I’ve been thinking a lot about aspects recently as I’m starting to consider what is going to go in my PWYW PDF ‘All About Aspects’, at the same time I’ve also been thinking about submitting a pitch to the Fate Codex, in their writers guidelines they claim to be looking for:
- Quick Start Adventures that contain a short setting, NPCs and plot hooks, and pregen characters (roughly 4,000 words).
- Fate Core Essays that explain how to do exciting things with the Fate system in your local game (2,500 – 3,500 words).
- Extra Systems that can be added to your game to provide new ways for your players to engage the fiction (1,000 – 1,500 words).
- Short Fiction that will help to inspire you with new worlds and characters that will be statted up along with the prose (roughly 2,500 words).
I quite like the idea of trying to write an adventure that is self-contained but that also does something a little different with the basic Fate rules-set, so I’ve been thinking about how it might be interesting to tweak the structural guidelines that are provided for creating aspects. The default method in Fate Core asks players to think about their first adventure and then each person works out how their characters play a supporting role in the other peoples adventures and pick aspects based on them; some people love this idea and some people hate it, and of course there’s nothing that says you have to use it, however, having some guidelines can be useful to prevent people from stalling or getting that blank expression when aspects are first explaining.
When it discusses running horror games using Fate the Fate Toolkit one of the pieces of advice it gives is:
Compels Aplenty: While compels aren’t tools for forcing outcomes, they are tools for making things go wrong. So make them abundant. Place aspects on the scene, the story, the campaign—and compel them to make things go wrong for everyone. Simply dropping Death Comes for Everyone onto the story and compelling it at the exact worst time (for the players) to make things that much worse will get lots of traction. Yeah, the players affected will walk away with some fate points—which they’ll need in order to survive—but they’ll also feel the emotional gut-punch of the moment—and will wonder when the next compel is going to land. Make them hurt. Make them worry.
Often one of the problems with horror gaming is that, unless the PCs buy into the genre conventions then it can fall flat; after all everyone knows that splitting up is a bad idea, that reading the old book is a death-sentence and don’t even think about going down into that dark cellar. Still, the characters/victims in horror films and stories do exactly that because, unlike the players in an RPG, they generally don’t know they’re in a horror story; if your players are too concerned with survival and playing it safe then the horror RPG experience can seem a bit limp and deflated.
I think aspects could be just the thing to change that; using compels frequently could, if used with appropriate aspects, re-inforce the genre tropes and reward players who buy-in to the setting whilst still allowing those who wish to pay a fate point to avoid the compel, although doing so eventually means they will succumb to the dark forces of whatever nameless horror stalks them.
Taking the standard five aspect approach, I’m intending to define them something like this (I’m using the example of a haunted house investigation below, if the goal/setting of the game were different then some of the wording might change):
- What is your job? – this replaces high concept
- What brought you to the haunted house? – this replaces trouble
- What are you hoping to find in the house?
- What do you fear is in the house?
- What will keep you investigating when weird stuff starts to happen?
And there are examples below:
- What is your job? Newspaper photographer
- What bought you to the haunted house? Some people have disappeared here and the place has a bad reputation.
- What are you hoping to find in the house? A big scoop.
- What do you fear is in the house? Some kind of crazy person or killer.
- What will keep you investigating when weird stuff starts to happen? I need the money that the story will bring me to support my family.
- What is your job? None, I’m a homeless person.
- What bought you to the haunted house? My dog ran off and disappeared into the building.
- What are you hoping to find in the house? I just want to find Rex and get out.
- What do you fear is in the house? The house was built on an old graveyard and they say ot’s haunted.
- What will keep you investigating when weird stuff starts to happen? Rex is the only friend I have, and who knows I might find something worth something in the old place.
I’m hoping to keep refining this idea over the next few weeks and then look at making it into an adventure with a view to playtesting and submitting to the Codex.