Authors: Robert Donoghue and Fred Hicks
Editors: Fred Hicks, Lydia Leong
This document is Open Game Content, as described in section 1(d) of the Open Gaming License.
Aspects represent elements of the character that are not reflected by their skills, including things like the character's advantages, disadvantages, connections and even attributes.
The exact form that aspects take in a game depends on the taste of the players. At their simplest, they are a dramatic replacement for more traditional attributes like strength or intelligence. Used to their full advantage, they can represent the character's ties to the game world in a manner that bears directly on play.
Aspects have a number of uses, most commonly to gain a reroll. After the character makes a roll that is germane to the aspect (such as a joust with the Knight aspect, or a sword fight with the Strong aspect), the player describes how the aspect helps their character out, checks off a box of the aspect and either:
Picks up all four dice and rerolls them all or
Chooses a single die and change its value to a +.
As such, it only takes a single reroll to try to undo a terrible roll, but it may take many rerolls to try to get a really good roll. And that's fine - if the player's been explaining each element, this is probably a pretty dramatic roll.
When you reroll, you are stuck with the outcome of the new roll, unless you want to use another reroll.
Checking off and using an aspect in this way is referred to as a positive invocation.
The default assumption of the system is that aspects are rare and powerful. The ability to turn any die into a + is very potent and predictable. Some GMs may want to consider reducing the effect of a single aspect invocation, for flavor or balance reasons, or because a game has more aspects than usual (see "Free Aspects").
There are a number of possibilities for this. In general, we suggest keeping #1 (pick up all four dice and reroll them all) but you can replace #2 (choose a single die and change its value to a +) with one of the following:
Choose a single die showing - and change its value to +. *
Choose a single die showing 0 and change its value to +.
Choose a single die and increase its value by one step (so - to 0 or 0 to +)
Choose a single die and reroll it.
Nothing (only allow rerolling all dice.)
* - This is a very popular option, especially for less cinematic games
Aspects also provide a passive bonus that the GM needs to keep in mind. A Strong character is by definition stronger than one who lacks this aspect, and a Slow character just doesn't get around that quickly. In rare circumstances, it may be necessary to roll the aspect. Mechanically, this is no different than rolling a skill.
It is also possible to invoke an aspect for effect. In this case, the player uses the aspect for a related advantage that is not related to a test or challenge, such as checking off a box of "Rich" to get luxurious accommodations, or checking off a box for an organization for them to have a chapter in town. This is subject to the same sort of restrictions as spending Fate points for coincidental effects ("How Much Power Should Players Have?").
The other common use of aspects is involuntary invocation. This is done by the GM when she thinks the character's aspects would be detrimental or at odds with the action he has taken. In those situations, the GM declares that she's invoking the aspect (it's not checked off) and the player has two options: act in accordance with the aspect and gain a number of Fate points equal to the aspect level or pay a number of Fate points equal to the aspect level to overcome the aspect.
Since aspects are a narrative convenience, they operate on a narrative timeline. As such, they become unchecked at appropriate breaks in the narrative, most commonly between game sessions. Unless the GM determines otherwise, aspects are unchecked at the beginning of every session.
The default assumption for the system is that aspects will be refreshed at the beginning of every session. However, that is definitely not the only option. Aspects could easily refresh:
At the end of every scene
When the PCs get a chance to rest
At any significant story point
Changing the refresh rate will have some impact on the flavor of the game, with more frequent refreshes being well suited to a more cinematic game, where the characters can consistently do remarkable things. Feel free to experiment with various options to see what suits your style best.
One issue to bear in mind is that the more aspects the characters have, the less need there is for regular refreshes. If the characters have many aspects, there's less need to make them refresh more often.
Aspects are designed to allow a character to operate at their best when it matters. The more aspects a character has, the more often he will perform well. Naturally, this means that as the number, utility and frequency of use of aspects is altered, the characters will perform at his best more or less often.
There are a number of elements that change when one customizes aspects. There are three main indexes:
How many aspects a character has.
How potent aspects are.
How frequently aspects refresh.
How these elements are set has a lot of impact on the game. There's no "correct" balance of these factors, so the rules presented should really be considered a default rather than canonical.
In addition to their role in deferring negative invocation of aspects, players may use Fate points in a number of other ways.
They may spend a Fate point to receive +1 on any roll. This may be spent before or after the roll, or even after any aspects have been invoked. Only one point may be spent in this fashion, unless it's countered (see below). This is the only possible way to increase the outcome of a roll to +5.
They may also spend a Fate point for minor narrative control of a situation. Common uses for this include finding a convenient item, knowing someone in a particular town, or showing up at just the right moment in another scene. Effectively, this expenditure allows the player to take the role of GM for a moment. The GM has full veto rights on any such expenditures, in which case the point is not spent.
More often than not, this sort of expenditure of Fate points is an attempt by the players to keep things moving. It's more fun to just assume you have the tool you need in your trunk than to have to drive back from the haunted house, hit a hardware store, and then drive back. As a GM, if the expenditure lets people continue to have fun without breaking anything, it should generally be allowed.
It's also important to consider how reasonable the player's request is. If it's really no stretch at all, spending a Fate point shouldn't even be necessary. Fate points are really for use in that narrow spectrum between completely logical and GM ruling.
Fate points may also be spent to cancel someone else's expenditure of a Fate point. If this happens, both Fate points are spent, but the person who spent the original point may spend another point to try again. This process can repeat as many times as people are willing to spend the points.
Granting the players any degree of narrative control may seem like an odd idea to GMs who have not encountered the idea before. As such, exactly how far it goes is almost entirely based on the GM's comfort level. GMs are welcome to ignore this option entirely, but we strongly encourage GMs to at least give it a try. Even something so simple as allowing players to spend a Fate point to have the right item in their backpack can be very satisfying for everyone involved. As far as we're concerned, there's no limit on how far this power can extend. It's possible to give player broad narrative power with this mechanic, allowing them to use Fate points to create plots and NPCs and generally complicate stories. If that sounds like fun, give it a try - the only real limitation should be that it's done so everyone has more fun. If the players are spending Fate points and things are becoming less fun as a result, it's time to tone things down a notch.
Fate points can be viewed as small "votes" you can cast to get the story to go your way, within certain guidelines. We've already talked about simply adding 1, and we've talked about using them to arrange minor circumstance. Here are a few other ideas that you may want to consider using in your game. Further, you may want to consider allowing someone to check off a box of an aspect to substitute for a Fate point expenditure in some or all of these cases.
You can spend one Fate point to take the camera for a monologue. You can't interact with anything else during this time period; you're making a speech. At the same time, since you're monologuing, you won't be interrupted. Keep it short and sweet, but have fun with it. This is television or cinema. And yes, villains can do this as well -- how else do you figure they can manage to make their exit threats without the heroes stepping on their lines? This effect generally only lasts for a few sentences. However, the rest of the room is required to be quiet while you do it.
You can spend two Fate points to give someone else a +1 to one of their rolls, even if they've spent a Fate point to give themselves a +1 already, providing that you can reasonably give them some sort of in-character assistance. You can't do this more than once for a particular given roll, though. If a friend of yours needs a +2, you'll be able to spend two to give them +1, and a third party will have to spend two to give them +1 as well!
In combat, you can spend one Fate point to switch positions with someone else, even if it isn't your turn, so long as it's reasonable you could quickly change positions, without having to roll against a skill for maneuvering (good for trading off opponents).
In combat, you can spend one Fate point to take a wound (a hit) instead of someone else, even if it isn't your turn, so long as it's reasonable you could interpose yourself, without having to roll against a skill for maneuvering.
A point may also be spent for a fortuitous arrival - if a character is going to arrive as some undetermined point, the player may spend a point for them to arrive at a particular moment.
Some of the uses suggested above are written with the notion that reinforcing teamwork and the feel of cinema is important. Other rules can (and should) be used to reinforce alternate genre-feel if desired.
But so far, we've only discussed spending. You may also want to think about what rewards you're giving out. Consider the possibility of writing on index cards certain key lines or actions that you're hoping the PCs might take, and then deal the cards out (either at random, or to specific folks). On these cards, note how many Fate points they'll get if they follow through with the action indicated on the card.
The nice thing about this approach is that it can give players a sense of structure, without making it necessary that they take you up on the offer. In a lot of ways, it offers the possibility of a certain amount of scripting and plot structure without taking that to its oft-decried extreme of "railroading".
Further, it can be done in such a way as to encourage player-to-player interaction. A lot of games can be deeply enhanced by creating some subplots and interaction among the PCs. Consider these ideas:
Do something dangerous: Even if it goes against your best instincts, do something dangerous --take on the main villain yourself, launch into a fight of five against one where you're the one, chase after a monster, and so on. Doing so gets you two Fate points.
Freak out: Sometimes people are calm and collected in the face of adversity. When you play this card, this is not one of those times. You freak out --somewhat uselessly at that, running away, screaming, etc. Wigged. Doing so gets you two Fate points.
Don't take no for an answer: If another PC refuses you, tells you to leave them alone, or otherwise denies a request, don't back down -- fight for what you want! Doing so gets you one Fate point.
Try to go off alone: You need some time to yourself -- to brood, to cry, to rage, whatever the reason. Doing so gets you one Fate point.
Don't let anyone go off alone: Go for strength in numbers. If someone's straying from the fold, take the time to bring them back in. Doing so gets you one Fate point.
Evoke a cliché: In this (pulp, horror, superhero, space opera, cyberpunk, fantasy) story, there's plenty of room to do something that's classic to the genre. Do it, and get a Fate point.
Each advancement period, the player may gain one skill rank, which can be spent or saved in accordance with the normal rules (i.e. the pyramid must be maintained). Four periods compose an arc and along with the fourth skill, the character gets a new aspect that reflects their experience and the skills they purchased.
Fate points may also be granted as non-advancement rewards. For a much more detailed treatment of advancement, "Advancement".
Almost anything can be an aspect as long as it's an important part of the character's story.
One option for aspects is an item of some sort such as a magic sword, an occult library, a car or even a castle. These items are considered an intrinsic part of the character's story. Something like King Arthur's Excalibur would be appropriate as an aspect. Items which the character makes regular use of, but which are less central to their concept, are generally purchased with skill ranks (see "Skill Ranks"). A given item may be represented by both an aspect and a skill rank.
Mechanically, this means that in addition to the usual benefits for invoking an aspect, an item which is also an aspect will generally find its way back to the character's hands, even if it requires a conspiracy of coincidence. Causing the character to go without the item when they would reasonably have it qualifies as an involuntary invocation, thus granting the player Fate points.
While an item may be described in any way, it may be necessary to spend skill ranks to generate specific effects (see "Props as Aspects"). Otherwise, the description of the item simply determines the circumstances under which it grants a reroll. Item aspects can also usually be invoked for effect to be conveniently available.
It is also possible to have other people as aspects. In this case, it's important to define the relationship between the character and the subject of the aspect. Family members, mentors, enemies, dependants, old war buddies, liege lords, servants, familiars and rivals are all perfectly good examples of characters as aspects. The important thing about all of these is that they form an important part of the character's story, and can be expected to appear with reasonable frequency.
The player is expected to work out with the GM what the nature of the relationship is so the GM can work the details of the NPC into her game. In general, the number of aspects reflects how close the bond is between the character and their aspect, while the actual game stats of the subject character are up to the GM. The exception to this is when the NPC is subservient to the character, such as a manservant or a familiar - in those cases, the player will help determine the characters stats through their investment of skill ranks, see "Personal Extras".
Aspects may also be NPCs the GM has created, entirely new NPCs, or even other PCs!
While aspects are usually simple and descriptive, there is nothing to say they cannot be more colorful. Catch phrases, for example, make very interesting aspects, since they say a lot about the character, and are fun to invoke (imagine: "Go ahead, make my day" ). This works especially well for more cinematic genres where catch phrases are almost mandatory.
That only scratches the surface of the possibilities of this option. Passages from (real or imagined) scripture, rhyming couplets, lines from songs, or haiku are all possible options.
The one caveat is that there's a lot of implicit flavor in choosing this option, and it may not be a flavor that goes well with the rest of the game. Make sure to discuss any such aspects with the GM to make certain everyone has the same understanding of what these aspects mean.
Here's a little secret - the real measure of how powerful an aspect is can be found in one simple thing - how interesting it is. Interesting aspects are going to come up more often, and are more likely to grant reroll and provide Fate points. Take an enemy for example - not only do you get Fate points for him showing up and messing things up, you also get to invoke the aspect when you're fighting him. It's a serious win.
Interesting aspects are also easier to invoke, because they tend to make more sense. If a character has been trained by an order of knights with a clearly defined dogma, he'll get rerolls for the appropriate skills, but he can also invoke the aspect when he's defending that dogma (or gain Fate points when he suffers for following it). Compare that to a merely generic Knight aspect and the advantage should become clear.
This also emphasizes a really key point. Aspects are not just what define the character; they are what are important to the character. If you take your Mom as an aspect, she may provide a direct route to invocation for skills that you learned from her, but you could also invoke her for darn near anything if you're fighting to protect or rescue her.
One last secret - there's nothing to keep PCs from taking each other as aspects. This is a win-win situation, since the whole game benefits from the stronger connections between the characters, and the player in question gets an aspect that's likely to see lots of use.
A character may have any number of aspects, and each aspect may have multiple levels. In general, this is expressed as follows:
|- ||Strong 2 (Good)|
This is how a player would denote that their character has 2 levels of the Strong aspect.
Now, it's worth noting that they can also look like this:
|- ||Weak 3 (Great)|
Obviously, this character is very weak, even though it is described as Great, a positive descriptor. This is an important example, illustrating that the level of the aspect is the magnitude of that aspect. As such, a character with Weak 3 is weaker than one with Weak 2.
That's not always a simple thing to get one's head around, especially for those with a long familiarity with Fudge - in that case the solution is simple. If you consider the attribute to be a negative one, treat the levels as a negative number. As such:
|- ||Weak -3 (Terrible)|
While this is an entirely valid approach, its use is ultimately a matter of taste.
On occasion, you may need to apply an aspect directly to play. This generally occurs under one of two circumstances - the character is involved in a contest purely within the domain of the aspect, or the character is engaging in an extended activity that calls upon multiple skills.
The obvious solution is to resolve these with dice, like any other contest, but the GM should make sure to apply common sense to these things. If one character is "Large " and another is "Small " and you want to know which is taller, it should be obvious without something as preposterous as a "height check" or the like.
It's worth noting that in contests between aspects, it's appropriate to use the aspects to grant rerolls (see "Using Aspects").
Aspects may also be used to simplify extended actions. A character with a Ranger aspect may want to spend a few weeks hunting in the woods, getting the lay of the land, and looking for huffalump tracks. Rather than require multiple rolls for that, a simple roll on the Ranger aspect can sum up the outcome.