Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Aspects, part 2: The Theory

Last post I mentioned finding a mechanical system used in Houses of the Blooded and Spirit of the Century called aspects. What are they? In short, aspects are short bits of descriptive text that define something about the character. They could be quotes, blurbs, or whatever else is appropriate. You can take that concept and apply it to characters almost anywhere, from "Hulk is the strongest there is!" to the Knights of Solamnia and their code of conduct.

When I originally read about these, my thought was to use them to represent the list of flaws that Shadowrun provided in its books, because it was a big list. However, unlike weapons and armor, I decided not to use the game as inspiration for my system. Spirit of the Century doesn't provide any aspects at all beyond a small number presented as examples. Instead what it does is give a general mechanic for the benefits an aspect provides, and then leaves the details up to the player. In that game, aspects are supposed to be personal things tied directly to the identity of the character, who he is and what he's done.

I like that so much better than creating a list of prefabricated aspects and letting my players choose. Not only is it less work for me, but it makes creating a character persona and identity an essential part of the character creation process. Now, in order to completely finish your character mechanically, you have to have an actual character concept beyond class and combat objective. There's none of this "I'll work out the personality once we start playing." You don't have to write a novel, but you do have to have some idea of who your character is and what's most important about him (if not to him).

Most importantly, by letting the players create their own aspects, they tell me what buttons they most want me to push. If this works, they'll provide me a list of ways they want me to mess with them, make their lives more difficult, and in general create more dramatic complications. But because they've tailored these flaws and worked them into the story and identity of their characters instead of choosing them from a generic list, they'll be more personally invested in these flaws and will play them because they're a part of the character, not some checklist for rewards.

At least that's the hope.

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