Aspects in Echo Bazaar

Echo Bazaar was first brought to my attention by The Border House Blog. I was at first hesitant — I don’t know how may of these sorts of games I’ve played over the years — but I created an account and made it through the first few tasks.  Then I noticed something which I’d seen many time since while playing (this isn’t an exact quote of that time, but representative):

There’s been a twist in your tale: You’ve gained the Aspect A strange benefactor:1!

I went and looked at my character sheet, and down near the bottom left was a list of little factoids about my character, amongst them, that aspect.  As I’ve played, these have grown, and now it’s a formidable list.  This morning, after several days of effort, I got rid of the aspect “Troubled by Rats”.  As a reward, I wound up with a pet rat, which moved on over into my inventory.

I’m not going to delve deeply into the gameplay or style of Echo Bazaar. It’s pretty delightful and fun, and I’ve enjoyed exploring that world and setting.  I just want to talk about how they represent your character, and track where you are in the story.

Echo Bazaar has three sections on your character sheet, which should seem relatively obvious to anyone who has played an RPG before.  You’ve got some basic stats about your character: name, lodgings, a cameo and four stats: Watchful, Persuasive, Dangerous, and Shadowy. Next to that is  an inventory of items which are both equipment (which is segregated) and usable and trade items (some of which are primarily intended for sell in the eponymous Bazaar).   Finally, down the lower left-hand side, we have a list of categories, which expand out into longer lists — your aspects.

Some of these are qualities you have: I have Scandal 1, and Nightmares 7 (“Don’t let this get to 8 or something bad will happen”); I have Magnanimous 5, and Subtle 3.  These were gained by taking in-game actions, such as having a date with a devil, or saving an old lady from a gang of thugs (while I pick-pocketed her!).

Some of them, like “a visitor to the Clay Quarters 4” represent where I am in the story or “storylet”. Others mark my position in a venture or ambition, and still others represent who I have as contacts — and with the number — how strong or far along I am.   The aspects are potentially temporary — you can lose scandal or nightmares.  Some mark progress along a small goal, and go away after (and then mark the chance of success along that goal).

Echo Bazaar hasn’t gotten completely away from quantifying everything, which is probably easier and clearer than developing a set of adjectives which mirror the numeric score. Doing so makes a compromise between the player and the computer-mediator.  The advantage is that I can look at the words and they are evocative to me about what they mean and how they could be applied.

They are less flexible than the ones in FATE that I discussed yesterday, for obvious reasons.  Still, it’s a bit less scary than basing things on an array of stats, and a bit more concise than long quest text.  (Echo Bazaar does include a short one-sentence description of an aspect, for context).

Initial actions in Echo Bazaar are unlocked based only on stats, or occasionally inventory items you may have.  Later actions as you branch out depend more on your aspects, as well, leaving stats to determine success in most cases.  You could argue that everything is an aspect (You have the aspect: Has Fancy Hat: 101), or, contrariwise, that nothing is.  Yet the things Echo Bazaar calls aspects, tend to be longer than one word, and describes a relationship, or facet of your character, giving them more flavor and complexity.

Next week, I’ll write about how aspects could be used to greatly change what an RPG is like, and to give more options for style beyond kill monster, get treasure, level up.

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