Bolt-On Aspect System: Add instant roleplaying to pretty much any ruleset


I first came across the idea of the Aspect system when my friend Mike wanted to run a Dresden Files game. Flicking through the rulebook and idly pondering what sort of character I’d create — an enormous, tattooed, drunken Scottish demon hunter, it turns out — I immediately latched onto the idea of Aspects as something that could easily be turned system-agnostic and bolted on to other games.

Although we did never get that Dresden Files game going (I’m sorry, Mike!) the idea of a bolt-on Aspect system refused to die, and so in 2013 I sat down and worked out how to abstract it out to the point where I could bolt it on to the Pathfinder game I was about to start running. The end result of that — with some tweaking — is what you’ll see below.

We’ve been playing with this system for over a year now across probably about a dozen games, and so far it’s worked out pretty well. There’s a few caveats to that statement, which will make more sense once you’ve read the rules, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

How does it work?

If you’re looking to implement Aspects, you really need to do it when you start a new game, and at the point of character creation. It’s going to take a bit of time as everybody bounces ideas off each other, so it’s not something to just drop in suddenly (Unless it is! You know your group best).

The concept itself is not super-complicated (at least in this lite version): players have pre-defined Aspects, which often relate to their past, their temperament, to other players, to their experiences, or lots of things. They can invoke those Aspects to gain a mechanical benefit and spend a Fate Point, and they gain a Fate Point back by when the DM compels them to act according to their Aspect. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it.

Essentially, it’s bribing the players to do better roleplaying by offering them a mechanical benefit for acting in character — and then tempting them to do it again by offering to replenish their points if only they’ll keep roleplaying.

This version is built with Pathfinder in mind, so if you want to change it for a different rule-set, go nuts.

What do I need?

All you need to use it are tokens of some kind: small glass pebbles, counters or what-have-you. Check out a local craft or home decor store for the sort of small glass pebbles you fill vases with for a quick solution.

You can get by without physical tokens, but there’s something nice about sliding a token towards a player with a tempting grin on your face. It’s worth the few dollars the gems will cost.

Okay, so what are those caveats?

Two things to be aware of when running a game with this on top.

Firstly, the whole system relies on the DM constantly offering compels. That’s just part of the package. If you’re the DM, you need to find ways to offer your players tempting choices and decisions based on their Aspects regularly. If you can’t do this, then nothing bad will happen — this is a bolt-on system after all — but it does mean that they’ll find few chances to replenish their stock of Fate Points.

(You can of course award Fate Points for players compelling themselves, and then smile inwardly as the players end up doing all the work for you.)

Secondly, and feeding into the first, it helps when players have clear cut Aspects that can easily offer the DM something to compel. When the group is thinking of Aspects, try to remember that each Aspect should boil down to a single, concise word or phrase that neatly sums up what motivates that character. Some players will have Aspects that are very broad, which can be great — but it can also mean that it’s hard to find a hook.

That’s about all you need to know. It’s not staggeringly complex, but it’s just a fun add-on that doesn’t get in the way.

Yeah, yeah, where are the downloads

Here you go then. We’ll update these if we make any changes — currently they’re at version 1.0.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so please drop us a line in the comments below or on our many social media pages and let us know what you think.

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