Not everyone is comfortable with Fate, and with aspects in particular. This is natural enough – no game is going to be to everyone’s tastes, but in the case of Fate, there’s a specific hangup that I think merits a little bit of attention, if only because it’s easily addressed.
Aspects (and the use of fate points) serve a number of purposes in play, which means they cover a lot of different ground. A fair portion of that ground involves things that are normally considered within the GM’s purview, like dictating the occurrence of coincidences, the arrival of connections and the convenience of gear. For many players, this kind of flexibility is liberating, but for some it breaks their suspension of disbelief. They are comfortable with clearer lines of division that put the GM in control of the world and the player in charge of his character. For that kind of arrangement, giving the player authority beyond his bounds is as disruptive as giving the GM authority over the character.
If so, that’s fine – you can actually drop a lot of that material without disrupting the game in any real way. The simplest way to do this is to limit aspects to being literal and descriptive rather than abstract. The first step to support this is to replace Fate Points with “inspiration”. Rather than representing the player’s role in the game and their ability to help steer the narrative, inspiration is a combination of willpower, drive and sheer dumb luck. It’s that reserve of capability that a hero can draw upon in the worst of situations. As a result, the things it can be spent on reflect tapping into that reserve to try a little harder or push a little further.
To support this, aspects should reflect training, background, something intrinsic (like a stat) or things that the character is inspired (for good or bad) by. Mechanically, nothing changes: Spend inspiration along with an aspect to get a bonus or reroll, or gain some inspiration when the aspect makes trouble for you. Under this model, compels are all about character behavior – accepting a compel means accepting a limitation (like being too tired to go on) or yielding to a temptation rather than making the “optimal” choice. More abstract compels don’t have a place under Inspiration rules.
This same thinking applies to other aspects in the game. They should be limited to purely to descriptive things like “Dark” or “Dazed.” When they are tagged or compelled, the effects should have a clear cause and effect.
Now, there are still plenty of borderline issues, but that’s more or less the point. The inspiration model works because it’s a discrete subset of the Fate system. Everything done with Inspiration could be done in generic Fate, but the reverse is not true. So while a generic Fate character might have a hard time in an Inspirations game, an inspirations character can play in any Fate game without missing a beat. Compatibility is king!
1 – This also shows up in certain skill uses, like using knowledge skills to make declarations
2 – If this doesn’t apply to you, then don’t sweat it.
3 – The thinking here is similar to some modern understanding about willpower as a limited reserve. Effort spent resisting one temptation makes it harder to resist another. What this means is that yielding to temptation can help make you more able to face a later challenge, must the same way that doing something unwelcome but which you know is the right thing can make you feel better about yourself.
4 – For example, if an enemy has the “Off Balance” aspect on him, a player can’t compel to have him slip at a convenient moment, but he could compel it after a successful attack, describing the attack as successfully knocking him down. While the result may be the same, the former example depends on the player narratign events his player cannot control, which is exactly what we’re avoiding here.