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 situation 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, possessions, 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 can 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 situation aspects, you don’t have to worry about this as much, because they’re only intended to stick around for a scene. It’s much more important for game and character aspects to suggest multiple contexts for use.
* I Must Prove Myself
* The Legion Demands I Prove Myself
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 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.
* Memories, Wishes, and Regrets
* Scars from the War