My posting volume is light right now because a) work is once again pretty busy and b) I've recently purchased several awesome new games that I'm really getting a kick out of reading: Diaspora, Dresden Files RPG, and ICONS. All are derived from the excellent FATE system.
I remember FATE when it was just a twinkle in the eye of its designers, appearing as a set of rules options for Fudge in the Fudge Factor fanzine. The designers, Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue, had an awesome idea to scrap the notion of predefined character ability scores. They figured that skills already encompassed a character's inborn traits. To capture that extra special something, they invented aspects. Aspects could embody positive attributes, negative attributes, advantages, and disadvantages all at once. Sometimes at the same time. In that sense, they seem to possess the spirit of Risus cliches.
Aspects are the heart of FATE (and they are really the only bit that makes ICONS Fate-related at all). The basic idea is that a character has some number of these aspects (typically 10, though it can vary). These aspects are a word or a phrase that describes something important about the character or something important to the character. Examples include but are not limited to talents, weaknesses, relationships, motivations, and signature equipment. Positive aspects can be invoked to provide in-game bonuses relating to the underlying quality of the aspect. The real innovation, however, is that negative aspects could be invoked by the GM (or the player herself) to limit or hinder the character. Such an invocation (called a compel) grants the character Fate Points which can be used to fuel more positive aspect invocations.
I love this. As a Gurps guy, this was a real eye-opener. In Gurps, taking disadvantages granted you more points to spend on making your character badass. Often times it seemed like players could take relatively benign disadvantages that had no real negative effect in order to pump up their characters positive traits. But in FATE games, you often choose take negative aspects instead of positive ones because you need at least some negative aspects to generate Fate Points. Imagine spending valuable resources during character creation to take a negative trait!
The concept of aspects are also easily expanded to cover non-character elements. In addition to player characters and npcs, scenes and location can have aspects as well. Characters can invoke them to get bonuses or compel them to earn them Fate Points. Characters can also use maneuvers to place new aspects on scenes, character, and objects, creating this wonderful narrative-driven style of play.
That's the theory, at least. I've only played one game of Spirit of the Century. It was pretty good but I don't think I'll have the true measure of the system until I can run it for myself. Hip-deep in two ongoing games, I'm not sure when I'll get the chance. Until I do, however, I'm going to keep mining the FATE games for ideas that can be ported over to the games that I do play (not to mention future blog posts here at the Risus Monkey). For example, FATE has this wonderful system of collaborative character generation that could possibly be adapted to Risus and other games. And the Dresden Files RPG has an amazing framework for City/Setting creation that is almost entirely system neutral.