Aspects and Fate Points
- Defining Aspects
- Defining Fate Points
- Types of Aspects
- What Aspects Do
- Making a Good Aspect
- If You Get Stuck
- Invoking Aspects
- Compelling Aspects
- Using Aspects for Roleplaying
- Removing or Changing an Aspect
- Creating and Discovering New Aspects in Play
- The Fate Point Economy
An aspect is a phrase that describes something unique or noteworthy about whatever it’s attached to. They’re the primary way you spend and gain fate points, and they influence the story by providing an opportunity for a character to get a bonus, complicating a character’s life, or forcing a character to make a skill roll in order to accomplish a goal.
Defining Fate Points
GMs and players, you both have a pool of points you can use to influence the game called fate points You represent these with tokens, as we mentioned in The Basics. Players, you start with a certain number of points every session, equal to your character’s refresh. GMs, you get a budget of fate points to spend in every scene.
When your aspects come into play, you will usually spend or gain a fate point.
Types of Aspects
Every game of Fate has a few different kinds of aspects: game aspects, character aspects, scene aspects, consequences, and boosts. They mainly differ from one another in terms of what they’re attached to and how long they last.
Game aspects are permanent fixtures of the game, hence the name. While they might change over time, they’re never going to go away. If you’ve already gone through Game Creation, you’ve already defined these—they’re the current or impending issues that you talked about. They describe problems or threats that exist in the world, which are going to be the basis for your game’s story.
Everyone can always invoke, compel, or create an advantage on a game aspect at any time—they’re always there and available for anyone’s use.
Character aspects are just as permanent, but smaller in scope, attached to an individual PC or NPC. They describe a near-infinite number of things that set the character apart, such as:
- Significant personality traits or beliefs of that character (Sucker for a Pretty Face, Never Leave a Man Behind, The Only Good Tsyntavian Is a Dead Tsyntavian).
- The character’s background or profession (Educated at the Academy of Blades, Born a Spacer, Cybernetic Street Thief).
- An important possession or noticeable feature (My Father’s Bloodstained Sword, Dressed to the Nines, Sharp Eyed Veteran).
- Relationships to people and organizations (In League with the Twisting Hand, The King’s Favor, Proud Member of the Company of Lords).
- Problems, goals, or issues the character is dealing with (A Price on My Head, The King Must Die, Fear of Heights).
- Titles, reputations, or obligations the character may have (Self-Important Merchant Guildmaster, Honor-Bound to Avenge My Brother, Silver-Tongued Scoundrel).
You can invoke or call for a compel on any of your character aspects whenever they’re relevant. GMs, you can always propose compels to any PC. Players, you can suggest compels for other people’s characters, but the GM is always going to get the final say on whether or not it’s a valid suggestion.
A scene aspect is temporary, intending to last only for a single scene or until it no longer makes sense. Most of the time, scene aspects are attached to the environment where the scene takes place and affect everyone, but you can use the create an advantage action to make more or even attach them to specific characters.
Scene aspects describe significant features of the circumstances the characters are dealing with in that scene. That includes:
- Physical features of the environment (Dense Underbrush, Obscuring Snowdrifts, Low Gravity Planet).
- Positioning or placement (Sniper’s Perch, In the Trees, Backyard).
- Immediate problems or obstacles (Burning Barn, Complicated Lock, Yawning Chasm).
- Contextual details that are likely to come into play (Disgruntled Townsfolk, Security Cameras, Loud Machinery).
Who can use a scene aspect depends a lot on narrative context—sometimes it’ll be very clear, and sometimes you’ll need to justify how you’re using the aspect to make sense based on what’s happening in the scene. GMs, you’re the final arbiter on what claims on an aspect are valid.
A consequence is more permanent than a scene aspect, but not quite as permanent as a character aspect. They’re a special kind of aspect you take in order to avoid getting taken out in a conflict, and they describe lasting injuries or problems that you take away from a conflict (Dislocated Shoulder, Bloody Nose, Social Pariah).
Because they mostly come into play during a conflict, the Contests, Challenges, and Conflicts chapter talks about them in greater detail.
Consequences stick around for a variable length of time, from a few scenes to a scenario or two, depending on how severe they are. Because of their negative phrasing, you’re likely to get compelled a lot when you have them, and anyone who can justifiably benefit from the consequence can invoke it or create an advantage on it.
Boosts are a super-transient kind of aspect, identical to a scene aspect in every way except one: they go away completely after being invoked once. You get a boost when you’re trying to create an advantage but don’t succeed well enough, or as an added benefit to succeeding especially well at an action.
Normally, only the person who created the boost gets to take advantage of it, but you can pass your boost to someone else to help them out with a roll if you want.
What Aspects DO
In Fate, aspects do two major things: they tell you what’s important about the game, and they help you decide when to use the mechanics.
Your collection of game and character aspects tell you what you need to focus on during your game. Think of them as a message from yourself to yourself, a set of flags waving you towards the path with the most fun.
GMs, when you make scenarios for Fate, you’re going to use those aspects, and the connections between aspects, to generate the problems your PCs are going to solve. Players, your aspects are the reason why your PC stands out from every other character who might have similar skills—lots of Fate characters might have a high Fighting skill, but only Landon is a Disciple of the Ivory Shroud. When his path as a disciple comes into play, or the Ivory Shroud takes action, it gives the game a personal touch that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.
The game aspects do something similar on a larger scale—they tell us why we care about playing this particular game in the first place, what makes it concrete and compelling to us. We can all say, “Oh, we like space opera games,” but until we drill down to the specifics of a universe where people will do Anything for Survival, and where The Empire is Everywhere, we don’t really have anything to attach our interest to.
Scene aspects make the moment-to-moment interactions of play interesting by adding color and depth to what might otherwise be a boring scene. A fight in a tavern is generic by nature—it could be any tavern, anywhere. But when you add the aspect Huge Bronze Devil Statue to the scene, and people bring it into play, it becomes “that fight we were in at the Bronze Devil, when I smashed that guy’s head into the statue”. The unique details add interest and investment.
Deciding When To Use Mechanics
Because aspects tell us what’s important, they also tell us when it’s most appropriate to use the mechanics to deal with a situation, rather than just letting people decide what happens just by describing what they do.
GMs, this comes up for you most often when you’re trying to figure out whether to require a PC to roll dice. If a player says, “I climb this ladder and grab the idol,” and there’s nothing special about the ladder or the idol, then there’s no real reason to require an overcome action to grab it. But if the scene aspects tell you that the ladder is a Rotting Rope Ladder and the idol is Protected by the Wrath of the Gods, then you suddenly have an element of pressure and risk that makes it worth going to the dice for.
Players, this comes up for you most often when invoking your aspects and considering compels. Your aspects highlight what makes your character an individual, and you want to play that up, right? So when the opportunity comes up to make your character more awesome by invoking, go for it! When you see an opportunity to influence the story by suggesting a compel for your character, do it! The game will be much richer for it as a whole.
Making A Good Aspect
Because aspects are so important to the game, it’s important to make the best aspects you can. So, how do you know what a good aspect is?
The best aspects are double-edged, say more than one thing, and keep the phrasing simple.
Players, good aspects offer a clear benefit to your character while also providing opportunities to complicate their lives or be used to their detriment.
An aspect with a double-edge is going to come up in play more often than a mostly positive or negative one. You can use them frequently to be awesome, and you’ll be able to accept more compels and gain more fate points.
Try this as a litmus test—list two ways you might invoke the aspect, and two ways someone else could invoke it or you could get a compel from it. If the examples come easily to mind, great! If not, add more context to make that aspect work or put that idea to the side and come up with a new aspect.
Let’s look at an aspect like Computer Genius. The benefits of having this aspect are pretty obvious—any time you’re hacking or working with technology, you could justify invoking it. But it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of room for that aspect to work against you. So, let’s think of a way we can spice that up a bit.
What if we change that aspect to Nerdy McNerdson? That still carries the connotations that would allow you to take advantage of it while working with computers, but it adds a downside—you’re awkward around people. This might mean that you could accept compels to mangle a social situation, or someone might invoke your aspect when a fascinating piece of equipment distracts you.
GMs, this is just as true of your game and scene aspects. Any feature of a scene you call out should be something that either the PCs or their foes could use in a dramatic fashion. Your game aspects do present problems, but they also should present ways for the PCs to take advantage of the status quo.
Say More Than One Thing
Earlier, we noted several things that a character aspect might describe: personality traits, backgrounds, relationships, problems, posessions, and so forth. The best aspects overlap across a few of those categories, because that means you have more ways to bring them into play.
Let’s look at a simple aspect that a soldier might have: I Must Prove Myself You can invoke this whenever you’re trying to do something to gain the approval of others or demonstrate your competence. Someone might compel it to bait you into getting into a fight you want to avoid, or to accept a hardship for the sake of reputation. So we know it has a double edge, so far so good.
That’ll work for a bit, but eventually this aspect will run out of steam. It says just one thing about the character. Either you’re trying to prove yourself, or this aspect isn’t going to come up.
Now tie that aspect in with a relationship to an organization: The Legion Demands I Prove Myself Your options open up a great deal. Not only do you get all the content from before, but you’ve introduced that the Legion can make demands of you, can get you into trouble by doing things you get blamed for, or send NPC superiors to make your life difficult. You can also invoke the aspect when dealing with the Legion, or with anyone else who might be affected by the Legion’s reputation. Suddenly, that aspect has a lot more going on around it.
GMs, for your scene aspects, you don’t have to worry about this as much, because they’re only intended to stick around for that scene. It’s much more important for game and character aspects to suggest multiple contexts for use.
Because aspects are phrases, they come with all the ambiguities of language. If no one knows what your aspect means, it won’t get used enough.
That isn’t to say you have to avoid poetic or fanciful expression. Just a Simple Farmboy isn’t quite as fetching as Child of Pastoral Bliss. If that’s the tone your game is going for, feel free to indulge your linguistic desires.
However, don’t do this at the expense of clarity. Avoid metaphors and implications, when you can get away with just saying what you mean. That way, other people don’t have to stop and ask you during play if a certain aspect would apply, or get bogged down in discussions about what it means.
Let’s look at Memories, Wishes, and Regrets. There’s something evocative about the phrase. It suggests a kind of melancholy about the past. But as an aspect, I don’t really know what it’s supposed to do. How does it help you? What are the memories of? What did you wish for? Without some concrete idea of what the aspect’s referring to, invoking and compelling it is pretty much impossible.
Suppose that we talk about this some, and you specify that you were going for this idea that your character was scarred from years spent in the setting’s last great war. You killed people you didn’t want to kill, saw things you didn’t want to see, and pretty much had all your hope of returning to a normal life taken away.
I think this is all fantastic, and I suggest we call it Scars from the War. Less poetic, maybe, but it directly references all the stuff you’re talking about, and gives me ideas about people from your past I may be able to bring back into your life.
If you’re wondering if your aspect is unclear, ask the people at the table what they think it means.
If You Get Stuck
Now you know what makes for a good aspect, but that doesn’t narrow down your potential choices any—you still have a nearly infinite set of topics and ideas to choose from.
If you’re still stuck about what to choose, here are some tips to make things a little easier on you.
Sometimes, It’s Better Not to Choose
If you can’t think of an aspect that really grabs you and the other people at the table, you’re better off leaving that space blank, or just keeping whatever ideas you had scribbled in the margins. Sometimes it’s much easier to wait for your character to get into play before you figure out how you want to word a particular aspect.
So when in doubt, leave it blank. Maybe you have a general idea of the aspect but don’t know how to phrase it, or maybe you just have no idea. Don’t worry about it. There’s always room during the game to figure it out as you go.
The same thing is also true if you have more than one idea that seems juicy, but they don’t work together and you don’t know which one to pick. Write them all down in the margins and see which one seems to really sing in play. Then fill the space in later, with the one that gets the most mileage.
Always Ask What Matters and Why
We said above that aspects tell you why something matters in the game and why we care about it. This is your primary compass and guide to choosing the best possible aspect. When in doubt, always ask: what do we really care about here, and why?
The events of the phases should help you figure out what your aspect should be. Don’t try to summarize the events of the phase or anything like that with your aspect—remember, the point is to reveal something important about the character. Again, ask yourself what really matters about the phase:
- What was the outcome? Is that important?
- Did the character develop any important relationships or connections during this phase?
- Does the phase help establish anything important about the character’s personality or beliefs?
- Did the phase give the character a reputation?
- Did the phase create a problem for the character in the game world?
Assume that each question ends with “for good or ill”—these features, relationships, and reputations aren’t necessarily going to be positive, after all. Developing a relationship with a nemesis is as juicy as developing one with your best friend.
If there’s more than one option, poll the other players and GM to see what they find interesting. Remember, you should all be helping each other out—the game works best if everyone’s a fan of what everyone else is doing.
During Cynere’s phase three, Lily states that she complicated Zird’s story out by showing up at an opportune moment and stealing the artifact that Zird stole from his rivals. Eventually the artifact returns to Zird’s hands.
She’s trying to tease out what the best aspect would be, and she doesn’t have a whole lot of information to go on. Going through the questions above, we see a lot of potential choices—she showed off her underhandedness, she definitely suggested a relationship with Zird of some kind, and Zird’s rivals might now have a beef with her as well.
Lily polls the rest of the group, and after some talking, everyone seems to be pretty enthused about Cynere having some kind of aspected connection to Zird—they all did grow up in the same village, after all. She decides on I’ve Got Zird’s Back, because it’s specific enough to be invoked and compelled, but leaves room for development later on in the game.
Vary It Up
You don’t want all your aspects to describe the same kind of thing. Five relationships means that you can’t use your aspects unless one of them is in play, but five personality traits means that you have no connection to the game world. If you’re stuck on what to pick for an aspect, looking at what kinds of things your other aspects describe may help you figure out which way to go for the current phase.
Lenny ends up with Disciple of the Ivory Shroud and The Manners of a Goat as Landon’s high concept and trouble. So far, this is a pretty straightforward character—a violent type whose mouth and demeanor are always getting him into trouble.
Lenny does his phase one and explains to us that Landon was a miscreant and street rat that grew up practically as an orphan—his parents were around, but never really paid too much attention to him or spent effort reigning him in. He eventually decided to enlist in the town militia after someone saved him from a clobbering in a bar fight and suggested he do something worthwhile with his life.
Amanda asks him what really matters about this phase, and Lenny ponders a bit. Landon’s first two aspects are heavy on personal description—he doesn’t have a lot of relationships yet. So Lenny focuses on that and decides he wants a connection to the guy who pulled him into the militia.
They end up naming that guy Old Finn, Landon ends up with the aspect I Owe Old Finn Everything, and Amanda now has a new NPC to play with.
Let Your Friends Decide
We’ve talked before about the fact that the game works best if everyone is invested in what everyone else is doing—collaboration is at the heart of the game, and we’ll probably say it a lot more times before the end of this book.
You always have the option, especially with aspects, of simply asking the GM and other players to come up with something on your behalf. Pitch them the events of the phase, and ask them the same questions they’re going to be asking of you. What matters to them? What are they excited about? Do they have suggestions about how to make the events of the phase more dramatic or intense? What aspect do they think would be most interesting or appropriate?
You have the final decision as to what your character’s aspects are, so don’t look at it as giving up control. Look at it as asking your ever-important fan club and audience what they want to see, and using their suggestions to jumpstart your own train of thought. If everyone has a bit of input on everyone else’s characters, the game will benefit from that sense of mutual investment.
The primary way you’re going to use aspects in a game of Fate is to invoke them. If you’re in a situation where an aspect is beneficial to your character somehow, you can invoke it.
In order to invoke an aspect, explain why the aspect is relevant, spend a fate point, and you can choose one of three benefits:
- Take a +2 on your current skill roll.
- Reroll all your dice.
- Force someone to make a Fair (+2) overcome roll to deal with an obstacle represented by the aspect. If you do this before your target’s turn in a conflict, they have to use their turn on this action instead of the one they were going to do.
It doesn’t matter when you invoke the aspect, but usually it’s best to wait until after you’ve rolled the dice to see if you’re going to need the benefit. You can invoke multiple aspects on a single roll, but you cannot invoke the same aspect multiple times on a single roll. So if your reroll doesn’t help you enough, you’ll have to pick another aspect (and spend another fate point) for a second reroll or that +2.
The group has to buy into the relevance of a particular aspect when you invoke it; GMs, you’re the final arbiter on this one. The use of an aspect should make sense, or you should be able to creatively narrate your way into ensuring it makes sense.
Precisely how you do this is up to you. Sometimes, it makes so much sense to use a particular aspect that you can just hold up the fate point and name it. Or you might need to embellish on your character’s action a little more so that everyone understands where you’re coming from. (That’s why we recommend making sure that you’re on the same page with the group as to what one of your aspects means—it makes it easier to justify bringing it into play.)
Landon is in a social conflict with a rival in a tavern (go figure), and the skill they’re currently using is Rapport, which they’ve described as “attempting to shame each other as politely as possible”.
Lenny rolls badly on one of his attacks, and says, “I want to invoke The Manners of a Goat on this attack.”
Amanda gives him a skeptical look and replies, “What happened to ‘as politely as possible’?”
Lenny says, “Well, what I was thinking about doing was making some kind of ribald joke about the guy’s parentage, in order to get the crowd at the bar to laugh at him, perhaps despite themselves. I figure that bawdy put-downs are precisely my cup of tea.”
Amanda nods and says, “Okay, I’ll take that.”
Lenny spends the fate point.
If you want to see more examples of invoking an aspect, we’ve scattered them throughout the book—they’re so integral to how Fate works that they naturally end up in many examples of play.
If the aspect you invoke is on someone else’s character sheet, you give them the fate point you spent. They don’t actually get to use it until after the end of the scene, though.
You don’t always have to pay a fate point to invoke an aspect—sometimes it’s free.
When you succeed at creating an advantage, you “stick” a free invocation onto an aspect. If you succeed with style, you get two invocations. Some of the other actions also give you free boosts.
You also get to stick a free invocation on any consequences you inflict in a conflict.
Free invocations work like normal ones except in two ways: no fate points are exchanged, and you can stack them with a normal invocation for a better bonus. That way, a +2 bonus can become a +4, one reroll could become two rerolls, or you can force someone to deal with a Great (+4) obstacle instead of a Fair (+2). You can also stack multiple free invocations together.
After you’ve used your free invocation, if the aspect in question is still around, you can keep invoking it by spending fate points.
Cynere succeeds on an attack, and causes her opponent to take the Cut Across the Gut consequence. On the next exchange, she attacks him again, and she can invoke that for free because she put it there, giving her a +2 or a reroll.
If you want, you can pass your free invocation to another character. That allows you to get some teamwork going between you and a buddy. This is really useful in a conflict if you want to set someone up for a big blow—have everyone create an advantage and pass their free invocations onto one person, then let that person stack all of them up at once for a huge bonus.
The other way you use aspects in the game are called compels. If you’re in a situation where having or being around a certain aspect means your character’s life is more dramatic or complicated, someone can compel the aspect. That aspect can be on your character, the scene, location, game, or any other aspect that’s current available. We’ll start with character aspects, and then talk about scene aspects in a bit.
In order to compel an aspect, explain why the aspect is relevant, and then make an offer as to what the complication is. You can negotiate the terms of the complication a bit, until you reach a reasonable consensus. Whoever is getting compelled then has two choices:
- Accept the complication and receive a fate point
- Pay a fate point to prevent the complication from happening
The complication from a compel occurs regardless of anyone’s efforts—once you’ve made a deal and taken the fate point, you can’t use your skills or anything else to mitigate the situation. You have to deal with the new story developments that arise from the complication.
If you prevent the complication from happening, then you and the group describes how you avoid it. Sometimes it just might mean that you agree that the event never happened in the first place, and sometimes it means narrating your character doing something proactive. Whatever you need to do in order to make it make sense works fine, as long as the group is okay with it.
GMs, you’re the final arbiter here, as always—not just on how the result of a compel plays out, but on whether or not a compel is valid in the first place. Use the same judgment you apply to an invocation—it should make instinctive sense that a complication might arise from the aspect, or it should only require a small amount of explanation.
Finally, and this is very important: if a player wants to compel another character, it costs a fate point to propose the complication. The GM can compel for free, and any player can propose a compel on his or her own character for free.
Types of Compels
There are two major categories for what a compel looks like in the game: events and decisions. These are tools to help you figure out what a compel should look like and help break any mental blocks.
Event-based compels happen to the character in spite of themselves, when the world around them responds to a certain aspect in a certain way and creates a complicating circumstance. It looks like this:
- You are in ____ situation and have ____ aspect, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, ____ would happen to you. Damn your luck.
Here are a few:
“Cynere has Infamous Girl with Sword while covertly attending a gladiatorial contest, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, an admirer would recognize her in the stands and make a huge fuss, turning all eyes in the arena her way. Damn her luck.”
“Landon has I Owe Old Finn Everything and is returning to his home village after hearing it was sacked by barbarians, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, Old Finn was captured and taken far into the mountains with their war party. Damn his luck.”
“Zird has Rivals in the Collegia Arcana and is attempting to get an audience with their Inner Council, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, his rivals force the Collegia to demand he provide a detailed account of his highly-coveted research to re-establish his relationship with the organization. Damn his luck.”
As with decision-based compels, the real mileage is in the complication itself. Without that, you don’t really have anything worth focusing on—the fact that the PCs continually have complicated and dramatic things happen to them is, well, exactly what makes them PCs in the first place.
GMs, event-based compels are your opportunity to party. You’re expected to control the world around the PCs, so having that world react to them in an unexpected way is pretty much part and parcel to your job description.
Players, event-based compels are great for you. You get rewarded simply by being there—how much more awesome can you get? You might have a more difficult time justifying an event-based compel, as it requires you to assert control over an element of the game that you typically aren’t in control of. Feel free to propose an event-based compel, but remember that the GM has the final say on controlling the game world and may veto you if she’s got something else in mind.
A decision is a kind of compel that is internal to the character. It happens because of a decision the character makes, hence the name. It looks like this:
- You have ____ aspect in ____ situation, so it makes sense that you’d decide to ____. This goes wrong when ____ happens.
Obviously, you’re not obligated to follow the fill-in-the-blank approach to it if you don’t want to, but if you’re having a hard time making a compel work, try it.
Here are a few:
“Landon has The Manners of a Goat while trying to impress a dignitary at a royal ball, so it makes sense that he’d decide to share some boorish, raunchy humor and/or commentary. This goes wrong when he discovers she’s the princess of this country, and his offense of her is tantamount to a crime.”
“Cynere has Tempted by Shiny Things while touring an ancient museum, so it makes sense that she’d decide to, ahem, liberate a couple of baubles for her personal collection. This goes wrong when she discovers that the artifacts are cursed, and she’s now beholden to the Keepers of the Museum if she wants the curse lifted.”
“Zird has Not the Face! when he gets challenged to a barfight, so it makes sense that he’d decide to back down from the challenge. This goes wrong when the rest of the patrons decide he’s a coward and throw him unceremoniously out into the street.”
So the real dramatic impact from these kinds of compels is not what decision the character makes, most of the time—it’s how things go wrong. Before something goes wrong, the first sentence could be a prelude to making a skill roll or simply a matter of roleplaying. The complication that the decision creates is really what makes it a compel.
The decision part should be very self-evident, and something that a player might have been thinking about doing anyway. The same goes for players trying to compel NPCs or each other—make sure you have a strong mutual understanding of what that NPC or other player might do before proposing this.
Players, if you need fate points, this is a really good way of getting them. If you propose a decision-based compel for your character to the GM, then what you’re basically asking is for something you’re about to do to go wrong somehow. You don’t even have to have a complication in mind—simply signaling the GM should be enough to start a conversation. GMs, as long as the compel isn’t weak (as in, as long as there’s a good, juicy complication), you should go with this. If the compel is weak, poll the rest of the group for ideas until something more substantial sticks.
Compelling with Scene Aspects
Just like with every other kind of aspect use, you can also use scene aspects (and by extension, game aspects) for compels. Because of the fact that scene aspects are external to characters by default, you’re almost always looking at event-based compels rather than decision-based ones.
Here are a few examples:
“Because the warehouse is On Fire, and the player characters are trapped in the middle of it, it makes sense that, unfortunately, the ruffian they’re chasing can get away in the confusion. Damn their luck.”
“The manor house Cynere is searching through is Littered with Debris, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, the city guard is going to arrive there before she finds what she’s looking for, which will leave her with a lot of explaining to do. Damn her luck.”
“The ancient library Zird is currently working in has Layers of Dust everywhere, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, while he might be able to find the information he’s looking for, the bounty hunter pursuing him will know that he was here. Damn his luck.”
Sometimes, you’ll notice during the game that you’ve fulfilled the criteria for a compel without a fate point getting awarded. You’ve played your aspects to the hilt and gotten yourself into all kinds of trouble, or you’ve narrated crazy and dramatic stuff happening to a character related to their aspects just out of reflex.
Anyone who realizes this in play can make a mention of it, so that you can get retroactively awarded a fate point, treating it like a compel after the fact. GMs, you’re the final arbiter. It should be pretty obvious when something like this occurs, though—just look at the guidelines for event and decision compels above, and see if you can summarize what happened in the game according to those guidelines. If you can, award a fate point.
Using Aspects for Roleplaying
Finally, aspects have a passive use that you can draw on in almost every instance of play. Players, you can use them as a guide to roleplaying your character. This may seem self-evident, but we figured we’d call it out anyway—the aspects on your character sheet are true of your character at all times, not just when they’re invoked or compelled.
Think of your collection of aspects as an oracle: like a tarot spread or tea leaves. They give you a big picture of what your character’s about, and they can reveal interesting implications if you read between the lines. If you’re wondering what your character might do in a certain situation, look at your aspects. What do they say about your character’s personality, goals, and desires? Are there any clues in what your aspects say that might suggest a course of action? Once you find that suggestion, go for it.
Playing to your aspects also has another benefit: you’re feeding the GM ideas for compels. You’re already bringing your aspects into the game, so all she has to do is offer you complications and you’re good to go.
GMs, you’ll use your NPCs aspects the same way, but you get an additional way of “reading the tea leaves”—you can also use them as a way of figuring out how the world reacts to the characters. Does someone have the aspect Strongest Man in the World? That’s a reputation that might precede that character, one that people might know about and react to. People might crowd in to see that character when he’s passing through.
Also, it suggests something about that character’s physical size and build. You know that most people are going to give that character a wide berth in a crowded space, might be naturally intimidated, or might be overly aggressive or brusque as overcompensation for being intimidated.
But no one’s going to ignore that character. Inserting these kinds of aspect-related details into your narration can help your game seem more vivid and consistent, even when you’re not shuffling fate points around.
In a session of Hearts of Steal, Landon comes back to his home village of Vinfeld, only to find that it has been sacked by barbarians and that his mentor, Old Finn, has been kidnapped.
Amanda tells him that the other villagers are overjoyed that he’s come back, and in a scene where he talks to the village elders, she also says that they want him to stay and help with rebuilding the town.
Lenny looks at some of the aspects on Landon’s sheet: Disciple of the Ivory Shroud, I Owe Old Finn Everything, The Manners of a Goat, and Smashing is Always an Option. His read of those aspects is that they show Landon as being very straightforward (to the point of rudeness), aggressive, inclined to solve problems through violence, and very loyal to those he considers his own.
His read of those aspects tells him that there’s not a prayer’s chance in hell he’s going to stay and help the town when Finn might still be alive. And not only that, but he’s going to tell the elders exactly how he feels about the fact that they didn’t send a rescue party after Old Finn themselves. Probably he uses words like “spineless” and “worthless”. You know, words that really make people symapthize with you.
Amanda says that he enrages the elders so much that they’re pondering banishing him from town for his insolence. She holds up a fate point and grins, indicating a compel—his manners are going to get him kicked out of Vinfeld.
Lenny takes it, accepting that complication. “Screw them anyway,” he says. “I’ll rescue Finn without their help.”
Removing Or Changing An Aspect
Game and character aspects change through advancement. See the Milestones section in The Long Game for that.
If you want to get rid of a scene aspect, you have tie on an overcome action to do so. If a character can interfere with your attempt, they get to roll active opposition against you. Otherwise, GMs, it’s your job to set passive opposition or just allow the player to do it without a roll, if there’s nothing risky or interesting in the way.
Finally, if at any point it simply makes no sense for a scene aspect to be in play, get rid of it.
Creating And Discovering New Aspects In Play
In addition to your character aspects, game aspects, and the scene aspects that the GM presents, you have the ability to create, discover, or gain access to other aspects as you play.
For the most part, you’ll use the create an advantage action to make new aspects. When you describe the action that gives you an advantage, the context should tell you if it requires a new aspect or if it derives from an existing one. If you’re bringing a new circumstance into play, like throwing sand in someone’s eyes, you’re indicating that you need a new scene aspect.
With some skills, it’s going to make more sense to stick an advantage to an aspect that’s already on some other character’s sheet. In this case, the PC or NPC you’re targeting would provide active opposition to keep you from being able to use that aspect.
If you’re not looking for a free invocation, and you just think it’d make sense if there were a particular scene aspect in play, you don’t need to roll the dice or anything to make new aspects—just suggest them, and if the group thinks they’re interesting, write them down.
Secret or Hidden Aspects
Some skills also let you use the create an advantage action to reveal aspects that are hidden, either on NPCs or environments—in this case, the GM simply tells you what the aspect is if you get a tie or better on the roll. You can use this to “fish” for aspects if you’re not precisely sure what to look for—doing well on the roll is sufficient justification for being able to find something advantage-worthy.
Generally speaking, we assume that most of the aspects in play are public knowledge for the players. The PCs’ character sheets are sitting on the table, and probably the main and supporting NPCs are as well. That doesn’t always mean the characters know about those aspects, but that’s one of the reasons why the create an advantage action exists—to help you justify how a character learns about other characters.
Also, remember that aspects can only help deepen the story if you get to use them—aspects that are never discovered might as well never have existed in the first place. So most of the time, the players should always know what aspects are available for their use, and if there’s a question as to whether or not the character knows, use the dice to help you decide.
Finally, GMs, we know that sometimes you’re going to want to keep an NPC’s aspects secret, or not reveal certain scene aspects right away, because you’re trying to build tension in the story. If the PCs are investigating a series of murders, you don’t exactly want the culprit to have Sociopathic Serial Murderer sitting on an index card for the PCs to see at the beginning of the adventure.
In those cases, we recommend you don’t make an aspect directly out of whatever fact you’re trying to keep secret. Instead, make the aspect a detail that makes sense in context after the secret is revealed.
Amanda is making an NPC who’s secretly a vampire, the main bad guy in the scenario she’s planning. He’s also a constable in the town the PCs are going to, so she doesn’t want to give things away too easily.
Instead of making a Secretly a Vampire aspect, she decides to make a few personal details instead: Inveterate Night Owl, Tougher Than He Looks, and Wheels Within Wheels. If the PCs discover a couple of these, or see them on the table, they might start to suspect the NPC, but it’s not going to ruin the mystery of the scenario right away.
The Fate Point Economy
For the most part, the use of aspects revolves around fate points. You indicate your supply of fate points by using tokens, such as poker chips, glass beads, or other markers.
Ideally, you want a consistent ebb and flow of fate points going on throughout your sessions—players spend them in order to be awesome in a crucial moment, and they get them back when their lives’ get dramatic and complicated. So if your fate points are flowing the way they’re supposed to, you’ll end up with these cycles of triumphs and setbacks that make for a fun and interesting story.
Here’s how that works.
For starters, each player gets a number of fate points to start each session off with. That total is called the refresh rate. The refresh for a default, starting character is three fate points, but you can opt to spend up to two of your refresh to buy additional stunts. See the Stunts and Refresh section in Character Creation.
You get additional refresh as your character achieves a major milestone (which we discuss in The Long Game), which you can spend on getting more stunts or keep in order to increase your starting fate point total. You can never have less than one refresh at any time.
You might end a session of play with more fate points than your actual refresh. If that happens, you don’t lose the additional points when you start the next session, but you don’t gain any either.
Spending Fate Points
You spend fate points in any of the following ways:
- Invoke an Aspect: Invoking an aspect costs you one fate point, unless the invocation is free.
- Power a Stunt: Some stunts are very potent, and as such, cost a fate point in order to activate.
- Refusing a Compel: Once a compel is proposed, you can pay a fate point to avoid the complication associated with it.
Earing Fate Points
You earn fate points in any of the following ways:
- Accepting a Compel: Agreeing to the complication associated with a compel gives you back a fate point. As we said above, this may sometimes happen retroactively if the circumstances warrant.
- Having Your Aspects Invoked Against You: If someone pays a fate point to invoke an aspect attached to your character, you gain their fate point at the end of the scene. This includes advantages created on your character, as well as consequences.
- Conceding in a Conflict: You receive one fate point for conceding in a conflict, as well as an additional fate point for each consequence that you’ve received in that conflict. (This isn’t the same as being taken out in a conflict, by the way, but we’ll get into that later.)
The GM and Fate Points
GMs, you also get to use fate points, but the rules are a little bit different than the rules for players.
When you award players fate points for compels or concession, they’re considered to come out of an unlimited pool you have for doing so—you don’t have to worry about running out of fate points to award, and you always get to compel for free.
The NPCs under your control are not so lucky. They have a limited pool of fate points you get to use on their behalf. Whenever a scene starts, you get one fate point for every PC in that scene.
These points belong to a general pool you have, which you can use on behalf of any NPC you want. You also get fate points if an NPC gets earns them the same way that a PC does—someone invokes one of their aspects, you concede from a conflict on behalf of that NPC, or you accept a player-driven compel.
Note that in almost all cases, these fate points go away at the end of the scene and, at the beginning of the next scene, you generate a new pool of fate points. If you don’t use them, they’re gone. The only exception to this is with concessions that occur at the end of a scene. If an NPC concedes a conflict and that concession ends the scene, you get to keep the fate points earned from that concession in the next scene.
Amanda is running a climactic conflict, where the PCs are battling a nemesis they’ve been trying to subdue for several scenarios now. Here are the characters in the scene:
- Barathar, Smuggler Queen of the Sinral Reach, a main NPC
- Og the Strong, one of her chief enforcers, a supporting NPC
- Teran the Swift, an old nemesis of the PCs and hired to do Barathar’s bidding, a supporting NPC
- Two nameless NPC sergeants
- Zird the Arcane
Her total fate point pool for this scene is 3 fate points—one each for Landon, Cynere, and Zird. If Zird had been elsewhere (say, doing some arcane research), Amanda would’ve gotten two fate points, one for Landon and one for Cynere.
Late in the conflict, Barathar is forced to concede so she can get away with her skin intact. She has taken two consequences in the conflict, meaning that she gets three fate points for conceding. If this had happened early in the conflict, those fate points would just go to the current pool. Since Barathar was the last NPC in the scene and her concession effectively ends the scene, those three fate points carry over to the next scene.
The Reroll Vs. the +2
Rerolling the dice is a little riskier than just getting the +2 bonus, but has the potential for greater benefit. We recommend you reserve this option for when you’ve rolled a -3 or a -4 on the dice, to maximize the chance that you’ll get a beneficial result from rerolling. The odds are better that way.
The Ellipses Trick
If you want an easy way to ensure you have room to incorporate aspects into a roll, try narrating your action with an ellipses at the end (“…”), and then finish the action with the aspect you want to invoke. Like this:
Lily says, “Okay, so I raise my sword up and…” (rolls dice, hates the result) “…and it looks like I’m going to miss at first, but it turns out to be a quick feint-and-slash, a classic move from the (spends the fate point).
Zird says, “So I’m trying to decipher the runes in the book and…” (rolls the dice, hates the result) “…and If I Haven’t Been There, I’ve Read About It (spends a fate point), and I easily start rambling about their origin.”
Creating an Advantage
In other Fate games, free invocations were called “tagging”. We thought this was one bit of jargon too many. You can still call it that if you want—whatever helps you and your table understand the rule.
In other Fate games, you might have seen player-driven compels referred to as “invoking for effect”. We thought it was clearer to just call it a compel, no matter who initiates it.
GMs, remember that a player is ultimately responsible for everything that the character says and does. You can offer decision-based compels, but if the player doesn’t feel like the decision is one that the PC would make, don’t force the issue by charging a fate point. Instead, negotiate the terms of the compel until you find a decision the player is comfortable making, and a complication that chains from that decision instead. If you can’t agree on something, drop it.
If you offer a decision-based compel, and no one can agree on what the decision part should be, it shouldn’t cost a fate point to counter—just drop it. Countering a decision-based compel should only mean that the “what goes wrong” part doesn’t happen.
For The GM
Extremely Powerful Ninja Gm Trick
So, if you don’t have any aspects made up for a scene or an NPC, just ask the PCs what kinds of aspects they’re looking for when they roll to create an advantage. If they tie or succeed, just write down something similar to what they were looking for and say they were right. If they fail, write it down anyway, or write another aspect down that’s not advantageous to them, so as to contrast with their expectations.
Stunts and Refresh
- One Stunt = Refresh of 3
- Two Stunts = Refresh of 2
- Three Stunts = Refresh of 1
Stunts and Refresh
Fate Point-Powered Stunts