by Delos

Turn Those Dials! Fate’s Dials and Their Effects Pt 1: Aspects

Fate Core isn’t the only way to play Fate. Technically, Fate Core is a predetermined setting for all of its various “dial’s”. These dials, as the creators of Fate call them, are all the different numbers that can be adjusted for different styles of gameplay. This article (and its following parts) will go over all the different dials and explain what you can expect from tweaking them in different directions.

The Dial

Aspects technically only have one dial associated with them, but there are two other major tweaks that can be done with them that can change your character’s aspects.

The dial is simply the number of aspects that the character has. The effect of changing this dial is fairly simple and minor as well. The three main factors associated with the number of aspects a character has are 1) keeping track of all the aspects, 2) the strength and uniqueness of each aspect, and 3) the number of opportunities for compels and invokes.

Keeping track of all the aspects on your character usually isn’t too difficult, even going up to 9 aspects, but when you take into account the fact that the GM has to try and keep all the aspects of all the characters (PCs and NPCs), situation, etc, it becomes a lot to keep track of. Raising the number of aspects a character has a strong effect on how much the GM has to keep track of, whereas lowering the number of aspects makes it significantly easier on the GM.

A sad side effect of raising the number of aspects that characters have is that it becomes more and more difficult to come up with unique aspects. I’ve seen it several times while playing the Dresden Files RPG; a character ends up with two or three aspects that essentially say the same thing. And that’s just from raising the number of aspects by two from Fate Core’s default. Granted, this is generally due to the fact that the players had fairly one-dimensional characters. Whereas lowering the number of aspects makes it highly more likely that the characters aspects will all be completely unique, thus increasing the narrative weight behind each aspect. Lowering the number also has the problem of making the character less three-dimensional. There’s a reason why nameless NPCs are only suggested to have one aspect and supporting NPCs only get two or three. Those characters aren’t meant to have much depth.

Lastly, the number of aspects that a character has an effect on how frequently or infrequently aspects are compelled and invoked. The more aspects you have, the more circumstances that your aspects can apply to for being compelled or invoked. The second point must be looked at alongside this, though. The more aspects a character has, the more likely that those aspects are going to be similar, thus giving diminishing returns in this area.

My recommendation overall is to stick with the default number of five aspects that Fate Core suggests, but if you’re going to adjust this dial, I recommend going no lower than four. It’s acceptable to go down to three for one-shot adventures, though. For the sole reason aspects start to run together when you get more, I highly recommend not raising the number of aspects to more than six, maybe seven.

Aspect Value

Another tweak you can do with aspects, though it’s not technically a dial defined by the Fate creators, is adjusting their value. This may be viewed as technically tweaking invocations and not aspects, but you’ll see in a little bit why I included it with aspects.

Normally, when you invoke an aspect, you get a +2 to a roll (or a reroll), but you can make it so that you get a +1 or a +3, or even no bonus or a +4 (or a reroll) when invoking aspects.

Removing the bonus makes it so that the player must rely almost completely on their skills and luck of rolling dice. They can reroll if it’s a particularly bad roll and they don’t mind spending the fate point, but the best the character can ever do is get a value of their skill + 4.

A bonus of +1 makes the character mostly dependent on their ability and dice, since even stacking two invocations only adds up to the value of a single default one. You’ll have to try a lot harder, getting more free invokes (which will be even more difficult to obtain, as it is) in order to deal a heavy blow.

Having +3 or +4 (any higher is just ridiculous and essentially nullifies the dice) makes the narrative work that the player puts into the game more effective. Just because the character isn’t good at something doesn’t mean that a few cleverly obtained free invokes can’t overcome that weakness.

You can adjust these as a whole, making every invocation give these values, or you can have different kinds of invocations give you different amounts, such as boosts only provide +1, where other aspects provide +2 as normal, and maybe your character’s aspects provide +3. You can do all sorts of tweaking in this way to suit your game’s style.

But now comes the part that makes it so that this is under Aspect Dials. You can make it so that each of your character’s different aspects are worth different amounts when invoked. For example, you could make it so the High Concept gives a +3 (or reroll), the Trouble gives a +1 (or reroll), and the other aspects provide the normal +2 (or reroll). You can set these values to whatever you want for each of the individual aspects. You could make it so that each player chooses a certain number to get +3s, +2s, and +1s, but the player gets to choose which aspects get which value, depending on how important an aspect is for the character. You could obviously do the +4s and +0s too, if you’d like. There’s a lot of character customization that comes with that.

Aspect Categories

You may have noticed that all of the aspects for a character in Fate Core have a category that they fill. They have the High Concept, Trouble, and Phase Trio. Each of these is a guide to help you come up with aspects. But, you know, you don’t HAVE to follow these categories. You can come up with a whole new suite of them to suit your setting.

For example, a Transformers hack I found has these categories listed as Function (What is your function/role for the Autobots?), Motto (What is your catchphrase?), Cybertron (What did you do on Cybertron? Who were your friends? What do you remember?), Earth (What do you think of Earth and the humans?), and an open aspect that can be whatever the player wants.

Can you see how the aspect categories were used to support the setting they’re in? In the same way, you can show your players what is important to know about their characters by setting up your own set of categories.


As you can plainly see, Fate Core’s dials allow for an amazing amount of customization for your games, and that’s with only looking at Aspect dials! Next up will be <a link to article when it comes out>Skills</a>. See you then!

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