In my experience, the most difficult concept for players to get their heads around is creating aspects. Some are used to playing more traditional roleplaying games and are thrown by not having a fixed and finite list of things to choose from. Others see the infinite possibilities, but their minds are blown trying to figure out how to narrow them down. A few aren’t clear on the concept, and need to see some examples, or a step-by-step process, to help them get a handle on it. In every case, once the concept clicks the player has it down and is able to do amazing, creative things.
As a gamemaster, it’s up to me to facilitate understanding and create that “aha!” moment. Here are my tips on how to do that, and help players create an interesting and effective aspect.
Does the name reflect what it can do?
This seems obvious, but you should have a clear idea about what you want it to do and explain it to other people. The name of the aspect should be a phrase the evokes all of that. There’s a sort of poetry to it. A good test is to tell the name of the aspect to another player and have them tell you what they think it means. If they’re pretty close, you’re good. If they have different definitions or explanations, you may need to retool a bit.
Can Golidlocks sleep here?
Is it too small, in that it limits the player too much or is too narrowly defined? Are the possibilities for use, and the circumstances under which it would be brought up, too infrequent? Is it too big, in that it covers too many possibilities and lets the character do too many things too easily? An aspect that’s just right will be something that character could potentially have an chance to draw upon several times within a game, but not necessarily every single moment of every session.
Is in invokable?
Can you think of at least one way that you plan to use the aspect for your own benefit during a typical game session? Can you think of three? Is it easy to think of these uses, or are you struggling? If you’re struggling, you need to rethink the aspect. If it doesn’t suggest a variety of uses, what good is it to you? Back to the drawing board.
Is it taggable?
Can you think of at least one way the gamemaster, or an NPC bad guy, could use the aspect against you? If you say no, you may think this is a good thing. It’s not. To play fair and make the game interesting, an aspect has to provide some story fodder. Characters without flaws or weaknesses are boring. You don’t have to disclose your ideas to anyone else — let them figure out how to mess with you on their own — but place yourself in their shoes and think of how you could mess with your character.
Is it compellable?
Can you think of at least one way the aspect can lead to roleplaying possibilities? Does it drive you to decision points, where you have have to make difficult decisions? Does it introduce plot hooks, or at least plot complications? If not, work on it. If so, you’re on the right track. This is a fairly safe area to ask other players about what roleplaying opportunities they can think of based on the aspect’s name, and if they easily come up with ideas you have a winner.
Your mileage may vary
If the aspect hits all of these points, you’re doing it right. If some points are stronger than others, that’s okay. Not all aspects are equal, and the joy of having multiple aspects is that they’ll all offer different opportunities to hit the above points throughout a game session and a campaign. That’s how you should look at aspects: as opportunities for you, for the gamemaster, and for other players.