Circumstantial PC Aspects in Fate

One of my favorite things about the Fate RPG is that all of the mechanics of the game are really just ways to redirect focus on the narrative of the game.

The most potent tool for this is the Aspect. These bits of description tell us what is important and define when it can be used mechanically in a situation.

The two most common types of aspects are the aspects that define a player character (PC), such as Wizardly growing pains, and those aspects that define a scene called situation aspects, like Shadowy hallway or On fire.

But what if you want to know how a PC relates to a scene or situation? This leads us to the Reese’s cup moment (you got peanut butter on my chocolate!) of Circumstantial PC aspects. These are aspects that a PC only gets when in a certain scene or type of scene to integrate them deeper into the narrative.

I have to admit that this idea of narrative focus was inspired by the excerpt above from Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

How to use Circumstantial Aspects

When you’re running a game and you have a long and/or important scene, you might consider using Circumstantial PC aspects.

First, you define the scene or situation that the PC will be in. For example, my home game Brewed Awakening is about a group of college students who investigate the supernatural on a college campus. As the GM I tell the players that the PCs will be bar hopping as they try to track down a Clurichaun that has been causing trouble and I want to know more about how the PCs interact with the bar scene.

The next step is for everyone to write down an aspect as it relates to that scene. Encourage the players to think of this aspect as a way to make this part of the story more interesting, even if that means that the aspect is geared more towards compels.

Continuing with my bar hopping scene example, my players would write down aspects like Binge drinker, Doesn’t realize how bad he is at dancing, Center of attention, My sorority sisters come here often, and so on.

Now you’re ready to go! The players will use these aspects as roleplaying guidance and you as the GM will use the Circumstantial PC aspects to keep the story and Fate points flowing.

A few more notes. Does this mean that the PCs get this aspect everytime that they are in a scene or situation like this? Generally no. This is a tool for your GM toolbox to focus the narrative for a scene, so only use as needed.

That said, I can also see Circumstantial PC aspects being used for mirror world/alternate universe situations. Say your players are Shadowrun-style hackers who have to dive into the network. Perhaps their network selves always have the same Circumstantial PC aspects.

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