From DivNull RPG
The following rules introduce a concept called aspects to Exalted. Aspects as a concept are lifted from a game called Spirit of the Century, where they form the core mechanic of the game. Their use in Exalted is not so radical, however. Instead, aspects expand and enhance the stunt system.
The goals of these rules are:
- To increase the use of stunting.
- To provide both mechanism and incentive to inject more character depth and characterization into the game.
- To provide incentive for players to voluntarily suggest interesting things that are true to their character, but may not be in their best interest.
Explaining aspects runs the risk of a chicken-and-egg problem: it’s hard to understand what aspects are until you see how they work, but it’s also hard to explain how they work without explaining what they are. So, this document will introduce what they are in a very general way at first, then show how they work, then explain what they are in a more involved way.
Put simply, an aspect is a short phrase that describes an interesting facet of a character’s personality. Every character will have a handful of these aspects (less than ten, usually). An important part of aspects is that they are not intrinsically good or bad for the character (though they often lean one way or the other). The point of aspects is that they are interesting and evocative. When reading a list of aspects, you should get a pretty clear idea of that character’s personality.
More to the point, aspects act as a way of both indicating and facilitating the type of things you want to see your character do in the game. You will be able to use your character’s aspects in various ways in the game, but just their existence helps the Storyteller figure out how you want to see your character shine.
No more Nature
Every character has a Nature. This will be transmuted into the aspect system (as will be explained in “Initial aspects”, below) and the basic rules surrounding them will be ditched.
All characters get a certain number of aspects. There is no xp or other cost for this; all characters just have them.
The basic notion of stunts is changed very slightly, mostly in the language used to talk about it. All dice rolls will now have a stunt level. This starts out at zero, but can increase in various ways (see below). For each stunt level, a bonus die is added to the roll and, if the roll succeeds, two motes are restored to the character making the roll. The character can, if they choose, forgo four such restored motes in favor of regaining a point of temporary Willpower. (This is all pretty much the same as before, just a bit more formal.)
Stunt level can be increased as follows:
Providing a cool description of the roll being made beyond a simple “I hit the guy with my sword” increases the stunt level by one.
If the description collectively makes the table say “holy crap!” or something similarly awe inspiring, it further increases the stunt level by an additional one.
When making any kind of roll, a player can invoke one of their character’s own aspects to help explain the roll’s motivation and importance. That is, you can say something like “my character has aspect X, and that helps this action for the following reason”. The idea is that the aspect is so ingrained into the nature of your character, that the character can take advantage of that aspect of his or her personality to do better.
When an aspect is invoked, it adds one to the roll’s stunt level. Invoking an aspect has no cost, but you can only invoke one of your own aspects per roll.
Both the Storyteller or other players can object to an aspect invocation, but this should be rare to non-existent; you invoking an aspect is much like a statement saying “I want this scene to move this way.” The player, however, as the final say on if an aspect is invoked.
At the start of each scene, the Storyteller will notify the players of any aspects that apply to either the set or scene itself. For example, a scene on a ship might have “Complex Rigging” or “Rotting Deck” as aspects. The scene might be “Dripping With Lust” or “Quiet as the Grave” or “Tensions on a Hair Trigger”. Character actions can sometimes create aspects on a set, such as “Raging Inferno” or “Swiftly Sinking”.
When making a roll, any character can tag an aspect of the set or scene, provided they explain how they are using that aspect to their advantage on the roll. Doing so adds one to the roll’s stunt level.
In some rare cases, a character may be able to use the aspect of a friendly character in a similar way to the way scene or set aspects are used. For example, an acrobatic character might be able to tag a friend’s “Solid As a Rock” aspect to use him as a “hard surface” off which he can rebound.
Only one aspect can be tagged per roll.
As before, anyone can object; in this case, however, the Storyteller has the final word on if an aspect can be tagged.
Characters may become aware of the aspects of other characters, or may be able to assume that a certain type of aspect exists on that character. When making a roll against a target, if the target really does have that aspect (or one similar), a character may be able to exploit that aspect.
The character must explain how he his using the target’s aspect to his own advantage. Such explanation usually involves taking advantage of the target’s nature. For example, in an attempt to manipulate someone with an aspect like “Cheerfully Optimistic” might involve a lie that assumes the most optimistic outcome, neglecting to mention more likely results. An aspect like “Moves Like Lightning” might be exploited by using the target’s quick reflexes against them.
If an aspect is exploited on a roll, the stunt level of the roll increases by one. Only one aspect can be exploited per roll.
Exploiting works a bit differently that invoking or tagging an aspect. First, the player of the target must agree to be exploited. (Where NPCs are concerned, the default will be for them to always agree to exploits, unless there is a compelling reason why they wouldn’t, as this is generally more interesting.) Second, while the bonus stunt die for the roll are awarded to the character rolling, the motes are divided evenly among the attacker and the target if the roll succeeds. If the roll fails, the target is still awarded half of the motes, just as if it succeeded.
Players who are the targets of a roll may volunteer to have one of their own aspects exploited on the roll, assuming they provide a good reason why and assuming the rolling character agrees.
Outside of the stunt system, a significant event that reinforces, justifies or was largely due to a character’s aspect may reward that aspect. When this happens, the character regains a point of temporary Willpower. (This is somewhat similar to the way Nature worked.)
Such rewards occur after a scene is over. It is possible for a scene to reward more than one aspect. The Storyteller decides if various aspects are rewarded, but players should bring up possible aspect rewards as well.
A character’s aspects may be compelled to essentially force the character to follow the aspect. This can be done in or out of combat, but is usually done during more social interaction.
Someone trying to compel an aspect must know (or suspect) that the aspect (or something similar) exists. The target must agree to the compel for it to work, and if they do the target regains a point of temporary Willpower, but must act according to the aspect.
This works largely as a negotiation, with someone indicating how they are trying to manipulate the target using an aspect. This can be an active manipulation attempt by one character against another, or might be the Storyteller suggesting that the character might act a particular way, offering a point of Willpower to do so.
While a compel cannot force a specific behavior, someone accepting a compel must “be true” to the aspect for the duration of the scene. Compels always result in some sort of complication for the character. Compels are intended to be dramatic and meaningful and, therefore, somewhat rare.
Players can also compel their own characters, suggesting that the character would want to “be true” to the aspect, even though doing so makes them act counter to their own interests. In this case, the Storyteller needs to agree for the compel to work, and award the Willpower if so.
Aspects are short phrases that describe some facet, focus, relation or even obsession of a character. Aspects are best when they make the character interesting, or when the phrase itself conjures up specific images. For example, an aspect like “Cult Member” is OK, but it a bit bland. Something like “Cult of the Illuminated” is a bit more exciting, providing a link to a specific cult, and implying things about the character as an extension of the cult. Something like “Traitor to the Illuminated Cult” may be even better, suggesting a very specific relation to the cult, some sort of dark past perhaps, and a pretty good indication that somewhere along the line, the character and the Cult will have a falling out. Similarly, “Strong” is OK, “Strong as an Ox” a bit better and “Adamantine Muscles” even better. As another example: “Architect” is OK and “Master Designer” says a bit more, but “Disciple of Kal Bax” says even more (Kal Bax being one of the best architects ever in Exalted lore), suggesting not only what the first two do, but also a specific style, and a link to a specific person.
Aspects tend to fall into a number of “families”. These are rough divisions, and many aspects will fall into more than one of these, but they are listed here to suggest some ways to think about the aspects you want.
- Traits: the aspect describes a trait of the character, such “Strong as an Ox”, “Knows Too Much”, “Barbarian”, “Short Fuse”, “Grumpy”, “Smartest Guy in the Room”, etc.
- Places: the aspect references a place, and is acts as a bit of shorthand for all the implications the place conjures up. A character in our modern real world, for example, might have aspects like “Southern Hospitality”, “Long Island Driver”, “Chicago Cop” or something similar. In Exalted, something like “Chiaroscuro Nights” might represent a lifetime of dealing with ghosts, for example.
- Events: the aspect references an event, usually one in which the character took part. A terrestrial, for example, might have an aspect like “Futile Blood”, referring to the Battle of Futile Blood, where the Tepet Legions were destroyed. The character has some deep connection to the event, that could manifest in various ways when the aspect is used.
- People: the aspect references other person, usually with a specific relationship. For example, “Secret Enemy (Bob)” or “Unrequited Love (Sally)” or “War Buddies (Alex)” could be aspects. Something like “Loyal Sidekick” might work as well.
- Catch Phrases: the aspect is a literal quote; something the character typically says. Some examples are “‘Today is a good day to die’” or “‘I find your lack of faith disturbing’” or “‘Yeah… too quiet’” or “‘Cover me!’” or “‘If my calculations are correct’”. Note that use this aspect need not involve actually saying this phrase, but rather invoking what the phrase implies.
Aspects simultaneously fall into two different “camps”, though, again, this is not a hard rule. You usually will want some of both:
- Story aspects suggest one or more sources for stories involving the character by bringing in an external element. People aspects are good examples of this, but other type can be as well.
- Situational aspects imply the kind of situation the character might be in, more than the origin of those situations.
Why take “bad” aspects?
Consider an aspect like “Sucker for a Pretty Face”. This seems like something that could only ever be a disadvantage. So why pick them? The reason is: you want that kind of trouble. Mechanically, compelling or exploiting your own “bad” aspects can regain you motes or Willpower in a way you still have a bit of control over. Story-wise, this sort of thing makes characters deeper, the story better and generally make the game more fun. You can imagine a few ways that “Sucker for a Pretty Face” might make for a memorable game session, for example.
Even “good” aspects are better if they offer some way to turn them against your character (or, more correctly, allow you as a player to turn them against yourself).
For any aspect, try to think of three situations where you might use that aspect. If you think of at least one positive and one negative way, chances are the aspect will work quite well. Generally, you want to go for something that is interesting, rather than good or bad.
- Alone in a Crowd
- Architect of Distruction
- Been There, Done That
- Biggest Sword in the Room
- Black Sheep
- Deadly Silence
- Death Defying
- Deathbed Legacy
- Easy Mark
- “The Empire must die!”
- Enemy: Mask of Winters
- Essence is a Harsh Mistress
- Femme Fatality
- A Fistful of Truth
- Fly by Night
- Friends in Low Places
- Girl in Every Port
- Good Intentions
- Great Expectations
- Hard Boiled
- Heart of Gold
- Hidden Agenda
- Hidden Crush (someone)
- Hive of Scum and Villany
- I Know a Guy
- “It works on paper!”
- It Takes a Thief
- Interesting Times
- Jungle Law
- On the Run
- One of the Guys
- One Step Behind
- Player or Pawn?
- Raised by Wolves
- Respected Authority
- Seat of My Pants
- Shadowed Purposes
- Short Fuse
- Silver Spoon
- Social Chameleon
- Soft Hearted
- Something to Prove
- “Something’s not right”
- Strange Luck
- Sultan’s Wrath
- Two Fisted
- Unnecessary Force
- Well Travelled
- Work in Progress
Characters start with a certain number of aspects. The total number of these will generally remain constant, barring an extraordinary event.
- All characters select one aspect for each dot of Essence they have. When essence increases, a new aspect is added (often related to the quest that led to the Essence gain).
- All characters also select one aspect that reflects the primary nature of the character. For existing characters, translate the character’s Nature into an aspect of some kind.
- All celestial exalts also have an aspect related to their general nature as the exalted of a certain god. By default, this aspect is “Chosen of the Unconquered Sun”, “Chosen of Venus”, “Chosen of Luna”, etc. Abyssal default to “Corrupted by [Deathlord name]”. If you wish, you can change this to be more evocative of the reason the character was exalted, such as “Priest of the Unconquered Sun”, “Solider of Mars” or something similar.
- All types of exalted have an aspect related to their caste. This aspect can be anything, but must be related to the “stereotypical” role and purpose of the caste. A dawn caste might pick “Glorious Warlord”, for example, while an eclipse might take “Prickly Negotiator”. For terrestrial exalts this aspect relates to the nature of their favored element. Sometimes the “sobriquets” listed for each caste make good aspects.
- All solar and lunar exalted have one aspect related to their Limit Break condition. If this aspect is ever exploited or compelled, the character gains a point of Limit.
- All sidereal exalted have an aspect related to the tenuous nature of their own identity. This defaults to something like “Man of Many Faces” or “Forgotten in a Second”, but can be anything similar. If this aspect is ever exploited or compelled, the character gains a point of Paradox.
- All abyssal exalted have an aspect related to the weakness that allowed them to be corrupted. If this aspect is ever exploited or compelled, the character gains a point of Resonance.
- All alchemical exalted have an aspect related to their machine-like tendencies. If this aspect is ever exploited or compelled, the character gains a point of Clarity.
- All terrestrial exalted have an aspect that must be related to their family or lineage.
- All characters must choose an aspect related to their highest Virtue (for solars and lunars, this must be the Virtue connected to Limit). If this aspect is ever exploited or compelled, the character must fail a test of that Virtue in order to refuse the exploit or compel.
- When a character must make a sacrifice to learn sorcery, in addition to whatever sacrifice they make, they must also replace an aspect with one related to that sacrifice.
Aspects tend not to change, but sometimes it makes sense within the story that they do. For example, if you have some aspect related to achieving a goal and you realize that goal, the aspect is now moot and should be replaced with something else.
Naturally, some aspects, like those related to Limit or caste, are more resistant to change than others.
There are no mechanics for doing this, but if you have a good reason to change an aspect, mention it to the Storyteller.
Aspects in Action
Figuring out aspects of major NPCs (in progress).
- Working the System (Nature aspect – Bureaucrat)
- Chosen of the Unconquered Sun
- “Fucking zombies” (caste aspect)
- “What a waste” (limit condition aspect)
- Defender of Beauty (virtue aspect – Compassion)
- Social Chameleon
- Mr. Right Now
- Gift for Numbers
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrel
- Take One For the Team (Nature aspect – Martyr)
- Sorcerer of the Unconquered Sun
- Voice of Reason (caste aspect)
- Not on My Watch (limit condition aspect)
- Let Me Help You (virtue aspect – Compassion)
- Power at a Price (terrestrial circle sorcery sacrifice)
- Forgotten Family (celestial circle sorcery sacrifice)
- “I read this book once…”
- Bring the Harsh Rain
- Whatever It Takes (Nature aspect – Survivor)
- Fugitive From Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears
- Child of Blood (caste aspect)
- Easily Led (weakness aspect)
- Put Them Out of Their Misery (virtue aspect – Compassion)
- Disloyal Imperial Postman
- Now You See Me, Now You Don’t
- Fists Like Pistons