Choosing Aspects

Picking Character Aspects

More than anything else, aspects are a player’s most explicit way of telling the GM, “This is the stuff I want to see in the game”. If the player picks an aspect like “Death Defying”, then he should be able to fully expect that the GM will put him in death-defying situations. GMs should want players to use their aspects; players should pick the ones they want to use, and GMs should encourage them to choose aspects that will be both interesting and useful.

Once a player decides on an idea for an aspect, he needs to figure out what aspect name best describes what he intends; there are usually many possible names for a desired aspect, which can make this choice somewhat difficult. However, most of the time, an aspect is going to be a phrase, a person or a prop.

A phrase can be anything from a descriptive phrase (“Strong As An Ox”) to a simple descriptor (“Strong”), or even a literal quote (“No One Is Stronger Than HERCULOR!”). Phrase aspects come into play based on how well the situation matches them; a colorful phrase adds a lot of flavor and innately suggests several different ways to use it. This potentially makes phrase aspects some of the most flexible aspects in the game. A person can be anyone important to the character. A friend, an enemy, a family member, a sidekick, a mentor – as long as someone matters to the character, he makes an appropriate aspect. A person aspect is most easily used when that person is in the scene with the character, but the aspect can come up in other ways, depending upon the person’s history and relationship with the character. For example, if a character has his mentor as an aspect, that aspect might be useful for things his mentor would have instructed him on.

Props are things, places or even ideas – anything external to the character that isn’t a person. A prop can be useful if it’s something the character has with him, or if it’s the crux of a conflict, but it may also imply things about the character, or even be useful in its absence (if only I had my “Trusty Toolbox”!). These three categories of aspects aren’t hard and fast. An aspect like “Jet’s in Trouble!” has elements of both a phrase and a person, and that’s just fine. We’ve just provided these categories to help provide a way to think about how to frame aspects.

Why Would I Want a Bad Aspect?

You may have noticed that a number of the aspects throughout this book are “bad” aspects – they indicate a downside for a character, either in their directly negative connotations, or in their two-edged nature. Aspects like Drunkard, Sucker, Stubborn, and Honest all suggest situations where the character will have to behave a certain way – making an ass of himself at an important social function, falling for a line of bull, failing to back down when it’s important to do so, or speaking truth when truth is the path to greatest harm.

So why put such aspects on your sheet if they’re only going to make trouble for you? Simple: you want that kind of trouble. On a basic, game-rules footing, “bad” aspects are a direct line to getting you more fate points – and fate points are the electricity that powers some of the more potent positive uses of your aspects. We’ll get more into how aspects can generate and use fate points later on in this chapter.

Outside of just the rules, a “bad” aspect adds interest and story to a character in a way that purely positive aspects cannot. This sort of interest means time in the limelight. If someone’s trying to take advantage of the fact your character’s a Sucker, that’s an important point in the story, and the camera’s going to focus on it. “Bad” aspects also immediately suggest story to your GM; they tell her how to hook your character in. From the perspective of playing the game to get involved and have fun, there’s nothing but good in this sort of “bad”.

Clever players will also find positive ways to use “bad” aspects. The Drunkard might get looked over more easily by prying eyes as “just a drunk”; someone who’s Stubborn will be more determined to achieve his goals. This brings us the “secret” truth about aspects: the ones that are most useful are the ones that are the most interesting. And interesting comes most strongly from aspects that are neither purely good nor purely bad.

As a rule of thumb, when picking an aspect, think of three situations where you can see the aspect coming into play. If you’ve got one reasonably positive situation and one reasonably negative situation out of that set, you’re golden! If they’re all of one type, you may want to reconsider how you’ve worded your aspect – try to put a little of what’s missing in there. Ultimately, though, one aspect that’s “all good” or “all bad” isn’t that much of a problem, so long as you have a good mix throughout your whole set.

Jazzing It Up

Aspects are one of the major sources of flavor for your character; they’re the first thing a GM will look at on your sheet when trying to work out what sort of stories to throw you into. This is powerful juju, and the best part is, you are in total control of it with the words you choose for your aspect.

Whenever you’re writing down the name of an aspect, ask yourself, “how much flavor does this aspect suggest?” If it seems fairly colorless, then you might well be off the mark, and it’s time to kick it up a notch. Certainly, don’t feel like you have to do this with every aspect you take, but if your character is served up as a bland dish, you may discover that your GM is at loose ends for keeping him involved in the story.

A few “good – better – best” examples are pictured here.

Bland / Tasty / Bam!
Strong / Strong as an Ox / Man of Iron
Dark Past / Former Cultist / Eye of Anubis
Swordsman / Trained Fencer / Trained by Montcharles

In each of these cases, the “bland” option certainly suggests its uses, but doesn’t really jump off the page as something that suggests story. The “tasty” option is certainly better by dint of being more specific; both GM and player can see some potential story hooks in these, and they serve to differentiate themselves interestingly from their blander predecessors. But
the “bam!” options are where it’s at. “Man of Iron” could easily be the phrase others use to identify the character, and suggests more applications than simple strength. “Eye of Anubis”
names the cult the character was once a part of, sends the GM looking to ancient Egypt for some story ideas, and starts to put some NPCs onto the map. “Trained by Montcharles” gives the player plenty of opportunity for flashbacks to his time with Pierre Montcharles, which may include lessons and history that don’t just have to do with fencing, and also hints at the possibility of Pierre himself showing up in a story down the line. So when you pick an aspect, ask yourself: is this bland, is this tasty, or is this “bam!”?

Choosing Aspects

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