Fate Core Thought of the Day: What are Aspects?

So, this is something I've been noodling over for a while. Mostly because I see lots of people misunderstand (IMHO) what aspects are, and try to use them in inappropriate places, or for inappropriate things.

Mostly, people seem to view aspects as kind of combined Advantages/Disadvantages/Feats/Edges/etc. And... they're mostly not that.

"So, what are they then, Mr. Smarty Pants?" you might ask. And while my pants are indeed smarter than me, that's likely more about me than the pants.

Aspects are, simply put, established narrative facts. And this is a definition that will either have you nodding along or be totally useless to you. So, lemme drill a bit further into this.

Most game systems try to model reality - turns represent people doing things over discrete time slices, we try to figure out what would happen during this time bit, etc.

Not Fate. Fate models how fiction works. And not in the base sense of "cinematic reality" either - you can certainly have realistic fiction! What Fate models is how scenes and camera shots work together to make things work and make sense. This is one of the cool things about Fate! We've learned over centuries how to tell stories, so applying that knowledge to RPGs is a serious win!

(Of course, it also means that if you want a world-simulator, Fate's not really your bag. Sorry about that.)

So, let's look at something I consider to be a perfect example of this. In the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy, we see Star-Lord flying over the surface of a planet, and see geysers going off. Cool stuff. Later on, as he's trying to get away, one of those geysers goes off underneath the Milano, causing him problems.

Here's the thing - narratively, we can't just have the geyser go off under the Milano with no warning, or it feels abrupt and like "cheating" we have to establish that "hey, geysers going off all over the place on this planet is totally a thing, so you know, if it happens, don't be surprised."

That's a great example of a situation aspect. As the GM describes the scene, and mentions the geysers, he writes down "Crazy Geysers" as a scene aspect, and then he's free to Compel it later.

Basically, an aspect is something that we've introduced, that we've established as something important or notable, that we can then later "cash in" on. That's the difference between a dark room, and one that is specifically pointed out (via camera shot or dialog) as being Dark. In the one case, it's scenery. In the other case, we know something is going to jump out of the darkness.

So that describes situation aspects pretty well, but what about character aspects, and Create Advantage?

Well, basically the same thing.

Han Solo's meeting with Greedo? It exists for the sole reason that we need to establish with the audience that Han Solo is actually wanted by Jabba. That way when Jabba starts interfering later, we're not surprised. It feels like a logical extension of what's going on.

Okay, so that's a character aspect, but how about Create Advantage?

Well, let's look at having a weak point in the armor of something. That's common enough, right? What happens in a TV show? Well, one of two things happens, 99% of the time - either we see a camera shot (and when I say "camera shot" you should think "action", unless we're talking about setting a scene or introducing a character) of the armored thing moving in a way that exposes the weak point, or we have someone shout out "hey, when he does <thing> his armor's exposed". This seems extraneous, and it is from a "realism" standpoint. But what it does is inform the viewer of the weak point, so that when the hero takes advantage of it, it feels logical and connected rather than random.

And that's how Fate works with aspects. Either we establish them as part of setting the scene, or we establish them as some kind of camera shot/action that informs the viewer/players of what's going on and sets up our later use of them. And those times when something gets revealed without setup? That's what Fate Points are for!

This is also a big part of why I'm not a fan of hidden aspects. If aspects are narratively established facts, and they're hidden, then they're not established! At the minimum, the aspect should reflect the information that is available to the audience - that is, the players.