Can You Kill Your Darling Aspects?
Aspects are a big part of the FATE system, acting as a key point of system interaction during play and essential to defining characters. As a result, there are a lot of competing pressures on a player when writing an aspect:
- It must represent the backstory events in the character creation mini-game
- It should be able to be usefully invoked to do the sort of things the character is good at
- It should offer good, characterful opportunities for GM compels
- Reading it should give someone a good idea about what the character is about
- It should be “interesting”, punchy, and well-written
Add to this the fact that players will often have only a limited number of aspects to describe a character that might be deeply nuanced, which urges players to use aspects to inform multiple character traits simultaneously. Trying to satisfy all of these goals at once is challenging, even for a good writer. Often, trying to do so many things at once leads to lengthy baroque aspects that are clunky to use in play.
Successfully solving such a writing challenge also tends to lead players to be deeply invested in the particular wording they’ve selected. In prose writing there’s a piece of advice known as “kill your darlings”. The basic idea is that it’s very easy for a writer to fall in love with a particular turn of phrase, character quirk, or other minor aspect of their writing that ends up detracting from the impact of the overall work, even if it’s beautiful on its own. Writers need to be reminded to be ruthless while editing to keep from falling into this trap. All of the pressures on FATE players to write “good” aspects can easily turn each one into a “darling” that they’d have difficulty killing. In the Dresden Files version of FATE, players are frequently given the reward of being able to change an aspect to let their characters change based on the events of the story. In my play of the game this option seemed to be rarely used. Even when I felt that the events of the story warranted changing my character I was reluctant to alter my aspects because I didn’t want to lose the many things that each one seemed to be accomplishing. There were aspects that I found difficult to use in play that I was reluctant to change because they were the only link I had to backstory or character points that I cared deeply about. There were aspects that required lots of uncomfortable jawboning to use during play because they were too cleverly written to satisfy the goal of making double-ended aspects that could be both good and bad. While aspects seem appealing at first glance, I think they are problematic as implemented in FATE 3.0 games because they are trying to serve so many masters simultaneously (and that’s without even going too deep into the tricky topic of compels).