A New Look at Rating Aspects

Back in Fate 2, aspects were rated. That was ditched in Fate 3, to good measure. Making aspects mechanically equal allows them to be situationally divergent. (Which is to say: they’re an example of a good method of Use Anywhere Stats.) But lately, I’ve been feeling like there should be some sense of rating, to prioritize some over others.

The reason I keep feeling this is because I like people creating aspects through skill roll-based declarations. My Emerging Threats Unit campaign frame runs off of this idea — you roll Unnatural Sciences to “discover” things about the horror you’re fighting, or Survival to “find” things like cover or advantageous environment bits. You make your roll, and you declare the aspect.

Julianne uses her Great (+4) Unnatural Sciences skill to analyze residue at the initial scene. She picks up one of the victim’s limbs left behind by whatever horrible creature did this, and uses her portable lab. She rolls +3 on the dice, bringing her total to Epic (+7). She makes up that the residue suggests the entity is vulnerable to uranium shot, based on the “saliva profile.”

Normally, this is a single aspect, “Vulnerable to Uranium Shot,” and it’s worth one free tag. After that, it’s a normal aspect. And I’m always a bit dissatisfied with this approach. One solution my good friend and accomplished Fate GM Morgan Ellis used was to allow creative multiple aspects on a high roll. I liked the idea in principle, but when I was a player in one of his games in a situation where I rolled high in creating an aspect, that second one was phoned in. I didn’t have a good idea, one that was equal to what I was thinking of for the first one.

In talking after Dresdacon, we came up with this idea: aspects created in play are rated in the number of free tags you can get. That way, they still have the strength of being like normal aspects, rather than giving a +3 or whatever. But rolling high is still rewarded with something awesome.

When declaring an aspect with a skill, the player’ll roll against a target the GM comes up with — typically Fair (+1), though a block in place could change that. Getting your target exactly means it’s a one-time free aspect, and afterward goes away (the “not sticky” idea in Dresden). Beating it means the aspect has a free tag and remains around afterward (“sticky”). Every two above that means the aspect gets another free tag. Just as with other aspects, you can only tag or invoke it once per roll, so you can’t blow all those tags at once.

This means the “Vulnerable to Uranium Shot” has three free tags — one for making it at Fair (+2), then it’ll remain because it’s at Good (+3), one more for making Superb (+5), and one for Epic (+7).

A simple enough idea. Now to put a little spin on it, we can add two types of stunts (which assumes Typed Aspects):

  • Sherlock Holmes: When you use Unnatural Sciences to declare aspects, gain +2 to your roll.
  • Monster Hunter: In combat, when you invoke Unnatural Sciences aspect, you may use more than one free tag for multiple benefit. Or you may use a free tag and pay a point for multiple benefit. This counts as a single invocation.

The great thing about this idea (potentially, since it hasn’t been playtested) is that two different people can take that stunt pair. The operative with the high Unnatural Sciences skill makes aspects, and the one with the high Violence skill uses that knowledge to blow away threats.

Later, not this week, I should talk about the power of declaring that an aspect is “wrong.” Because in an investigative game, I want that to happen. “Wait, it’s not affected by uranium shot. Retreat!” And I want the players to not only want that to happen, but trigger it with glee.

– Ryan


7 Responses to A New Look at Rating Aspects

  1. Very cool, Ryan.

    In the context of declared aspects I’d also propose a transforming aspect type – like, you make your roll, get a non-sticky aspect, call it “Vulnerable to Uranium Shot”. You the player tags the aspect once, but instead of going away entirely, the other side – i.e. the GM in this case – gets to transform it at the cost of a Fate point to a sticky aspect that’s more beneficial to that side (maybe “Enraged” – or “Radioactive”, if you used the aspect when dropping the monster into a vat of spent nuclear coolant).

    Just because the problem with non-sticky aspects is that, well, they go away, which is not as much fun as them sticking around somehow. It’s also a neat story element, to let the players’ discoveries be useful once, before it turns around and potentially bites them in the ass. I always like it when aspects are potentially useful for both sides of the table, and tagged both for bonuses and compels.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      they go away, which is not as much fun as them sticking around somehow

      Perhaps in the context of declarations (though even then I don’t agree), but that’s certainly not true for maneuvers. If you only barely make you roll to put “Dizzy” on someone, that should only last for one tag.

      The idea of them transforming is kinda neat. We touch on the idea in advancement. Probably worth looking into fitting the idea on a smaller scale somewhere.

      – Ryan

  2. Coward says:

    Hi Ryan, I’m probably talking out my butt here: A potential alternative to number of free tags for FATE derivatives with scopes could allow a declared aspect to exist in an additional scope instead of gaining an extra free tag. Reasons i might be talking out my butt: i cant come up with a reasonable example derived from your vulnerable to uranium shot.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Huh. Honestly, I can’t see any benefit that conveys. It sounds like a similar hardship as “make up two aspects” with nothing extra to show for it.

      – Ryan

  3. Will Huggins says:

    I think I at least want players to have the option of creating a second aspect in incestigation scenes. When the players are getting their plan on, I want them creating as much content as possible about the target and location. If they can’t think of anything then one aspect with multiple tags will work, but mechanically multiple aspects give them a slight edge. Each aspect’s free tag could be used on a single roll.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Sure. Though I’m inclined to go against the multiple tags on aspects since we talked about it, partly because that’s not the same result as two aspects, and partly because it keeps the game moving.

      Or turn the “and I can make a second aspect instead of an additional free tag” in a stunt. Which actually sounds lovely.

      – Ryan

  4. Ogre says:

    This is a great, well written article, and I’m taking this to my Dresden tables as soon as each one convenes.