While we have met Aspects a few times in this manual, so far, we have mostly contented ourselves with writing them down. Some are on your character sheet, some have been used to describe NPCs, or consequences of actions. In this chapter, we will discuss further what Aspects are and how they maybe used, both for the benefit of your character and against them.
Aspects in Narration
Aspect are Facts
First and foremost, Aspects are Facts. Anything that is written down as an Aspect is true and undeniable. Aspects are one of the few strict rules in this game that deal with what may or what may not be narrated.
If a scene has Aspect Dark and rainy outside, then it is dark and rainy outside, until there is a good in-story reason for this Aspect to become irrelevant. At some point it, it is likely that the storm will pass and the sun will rise. Unless your characters are some kind of weather control mutants or omnipotent deities – and we’re going to assume that they aren’t – this Aspect will stick to the scene, and any event that takes place during that scene.
So, whatever may happen in a different scene, for the moment, it is dark and rainy outside. One of the consequences of this is that the Players and the GM alike are forbidden from narrating anything that contradicts this Fact. If you recall, a Challenge is a single scene. Consequently, if the current scene has heroes fighting vampires, and if they need a ray of sun to get rid of these pesky light-allergic creatures, that is too bad for them, because this cannot happen for the moment. The vampires might suffer negative Effects from the Challenge, but the Reach of the heroes will not, in any manner, offer the ability of exposing vampires to the sun. Perhaps, after this Challenge, the scene may be changed and altered, the clouds will split, dawn will rise and the vampires will suffer from it. But not yet.
Of course, this works both ways: if the heroes are the vampires, fighting petty vampire hunters, regardless of the Cost of the Challenge, the GM is forbidden from having the sun rise on the now heroic bloodsuckers.
Aspects are Permissions
Just as an Aspect closes some narrative avenues, an Aspect opens others. Whether PC or NPC, a Cold-blooded Hitwoman will, by definition, know everything there is to know about being an assassin and have access to all the equipment, money and contacts that a professional assassin should have. Whenever the character is involved in a Challenge, this Aspect will let the Player or GM narrate both successes and failures as those of a professional.
What is true for a Cold-blooded Hitwoman is, of course, even more true whenever superpowers are involved, whether the character is the Lord of the Seas, a World-class telekinetic, the Youngest Witchmistress of her Generation or a Bumbling Time Traveler. These Aspects authorize you to narrate actions that most characters in the setting wouldn’t be able to accomplish.
For this reason, in any Challenge, Aspects have considerable impact on Reach and Risk. As a Cold-blooded Hitwoman, you may be able to snipe the Modern Necromancer before he raises an army of the dead (Reach), but this Aspect won’t help you cast a counter-spell (also Reach). As a Lord of the Seas, you may be able to shrug anything that the whale hunters throw at you (Cost), but you may suffer considerably if you can’t save the oiler ship (also Cost).
Aspects and Balance
It would be tempting to assume that Aspects should make draws easier, but they shouldn’t – simply to maintain the game somewhat balanced and playable despite differences of power scale between characters.
Consider, for instance, a super-hero team with a Indestructible Super-strong Flying Warrior Demi-goddess and a Skilled archer with trick arrows, both of them PCs. Imagine them fighting side-by-side against an Alien, Multi-bodied, Civilization-destroying Robot.
In terms of relative power, yes, the Demi-goddess is impossibly stronger, and faster, than the Archer. In terms of game, though, how fun would it for the players if only one could succeed their draws, simply because of different Aspects?
This is the reason for which, in movies and comics and novels and stories of all kind that feature characters of different power levels, each major character has the opportunity to affect the outcome of a conflict. This is the reason for which, in N-Dimensional Tourists, the Aspects of the characters do not influence the Rank of Challenges.
Indeed, consider the Challenge of attacking the Robot’s near-indestructible Unobtainium body. The Robot is pretty slow and attacking it is not very hard – in fact, the Rank of that Challenge is probably only Good (3). The difficulty, in this case, is not in the attack, but in doing something meaningful with it. As we have seen above, Aspects may very well influence the Reach and Cost of a Challenge. So, while the Demi-goddess’s Reach allows her to reasonably Reduce the mobility of the Unobtainium Body even further by damaging its limbs, the Archer’s trick explosive arrows allow him to reasonably Weaken the ground around the Robot, making it fall into the sewers, where its mobility will be greatly reduced. If the Demi-goddess attacks with unarmed combat, she may Risk Being grappled and immobilized by the Unobtainium Body. The Archer remains afar, so risks very little for himself, but his strategy could prove Dangerous for the civilians still in the area.
Thus is Balance narratively maintained.
The Sleeve Economy
We have seen that each player starts a session by drawing three Sleeve Cards. We have also seen that player can receive Sleeve Cards by conceding Challenges. What we haven’t seen yet is how these Sleeve Cards are used.
Consider our Cold-blooded Hitwoman. What are the chances that there’s an Interpol Taskforce after her? What are the chances that she already knows the Di Carpa family, having already executed a contract for them? Consider our Dark and rainy outside scene. What is the chance that this will lead to a blizzard? Consider a character suffering from unhealed Leg Trauma. What are the chances that he’ll have to stop the chase due to terrible pain? Consider a doorway, covered with bloody glyphs, through which a Hypnotic song may be heard. What are the chances that one of the heroes will listen to the song of the siren and cross the threshold? Consider a setting in which, because of Paradoxes, Killing Time-Travelers is More Trouble than it is Worth. What are the chances that the Robotic Overlords will capture and interrogate the outmatched heroes, rather than executing them outright?
Just as Aspects enable and forbid stories from taking place, they can be used to make something happen – or have happened.
- Pick the Aspect you wish to Compel. It can be any Aspect, belonging to the scene, a PC, a NPC, an object…
- Pick one of your Sleeve Cards. If you are the GM, you’re in luck, you have an unlimited number of Sleeve Cards in the Space·Time Deck in front of you.
- Narrate “Since [the Aspect is true], chances are that [something else, based on both this Aspect and the card you picked, is also true].”
- This mechanism is called a Compel. If you are Compelling yourself, a NPC, an object, a scene, or if you are Compelling a PC to make their life easier… the Sleeve Card goes into the Space·Time Deck. If you are Compelling a PC to make their life harder, the Sleeve Card is for that PC.
- If the Compel is on a PC, that player may reject the Compel, in which case you get to keep your Sleeve Card.
Compels require no Challenge. Once a Compel has been accepted, it becomes automatically true, generally a new Aspect if that’s interesting.
For players, Compels typically serve to alter the story and make their life easier. This is, often, how a character happens to already know a place or a story or a NPC. This is also, sometimes, how a group of adventurers hired to enter a dungeon and look for an artifact, happens to have already acquired the map of the dungeon – or possibly already beaten it – on their spare time, hence requiring the GM to adapt and improvise a new objective for the plot. Or maybe, for a Demi-goddess, this is how you just decide that a minor supervillain is no match for you, by simply Compelling your victory in hand-to-hand combat.
For the GM, Compels serve several objectives:
- they are a good way to introduce NPCs, factions, objects and tie them to the background of a PC;
- they are a good way to introduce new complications in the life of the heroes;
- they are a good way to make a PC do something that the player knows is stupide, but that makes entire sense in-story (recall that the player may refuse);
- when the heroes are running low on Sleeve Cards, it is a good mechanism to reload them.
Note for GMs: as a general guideline, if a player answers your narration by “Oh, no!” and then eagerly takes the Sleeve Card offered, your Compel was probably spot on!
Aspects may be Tricked
Oh, by the way, there is another way to use Sleeve Cards and Aspects, it’s called Tricking, and it helps you during Challenges, by letting you cover a card that you have just drawn or that your opponent has just drawn, with one of the cards up your Sleeve.
- Pick the Aspect you wish to Trick. It could be one of your Aspects, or it could belong to your opponent, to the scene, etc.
- Pick one of your Sleeve Cards.
- Interpret the card you’re covering and narrate it as what you have just escaped.
- Interpret the card you’re using and narrate it as what ended up happening.
- Narrate how the Aspect saved you, or helped save you from the one to the other.
Note that the Challenge draws all cards at once. You may cover any (or all) of the cards after they have all been drawn. You can only use each Aspect once per Challenge.
This rule works both for the Players and the GM. However, for this use, the GM doesn’t have an unlimited Sleeve. The size of the Sleeve depends on the importance of the Challenge. We’ll discuss this in the chapter dedicated to setting up advanced Challenges.