Aspects & Fate Points
An aspect is a word or phrase that describes something special about a person, place, thing, situation, or group. Almost anything you can think of can have aspects. A person might be the Greatest Swordswoman on the Cloud Sea. A room might be On Fire after you knock over an oil lamp. After a time-travel encounter with a dinosaur, you might be Terrified. Aspects let you change the story in ways that go along with your character’s tendencies, skills, or problems.
You spend fate points—which you keep track of with pennies or glass beads or poker chips or some other tokens—to unlock the power of aspects and make them help you. You earn fate points by letting a character aspect be compelled against you to complicate the situation or make your life harder. Be sure to keep track of the fate points you have left at the end of the session—if you have more than your refresh, you start the next session with the fate points you ended this session with.
You earned a lot of fate points during your game session, ending the day with five fate points. Your refresh is 2, so you’ll start with five fate points the next time you play. But another player ends the same session with just one fate point. His refresh is 3, so he’ll begin the next session with 3 fate points, not just the one he had left over.
What Kinds of Aspects Are There?
There’s an endless variety of aspects, but no matter what they’re called they all work pretty much the same way. The main difference is how long they stick around before going away.
Character Aspects: These aspects are on your character sheet, such as your high concept and trouble. They describe personality traits, important details about your past, relationships you have with others, important items or titles you possess, problems you’re dealing with or goals you’re working toward, or reputations and obligations you carry. These aspects only change under very unusual circumstances; most never will.
Examples: Captain of the Skyship Nimbus; On the Run From the Knights of the Circle; Attention to Detail; I Must Protect My Brother
Situation Aspects: These aspects describe the surroundings that the action is taking place in. This includes aspects you create or discover using the create an advantage action. A situation aspect usually vanishes at the end of the scene it was part of, or when someone takes some action that would change or get rid of it. Essentially, they last only as long as the situational element they represent lasts.
Examples: On Fire; Bright Sunlight; Crowd of Angry People; Knocked to the Ground
To get rid of a situation aspect, you can attempt an overcome action to eliminate it, provided you can think of a way your character could accomplish it—dump a bucket of water on the Raging Fire, use evasive maneuvers to escape the enemy fighter that’s On Your Tail. An opponent may use a Defend action to try to preserve the aspect, if they can describe how they do it.
Consequences: These aspects represent injuries or other lasting trauma that happen when you get hit by attacks. They go away slowly, as described in Ouch! Damage, Stress, and Consequences.
Examples: Sprained Ankle; Fear of Spiders; Concussion; Debilitating Self-Doubt
Boosts: A boost is a temporary aspect that you get to use once (see “What Do You Do With Aspects?”next), then it vanishes. Unused boosts vanish when the scene they were created in is over or when the advantage they represent no longer exists. These represent very brief and fleeting advantages you get in conflicts with others.
Examples: In My Sights; Distracted; Unstable Footing; Rock in His Boot
PVP (Player versus player)
The only time that fate point might not go to the GM is when you’re in conflict with another player. If you are, and you invoke one of that player’s character aspects to help you out against them, they will get the fate point instead of the GM once the scene is over.
What Do You Do With Aspects?
There are three big things you can do with aspects: invoke aspects, compel aspects, and use aspects to establish facts.
You invoke an aspect to give yourself a bonus or make things a bit harder for your opponent. You can invoke any aspect that you a) know about, and b) can explain how you use it to your advantage—including aspects on other characters or on the situation. Normally, invoking an aspect costs you a fate point—hand one of your fate points to the GM. To invoke an aspect, you need to describe how that aspect helps you in your current situation.
- I attack the zombie with my sword. I know zombies are Sluggish, so that should help me.
- I really want to scare this guy. I’ve heard he’s Scared of Mice, so I’ll release a mouse in his bedroom.
- Now that the guard’s Distracted, I should be able to sneak right by him.
- This spell needs to be really powerful—I’m an Archwizard of the Ancient Order, and powerful spells are my bread and butter.
What does invoking the aspect get you? Choose one of the following effects:
- Add a +2 bonus to your total. This costs a fate point.
- Reroll the dice. This option is best if you rolled really lousy (usually a −3 or −4 showing on the dice). This costs a fate point.
- Confront an opponent with the aspect. You use this option when your opponent is trying something and you think an existing aspect would make it harder for them. For instance, an alien thug wants to draw his blaster pistol, but he’s Buried in Debris; you spend a fate point to invoke that aspect, and now your opponent’s level of difficulty is increased by +2.
- Help an ally with the aspect. Use this option when a friend could use some help and you think an existing aspect would make it easier for them. You spend a fate point to invoke the aspect, and now your friend gets a +2 on their roll.
Important: You can only invoke any aspect once on a given dice roll; you can’t spend a stack of fate points on one aspect and get a huge bonus from it. However, you can invoke several different aspects on the same roll.
If you’re invoking an aspect to add a bonus or reroll your dice, wait until after you’ve rolled to do it. No sense spending a fate point if you don’t need to!
Free invocations: Sometimes you can invoke an aspect for free, without paying a fate point. If you create or discover an aspect through the create an advantage action, the first invocation on it (by you or an ally) is free (if you succeeded with style, you get two freebies). If you cause a consequence through an attack, you or an ally can invoke it once for free. A boost is a special kind of aspect that grants one free invocation, then it vanishes.
If you’re in a situation where having or being around a certain aspect means your character’s life is more dramatic or complicated, anyone can compel the aspect. You can even compel it on yourself—that’s called a self-compel. Compels are the most common way for players to earn more fate points.
There are two types of compels.
Decision compels: This sort of compel suggests the answer to a decision your character has to make. If your character is Princess of Alaria, for example, you may need to stay to lead the defense of the Royal Alarian Castle rather than fleeing to safety. Or if you have a Defiant Streak a Mile Wide, maybe you can’t help but mouth off to the Dean of Discipline when he questions you.
Event compels: Other times a compel reflects something happening that makes life more complicated for you. If you have Strange Luck, of course that spell you’re working on in class accidentally turns the dour Potions Master’s hair orange. If you Owe Don Valdeon a Favor, then Don Valdeon shows up and demands that you perform a service for him just when it’s least convenient.
In any case, when an aspect is compelled against you, the person compelling it offers you a fate point and suggests that the aspect has a certain effect—that you’ll make a certain decision or that a particular event will occur. You can discuss it back and forth, proposing tweaks or changes to the suggested compel. After a moment or two, you need to decide whether to accept the compel. If you agree, you take the fate point and your character makes the suggested decision or the event happens. If you refuse, you must pay a fate point from your own supply. Yes, this means that if you don’t have any fate points, you can’t refuse a compel!
How Many Fate Points Does the GM Get?
As GM, you don’t need to track fate points for each NPC, but that doesn’t mean you get an unlimited number. Start each scene with a pool of one fate point per PC that’s in the scene. Spend fate points from this pool to invoke aspects (and consequences) against the PCs. When it’s empty, you can’t invoke aspects against them.
How can you increase the size of your pool? When a player compels one of an NPC’s aspects, add the fate point to your pool. If that compel ends the scene, or when an NPC gives in, instead add those fate points to your pool at the start of the next scene.
Fate points you award for compels do NOT come from this pool. You never have to worry about running out of fate points to award for compels.
The final thing that aspects can do is establish facts in the game. You don’t have to spend any fate points, roll dice, or anything to make this happen—just by virtue of having the aspect Ruddy Duck’s Pilot, you’ve established that your character is a pilot and that you fly a plane named the Ruddy Duck. Having the aspect Mortal Enemy: The Red Ninjas establishes that the setting has an organization called the Red Ninjas and that they’re after you for some reason. If you take the aspect Sorcerer of the Mysterious Circle, you not only establish that there’s a group of sorcerers called the Mysterious Circle, but that magic exists in the setting and that you can perform it.
When you establish facts of the setting this way, make sure you do it in cooperation with other players. If most people want to play in a setting without magic, you shouldn’t unilaterally bring magic into it through an aspect. Make sure that the facts you establish through your aspects make the game fun for everyone.
Composing Good Aspects
When you need to think of a good aspect (we’re mainly talking about character and situation aspects here), think about two things:
- How the aspect might help you—when you’d invoke it.
- How it might hurt you—when it would be compelled against you.
I’ll Get You, von Stendahl!
- Invoke this when acting against von Stendahl to improve your chances.
- Get a fate point when your dislike for von Stendahl makes you do something foolish to try to get him.
Hair Trigger Nerves
- Invoke this when being extra vigilant and careful would help you.
- Get a fate point when this causes you to be jumpy and be distracted by threats that aren’t really there.
Obviously, your trouble aspect is supposed to cause problems—and thereby make your character’s life more interesting and get you fate points—so it’s okay if that one’s a little more one-dimensional, but other character and situation aspects should be double-edged.