Feb 222011

In Strands of Fate, most player characters are created with ten aspects.

Wait a sec… Let me back up… If you aren’t familiar with Fate, here’s the 38-word rundown: Aspects are simple phrases that sum up everything that is important about your character. These phrases come into play quite often as a simple, major component of the game mechanic, while simultaneously explaining your character’s concept and background.

“Yeah, but how do I come up with those 10 little phrases?”

Easy. Just follow the Aspect Alphabet. The Aspect Alphabet is a nice little package that helps you invent your aspects one at a time, with each one leaning a certain direction. Using this alphabet is entirely optional, but even many veteran Fate gamers will use all or most of this tool, as it simply helps to make a well-rounded, rich character.

The Aspect Alphabet is divided into two parts: Character Aspects and Specialty Aspects. Today we’re going to talk about Character Aspects. As the name implies, these aspects describe who your character really is:

  1. Defining Aspect
  2. A = Ambition
  3. B = Background
  4. C = Conviction
  5. D = Disadvantage

We’ve already talked about our Defining Aspect (Resurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend), so let’s jump right into our other Character Aspects, starting with Ambition.  After we figure out what they are, we’ll look into how we can use them in the game.

2. Ambition

What is it that my character, “Desolation” Amearus Omaron, seeks? What is he trying to do? What is his goal?

Well, I know that as a Resurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend, he once attained immortality (figuratively speaking). Others revered him as a great warrior, chanting war cries about him after his death. That’s quite an honor in Valenar society, and made his family proud. However, now that he has been resurrected (especially as a revenant), he has lost that distinction. The Valenar elves revere their greatest dead warriors, not their undead. Granted, Amearus isn’t undead, but as a revenant, he’s not alive, either. This has isolated him from his people, who don’t really know what to think of him. They certainly don’t respect him like they used to, and in truth, they now just barely tolerate him. This is all more than he can bear, and wants nothing more than to regain his glory. He must regain his glory. That’s it, I’ve found my Ambition:

I will regain my glory

3. Background

What is there about my character’s background that will influence his future? What, from his past, is going to have an effect on this character’s story?

In the 100 Years War, Amearus had fought in over 100 battles. As a soldier, he was certainly skilled enough, but it was an unnatural power that followed him into battle. Almost all of his opponents have died from their injuries, even those opponents who surrendered or retreated – they still died from their injuries inflicted by Amearus. His fellow soldiers eventually noticed this, and used it to help drive fear into their enemies. He quickly earned the fitting moniker “Desolation,” which in turn furthered his reputation, status, and rank. Few (if any) questioned this rumored “cloud of death” that followed Desolation into battle, because (in a time of war) he and his men produced continuous, solid results. Until recently, even Desolation didn’t question his place as death’s right hand. That’s it, I’ve found my Background:

Death’s right hand

4. Conviction

What does Desolation believe in? When is he going to stand his ground? When he has something important to say, what is it about?

Elsewhere I mentioned that I wanted this character to be (at times) at odds with his morals and convictions.  I wanted him to have strong ideals about honor, loyalty, and duty to country, though because of his taint with “Death” (Death’s right hand), he’s starting to lose touch with his former, ideal self.  Death’s right hand has an effect on him that will be subtle at first, then more pronounced as he continues to do Death’s work.  So, for his Conviction Aspect, I think that Honor is my middle name will work great.

Honor is my middle name

5. Disadvantage

To give my character some great inner conflict, I’m going to make my Disadvantage pretty much go directly against my Conviction.  I think The end justifies the means will do just fine. This aspect is not exactly dishonorable or evil, but it’s going to be useful in balancing out his Conviction.  It’s a great way to justify doing things that he might not normally do.  It’s more or less a sneaky tool that Death is using to corrupt Desolation, to help him cause more death and destruction.  In Desolation’s story, there is now potential for a tug-of-war between Desolation’s Conviction and Disadvantage.  He’s naturally an honorable person, but his Disadvantage will slowly start to blur the lines between right and wrong, order and chaos, and maybe even destroy his sanity.

The end justifies the means.

How Can I Invoke My Character Aspects?

(Remember, you invoke an aspect when you (the player), want a part of your character to influence the story, scene, or action.  Spend a Fate Point to get a +2 bonus to a single action, perform a re-roll, or to invoke an effect)

  1. Defining AspectResurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend
  2. Ambition I will regain my glory– I will most often invoke this aspect any time that my character is going to do something flamboyant, difficult, or very challenging – especially if others are present to witness.  This is my “show off” aspect.  This is my character trying to “be the man” so that others will revel my awesomeness.  Only as a glorious warrior will I once again achieve immortality among my people.
    • [Bonus] Should we get ambushed by orcs, I’ll take on three at a time.
    • [Effect] I could bait the biggest, toughest foe to attack me (or all enemies).
    • [Bonus] Should I try to intimidate the orc chieftain in front of his men, I’ll do so with style.
  3. Background Death’s right hand – Death is hanging over me, following me wherever I go.  I’m a great warrior, but even more so because I have the touch of death, and can call upon it to aid my blade.  This is an aspect that I would invoke in combat, but only under certain conditions.  I think this fits well when facing living opponents.  It doesn’t usually work against constructs, demons, devils, objects, or elementals (or any chaos monsters that are hell-bent on death and destruction), and it probably doesn’t work using ranged attacks (it’s an up close and personalkind of thing).
    • [Bonus] Any soldier worth his weight in dirt should know not to face me (or so I feel).  Death will certainly back me up on this with a +2 bonus.
    • [Effect] I could invoke Death’s right hand on an injured opponent (who I wounded) who runs away.  Perhaps rolls to heal him take a -2 penalty, or he doesn’t heal at all, and ends up dying?
  4. Conviction Honor is my middle name– What can I say?  I’m an old-fashioned, honorable kind of guy.
    • [Bonus] Should some spell effect me to do something dishonorable, I can use this aspect to fight that spell.
    • [Effect] Should I ask the Duke to help us in our quest, he might be more inclined to help an obviously honorable man.
  5. Disadvantage The end justifies the means – As this is my Disadvantage (and because of how it is worded), I’ll be invoking this rarely.  This aspect will come into play more often when compelled by either me or the GM. Later on in Desolation’s story, I might start invoking it more often to reflect him becoming more of an agent of Death and destruction (if that’s how his story plays out).  For now, I’ll invoke this aspect any time I’m working toward a goal, but my method is not exactly honorable.
    • [Bonus] Should we ever need to get information out of an unwilling subject, this will work quite nicely as I “encourage” him to talk.
    • Really, any action I take that can progress me to my goal (and is not exactly an honorable action) can benefit from this aspect.

How Can My Character Aspects Be Compelled?

(Remember, you and the GM compel an aspect to create conflict for your character, instilling complications into his story.  Gain a Fate Point to take a -2 penalty, be forced to re-roll, or make something bad happen)

  1. Defining AspectResurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend
  2. Ambition I will regain my glory– I imagine that this will be compelled when my character is trying to do something on the down-low.   My character is trying to accomplish great things to regain his immortality, not subtle things to just “get by.”
    • [Effect] I’ve been tasked by the party leader to sit tight and watch our back.  However, the GM can compel me to go off on my own and search that other room instead.
    • [Effect] My character could be badly injured and retreating, but the GM can compel me to go after more enemies (or the toughest enemy).
  3. Background Death’s right hand – Death IS hanging over me, following me wherever I go.
    • [Effect] Any enemy that I fight, that I’m trying to capture, might get hit with a killing blow accidentally.  Or, he simply might die from his injuries after the fight ended.
    • [Penalty] Perhaps I take an action in an attempt to save an ally.  Now I have a penalty to that action.
  4. Conviction Honor is my middle name– Sometimes honor can get in the way of things.
    • [Effect] When the situation calls for it, strong arm tactics are the only way to go.  I could be compelled to not let that happen.
    • [Effect] The GM could pull this one whenever I try to tell a much-needed lie.  “Ok, it was us who killed your brother.”
    • [Penalty] Sometimes intimidation is not in my nature.
  5. Disadvantage The end justifies the means– This is simply great because it can easily represent my past coming back to bite me in the ass.
    • [Effect] “Damn.  In one of my previous battles in the war, my men and I set up an ambush in a village to trap an advancing enemy.  The enemy was beaten, but the village was leveled.  These people are those displaced villagers, and they do remember me.”

Coming soon: Your “Specialty Aspects”

More awesomeness...

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 “Playing with Fate: Your “Character Aspects””

  1. That’s a nice concept for devising aspects. In general, how do other Fate games do this? Is it similar?

  2. And the FATE system continues to intrigue and impress. The way you’re putting this together and presenting it, I really, REALLY want to play. And yes, I can absolutely imagine applying these to every other game system.

  3. Really good of using Aspects to define a character. I like it. I think it would make it pretty simple for folks new to FATE to understand it and apply it.

  4. Yea, I could almost see using the FATE system with D&D 4e as a tack on to a character. Just using the Aspects and FATE points as something similar to Action points but from the side of plot and story rather than combat and nitty gritty rules and actions.

  5. After reading your past articles I got the brilliant idea to add Aspects and Fate points to my currently running 4E D&D campaign. I always ask my players to write a backstory for their characters so I have something to pull from when I really want to engage the players and so they have better defined personalities for their characters. The problem is we’re all college students and writing a backstory really isn’t a top priority when we all just want to play a game, so Aspects are a good substitute in my opinion. At least with Aspects you can define your personality and use it to actually affect the game, which is a really great concept – I’m upset that I didn’t come up with it first. I linked my players to this post and it’s been really helpful in providing a guide for creating Aspects. Thanks for helping us improve our game.

  6. Hi!
    I have question about compelling Aspects of GM’s characters. Is it possible by player?

  7. Yes, you can. You can give a GM character one of your fate points to compel one of his aspects to:
    1. Force a -2 penalty on their roll.
    2. Force a re-roll.
    3. Compel for effect

  8. @ onedtwelve

    Awesome! You have to let us know how it goes, and how it changes your game.

  9. Not only do I now want to play Fate, but I also want to play your character!

  10. So we implemented Fate into our game, and everyone really likes the idea. We’re not quite used to how it works, but we used this post to help guide us through the process of creating aspects. We don’t quite have the hang of them just yet, but I’m sure we will eventually. One character who has “I’m bullheaded” as one of his aspects decided to compel it to try to bash through the wall of a cabin instead of going through the door during combat because there were enemies in the way. We’re just trying to find a balance between being too specific and too general with them (especially our wizard). We do like the idea of them, so hopefully we’ll be able to really test them out in later sessions. I have to say, this post really did help us figure out how to make them.

  11. @ onedtwelve

    That’s awesome! Just keep it up.

    One thing to keep in mind: Fate points should be flowing across the table, back and forth. The GM should not be too nit-picky about allowing the aspects to be used. If the use of an aspect is at all conceivable, it should be allowed. That’s how the system is set up to work for the most enjoyment. Now get to bashing through some walls!

  12. […] glad to see are things called Triggers (Ins and Outs).  My guess is that they’re like aspects, in a way.  You get bonuses for having bad crap happen, and you can use them for die rolls or to […]

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