WORK IN PROGRESS
Characters have a set of attributes called aspects. Aspects cover a wide range of elements and should collectively paint a picture of who the character is, what he’s connected to, and what’s important to him (in contrast to the “what can he do” of skills).
Aspects can be relationships, beliefs, catchphrases, descriptors, items or pretty much anything else that paints a picture of the character.
An aspect can be used to give you a bonus when it applies to a situation. Doing this requires spending a fate point (see below). In this capacity, called invoking an aspect, it makes the character better at whatever it is he’s doing, because the aspect in some way applies to the situation (such as “Dapper” when trying to charm a lady).
An aspect can also allow you to gain more fate points, by bringing complications and troubling circumstances into the character’s life. Whenever you end up in a situation where your aspect could cause you trouble (such as “Stubborn” when trying to be diplomatic), you can mention it to the GM in the same way you mention an aspect that might help you. Alternately, the GM may initiate this event if one of your aspects seems particularly apt. In either of these two cases, this is called compelling an aspect, and its effect is that your character’s choices are limited in some way. If the GM initiates or agrees to compel the aspect, you may get one or more fate points, depending on how it plays out.
Every player begins the first session of the game with a number of fate points (FP) equal to how many aspects he has, usually ten. Fate points give players the ability to take a little bit of control over the game, either by giving their character bonuses when they feel they need them, or by taking over a small part of the story. Fate points are best represented by some non-edible token, such as glass beads or poker chips. (Previous experiments with small edible candies have left players strapped for points!)
Characters may, at any point, spend a fate point to invoke an aspect, tag an aspect, make a declaration.
Invoke an Aspect
Aspects are those things that really describe a character and his place in the story. When you have an aspect that’s applicable to a situation, it can be invoked to grant a bonus. After you have rolled the dice, you may pick one of your aspects and describe how it applies to this situation. If the GM agrees that it’s appropriate, you may spend a fate point and do one of the following:
- Gain an extra action (see Action Point in the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook). You can only spend a fate point in this way once per an encounter.
- Reroll all the dice, using the new result, or
- Add four to the final die roll (after any rerolls have been done).
You may do this multiple times for a single situation as long as you have multiple aspects that are applicable. You cannot use the same aspect more than once on the same skill use, though you may use the same aspect on several different rolls throughout a scene, at the cost of one fate point per use.
Tag an Aspect
Scenes, other characters, locations, and other things of dramatic importance can have aspects. Sometimes they’re obvious, and sometimes they’re less so. Players can spend a fate point to invoke an aspect which is not on their own character sheet, if they know what the aspect is. This is referred to as tagging an aspect.
As a rule of thumb, tagging someone or something else’s aspects requires a little more justification than invoking one of your own aspects. For scene aspects, it should be some way to really bring in the visual or theme that the aspect suggests. For aspects on opponents, the player needs to know about the aspect in the first place, and then play to it.
Make a Declaration
You may simply lay down a fate point and declare something. If the GM accepts it, it will be true. This gives the player the ability to do small things in a story that would usually be something only the GM could do.
Usually, these things can’t be used to drastically change the plot or win a scene. Declaring “Doctor Herborn drops dead of a heart attack” is not only likely to be rejected by the GM, it wouldn’t even be that much fun to begin with. What this can be very useful for is convenient coincidences. Does your character need a lighter (but doesn’t smoke)? Spend a fate point and you’ve got one! Is there an interesting scene happening over there that your character might miss? Spend a fate point to declare you arrive at a dramatically appropriate moment!
Your GM has veto power over this use, but it has one dirty little secret. If you use it to do something to make the game cooler for everyone, the GM will usually grant far more leeway than she will for something boring or, worse, selfish.
As a general rule, you’ll get a lot more leniency from the GM if you make a declaration that is in keeping with one or more of your aspects. For example, the GM will usually balk at letting a character spend a fate point to have a weapon after he’s been searched. However, if you can point to your “Always Armed” aspect, or describe how your “Distracting Beauty” aspect kept the guard’s attention on inappropriate areas, the GM is likely to give you more leeway. In a way, this is much like invoking an aspect, but without a die roll.
Refreshing Fate Points
Players usually regain fate points between sessions when a refresh occurs. If the GM left things at a cliffhanger, she is entitled to say that no refresh has occurred between sessions. By the same token, if the GM feels that a substantial (i.e., dramatically appropriate) amount of downtime and rest occurs in play, the GM may allow a refresh to occur mid-session.
The amount of fate points a player gets at a refresh is called his refresh rate and it is usually equal to the number of aspects the player has. When a refresh occurs, players bring their number of fate points up to their refresh rate. If they have more, their total does not change.
Earning New Fate Points
Players earn fate points when their aspects create problems for them. When this occurs, it’s said that the aspect compels the character. When the player ends up in a situation where his compelled aspect suggests a problematic course of action, the GM should offer the player a choice: He can spend a fate point to ignore the aspect, or he can act in accordance with the aspect and earn a fate point. Sometimes, the GM may also simply award a fate point to a player without explanation, indicating that an aspect is going to complicate an upcoming situation. Players can refuse that point and spend one of their own to avoid the complication, but it’s not a good idea, as that probably means the GM will use things that aren’t tied to you.
This isn’t just the GM’s show; players can trigger compels as well either by explicitly indicating that an aspect may be complicating things, or by playing to their aspects from the get-go and reminding the GM after the fact that they already behaved as if compelled. The GM isn’t always obligated to agree that a compel is appropriate, but it’s important that players participate here.
Aspects can be both useful and dangerous, but they should never be boring. Whenever you choose an aspect, stop a minute to think about what kinds of situations you can imagine using it for, and what kind of trouble it might get you into. The very best aspects suggest answers to both those questions, and an aspect that can answer neither is likely to be very dull indeed.
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 three situations where you feel the aspect would be a help or a hindrance.
This is especially handy if the GM suggests the aspect – she probably has a pretty clear idea of what it means when she suggests it, but that idea may not be immediately obvious.
At first glance, the most powerful aspects would seem to be things that are broadly useful with no real downside, things like “Quick”, “Lucky” or “Strong”, and a lot of players are tempted to go with those out the gate. Resist that temptation!
See, there are three very large problems with aspects like this: they’re boring, they don’t generate fate points, and they surrender your ability to help shape the story.
Boring is a pretty obvious problem. Consider a character who is “Lucky” and one who has “Strange Luck”. The latter aspect can be used for just as many good things as the former, but it also allows for a much wider range of possibilities.
You’ll also want to have some room for negative results of aspects. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but remember that every time an aspect makes trouble for you, you’ll receive a fate point, which is a pretty powerful incentive.
To come back to “Strange Luck”, it means that the GM can throw bizarre, even unfortunate, coincidences at the 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?
And that leads to the last point. When the GM sits down to plan an adventure, she’s going to look over the aspects of the players involved. 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, so 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 the details.
So in the end, the most powerful aspects are easy to spot, because they’re the most interesting ones. If you consider that you want an aspect you can use to your advantage but which can also be used to generate fate points, then it’s clear you will get the most mechanical potency out of an aspect that can do both. What’s more, aspects that tie into the world somehow (such as to a group, or a person) help you fill in the cast and characters of the world in a way that is most appealing to you.
Bottom line: if you want to maximize the power of your aspects, maximize their interest.
This page is a work in process. For some more ideas about aspects try these websites: