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October 7, 2014

Picking Your Aspects

I have a longer post planned for Friday, but I had to get this one out.  I spent a lot of time designing aspects for my latest Fate character.  I wanted to get my design down in formal language and then share it with you all.  Yes, this is advice for Fate PLAYERS more than GMs, but I suppose Fate GMs can share it with their players at game and character creation.

Fate already does a great job of teaching you how to pick Aspects.  I think this helps players who are trying to pick Aspects that will generate the sorts of compels they would enjoy the most.

The goal of this process is to have Aspects that generate problems for which the solution is the kind of thing you, as a player, like to do in tabletop RPGs.  Do you like bloody violence?  Chase scenes?  Talking your way out of trouble?  The goal is to make aspects that generate the kind of problems you like solving.

Reverse Aspect Design 

  1. List the kind of activities do you enjoy in tabletop RPGs, or pick one kind of activity you want this character to get involved with a lot.
  2. Match your favorite activities with problems your character could run into, which you can solve by doing your favorite activities.  Try to generate more problems than aspects you're planning to take, so you can narrow down later.  Your goal is to list a bunch of problems so fun for you that you would sick them on yourself -- which you can do, in Fate ( and
  3. Invent catchy phrases that summarize those problems.  You can leave a lot out, because you’re going to explain where the aspect came from to the other players so that they’ll know how to use it.  
  4. Revise your catchy phrase so that it mostly sounds like a positive trait, and make sure that it’s future-focused.
  5. Pick the best ones, but try to pick ones that fit a theme.  You don't want to be all over the place.  Try to invent a story that fits all of them.
  6. Be transparent about this process.  When you explain all this to your GM, explain the activity (in step 1) that you like most, so that the GM can use that sort of compel against you as often as possible.

Here's an example.  This isn't a character I actually created, but it sure would be a fun one!  
  1. I like to get into combat with unambiguously bad villains and their henchmen.  I see this character as the sort of person who has a lot of nasty enemies, who are always setting things up to make his life hard.
  2. I could be known as an enemy to monsters; I could be haunted; I could have something that really bad guys want; or I could have betrayed nasty criminals.
  3. Infamous Vampire slayer. Haunted by evil ghosts. The unseelie court wants my magic sword. I brought down a drug baron.
  4. Vampire slayer.  Last heir of a sorcerous bloodline.  The unseelie court wants my magic sword. Won't rest until I bring down the Altman gang.  I could use any of these in a positive way in a lot of situations.
  5. I need 3 more aspects, so I'm going with the first three, since they all have to do with the supernatural.  Here's my story:  As the last heir of a sorcerous bloodline, I inherited a magic sword, which I was supposed to turn over to the unseelie faeries.  But when my lover was attacked by vampires, I found it helped me slay them, and I began hunting the blood suckers down.  Now the vampires, unseelie court, and ghosts of my ancestors are upset with me for various reasons, but I'm armed with magic and a cool sword.
  6. "Hey, GM!  I really like the idea that my character is always getting jumped by monsters.  When coming up with compels for me, do a lot of that.  Have existing bad guys turn out to be monsters who are at least in part just trying to capture or kill me, have otherwise nonviolent encounters get a lot closer to breaking out in violence because of my aspects, or have monsters randomly jump me out of nowhere, especially when things are already pretty tense."

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