Making A Good Aspect
Because aspects are so important to the game, it’s important to make the best aspects you can. So, how do you know what a good aspect is?
The best aspects are double-edged, say more than one thing, and keep the phrasing simple.
Players, good aspects offer a clear benefit to your character while also providing opportunities to complicate their lives or be used to their detriment.
An aspect with a double-edge is going to come up in play more often than a mostly positive or negative one. You can use them frequently to be awesome, and you’ll be able to accept more compels and gain more fate points.
Try this as a litmus test—list two ways you might invoke the aspect, and two ways someone else could invoke it or you could get a compel from it. If the examples come easily to mind, great! If not, add more context to make that aspect work or put that idea to the side and come up with a new aspect.
Let’s look at an aspect like Computer Genius. The benefits of having this aspect are pretty obvious—any time you’re hacking or working with technology, you could justify invoking it. But it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of room for that aspect to work against you. So, let’s think of a way we can spice that up a bit.
What if we change that aspect to Nerdy McNerdson? That still carries the connotations that would allow you to take advantage of it while working with computers, but it adds a downside—you’re awkward around people. This might mean that you could accept compels to mangle a social situation, or someone might invoke your aspect when a fascinating piece of equipment distracts you.
GMs, this is just as true of your game and situation aspects. Any feature of a scene you call out should be something that either the PCs or their foes could use in a dramatic fashion. Your game aspects do present problems, but they also should present ways for the PCs to take advantage of the status quo.
Say More Than One Thing
Earlier, it was noted several things that a character aspect might describe: personality traits, backgrounds, relationships, problems, possessions, and so forth. The best aspects overlap across a few of those categories, because that means you have more ways to bring them into play.
Let’s look at a simple aspect that a soldier might have: I Must Prove Myself. You can invoke this whenever you’re trying to do something to gain the approval of others or demonstrate your competence. Someone might compel it to bait you into getting into a fight you want to avoid, or to accept a hardship for the sake of reputation. So we know it has a double edge, so far so good.
That’ll work for a bit, but eventually this aspect will run out of steam. It says just one thing about the character. Either you’re trying to prove yourself, or this aspect isn’t going to come up.
Now tie that aspect in with a relationship to an organization: The Legion Demands I Prove Myself. Your options open up a great deal. Not only do you get all the content from before, but you’ve introduced that the Legion can make demands of you, can get you into trouble by doing things you get blamed for, or can send NPC superiors to make your life difficult. You can also invoke the aspect when dealing with the Legion, or with anyone else who might be affected by the Legion’s reputation. Suddenly, that aspect has a lot more going on around it.
GMs, for your situation aspects, you don’t have to worry about this as much, because they’re only intended to stick around for a scene. It’s much more important for game and character aspects to suggest multiple contexts for use.
I Must Prove Myself
* The Legion Demands I Prove Myself
Because aspects are phrases, they come with all the ambiguities of language. If no one knows what your aspect means, it won’t get used enough.
That isn’t to say you have to avoid poetic or fanciful expression. Just a Simple Farmboy isn’t quite as fetching as Child of Pastoral Bliss. If that’s the tone your game is going for, feel free to indulge your linguistic desires.
However, don’t do this at the expense of clarity. Avoid metaphors and implications, when you can get away with just saying what you mean. That way, other people don’t have to stop and ask you during play if a certain aspect would apply, or get bogged down in discussions about what it means.
Let’s look at Memories, Wishes, and Regrets. There’s something evocative about the phrase. It suggests a kind of melancholy about the past. But as an aspect, I don’t really know what it’s supposed to do. How does it help you? What are the memories of? What did you wish for? Without some concrete idea of what the aspect’s referring to, invoking and compelling it is pretty much impossible.
Suppose we talk about this some, and you specify that you were going for this idea that your character was scarred from years spent in the setting’s last great war. You killed people you didn’t want to kill, saw things you didn’t want to see, and pretty much had all your hope of returning to a normal life taken away.
I think this is all fantastic, and I suggest we call it Scars from the War. Less poetic, maybe, but it directly references all the stuff you’re talking about, and gives me ideas about people from your past I may be able to bring back into your life.
If you’re wondering if your aspect is unclear, ask the people at the table what they think it means.
Memories, Wishes, and Regrets
* Scars from the War
If You Get Stuck
Now you know what makes for a good aspect, but that doesn’t narrow down your potential choices any—you still have a nearly infinite set of topics and ideas to choose from.
If you’re still stuck about what to choose, here are some tips to make things a little easier on you.
Sometimes, It’s Better Not to Choose
If you can’t think of an aspect that really grabs you and the other people at the table, you’re better off leaving that space blank, or just keeping whatever ideas you had scribbled in the margins. Sometimes it’s much easier to wait for your character to get into play before you figure out how you want to word a particular aspect.
So when in doubt, leave it blank. Maybe you have a general idea of the aspect but don’t know how to phrase it, or maybe you just have no idea. Don’t worry about it. There’s always room during the game to figure it out as you go.
The same thing is true if you have more than one idea that seems juicy, but they don’t work together and you don’t know which one to pick. Write them all down in the margins and see which one seems to really sing in play. Then fill the space in later, with the one that gets the most mileage.
Always Ask What Matters and Why
It was said above that aspects tell you why something matters in the game and why someone should care about it. This is your primary compass and guide to choosing the best possible aspect. When in doubt, always ask: what do we really care about here, and why?
The events of the phases should help you figure out what your aspect should be. Don’t try to summarize the events of the phase or anything like that with your aspect—remember, the point is to reveal something important about the character. Again, ask yourself what really matters about the phase:
- What was the outcome? Is that important?
- Did the character develop any important relationships or connections during this phase?
- Does the phase help establish anything important about the character’s personality or beliefs?
- Did the phase give the character a reputation?
- Did the phase create a problem for the character in the game world?
Assume that each question ends with “for good or ill”—these features, relationships, and reputations aren’t necessarily going to be positive, after all. Developing a relationship with a nemesis is as juicy as developing one with your best friend.
If there’s more than one option, poll the other players and GM to see what they find interesting. Remember, you should all be helping each other out—the game works best if everyone’s a fan of what everyone else is doing.
During Cynere’s phase three, Lily states that she complicated Zird’s story by showing up at an opportune moment and stealing the artifact that Zird stole from his rivals. Eventually the artifact returns to Zird’s hands.
She’s trying to tease out what the best aspect would be, and she doesn’t have a whole lot of information to go on. Going through the questions above, we see a lot of potential options—she showed off her underhandedness, she definitely suggested a relationship with Zird of some kind, and Zird’s rivals might now have a beef with her as well.
Lily polls the rest of the group, and after some talking, everyone seems to be pretty enthused about Cynere having some kind of aspected connection to Zird—they did all grow up in the same village, after all. She decides on I’ve Got Zird’s Back, because it’s specific enough to be invoked and compelled, but leaves room for development later on in the game.
Vary It Up
You don’t want all your aspects to describe the same kind of thing. Five relationships means that you can’t use your aspects unless one of them is in play, but five personality traits means that you have no connection to the game world. If you’re stuck on what to pick for an aspect, looking at what kinds of things your other aspects describe may help you figure out which way to go for the current phase.
Lenny ends up with Disciple of the Ivory Shroud and The Manners of a Goat as Landon’s high concept and trouble. So far, this is a pretty straightforward character—a violent type whose mouth and demeanor are always getting him into trouble.
Lenny does his phase one and explains to us that Landon was a miscreant and street rat that grew up practically as an orphan—his parents were around, but never really paid too much attention to him or spent effort reining him in. He eventually decided to enlist in the town militia after someone saved him from a clobbering in a bar fight and suggested he do something worthwhile with his life.
Amanda asks him what really matters about this phase, and Lenny ponders a bit. Landon’s first two aspects are heavy on personal description—he doesn’t have a lot of relationships yet. So Lenny focuses on that and decides he wants a connection to the guy who pulled him into the militia.
They end up naming that guy Old Finn, Landon ends up with the aspect I Owe Old Finn Everything, and Amanda now has a new NPC to play with.
Let Your Friends Decide
The game works best if everyone is invested in what everyone else is doing—collaboration is at the heart of the game, and it'll probably be said a lot more throughout this site.
You always have the option, especially with aspects, of simply asking the GM and other players to come up with something on your behalf. Pitch them the events of the phase, and ask them the same questions they’re going to be asking of you. What matters to them? What are they excited about? Do they have suggestions about how to make the events of the phase more dramatic or intense? What aspect do they think would be most interesting or appropriate?
You have the final decision as to what your character’s aspects are, so don’t look at it as giving up control. Look at it as asking your ever-important fan club and audience what they want to see, and using their suggestions to jumpstart your own train of thought. If everyone has a bit of input on everyone else’s characters, the game will benefit from that sense of mutual investment.