Fixed and Dynamic Aspects

Padlock with fate icons in lieu of a combination“Always On” aspects is one of those ideas that has been kicking around as long as aspects have existed. There are a lot of great implementations do things like  grant simple bonuses for aspects. TinyFate is based on this idea, and the truly excellent Three Rocketeers by PK Sullivan is almost iconic in its application.

With that in mind, I decided to solidify my thinking on this approach to aspects in a way that makes them easier to talk about, and to that end I want to talk about locked and dynamic aspects.

What’s a Dynamic Aspect?

That one’s easy – it’s a “normal” aspect. I’m applying this label purely for clarity.

What is a Fixed Aspect?

A fixed aspect is written up like a normal aspect, but its Fixed nature is denoted by it being underlined. Mechanically, a Fixed aspect’s impact is very simple: If it would help on a given roll, it grants a +1 bonus. If it would hinder a given roll, it applies a -1 penalty. Simple as that. Note that there is no interaction with fate points in this – it’s simply something to be taken into account.

How to Use fixed & Dynamic Aspects

As designed, fixed aspects can be used interchangeably with dynamic aspects. In fact, their use is the easiest part of this. If I have the aspects:

  • Strong
  • Fierce Fighter

And I make a roll to attack, let’s say I get a +2. Now, Strong is a fixed aspect, so it’s going to give me a +1, bringing that to a +3. Fierce Fighter is a dynamic aspect, so if I spend a fate point, I’ll bump that to a +5. Mechanically, this is all very simple.

Where this gets a little more complicated is the question of what aspects should be locked and which aspects should be dynamic. To that end, there are a few different models:

Free For All

The simplest model is to simply decide what type each aspect is when it’s created1. As an option, you may allow for an aspect to be ‘flipped’ by spending a fate point to change it from fixed to dynamic or vice versa. This works well if there’s a balance, but it breaks down in edge cases. Specifically, if characters simply load up on fixed aspects, then bonuses can quickly get out of whack, and characters will also get much more boring, since the usual advice (“More interesting aspects are more mechanically potent”) stops being true, and aspects that grant more bonuses more often become more desirable. As such, this is not a recommended approach.

Constrained – Capped

This is the same as the Free For All, with the single caveat that the bonus from fixed aspects is capped at +3. This is still quite potent, but it can work decently well in games where there’s a more constrained set of other bonuses (such as FAE).

Option: If you like math and a world FULL of aspects, instead of a hard +3 cap, consider 1 aspect grants a +1, 3 aspects a +2, 6 a +3, 10 a +4 and so on.

Constrained – GM Only

Another approach is to make fixed aspects the domain of the GM, and any aspect the GM creates is considered to be fixed, while character and player-created aspects remain dynamic. This model has a lot of advantages – it drives any GM invokes and compels towards the players while allowing for simpler mechanical application of things like environmental aspects and unnamed NPCs (who could be expressed purely as aspects). In fact, under this model, the GM will probably almost exclusively create static aspects except for very key elements (like named NPCs or plot points worth hanging a lantern on).

Blended

Note, this model does not work well with skills or even approaches, but it is a solid way to handle aspect-only play. In this model, aspects are both fixed and dynamic. That is, they will provide their passive bonus or penalty, but can also be invoked or compelled for an additional +2/-2 as appropriate.

While this is very simple on its surface, the one complication is the question of what fate points are used for. Because the fixed bonuses can be substantial, players may decide they do not need as many Fate Points to function, and we can end up with similar problems to the free for all. If your game has some additional use for Fate Points (either because you’ll be pushing compels hard for setting reasons, or because they have some other mechanical value, such as fueling stunts) then you should be fine, but if not, consider implementing a cap.

Pure Fixed

As with Blended, this works poorly in conjunction with skills (unless you introduce a cap, as in the Constrained-Capped model) but this is another way to do aspect-only play if you have always been interested in Fate but less into the whole hippie-dippy fate point economy stuff. This will complicate specific games that require fate points for mechanical elements (Dresden Files, for example) but for many games, this offers a different but functional model of play.

Other Options

There’s still plenty of room for nuance and tweaking within this space – the approaches I’ve outlined are far from the only ways to handle it. But for all that, this can be a useful tool to throw into your toolbox, especially for GMs who like the descriptive  nature of aspects, since it allows the GM to go aspect-only in many situations.  Starting up NPCs is as easy as noting they’re a StupidBrutish Thug and you know they have +2 to most violence, -1 to anything depending on cunning, and you’re good to go.

This also can interact well with consequences.  While I recommend that most character aspects are dynamic, consequences can be a reasonable exception to that for games which want injury to carry a lingering impact.  This becomes even more true when you decide to replace stress and consequences with conditions,

Anyway, my goal here is not to exhaust the idea, but simply to talk about it in a way that allows easy interchangeability between fixed and dynamic aspects. If nothing else, it’s provided me a way to talk about it in the future, so I’m good with that.

 


  1. Important mechanical note: if you create a fixed aspect, then that effectively forgoes the free invoke (or extra free invoke for success with style) and that may disincentives creating fixed aspects. That sounds like a bug, but it’s really a feature, since it means player-created aspects will tend to be dynamic, while GM-created aspects (those for framing a scene) will tend to be fixed. ↩︎

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