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Let's say that I'm running a game of Starblazer Adventures, and my players are being chased by bad guys with blaster pistols. They run into a ruined temple which I describe as being full of ancient columns. The players, naturally, take cover behind the columns.

If "Full of columns" is an aspect of that area, then the first person to say, "I take cover behind the columns" has effectively tagged that aspect and can gain a defensive bonus. Anyone else who wants the same benefit has to cough up a Fate Point to use what is, effectively, an intrinsic feature of the area.

On the other hand, if "Full of columns" is just a description and not an Aspect, then everyone ought to be able to grab some columny cover without paying anything.

At what point do Aspects become overkill, and when should you just skip 'em?

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It's worth noting that Fate Core significantly changes how situations like this work. The "Aspects Are Always True" rule means that all the players can use the columns for free (they provide an obstacle that the opposition has to deal with) and can tag them for extra explicit effect as is sensible. I wouldn't mention this here except that this is apparently how Fred Hicks always intended Aspects to work, and only now is this being explicitly made clear, contrary to how everyone has been playing them. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 3 '13 at 21:38

4 Answers 4

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Aspects become unimportant only when the players have no fate points to tag them.

In the question's example of the columns, the first guy gets the free tag, and anyone else who cares to spend fate upon tagging them gets the bonus, but they don't tag them unless and until it matters… when they've failed to dodge and want to up their dodge roll by 2.

Never should mere description nor "scenery" be worth a free bonus. Any bonus costs a fate point to someone. The Free Tag on maneuver-established aspects is just one paid for by "being a cool use of the setting" coupled with one's own skills, or for guessing the hidden aspects of the scene correctly. (SBA, pp. 23-25)

If they can't cough up the fate, they need to make a maneuver to allow a free tag in personal scope, if using scope. ("I hide behind the columns," putting the self-targeted behind the columns temporary aspect on the maneuvering character, or giving the column Between X and Y.) I prefer to put it on myself, because then the GM can use it to compel me to pick a different target, and I'd get the fate, rather than the column. If the column is tagged, it can't be readily used to compel, just to make it harder to hit. At least, not without mobile columns.

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DUDE. You NAILED it. It makes sense now! The player can do a Maneuver to apply a temporary aspect on HIM- OR HERSELF. So obvious and simple! Thanks very much, Aramis! –  Dr Rotwang Nov 30 '11 at 4:11
@DrRotwang You're Welcome! and Thanks! –  aramis Nov 30 '11 at 8:52

Those columns are probably best defined as a free-taggable aspect. No fate points required to tag it.

It sometimes becomes tedious to define aspects for everything you describe, so feel free to let your players deduce aspects from your descriptions (pending approval of course) and let them tag those aspects from then on, for free or by paying the fate point.

Elaborating on your example, if you describe something like

You enter the temple, it's a grand temple with a vault dome. There's a niche in the southern corner …

then let your players use "niche in the corner" as an aspect. The first one to do so gets to do it for free, from then on it is with a point cost, because their opponents now know that the niche is a good cover point, they will try to stop someone else from using it.

If your description is more like your original example

You enter the temple. It's a grand temple with a high ceiling, supported by many ancient columns…

then if one of your players requests to use the columns as an aspect, since the columns are so abundant, let your players use them as a free-taggable aspect, without any point costs from then on.

And I'd say never deny your players the aspects they can extract from your words. Just make sure that every aspect is a double-edged sword. If multiple columns provide good cover for them, they also make it harder to see, run, aim or shoot in the temple.

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It's months later, but -- thanks, man. This makes sense. –  Dr Rotwang Jul 19 '11 at 2:58

First, there is no need for an obvious element or trait of a scene to be written down as an aspect in order for it to be tagged. I'd even go so far as to say that they don't even need to be stated aloud.

If, for example, someone wants to sneak away from the scene of a fight in the middle of a punk show, I'd let them tag "loud music", "crushing crowd", and "shadows and smoke" to do it, even if I hadn't mentioned--or even considered--those particular pieces of set dressing. They wouldn't need to be declared or discovered as aspects, because they're obvious and inevitable components of the scene.

Second, as far as I'm aware, nobody gets a free tag on any aspect unless they (or an ally) made some kind of roll to establish it. So, unless Starblazer Adventures does something odd here that I've forgotten about, there shouldn't be any rush to be the first guy to dive behind the columns, because that first guy will have to pay just like everybody else.

Remember, finding good opportunities to use aspects to your advantage is only half the tactical game in Fate. The other half is finding good opportunities to use aspects against yourself, collecting the fate points you need to fuel that first half.

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I fear my answer has a lot of overlap with the others, here, but I felt differently on a few points, and thus had to submit my own. –  Matt Sheridan Oct 5 '10 at 17:14
No, this is nice and concise. Part of the point of voting is to reward both correct and well-written answers. Two technically-identical answers may be written very differently, and the votes will go to the better overall answer. :) +1! –  SevenSidedDie Oct 5 '10 at 22:28
Thanks, Matt! This is concise and clear, and it encourages me to go back to the rulebook and, uh, "check myself". –  Dr Rotwang Oct 6 '10 at 2:38
+1 I think this is actually the best answer so far –  Dave Hallett Nov 17 '10 at 23:36
Free tagging of aspects other than by maneuvers is covered in SOTC, p.41 & 83. The character just has to have brought an heretofore unnoticed/unknown aspect into the fore by some action, or by cool narration (which really is just the GM saying "Yes" to a knowledge skill declaration or a maneuver - SOTC p.314). –  aramis Nov 7 '11 at 1:56

I haven't played Starblazer Adventures, though I've just gone and read the bits on Aspects to see how it handles them. The version of FATE that I'm familiar with through play is Diaspora, and there's a lot of variation among different implementations of FATE.

In Diaspora, implicit Aspects are baked right into the rules. The "Full of columns" Aspect can exist just so long as it's reasonable for a player to assume it exists based on the GM's descriptions or drawings of the scene or location, even if the GM never thought to write it down in the adventure notes. In Starblazer Adventures, the closest thing called out in the rules I can find is the idea of hidden Aspects, which seem to be explicit Aspects that the GM keeps secret. A hidden Aspect can be used by the players if they guess that it exists and pay a Fate point to tag it for effect or bonus, or if a character Assesses to discover the Aspect.

I'm going to suggest that, given your particular dilemma, thinking in terms of implicit Aspects would be a useful addition to your FATE toolkit.

The difference between the hidden Aspects written into Starblazer Adventures and implicit Aspects is that they're treated mechanically as if they were stated up-front. They don't need to be discovered, just used. They're not free-taggable like a just-Assessed hidden Aspect because no player has done anything to bring the Aspect into play—it's just always been there.

Your "Full of columns" Aspect is a great example of an implicit Aspect: it's obvious from the scene-setting that it could be an Aspect, and there's nothing special the players need to do to reveal it (by Assessing) or to apply it to the scene (such as through a manœuver). It's just there.

However, implicit Aspects are like anything else, and only have an effect if a Fate point is spent on them. The saving grace is to remember that Aspects are only tagged/invoked/compelled when they're needed, and they can be used in unpredictable ways in the heat of the moment. So the characters don't all need to spend Fate points and tag "Full of columns" as soon as they take cover. Instead, positioning themselves in the area with columns sets them up so that afterward they can use the "Full of columns" implicit Aspect at all when they try to do something like hide, evade incoming fire, topple a column on an enemy, etc.

So although it might seem like an unreasonable Fate point expenditure just to get what seems like should be a free defense bonus, that's not how FATE does things. The defensive bonus is just assumed to be there in the fiction, but to get it out of the background fiction and affecting the story, Fate points are spent when the columns matter. It's entirely possible that the defensive nature of the columns only comes into play (and is paid for in Fate point) for one character during the scene. That doesn't mean that the other characters aren't benefiting from the defensive position, just that the difference in "defensiveness" of the location didn't matter to their particular actions. If it could have, it was there for them to tag.

Since Aspects are only paid for with Fate points when needed, implicit Aspects like your "Full of columns" are considerably cheaper than they might appear on their face.

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But what if everyone wants that cover bonus? –  Dr Rotwang Oct 6 '10 at 2:51
Again, they can't tag it until they're actually rolling or compelling or whatever the columns might be useful for. It's unlikely, though possible, that on everyone's turn the circumstances would be such that just taking cover would be sensible, and that they'd roll such that they needed that +2 for success. In that case though, yeah—they'd each pay a Fate point for that +2, just like any time they roll but need to bump the result up with an Aspect. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 6 '10 at 7:06
@Dr Rotwang: …which is to say, it works how Matt Sheridan's much more concise answer explains it. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 7 '10 at 1:03
First tag of a hidden aspect is free. SBA p. 24. –  aramis Nov 7 '11 at 1:58

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