I started working on this because of Evil Hate putting up a link to some challenges for potential writers. I did come up with a 250 word version of this material for the challenge (and sent it off, despite being a bundle of nerves about it!), but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to flesh it out beyond what the word limit would allow. It's got some roots in when my group playtested Smallville the RPG, and in the Strands of Fate incarnation of our Firefly game. I really felt that the mechanic of having linked aspects for communal property (buildings, spaceships) could translate well to a relationship. Well, being asked to make a key mechanic of a relationship-heavy game using the Fate Fractal pretty much begged I revisit those ideas.
In a setting in which relationships and social interplay are the focus of gameplay, relationships should be are larger than life, so simply creating aspects for a single character as in other Fate settings won’t really suffice. Therefore, all major relationships in such a setting should have their own slate of aspects, stresses, and consequences, but realistically probably would not have skills or stunts (though, hey, if you can pull that off, rock it).
A relationship’s stress boxes are an average of the mental stress boxes of all relationship members averaged and rounded up and are called relation stress. My mentality here is that the relationship cannot be stronger than its members communal mental ability to handle it (as it would be if it was simply added), but might be stronger than the weakest member's ability (as it would be if it was simply the lowest number of stress boxes in the relationship) thanks to the influence of more stable members. These may be directly socially attacked by anyone--in or out of the relationship--using the lowest defense stat among all members of the relationship present. Additionally, these stress boxes may be indirectly affected by members of the relationship by giving them stress and/or consequences in place of taking the same amount of stress/consequences on their own character sheet.
Relationship aspects as I see them take three forms. Most important of these is called relations, which works as an analogue to the high concept aspect on a character sheet. The characters named in this aspect are both—or all!—able to invoke or be compelled by any of the aspects within the relationship. Others outside of the relations aspect can also compel the aspects within the relationship, but must first discover them via assessment on one or more members of the relationship. Relations can be:
A familial bond: Amy and Louise, Sisters to the End
A romantic tryst: Romeo and Juliet, New-found Lovers
Or something less friendly: Juan and Guillermo, Rival Aspiring Singers
A second important aspect for a relationship is its trouble. What's a TV romance without something throwing a wrench into the works? This aspect should be something that can affect all characters involved in the relationship. This may take forms such as:
Focused on one person: Lou Puts Work First
Focused on their environment: Montagues Hate Capulets
Or focused on everyone in the relationship: More in Common than We'd Like
The third aspect type for relationships are those built up over the course of play (or backstory) and should represent major events in the relationship. The older the relationship, the more aspects it should have! Using our same examples, we might come up with extra aspects like...
For Amy and Lou: A Shared Love of Horses, Grandpa Needs Us Both, Missing Mom
For Romeo and Juliet: You Kiss By the Book
Or for Juan and Guillermo: Battle of the Boy Bands, Maria is So Amazing
A multiple-person relationship might look something like:
Relations: Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo; Heroes on the Half-Shell
Trouble: Mutants are Outcasts
When the Evil Shredder Attacks, We Don't Cut Him No Slack
Raised and Trained by Splinter
Relationship aspects are the rare instance where an aspect can be invoked by one person for another. Michelangelo might tag When the Evil Shredder Attacks... to help Raphael defend against the strikes of the villain. Or Amy might tag Sisters to the End to help support Lou in an argument with a rival ranch owner. These tags would represent the extra emotional boost (or distress!) caused by the presence of another member of the relationship.
Theoretically, these bonuses could stack based on the number of relationship members, but that feels a bit like bait for min-maxing (sixteen person relationships for all!) and I'd at the very least like to ensure that each shift is paid for by the person invoking it. Which would probably be limited by only one person can invoke a specific aspect of the relationship per action. This bit definitely needs some playtesting, but it seems to work logically for now, at least. I'd also, if someone was trying to use these rules in a non-relationship-driven game, make my players work quite a bit to form them. Through gameplay only because the benefits are so strong!
A few notes... Yes, I used the show Heartland as an example. My wife loves the series and it was an easy fallback to something heavily relationship-driven that could fit the genre. The negative version of the relationships system needs some more fleshing out, because it doesn't probably offer enough benefits, unless it was a very spite heavy game, to be tempting. I specifically omitted polyamorous romantic relationships from my examples, because I have zero practical understanding of how they work. I have no doubt someone might want to use these rules for that and I'd whole-heartedly encourage them to do so, but I didn't want to offend with ignorance so I chose to risk offending via omission.