for the GM? Your aspects give you a "vote" in what sort of game you're going to be playing in. Don't let it go to waste. (If nothing else, you have just established that the Secret Brotherhood of the Flame exists in the setting, and the GM will probably turn to you for further details.)
At first glance, the most powerful aspects would seem to be things that are broadly useful with no real downside—things like
Strong—and you may be tempted to go with those. Resist that temptation!
See, there are three large problems with broad aspects like these: they're boring, they don't generate fate points, and they surrender your ability to help shape the story.Boring is pretty obvious. Consider a character who is
Luckyand one who has
Strange Luck. Both aspects can be used for many good things, but the latter allows for a much wider range of possibilities—and more compels (see "Compelling Aspects" for more on compels). Remember, every time an aspect makes trouble for you, you'll receive a fate point.
Strange Luckmeans that the GM can throw bizarre—even unfortunate—coincidences at your character, but you get paid for it. (If this doesn't seem tempting enough yet, remember that the GM is probably going to do something bizarre to you anyway—shouldn't you benefit from it and have some say in how it happens?)
The most powerful aspects are easy to spot: they're the most interesting ones. An aspect you can use to your advantage, but which can also be a disadvantage, has the most mechanical potency. What's more, aspects that tie into the setting (connecting your character to a group or a person) help you fill in the cast of characters in a way that is most appealing to you.
Whenever you're writing down the name of an aspect, ask yourself, "How hot is this aspect?" If it seems kind of lukewarm, then you might be missing the mark, and it's time to turn up the heat. You certainly don't have to do this with every aspect you take, but it's a great way to stay involved in the overall story.
Here are a few "good—better—best" examples:
Trained by Montcharles.
Strong as Ten Men.
Strong-Man in the Circus of Crime.
Reformed Evil Cultist.
The Ebon Shroud Cult Wants Me Dead.
In each of these cases, the "Bland" option certainly suggests its uses, but it doesn't really jump off the page as something that suggests story. The "Tasty" option is better since it's more specific; both GM and player can see some potential story hooks in these, and they serve to differentiate themselves from their lukewarm predecessors. But in terms of rocking the house and suggesting story left and right, "Bam!" is what you want.
Trained by Montcharles could well be a prime driver for why everyone from masters of rival schools to young bucks looking to make their reputation tend to take a full-tilt run at the character.
Strong-Man in the Circus of Crime not only suggests that the character is very strong and a criminal, but it also states a relationship with the Circus of Crime. That's three sides to the aspect right there.
The Ebon Shroud Cult Wants Me Dead both references the character's dark past and complicates his present circumstances, with there always being a chance that some heavies from his former cult will come knocking and go snicker-snack with his head.
So when you pick an aspect, ask yourself: is this Bland, is this Tasty, or is this "Bam!"?
Aspects are probably the clearest message you can send to the GM about what you want from the game, short of walking right up to her and saying so (which is also a great plan). Furthermore, in all likelihood, the GM is going to have copies of your character sheets when you're not around, so the aspects you've picked are going to represent you in absentia. Once you've picked all the aspects for your character, take a step back and look at them. Do they represent your character the way you want them to? If not, change them!
By themselves, aspects can't say it all. Short of making each aspect a paragraph or essay, you're dealing with a few short, catchy phrases and names here. You want them reasonably short, because you want to be able to talk about them casually without running out of breath.
But the brevity of an aspect's name means some things are left unspoken. It's beneficial to take the time with the GM at some point to speak these unspoken things. When you're picking aspects, one of the best ways to determine that you and the GM are on the same page is to discuss where you feel the aspect would be a help or a hindrance. Both you and the GM should look at an aspect not as the end of an idea, but as the beginning of one. You're both going to bring your own ideas of what the aspect means to the table and, at least to some extent, you're both right.
Usually this works out fine—the combined perspectives make the whole greater than the sum—but sometimes you and your GM might have a radically different idea of what the aspect entails. So be clear with one another and figure out how to iron out any differences of perspective— ideally before the fate points start flying, since taking fifteen minutes to get into an intense discussion about what you meant when you gave yourself the aspect
"Look Out Behind You!" can be a real momentum-killer for the game.
After you've gotten a couple sessions under your belt, you might feel like you've picked one or more aspects that don't "feel right." If an aspect doesn't seem to be working out well for you, you should feel free to change it—just make sure the GM is in tune with what you're doing and that you keep her in the loop. (She might give you a cool reason to keep the one you have after all.)
There are several ways previously unknown or nonexistent aspects can show up in play. Here, we'll discuss the methods.
Sometimes, you might want to use an aspect that's on a scene or character without actually knowing if the target has the aspect in question. In other words, you're making a guess—maybe, just maybe, an aspect fitting a particular description is there—and, while guesses are allowed, they're subject to some special rules.
One way to make a guess is to roll it as an assessment action; if it's successful, the GM can reveal whether or not the target has a similar aspect. The good part about this option is that, even if your guess is wrong, you'll still get an aspect from the target if the action succeeds. The bad part is that a target will usually get a roll to defend himself from being assessed, and therefore the attempt might fail.
Another route is to spend a fate point and try to guess the aspect, explaining how you intend to use the aspect if it exists. This is basically "gambling" with an invocation or compel— you're committing your fate points on the possibility that your hunch about the target's aspects is correct. You won't get another aspect from the target if you're wrong, but because you're spending the fate point, the target will not get the option to defend against you.
If, conceptually speaking, the guess hits reasonably close to the mark—even if it doesn't match the aspect's exact name—the GM should exercise some flexibility and allow it.
If the guess just plain misses the mark, and the fact that the mark was missed doesn't amount to a significant and potentially secret piece of information, you should get the chance to reconsider your guess and take back the fate point you spent.
If the guess misses the mark, but missing the mark tells you something significant and potentially secret, the fate point is still spent. This sort of circumstance almost never comes up with scene aspects, but it can come up when guessing at aspects on another character, and may even amount to a "reveal" (see "Assessments") of the target's true aspect.
In the worst case scenario, your guess misses the mark because you've been duped. This will most often happen as the result of a Deceit action, although it might arise from other circumstances. In such a case, the deceiver can either return the spent fate point to you or leave it spent.
If he leaves it spent, you just learned you were duped—you don't get the benefit of tagging the aspect, but you've learned something significant about your target. The deceiver does not get this spent fate point for himself, either—it's simply gone.
If the deceiver returns the fate point to you, things may actually be a bit worse for you—the deceiver gets to place a temporary aspect on you (and tag it), representing how he managed to snooker you.
Regardless, guesses can't, and shouldn't, be made willy-nilly. There must always be a justification for making the guess. If the guess seems unjustified—if the player is "shotgunning" guesses to randomly try to figure out another character's aspects—the GM is completely justified in shutting that player down cold.
Unlike the "permanent" aspects built into a character's sheet, temporary aspects are introduced to (or inflicted upon) a character or scene by the actions of a character in the game, but fade from that recipient over time. Temporary aspects may differ in terms of the duration and tenacity with which they stay on their recipient.
Most commonly, a temporary aspect results from a successful maneuver. If you get no shifts on a maneuver roll, the maneuver is considered successful, but the aspect is considered fragile—that is, it can only be tagged once and then it goes away. Fragile aspects are usually described as very momentary changes of circumstance—if you use Guns as a maneuver to aim at a target and you don't get any shifts, you might call that aspect
A Quick Bead. When you attack the target, you can tag it; but then you lose your bead on him for some reason, like he shifts position or slips behind cover or something else.
If you get shifts on a maneuver roll, the resulting aspect is said to be sticky—in other words, it "sticks" to the target until something can be done about it. Sticky aspects don't go away after they're tagged, allowing people to spend fate points to continue to invoke them. These are usually described in more severe terms than fragile aspects, to represent that they're a tangible problem or advantage for a character. If you get shifts on a Guns maneuver to aim, you might call that aspect
Right in My Sights—essentially, you can hold a steady aim on your target until he does something drastic to throw your aim off.
Sticky aspects may be easier to place on a location or scene rather than on another character, because the scene can't roll to "defend" against your maneuver. This is especially true when they potentially offer complications to everyone present, on both sides, as with a maneuver to add a
The Building's on Fire! aspect to a scene.
Getting rid of a sticky aspect requires making a successful maneuver roll to cancel the effects of the maneuver. If a character is in a position to stop you from getting rid of the maneuver, he can try to make an appropriate "defense roll" to oppose you. If he succeeds, the aspect remains. If you succeed, it goes away. If no one is in a position to stop you from getting rid of the maneuver, it's very easy—you just have to make a roll against a difficulty of Mediocre (+0).
Temporary aspects that result from maneuvers will always go away at the end of a conflict or scene.
Some temporary aspects have real staying power and have the ability to outlast a scene; they may even stay affixed to the target for as long as a session (or more) of play. Those kinds of temporary aspects are called consequences, and each character has a certain limit on how many he can take, based on his skills. They represent lasting effects such as physical wounds, psychological problems, and so forth. These aspects usually can't be removed by normal means—they require appropriate justification to remove, as well as the expenditure of a certain amount of recovery time.
Sometimes you may choose to use your skills to make a careful assessment well in advance of taking action—maybe as part of putting together a plan, or simply observing the target long enough to learn something that would be a critical advantage. This approach is most often used with skills that have an element of perception—such as Investigation and Empathy—but knowledge skills could also be applied to discover "knowable things." Here, the skill is not used to place a temporary aspect on the target (as with a maneuver) so much as to discover an existing aspect on the target that may have been hidden or secret.
Because this aspect is freshly introduced into play by your action, you should be able to tag this aspect. However, you're often going to use assessment as a way to prepare for a future encounter, which may not happen for several scenes. So, if you've discovered an aspect this way, you don't have to worry about the usual time limit for tagging until the first scene where you encounter the target of your assessment. Aspects discovered in this fashion are still present after these time limits expire, so they can still be invoked later.
All assessment efforts require the use of a significant chunk of time, usually indicated in the skill write-up. However, this time invested in preparation allows these skills to come to bear in more time pressured environments (like a fight) where they would not typically be useful.
Traditionally, perception and knowledge skills usually focus on the discovery of what already exists ("knowable truths"). But in FATE, these skills also allow for declarations. That is to say, using these skills successfully can allow you to introduce entirely new facts into play and then use those facts to your advantage. These new facts might also take the form of an aspect. (For example, if your character has a strong Alertness or Investigation skill, you might use a declaration to add features to a scene for you to use to your advantage—when the fire starts, your character just "happens" to notice that the janitor left a bucket of water in the hallway.)
As with maneuvering and assessment, the resulting aspect can be tagged. Unlike assessment, declaration doesn't take any actual in-game time at all—just successful use of a knowledge skill at the right moment.
Many skills have a trapping allowing some kind of knowledge—for example, someone might use his Guns skill to make some declarations about the firepower an opponent is carrying.
A close reading of the rules here may suggest that declarations are easier than assessments. Declarations take less time and may have lower difficulties than assessments. This perception is mostly correct.
The thing is, declarations done by the players take some of the "work" off of the GM. Assessments are largely a case of the players asking a GM to provide them with detail. By contrast, a player driving a declaration is supplying some of his own content for the game, which makes the GM's job much easier and, better still, increases the player's buy-in.
As with assessments, aspects created with declarations don't go away after being tagged, so long as circumstances make it reasonable that they hang around. This does mean that occasionally assessments and declarations can backfire on the character establishing them (other characters might use the same aspect, or the GM might bring that aspect back around to complicate the character's endeavors).
The following text is the property of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and is Copyright 2000 Wizards of the Coast, Inc (“Wizards”). All Rights Reserved.
Open Game License v 1.0 © 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
Fudge System 1995 version © 1992-1995 by Steffan O’Sullivan, © 2005 by Grey Ghost Press, Inc.; Author Steffan O’Sullivan.
FATE (Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment) © 2003 by Evil Hat Productions LLC; Authors Robert Donoghue and Fred Hicks.
Spirit of the Century © 2006, Evil Hat Productions LLC. Authors Robert Donoghue, Fred Hicks, and Leonard Balsera.
Aspects © 2011, Evil Hat Productions LLC.