Nov 022011

I’m all about fun (that’s why we play the game, right?). So, let me talk about how adding one little house-rule can will add so much fun to your game. Ok, sure. Not everything appeals to everyone, but I’m going to add this house-rule to every game I run from now on…

In the past, I’ve cut up so many games and then put them back together according to “my vision,” all so that I could make the “perfect” game. Yes, had I been a pupil of Dr. Frankenstein, I would have made him proud. And no, my creations never delivered as expected, really. Actually, they usually ended up a bloody mess.

So, I vowed never to mess with games again. Until now…

We have a Playing with FATE series here at the Shack where we talk about and explore Mike McConnell’s “any setting” Strands of FATE (SoF). Aspects are such a large component of the game, yet are so easy to explain and implement into your own game, that I think it’s imperative for you to consider adding it.

“Sure, sure. But I don’t want to convert my game…”

I’m NOT talking about converting your game to FATE; I’m talking about adding one little part of it to your current game. Hey, if an aspect is so cool, if aspects are the mechanic of FATE, and if aspects make FATE incredibly fun, then why not take a small slice of that and add it to your game? It’s super easy to do, especially since we’re only giving your character one aspect.

  1. Really quickly, I’m going to explain what an Aspect is,
  2. explain why it’s so beneficial (to almost any game),
  3. and show you how easy it is to implement it into your favorite game.

Part 1:

We’ve talked about FATE and Aspects several times here, so this part is for those of you who are new to the concept. An aspect is a single phrase that says something significant about your character. This phrase is something that you (the player) would like to see come up in the game (usually often). Strong as an ox and Bound by the Jedi Counsel are two such aspects (I just made them up).

When a situation comes up in the game, and you think your aspect is relevant, spend a Fate Point to gain a bonus to whatever roll is appropriate. If you’re Strong as an ox, you might gain a bonus to melee attacks, withstand charge attacks, break down doors, etc. You could also get an occasional bonus to endurance or to resist poison. All you have to do is say why you think the aspect applies to the situation, and spend your Fate Point.

To replenish your Fate Points (or bank new ones), you need your aspect to work against you. For example, Strong as an ox implies strength and endurance, but it also implies slow and not very agile. So if you are making some sort of acrobatic stunt, you (or the GM, or even another player) can suggest that because you’re sometimes not very agile, you might get a penalty to certain checks (even if your stats say you’re very agile). Remember, taking a penalty gets you Fate Points, which are used to gain bonuses for your aspect.

To read further about how aspects work, check out this very informative article.

Part 2:

Ok, so you have the basic idea of what an aspect is and how it works, but why include it in your game? Because it’s one part of your character that may never make it into the story otherwise. An aspect adds more depth to your character. It makes your character unique in what could otherwise be a sea of cookie-cutter vanilla PCs. It helps you bring out the intricacies of your character, not because you’ve written down a piece of descriptive text, but because that descriptive text is now part of the mechanic of the game (Fate Points, bonuses, and penalties).

As aspect enhances your character with regard to making him more real, simply because the Fate Point mechanic encourages it to be brought into the story. I can put an 18 into my character’s Strength stat, but saying that he’s Strong as an ox (and having that come up in the game in creative ways) just says something so much more about him. It brings him so much more alive.

Part 3:

Under the Strands of FATE rules, using an aspect normally grants either a +2 or -2 modifier (which is a big modifier considering how FATE dice are rolled). And, since you would normally have at least 10 aspects, they would be coming into play constantly. This makes aspects a huge part of the system’s mechanic, and necessitates that the modifier be big.

I suggest you incorporate only a single aspect for your character, and that the modifier remain relatively small. As a house-rule, it’s important to not rock the boat too much. At this point, adding several aspects and/or large modifiers can simply be too heavy for games that don’t normally carry this concept.

For games like Shadowrun and Dungeons & Dragons (any edition), I’d say that a modifier of +2/-2 would do just fine. I also think that starting the session with one Fate Point is appropriate. One aspect, and one Fate Point – I think that is perfect as a house-rule. After you get comfortable with the house-rule (and if your group likes it), I’d say make two aspects for your character, and start the session with two Fate Points. And remember, you can get extra Fate Points by having your aspect used against you (a tactic that the smart player will utilize often).

If the GM wants to take it a step further, he can assign his major NPCs, major villains, and major monsters an aspect also (and yes, they can be used against monsters in the same way that a player’s aspect can be used against him).

That’s it. It’s that easy. Talk it over with your group and try it out. I really don’t think it will break your game, and will actually add loads of fun to it.

If you have any questions, read up on our Playing with FATE series for inspiration, or ask us questions below.

Good luck! (not that you need it).

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Chris Stevens

In Chris's opinion, the very best vices are dirt bikes, rock music, and gaming, while the very best medicine is fatherhood. If he could just learn to balance them all, he'd live forever. He's much more creative than intelligent, often wakes up belligerent, and ponders many things insignificant. Lastly, in an effort to transform his well-fed body, P90X, Roller Blades, and Food are all laughing at him. And the pain continues.

  12 Responses to “Add this one house-rule, multiply your fun by ten!”

  1. I couldn’t agree more and I’m implementing the same thing in my game. I’m not as cautious as you though and just jumped full bore in with 10 aspects, though I may scale it back depending on how well my players can grasp the concept.

    I’m playing 4E and my recommendation is to replace Action Points with Fate Points. In this case, I would recommend giving out 2 or 3 at the start of the session and not give out any new Fate Points at milestones.

    When you’re ready to take it a step further, I would add the other aspect of Fate Points- rerolls and cause an effect. Attack rerolls are very powerful, but limiting the rerolls to skill checks, damage rolls and possibly saving throws should be appropriate. And I think “cause an effect” is by far the best use of Fate Points (or at least most entertaining) and should be added as soon as your players can wrap their heads around it.

  2. And it’s a very good house rule. We’re using Aspects in Pathfinder and it’s been great. Our take on it is that characters get 3 Fate Points/level. Of course, you can gain more by Compelling your Aspects. Spending a Fate Point gets you a +4 on a d20 roll.

  3. I like that idea. The most frustrating thing I encounter in games is having a character that is supposed to be amazing at something fail at it, because the dice say so. Having the dice say things you don’t expect is a crucial aspect of games – but it’s disheartening to see your core character concept demolished by a series of bad roles.

  4. First of all, love the article, thanks. I’m using this for an Eberron 4e one-shot I’ll be running in a few months. The table has several people that have only played 4e and learning a whole new system for a one-shot doens’t make sense.

    But, the +2/-2 modifier seems low for me for a d20 system. I’ll be making it +4/-4. *Maybe* +4/-2 (they can earn FPs easier). but knowing my players they’ll likely use rerolls more than anything which is fine.

  5. “Yes, had I been a pupil of Dr. Frankenstein, I would have made him proud.”

    Only if you ever finished your creation. Oh!!! ZING!

  6. @ Quirky –

    For sure, I only included the absolute basics here because I didn’t want to scare anyone off. By all means, if you’re ready for it, take on aspects in all their glory!

    @ Chuck –

    I’ve thought about playing Pathfinder, but have always held back. Your solution makes me want to jump in again…

    @ Swordgleam –

    For sure aspects help your character gleam and shine when they should. Also, by the very nature of aspects, it comes into play often, reinforcing your vision of your character.

    @ Ethan –

    I’m more than interested in hearing how your one-shot goes. Make sure you come back and let us know…

    @ Sam VDW –

    Ha! True enough! Maybe I’ll work on that tonight, *not* on county time.

  7. I’m curious to see how this turned out. I keep thinking that for it to be a significant benefit in a d20 based game that +5 is the way to go. I could be pulling too much away from Mutants and Masterminds 3E’s +2/+5 standard benefit however.

  8. @ Darktouch –

    My personal opinion is that the modifier should be low, because the concept of aspects is not the fundamental mechanic of a d20 game. Having the bonus be +5 might be like putting jet fuel in your Ford Escort (and the car blows up).

    In FATE, you’re probably using at least one aspect on each of your turns, so the system relies on that proportionately large modifier, whereas in d20 the system doesn’t usually get such a jolt.

    Of course, I haven’t actually implemented this house rule yet (I’m not the current GM), but after testing it, we might find that a +4 or +5 modifier is actually more appropriate. We’ll just have to see.

  9. To really dial this in you need to gauge two things in your game:
    1: How much impact do you want Aspects to have.
    2: How often are Aspects going to come into play.

    Once you have an idea of these things then it’s pretty easy to figure out what the bonus should be. If Aspects only are used occasionally you may want a pretty big bonus. On the other hand if they are used pretty much all the time a smaller bonus may be the way to go. Like many things in your game ask yourself what it is you are trying to accomplish with the rule.

    Every FATE game I’ve seen has a slightly different approach to this (although the bonus remains the same). More specifically, every group I’ve watched play a FATE game tends to be different; in my game FATE points are spent and earned all the time.

  10. @Tourq

    Don’t forget that in FATE, you can usually Invoke an Aspect for a reroll. How do you (and you John) feel about this for d20 games? (Remember that you have to keep the reroll, even if it’s worse!!!)

  11. @Colin

    Seems like that would work, however with a larger spread of possible results it may be a little more risky! Unless of course you are like me and roll 4 or less a lot!

  12. If aspects are only a small part of the system (as is with it being a houserule for d20), I’d say no to the reroll. A reroll is too powerful.

    That’s why I didn’t include it in the houserule.

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