Monday, July 2, 2012

Making Aspects

Aspects are a part of the FATE system that have become incredibly popular in a number of RPGs. They give players a way to customize their characters and give a real sense of who the character is in a way that is meaningful both mechanically and narratively. However, some people do have problems when coming up with Aspects - or whatever they may be called in the system that is using them or something based off of them - and there seemed to be a good amount of interest in the topic. As such, I'd like to talk about them today.

What's In A Name?
Contrary to what Shakespeare said, names are very important and doubly so with Aspects. The name of your aspect is what is going to give it the feel you want it to have. Most naming conventions for Aspects suggest using a word, few words, or a short phrase that defines your character. So, someone like Han Solo could have "Trust Me" or "Rogue With a Heart of Gold" as Aspects for his character if he wanted. Both help give a sense of the character, and speak to who he is on the inside. Other, more bland ones, can also work well. I've seen suggestions for aspects with names like "Swordsman" and "Gunfighter" that can also work. They speak to tropes that a character may fall in.

Generally, I feel you do better to put your own spin on even those more basic trope-esque aspects, as they can help give a better feel for your character. However, that isn't to say you have to do it. Go with what makes you happy. It is your character, after all.

Aspects should be helpful in their nature. In play you are going to tag these aspects to help you out with rolls by giving bonuses or even re-rolls. As such, while not straying into the area of too generic, you want your Aspects to be as useful as possible. More specific and niche character defining traits can be easily role played without being Aspects.

This is also why it may be beneficial to stray away from the generic trope type Aspects. "Swordsman" may be a great way to show that your character is capable with a sword, but "Skilled with a blade" leaves itself open to more interpretation and thus more uses in the middle of play.

Aspects aren't supposed to be harmful specifically, but they are supposed to represent the defined traits of your character that can cut both ways. There needs to be room in your Aspects for the GM to compel them to get you into the action, or make things more interesting for you. This is also where broader interpretation can be great, because the more useful something is to you, the more likely it can also be useful to the GM to use. Do not shy away from this, because when the GM compels your Aspects not only are they giving you a mechanical boon to offset it, but it is basically a handwritten invitation to be involved with the fun of the game.

For GMs, you need to be creative with Aspects sometimes to use them. Not every Aspect will have it written out for how to use it. Sure, Han Solo's "Trust Me" could be compelled to make him trust his - faulty - information a bit too far, and his "Heart of Gold" could be compelled to make him go back and help his friends out in a tough spot, but not every aspect is going to be this cut and dry. Be creative. Maybe you compel a player to take a knife instead of a hammer - despite hammer being the better choice for a tool - because since they're "skilled with a blade" they're more comfortable with the knife. The system has ways for the players to resist compels if they want to, so don't be afraid to get creative when inviting them into the carnage.

Other Tips?
Those three things cover the basics for Aspect creation. However, I'm curious if people have other tips and advice, or even counter-tips and advice to what I've given. There seemed to be a lot of response to just what makes a good Aspect, so please sound off and let us know what you think.


  1. I think that the secret of expanding the generic aspects is to add some adjectives. "Gunfighter" could become "Grizzled ol' Gunfighter" or "Young Punk Gunfighter" both add flavor and a little expansion.

    One thing that I think is critical to the excersize is for the player and GM to sit down and figure out some parts that are covered and not covered by the aspect. For example, in one person's mind, "Renegade Ninja" might have magical abilities and another person might limit it to just physical skills. By talking it out, you don't end up in the case where one person was relying on something the GM doesn't think is included. If neccesary you can re-write aspects or add new aspects to cover the things needed.

  2. Very good points. I like your example on how to personalize the trope aspects. It fits nicely, still covers the meaning, but also gives a much better view of the character.

    I didn't even think about the second point. Obviously conversation is important for that in general, but the systems I've seen Aspects in the system itself also governs some of those things for the GM/player. Still, definitely good things to add to the conversation.