Aspect Case Study: Total Darkness

Author: Scott Hamilton  /  Category: Gaming

On the Fate G+ community, someone asked a question an aspect on a scene named I Can’t See the Back of My Hand. After thinking on it, I feel there’s a lot to be learned by giving this some careful consideration.  So, let’s look at the aspect Total Darkness (to be more generic).

Most importantly, an aspect is true. Because it is true, that leads to justification. So, if your characters are in Total Darkness, that means they can’t do things that involve sight. That’s it. It does not require a penalty to their actions, nor does it require a compel to affect them.

That last point is requires some clarification. Fundamentally, compels need to fall forward, that is the complications that they create need to generate drama. Compels should be interesting. Something that simply says “no” to the players does not fulfill that purpose – it’s just a blank wall that players that bang their heads against.

In this way, Total Darkness is an aspect as an obstacle. It is something that is preventing the characters from taking action in a particular way. The obstacle remains in place while the aspect does, that is, as long as it makes sense. If a character turns on the light, the aspect goes away – no more obstacle.

Sometimes, though, obstacles need to be overcome. Maybe the character needs to search for the light switch, or they have to pull its location from their memory. This is where you can break out the dice and do an Overcome action.

Even if there is an easy solution to overcoming an action, consider an Overcome roll anyway. Rather than using the action to simply remove the obstacle, you can use it to determine the effects of an action. For example, one of the characters has a flare in their pack, which they pull out and light. If they fail, rule that they drop the flare. Or if they choose a cost to succeed, choose that the flare catches something on fire. If they succeed with style, the sudden light blinds the ninjas that were sneaking up on them in the dark, giving the characters a boost.

This underlines an important nuance to actions in Fate – they don’t really tell you whether you accomplished something or not. Rather, they tell you whether your action resulted in complication, success, or an unexpected benefit.

Okay, back to Total Darkness. As I said before, you don’t need to compel it for it to affect the characters – it affects them because it is reality. However, you can compel it. Once again, compels need to fall forward, so a good compel of Total Darkness creates more problems: a character knocks over a priceless vase (pronounced ‘vaaz’), or they hurt themselves by unexpectedly walking face first into a wall.

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