Hey, we’re on a roll discussing the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) role-playing game system, so let’s continue yesterday’s discussion that compared Approaches and Skills by now comparing Approaches and Aspects.
What’s an Aspect?
I’ve already mentioned that I see Aspects as the very centre of the Fate system in all its incarnations, and that I think FAE is particularly suited to showcasing them. A number of people have told me that they felt the Approaches overlapped with the Aspects because “Sneaky” or “Quick” were Aspects.
“Sneaky” is not an Aspect, or at least not a good one, because it is useful but not necessarily all that dangerous. Yes, as a Game Master I can find a way to use it to cause trouble for your character, but it’s going to be fairly limited and repetitive because it’s so vague. Remember,
Aspects which don’t help you tell a good story (by giving you success when you need it and by drawing you into danger and action when the story needs it) aren’t doing their job. The aspects which push you into conflict—and help you excel once you’re there—will be among your best and most-used.
Aspects need to be both useful and dangerous—allowing you to help shape the story and generating lots of fate points—and they should never be boring. The best aspect suggests both ways to use it and ways it can complicate your situation. Aspects that cannot be used for either of those are likely to be dull indeed.
(Fate Core, p. 36)
So “Swore a Blood Oath to the Neko ninja clan” is an Aspect if you’re playing in the setting of Usagi Yojimbo, “I’m a homicidal maniac, they look just like everyone else” is an Aspect if you’re playing The Addams Family, “Double-O clearance in Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is an Aspect if you’re playing super-spies, but “Sneaky” is just plain dull as an Aspect because it’s so one-sided and flavourless. It is, however, very useful as an Approach in FAE.
To sum up:
- Aspects can get you both in and out of trouble, and are hooks to catch stories on. They tell you what your character does (e.g., “Ace Pilot of the RAF”, “Rightful Queen of the Realm”, “Heir to the Two-Sword Technique”) or why you do it (e.g., “I swore on my father’s dead body that I would avenge him!”, “Seeking the truth about my sister’s abduction”, “I must earn my True Love’s hand”).
- Approaches tell you how you do things: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick and
Stealthy(Edit) Sneaky in standard FAE rules, but could be Daring, Ingenuity, Craft, Charm, Might and Magic if I decided to borrow the Styles from octaNe, the psychotronic game of post-apocalyptic trash culture America, etc. You can do something in several different styles, but some will be more dramatically appropriate than others in a given situation, based on the fiction created in-game; so the GM may set different difficulty targets depending on whether you are being Forceful, Sneaky or Flashy.
Skills are very familiar because we have seen them in a majority of role-playing games over the last four decades, and they have even been ported over to many computer and console games; however, they tend to trample over Aspects in terms of permission (can you do this?), limit creativity (“I guess I just don’t have that skill, I can’t do it”) and work against the Assumption of character competence, the first of the three Fate “pillars.”
Ultimately, an Aspect is a discrete piece of game fiction which is out there to be used by players and GM.
Sometimes these pieces can be used to your character’s advantage (your own character’s Aspects, any scene Aspect you create using an action, Consequences which you created by damaging an opposing character, etc.) and therefore can be Invoked free, or at the cost of a Fate Point — or at a dramatic cost. Sometimes they can cause trouble for your character and therefore can be Compelled, earning you a Fate Point in payment and earning drama.
Fate (and FAE) works best when there are lots of dramatically appropriate pieces of fiction being used and reused to tell the exciting adventures of the player characters with the collaboration of the entire group. The question of pass/fail, “Do you have the skill to execute your idea?” is usually not very interesting. The question of “What cost are you willing to pay to succeed?” is far more dramatic — hence, Aspects as the heart of Fate.