This is a continuation of my previous post concerning using Fate Aspects to flesh out characters. This week we’re gonna talk about using Aspects to figure out what’s going on in your plot. The purpose of Aspects is to serve as keywords that point you to the core idea of a character, scene, plot, or situation. As previously explained, they are punchy phrases like Daredevil WWII Pilot or Never Back Down From A Good Fight.
More appropriate to this week’s discussion, where we’ll talk about using them to describe the story as a whole, you may consider Aspects like The Town that Time Forgot or The Sword of Damocles. These might describe themes or threats within your story that will unfold over the course of writing.
What follows is a very basic introduction to how to use Aspects to define elements of your story. There are some resources down at the bottom of this article if you’d like to take it further. The ideas are not really complicated as they may seem, but they’re beyond the scope of a single blog article.
Spoiler Alert: This article contains very mild spoilers for Stranger Things 2 and Stephen King’s It, used to illustrate some of my points. Read no further if that sort of thing upsets you. And seriously, go watch Stranger Things.
In the Dresden Files RPG, part of the game setup is deciding, as a group, which Issues will be important to the upcoming story. An Issue is just that, something the PCs (protagonists) are going to need to deal with over the course of the plot. Conflict, as we know, is the single most important thing in story. Issues codify that conflict, and crystallize it into tropes that we can identify. If you remember back to the previous post on using Aspects to flesh out your characters, Issues are a bit like Trouble Aspects that apply to the plot as a whole.
Themes and Threats
An Issue can either be a Theme, or a Threat. A Theme is an Issue that’s so baked into the setting that it’s pervasive. It’s been around since long before the protagonists were aware that problems existed, and it’ll probably be around long after they’re gone (unless the change they make to the status quo is truly earth shattering). A Threat is an Issue that is pressing, and needs to be dealt with (before it deals with you). You need at least one of each type of Issue. Round it out with a 3rd Issue of your choice (Threat or Theme).
Examples, drawn from Stephen King’s It:
- Theme: No One Ever Really Escapes Derry
- Theme: Children Are Invisible to Adults
- Threat: It Feeds On Fear
Legacy, Current, and Impending Issues
In the DFRPG, you create 3 Issues. This is the perfect amount of complexity for most stories. A Spark in Fate Core further categorizes these 3 Issues as Legacy, Current, and Impending. A Legacy Issue, like a Theme, has always been there, might always be there, even after the story is over. A Current Issue is the situation that presently confronts the protagonists. And an Impending Issue, like a Threat, is a danger that’s about to come to forefront. Ideally, the Legacy Issue feeds into the Current Issue, which feeds into the Impending Issue. In this way, you connect past Issues to present ones, and present ones to future.
Examples, drawn from Stranger Things 2:
- Legacy: The Lab is Covering Something Up
- Current: Tunnels Beneath Hawkins
- Impending: The Gate Is Opening… And Something’s Coming Through!
- Still got those blank Dresden Files sheets? Great. Take a look at page 3, City (High Level). You should find the Themes and Threats familiar. There’s a whole chapter about City Creation in the Dresden Files RPG.
- If you’re plotting a mystery, you may find this post about using Aspects as Clues in horror/mystery RPGs useful.
- I’ve gotten so much mileage out of A Spark in Fate Core. What I’ve done here is just an introduction to plotting with Aspects. A Spark takes it a step further.
- If you’re stuck for ideas, use this Random Fate Aspect Generator to help unstick you.