While thinking of a shameless way to write a blog about our company’s erasable notecards, which will soon be pre-sold on our kickstarter as “Fate Accompli” in July, I was reminded of one of my favorite playtests from GEN CON. We were playing our original FAE setting, “Dungeon Tours LTD,” which included the PCs creating a fake monster by stitching together random animals they had killed. The end result was a bear-boar-miscellaneous hybrid beast which they dubbed the Jeff. The name was all them, but I also asked them to draw the head of the dread Jeff.

the jeff

The Jeff. Fear it.

(Can’t remember the artist’s name, but if wants to come forth, I will be glad to credit him.)

In This Week’s Post: When I often introduce new players to FATE, I often tell them it’s a game of words. However, today we’re going to explore a new idea: using pictures! We’ll talk about the several ways you can use pictures along with or instead of words when creating your boosts and aspects, and in what ways they might enrich your game.

One of the first ways you can use pictures alongside descriptive sentences; this is a redundancy, and thus has no immediate change on the game play, but it does have a few psychological benefits.

a. Sense of Play – Unless you are a professional artist, you’ve probably spent done more drawing and coloring in one year of elementary than you have in every post-elementary year since then combined. It’s no surprise then that drawing makes you feel young, and reminds you of idyllic art classes from days long ago. It’s a small thing, but it puts people in the right mind set- they’re ready to fire up their imagination and play games of make believe (which is really what RPGs are.)

Toon Tested, Acme Approved

Toon Tested, Acme Approved

b. Genre Immersion – Depending on the setting, drawing also lets the players get in more in touch with the characters. “Dungeon Tours LTD,” as we mentioned above, is a game involving the PCs crafting objects. Likewise, any game which involves the PCs making something, like a cooking show contest or a creation god, the players are mirroring the creation of their characters, making the mental bond closure. Alternatively, drawing is also apt for any game setting typically associated with drawn visuals, such as a setting starring superheroes, anime characters, or loony cartoon characters.


As another option, you can have aspects represented by pictures, but with little or no words describing it. For example, you might have an aspect card with the written words “carving on wall,” but the only drawn indicators of what the glyph looks like.

I'm guessing Demon Cult, or Georgia O'Keeffe wannabes.

I’m guessing Demon Cult, or Georgia O’Keeffe wannabes.

Reason a. Mystery and Doubt – This is useful tool when a GM draws a clue for a group of players in a mystery setting. The image is intentionally vague, leaving players several hints, some of them contradictory. Like a Jackson Pollack painting, it might even be unclear which direction is up. Like a Rorschach test, the players might interpret it a hundred different ways. When asked to interpret an evil symbol, they might make wild theories about cults devoted to octopus gods, snakes, pasta monsters, or things you’d never have come up with. If one of their random ideas is better than the one you had, go ahead and change it! *

*Note: If a player is getting frustrated, don’t make the player depend solely on their own wits. Let them roll on their character’s skills (ex. Lore, Academics, Mythos); if successful, you can give the players hints about how the clue might resemble things the character has encountered before.

Reason B. Deliberate Misinterpretation – If a player is trying to create an aspect to reflect something that their character has made well, give them a chance to draw a picture to represent it in all of its glory (if they don’t fancy themselves an artist, imagination can take care of the rest.) However, if their character fails the roll, and creates something half-baked, you can use the player’s drawing to inspire how the malformed creation: this can be done by restricting them in some way, like forcing them to draw with their opposite hand or giving a only a few seconds to work. Thus, any mistakes they make might inspire the final aspect, like an illusionary double that’s basically a smiley face, or a summoned demon that has two arms but no legs.*

Of course that's a dog. Shut up.

Of course that’s a dog. Shut up.

*Laugh at vs. Laughing with- Adding art to aspects can also result in some comically bad drawings; however, you should always be careful about laughing at the art of others, especially people you don’t know very well. If in doubt, only laugh at art you made yourself.


Lastly, it’s possible to have a picture that is not just pretty, but also functional- this normally gets into the pictographic territory, as there is something numeric that is also conveyed in the image. Here are a few things you might convey:

a. Invokes – An easy thing to keep track visually is invokes,

With all the talk of Rorschach, we had to slip in some pretty flowers.

With all the talk of Rorschach, we had to slip in some pretty flowers.

particularly in that they seldom do over a large number. I would recommend one image for the aspect, and a separate image to represent the invokes (ex. Drawing a gun, and using invokes as bullets), or representing an aspect as a white flower with the invokes as dark flowers.

b. Stress – You could have each player draw stress as images (ex. hearts) and erase them as they take stress. Alternatively, you can have it the other way around, with a healthy character drawing stress gaining pictures to represent stress they suffer. (For a variant, see the “Hangman Stress” below).


Rules: All PCs get a single stress track of six points, each absorbing one stress. There are no mild consequences. Stress is measured not in tally marks, but in body parts: head, torso, right leg, left leg, right arm, and left arm, similar to the kid’s game, Hangman. Whenever a pc takes a stress point, they draw

Stayin' alive, stayin' alive.

Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.

a body part onto their tracker. You can pick which part arbitrarily, but it is best done through the fiction- if you take damage from a rock falling on your head, it makes sense to fill out the head. If an opponent attacks you and succeeds with style, instead of gaining a boost, draw an indicator on the wounded body (ex. An arrow sticking out of a body), which counts as an invoke. While there is an invoke on a body part, treat it as an aspect that can be invoked. Ex. Quince the barbarian has an arrow sticking out of his arm. The vicious orc attacking him in combat could invoke the arrow, removing it (and making the aspect disappear.) Instead, he decides to spend a fate point to invoke the hurt arm, saving the free invoke for a future exchange.

When a character has the fully drawn body and suffers stress, they are removed from the combat.

Lower / Higher Stress – If six is too high, consider making the head and torso one piece, or giving the character a “V” as a pair of legs. For higher stress, find a finite number of other body parts to add on (ex. A tough dwarf drawing on a beard.)


This Sat & Sun, Tangent Artists will be at Tidewater Comic Convention in Virginia Beach! Drop by to buy a one-sided die, playtest a game, or just say hello! Say that you’re a proud Tangerine, and get a gift prize!


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