Aspects and 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 have a reputation as the Greatest Sharpshooter in the Wasteland (see below for more about these kinds of aspects). A room might be On Fire after you knock over an oil lamp. After an encounter with a monster, you might be Terrified. Aspects let you change the story in ways that go along with your character’s tendencies, skills, or problems.
Aspects Are Always True
You can invoke aspects for a bonus to a roll and compel them to create a complication. But even when those aren’t in play, aspects still affect the narrative. When you have that flesh-wrapped monstrosity Pinned in a Hydraulic Press, that is true. It can’t do much stuck in there, and it’s not getting out easy.
In essence, “aspects are always true” means that aspects can grant or withdraw permission for what can happen in the story (they can also affect difficulty). If the aforementioned monstrosity is Pinned, the GM (and everyone else) has to respect that. The creature has lost permission to move until something happens which removes that aspect, either a successful overcome (which itself might require a justifying aspect like Superhuman Strength) or someone foolishly reversing the press. Similarly, if you have Cybernetically Enhanced Legs, you’ve arguably gained permission to leap over walls in a single bound without even having to roll for it.
That’s not to say you can create any aspect you want and use its truth like a club. Aspects grant a lot of power to shape the story, yes, but with that power comes the responsibility to play within the story’s constraints. Aspects have to line up with the table’s sense of what actually passes muster. If an aspect doesn’t pass the sniff test, it needs to be reworded.
Sure, you might like to use create an advantage to inflict the aspect Dismembered on that fungal super-soldier, but that clearly steps on the toes of the attack action, and besides, it takes a bit more work to lop her arm off than that (could work as a consequence, though—see the next page). You might say you’re the World’s Best Shot, but you’ll need to back that up with your skills. And as much as you’d like to make yourself Bulletproof, removing permission for someone to use small arms fire to harm you, that is unlikely to fly unless the game you’re playing involves using aspects-as-superpowers.
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.
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 primarily change during milestones.
Examples: Leader of My Band of Survivors; Attention to Detail; I Must Protect My Brother
These aspects describe the surroundings or scenario where the action is taking place. 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 situation they represent lasts.
Examples: ?On Fire; Bright Sunlight; Crowd of Angry People; Knocked to the Ground; Pursued by the Police
These aspects represent injuries or other lasting trauma taken by absorbing a hit, often from attacks.
Examples: Sprained Ankle; Concussion; Debilitating Self-Doubt
A boost is a special kind of aspect, representing an extremely temporary or minor situation. You cannot compel a boost or spend a fate point to invoke it. You may invoke it once for free, after which it vanishes. An unused boost vanishes when the advantage it represents no longer exists, which may be a few seconds or the duration of a single action. They never persist beyond the end of a scene, and you can hold off naming one until you’re using it. If you’re in control of a boost, you may pass it to an ally if there’s rationale for it.
Examples: In My Sights; Distracted; Unstable Footing
What Can I Do with Aspects?
Earning Fate Points
One way you can earn fate points is by letting your character’s aspects be compelled against you to complicate the situation or make your life harder. You may also get a fate point payout if someone uses your aspect against you in a hostile invoke or when you concede.
Remember, each session, you also start with fate points at least equal to your refresh. If you were compelled more than you invoked in the prior session, you’ll show up at the next one with more.
To unlock the true power of aspects and make them help you, you’ll need to spend fate points to invoke them during dice rolls. Keep track of your fate points with pennies or glass beads or poker chips or some other tokens.
You can also invoke aspects for free, if you have a free invoke from you or an ally creating an advantage you can use.
The Ellipsis Trick
If you want an easy way to ensure you have room to incorporate aspects into a roll, try narrating your action with an ellipsis at the end (“...”), and then finish the action with the aspect you want to invoke. Like this:
Ryan says, “So I’m trying to decipher the runes and...” (rolls the dice, hates the result) “...and If I Haven’t Been There, I’ve Read About It...” (spends a fate point) “...so I easily start rambling about their origin.”
Most of the time an aspect is invoked, it’s a character aspect or a situation aspect. Sometimes you’ll invoke enemies’ character aspects against them. This is called a hostile invocation, and it works just like invoking any other aspect—pay a fate point and get a +2 to your roll or reroll the dice. There’s one small difference—when you make a hostile invocation, you give the fate point to the enemy. But they don’t get to use the fate point until after the scene is over. This payout only applies when a fate point is actually spent on a hostile invocation. Free invokes do not trigger a payout.
Invoking to Declare Story Details
You may add an important or unlikely detail to the story based on an aspect in play. Don’t spend a fate point when “aspects are always true” applies. Pay when it’s a stretch—or, table willing, when there’s no relevant aspect.
Aspects can be compelled to complicate the situation and earn fate points. To compel an aspect, the GM or a player offers a fate point to the player whose character is being compelled, and tells them why an aspect is making things more difficult or complicated. If you refuse the compel, you must spend a fate point from your own supply and describe how your character avoids the complication. Yes, this means that if you don’t have any fate points, you can’t refuse a compel!
Any aspect can be compelled—whether it’s a character aspect, situation aspect, or consequence—but it must be something that affects the character being compelled.
Anyone can offer a compel. The player proposing the compel must spend one of their own fate points. The GM then takes over running the compel for the affected target. The GM does not lose a fate point by offering a compel—they have a limited pool of fate points for invoking aspects, but can compel as much as they’d like.
Compels can be retroactive. If a player finds they have roleplayed themself into a complication related to one of their aspects or a situation aspect that concerns them, they can ask the GM if that counts as a self-compel. If the group agrees, the GM slides the player a fate point.
It’s okay to recognize a compel as off-the-mark and withdraw it. If the group agrees that a proposed compel wasn’t appropriate, it should be withdrawn at no cost to the compelled character.
Compels Are Complications, Not Stymies
When offering a compel, make sure that the complication is a course of action or major change in circumstance, not a denial of options.
“Oh, you’ve got sand in your eyes, so you shoot at the creature and miss,” is not a compel. It denies action rather than complicating anything.
“You know, curse your luck, I think that the sand in your eyes means you can’t really see anything. Your shots at the shoggoth go wild, puncturing a few barrels that are now gushing gasoline toward the fire pit.” This is a much better compel. It changes the scene, ratchets up the tension, and gives the players something new to think about.
For some ideas about what does and doesn’t work as a compel, check out the discussion of types of compels found in Fate Core System starting on page 72 of that book.
Events and Decisions
There are two general kinds of compels: events and decisions.
An event compel is something that happens to a character because of an external force. That external force connects with the aspect in some way, resulting in an unfortunate complication.
A decision compel is internal, where the character’s flaws or competing values get in the way of better judgment. The aspect guides the character to make a particular choice—and the fallout of that choice creates a complication for them.
In either case, a resulting complication is key! Without a complication, there is no compel.
Hostile Invocations or Compels?
Don’t confuse hostile invocations and compels! Though they are similar—they are ways to give a character an immediate problem in exchange for a fate point—they work differently.
A compel creates a narrative change. The decision to compel a character’s aspect isn’t something that happens in-universe; rather, it’s the GM or player proposing a change to the story. The effect can be broad, but the target gets the fate point immediately if they accept the compel, and may choose to refuse the compel.
A hostile invocation is a mechanical effect. The target doesn’t get a chance to refuse the invocation—but as with any invocation, you will need to explain how that aspect makes sense to invoke. And while they do get a fate point, they don’t get to use it in the current scene. However, the ultimate result is much more constrained: a +2 bonus or one reroll of the dice.
Compels let you, as a player or GM, change what a scene is about. They throw a wrench in the narrative. Using them against an opponent is a risky proposition—they might refuse, or accomplish their objective despite the complication thanks to the shiny new fate point you handed them.
Hostile invocations help you in the current moment. In addition to your own aspects, you have your opponent’s aspects available to invoke, giving you more options and making scenes more dynamic and connected.
How Can I Add and Remove Aspects?
You can create or discover a situation aspect using the create an advantage action. You may also create boosts that way, or as a result of a tie or success with style when you overcome an obstacle, attack, or defend.
You can remove an aspect provided you can think of a way your character could do so—blast the Raging Fire with a fire extinguisher, use evasive maneuvers to escape the pursuing guard that’s On Your Tail. Depending on the situation, that might require an overcome action; in this case, an opponent could use a defend action to try to preserve the aspect, if they can describe how they do so.
However, if there’s no narrative block to removing an aspect, you can simply do so. If you’re All Tied Up and then a friend unties you, the aspect goes away. If there’s nothing stopping you, there’s no need to roll.
Other Kinds of Aspects
We’ve covered the standard aspect types. These additional types are optional, but may add value to your game. To some extent these are variants on character aspects (if you expand your notion of what counts as a character) and situation aspects (if you change your notion of how long those last).
Organization aspects: Sometimes you might be dealing with a whole organization that operates under a certain set of principles. Consider giving the organization aspects which any member of it can access as if it were their own.
Scenario aspects: Sometimes a particular plot might introduce a new “trope” that shows up time and again in the storyline. Consider defining this as an aspect which is available to all characters in the story until that part of the story concludes.
Setting aspects: Like a scenario aspect, the setting of your campaign itself may have recurring themes. Unlike a scenario aspect, these aspects don’t go away.
Zone aspects: You can attach situation aspects to a particular place on the map represented by a zone. This can add extra dynamism to your group’s interactions with the map. A GM can encourage this by making an “up for grabs” free invoke available on a zone aspect at the start of the scene, drawing characters (player and non-player alike) to leverage that aspect as part of their early strategy.