Fate System Toolkit
Aspects are what make Fate go. They’re the clearest, most interesting method for describing who your character is, and they form the basis of the fate point economy. Invoking an aspect gives you a certain amount of control over your destiny, a way to mitigate the caprice of the dice. Compels are the GM’s best friend when it comes to creating story and situation, injecting drama into a scene, or just plain throwing a wrench into the players’ plans.
Fate Core gives you the basic ways to use aspects and, for most groups, those will be enough. If you’re looking to squeeze a little more out of your aspects, crank up the complexity, or just do something different, read on.
Fate Core talks a little bit about this concept, explaining that what was previously known as “invoking for effect” is just a fancy compel. That’s true, but maybe that’s not all it means to invoke for effect.
When you invoke for effect, you’re spending a fate point—or a free invocation—to create a specifically defined mechanical effect, something other than what a typical aspect is capable of. When you create an aspect, look at it and decide whether or not it needs a special effect attached to it. Maybe your earth mage can invoke One with the Earth to avoid falling down or being moved against his will, or maybe your psychic detective can invoke Mental Eavesdropper to read someone’s surface thoughts.
Mechanically, an aspect effect should be worth the fate point you’re spending—the equivalent to two shifts’ worth of potency, just like any other effect of invoking an aspect. Aspect effects should do something, like in the examples above, rather than provide a static bonus. A regular aspect invocation already provides a bonus, so you don’t need a special effect that does that, too. An aspect effect is a bit like having an extra rules-exception stunt that you always have to pay for, both in terms of what the effect can accomplish and the amount of complexity it adds to your character.
Speaking of character complexity, gms need to decide how many of these effects each player character gets. the simplest way to use this rule is to allow each player to add a special effect to her high concept, since that’s the aspect that’s most likely to be big and character-defining. you can give pcs more aspect effects, but give them too many and it’s like having too many stunts—they’re not all going to get used and the volume of choices can lead to analysis paralysis.
NPCs can have aspect effects too, but it’s best to give them only to your main NPCs and maybe a really important supporting npc. in both cases, it’s best to limit the number of aspect effects per character to one or two at most.
In both cases, it’s best to limit the number of aspect effects per character to one or two at most.
In terms of cost, it’s okay for PCs to have one or even two of these effects for free. They’re on par with a normal invocation in terms of power, and they’re more situational so they’re less likely to be used often. GMs, more than that and you’re within your rights to ask PCs to spend refresh on additional effects.
Aspect: Always Armed
Effect: Spend a fate point to reveal a small, concealable weapon—like a knife or a holdout pistol—secreted away on your person somewhere, even if you’ve recently been disarmed.
Aspect: Ninja of the Serpent Clan
Effect: Spend a fate point to vanish from sight, even if people are looking at you. This gives you justification to make a Stealth roll to hide.
Aspect: Sharp-Eyed Elvish Scout
Effect: Spend a fate point to be able to see distant things—up to a mile away—clearly and in great detail, even at night.
When you invoke an aspect, it provides you with a +2 bonus or a reroll. This is fine most of the time, but it provides no mechanical advantage for invoking aspects that apply particularly well to a situation, nor does it provide any disincentive for invoking aspects that apply only tenuously. Another option is scaled invocation.
Scaled invocation divides aspects into three categories—tenuous invocations, relevant invocations, and perfect invocations.
Tenuous invocations only barely apply to the situation at hand, like invoking Strong Like Bull in a drinking contest or using a Pile of Garbage to break your fall from a second-story window. If an invocation is tenuous, you can only use it for a reroll. This means you’ll never get to use it to increase your roll beyond what you’d be able to roll on the dice, but you can use it to mitigate a truly disastrous roll. It also means that multiple tenuous invocations aren’t usually all that useful.
When you make a relevant invocation, you’re invoking something that clearly applies to the current situation without requiring too much justification. Maybe you’re using Fastest Gun in the West in a gunfight, or maybe you’re hiding behind a Concrete Wall for cover. It gives you exactly what an invocation normally would—a +2 or a reroll.
A perfect invocation is one that makes everyone say “Awesome!” or smile and nod enthusiastically when you announce it. It’s perfectly suited to the situation, clearly the right choice in that instance. There’s little else that might motivate your character as strongly as invoking Udru Khai Killed My Family when you’re trying to tackle him as he’s getting away. When you invoke a perfect aspect, you automatically succeed on your action, no roll necessary. If you invoke after the roll, just ignore your roll. If you need to know how many shifts you generated, assume you generated 1. This does mean you can invoke a second aspect to succeed with style, if it’s relevant.
The exception here is an attack. When you invoke a perfect aspect on an attack, you don’t have to roll. Instead, your attack is set at your skill rating plus 3. Thus, if you were attacking with your Good (+3) Fight and invoked a perfect aspect, your effort would be a Fantastic (+6), which your opponent can then defend against. If you’ve already rolled, and invoking a perfect aspect would get you a better result, take your result and add 1 to it.
Some situation aspects imply destructibility or finite use, such as Pallet of Propane Tanks or Rotted Support Columns. They can have an effect on the narrative but not necessarily a mechanical effect. If you’d like such aspects to be mechanically distinct from aspects like Inky Darkness or Cover Everywhere, you can allow PCs to detonate these situation aspects.
When a player detonates a situation aspect, he declares his intent to do so and explains how he’s using that aspect such that no one will be able to use it again. If he can do this to everyone’s satisfaction, he gets to invoke the aspect once for free.
Once he’s done invoking the aspect, it goes away and the situation changes for the worse—or at least the more dangerous. Detonating an aspect creates a new situation aspect, which represents how the old aspect was destroyed, and how it wrecked things. That last bit is the key—it has to wreck things, to complicate things. It’s no fair to detonate that Pallet of Propane Tanks and replace it with something boring like Scorch Marks. Replace it with something big and flashy and destructive, like The Building Is on Fire! or The Ceiling Is Collapsing!. The new situation aspect must always make things more tenuous for everyone, and should always be an imminent threat.