Adding Fate Aspects to Any Game
Fate is an RPG that is centered around a particular mechanic it calls “aspects”. It is designed as a game that encourages a Director stance (excuse my use of GNS terminology please) and is focused on simulating a narrative. The Fate mechanics work by creating a rubber-banding of narrative tension, and while it seems like a direct port would work, there’s a better way to incorporate them into more traditional RPG’s.
There are a few reasons you’d want to add Aspects to your game. It gives the players an open ended way to add characterization to their characters. It facilitates a narrative ebb and flow, increasing dramatic tension. It gives meta-game motivation for players to play their characters as flawed. There are a host of lesser reasons, but that should suffice.
The goal here is to have a system that facilitates these things, that allows players to maintain a standard traditional RPG play style, and is balanced.
Adding Aspects to Your Game
The first thing is every character need to write down a list of aspects for their character. Aspects are anything that happens to be true about that character. Your Paladin might pick “Haughty” as a simple (generally negative Aspect), but the more interesting the Aspect the more likely it is to come up in play which is good. So maybe your Paladin is “Determined to save these lesser mortals” which carries with it the notion that she’s Haughty plus the idea that she’s determined to save them.
Here’s a key element. An Aspect is anything that happens to be true so long as it is significant enough to affect the story. The fact that the door is yellow isn’t generally significant, but if someone in the party is The Green Lantern, then Yellow is an aspect of the door.
Any d20 condition can be treated as an Aspect – so you can invoke the condition “blessed” or “stunned” when using aspects. Likewise other game elements are obviously important, so sensibly they can be used as Aspects. Generally characters should focus on the things specified as Aspects since they’re less likely to be tenuously invoked.
Adding Fate Points
Because the game your playing is already laden with a bunch of mechanics and rules, we can’t just monkey patch the standard Fate Point economy into the game – it would just unbalance the game in favor of the players. Instead we’re going to have a “closed” economy. If you’re already familiar with Fate this means 0 Refresh.
Each player and the GM will start with a fixed number of Fate points. The more ‘epic’ your game the more Fate points each player should start with. 5 Fate points for an epic game, and 1 Fate point for a very gritty game. In a game like D&D with levels you could give a Fate point at first level and an additional 1 at every 5th level.
Whenever a Player uses a Fate Point (FP) she gives the FP to the person she used the point against (usually the GM). For example if she attempted to pick a lock, and succeeded because she used a Fate Point she would give that Fate Point to the GM. In turn the GM might use a Fate Point against a particular Player, in which case she’d give it to that player.
The effect of this is that the Fate Points can be used at various times to gain advantages during play. As players use them the GM accumulates Fate Points which can then more freely be used against the Player, who can then use them to come back against the GM. This keeps your darkest darks next to your lightest lights, and increases the narrative tension in the game.
Finally, the things about Aspects is that they happen to be true. This means you should avoid replicating existing game mechanics, favoring “Hulking Menace” over “Strong” for example since your game doubtless already has a strength stat. It also means the aspects are to some extent always in play, in so far as roleplaying goes.
Uses of Fate Points.
There are two ways a Fate Point can be used. You can Invoke an Aspect with a Fate Point gaining a bonus, or you can Compel an Aspect with a Fate Point causing a specific effect.
Whenever a roll (some sort of check) is going to happen in game, you make the check first. If you do not like the result of the roll you may invoke an Aspect and gain a bonus. For example, if you attack someone and miss, you could say “But fortunately I hits since I’m an Amazing Swordsman” and spend a Fate Point giving you the bonus. (Note: The GM should let the player know if it’s still impossible, and if so no points should be spent. The GM can do this before hand, or describe the result and give the point back if it still fails depending on your groups play style)
Invoking can be done using any relevant aspect in the scene. Here are some other examples:
Picking a lock – “fortunately this lock is Rusty so it was easier to pick”, Fighting a Stunned opponent – “unfortunately for my opponent she was Stunned so the blade lands true”, Fighting on a Rickety Bridge – “however the opponent is fighting on a Rickety Bridge and falls into my blade”. In each of these scenarios the player invoking the Aspect hands over a Fate Point when the aspect is invoked.
The GM can also Invoke aspects. The GM can invoke player aspects, “You probably could have resisted her charms but you’re too Lecherous”, or invoke Aspects for NPC’s. GM’s should feel free to take descriptions of characters or monsters as Aspects, in addition to other features that could be relevant like “undead”. A d20 encounter might describe the “surly but rich baron” which already tells you that there is a “surly” and a “rich baron” aspects for this NPC.
Occasionally a Player will try and make a tenuous invocation. “The skeleton would have hit me but I’m Too Cute ” might be one. What constitutes a tenuous invocation is really up to your group to decide, but the GM should feel free to reject invocations that don’t seem believable. That being said, for the most part the GM should be inclined to accept any invocation which doesn’t break suspension of disbelief.
Compelling is when you want something to happen. Really it could be anything, and you a Fate point is offered to make that thing happen. Players for the most part are likely to compel aspects about their character that are directly related to their aspects, and the compel can be open ended. “I am a Templar of Isis so we find temple to take us in for healing” is a perfectly legitimate compel. Player can if they want also compel things about the environment, for example “The Fireball hits the wall with an oil painting starting a fire”, or even “The drunkard is so Drunk he gives me all his money”. It can be literally anything.
Similarly the GM can compel things from the players based on their aspects. “You are stunned so you fall to the ground”, or “You have the Lecherous aspect, why don’t you hit on the Queen?”. Compels can also be offered by the target “How about I get completely hammered since I’m Hedonistic for a Fate Point”. There’s lots of opportunity here to get characters acting the way characters actually act in books and literature.
The important thing about compels is that they can always be refuse by the target. The GM says “You have the Lecherous aspect, why don’t you hit on the Queen?”, and the player says “No, thanks”. That’s it.*
Aspects can be created during play the same way any other action can be taken. For example “I throw the oil lamp against the wall so that It’s On Fire” is the same as whatever the action would be in the game to throw the lamp against the wall. Sometimes it will require a skill check, for example “I want to convince this person that Want To Tell Us Their Secrets” would require some sort of social test.** Again these actions are just the same as any other action in play, and this fits with the theme of “Aspects are just things that are true”.
Critical’s and Free Invocations
Critical’s always allow the person who got the critical to make one free invocation or compel against whatever they got a critical against. If the critical was done while “Creating an Aspect” then they get one free invocation or compel against the aspect they created. If it was for some other action, the GM decides what aspect was created and they get a free invocation or compel against that. For example a critical success when a player says “I want to convince this person that Want To Tell Us Their Secrets”, would mean a free compel to then get the secrets. A critical success when attacking might apply the “Stumbled” aspect to the target, which the player then gets to invoke for their next attack.
There are two things to note about this. The first is that Players can give someone else their free invocation or compel. So I might have created the “Stumbled” effect, and then allow someone else to invoke it for free.
The other point is what does a “free compel” mean, since compels can be refused. A free compel costs a Fate point to refuse. So if I “convince this person that Want To Tell Us Their Secrets” and then compel it, the GM would have to give me a Fate Point to refuse the compel.
Applying This To Various Systems
The first thing to note is that invoking an aspect should be powerful. It should generally also allow either a fixed bonus or some sort of reroll.
It’s probably useful to consider the AVP1 when deciding what the bonus should be. For d20 I’d recommend a +5, for Gurps I’d recommend a +3. So in a d20 game, a person who is Blinded already has a -2 to their AC, but when an attacker invokes blinded then the attacker is going to gain a +5 in addition to that -2 AC. In either case the invocation of an Aspect does not allow for a critical, nor does adding allow one to get past a botch but a reroll does.
A truly bad roll however can allow for a reroll, and this means Fate Points can be used to get past a botch. A reroll is pretty obvious, you just reroll the dice and take the second result, and criticals that come up on the reroll apply.
For games with Dice Pools, I recommend that you offer the choice on an invocation of +2 dice or Reroll any dice of the players choosing. So in New World of Darkness, a player might have rolled (4, 7, 9, 2, 3), this means they can get two more dice, or reroll the 4, 2, and 3. This will generally means the player rerolls when they have more dice and add dice when they have fewer dice.
In a game like d20 I recommend giving players a set amount of starting aspects. I would start them out with 3 aspects and give them an additional aspect every 4 levels or something like that. In Gurps, a character should pay 1 point for a neutral or positive aspect and gain 1 point for a negative aspect (essentially perks and quirks). In general every character should at least have a Defining Aspect, a Unambiguously Positive Aspect, and an Unambiguously Negative Aspect.
The Defining Aspect is something that defines who your character is. In a d20 game your Half-Elf Barbarian is probably not intended to be just like every other Half-Elf Barbarian. Right? So maybe your defining aspect is “The Barbarian of Bars and Pubs”, the idea being that your characterization of a Barbarian is as a drunken brawled (note “Drunken Brawler would have been okay as well”).
The Positive Aspect is something that stands out as awesome about your character. Going along with “The Barbarian of Bars and Pubs”, maybe you’d think “Can hold my liquor” – but remember that already overlaps substantially with the Defining Aspect. If you really want to go there then “Drinking Gives Me Strength!” would be better, but better yet is to really diversify. Maybe if your “The Barbarian of Bars and Pubs”, then your positive aspect could be “Has Drinking Buddies Everywhere” – now you have some kick ass compels to help you out of a tight spot.
The Negative Aspect is something that stands out as a character flaw. This is just as important as your other Aspects as it’s going to be the primary way the GM gives you back Fate Points. The harder you make this to compel or invoke, the harder it’s going to be to earn back those Fate Points. Again it would be easy to use “Alcoholic” for “The Barbarian of Bars and Pubs”. Notice though that it already overlaps some, and the GM isn’t given whole lot of new ways to compel you. Instead maybe you have something that messes with the archetype like “Always Trust a Child”, now that gives us some really new information.
Other aspects could be whatever the player wants to say about this character. Remember though that mixed aspects are usually the best – “Hulking Menace” has both positive and negative aspects to it. It could be used in combat or social situations, but a GM could compel that you can’t fit something, or invoke it when you’re trying to charm someone.
Try It Out
Hopefully after reading this guide you can see ways this would be a fun addition to your game without changing the general traditional RPG playstyle you’re used to. The mechanics can add a more compelling narrative tension to a game without forcing the game to become narratively focused, and the closed Fate Point economy and the randomness of criticals should ensure that this mechanic can auto-balance in any of your games. The only caveat there is that the Players might overcome more easily an opponent that was meant to be hard, but having spent all their Fate Points on that the next room full of Goblins is can suddenly become incredibly challenging.
As far as integrating Fate Points into Living Myth. Probably not, Living Myth is already using a narrative Stakes mechanic, and mixing the two might prove to be problematic. But perhaps.
* You can optionally use cutthroat compels. A cutthroat compel involves up-bidding a refusal to take a compel. For example the player might say “The drunkard is so Drunk he gives me all his money”, then the GM says “No”, now the player says “Are you sure?” offering 2 fate points. The GM in this case must give the player a Fate Point to refuse. This makes having 0 Fate Points a big deal since you can be forced to do anything by someone with enough Fate Points.
** This is a great way to fix the Diplomacy skill in a d20 game by the way.
Gaming Ballistic had an alternative way of handling the Fate Point economy that might be a better alternative.