I'm planning on GMing a Fate game with a group of my friends, and recently ran a little test by having one of my friends create a character. The problem I ran into is that he seemed to create aspects with multiple elements, which made me think they might be "too good", and break the game.

For example, he wanted his character to be a dethroned pirate king who was forced to fight as a gladiator, which gave him proficiency in all weapon types as well as the benefits that come with being an ex-pirate king. He wanted this to all be included in the aspect "I am the legendary Pirate King Stevens".

Since this aspect contains many elements, is it too good? Should it be split up into different aspects, like "I was once a pirate king" and "I was once a gladiator"? Or is Fate built to handle these kinds of things? In other words, is it possible for an aspect to include "too much" information and therefore be "too good"?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious what you think might be the problem with an aspect that's "too good" in this sense, and how this would be fixed merely by breaking it into different aspects? If anything, putting too much information into one aspect weakens your ability to invoke aspects. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 18:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ An aspect that's "too good" could conceivably be one that can't be compelled, or with great difficulty, and is therefore not as balanced as Fate encourages them to be. It can also, as in this case, be an aspect that is way too broad (and I agree with @beanluc's answer below) and kind of designed with min/maxing in mind. Aspects aren't for min/maxing - nor is Fate, really. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ysharros
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to add that this aspect doesn't say that at all. An aspect says only what is written, no more, no less. In that case this aspect says he IS the legendary Pirate King Stevens. He's still king, wasn't deposed and wasn't a gladiator either. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 9:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Aspects are not Skills. Just because he is known as a pirate king does not make him a good pirate. Skills are what make him a good pirate. This aspect is about reputation. He may be able to intimidate some people with it. Or he may have to hide from authorities. That's what makes it an aspect. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 31, 2017 at 13:01

4 Answers 4


Does a good Aspect say one thing? Or more than one thing?

We see in much Fate material the advice that a good Aspect says more than one thing. OK: sort of. It should say one thing and then say more about that one thing. It shouldn't say many things which aren't directly related to each other.

Many wordy drafts of Aspects contain information which don't need to be part of the Aspect in question, or indeed of any Aspect at all.

It's not about the word-count, it's about the encapsulation of a single major element of the character (or scene, or campaign, or Extra, or Advantage, or whatever other type).

One Aspect should establish one primary fact. And any color which that primary fact needs.

This does indeed happen a lot: While in "draft" progress, a single Aspect can grow to include (as worded) many different facts and lots and lots of words.

What I do when working out Aspects either by myself (for plot, campaign, scene or NPC Aspects) or with my players (for PC or Advantage Aspects, or some of the other baroque types which players can create, depending on what hacks are in play) is: I ask the Aspect's primary owner what three facts in this lengthy list of words are the really important ones. Three. One of them should be a primary fact, and the other two can color it. If one of the three facts doesn't color the other parts, it gets cut.

It's not that you can't have an Aspect include more than one fact. it just can't include utterly unrelated facts.

"Deposed Pirate King". Primary fact: "Pirate". Color: "Deposed", "King". The only further thing I might consider adding to this Aspect might, might might be if the player wants to say how or why or by whom the former Pirate king was deposed. It could fit here: "Former Pirate King, Deposed by My Own Bastard Son".

I work with the player until the Aspect has what she wants. But I do coach her to narrow a single Aspect to the salient facts about that Aspect. Other facts belong on other Aspects.

If the player must have Aspects which establish entirely unrelated facts, those would be different Aspects. "Gladiator" doesn't color "Pirate" in this case. (Maybe there's some other game or character where "Pirate Gladiator" makes sense, but that isn't what this example was about.) Embellish the "Gladiator" part as much as you and the player want, but every word which is added should be about the fact that it's a Gladiator. What kind, where, whose, how strong, whatever, I don't know, but it must be all about the Gladiator.


Not all facts need to be Aspects.

Having too many Aspects, or too many facts captured in Aspects, dilutes all of the Aspects. It winds up that none of them get their due. Ryan Macklin's thoughts on "aspect spamming": http://ryanmacklin.com/2013/11/fate-misconceptions-and-aspect-spamming/

So: The other thing I do with players in this situation is, I ask them: Which parts of their character details don't need to be Aspects. You only get five.

Just because there are details which don't fit into five Aspects doesn't mean they aren't truth. Every player gets up to five Aspects at character generation, and that is the space within which they can put their Compel-bait and their Invoke potential. This is their moment to say what is and is not going to be important to them in play. They can't have it all, so, if they're in the weeds like this, help/make them cut the weeds.

It does not cost them character richness to leave things out of the Aspects. My players all have character history and other facts which are either understood as being part of what a given concisely-worded Aspect is saying-without-saying, or which are facts which aren't even reflected in any of their Aspects. Maybe you don't have to say in the Aspect that he was Pirate King of the Western Spice Continent's Less-Than-Perfectly-Charted Tradeways. Maybe you don't need an Aspect which says that as Pirate King he enjoyed the loyalty of twenty-two captains and their two thousand scummy villains, and which ports-of-call and pirate conquests were the origins of all of these dependable souls.

It's fine to have character details which aren't Aspects: The fact that my bastard son had the same name as the priest who excommunicated me for witchcraft isn't relevant to my deposed-pirate-king Aspect, but the fact that my bastard son deposed me is. The fact that I'm excommunicated or whether I did or did not actually dabble in witchcraft as a younger pirate might be things which I, as a player, don't ultimately want as an Aspect: It's not who-I-am-today. I don't want Compels on it, I don't want to Invoke it, I don't want to use it to Declare a Story Detail related to witchcraft, the Church, or anything else. It's history, it might come out in roleplay, but there's no room for it on my character sheet. That's for things I really want to be mechanically important in play, and all I get is five slots.

It's great when an Aspect does say more than one thing or does establish more than one fact, but, it still needs to say one main, major thing, along with whatever reasonable amount of color or decoration hangs on that thing. Not multiple unrelated things.


The first thing I want to mention is is, I don't see how that Aspect indicates anything about being a former pirate king, or a gladiator. If it was Off the Plank, into the Pits, maybe.

It is generally hard to have an Aspect that is 'too good' (bad is another matter). Remember, every Aspect is a three edged sword. The more it encompasses, the more chances to player has to invoke it. But at the same time, it also provides more options to compel the character. And finally the more it encompasses, the more elements it brings to the story.

That said, good Aspects should be important to the character's story and generally self contained. In this case, it is not clear if the Aspect meets the second criteria. Did the character's removal as the pirate king directly lead to him becoming a gladiator? Was he sold to the arena by the traitors? Was the arena master the only one who could keep him safe from his mutinous crew? Or are the two generally unrelated? Did he get ousted and choose the arena from among other options? Was he wandering in exile and was picked up by slavers?

In the first case, it would be a good Aspect. In that case, his former crew would be expecting him to be a gladiator. They might have specific reactions to the fact that he is no longer in the arena.

In the second case, it would be better as two separate Aspects. If they are separate, the other pirates might be surprised or uncaring about the characters gladiator status.

Ultimately, it is the Player's Aspect. You can try to guide him, but it is his decision. Just help him clarify it, and work it into the story. That is the basic point of the FATE system.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That first thing is the most important one. An Aspect only says what it says "The Legendary Pirate King Stevens" is a -great- aspect. But it only says what it says; one can have a shared understanding about an ambiguous aspect; if my collectivist PC has an aspect called "One with the Many", that will have a very different meaning than if a telepathic hive-queen has the same aspect (or, you know, maybe not), but it can't and shouldn't contain concepts that aren't in the aspect at all; that's for the character's -other- aspects (or just non-aspect features). \$\endgroup\$
    – mneme
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 20:00

FATE will handle it easily

I have been playing and GMing several Fate rounds for the past few years in vastly different scenarios. My takeaway: An aspect can NEVER be too good! The FATE system is mechanically perfectly balanced with the number of fate points. Even if I had an aspect "godmaster of everything" which would allow my character to invoke the aspect for every single roll, it would not be imbalanced mechanically! Since I only have a limited number of fate points, I can only invoke my aspect 5 times (each invocation costs a fate point!)

The danger with a "super-aspect" is only story-wise, other characters may have a hard time to shine, if one character seems a super-cool can-do-anything guy. But mechanically the uber-char will use up his fate-points and then the other characters will need to shine, if the group wants to succeed. So FATE can even work with a group consisting of an almighty god and a farmer.

A player should always find a way if he needs to

The second thing from my experience with fate - but this may vary depending on your gaming style: If a character REALLY needs to get an invocation for a roll, he will almost always find a way to trigger one of his aspects. Having a super-aspect justs makes it easier to find a reason and thus will make it a little less entertaining. But this really depends on the player!

Creative players should get challanging aspects

A creative player bursting with ideas will bloom, if he has very specialized aspects and has to find contrived reasons how his aspects apply to a situation (a whole lot of fun can result from this). But I also know players who have a hard time to get really creative and they can easily be at a loss, if their aspects don't apply on the nose to the situation. With this kind of player, I think it is better to give him a big "works-for-everything" aspect in the beginning.

And if he develops a knack for creative invocations you can talk with him, to give his character a more complex personality by changing this aspect (see the chapter for character development in the FATE rules)

  • \$\begingroup\$ In my group the aspects are mostly not used for "can you get a plus 2 in this situation" but most often as "give me a nice story, why you get the plus 2" - so aspects make the game more interesting and entertaining. And are not so much a limiting factor - so a clown can use his aspect to be good in a fight, the explanation will be funny ;-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Falco
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 14:23

I think an aspect could imply any number of facts as long as they are coherent, clear and in-tune with the tone of the world you are creating.

However, one of the key features of a good aspect should not be forgotten: An aspect must be compellable as much as it is invokable. I'd ask your player for instances where they would invoke the said aspect. And then ask for a similar number of cases where the same aspect could be compelled.

If the aspect can be used for detriment as well as benefit, then it's a good aspect and the number of facts in it shouldn't matter that much.


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