Even though all aspects have the same base definition, and mechanically act in the same way, your Defining Aspect really encompasses the meat of your character.
- Who is this?
- What do they do?
- What is their profession?
- Where does he come from?
- How is he different from others like him?
- What is it about this character that will make me immediately aware of who I’m really playing?
Sum it up with a single phrase. Here’s an example:
Ok, that’s a start. Let’s expand upon that. Well, I know he’s been in over 100 battles in the 100 Years War, so let’s give him a reputation (he’s a great warrior after all). A soldier, legendary even.
Elven Fighter of Legend
This guy is legendary. He’s not a mere fighter or grunt soldier. He was a Warlord or General. Actually, his legendary status comes more from his personal accomplishments on the battlefield, not his leadership ability. A Warrior.
Elven Warrior of Legend
Wait a minute. He’s bred for war. Who’s bred for war…? The Valenar elves. Even after the war has ended, they’re still looking for ways to start it back up. That’s all they really care about. Yeah, Valenar. Besides, the Valenar all aim to become glorious warrious, legendary. Yeah that fits.
Valenar Warrior of Legend
And why is he legendary, exactly? …Because, in all those battles he took part in, just about all of his face-to-face opponents have died from their injuries. Even if they were able to surrender or retreat, most of them still died anyway. This gave him the nickname, “Desolation.” Nice. Perhaps this touch of death, or Death, has plans for him. However, I think that sounds like a different (separate) aspect, so I’ll save that for later.
Valenar Warrior of Legend
That’s cool. Seems about right. But how can I punch it up a little bit more? I know… he died and has been resurrected. Yeah, that’s perfect. The Valenar elves revere their dead ancestors, so when he died, that’s when his legacy became immortal. Many Valenar would go on to revere him in their stories and war-cries. However, he’s been resurrected, perhaps as a revenant. Yeah, those Valenar aren’t going to like that. Not dead or alive, but somewhere in between. They aren’t going to like that at all. Especially Desolation, because that’s stripping him of his “immortal” status (no more campfire songs and war-cries about him - he’s tainted). He had attained “immortality” through his reputation and deeds, now that he’s alive again (kind of), that distinction is gone. I think I’ll keep revenant for another aspect, though, and go with:
Resurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend
THAT, is my Defining Aspect. That is who I am playing. Not merely a simple “Elven Fighter,” but a Resurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend. When I need to be reminded of who he is and what he does, this is the phrase I’ll come back to. When someone asks what kind of character I’m playing, this Defining Aspect is what I’m going to say, and they’re going to know exactly what I mean.
Resurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend
So, how can I use this aspect in the game? I imagine, because it’s my defining aspect, that it’ll come into play often. As with all aspects, the best ones are those that can be used both for and against you.
How Can I Invoke My Defining Aspect?
In Strands of Fate (your version of Fate may differ slightly), I will spend one Fate Point (FP) to invoke my Defining Aspect. I’ll do this anytime I think that my Defining Aspect is relevant to the action, scene, or story, and I want to get a +2 bonus or effect.
In combat, it’s very easy for me to say, “I attacked the orc and got a 6. Since I’m a Resurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend, I easily have the training and experience to cut this mongrel to shreds.” I spend my FP and thus get a +2 bonus to my attack roll, making my total a mighty 8. Conversely, had I rolled poorly to begin with, I could have spent the FP to get a reroll instead. Of course, this works the same way when the tables are turned – I could invoke my Defining Aspect when being attacked by the orc, and I want a bonus to parry.
By spending the FP, I’m saying, “My character is a bad-ass, and at this moment, his skill, talent, and experience are really shining through.”
Social Conflicts are, of course, a viable time for me to invoke this aspect. “Hey GM, we need to get these soldiers to quit hassling us so we can continue along this road. I invoke my Defining Aspect, Resurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend, when I talk with them. I want them to understand that I’m used to giving orders to hundreds of soldiers, and they should think twice about trying to push us around.” For this, I would get a +2 bonus when trying to intimidate these soldiers, or get past them diplomatically (also spending that FP).
Also, I could invoke this aspect when talking with other Valenar warriors, to show a sort of camaraderie of old soldiers who fought on the same side of the war.
As a declaration, I could say to the GM that “because I’m a Resurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend, I actually fought a battle in this particular valley. There is, in fact, a stronghold around the bend where we can take refuge from the advancing pack of gnolls.” Of course, this is ultimately subject to the GM’s approval, but you get the idea.
One more example: The party is being attacked by four wraiths. I could spend the FP and say, “because I’m a Resurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend (resurrected being the key word), all of the wraiths will attack me in the first round. I have tasted death (and should, in fact, be dead). The wraiths simply don’t like the fact that I’ve cheated that fate.” Yeah, I’m the heroic bad-ass. This is all part of my plan to regain my glory. Now, I could spend the FP for this declaration (and the GM could certainly accept it), but if he was feeling especially generous, the GM might even give me this declaration for free, because ultimately, it’s my character who’s paying the price.
Turning the Tables, How can my Defining Aspect be Compelled?
At first you may think that it’s bad for the GM to compel your aspects. And really, how can he compel your Defining Aspect? That’s who you are. Easy (and for good reason). First of all, his compelling of your aspects provides you with Fate Points - points with which you power your aspects for your advantage, as well as using many of your other special abilities. Not only that (and more importantly, in my opinion), the GM compelling your aspects makes for greater conflict and thus, greater story. I mean, really, do great heroes spend their time overcoming sunny days and tea parties? No, they are great because they overcome conflict. And that is where “compelling your aspects” comes in. Remember, just because the GM is compelling one of your aspects (offering you a FP for it), you don’t have to accept the compel; you can choose not to take the FP and negate the compel.
In combat, it might be tricky for the GM to compel your Defining Aspect (I mean, I am a Resurrected Valenar Warrior of Legend, after all), so in this case the GM would have to get inventive. He could say, “You’re a Valenar Soldier, used to going after the killing blow. Honorable, friendly duels are not exactly your forte. So, in this friendly duel with the Baron (this round), I’m compelling your Defining Aspect to take a -2 penalty to your roll. If you take the penalty, you’ll get one Fate Point.”
You could take the penalty and gain the FP, or you could refuse them both, saying, “You’re right, I’ve never been in a duel, but a duel is much like sparring with a training partner, and I’ve done that many a time, so I’ll do just fine.”
The GM could also say, “As a Valenar Warrior, you’ve fought the Valenar way for over 50 years – direct, hard, and brutal. And, most of your opponents have been opposing soldiers. These swarms of rot beetles are not your typical foe, so they get a +2 bonus to attack you this round. Do you accept the FP and the compel?”
Remember the four wraiths that I wanted to attack me? That was me invoking my aspect so that I could save my friends. Let’s say that I wasn’t feeling especially so brave, and at that moment I felt that it was every man for himself. The GM could simply compel my Defining Aspect and have all of the wraiths attack me (those wraiths hate the resurrected). At least I got a FP for it, and the story got that much better.
Social conflicts are easy to handle with this particular Defining Aspect. The GM could compel the Valenar part of the aspect anytime the character is talking with someone who hates the Valenar (or elves, even). Or perhaps, as an ex-soldier, the PC is talking with someone who has been repeatedly harassed by soldiers.
Getting even more bang for your buck, “You would think that because you’re a Valenar Warrior of Legend, these other Valenar warriors would respect you. It’s just that you’ve been resurrected, and in their eyes, all that glory has been reversed. These Valenar actually pity you. You’re almost a disgrace.”
As a declaration, the GM can also pull this one: “Here’s a Fate Point. You can’t deny this declaration. The man standing before you is the soldier who killed you in your last battle of the 100 Years War. He’s hunted you down, and quite apparently aims to finish what he started. Roll Initiative.”
And my favorite: “I’m a warrior, bred for war. This Noble’s ball is not exactly my scene, and I’m totally out of my element. Sorry guys, but I stick out like a sore thumb here. Hey GM, I declare that too many people are taking notice of me, and I’ll take that Fate Point for it.” See that? The GM is not the only one who can compel an aspect; you can too (it makes a better story, and you get more Fate Points).
In each of the above examples, the Defining Aspect of the character has affected the plot and story of the game, or at least shown clear motivations for certain actions (by both the player and GM). In each instance, the story became more rich, and the character more memorable. Everything was centered around who the character is, how he affects the game, and where the story goes.
That, is a Defining Aspect.
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Image by Robin Chyo.