House Rules: Using Aspects in D&D

Game Ready Content Aspects Character Character Creation DnD

Shaman of Fire 100804_1405 Cosmic Tribe ~ Knight of WandsIn an earlier post, I spoke about building a D&D character using FATE’s concept of aspects. While I believe this is a worthwhile endeavor for building a coherent character, once it is done there are no mechanical benefits for having aspects for your D&D character. In this post, I’ll outline a few house rules that can be easily added to D&D.

Key to using aspects well is the concept of economy: players should earn something when an aspect is used against them, and spend something when they use an aspect to their benefit. This necessitates a point system (like FATE points) which can be counted with poker chips, pennies, or Doritos.

In this post, I’ll be using the words “Compel” and “Invoke” to refer to these disadvantageous and advantageous situations (respectively). In other words, when an aspect is used against a player, it is “compelled.” When an aspect is used to a player’s benefit, it is “invoked.” As per FATE, compels are at the player’s option: if a player does not want to accept a GM compel, he can offer a point to counter the compel.

Lastly, while it might go against a GM’s style to make things like target AC public, invoking and compelling aspects really only works when the player knows if he has succeeded or failed. So, don’t bother trying to add these to your game unless you’re willing to be public about numbers.

GM’s Fiat-by-Compel: “You just fail.”

Many of the options below will be easy to use by players who want to invoke an aspect. All of these systems can benefit from Fiat-by-Compel, where the GM compels an aspect and causes a player to fail in the action she intends to take.

This sort of failure should always produce interesting story options, so it doesn’t work well for most attack rolls. It could work well for a critical attack–let’s say the duke is being kidnapped by an ogre, and the ranger is making a called shot for the glinty part of the iris of the ogre’s right eye. The GM could compel “Protect the Innocent,” explaining that the ranger is worried about accidentally hitting the duke. If the ranger accepts the compel, he can simply take the offered point and not make the shot, explaining to his allies that “it is just too dangerous.”

Simple Re-Roll

The easiest way to add aspects to your game is to allow a re-roll when an aspect is invoked. I’d recommend that compelling an aspect results in an automatic “success” roll for the GM, but if your group likes more randomness, then a compel can be a re-roll for the GM.

For example, a cleric might invoke “Left Hand of Mercy” to re-roll hit points healed on a “Cure Light Wounds” roll. A GM might invoke the same aspect to automatically make an attack miss, as the cleric is moved by compassion and does not attack.

Adjusting Die Rolls +/- 2

The easiest way to manage aspects is to give a +2 bonus when an aspect is invoked, and a -2 penalty when an aspect is compelled. This bonus should stack with other bonuses. If a GM allows multiple invocations (that is, several different aspects to be invoked on one roll), this should also stack with itself. Note that the same aspect should cannot be used to provide multiple bonuses to a single roll.

So, a fighter might invoke “Hit first, ask questions later” to get a +2 on a sword stroke (spending a point), and later a GM might compel the same aspect to give the fight a penalty to diplomacy when interrogating a prisoner. If the fighter still misses with his +2, he could spend another point to invoke “Trained by Flamebeard, the Dwarven Axemaster” to get another +2. A GM might compel this aspect in a situation where the party wants to take a foe alive–the GM can slide a point to the fighter’s player and say, “Flamebeard always taught you to go for the kill.”

Activating Magic Items

I come from a group that generally views the ubiquity of magic items in D&D to be the downfall of the game. If your group feels similarly, aspect points can be a great way to overcome this.

The cool part about this is that it ties the activation of magic items to the character rather than the item. In other words, activating it requires the character to put something of herself into using magic, rather than just pushing a button. So, for instance, a cleric might call upon “Faith as Bright as the Sun” to wrest a charge out of a wand of healing, or a rogue might use “Clockwork Mind” to methodically deduce the activation routine for an elven cloak. Lastly, a fighter might call upon “I Am A Shield of Meat” to simply will a +3 magic axe to work when he is making an attack to protect an ally.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many good compels that come from the activation of magic items, so a group using this option should combine it with “Fiat-by-Compel” or another method.

Activating Feats or Powers

If your group is willing to go this far, you might just consider bagging D&D and playing FATE instead. However, if you’re willing to make characters significantly underpowered unless they have aspect points, this is a good option. Again, it doesn’t work as well for compels, so the Fiat-by-Compel is another good option here.

Quite simply, using this option allows a player to spend a point and activate a feat. If you’re playing 4E, perhaps a point activates an at-will power, 3 points activates an encounter power, and 5 points activates a daily power. If you go this route, make remove the “once per day” restriction on daily powers–they can be used any time the player can spend 5 points.

Lastly, if you use this method, the GM should collect points spent by the players in a bank. The GM can activate enemy powers using points–potentially allowing multiple uses of encounter powers. This will make players think twice about activating a daily repeatedly–every time it is activated, the GM gains 5 points that can be used by a current (or future) enemy.

Have you done any mash-ups of FATE and D&D? Are you religiously opposed to putting my chocolate in your peanut butter? Tell us about it in the comments!


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