Friday, February 27, 2009

Fantasy: Aspects Redux

Ah, aspects -- the very best part of SotC! These days, people are adding aspects to their non-SotC games like it was bacon. Andy used them in a D&D 3.5 Ptolus game a while ago, we used them in an M&M noir/superhero game back in 2007, and etc. Coming up with them is fun, but it pretty much ends in character creation, barring maneuvers and declarations. So I wanted a way to make character aspects even more interesting and interactive in-game. This has gotten a bit of a playtest, at OrcCon, and once the players got used to the idea they took to it like a cheeseburger to bacon. (I have a thing for bacon tonight, apparently.) Anyway, let's get to it.

Character aspects come in two varieties: permanent aspects and story aspects.

Permanent Aspects
Every character begins with five aspects, one per phase. These are your permanent aspects. If you have an aspect of "Wild Jungle Elf," then you can pretty much count on always being a wild jungle elf for as long as you're around. They're the constant core of your character, and can only be changed at significant points in his life. Those changes have to make sense, though -- it may be plausible to alter the "Wild" bit someday, but it'll take something truly extraordinary, verging on the impossible, to mess with the "Jungle Elf" bit. More on this below.

Story Aspects
Every character begins with two empty slots for story aspects to be filled in as play progresses. These are the more ephemeral, story-specific qualities of your character that you determine (or discover) on the fly. They can (and should be) things that are relevant in the moment or to the story, but may not be later, either because there's an in-character reason for it (e.g., if you give yourself an aspect of "Protective of Jimmy" because you've grown fond of a particular NPC who isn't likely to be involved in the next story arc) or because you just decide you want to go in another direction. Maybe you realize that have a "Burning Hatred of Mountain Dwarves" in a plot that involves mountain dwarves, or maybe your trusty sword is no mere sword, but is instead the "Sword of My Forefathers." It's up to you.

When the story arc is complete, a couple things happen with your story aspects. First of all, erase them -- or you can choose to erase all but one instead. If so, the one you keep becomes a permanent aspect. This is appropriate if you've really decided on or discovered something significant about your character. Mark this aspect with a star on your character sheet so you know not to erase it in the future. Second, you receive an additional empty story aspect slot (so you'll have two total story aspects in your first story arc, three in your second, and so on). This represents your character's increased experience, commitment, and adaptability over time, and gives you the chance to make changes in his personality mechanically significant and immediately apparent.

Your total combined number of permanent aspects and story aspect slots can't exceed 10. In other words, once you've received your fifth story aspect slot, regardless of how many prior story aspects have been converted into permanent aspects, you don't receive any more.

Converting story aspects into permanent aspects can also result in receiving additional boons. At your sixth, eighth, and tenth permanent aspects (in other words, the first, third, and fifth times you convert a story aspect to a permanent aspect), pick an additional boon appropriate to the aspect.

Example:
Let's take renowned actor, playwright, and secret agent Paskal Salaberri. Like every other starting character, he has five permanent aspects and two empty story aspect slots.

Permanent Aspects:
  • “What is the world, if not a stage?”
  • “A thousand faces, and none of them mine.”
  • Danger at Every Turn
  • On His Holiness’s Secret Service
  • A Friend in Every Audience
Story Aspects:
  • [blank]
  • [blank]
Through the course of play, the party ends up in far-off Brightmar. Paskal's player decides that the character is well-connected no matter where he goes, and has a contact in this foreign town who can get him information. He makes this contact a story aspect, like so:

Story Aspects:
  • Rinaldo the Informant
  • [blank]
Later, Paskal's in a tight spot, combat-wise, and needs an additional boost. Paskal's player declares that his years treading the boards have necessarily resulted in some extensive training in stage fencing. Sure, it's not life-or-death fencing, but still -- it should count. He makes this training a story aspect:

Story Aspects:
  • Rinaldo the Informant
  • Stage Fencer Extraordinaire
At the end of the story arc, Paskal receives an additional empty story aspect slot, and the player has the option of erasing one or both of the existing story aspects. He figures he won't be hanging out in Brightmar with Rinaldo all that often, but being able to fight seems like the sort of thing that will always come up, so he decides he'll keep that one. Now his story aspects look like this:

Story Aspects:
  • [blank]
  • Stage Fencer Extraordinaire*
  • [blank]
This being Paskal's sixth permanent aspect, he gets another boon. The player goes with Focus: +1 Melee with swords.

Giving Story Aspects to Other Characters
Players can also assign story aspects to characters other than their own, if everyone involved is willing. To do this, offer the other player a Fate Point and declare what the story aspect is. If the other player accepts, he writes it into an empty slot and takes your Fate Point. If he refuses, he doesn't write anything and you keep your Fate Point.
  • Why pay the Fate Point? You're dictating something about someone else's character -- it's essentially a small measure of narrative control, and it'll cost you. Why doesn't the other player have to pay you a Fate Point to refuse, like he would with a compel? Well, it's not a compel, for one thing, and for another, if that were the case you'd go around trying to stick everyone else with your wacky story aspects ("Hey, I'll pay you a Fate Point if you're 'Unusually Sensitive to Colors'!") with the expectation that they'd have to refuse just so you could retire on a pile of Fate Points. So no, we're not having that.
  • Why would anyone accept -- or why wouldn't they? Maybe they need the Fate Point right now and are willing to give up a story aspect to get it. Keep in mind that if someone else wants to dictate one of your story aspects, they're probably doing it with their own interests in mind. If you accept, expect to end up protective of their character, or supportive of their character's goals, and so on. If you're fine with that, then take the Fate Point and the aspect. It would be a little ludicrous, or at least a waste of a Fate Point, to dictate a story aspect that the other player would like anyway.
Changing Permanent Aspects
Apart from first-session fiddling -- that is, players realizing that one or more of the aspects they came up with really don't reflect what they had in mind, which is definitely grounds for alteration -- the only way permanent aspects can change is through a Severe consequence.
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