Odds and Ends
Rob's Guide to Writing Good Aspects
Table of Contents
(This seems to be one of the recurring things people, especially new people, have problems with, so I thought I'd toss my ideas in the ring as well. Please feel free to tell me if there areas that this could be improved in, or are flat out wrong.)
Lots of people new to Fate think of aspects in terms of defining what their characters can do, as Merits/Feats/Advantages work in other systems. Try not to think of aspects in this way, it tends to create poor aspects. Instead, the best overall view of aspects is "what would I want to see in a story about this character?"
Specifically, things that can be handled with skills or stunts should be handled as skills or stunts. You don't need a Good Shot aspect to hit people with a gun -that's what the Shoot skill is for. And if you want to be a great sniper, an appropriate stunt will do the job much better than an aspect will.
On the other hand, The White Death is pretty darn interesting, and the story of what happens to him after, or during, the war would be pretty interesting. It also covers a few other mechanical areas that simply Good Sniper doesn't.
Now, what a good aspect is becomes a bit harder to define, especially without a solid understanding of what aspects do. Don't worry, I'm not going to dive too hard into the mechanics here, as my goal is to make these ideas understandable with as little game jargon as possible.
What Do Aspects Do?
To write a good aspect, it's fundamentally important that you understand what they do in game. While this may depend on a number of things, aspects on character typically do one or more of five things:
- Grant permission
- Make you awesome doing some things
- Hinder you in some circumstances 4) Complicate your life
- Create setting
We'll cover each of these, and why they're important.
One of the common uses of aspects is to "grant permission" to do certain things that the majority of people can't do. This is probably the vaguest of the four uses of character aspects, so I'll try to clarify with some examples. Most people can't use magic, but a Wizard Private Eye can.
Most people can't use the Force, but The Last Jedi sure can.
Most people can't go into the palace and talk to the king, but The Brother of the King sure can.
Most people can't find the assassin's guild, and certainly can't get in, but An Assassin in Good Standing can.
As you can see, a lot of times a 'grant permission' aspect follows the formula "Most people can't
If you've got an aspect in mind, think of whether or not it gives you any kind of permissions. If not, that's fine -not all aspects do.
Make you awesome doing some things
The most common use of an aspect is probably to make you more awesome doing things. When coming up with an aspect, try to think of things that your character might fail at if the aspect weren't true.
"My character might have missed that shot, but The White Death doesn't miss." "I may not have been able to defeat those stormtroopers had it not been for My Wookiie Copilot"
"I may not have been able to jump out of that carbonite trap had I not been The Last Jedi"
"They may have seen me try to sneak by, except for the fact that I'm One With the Shadows"
"I may not have been able to do what I want, but I'm a master of White Russian Diplomacy"
Hinder you in some circumstances
This is the exact opposite of the previous section. Aspects under this category can cause failure when otherwise you may have succeeded.
Now, this is probably an odd concept. Why in the world would you want to do this?
Aspects are triggered by Fate Points. Each scene, the GM gets a Fate Point for each character. If the GM chooses to use one against you on one of your aspects, you get that Fate Point at the end of the scene.
If the GM uses them on one of the NPC's aspects, you don't get them.
Now, rest assured that the GM will use his Fate Point budget on each scene. It's just going to happen. The only question is whether or not you get those Fate Points, one of your fellow PCs gets them, or if they just vanish into thin air.
That said, the template for "bad" aspect use is almost exactly like the "good" ones, so you can think of them in almost the same way.
"I probably would have talked the official into doing things my way, except that I'm obviously not trustworthy since I'm One With the Shadows"
"I would have been able to grab onto that ledge, except my Bionic Hand froze up"
"I would have been able to jump out of the trap, had it not been for my Lame Leg"
Complicate your life
And here's another one where it seems aspects are negative. And the reason for why you want these is exactly the same -to get delicious, delicious Fate Points.
Occasionally, the GM can decide to complicate your life by using one of your aspects. If you're The Last Jedi, then there are probably people hunting you down, and they very well might barge in on you at the most inopportune moments. And when that does, the GM hands you a Fate Point (don't worry, there are ways to stop this from happening, but that's beyond the scope of this document).
Even without the Fate Point, wouldn't you be better off without these complications? Well think about it. It's the GM's job to complicate your life. It's what they do, or games would get really dull, really quickly.
So to see if this applies to your character, try and see if there are ways that this will complicate your life. This is a bit different than the previous set of ideas, though, in that these situations aren't about directly helping or harming you at a task, rather they're about story-level complications.
"Hunting down the bounty hunter got a lot tougher when a bunch of Imperials ambushed me since I'm The Last Jedi"
"It gets tough to work in this town, since the cops like to hassle the only known Wizard Private Eye"
"Man, I keep creating trouble for myself since I'm a Known Troublemaker" "People keep trying to kidnap me since I'm The Brother of the King"
This is probably the least important use of aspects, but it's still worth noting. Since with an aspect, you declare something as true about your character, this is a good way to make things exist in the world because you want them there.
If you're a Guild Assassin in Good Standing, well, then, there must be an Assassin's Guild.
These are the types of things that your GM may veto, though, so keep that in mind. But a lot of playing Fate is taking the ideas from everyone at the whole table and making an awesome story, so your GM should work with most reasonable ideas like this.
Actually making your aspect
Okay, now we've talked about what aspects can do for you. How do you make one? Lots of things can make good aspects -specific items, relationships with people or organizations, internal aspects of your personality, goals, or even catchphrases. Someone who's Got a Bad Feeling About This is probably going to be right about those feelings at least some of the time!
So think of something that you think is interesting about your character, something you'd want to show up in a story about them.
Now, go through that list of how aspects are used, and see how many ways that you can think of to use that aspect. The more, the better! If you can think of at least three ways, you're in the right area. If some of those help you, and some of those hinder you, you're on to something good.
Go broad in your aspects, not specific. If you choose a relationship, consider a relationship that has a lot of implications. Brother of the King lets some things happen, but Exiled Half-Brother of the Tyrant King says a lot more! For non-relationships, think of phrases that have both flavor as well as multiple connotations -Mrs Fixit has some obvious uses, but Monkey Wrench (one of my favorite all-time aspects) can be used all over the place -whether with hitting things with a literal monkey wrench, fixing things, or causing or being the recipient of a metaphorical "monkey wrench in the works".
Lastly, think of aspects with flavor. Think of things that make you excited about the character, and show the character's personality. Troubled Life is kind of blah. Penchant for Trouble is a little better, but "I've Got a Bad Feeling About This" says a lot about the character.
And mostly, have fun. This ain't rocket surgery. It's a game, and it's supposed to be a fun one. And no decision you make is super-permanent -the vast majority of your aspects can be swapped out on a regular basis, so as you get a better feel for what is and is not coming into play on a regular basis, you can adjust your aspects so that they become more useful to you, or to reflect character development.