Using Aspects and Fate Points with Castles & Crusades

A game I have been intrigued with for years now is FATE. I have never actually taken the plunge though and played the game, but I have borrowed some of the game mechanics found in the FATE system and applied them to other games. Being Open Game License (OGL), and also the fact that it is a rules-lite system makes FATE very easy to “lift” rules from and drop them onto other existing rulesets, especially when you drop them in on other rules-lite game systems like Castles & Crusades.

Here is a quick write-up on how I have taken Aspects and Fate Points from FATE and applied them to my C&C game. Remember, this is my take on how these rules work. Having never actually played and only read the rules I may have some variation on the way they play, but I have found what I am about to share works well for the game I have been running.

The game mechanics discussed can be used for any edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but are specifically written for Castles & Crusades. As with most game materials I will present, this article is considered Open Game License (OGL).

Aspects and Fate Points – You Can’t Have One Without the Other
For those who are not familiar with FATE or the Spirit of the Century, when it comes to Aspects and Fate Points the most important thing to point out is that you cannot have one without the other. Aspects are fueled by Fate Points, and Fate Points allow players to help direct the course of the story by using Aspects. Once you understand that concept then you have the hard part out of the way. No, really, it is true. Bear with me…

During character creation each player works with the game master to come up with a group of story elements that help define their character. These are called Aspects. This allows the player to help fully realize just who their character is, what is important to that character and how he interacts with the world at large. Each Aspect can be almost anything from items the character possesses, to beliefs systems, catchphrases, taglines, personality descriptors – you name it. The only limit is what the game master will and will not allow.

When designing Aspects the player should be as descriptive and colorful as possible when naming them. This adds to the overall feel of the Aspect, and it should never be a one word name. Be creative, and remember, this is your character. The Aspects you write-up will make the difference in being perceived as the boring local fighter who made something of himself, to becoming the intriguing living legend being glorified in ballads and folktales.

Need more clarification? I will use the movie Conan the Barbarian as an example for writing up Aspects:
  • Lives by a barbarian’s code – (Aspect for Conan) Conan is a relentless killer on the battlefield and hates authority, but has an endearing personality to the friends he trusts, and his strong presence makes him irresistible to the women around him. He will never betray a true friend or harm a woman in need, but he will crush any enemy that stands before him.
  • Breaking the bonds of slavery – (Aspect for Conan) Conan was raised as a slave, making his mind detach from day to day existence, becoming not much more than an animal. Meanwhile his body was honed to perfection from years on the Wheel of Pain. His master realized his potential as a gladiator and in the arena Conan discovered “his own worth”.
  • Trained by war masters in the Far East - (Aspect for Conan) Conan was taken into Khitai and Hyrkania where he learned not only to master war and arms, but he was also exposed to philosophy, writing, poetry and language. This explains how a barbarian was able to become a weapons master, and gain an education as well.
  • Snakes?! Did you say snakes?! – (Aspect for Conan) Conan has spent his whole life hunting down Thulsa Doom for killing his family. This need for revenge is an obsession. He is driven, and will never stop until Thulsa Doom is dead, and his cult vanquished.
  • The Riddle of Steel - (Aspect for Thulsa Doom) Thulsa Doom spent a time in his youth scouring the land for steel weapons and armor. It was an obsession that drove him to slay any and all that got in his way. As such he gained many master crafted arms, but in doing so he also gained legions of enemies bent on retribution. He also learned the answer to the riddle - that the strength is not in the steel, but in the hand that wields it...
Since we are using Aspects to help build flavor in our C&C game, and not driving the entire game using Aspects I would suggest using three to start with, and maybe allowing a new Aspect to be added to the character at 5th level and again at 10th. This will allow characters to grow in accordance to the campaign story that the game master is presenting. I would even suggest allowing Aspects to be tweaked if necessary, allowing the player or game master to evolve the Aspect if the story justifies doing so.

Game Embedded Aspects
It should be pointed out that C&C is a class based system, and by default Aspects are already heavily built into the game. You can see this in the classes as well as in the alignment system. Players should keep this in mind during gameplay, and find creative ways to Invoke the Aspects of their character’s class or alignment.

Here are but a couple of quick examples:
  • I have my own secret agenda – (Aspect for Neutral Evil) obviously this character will be out for his own well being, and stop at nothing to gaining fame and fortune. Who says all the goody-two-shoes in the party have to know?
  • The will of the gods – (Aspect for a Cleric) this Aspect can be Invoked when a Cleric performs his priestly duties in accordance to divine law.

Fate Points
As stated earlier, Aspects are fueled by Fate Points. The game master will assign a number of Fate Points at the beginning of the game, and replenish them at the beginning of each adventure. If the players utilize their Aspects as desired they will spend these points fairly quickly, but in return the game master will be rewarding players with additional Fate Points (see below) as the adventure unfolds.

The number of Fate Points in play depends on the game master. I would suggest starting off with 3 at first level, and then increase the number of Fate Points every so often as the characters gain levels. I am leery to suggest a hard fast number to increase to. In a gritty game Fate Points may never increase, while in a more cinematic game Fate Points will be free flowing. The trick is to find a “sweet spot” in your particular game, and work out from there. The biggest rule of thumb is this: if you find the players are not challenged by the game then obviously there are too many Fate Points in play. Do not be afraid to make changes as needed.

Gaining Fate Points
During gameplay players can gain Fate Points in a number of ways. The normal reward is one Fate Point, but a game master may deem a higher reward is necessary. Here a few I use in my games:
  • At the Start of Each New Adventure – each player will have their Fate Points fully replenished when they set out on a new adventure.
  • Compel Aspect – see Using Aspects below
  • Foreshadowing – I allow my players to provide me with small adventure hooks for their characters that can be used in the course of the game. Usually the hooks are minor incidents that can be peppered into the story with little effort. Examples: an insult leads to a barroom brawl; I find the woman of my dreams; I unknowingly slept with the mayor’s wife, etc.
  • Great Roleplaying – I like to include this in an effort to get my players to think on their feet and bring their “A” game to the table. This could mean handling a touchy situation with an NPC by actually roleplaying the scene out, or by thinking their way out of a deadly situation.
  • Reward – this is just a general way of me saying thanks to the player.
  • Reading My Blog – I had to throw this one in there… :-)
These are but a few examples, but I think you get the point.

Using Aspects
The whole point of creating Aspects is to actually use them in game. This can be done a few ways. During the course of gameplay either the player or game master can declare an Aspect is relevant to the story, and in doing so explain how the Aspect is working for or against the scene being played out. In making this declaration the Aspect is either being Invoked, Compelled or Tagged. Here is how it works:
  • Invoking – something in the storyline corresponds to an Aspect your character has, and you see an opportunity to alter the scene in your favor. In doing so you Invoke the Aspect, and spend a Fate Point. This in turn allows you to gain a bonus to the situation (I use +4 for my games / Fate Point spent), or you can re-roll a particularly bad roll if needed. This bonus is dictated by situation and game master. A +4 may not be high enough bonus if the situation warrants it. Each game master will need to regulate in accordance to the game they are running.
Example: Conan is facing Thulsa Doom and the “Snakes?! Did you say snakes?!” Aspect is Invoked when Thulsa Doom is trying to mesmerize Conan. Conan is given a bonus to his saving throw vs.Charm. This same Aspect can be invoked each time Conan faces a cultist of the Snake Cult, is shown the symbol of the cult or when facing Thulsa Doom himself.
Another way to Invoke an Aspect is through the player adding bits and pieces to the story being told. In a way the player is aiding the game master in the telling of the story by adding relevant material from the Aspects they have created. Invoking Aspects in this fashion costs a Fate Point.
Example: (an example from the Conan movie does not readily come to mind, so here is an example I just made up on the fly) the players are new to a certain town, and as the game master is setting the scene one of the players spends a Fate Point and Invokes the Aspect “A wife in every port”. By doing so the player is given access to a place to stay, meals to eat, a warm bed at night, town gossip and points of contact that the game master provides the player. All this because the character has one of his many wives living in this town.
  • Compelling – this is basically the reverse of Invoking an Aspect in that a Compel allows Fate Points to be granted to a character by allowing the game master to introduce conflict and complication into the character’s life. When an Aspect is used to create a problem for the character the game master states the Compel, awards Fate Points and the situation plays out accordingly.
Example: when the Aspect “Snakes?! Did you say snakes?!” is Compelled by the game master the character Conan is forced to abandon his true love Valeria and pursue his arch nemesis Thulsa Doom. Conan receives a Fate Point by playing out the Compel. It needs to be pointed out that nothing is forcing him to actually go along with the Compel. It should be seen as a way the game master can nudge the character in a certain direction, but the player ultimately make the final decision as to whether he accepts the Compel or not.
  • Tagging – basically this is when one player Invokes an Aspect on behalf of another player’s character. It works just like a regular Invoke, but the Fate Points are provided by the player initiating the tag.
Example: Conan is surprised by the giant snake just as he is making his escape from stealing the fabled jewel the Eye of the Serpent. Conan wrestles around with the snake, and manages to jab his dagger through its head stopping it from biting him. The bad part is that the snake has Conan constricted, and he is fresh out of Fate Points. Just then Subotai returns to the room to discover Conan is in trouble. A few bow shots later the serpent releases its grip, Subotai spends a Fate Point and tags Conan’s Aspect “Snakes?! Did you say snakes?!” (the snake is worshiped by the cult that Conan has vowed to destroy) allowing him to toss Conan a needed blade (flavor for the scene), which Conan uses to deliver a crushing blow (bonus to hit from the tag) killing the snake.

Using Fate Points
Obviously the main reason to have Fate Points is to spend them using Aspects, but I like to keep the player options open. As a general rule if a player has a good explanation as to why they can use a Fate Point to alter gameplay then I will consider allowing it. Also as a general rule spending a Fate Point will either allow a re-roll or a general +4 bonus to a roll. With those two things in mind it should be easy enough to make a ruling when the need arises.


[The Lovecraftian Collector] Blood Will Have Its Season

As a collector and lifelong fan of Lovecraftian literature it is my great pleasure to bring to your attention a book that will soon be released by Hippocampus Press entitled Blood Will Have Its Season. Joe Pulver is the author, and if you are familiar with another of his books Nightmare's Disciple then you know he has a knack for building a seriously creepy atmosphere within his stories. I am looking forward to getting my copy and reading over Joe's tales with dark delight.

Here is the press release:

Blood Will Have Its Season

By Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., author Nightmare's Disciple
Introduction by S. T. Joshi
Illustrated by Thomas S. Brown and Stanley C. Sargent
Hippocampus Press 2009
ISBN 978-0-9814888-8-2

The dark, forbidding alleys of ruined cityscapes; the hopeless lives of brutalized whores, amoral hit-men, and vengeful-victims of violence—these are the landscapes and characters that fill the stories, poems, and prose-poems of Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. in his first collection. And yet, there is a strange and intoxicating beauty to Pulver’s creations, for they transport the reader out of the mundane and into the unearthly by the effortless stroke of a dazzling metaphor. Many of Pulver’s stories are innovative riffs on the enigmatic mythology of The King In Yellow, pregnant with the demonic witchery of the original. With this collection, Pulver places himself in the forefront of contemporary fantasy and horror literature.

The prose of Joe Pulver can take its place with that of the masters of our genre—Poe, Lovecraft, Campbell, Ligotti—while his imaginative reach is something uniquely his own.” –from S. T. JOSHI’S Foreword

Each piece seethes with a sinister madness like a straitjacketed ghost forgotten in a dark and cobwebbed cell. In this innovative, hypnotic collection, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. has proven himself to be a perversely masterful sculptor of our dreams.” – Jeffrey Thomas

Joe Pulver is a dark star is the merciless cosmos of weird fiction. His work is as brutal as it is beautiful.” -Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire

In an earlier day I feel sure Joe Pulver would have been arrested for writing some of the stuff in this collection. Maybe he will be yet! In any case, I cannot shake the feeling that his stories are all well described by analogy to "The Colour out of Space" in that the descent of some elder, outer entity acts as seed producing, from the dark mulch of Joe's subconscious, a luxurious growth of beautiful and at the same time poisonous blooms. One knows one ought to flee but cannot resist hanging around to savor the corruption! And how can he write, with such intricate delicacy, thunderous prose that fairly rips up the pages it is printed on? I wish I knew!” -Robert M. Price

Pulver challenges his readers with amazingly bizarre and intriguing versatility as he masterfully and engagingly explores worlds of beautifully mournful fantastic prose, invokes hellish realms of relentless violence, conjures wild homages to his many heroes, and tinkers with conceptual formatting.” -Stan Sargent

BLOOD WILL HAVE ITS SEASON teeters between lyrical tranquility and unchecked brutality. Joe Pulver's style is sometimes jarring, sometimes lulling -- but deceptively so. BLOOD is a rough ride. It's not for children or old prudes.” -Mark Rainey

Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. is the acclaimed author of the Lovecraftian novel Nightmare’s Disciple and the author of many short stories that have appeared in magazines and anthologies. He has received several Honorable Mentions in Datlow’s and Windling’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.