Let’s start with skills. What *is* a skill, or a Strands-of-Fate attribute? What is Strength+2?
It’s basically an Aspect that’s always invoked, that you never have to pay for. So why doesn’t it look like an Aspect?
Let’s consider a new thing: Qualities. A Quality is a type of Aspect, or perhaps an Aspect is a type of Quality. Unlike an Aspect, you don’t need to pay to invoke a Quality. It’s always invoked, all the time, for free. Also unlike Aspects, Qualities are often ranked.
So, what is Strength+2, really?
Maybe it’s Strength+2 (Ninja [+1], Way of the Tiger [+1]). Or it could be Ninja+2, or (Weightlifter +3, Over the Hill -1.)
“Ninja”, here, is a Quality, and it adds +1 to this character’s Strength. Perhaps it also adds +2 to his Endurance, and maybe even -1 to Empathy.
That whole thing about “Hey why am I only Ninja when I pay Fate Point for it?” goes away with this implementation. You are Ninja all the time without paying for it.
This undermines the idea of Aspects as primary characterization, somewhat — and I think that’s a good thing. If “Ninja” is really central to your character, then he should probably be Ninja all the time.
It’s already invoked (or, depending, compelled) all the time, so it’s not really valid to try to invoke it again for another +2. You’re already Strength+2 by dint of being Ninja — try a different Aspect.
However, it’s entirely valid to invoke or compel Qualities *for effect*. You want to spend a Fate Point to have a smoke bomb? Dude, you are Ninja — of course you have a smoke bomb. Spend the point and be good.
Similarly, compels for effect are also valid. If you’re Paladin all the time, then off you go to save the princess from the evil necromancer.
It’s a fine way to implement things like races. If you are a dwarf, then get the Dwarf+1 quality to your Endurance. But take Dwarf-1 to your Comeliness. If you also want to be particularly dwarfy, then sure, take a “Dwarf Among Dwarves” Aspect as well, if you like. There’s also another way to do it which I’ll mention in a bit.
What else works like Qualities? Consequences, that’s what. Say someone breaks your arm. That major consequence can be the Broken Arm -2 Quality. You don’t get paid off with Fate points every time your opponents take advantage of your broken arm. You just get the -2. Maybe to every roll, maybe not.
So say you’ve got a scene in a place where it’s really dark. Sure, you could make that a Dark Aspect on the scene. Everyone pay up if you’re hiding better because it’s Dark or stumbling over things.
Or you could make it a Quality. Dark:1. That’s a +1 to some skills and a -1 to others; you could enumerate them all by skill and trapping if you really wanted to, but you probably have better things to do.
So someone might want to hide in the Dark, but might want more than that +1 bonus. How can they get it? One way would be to Invoke For Effect — “Hey, it’s Dark in here, right? I use my Perception to find some Shadowy Shadows to hide in, and Invoke for Effect.” So that character is placing the Aspect “Shadowy Shadows” on the scene, and getting a free tag on it, for an additional +2. Assuming they make that roll, of course — the GM could make it really easy (“Oh yeah, there’s shadows everywhere, no problem”) or really difficult (“It’s totally dark — every part seems just as shadowy as every other part”) or anywhere in between.
So our old friend who is a Dwarf Among Dwarves would perhaps rather do things this way — just make ad-hoc invocations of his Dwarf Quality to put Dwarf Among Dwarves on himself, and then tag it. The possibility of a skill roll is what makes this different and inferior to buying the Aspect outright.
So what’s the real difference here between Aspects and Qualities? Should that dark room have the Dark Aspect, or the Dark Quality?
This gets into the philosophy behind what’s going on narratively with Fate Points. What’s the difference between the guy who is Strength+2 and the guy who has the Strong Aspect?
The difference, in my opinion, is free will. It’s about choice. The Strength+2 person is strong all the time — when they’re asleep, in the shower, etc. The Strong person can choose to make an extra effort to lift that heavy thing.
When it comes to scenes and things, I like to imagine a robot or giant insect or other thing with no free will or volition. Is that robot having problems moving around that Dark room? Then it’s probably the Dark Quality. Or can the giant insect move around without problems, although a human could easily take advantage of the shadowy darkness? Then that points towards the Dark Aspect.
It can also help build up difficulties. Why is this wall +3 to climb? Well, it’s Wall +3 (Tall+1, Slippery When Wet+3, Ivy-1). That implies the mechanical effects of waiting around until it stops raining.
There could very easily be two characters in the same game, in the same party, and one has Ninja as a Quality and the other has Ninja as an Aspect. That’s no problem at all. Quality Ninja is Ninja all the time. Aspect Ninja is only Ninja when he feels like it. Qualities are truly the “this is what this character *is*” part of the game, while Aspects become “this is what the character *can be when he feels like it*” part. It can even become a part of character ‘advancement’, if the character changes his Aspect to a Quality, or vice versa.
Assessing: Unlike Aspects, Qualities are almost always self-evident. You don’t need to roll to know that the wall is tall and wet, that that guy over there is a cop. You might need a bit more finesse to know that a particular guy is Cop:+2 and not Cop:+1, but even that’s probably easier than noticing he has the Aspect: Behind On My Mortgage Payments.
Manoeuvring: I’ve actually already covered this, although you may have missed it. If a character wants to give the room the Dark Quality, as opposed to just the Dark Aspect, can he do that? How? In fact, I’ve already told you how you establish new Qualities — it’s what attacks do, by establishing consequences. Indeed, that is what distinguishes the ‘attack’ version of ‘I shove him off balance’ from the ‘manoeuvre’ version. If your character wants to add the Dark Quality to the room, he makes an attack — perhaps against the lighting. And, yes, this means that, finally, you can literally attack the darkness.
Levels: In some systems, the player characters are just flat-out better than the average person. One way to do this is to give those characters a Quality like “Centurion:+1” that applies to every skill there is. The average person might default to +0 on a skill, but the PCs default to +1. Why? Because Centurion, that’s why.
You could use this to level up the party. After a while, everyone is Centurion:+2. This does two things: It increases all their skills by 1 (probably) and it increases the minimum skill default by 1. That’s a characteristic of level-based systems (like the various D&Ds) in contrast to skill-based systems (like the various GURPSs.) In a level-based Fate game, you would know that 3rd-level characters have at least a +3 in every skill — Endurance, Wealth, etc. That can make scaling some things a lot easier — you can determine, for example, that every 3rd-level character can survive a point-blank shotgun blast from a 1st-level enemy. Without a level system, you generally don’t know that.
Qualities As Skills: Consider this enemy:
Ninjas! — Ninja+2.
By which I mean: this guy has a +2 in the Ninja skill.
What the heck is in the Ninja skill? I don’t know. I mean, I *know*, just like you do, but it’s not written down anywhere. I know what the trappings are associated with that skill. Stabbing the characters with his sword, climb up walls, etc. Trying to sell the characters life insurance, not so much.
Is that superior to listing out every enemies’ Strength, Fists, Melee Weapons, Athletics, etc etc etc skills? Maybe. Maybe not. If you don’t know what the trappings of the Ninja skill are, you’re probably a lot better off with the extensive list.
Does this turn the game into Risus? Yeah, sort of.
Is this the same as the Quality of Ninja+2? It’s certainly very similar.
Of course, the Ninja skill and all the ‘usual’ skills are not mutually exclusive. You could customize up this guy: Ninja+2, Swords+1, Climbing-1. That guy is +3 to hit you with a sword, +1 to climb up a tree.
Is that exactly the same as a 3rd-level Centurion? It is looking pretty similar, isn’t it.
So, that’s Qualities. Give them a try.