Designing Sessions Around Aspects

Landon Darkwood's Suggestions for Designing Sessions Around Aspects

Here is a chat log with the meat — it started out about the PDQ-FATE mashup and also got into some good stuff about using PCs aspects to design sessions

Landon Darkwood: Looks like my only concern with it would be Qualities as aspects.
Zotimersnerd: heh — that's kind of the main point of it
Landon Darkwood: (I didn't realize it was that short.) :P
Zotimersnerd: since qualities are already fairly aspecty, I thought why not go ahead and use them as fate point lenses
Landon Darkwood: Well, the only issue there is that often, Qualities are very utilitarian and functional, and more… definite than aspects usually are. You don't have many PDQ characters with Expert [+4] Nick of Time, and whatnot.
Zotimersnerd: oh — I thought you did; he has examples of 'personality qualities' in the rules
Landon Darkwood: Well, there is stuff like Expert [+4] Determined, and stuff like that.
Landon Darkwood: Good [+2] Psychotic, etc. But usually, it's very evocative stuff that you could easily see practical use from, in a skills-y sense.
Landon Darkwood: You know what kind of conflicts and tests Psychotic or Determined would help in, right off the bat.
Zotimersnerd: hmm, I'll have to think about that
Zotimersnerd: unifying them sounds so neato
Zotimersnerd: but maybe it doesn't really fit
Zotimersnerd: we'll see
Landon Darkwood: There's just… this sort of vague area where aspects can be used to describe *concepts*, that just don't fit the function-oriented nature of Qualities. Some would, like Sally's Expert [+4] Greasemonkey, or whatever. But then you have stuff like Jet's "Seat of My Pants", and it's like… how does that work as a skill?
Landon Darkwood: But, you know, that just might mean that when you're doing your mashup, you don't pick that kind of stuff.
Landon Darkwood: Because you're right - combining the functions there is pretty slick.
Landon Darkwood: So, not really an issue, but more of a caveat, I guess.
Zotimersnerd: well, I don't want to lose 'girl in every port' or 'I hate snakes"
Zotimersnerd: and having aspects + qualities as aspects or qualities + unleveled qualities feels kinda kludgey
Landon Darkwood: Yeah. I just keep them separate in my build.
Zotimersnerd: or you could always say that since you can have an infinite number of average qualities, you just get to enumerate the ones you can use as aspects
Zotimersnerd: to bump up the total to 10
Landon Darkwood: When it's PDQ + aspects, what aspects can do is "turbo-charge" the reward system in whatever game I'm using. So, if you get a Hero Point in Truth and Justice, but the action's also aspect-relevant, you get two points.
Zotimersnerd: still a little squirly
Zotimersnerd: hmm
Landon Darkwood: And if you spend one, and it's aspect-relevant also, you get double the bonus.
Zotimersnerd: I like simply dropping in FATE's FP economy in place of PDQ's though — cept that it interferes with T&J's advancement system with MAX and all
Landon Darkwood: <nods> Yeah, it makes it faster, mostly.
Landon Darkwood: But, basically, what you can tell your group when you play it is that likely, only Description and Connection aspects will get used to define characters.
Landon Darkwood: So, you'll get your fate point lenses, but the choices are more likely to be immediately useable ones. Most description-oriented aspects could be used as skills.
Landon Darkwood: And connections are pretty self-explanatory.
Landon Darkwood: Situation aspects like "Unlucky in Love", "Brunt of a Joke", etc. are the ones that slip between the cracks.
Zotimersnerd: those in particular translate well into weaknesses
Landon Darkwood: Right - I mean, nothing says you even have to call them aspects at all. You can just add compels through the Story Hook mechanic, and call it a day.
Zotimersnerd: one thing I was thinking of was that FATE 2 had 'aspect levels' and that could translate into qualities
Zotimersnerd: though the levels represented how many times you could use the aspect per session, it can still kind of represent the relative importance of the aspect
Zotimersnerd: questers of the middle realms has item qualities, like item aspects
Landon Darkwood: Right. But even there, you didn't get a lot of what we call situation or story aspects in SotC. Like if you actually read the examples in the book.
Landon Darkwood: In Fate 2.
Landon Darkwood: It was part of the reason we made the switch.
Zotimersnerd: ahh
Landon Darkwood: Mostly, you'll get a Fate v2 character that's like Knight of the Rose [ ][ ], Valorous [ ][ ], Vain [ ].
Landon Darkwood: And so on.
Landon Darkwood: All of which would work fine as Qualities.
Zotimersnerd: still, I wonder if it's so bad to have something like Good [+2] Aboleth Heritage
Zotimersnerd: or Good [+2] Destined for Greatness
Zotimersnerd: it doesn't leave SUCH a bad taste in my mouth
Landon Darkwood: I think it looks better on paper than it does in play, is all.
Landon Darkwood: Because, consider Destined for Greatness. You would, if you played with me, get tired of me narrating that in for an Upshift on, well, everything. :)
Zotimersnerd: meaning that players won't waste their precious quality points on nonfunctional qualities?
Zotimersnerd: hey, it's DESTINED, not ATTAINED
Zotimersnerd: so I wouldn't narrate it that way
Landon Darkwood: And if you limit it, like it only works when my destiny comes up, then it's wasted currency, because I don't really get to decide when I get to use it.
Zotimersnerd: also, you can compel destined, because you have to have some scrapes along the way ;)
Zotimersnerd: but these arguments also apply to SotC anyway
Landon Darkwood: Right, I'm just saying, it doesn't have a clear function as something I'd use to overcome conflicts with.
Landon Darkwood: That's the thing - Qualities in PDQ are your primary conflict resolution tools.
Zotimersnerd: oh right — I've gone and forgotten that Good means +2 without spending any points
Zotimersnerd: so qualities get free bonuses where you have to pay for aspects
Landon Darkwood: Well, not only that, but they're what you roll on, all the time.
Zotimersnerd: I mean since PDQ lets you add all relevant qualities in an any roll, you just need a good argument instead of spending a FP
Landon Darkwood: <nods>
Landon Darkwood: Right. Because they're your skills.
Zotimersnerd: must… think…
Zotimersnerd: even if they're not skilly, they can still figure in if the GM allowed something like Good [+2] Lucky
Landon Darkwood: Oh, totally. All I'm getting at is that a significant subsection of aspects just wouldn't work as character definers if you unify them. I don't expect anything actually breaks, because knowing up front that Qualities are your skills, people will just choose appropriate ones.
Landon Darkwood: And weaknesses pick up the slack.
Zotimersnerd: it's interesting — I hope a decent unification is possible. they could be locked out of phase
Landon Darkwood: So, with Sally, she still could get Scrappy, One of the Guys, Grease Monkey, Monkeywrench, and Fearless on her sheet as Qualities.
Landon Darkwood: And her weakness would be her crush on Mack Silver.
Landon Darkwood: But, she'd lose "Jet's in Trouble", Eureka!, "Gimme a Minute!", and "It Works on Paper…" because those are really too vague, and are more rich narration than practical function.
Landon Darkwood: They work in Fate precisely because you're building off of skills/stunts, which are your main conflict-resolving tools.
Zotimersnerd: hmm
Landon Darkwood: But that said, those five aspects and that weakness still do a pretty damn good job at defining that character.
Landon Darkwood: So, I'm not sure how much you're really losing from that angle.
Zotimersnerd: a lot of the fate point lenses power (IMHO) comes from using aspects for story effects rather than dice mods
Zotimersnerd: without the story-line aspects, I think you lose a lot of that particular power
Landon Darkwood: Well. I think PDQ is a rabidly Simulationist engine. :)
Landon Darkwood: The main thing that makes situation aspects weird is that they're mainly meant to add color while you're narrating an action. The character doesn't really use them… it's sort of a directorial/authorial conceit.
Landon Darkwood: That has mechanical value in Fate because, well, we think it should.
Landon Darkwood: I'm a big, big, smoking fan of author stance.
Zotimersnerd: right
Landon Darkwood: That's one of the things about PDQ that I'm not sure is widely realized - it's very traditionally minded. Light and fluffy, yes… but not really all that hippie. Same as Risus.
Landon Darkwood: The main thing differentiating it from GURPS is density.
Zotimersnerd: hey, I cut my teeth on TFT, the forerunner of GURPS
Landon Darkwood: It's not a dig, yo. :)
Zotimersnerd: heh, I know
Zotimersnerd: I guess weaknesses are a bit like GURPS' mechanic for that (I forgot the name of them)
Zotimersnerd: albino, gaunt, etc.
Zotimersnerd: I thought they were kind of munchkin fuel in GURPS, tho
Landon Darkwood: Yeah, it's basically going, "Fuck it, I want to make consistent game constructs, but I don't want to have to go through a bunch of layered mechanics and crap. So, I'm just going to say I can say Good [+2] Paladin, and that covers everything I need."
Zotimersnerd: heh
Landon Darkwood: But you'll notice that in nearly every character writeup of Chad's in PDQ games, the character includes notes that explains what each Quality means, how it's used, etc. if there's any vagaries.
Landon Darkwood: So, it's not just that the character has Good [+2] Determined. They have that, and notes saying, "Determined means that this character is extremely stubborn about achieving goals, and this Quality can add to any action where pure stubborn grit will help you get through."
Landon Darkwood: In PDQ, you tend to go from vague to specific, nailing it down numerically and functionally. In Fate, you tend to go from specific to vague, turning backstory details into general descriptors.
Landon Darkwood: So, in one of Sally's novels, she had to rescue Jet Black from bad guys. When she takes "Jet's in Trouble" an an aspect, she's saying that this is something that happens all the time.
Landon Darkwood: Anyway. I'm babbling now, sorry.
Zotimersnerd: np — I'm getting a lot out of it
Landon Darkwood: That's why I ultimately was a chicken and did the mashup the other way, porting the idea of not having a set skill list into Fate, instead of porting Fate's concepts into PDQ.
Zotimersnerd: well — I'll have to think about it more
Landon Darkwood: And even that's not perfect. Because in that, you have to remember that your Skills are what you can do, not who you are. So, someone who uses my mashup might have a skill like Bully. That doesn't mean they are a bully, it means they have all the requisite capabilities to play the part.
Landon Darkwood: Which some people might find confusing.
Zotimersnerd: right
Landon Darkwood: And I have that weird thing going on where you make high concept terms and narrow them down into aspects.
Landon Darkwood: So if your high concept is Hotshot Space Pilot, you assign a certain number of aspects to each "segment". So, if I have 6 aspects total, I could go Hotshot 3, Space Pilot 3.
Landon Darkwood: But, then, once you assign those aspects, you ditch those terms and their ratings - they're only important for chargen.
Zotimersnerd: hmm, that's an interesting mechanism
Zotimersnerd: what about grouping qualities under aspects like that?
Landon Darkwood: - for the full hack.
Zotimersnerd: I'll look at it
Landon Darkwood: That could work.
Landon Darkwood: High concept gets you your Qualities, but then you pick aspects underneath.
Landon Darkwood: 1 for Good, 2 for Expert, 3 for Master.
Landon Darkwood: So, if you have Master [+6] Samurai, you'd indent and put "Shiro, my liege lord", "The code of bushido", and "Seen too many battles" under it.
Zotimersnerd: sounds promising
Zotimersnerd: aspects explain the qualities
Landon Darkwood: That may be the middle ground you need.
Landon Darkwood: Because what you get with that is the base function part of the Quality, but also reasons for it to act as a fate point lens. That comes out of Dean Baker's stuff on the list.
Landon Darkwood: You might not need weaknesses at all, if you do that.
Zotimersnerd: true
Landon Darkwood: That's good mojo - I dig it.
Landon Darkwood: And personally, I'm beginning to be more and more a fan of characters having aspects in the 5-7 range.
Landon Darkwood: 10's a lot. It works in Spirit, because it's pickup-oriented and you want a lot of tools to build situation from on the fly, but when I'm doing campaign-style games, I usually go with fewer aspects per character.
Zotimersnerd: I had trouble as a GM with so many of them
Landon Darkwood: Yeah. Usually, I try to only concentrate on one or two per session.
Landon Darkwood: Like, per character.
Landon Darkwood: so 4-8 total.
Zotimersnerd: sounds good
Landon Darkwood: Have you seen or played Primetime Adventures?
Zotimersnerd: no, but I keep hearing about it
Zotimersnerd: I mentioned it to my GM today, because of our Serenity campaign — he wants to go to an episode/session model now
Landon Darkwood: <nods> PTA has a lot of awesome mechanics that can be mined for meta-mechanics for other games.
Zotimersnerd: looks like I should get it then
Zotimersnerd: heh
Zotimersnerd: I haven't got that one either — although I've heard lots of good things about it too
Zotimersnerd: but man, I can't stand to think about role playing without aspects now
Landon Darkwood: Anyway, I mentioned PTA because it has this core mechanic called Screen Presence, which basically determines how important your character is in the episode.
Zotimersnerd: cool
Landon Darkwood: When you do a season of PTA, you assign numbers from 1 to 3 to each episode. Standard season is five episodes, and you get one 3 (your spotlight), two 2's (supporting) and two 1's (minor).
Landon Darkwood: So you might do the Shakespeare: 1-2-3-2-1, or the ramp: 1-1-2-2-3, or whatever.
Zotimersnerd: each player?
Landon Darkwood: Yeah. So when you get to that session, each player uses whatever their Screen Presence is, and that helps you determine what the episode's about.
Landon Darkwood: So, if yours was the Shakespeare and mine was the ramp, in episode 2, you'd be supporting and I'd be minor.
Zotimersnerd: interesting
Landon Darkwood: I sometimes use this as a trick in SotC to spread around the aspect focus between characters.
Zotimersnerd: that's easy to rip off too
Landon Darkwood: I'll number the characters like that, and then that's how many of their aspects I use to generate the episode.
Zotimersnerd: cool
Landon Darkwood: Yeah. The Screen Presence stat is tied to the character's Issue, so that's basically how you figure out episode content.
Zotimersnerd: definitely sounds worth a look
Landon Darkwood: So, say your Issue is self-loathing. If you're supporting, it means that you're going to have a minor confrontation with that during the episode. If I'm minor, my issue probably isn't going to come up at all, and I should probably spend my "screen time" contributing to scenes that highlight your character's Issue more.
Zotimersnerd: I guess in PTA the players know the other players' numbers
Landon Darkwood: But later, in episode 5, my Screen Presence is 3 and yours is 1 - so, that episode is basically all about me confronting my Issue.
Zotimersnerd: would make sense for acting
Landon Darkwood: Yeah, all the numbers are public.
Landon Darkwood: PTA is a very author-stance game.
Landon Darkwood: You can actually play it very far away from the characters.
Landon Darkwood: In terms of your headspace.
Landon Darkwood: So, let's say I look at the numbers for the iconic SotC crew, and Sally's a 3, and Grey Ghost and Mack Silver are both at 1.
Landon Darkwood: I take "Scrappy", "It Works on Paper", and "Hidden Crush (Mack)" from Sally. Then I take "Secret Identity" from Grey Ghost. Then, I take "War Buddies" from Mack.
Zotimersnerd: this sounds like it should go on the wiki…
Landon Darkwood: And I come up with: When Sally Slick enters a competition to design a theoretical jet engine, she runs afoul of a scheme to steal the secrets of the world's greatest technological minds! Will Mack Silver intervene when he finds out that the person at the heart of the conspiracy is someone he owes his life to? Meanwhile, a shadowy cabal is threatening the Grey Ghost's loved ones - how do they know who he is?
Landon Darkwood: And there's my setup.
Zotimersnerd: cool — a good way to run it on the fly too
Zotimersnerd: which is a bonus if you don't have a plethora of free time during the week
Landon Darkwood: Actually, this is about all the prep I ever do for SotC.
Zotimersnerd: heh
Landon Darkwood: Beyond this is basically just bulleted lists detailing notes about the opposition.
Landon Darkwood: In this case, I'd say that the cabal is a group of disenfranchised veterans trying to establish themselves as a mercenary group in the wake of the Great War, and they want all the technology from the competition so they can become the greatest private army in the world, available to the highest bidder. So it's just one villain.
Landon Darkwood: Make the one major NPC, Mack's old war buddy, and a privileged henchman.
Landon Darkwood: Do the rest with mooks.
Landon Darkwood: Hell, I might run that as my NeonCon scenario. Damn.
Zotimersnerd: looks like it really pays to force the players to hone the aspects during character creation to help with that
Landon Darkwood: Yes. That is why we tell you to push for "Bam!"
Zotimersnerd: I had one player who never got past 8 aspects and I handed some of the ones he had to him
Landon Darkwood: It can be hard.
Landon Darkwood: Usually, I'm very lenient about that - as long as you can get four really strong ones, I'll let 'em leave the rest blank. Some people really just need to discover their characters during play.
Zotimersnerd: Since we're using Wheel of Fate in our current game, each PC starts with a lot fewer aspects — pretty much the main 5 from WoF and one extra aspect about your character's "secret"
Zotimersnerd: and the 5 are very structured: weakness, strength, what you want, what you are doing to get it, etc.
Landon Darkwood: I find the categories can help break mental blocks, too. Description, connection, story, situation.
Zotimersnerd: sounds good
Landon Darkwood: I usually ask them directly as questions: "What's the most important thing to know about this character?" "What are your important relationships?" "What kinds of problems does this character have worth telling stories about?" "What kind of stuff do you see always happening to this character?"
Landon Darkwood: Sometimes, I even use those as phases and skip the backstory thing.
Zotimersnerd: sounds good
Landon Darkwood: But yeah, five's a strong number for a campaign-style game, I think.
Landon Darkwood: Because the thing is, in campaigns you need a mix of internal and external focus for conflict.
Landon Darkwood: Really, it's premise vs. character, as sources. So, if your game premise is that you explore the galaxy, solving problems, it doesn't make sense if someone you know or are connected to is on each planet each week, or one of your story hooks comes up.
Landon Darkwood: With five aspects, you can very strongly focus in on a couple of ongoing personal character stories, that you can intersperse with external threats.
Landon Darkwood: So, in a five aspect setup, I may have "In Duke Raster's Pocket," "The Laws of Steel", "My Sick Mother", "Uneducated", and "I'd Rather Fight Than Talk".
Landon Darkwood: So, we know that stories involving my character will have to do with Lord Raster paying him to do shit he doesn't really like to do, and his continuing efforts to keep his mom supplied with medicine and whatnot.
Zotimersnerd: yep
Landon Darkwood: So we can push that while I'm doing jobs around the kingdom, until either his mother dies, Lord Raster finally pushes him too far past his honor, or that situation changes in some other way.
Zotimersnerd: heh — change that to "Riddle of Steel" and you get very close to Conan
Landon Darkwood: And instead of piling on the aspects, you concentrate on resolving and changing aspects instead.

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