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The Book of Hanz

Aspects, the Information Economy, and Chekov's Gun

(No, not the Star Trek guy).

Okay, I think most people are aware of Chekov's Gun -"if a gun is on the wall in the first act, it should be fired by the third."

Ultimately, what this really means is "don't bother the audience with extraneous detail." Especially in a play, everything that's there should be there for a reason. There's a deliberate choice that's made to focus on what's important, and remove everything that isn't.

We see this in TV shows, movies, and books, as well, but not to as great of an extent. Most of these media try to immerse their audience in the reality of what's happening, something that's generally not a goal for plays. And so there might very well be a gun on the wall that never gets fired, or a shadow that nobody leaps out of.

But the camera will never focus on those things. And that's a useful way of looking at it, as well -an aspect is something that gets camera focus in describing the scene.

To put it another way, there's a difference between a scene being dark, and a scene being Dark. A dark scene may be a poorly lit bar -but the lighting is just ambience. It doesn't influence the plot in any way. It doesn't really impact how the characters do things. It's just there to set a mood.

A Dark scene is different. In a Dark scene, we can expect somebody to jump out of the shadows at some point, or disappear into them.

And that's kind of what aspects are. They're the things we're pointing out to the players as important. We don't try to capture every detail, or worry about the minor things that have a slight influence on what happens. Size advantages/disadvantages aren't a big deal, until you're talking about something on the level of Bruce Lee vs. Kareem Abdul Jabaar yeah, one guy might have a slightly longer reach, and one guy might be slightly faster, yada, yada, yada, but all of those are minor factors.

Fate worries about the major factors. It worries about the big things that will swing how the scenes play out. It doesn't worry about the minor effects, even though those certainly can add up to a big effect -but it assumes that, like a TV show or movie, that those turn out to be a wash most of the time.

Now, since we don't have full control of the story, we can't fully obey the law of Chekov's Gun. But it's important to keep in mind that every aspect should be something that could be important, and that could be something that causes the scene to swing a different way.

And that's why aspect "spamming" is kind of a bad thing. The point of aspects is to restrict what the players have to think about, to restrict the important elements in a scene. If your scene has a list of twenty aspects, then you've destroyed this economy of information, and have reduced the value of calling out things as aspects in the first place.