Using Aspects For Roleplaying
Table of Contents
Finally, aspects have a passive use that you can draw on in almost every instance of play. Players, you can use them as a guide to roleplaying your character. This may seem self-evident, but it should be called out anyway—the aspects on your character sheet are true of your character at all times, not just when they’re invoked or compelled.
Think of your collection of aspects as an oracle—like a tarot spread or tea leaves. They give you a big picture of what your character’s about, and they can reveal interesting implications if you read between the lines. If you’re wondering what your character might do in a certain situation, look at your aspects. What do they say about your character’s personality, goals, and desires? Are there any clues in what your aspects say that might suggest a course of action? Once you find that suggestion, go for it.
Playing to your aspects also has another benefit: you’re feeding the GM ideas for compels. You’re already bringing your aspects into the game, so all she has to do is offer you complications and you’re good to go.
GMs, you’ll use your NPCs aspects the same way, but you get an additional way of “reading the tea leaves”—you can also use them as a way of figuring out how the world reacts to the characters. Does someone have the aspect Strongest Man in the World? That’s a reputation that might precede that character, one that people might know about and react to. People might crowd in to see that character when he’s passing through.
Also, it suggests something about that character’s physical size and build. You know that most people are going to give that character a wide berth in a crowded space, might be naturally intimidated, or might be overly aggressive or brusque as overcompensation for being intimidated.
But no one’s going to ignore that character. Inserting these kinds of aspect-related details into your narration can help your game seem more vivid and consistent, even when you’re not shuffling fate points around.
In a session of Hearts of Steel, Landon comes back to his home village of Vinfeld, only to find that it has been sacked by barbarians and that his mentor, Old Finn, has been kidnapped.
Amanda tells him that the other villagers are overjoyed that he’s come back, and in a scene where he talks to the village elders, she also says that they want him to stay and help with rebuilding the town.
Lenny looks at some of the aspects on Landon’s sheet: Disciple of the Ivory Shroud, I Owe Old Finn Everything, The Manners of a Goat, and Smashing is Always an Option. His read of those aspects is that they show Landon as being very straightforward (to the point of rudeness), aggressive, inclined to solve problems through violence, and very loyal to those he considers his own.
Because of his aspects, there’s not a prayer’s chance in hell Landon’s going to stay and help the town when Finn might still be alive. And not only that, he’s going to tell the elders exactly how he feels about the fact that they didn’t send a rescue party after Old Finn themselves. Probably he uses words like “spineless” and “worthless.” You know, words that really make people sympathize with you.
Amanda says that he enrages the elders so much that they’re pondering banishing him from town for his insolence. She holds up a fate point and grins, indicating a compel—his manners are going to get him kicked out of Vinfeld.
Lenny takes it, accepting that complication. “Screw them anyway,” he says. “I’ll rescue Finn without their help.”
Removing Or Changing An Aspect
Game and character aspects change through advancement. See the Milestones section for that.
If you want to get rid of a situation aspect, you can do it in one of two ways: roll an overcome action specifically for the purpose of getting rid of the aspect, or roll some other kind of action that would make the aspect make no sense if you succeed. (For example, if you’re Grappled, you could try to sprint away. If you succeed, it wouldn’t make sense for you to be Grappled anymore, so you’d also get rid of that aspect.)
If a character can interfere with your action, they get to roll active opposition against you as per normal. Otherwise, GMs, it’s your job to set passive opposition or just allow the player to get rid of the aspect without a roll, if there’s nothing risky or interesting in the way.
Finally, if at any point it simply makes no sense for a situation aspect to be in play, get rid of it.
Creating and Discovering New Aspects In Play
In addition to your character aspects, game aspects, and the situation aspects that the GM presents, you have the ability to create, discover, or gain access to other aspects as you play.
For the most part, you’ll use the create an advantage action to make new aspects. When you describe the action that gives you an advantage, the context should tell you if it requires a new aspect or if it derives from an existing one. If you’re bringing a new circumstance into play—like throwing sand in someone’s eyes—you’re indicating that you need a new situation aspect.
With some skills, it’s going to make more sense to stick an advantage to an aspect that’s already on some other character’s sheet. In this case, the PC or NPC you’re targeting would provide active opposition to keep you from being able to use that aspect.
If you’re not looking for a free invocation, and you just think it’d make sense if there were a particular situation aspect in play, you don’t need to roll the dice or anything to make new aspects—just suggest them, and if the group thinks they’re interesting, write them down.
For the GM: Extremely Powerful Ninja GM Trick
So, if you don’t have any aspects made up for a scene or an NPC, just ask the players what kinds of aspects they’re looking for when they roll to create an advantage. If they tie or succeed, just write down something similar to what they were looking for and say they were right. If they fail, write it down anyway, or write another aspect down that’s not advantageous to them, so as to contrast with their expectations.
Secret or Hidden Aspects
Some skills also let you use the create an advantage action to reveal aspects that are hidden, either on NPCs or environments—in this case, the GM simply tells you what the aspect is if you get a tie or better on the roll. You can use this to “fish” for aspects if you’re not precisely sure what to look for—doing well on the roll is sufficient justification for being able to find something advantage-worthy.
Generally speaking, it is assumed that most of the aspects in play are public knowledge for the players. The PCs’ character sheets are sitting on the table, and probably the main and supporting NPCs are as well. That doesn’t always mean the characters know about those aspects, but that’s one of the reasons why the create an advantage action exists—to help you justify how a character learns about other characters.
Also, remember that aspects can help deepen the story only if you get to use them—aspects that are never discovered might as well never have existed in the first place. So most of the time, the players should always know what aspects are available for their use, and if there’s a question as to whether or not the character knows, use the dice to help you decide.
Finally, sometimes you’re going to want to keep an NPC’s aspects secret or not reveal certain situation aspects right away because you’re trying to build tension in the story. If the PCs are investigating a series of murders, you don’t exactly want the culprit to have Sociopathic Serial Murderer sitting on an index card for the PCs to see at the beginning of the adventure.
In those cases, it is recommended that you don’t make an aspect directly out of whatever fact you’re trying to keep secret. Instead, make the aspect a detail that makes sense in context after the secret is revealed.
Amanda is making an NPC who’s secretly a vampire, the main bad guy in the scenario she’s planning. He’s also a constable in the town the PCs are going to, so she doesn’t want to give things away too easily.
Instead of making a Secretly a Vampire aspect, she decides to make a few personal details instead: Inveterate Night Owl, Tougher Than He Looks, and Wheels Within Wheels. If the PCs discover a couple of these, or see them on the table, they might start to suspect the NPC, but it’s not going to ruin the mystery of the scenario right away.