The Size of Aspects

I’ve remarked on a few occasions that an essential decision in Fate is how big aspects are. That is, should aspects be the big, important signifiers of what really matters, or should they be more of a language to express the moment in mechanical terms.

As Fate has evolved, it has gone more down the second path, and there are a lot of benefits to that. It is fairly easy to turn any scene into a handful of aspects, and by extension have the baseline mechanical attributes you need to run the scene. That’s a useful tool.

But it’s important to note that plenty of other system can do it. If I’m doing a Risus or WaRP variant, I can assign d6 pools to any arbitrary thing you can think of (On Fire 3d, Deep Shadows 2d). In Cortex Plus I can do similar things with a die value (on Fire d8, Deep Shadows d6). If the game has reasonably flexible descriptive mechanics, it’s pretty doable.

In this context, the main feature of Fate is that it’s simple. In each of the examples above, a little bit of thought needs to be given to assigning a rating. Is this a 3d6 fire, or a 4d fire? What’s the difference? Sometimes that can be easy to intuit (especially if you know the system very well) but it’s still an extra step. In Fate, it is simple On Fire or it’s not.

Obviously that’s double edged. There are times when you might want granularity, but that is the nature of tradeoffs. The right answer is the one you need right this minute.

10 thoughts on “The Size of Aspects

  1. Thorin Messer

    Does placing one or more free invokes for one side or the other help with giving a little more granularity of scope?

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      It does! In fact, the ease of bringing an aspect to bear (which free invokes and explicit declarations) is exactly how you slip granularity in the back door, though it is entirely optional.

      But it’s also kind of interesting because it denotes a very specific sort of “power” because it does not say “This has a big impact” but rather “This is going to come up a lot” and that is a bit of math that I very much like.

      1. Jesse Cox

        “This has a big impact” vs “This is going to come up a lot”

        — a handful of free invokes could be either, depending on whether they’re spent at once or over several rolls.

        Which is to say, I’m sure you’re saying something insightful, but I’m not understanding what it is. Does fate do more of one than the other? Does Risus or C+ allow you to specify just one of these in a way Fate doesn’t?

        I am confuzed.

        1. Rob Donoghue Post author

          This may be an area where my memory is tied to an old version, but at least in my my universe, you don’t get to use the same aspect for more than one bonus, free or not (pretty much for explicitly this reason).

          But to illustrate, let’s use an example from leverage where we have a d12 Macguffin. It’s going to get used all the time, because that’s a d12 – it’s huge! But it’s also going to have an outsized impact on the result because, again, it’s huge. So importance and size of direct impact go hand in hand. That *can* be desirable, but it can also have a deforming impact on results because it’s ends up making the scene *depend* on the Macguffin. Worse, if the system cares about the size of success, then it can implicitly raise stakes in an undesirable way.

          If, in contrast, the macguffin is an aspect with some number of free invokes (even an unlimited number of them) then it will still be a part of the scene all the time (because free!) but the impact will be no bigger than any other aspect. The throttling is already in place.

          Any clearer?

          1. Jesse Cox

            Yes! Thank you. In the editions of Fate I’m familiar with, you can only burn one fate point for invoking an aspect, but you can use as many free invokes at once as you want. That was the source of my confusion.

            And now I’m thinking about this limit, and what it does, when I wasn’t before. It certainly means that if you want to stack invokes, you need a lot of aspects to do it! Off to contemplate.

          2. Rob Donoghue Post author

            I’ve seen this language cause confusion before: The original intent is that you may invoke *as many* free aspects as you like, but it’s still only once per aspect per roll, but the terminology of invokes left a weird loophole.

          3. sirien

            wow. I mean… WOW. Here:

            I always read this as:
            – for a FP, you can invoke aspect once
            – for free you can invoke it without limits

            …especially because of the rule about stacking free invocations with FP invocations. NOW when you pointed this out, I see what you mean and how it was meant, but I’ve never seen it before.

            Hell, a week or two ago, I posted this part of SRD to Skimble on G+ as a proof that he is wrong and that free invokes can be stacked over 1 aspect and after reading this he agreed that he was wrong.

            I’m… quite uncertain how to approach it now – if I should continue playing as I did or if I should change it.

            Truth to say be my gaming experience – this doesn’t really do much mess. Usually only 1 free invocation (or boost) are being applied at once. Using 2 is rare and it creates strong moments. Could this mistake be an unintended feature?

          4. sirien

            ok… I’ve checked it up again and… I believe you might be actually wrong about this.


            Free invocations – paragraph 4, last sentence:

            “You can also stack multiple free invocations together.”

            and last paragraph:

            “…have everyone create an advantage and pass their free invocations onto one person, then that person stacks all of them up at once for a huge bonus.”

            After a consideration I really read this as that I can pay for invocation once with fate point, but I can invoke it as many times I want with free invocations I got before myself or which were passed to me by my allies.

          5. Rob Donoghue Post author

            So, that is exactly the confusion I have seen, and the critical piece is that each ally is creating a _different_ aspect for me to tag for free.

            This ended up being an emergent part of gameplay rather than intentional design (in a good way). Back in the Spirit of the Century days, this tactic evolved as a way to make sure that *everyone* participated in a fight. Everyone would square off against the big bad, and people with fighting skills had obvious things they could do, but it turned out the intrepid reporters and brilliant scientists ended up helping a lot too by tossing aspects to those characters. That evolved into the model we have today where this is explicit called out an encouraged in the rules because it makes for really fun scenes.

  2. Ed R Hastings

    Funny you should mention as I’ve been mulling over something very similar to this recently.

    I really appreciate both Fate (current era) and Marvel Heroic; they are easily two of my very favorite game systems. I think Fate Aspects are less cumbersome than the asset, complication, etc constructs of MH, but I do like the stepped granularity offered by different dice sizes MH offers.

    Personally, though I’m not that into the setting I think the mechanics of the recent Demon Hunters “fate-mh” hybrid rpg strikes a near perfect balance between these two systems; but I think it could have gone a step further and attached a die size to Aspects. More could have been done around Stunts as well to incorporate the stepped dice facet. Easily rectified, of course.

    On the same basic wavelength, I’ve been rolling around a hack in the back of my head that combines your note-card version of Fate (Aspects only) with dice steps ups and step downs ala MH. I think that’s a game system I want to play.


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