Decoupling Aspects from Phases
In Fate Core, character creation and aspects are meant to be a module you swap out for specific settings. But in reality, we didn’t really give a lot of space for that. The aspect dynamic in Core is:
- The core notion of the character’s role, and make an aspect
- Something interesting that makes the character’s life hard, and make an aspect
- Share some recent backstory, and make an aspect
- Linking characters together, and make a couple aspects
In Spirit of the Century, the first two bits weren’t called out, and you had three phases for the backstory in which you should bake in the character’s role and difficult situation. Then you have the two rounds of Crossing Paths. This generated 10 aspects. In The Dresden Files RPG, we added in high concept and trouble, left in three phases for backstory and the two for Crossing Paths — all while paring the aspect list down to 7. But in working on Fate Core, Leonard Balsera and I saw that we needed to reduce further, so we cut out two of the backstory sections to get the aspects down to 5.
Lately, I’ve been thinking that we cut out the wrong thing. We kept aspects coupled to phases, and we cut out some good stuff in the sake of cutting the aspect list. That’s lead me to the notion that we should decouple aspects from phases. This came up again in a recent thread in the Fate G+ community about how Crossing Paths can lead to poor aspects. And that 40% of your aspects come from that part of character creation, I’m not as happy with it as I was when I wrote that chapter in 2012. So here’s what I propose:
- Come up with the high concept, as a general statement and not as an aspect.
- Come up with the sort of trouble the character must contend with, again just as a general statement.
- Detail some backstory. But one question isn’t really great for making three-dimensional characters, so let’s go with two:
- Detail some formative experience that lead to who your character is today.
- Detail a vivid memory of pride or fear, and how that shapes who your character is.
- Detail a recent awesome thing, ideally (but not necessarily) something other characters could be involved with.
- Then do two rounds of Crossing Paths. This can hook into any part of another character’s story, not just the “recent awesome thing” adventure analogue. Two characters who grew up together could feature in each other’s formative experiences, for example. This could also be a new story moment, rather than one that comes from what’s already been established — two characters who have no reason to be in each other’s backstory might instead have met last night in a barroom brawl, and happened to be on the same side in said fight.
At no point have you made aspects. Even if you have a good idea for an aspect, don’t write one down yet — leaving it blank forces you to revisit your ideas, whereas writing it down and saying “I’ll change it if I have a better idea” doesn’t force that.
So, with all of that, make up five aspects. Cover these bases with the aspects you make:
- Your character’s role in the greater story
- Problems that will haunt your character
- Ties to other characters or to the world
Anyway, that’s what I recommend today, after seeing Fate Core in the field for the last year or so.
Addendum: Right, I forgot the other thing that prompted this. Sometimes you’ll, as a Fate GM, tell folks stumped on an aspect for a given phase to leave it blank and fill it in later. This is sort of a progression of that idea, and it’s easy to say “Okay, fill in three or four now, and fill in the rest in play.” Since they don’t have to be explicitly or implicitly linked to a phase, that’s even easier to handle.
Also, it opens up making aspects from another person’s Crossing Paths about you, not unlike the Fate Boost Trio idea I posted a bit ago.
 A side effect of time away from making something is getting to examine it on its own principles, rather than as a reaction to something else. Certainly Core’s setup is an improvement over what we did with Dresden, but time shows that it can be improved still.