Wreck of the Kaiserstolz
Introduction to Aspects
Note: This is all a summation of information you can find in Chapter 4 of the Fate Core book. This is page 55 in the physical book, page 63 in the electronic edition available here.
Aspects are a central part of gameplay in Fate Core. Basically, they’re a way to color characters, objects, situations, and the game itself with shades of what those things are about.
For characters, and especially player characters, Aspects determine who they are, what troubles them, and then fleshes out their personality.
- For example: A player has a character with an Aspect of “Never backs down from a fight.” This might mean the characters is easy to goad into combat, but at the same time means they might get a bonus if they wade into combat without a second thought.
For objects, Aspects inform you about their function, their little foibles, and their place in the story itself.
- For example: A gun has the Aspect “Field Expedient Repairs.” This would obviously cause trouble for the character wielding it, unless that character was the one who initially repaired it. This might be used to give a bonus (because the character who fixed it is now intimately familiar with the weapon) or a detriment (the good guy dropped it and the bad guy picked it up and is trying to work it).
For situations and the game itself, Aspects dictate things that are or are not present during the course of gameplay, and let you play off of those presences and absences.
- For example: This game obviously has the Aspect “The Jungle Surrounds You” in the beginning. Players can use that to their advantage (maybe by using it as cover during a mission requiring stealth). It can also be used against them (maybe players are being required to trek back to the colony and need to roll to be sure they aren’t lost). Situations/scenes can have Aspects in similar ways. Sessions will also have Aspects specific to them depending on how the “Colonial Matters” phase goes.
Invoking and Compelling
The most important thing to know about Aspects is how to invoke or compel them, which are basically the same thing, just depending on who is using the Aspect.
When a GM uses an Aspect to give a player a hard choice, this is called a Compel. Compelling a player involves two things, a Fate Point and an Aspect. Let’s say Indiana Jones has the Aspect “Afraid of Snakes,” and the player is trying to chase a Nazi through a collapsing temple in order to grab the Holy Grail. Now, if the GM wants to make the chase a little more interesting, he can “force” Indy to take a wrong turn somewhere by compelling him with a room full of snakes. During gameplay, Indy is running through the temple when he comes upon said snake-room, and the GM informs him that he’s being compelled to take the longer way and lose ground to the Nazi. Either Indy can accept the Fate Point and take the longer way around, or he can pay a Fate Point and charge through the room full of snakes.
When a player or another character is using an Aspect to their advantage, this is called an Invoke. Players can invoke Aspects to give them bonuses, allow them to re-roll the dice, or help other characters. So let’s say that Indiana Jones is fighting a mechanic on the tarmac where an experimental flying wing aircraft is about to take flight. There might be a scene Aspect of “Too Loud to Hear Much” caused by the roar of the planes engine, which Indiana Jones spends a Fate Point to invoke against the mechanic he’s up against. This gives Indy the required bonus to defeat the mechanic and send him into the plane’s propellers. Indy could have also used one of his own Aspects, an Aspect for the session, or an Aspect for the game instead, rather than a Scene Aspect. If an Aspect exists, players and the GM are all welcome to try and invoke or compel off that Aspect as they see fit.
Aspects for Players
Obviously, the most important way you can use an Aspect, and the easiest, is by building your character around them. Fleshing out your character’s Aspects will be the first thing you want to do when making a Fate Core character. There are three different kinds of Aspects for PCs, and these will be the only Aspects you’ll have to worry about before your first game.
The High Concept is your overarching concept for the character. Let’s think of an example…maybe our earlier example of Indiana Jones? His High Concept on paper might be something like “Adventurous Archaeologist.” A good rule of thumb is to think of a job, and then describe how your character might do that job. Be broad, but at the same time, don’t be so broad that your High Concept envelops the roles of several different characters.
At the same time, be a little specific. For example, in this game it is probably important (since we have a cast from around the world) that we make sure we’re saying what nationality Indy is. So he becomes “Adventurous American Archaeologist.” It might not always be their nationality, but try and come up with two or so descriptors that turn “Archaeologist” into something completely different, like “Freewheeling Anarchist Archaeologist” or something similar. A good ratio is two descriptors to every noun, and try to just use one noun to describe yourself.
What gets your character into trouble? Are they a recovering alcoholic? Do they have something to prove to their fathers? Are they living down an old sin? Your character’s Trouble will help you drive the story forward, and also earn you Fate points when it is compelled to make you do something. The GM will use this to add spice to the story, so make it interesting.
If we’re still thinking of Indiana Jones, his trouble is easy, though it might be said he has two. He’ll have a hard time choosing between “Afraid of Snakes” and “Sucker for a Pretty Face.”
You get three additional neutral Aspects to add to your character. These can be positive in nature, like the High Concept, or they can cause additional trouble for your character, like your Trouble. The best way to word these Aspects is so that they can be used either way. So let’s say Indy took “Afraid of Snakes” as his trouble. He could then take “Sucker for a Pretty Face” as an additional Aspect, which informs us more about the character, and is able to both compel him into situations he might be too cautious to enter, as well as give him bonuses for invoking it (say for stepping in between Marion and a vicious Nazi bounty hunter).
The best Aspects in this category are double-edge like that. They needn’t all be so two-sided, but it helps for both you and the GM if they are. This gives both of you plenty of ways to get your character involved with a story hook when you run across one and don’t quite recognize it as such.
Aspects During Gameplay
Aspects will be used in the course of the game to describe not only characters, but scenes, situations, and sessions as well. This is to help the players feel like they’re involved with creating their own world, while at the same time giving the GM a bit of leeway as far as giving the players surprises and preconstructed situations to fall into.
The first and most obvious example of this are Session Aspects. Session Aspects are determined by the players at the beginning of the game in the “Colonial Matters” phase. This phase will produce 2-4 Aspects, depending on players, that will flavor how the night’s sessions proceeds, what kinds of obstacles players can expect to face, and often even what their goal is.
Situations can also become Aspects in and of themselves. Lets say the players meet a faction of sentient rock people on Venus. They could give that situation the Aspect “Aware of the Rock Men,” and choose to invoke it. Or the GM could suggest compels for that Aspect, maybe to drive the players into researching them.
Scenes are individual portions of narrative time, and they can also have Aspects attached to them. For example, during some combat, someone sets the jungle on fire accidentally. The scene then has the Aspect “The Jungle is Aflame!” that can be invoked and compelled at will.
Writing Good Aspects.
The Fate Core book gives very concise advice on how to write good Aspects, and I will relay it to you here.
- A good Aspect is double-edged. – When writing an Aspect for characters, it should be just as easy to use it against you as it is to use it in your favor. This can be the hardest trick to master when writing Aspects, but usually a good GM will see both sides of the coin and offer you compels. If you’re having some trouble, feel free to ask the GM.
- A good Aspect says more than one thing. – Sometimes you have a very basic Aspect that just needs a little flavor. For example, you give your character the very simple Aspect of “Wanted” to show that they are on the run from someone. However, you don’t say who, and you don’t say why, so there’s two things we can immediately add to this Aspect so it becomes “Wanted by the Nazis for Stealing Egyptian Artifacts.”
- A good Aspect is phrased clearly. – Your Aspects should always be as clear as possible. This doesn’t mean you can’t get flowery with the language. For example, “I Seek the Peace of the Grave” means the same thing as “Rampaging Death Wish,” but the tone imparts something a little different, and both of those say something different than the simplest version, which is “Death Wish.” However, some of the flair might be lost if we called it “Ambivalent About Dying” or something similar. Say something clear and profound in your Aspects.
If you’re having trouble filling out an Aspect for your character, wait until game play to fill it out. Not everyone knows everything about a character or object until the game actually starts moving along, so it’s to be expected you’ll start with a few blank Aspects. Pay attention to how you play the character and fill in Aspects along the way (you’ll get a free invocation when you do!) or wait until the game is over and talk it over with your GM to figure out what Aspects fit your character.