I was asked if I could share my experience using the system I outlined in Savage Worlds with Aspects. It was a well timed question, as my wife and I are just reworking how we approach aspects in our new Savage Worlds campaign. I thought my response would get pretty long – and I was right – so I’ve made it a brand new post, rather than just a comment on that old post. So, here we go.
To be perfectly honest, we haven’t been using the aspects properly. I wrote this system and we implemented it but it’s mostly just used for re-rolls and we only really burn through bennies during tough combats, so compels are easily forgotten.
However, they’ve always been in the back of my head and I have learnt a lot from implementing them but not fully utilising them. We have also just started a new campaign recently and we want to make good use of the aspects. So, I am writing this post as a manifesto of things I’ve noticed that I should be doing more and some pitfalls we’ve encountered. Hopefully it’ll be helpful to anyone else hoping to run a non-FATE game with aspects.
Our main problem is we just are having so much fun playing that we forget about aspects. We haven’t played FATE-like games very much, so it’s easy to slip into old habits (especially when the system, Savage Worlds, works fine without them).
Using aspects requires awareness on both sides. The players need to invoke their aspects often and request bennies for ‘self compels’ (playing to an aspect which would lead to trouble without the GM compelling it). The GM needs to compel the players’ aspects often and remind them when invoking could be useful. Having a list of all their aspects really helps.
A great way to remember about aspects is to make them exciting or catchy, like the example in Spirit of the Century, which replaces Strong with Strong as an Ox, and finally the best incarnation: “No one is stronger than HERCULOR!!”.
Don’t have too many aspects, either, and combine where possible. I suggested 5-10 per character originally. 10 each could be too many, if you’ve got several players. For one, it’s probably okay. Mostly, the same aspects will come up over and over with the rest used occasionally. You’ll find which aspects you do and don’t use through play. We had “Amnesia” and “Haunted by Significant Dreams” as two aspects for the current character, but seeing as they’re related we’ve combined them into “Amnesiac Haunted by Significant Dreams”.
Make Aspects Matter
Something I’ve noticed is that the aspects work much better if they’re well-thought out and if there are some solid ones from the very beginning that are core to the character. Last time we introduced them part way through the campaign and it only sort-of worked. You should also introduce them due to changes in the fiction, but be careful to make them usable for compelling and invoking. Recently, my wife’s character gained the aspect “Confidant of the King”, which helps her get audiences with him and hear private news from him, but also makes others jealous of her, makes her a target for the King’s rivals, and she can be sent put into danger just by knowing the King’s secrets.
This new character is also a “Foreign Beauty” which draws people to her, but also marks her as not from around here. This lets her invoke it to seduce or charm someone or otherwise draw attention, while I can compel it make her stand out in a crowd. She has had more people ask her where she’s from that she can count.
She had a dream where she chose to follow the path of leadership and physical power. She now bares the “Mark of the Sword”, which helps her summon weapons from thin air and fight well, but also manifests as a presence that compels her toward battle and foolhardy bravery at times. This works well to invoke for re-rolls in combat and to compel to have her fight when talking might be a better option, etc.
If you’re playing a game with a solo PC, it’ll also make a big difference if the PC has an aspect relevant to combat. This is because they can then re-roll missed attacks using a benny, rather than only being able to get a plus one and not re-roll at all. When you’re alone in combat, being able to re-roll can make all the difference.
Aspects shouldn’t all be good or all be bad. Think about the situations you the aspects could be used in. If you can think of a few interesting ways they can be compelled and a few interesting ways they can be invoked, you’re set. If it’s hard to see how you’d use an aspect, maybe you need to scrap it or reword it somehow. Sometimes aspects will sound awesome but actually be pretty difficult to use. Just review them once you’ve come up with them and again after the first few sessions.
Tagging Aspects & The Environment
Scene aspects or environmental aspects are an important feature that was underused in our previous campaign. Now, I want to start every scene by jotting down a few notes about the scene aspects, using similar words as what I’m describing to the players. So, when the player arrives for a midnight duel at the old ruined tower clinging to a windy seaside cliff face I jot down Crumbling Tower, Dark, Windy, Long Way Down. Now, during the ensuing duel the player can tag these aspects for an advantage.
I would advise that when teaching this system to players, the GM should jot down the aspects on index cards and put them in the open between you, so everyone can see them. It reminds the players that they are in an exciting dynamic location, not standing still in a 10×10 room beating each other with swords. If the aspects are out in the open, players unfamiliar with the idea of aspects are much more likely to use them, and it reminds you as a GM too.
One more example: the King’s fiance as requested you to attend her for the day. You arrive and discover that she is a harsh, stubborn, self-entitled mistress, feared and hated by her servants. Remind the PC that the queen-to-be has aspects that can be tagged. In this example, some are pretty obvious: Stubborn, Self-Entitled, Soon to be Queen. Another one the PC deciphered was something along the lines of “Too Good For This Place” and she used this to help her convince the queen-to-be to head back to her own country where people would respect her and pander to her more.
In the above example the PC probably has some temporary aspects on her now too, like “In the Presence of Royalty”. I can compel this one really often, giving her bennies to obey the queen-to-be’s demeaning commands and smile politely as she berates her servants. This rewards the PC but also gives the queen-to-be more power in her realm.
I like the idea of NPCs (and PCs) having a “On Home Turf” aspect when they are in their element (the queen-to-be in her palace, a gang leader in his hideout, a captain on his ship). Giving the PC or NPC this aspect means even if they’re otherwise equally matched, they have an advantage because they know the area or have power here.
Moving onto conditions, Savage Worlds already has the ‘shaken’ condition, so making that also an aspect that others can tag is pretty harsh. I think it’s either one or the other here: it stops them acting properly, or it can be tagged. Not both. However, aspects work well for other things with no mechanics like being Entranced, or having a Busted Leg, or being Lost. If something like this applies to a PC or NPC, tell them they have that aspect until they can rid themselves of it. Sometimes, that’ll be easy and an in game action can do it – like jumping in a lake to remove the aspect, On Fire. Sometimes, it’ll last until they leave the scene, sometimes even after that.
Changes to ‘Savage Worlds with Aspects’
In addition to the above changes of practice, I might also change the refresh rule to be closer to official FATE:
When a refresh occurs, players bring their number of fate points ”’up to”’ 5. If they have more, their total does not change.
This is mainly because with a single player we sometimes dip too low if a fight is going poorly, especially as bennies are used to soak as well.
Also, sometimes, a player will do something awesome in-character that has nothing to do with any of their aspects. Going just on the rules of FATE, I can’t reward this with bennies, but Savage Worlds says:
The Game Master may also give you more Bennies for great roleplaying, overcoming major obstacles, or even entertaining everyone with an outlandish action, side-splitting comment, or other memorable act.
I like rewarding and encouraging this sort of behaviour, I’ve added that back in as an additional way to gain bennies. I don’t think it’ll blow things out too much, and it’ll reward good roleplaying as well as good use of aspects (so the characters can move beyond those words and phrases that define them and still be rewarded).
Finally, I would keep any Edges (and perhaps Hindrances) that have a mechanical effect other than a straight +/- 2. Like, the Berserk edge which is a whole little power of its own, and the Arcane and other casting edges. But things like Attractive, I would just change to aspects.
If using aspects with Savage Worlds works out well (or not) for me over the next little while as we play this new campaign, I’ll post my findings.
Where to go from here? Well, we are going to readjust my wife’s aspects, adding, removing and rewording where necessary. I’ll keep a list of them handy during play, and I’ll work out a list of some scene aspects that come up fairly often, or even just prompts that I can fill in. I may post this if it proves useful.
I’ll also have an index card reminding me to tag and compel. I’ll try to adjust my thinking so that each scene and person has at least an aspect or two. To start with we’ll work with aspects in the open, for the most part, to remind ourselves to use them. Hopefully, all of that will help us make the most of adding aspects to our game.
If anyone has any other questions, tips or comments on using aspects, please comment below. I’m happy to discuss. And thanks LordOrlando for inspiring this post and getting my me thinking on aspects again.