Paul: “Alright, I’m going to turn on stealth mode and sneak past the guards.”
Genevieve: “Ok you…wait what? When did you take a stealth stunt?”
Paul: “Stunt? No, I don’t need a stunt, I have the ZX-15 Augmented Patrol Suit. I told you it was based off of that TV show I watch, and it totally has a stealth mode!”
Genevieve: “Oh, well, I didn’t actually watch any episodes. I fell asleep after the intro credits. If you want a stealth mode for your suit, you’re going to need a stunt.”
Paul: “But, I mean, that’s…sigh

A Failure to Communicate

Everyone has their own point of view on how things are, how they should be, and what things mean. Not everyone has the same view on things, and this can easily leak over to your gaming table. Some people think that character aspects confer certain benefits beyond just being a descriptive phrase, while others rely on stunts to show how their character “breaks the rules”.

One of the less-talked-about facets of aspects is that they establish facts. Fate Core System doesn’t touch on it much, but FAE does:

The final thing that aspects can do is establish facts in the game. You don’t have to spend any fate points, roll dice, or anything to make this happen…” –Fate Accelerate Edition, page 29

Therefore aspects give permission to do a lot of things that might otherwise require stunts to achieve. Many people have specific ideas on what each of their aspect mean, but don’t explain it to the rest of the table or the GM. Problems arise when communication breaks down—or is absent to begin with!

Table Talk

When playing in an existing world, it’s easy to understand what to expect from aspects. For example, if playing in a Marvel Cinematic Universe game, everyone knows what the I am Iron Man aspect allows for: flight, repulsor/missile attack, armour, and various scanning tasks. But you also know what it doesn’t do; the standard Iron Man suit doesn’t have a stealth mode or force fields.

But what about a home game, in a home-made setting? There is no long-winded Wikipedia article about the background, no fan sites full of character write-ups, and no “watch this to know what’s going on”. For home games, you need to talk to the table and come to a consensus of what each aspect represents, what it means, and what facts it establishes.

The Checklist

When writing up aspects for your character in any game, in any genre, it’s a good idea to go through the Aspect Checklist for each of your aspects. This not only solidifies what the aspect means to you, but it also gives the rest of the table a solid foundation as to who your character is, and what your character is capable of. It also has the nice side effect of letting the GM know what types of action and complications you want your character to get in.

The Aspect Checklist

  • Invoke for…
  • Compel for…
  • Allows to do…

Invoke For…

List two or three things this aspect can be invoked to assist with. This short list shows what kind of heroic and tense situations you wish your character to be engaged in. It also goes to show what actions you expect to shine in. Also list one or two ways this aspect can be invoked against you. Hostile invocations are a great source of fate points, so make sure everyone knows when it should happen.

Compel for…

List two or three ways this aspect can be compelled to cause things to go sideways for your character. The mad-libs on pages 72-73 of Fate Core are great places to start, as they have everything you need for a juicy compel!

This also is a really important step to get an idea of what the table as a whole thinks is or is not compel-worthy. Instead of going into the game thinking one thing and finding out another, you already know what kind of complications are worth a fate point! This alone will help alleviate a lot of (out of game) complications and short-circuit arguments as to what you can and can’t earn a fate point for.

Allows to do…

List three to five things that you expect this aspect to allow you to do, even if you think it’s obvious. Just because you know what you want it to mean doesn’t mean the rest of your table thinks the same way you do! This list, more so than the other two, is very setting-dependent and reliant on what your table decides is and is not possible.

In the beginning exchange, Paul was under the impression that his ZX-15 Augmented Patrol Suit had a built-in stealth mode, so he could go invisible. It was a perfectly rational expectation, since the TV he based his suit on allows the main protagonist to turn invisible! But Genevieve hasn’t see that TV show, and didn’t think that a future-cop’s standard-issue suit allows them to turn invisible.

This stage of the checklist is by far the most collaborative, since it’s more divorced from the game mechanics than either invoking or compelling. It’s more a part of world-building than character-building, since it can have setting-wide ramifications.

Special Aspects

For special aspects like your high concept and your trouble, there are a few modifications to the checklist.

Your High concept aspect is all about how awesome you are, and what your archetype is. It’s about you being a badass, and thus should be more badass than the other aspects.

  • When determining the invoke for… list, have three or four helpful invokes, and zero or one hostile invokes[1]
  • When determining the compel for list, reduce it to one or two compels

Your character’s trouble aspect is when things go wrong, so should be adjusted to have more troubles than benefits.

  • When determining the invoke for… list, have one or two helpful invokes, and two or three hostile invokes
  • When determining the compel for list, list three or four compels

These changes reflect the main focus of each of the special aspects, and help to define them more in your mind as well as in the mind of the other players. ***

  1. The term hostile invocation was coined by the Fate community to reference someone’s aspect being invoked against them. On the plus side, they get the fate point spent on the invoke at the end of the scene. See Invoking Aspects, right before The Ellipsis Trick, for more information.  ↩