Another session of the Cold War game last night. Went interestingly, as the bit I’d expected to be the framing conflict ended up expanding to fill the session. I could probably have manhandled things back on track, but since this was primarily driven by player action/reaction it was more fun to run with it, and it will just mean that I have more notes prepped for next session.
Took my own advice at a few points, When planning this session, I was uncertain how to keep things dynamic, so I asked myself how I’d do it, and told myself to put another ball in the air. That very much did the trick. I also needed to actively stop myself at one point when a player’s plan didn’t make sense to me. There was a temptation to just force a quicker resolution, but I stopped, asked for clarification, and let the dice fall where they may.
I continue to have the “problem” that I am successfully engaging the players, but only rarely hitting their aspects directly. In large part this is because the aspects in the game are a little bit abstract, and that lead to a thought experiment – what would a game look like if all aspects were external? That is to say, what if all aspects were other people, places and things and none of them were internal or descriptive? I certainly like the thought as a GM, since it helps me with using aspects as plot hooks, and I think I like how it would make players think. They can still have aspects that are effectively internal, but they need to have an external expression. That is, if you want to be a Ninja, rather than take the ninja aspect,you take an aspect for your ninja teacher, ninja clan, or even sworn ninja enemy. That you are a ninja is implicit in the arrangement.
That said, this might be a bit weird (and definitely not useful for my current game) so I wonder if it might be more practical to allow players to “anchor” their aspects. Sort of flip the idea on its head. After they’ve picked the aspect, allow them to add a parenthetical note of the external thing which symbolizes that aspect to them, so it would be “Ninja (Enemy Ninja Clan)”. That may be the best of both worlds, since it allows the full range of aspects, but it still allows for hooks.
As I think about it, this also does a nice job of enriching the aspects as well, associating them with a character, a set or a prop. For example, if Harry Dresden has an aspect like “Connected to Paranormal Chicago” then the anchor might be “Mac’s Pub”. On his “Wizard” aspect, “The White Council” makes an excellent anchor. Does the cause an aspect to do double duty? Yes, it kind of does. Is that a bad thing? My hunch says not. For players, it better defines the scope of when an aspect will come up, and that’s always useful. Also, as i thin about it, this ends up being a great shorthand for worldbuilding, especially for games that didn’t do a whole session of setting creation. There’s a lot of setting potential tied up in Anchors, especially if you can get your players to pick related anchors.  I think I’ll have to see if my players are up for adding some anchors.
TOTALLY UNRELATED QUESTION
Ok, this one has nothing to do with Fate or Aspects. I am pondering doing a little bit of light game design in this blog, at least in part because it seems like a good way to illustrate a few thoughts. To this end, I am pondering between a “Fantasy Heartbreaker” (a somewhat snotty name for a D&D knockoff) and something in the Storytelling/Unisystem/L5R Stat+Skill spectrum. So that leads to two questions: 1) would that be worth reading and 2) which system approach should I take?
Genuinely waffling on this one, folks, so input is welcome.
1 – For DFRPG, make exceptions for the one essential aspect like “Wizard”. Heck, maybe even make the idea of one exception universal. Force players to think about what that one defining thing is.
2- Sort of like how in Over the Edge, each trait must be reflected in your character description, or how every setting element should have a face.
3 – Yes, that’s a bit of an explicit TV bit of thinking, but having known sets and props in play is pretty useful in my experience.
4 – As an example, suppose Harry Dresden picked “Wizard (White Council) ” as an aspect and anchor pair. What happens when someone else in the group picks the pair “Duty (White Council)”. To me, that suggests some instant mojo.
5 – Enough so that I am using it tongue in cheek.