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When running FATE at a physical table, I've run into the following problems:

  1. PC aspects are on the players' character sheets, and therefore not visible to me (the GM) at a glance, so I don't remember what they are and miss opportunities for compels.

  2. Conversely, there's nowhere convenient to put scene or NPC aspects so that they're visible to all players at once.

  3. The process of physically writing down new aspects (when someone Creates an Advantage, or a new NPC is introduced, or so on) forces play to pause for 10-20 seconds, which absolutely kills the momentum.

All of them feel to me like they arise from the same place, i.e., I'm doing something wrong with how I manage aspects.

How do you physically handle aspects at table to avoid these problems?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Incidentally, I have seen this superficially similar question: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/89004/…, but it has no accepted answer and in any case the answers there do not address my problems. \$\endgroup\$
    – J E K
    Apr 18 at 8:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ A "10–20 seconds" pause to write down a few words seem pretty long. What's consuming most of that time? Is it the actual writing, or looking for something to write on or write with, or something else? In particular, do you and your players always have a pen and paper at hand when you play? And how many words do you typically write per minute? (Asking that last question for completeness, since some otherwise literate people do have very slow handwriting.) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 11:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ In virtually all of the face-to-face TTRPGs I've played, one of the group's rules was that you provide the referee/DM/GM with a copy of your character sheet. It was also considered courteous for the players to ensure that they had a pen or pencil if updating the character sheets was going to be necessary, and equally courteous for the referee/DM/GM to have a few extras, just in case. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 18 at 11:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IlmariKaronen: We have enough writing implements to hand, but you're right that that time isn't just spent on the physical act of writing - it takes me a few seconds to grab a piece of paper, center it in front of me, and put the pen in the right place. Then it's maybe two or three seconds per word. \$\endgroup\$
    – J E K
    Apr 18 at 12:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JeffZeitlin: So you've got four character sheets spread out in front of you, as well as whatever other notes you're using? Doesn't that get a bit crowded? \$\endgroup\$
    – J E K
    Apr 18 at 12:03

3 Answers 3

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A dry-erase playing surface and dry-erase index cards.

3x5 index cards are fine. There's a product called "the Noteboard", a foldable mat of these cards in a laminated grid, which is excellent for use as a play surface and can be cut up into individual cards if you can't find them laminated individually, but "dry-erase index cards" worked out pretty well for me there.

Players put their full five Aspects on cards facing outward from themselves. Everything that'll be moving around gets individual cards, attached Aspects get tucked under at a corner, and everything relatively static gets drawn on the mat directly.

I've had a lot of success using these tools, up to and including con games at those ten-person circular reception tables, and never had trouble reading players' Aspects even if they were seated opposite from me.

A dry-erase surface is reusable and dry-erase markers allow you to more easily make large, visible strokes, but maybe the most important feature of this setup is that it allows for the easy use of color-coding, so long as your players and the opposition all have their own color of marker to use. Just knowing who an Aspect is associated with can be a big help in -- whoop, hang on, new header.

Practical Considerations of Aspects in Play

The name of the Aspect is never the entire thing. All Aspect names stand in for a universe behind themselves that can't possibly be summed up in five pithy words. A good name will evoke a large and relevant portion of that universe behind, but the surface name is never the entirety of the Aspect.

NPC Aspects don't need to come out unless they're relevant or the players discover them. Aspects made with Create an Advantage have the entire in-person play situation already hinting at what they should mean, so you don't need a big complicated name to describe them.

This is another advantage of color-coding - when everything has its own associated color, that's some free extra context for whose Aspect it is or who made it, which should help with keeping Aspect names short and punchy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, can you elaborate further on why you find color-coding so helpful? Is it just that it lets you know whether a given aspect describes the PCs, the opposition, or the environment? \$\endgroup\$
    – J E K
    Apr 18 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JEK Yes, so I updated the answer to be a little more explicit about it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Glazius
    Apr 18 at 16:14
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Table Tents

Table tents work for any scenario like this at a table. You can request that your players write certain details about their characters - name, race, aspects - onto a folded piece of paper that they place in front of them at the table. This allows the GM (and other players) to see these things easily, especially if done in marker. I have typically used table tents to promote roleplay by being able to refer to a player by their character's name. I have also requested things like passive perception abilities to be placed on the table tent, so I could make rolls for those things without the player necessarily being aware. This means I don't have to riffle through a stack of character sheets to find this data.

As for how to handle displaying the aspects of your baddies to the players, you can easily make your own tent(s) and place them in front of you, hang them from your screen, etc.

Table tents can be constructed from a leaf of notebook paper or cardboard. I've even seen some made from wood by more crafty players. They can contain simple things about the character or they can be decorated to reflect the character's or player's personality. I always preferred to use a leaf of drawing paper for mine, but I'm not above ripping a sheet from a spiral-bound notebook to construct one, either.

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Answering my own question with solutions from the good people at r/FateRPG that seem to more directly address my problems, especially the third one:

  1. Make a single sheet of paper with all the PCs' aspects (and only the aspects) on it. Keep it in front of the GM. If the GM uses a screen, it's the kind of thing that goes there.

  2. Use index cards in the middle of the table, but write as big as will fit and use a felt-tip rather than a ball-point pen.

  3. Delegate the physical writing to a player (such as the player who created the aspect, if any) so the GM doesn't have to pause play while they write.

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