Black Seas of Infinity
In this game, I’d like to use an additional, optional metagame system called Aspects. Aspects come from the FATE RPG and its various offshoots, such as the award-winning game Spirit of the Century. Aspects are essentially a set of descriptive traits for your character, beyond merely the mechanical elements that you choose within the D&D system. Your race, class, skills, feats, powers and so forth determine what your character can do in the game, on a basic mechanical level. Your Aspects, on the other hand, tell us who your character is, in a brief and accessible way that can be easily and powerfully used during gameplay.
I think of these Aspects as role-playing hooks for your character. They’re descriptive terms or phrases that you can use to guide your character’s actions, to gain metagame rewards for playing according to your Aspects, to gain real mechanical benefits during play when situations related to your Aspects arise, and to help me to generate plotlines, quests, encounters, and themes in the campaign which are tailored for your character specifically, as you define him. Your Aspects will let you be better at things or do more special things when its important to your character to do so. They’ll also give me a specific framework for rewarding you for in-character choices and actions.
In an ordinary game of D&D, a lot of the cool concepts we come up with for our characters related to their history, story elements, personality, beliefs, quirks, motives, relationships, and so on are largely irrelevant in actual gameplay. We might have all sorts of ideas about who our characters are, about what’s important to them, about the core themes that they’re supposed to be about, but even when we play these elements of our characters up, it rarely effects the game much. It’s all usually just some fluff that no one else cares much about. When we’re attempting tasks that relate to what our character is about, we don’t usually gain any special mechanical benefit. And when we choose to limit or detriment ourselves in game because of how we conceive of our character, we don’t usually get any special reward for it.
I want those assumptions to change, in this game. I want you to tell me what your character is about, and I want to give you concrete benefits when those things come up in-game, and really reward you in a tangible way when you deliberately play to the things you’ve told me about your character. Aspects are the mechanism that we can use to facilitate those goals.
Remember that this Aspects system is optional. If you don’t want to choose Aspects for your character, or use them, you don’t have to. But the benefits of doing so will be substantial.
What are Aspects?
The following bits of information about Aspects are largely quoted from the FATE or Spirit of the Century rules, with some minor adjustments on my part to fit them to this game.
• Aspects are a set of characteristics that cover a wide range of elements and should collectively paint a picture of who the character is, what he’s connected to, and what’s important to him (in contrast to the “what can he do” of skills, feats, and powers).
• Aspects can be relationships, beliefs, catchphrases, descriptors, items, quotes, or pretty much anything else that paints a picture of the character.
• Aspects define what makes your character unique, or basically, they describe the core of your character’s identity.
• Aspects may be good, bad or both but they should always reflect some important element of the character.
• Almost anything can be an Aspect as long as it is an important part of the character’s story, theme, or concept.
• Aspects are not just what define the character, they are what are important to the character.
• An Aspect can be used to give you a bonus or other benefit when it applies to a situation. Doing this requires spending one or more Fate Points. In this capacity, called Invoking an Aspect, it makes the character better at whatever it is he’s doing, because the Aspect in some way applies to the situation.
• An Aspect also allows you to gain more Fate Points, by bringing complications and troubling circumstances into the character’s life. Whenever you end up in a situation where your Aspect could cause you trouble, you can mention it to the DM in the same way you mention an Aspect that might help you. Alternately, the DM may initiate this event if one of your Aspects seems particularly apt. In either of these two cases, this is called Compelling an Aspect, and its effect is that your character’s choices are limited in some way. If the DM initiates or agrees to Compel the Aspect, you will receive one or more Fate Points.
• Aspects can be both useful and dangerous, but they should never be boring. When you choose your Aspects, stop a minute to think about what kinds of situations you can imagine using it for, and what kind of trouble it might get you into. The very best Aspects suggest answers to both those questions, and an Aspect that can answer neither is likely to be very dull indeed.
• The process of using an Aspect begins by declaring that one is relevant. Either the player or the DM may make this declaration. Then, determine if the Aspect’s relevance is working for or against the character who has the Aspect. As a general rule of thumb, if it’s for, the owner spends a Fate Point. If it’s against, the owner gains a Fate Point unless he pays to avoid it.
• More than anything else, Aspects are a player’s most explicit way of telling the DM, “This is the stuff I want to see in the game” and “This is the kind of play I want to be rewarded for”.
More about Aspects, directly quoted from Spirit of the Century:
At first glance, the most powerful aspects would seem to be things that are broadly useful with no real downside, things like “Quick”, “Lucky” or “Strong”, and a lot of players are tempted to go with those out the gate. Resist that temptation!
See, there are three very large problems with aspects like this: they’re boring, they don’t generate fate points, and they surrender your ability to help shape the story.
Boring is a pretty obvious problem. Consider a character who is “Lucky” and one who has “Strange Luck”. The latter aspect can be used for just as many good things as the former, but it also allows for a much wider range of possibilities.
You’ll also want to have some room for negative results of aspects. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but remember that every time an aspect makes trouble for you, you’ll receive a fate point, which is a pretty powerful incentive.
To come back to “Strange Luck”, it means that the GM can throw bizarre, even unfortunate, coincidences at the character, but you get paid for it. If this doesn’t seem tempting enough yet, remember that the GM is probably going to do something bizarre to you anyway – shouldn’t you benefit from it, and have some say in how it happens?
And that leads to the last point. When the GM sits down to plan an adventure, she’s going to look over the aspects of the players involved. If one character has the aspect “Quick” and another has the aspect “Sworn Enemy of the Secret Brotherhood of the Flame”, which one do you think suggests more ideas for the GM?
Your aspects give you a vote in what sort of game you’re going to be playing in, so don’t let it go to waste. If nothing else, you have just established that the Secret Brotherhood of the Flame exists in the setting, and the GM will probably turn to you for the details.
So in the end, the most powerful aspects are easy to spot, because they’re the most interesting ones. If you consider that you want an aspect you can use to your advantage but which can also be used to generate fate points, then it’s clear you will get the most mechanical potency out of an aspect that can do both. What’s more, aspects that tie into the world somehow (such as to a group, or a person) help you fill in the cast and characters of the world in a way that is most appealing to you.
Bottom line: if you want to maximize the power of your aspects, maximize their interest.
Why Would I Want a Bad Aspect?
You may have noticed that a number of the aspects throughout this book are “bad” aspects – they indicate a downside for a character, either in their directly negative connotations, or in their two-edged nature. Aspects like Drunkard, Sucker, Stubborn, and Honest all suggest situations where the character will have to behave a certain way – making an ass of himself at an important social function, falling for a line of bull, failing to back down when it’s important to do so, or speaking truth when truth is the path to greatest harm.
So why put such aspects on your sheet if they’re only going to make trouble for you? Simple: you want that kind of trouble.
On a basic, game-rules footing, “bad” aspects are a direct line to getting you more fate points – and fate points are the electricity that powers some of the more potent positive uses of your aspects. We’ll get more into how aspects can generate and use fate points later on in this chapter.
Outside of just the rules, a “bad” aspect adds interest and story to a character in a way that purely positive aspects cannot. This sort of interest means time in the limelight. If someone’s trying to take advantage of the fact your character’s a Sucker, that’s an important point in the story, and the camera’s going to focus on it. “Bad” aspects also immediately suggest story to your GM; they tell her how to hook your character in. From the perspective of playing the game to get involved and have fun, there’s nothing but good in this sort of “bad”.
Clever players will also find positive ways to use “bad” aspects. The Drunkard might get looked over more easily by prying eyes as “just a drunk”; someone who’s Stubborn will be more determined to achieve his goals. This brings us the “secret” truth about aspects: the ones that are most useful are the ones that are the most interesting. And interesting comes most strongly from aspects that are neither purely good nor purely bad.
As a rule of thumb, when picking an aspect, think of three situations where you can see the aspect coming into play. If you’ve got one reasonably positive situation and one reasonably negative situation out of that set, you’re golden! If they’re all of one type, you may want to reconsider how you’ve worded your aspect – try to put a little of what’s missing in there. Ultimately, though, one aspect that’s “all good” or “all bad” isn’t that much of a problem, so long as you have a good mix throughout your whole set.
Jazzing It Up
Aspects are one of the major sources of flavor for your character; they’re the first thing a GM will look at on your sheet when trying to work out what sort of stories to throw you into. This is powerful juju, and the best part is, you are in total control of it with the words you choose for your aspect.
Whenever you’re writing down the name of an aspect, ask yourself, “how much flavor does this aspect suggest?” If it seems fairly colorless, then you might well be off the mark, and it’s time to kick it up a notch. Certainly, don’t feel like you have to do this with every aspect you take, but if your character is served up as a bland dish, you may discover that your GM is at loose ends for keeping him involved in the story.
A few “good – better – best” examples are pictured here.
Bland: Strong – Tasty: Strong as an Ox – Bam!: Man of Iron
Bland: Dark Past – Tasty: Former Cultist – Bam!: Eye of Anubis
Bland: Swordsman – Tasty: Trained Fencer – Bam!: Trained by Montcharles
In each of these cases, the “bland” option certainly suggests its uses, but doesn’t really jump off the page as something that suggests story. The “tasty” option is certainly better by dint of being more specific; both GM and player can see some potential story hooks in these, and they serve to differentiate themselves interestingly from their blander predecessors. But the “bam!” options are where it’s at.
“Man of Iron” could easily be the phrase others use to identify the character, and suggests more applications than simple strength. “Eye of Anubis” names the cult the character was once a part of, sends the GM looking to ancient Egypt for some story ideas, and starts to put some NPCs onto the map. “Trained by Montcharles” gives the player plenty of opportunity for flashbacks to his time with Pierre Montcharles, which may include lessons and history that don’t just have to do with fencing, and also hints at the possibility of Pierre himself showing up in a story down the line. So when you pick an aspect, ask yourself: is this bland, is this tasty, or is this “bam!”?
The following sample Aspects mostly come from Spirit of the Century, which is a “pulp comic book action” themed game set in the fictional Earth 1920s. So they are thematically appropriate for that setting, and many of them have that sort of language and feel to them. Obviously, this game and campaign has quite a different tone and setting, so your Aspects will likely be quite different from these. But this list should give you a basic idea of the kinds of things that might be Aspects, and start your imagination going on coming up with appropriate Aspects for your character in this D&D campaign.
Quick Witted, Sucker for a Pretty Face, Rough & Tumble, Dapper Devil, Stubborn Like a Mule, “Gimme a Minute”, Eureka!, One Step Behind, Fearless, “It Works on Paper!”, Over My Head, Femme Fatality, “Maggie’s in Trouble!”, Player or Pawn?, First on the Scene, “Just Use More”, Putting in Long Hours, Fly By Night, “Amazing Jetcar”, Raised by Wolves, Respectable Friends in Low places, “Return to Normalcy”, Respected Authority, Girl in Every Port, “Manfred, Save Me!”, S.O.S. (Save Our Souls), Glory is Forever, Scrappy, “Something’s Not Right”, Grease Monkey, Great Expectations, “This is Bigger than I Thought”, Gumshoe, Sharpshooter, Shattered, Hard Boiled, (Sword’s Name), Haunted, Short Fuse, A Few Dollars More, Heart of Gold, Silver Spoon, A Fistful of Truth, Hidden Crush, Social Chameleon, A Good Day to Die, I Know a Guy…, Soft Hearted, Alone in a Crowd, Import/Export, Something to Prove, Amazing Jet Pack!, Business, Strength of the Earth, Architect of Destruction, Interesting Times, Barbarians, Intrepid Investigator, Sultan’s Wrath, Been There, It Wasn’t My Fault, The Awful Truth, Black Sheep, It’d Take a Miracle!, The Granite Family, Bookworm, I’ve Got an Angle, The Names of Evil, Champion, Johnny on the Spot, The Price of Glory, Chosen of the Dark, Knows Too Much, Tongo – Witch Doctor, Continent, Kung Lao, Troublemaker, Codebreaker, Man of Two Worlds, Twitchy, Collector, Marked by Destiny, Two Fisted, Cutting it Close, Monkeywrench, Uncivilized, Death Defying, Motorhead, Unspoken Love, Deathbed Legacy, Muckraking, War Buddies, Dogged, Mysteries of the East, Well Traveled, Dreamer, Naìve, Work in Progress, Easy Mark, Never Good Enough, Eavesdropper, Nosy, Enemy: Woodrow Wilson, On the Run, Mama’s Boy, Apprentice to Ancient Mai, The Lord Is My Shepherd, Nothing Is Forever, Can’t Keep My Mouth Shut, “It’s Not My Fault!”, Wiseass Wizard, Rugged as the Road, Sword of the Cross, My Mother’s Pentacle, Big Man On Campus, Anger Is My Constant Companion, Abandon None, Beastmaster, Bit of a Spiv, Behind the Wheel, Big & Strong, Bullheaded, Champion of…, Chivalrous, Comprehend the Incomprehensible, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Devilishly Handsome, Divine Bloodline, Face the Onslaught, Faith and Honor, Globetrotter, Good Intentions, Greedy, Grew Up in a Rough Neighborhood, Griever the Demon Horse, “Have I Got a Deal for You!”, “Hold on Tight!”, I Live on the Edge, Impulsive, Ingenious, Inquisitive, “It’s a Trap!”, Leave Nothing to Chance, Limitless Compassion, Little, Loaded for Bear, Morbid Curiosity, Nothing Left to Lose, Old Friend: XYZ, One Eye, Pseudoscientific Gobbledegook, Putting it All Together, Relentless, Righteous Zeal, Rogue’s Luck, Rough Around the Edges, Something to Prove, Spotless Record, The Delirium, The Sight and the Curse, The Ways of Divinity, “This Might Hurt a Bit”, Though Better Men Have Failed, Thy Will Be Done, Tough as Nails, True Love, Trusty Toolbelt, Urged by an Evil Spirit, Visions, Voracious Reader, Wannabe Vampire Hunter, Weirdo, Wild at Heart, To Serve and Protect, My Grandpa’s Trusty Six-Shooter, Money-Colored Eyes, White Council Wizard, Stubborn as a Mule, Trained by Tera West, Nick of Time, Ivory Tower, First on the Scene, Honest to a Fault, “You’ll Never Take Me Alive!”
Choosing your Aspects
For this game, I would like you to choose one Aspect related to each of the following categories, as a specific roleplaying hook that makes each of these mechanical character elements matter more in-game, and lets you take advantage of the Aspects system in a wide variety of ways based on the character choices you’ve already made.
Race: Choose one Aspect related to your character’s race. (Not Human, your real race.) I encourage you to read the fluff text about your race from the rule books, as well as any Dragon article(s) about your race. Then decide what story element of that race most appeals to you, most defines what your character is about. This could be something relating to the physical qualities of the race, or the psychological traits of the race, or its cultural identity. You can take a phrase directly from the text about your race, if you need to, but you’d be better off coming up with something creative and customized to your character.
Class: Choose one Aspect related to one of your character’s classes. I encourage you to read the fluff text about your class from the rule books (particularly the X Power books), as well as any Dragon article(s) about your class, especially flavor material relating to any specific build or subset of your class, such as your Warlock pact or your deity for divine characters. Then decide what story element of that class most appeals to you, most defines what your character is about. This could be something relating to the abilities of the class, or its role in a group or in the world, or the kind of mindset that typically accompanies the class, or the power source that the class uses, or its general trappings or themes. You can take a phrase directly from the text about your class, if you need to, but you’d be better off coming up with something creative and customized to your character.
Paragon Path: Choose one Aspect related to one of your character’s planned paragon paths. I encourage you to read the fluff text about your paragon path. Then decide what story element of that paragon path most appeals to you, most defines what your character is about. This could be something relating to the abilities of the paragon path, or its role in a group or in the world, or the kind of mindset that typically accompanies the paragon path, or the power source that the paragon path uses, or its general trappings or themes. You can take a phrase directly from the text about your paragon path, if you need to, but you’d be better off coming up with something creative and customized to your character.
Epic Destiny: Choose one Aspect related to your character’s planned epic destiny. I encourage you to read the fluff text about your epic destiny. Then decide what story element of that epic destiny most appeals to you, most defines what your character is about. This could be something relating to the abilities of the epic destiny, or its role in history or the universe, or the kind of mindset that typically accompanies the epic destiny, or the process of fulfilling this destiny, or the power source that the epic destiny is associated with, or its general trappings or themes. You can take a phrase directly from the text about your epic destiny, if you need to, but you’d be better off coming up with something creative and customized to your character.
Background: Choose one Aspect related to one of your character’s backgrounds. I encourage you to read the fluff text about your background. Then decide what story element of that background most appeals to you, most defines what your character is about. You can take a phrase directly from the text about your background, if you need to, but you’d be better off coming up with something creative and customized to your character.
Alignment: Choose one Aspect related to your character’s alignment. I encourage you to read the fluff text about your alignment. Then decide what story element of that alignment most appeals to you, most defines what your character is about. You can take a phrase directly from the text about your alignment, if you need to, but you’d be better off coming up with something creative and customized to your character.
Personality Trait: Choose one Aspect that describes a major personality trait of your character. This should be something that your character is most known for, something obvious to everyone who has spent any time around him.
Relationship: Choose one Aspect that relates to your relationship with another person or entity. This could be another one of the PCs, or someone from your character’s past, or Avala, or your deity, or a primal spirit. This Aspect should not merely be the name of someone, but a descriptor of how you relate to them, or how they’re important to you, or some way in which you would interact with them or that they might affect you.
Overall Concept or Theme: Choose one Aspect that paints your character as a whole, in the broadest of strokes. If you had to explain who or what this character is, fundamentally, without using game terms, what would you say? This should be the most encompassing picture of your character in a brief and simple statement, a symbolic or archetypal representation of what this character is about and his place in the overall story.
Other: Choose three additional Aspects that flesh out your character. These can be whatever you like. They could be related to any of the above areas, or drawn from your answers to the Ten Questions. They could be catchphrases or quotes from your character or about your character. They could be something related to your character’s physical appearance, or demeanor, or modus operandi. They could be a special item or possession that your character values, or something related to his name, or a nickname. They could be a belief that the character holds, or an instinct that he has, or a way that he views the world. They can be abstract, or straightforward, related to situations the character often finds himself in, or some story element from his past.
Be creative with your Aspects. Use them as a way to really express what your character is about, who your character is, and how you want your character to interact with the story. Remember that you’ll be able to Invoke your Aspects to gain mechanical benefits in situations where the Aspects would apply, and that you can earn more Fate Points when either you or I Compel your Aspects to detriment or limit you. Aspects are a way to make the descriptive story elements of your character have real teeth in actual gameplay.
Each Aspect should ideally be just a few words in length. A short descriptive phrase or quote is best. One-word Aspects are usually not very good, and should be avoided unless that one word is really evocative. The more specific, flavorful, and customized your Aspects are, the better they’ll represent your character and make him interesting. These are the hooks that will tell me how you want to play your character, what’s important to him, where you want him to really shine, and what kind of behavior or choices you want to be rewarded for.
More details about Fate Points and their many uses will be detailed soon on their own page. These will be a very valuable resource that will allow you to provide many mechanical as well as narrative benefits to yourself in-game. While there will be plenty of ways to use Fate Points that are not tied to your Aspects, whenever you are able to Invoke an Aspect while spending Fate Points, the effect will be much greater. Either you’ll only have to pay half the normal number of Fate Points, or the benefit gained will be doubled. One of the best ways for you to gain more Fate Points will be by playing to your Aspects, choosing to act according to them in-character, and allowing me to Compel them.
Here is an example character with his Aspects, to bring the concept home for you. This is my actual character in Steve’s epic campaign. I came up with these Aspects for him quickly, just now. They’re not particularly good Aspects, really. If I put some more time and thought into them, they could be much more useful as Aspects. I mostly wanted to choose some that sounded cool, for example purposes.
Adamas the Uncarved
Class: Warden (Earthstrength)
Paragon Path: Earth Shaker
Epic Destiny: Reincarnate Champion (Earthsoul Genasi, Goliath)
Backgrounds: Revered Elder, Windrise Ports, Earth Steward, Thunderpeaks
Alignment: Lawful Good
True Son Of The Stone
The Earth Is My Body
Even Titans Shall Fall
Mighty Ancestors Live Through Me
Old As The Hills
This Corruption I Cannot Abide
Set In His Ways
Harm My Kinsman At Your Peril – Sar
The Uncarved Mountain
(overall concept or theme)
Circle Of The Dark Wing
Great Elder Stoneroot Will Never Be Forgotten
Prince Of Undeath, I Come For Thee!