Developer Commentary: Aspect or Edge?
by TS Luikart
Looking “under the hood” at the thoughts behind why certain choices are made, or discarded, while designing a roleplaying game is a delight to some and slightly preferable to watching paint dry to others. If you fall into the “want to know everything” camp, read on – we’ll write material that appeals to the rest of you lot another week.
Some of the really interesting questions Gareth and I have been asked (many variations of) by our early manuscript readers involves the difference between Aspects and Edges or “why did you choose to make X an aspect and Y an edge?”
Characters in Far West are clearly significantly shaped by what Aspects and Edges a player chooses for them. While Edges help indicate what they can do, Aspects help define who they are and possibly hint at what they seek. Edges generally add a new mechanical wrinkle to Far West – if you wish your character to be able to do something extraordinary, it’s an Edge; if it’s impossible for most folks – it’s likely a Kung Fu Edge with prerequisites. Aspects are descriptors of what drives or defines a character, or can induce them to act against their own best interests (their flaws, or occasionally facets of their darker sides they’d rather keep hidden away.)
So that seems pretty straight forward, right? What isn’t is when you have a quality that could be written up as either an Aspect or an Edge, or both. So by way of example here are two “unusual” traits that are frequently modeled mechanically or otherwise addressed in a lot of roleplaying games – Huge (Large, Gigantic, whathaveyou) and Blind – along with how we choose to address them in Far West.
The occasional near-inhumanly massive warrior is definitely a staple of wuxia stories and westerns certainly have their Mongos, so it’s genre appropriate to consider adding it in, which is a big sticking point for us. Huge characters (and creatures) tend to have mechanics representing a greater amount of health or other acknowledgement of the impact of their size. Some give automatic bonuses to whatever represents the Strength attribute – or require a certain level of strength before “Huge” can be selected as a character trait.
“Huge” is a stand in for a lot of terms representing big size though, which automatically makes me lean towards Aspect descriptors, e.g. Solid as an Oak, Massive Girth, Mountain that Rides (heh), etc. Making Huge an Aspect acknowledges that great size can occasionally lead to trouble as well since it can be tagged to prevent a warrior from, say, being able to find a steed his size or not be able to fit through a narrow passage. Huge then, serves more as an aspect in Far West. If a player wanted their hero to have some of the more common perceived benefits of being really big, they could enhance their aspect by taking Edges such as Bear Stance, Fists Like Sledgehammers, or Strong As An Ox, all of which bestow mechanical bonuses based on physical strength.
The Blind Swordsman archetype is a bit more chanbara (Japanese sword-fighting movies) than wuxia – but blind warriors certainly aren’t. One of the greatest wuxia cinematic bad guys ever, the deadly Master of the Flying Guillotine is blind, as was Kwai Chang Caine’s sifu, Master Po, in the TV series Kung Fu. If you like B-grade movies (and I do) there is a made-for-HBO movie called Blind Justice with Armand Assante as a blind Civil War veteran named Canaan who ends up helping a group of soldiers for a portion of the silver they carry. Very Far West.
Aspects are generally a blend of positive and negative traits. It’s difficult to see much positive in being blind. As a negative character Aspect, Blind could be compelled whenever it was directly hindering — for example in, oh, just about every combat, if the character had to get information from a written source, etc.
With Far West though, I like to let the story of a character lead, so to speak. A blind warrior can have a lot of appeal – why are they blind, how did they learn to fight, and so forth. Still, on the surface Blind would be difficult to tag for a positive bonus very often…
But that’s the neat thing about Aspects, they don’t have to be so straightforward as “Blind” especially with a little bit of cinematic license and a dash of “the other senses become more acute to compensate” I made an NPC (that you guys may meet one day) with the Aspect, “Sightless, but not Harmless”, which is a lot easier to tag. Basically, when he first meets most folk, they tend to underestimate him (to his advantage) due to what they perceive as his disability.
Blind remained problematic though, ‘cause in the end, if your enemies know you are blind, but dangerous, they’ll remember that’s what rifles with long sights were made for. Correspondingly, check out the edge Spirit Sense, which helps round out most variations of the “blind warrior” archetype in Far West, by allowing a character to “see” the flow of Spirit energy.
Our early manuscript readers have been offering suggestions, and one that we both liked (and as of this writing I’m still kicking about) is to have something that models the “deadly stare” of a cold-blooded killer. A classic high-noon style gun fight in Far West is effectively a Wits Bout (or sometimes Wits versus Dexterity – nerves versus reflexes — see A Glimpse of Combat for more info) and certainly an Aspect like “Killer Eyes” would work okay for this; however, I’ve seen a lot of westerns and wuxia stories where certain characters are so menacing their unblinking stare sends people scurrying for cover. If there is to be a mechanical component to this, say a massive bonus to Intimidation Stunts against unranked opponents, smaller bonuses against ranked ones, then it should be an Edge of some sort, meaning both an Aspect and an Edge covering different portions of the gunfighter legends seem viable.
Which do you lot think it should be? Or both? Sound off in the comments!
Before we go, we figured that we’d leave you with a look at some of the new art that Gareth has been working on, as he’s taken over the responsibility:
Check back next week for more!