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[Fate] More Compels in a Nutshell

Following up from my previous post. Go read that and this comment first: http://lcdarkwood.livejournal.com/3824.html?thread=15600#t15600 - I'm doing my reply as a new post because it got long, and because I think it'll be helpful to further discussion.

I don't think there's functionally that much difference between what SotC says and what I'm saying. Let's break it down by passage, and I'll show you where the letters fall:

"If a character is given a situation (X) where he would normally have a number of choices (Y), and limiting those choices to act in accordance with his aspect is going to make more trouble for the character (Z)..."

"If everything would be going along normally (X and Y), and the aspect makes things more difficult or introduces an unexpected twist (Z), that’s also grounds for a compel."

The only thing I'm adding is clarity, mainly for the purpose of providing a rubric for judgment, for those folks who still wonder if their compels are doing what they actually should. Because, look, you have to evaluate a game mechanic by asking yourself what it actually does to play, what its purpose is.

So, let's look at a bad example:


You're Dane Black, private eye. You have the aspect, "Damsels in Distress Do It To Me Every Time". I narrate that a beautiful dame comes into your office, distressed, and flops into the chair at the desk and says, "Mr. Black, you have to help me, I have no one else to turn to!"

You decide to take her case. The GM hands you a fate point.


What actually happened there? What did giving you a fate point do for the story we're making, what did it show me about your character, what drama did it create? Absolutely nothing, and absolutely none. I basically just gave you a bennie for playing your character, something you should be doing by default, or else you have bigger problems than figuring out this game.

So, let's go again, and this time add the all-important Z (apologies for potential lack of class here):


You're Dane Black, private eye. You have the aspect, "Damsels in Distress Do It To Me Every Time". I narrate that a beautiful dame comes into your office, distressed, and flops into the chair at the desk and says, "Mr. Black, you have to help me, I have no one else to turn to!"

You decide to take her case. I go "Hm," and decide a compel might be fun here.

So I narrate that you're heading out the office with her when your phone rings. You say you ask her to hold on a second and answer it. I say it's your girlfriend, and she's, oh my god, stranded on the freeway with smoke coming out of the engine and needs your help right now!

You try and reason with the dame, and she tells you that she came to you instead of going to the cops ('cause she thinks they're dirty), so it looks really bad for her right now. She needs you to get there and investigate the scene before the cops do, otherwise, she's (gasp!) a suspect.

You say, "Don't worry, babe, we'll have plenty of time." I hold up a fate point and say, "No. No, you won't."

So now we have all three elements - a situation that is complicated by an aspect, a potential choice that needs to be made, and a good idea of what consequences could result from doing so. If I want to be explicit, I might say, "Look, it's either one or the other. If you go to your girlfriend, there are probably going to be cops all over the scene, mucking with evidence and whatnot, and then the dame will be a suspect. If you go with her, your girlfriend is going to be upset, to say the least... and you will feel the fury of a woman scorned later."

You think about it and say, "Man. I guess the job comes first." I give you a fate point and smile the smile of the wicked, and we roleplay the rest of the scene.


Now: what did *that* exchange do for the story? A whole ton. First of all, it told us something more about the situation at hand, which maybe sets me up for a new scene. Second of all, it told us something essential about your character *beyond* just the aspect on the sheet - your decisions do that more than any selection of pithy phrases can. And notice, I didn't tell you what to do or what not to do at any point; control of your character remained wholly yours.

Next, it ramped up the drama a bit - now we have a tension of both time and relationship in play, which we can mess with to good effect later. Paying off that kind of buildup will give the session more emotional resonance and punch.

Lots of bang for buck there. Imagine if you had one of those every scene.


Final note: So, you may be looking at this and saying, "Well, what if I refuse the compel?" Hey, fine by me - but what are you really saying "no" to? Are you really rejecting your aspect? No, because it's clear that whatever decision you make, it's relevant to your usual pattern of falling for damsels in distress. (Even if you say no to taking the case, because you're having a strong-willed moment.) Are you saying no to one particular choice or another? Not really, or not anymore so than you would in normal play.

So there's only one thing left to reject, really, which is the potential for complication. The Z.

So, there it is. If you do compels in your group, and you don't say a lot of this stuff explicitly, but you still have fun and dynamic results, I'm willing to bet that all of X, Y, and Z are happening in some fashion. If you're having issues, going back to this rubric and evaluating what you do by it will, I hope, help you out a bit.


OK, I'm confused. Would the player still get an FP for choosing the GF, since the aspect would still apply and he would still suffer plot complications? Why or why not?

How can you not choose one or the other, thereby paying an FP to resist the compel? It really seems like you've narrowed the player's options to only the two choices, and complications are now unavoidable.
Yes. Any consequential choice applies. Hell, if the player thinks of a different consequential choice + consequence and the GM likes it better, he could even do a potentially third thing and have that occur.

You pay the FP to resist complication. You pay to have Z, or any potential Zs, not occur.

So, in the example:

I hold up a fate point and say, "No, no you won't."

You hold up a fate point and say, "Yes, yes I will."

I say, "Okay."

You've resisted the compel. Done. So we have a happy, drama-free aftermath where you pick your girlfriend up from the side of the road on your way to the crime scene, loan her some cash for the mechanic, and you're just that awesome.
Huh. OK. What this tells me is that "compel" is totally the wrong word for what the concept has *become*.
Well, considering we've been using it as a noun for years, I think I'm comfortable with where it stands. :D

What work does the compel do here?

It seems like you've set up the situation such that the compel is superfluous.

You say, "Don't worry, babe, we'll have plenty of time." I hold up a fate point and say, "No. No, you won't.

What if you didn't say that, though? Nothing prevents you from running the situation the same way, does it?


Is what you are trying to say that the compel is more of a tool for the GM to indicate that the situation is going to suck and give the player an opportunity to buy out of the suckage (while simultaneously bribing him not to complain)?

Re: What work does the compel do here?

Nothing prevents me from running the situation the same way, no. An idea for a compel occurred to me, I thought the outcome would be entertaining and dramatic, and as the player, your agreement indicates you see eye to eye with me on that.

If it hadn't occurred to me, maybe I wouldn't have said anything when you took the case. So we proceed to the next scene, etc.

Or maybe I'd have picked a different route, and decided "hey, maybe we should do a Drive challenge to see if you can manage to do all this crap in time and be awesome". But that indicates we want to spend time with the dice and whatnot resolving that.

(Here's the even better part: it could have occurred to you instead, and then you held up a fate point when you took the case and said, "But it can't be that easy, can it?" And that gives me a second to think. You want the fate point, I want to make the story interesting. Then I invent the girlfriend thing.)

There is nothing (necessarily) adversarial about the mechanic between player and GM, at all. Complication sustains dramatic interest.
I do think your bad example muddies the water a little, though. As the GM, I'll totally pay out a fate point in that circumstance, because the dame represents a complication in and of herself: she's the rope I'm using to reel the player's character into the story that I'm setting up. Sometimes "the plot" itself counts as the complication -- at least at my table.
"Sometimes "the plot" itself counts as the complication -- at least at my table."

So, your Z is precisely that - the plot. You articulated the complication. It exists and fits the rubric, as far as your table cares.

IMO, there's a danger of that falling down when you don't have an alternative. If the complication is the plot, what happens when the player refuses the compel?

(I know the practical answers to that question; it isn't rhetorical. But you know me and how much I like tangible procedures.)
Oh, I know. And that right there is why we have a play history of the "here's a fate point; just take it, it's a thank you for something that's just Going To Happen Because You're You".
Right. If you (and anyone else reading down this far) are getting the idea that I don't find that notion particularly satisfying as a *default* (emphasis very much on purpose) rule, well... my biases are well-documented at this point.

(Though, as an additional device that helps you do things when you're emulating a genre like, say, pulp... but that's probably a thing to yammer about at another time.)
(And honestly, I think it's the thing that patches some elements of the discussion that's going around above: the bit about "the GM could just go ahead and complicate the character's life anyway". If the GM is encouraged to view that as a "compel done and accepted, baked right in" then the FP-as-thank-you fits inside the reward-for-complication model you're putting forward here.)
Hm, actually, as I think about it, I think this is about a third of the FP payouts I do at the table. Which is why it showed up in SOTC at the very least, because someone convinced us we should put what we do at the table in the text. :)

Maybe it's not appropriate to call these compels, but I do find it appropriate to pay thank-you FPs to players who've put nice, toothy aspects on their sheet that give me story fuel. The complications in the story setup arise because those aspects exist, full stop. The compel mechanism isn't engaged, I suppose, because there's no instance of giving the players a chance to opt out, but I'm exercising my GMly fiat powers in a way that is strongly colored by the things the players have offered me on their sheets.
Well, the practical reality is that there are a lot of ways the situation may come about - realizing that you've effectively articulated X, Y, and Z already is one of those.

Theoretically speaking, that's what you're telling me with your comment above, if I'm going to be rigid about my own paradigm.
I do this a lot. I've been thinking about it too so its nice to see some overt discussion. As I mentioned to Fred briefly over at his Twitter, I'm thinking of this as a 'Compel' on possibly only vaguely articulated campaign aspects. If I think of something cool I'd like there to be a way to introduce it. I'm here to have fun too. When its supposed to be a surprise I don't see how you can give a buy out to the players. But I like giving them something to ease the pain...
"When its supposed to be a surprise I don't see how you can give a buy out to the players."

Part of this boils down to social contract. Some GMs are comfortable enough with their groups that they can say, "There will be a consequence," and the player will take it, and when it occurs, will go, "Oh, you evil bastard," and roll with it. If that's your group, treasure that. I don't have the benefit of assuming that kind of relationship when I write procedures.

In a middle ground, implication counts for a lot, right? I can say, "Well, if you're going to lose your temper and sock the dude in the middle of the gala ball... look, you don't know who that guy is, or how important he is, or how much power he has." I haven't said what Z is, but I've given enough implication that the player knows kind of what he's in for.

But when that dude is the son of the spaceport commander, and they impound the PC's ship out of spite, it's still a surprise of one sort or another.

You just have to judge the social situation with your group.
On the other hand, if the player doesn't take the case, there's no adventure this week. :)
So, if I understand this correctly, a "compel" is now "the GM introduces a complication that is related to one of the PC's Aspects." Is that right? But a GM can still introduce complications that have nothing to do with the PC's Aspects, for which the player is not paid a fate point. Ergo, does this mean that not only do Aspects drive the player to have their PC act in a certain "idiomatic" way, they also encourage the GM to complicate the PC's life in ways that fit their "idiom". I.e., the GM is encouraged to complicate things in ways that keep the fate point economy moving. Is that right?

For the heck of it, how do you feel about Diaspora's wording of compels? Which follows:

"You can compel an Aspect on your opponent before you roll the dice. In this case you offer your opponent a deal related to his Aspect: he can take the deal and one of your fate points or deny the deal and give you a fate point. Outside of a combat sequence the deal can be quite free-form and it is a negotiation between players and not between characters. You might offer the Referee a deal relating to an NPC, a deal relating to an ally or most commonly a deal offered by the Referee to a character's player. During a combat sequence the effects of a compel are far more constrained (and dealt with in detail in the appropriate section).

You can compel an Aspect on a scene or zone (or anything for that matter). You offer the referee a deal related to the Aspect: he can take the deal and one of your fate points or deny the deal and give you a fate point. In or out of combat, the deal is free-form and it is a negotiation between players and not characters. You might offer the Referee a deal relating to any scope as mentioned above."
From where I sit, they've always been that way. Even SotC's description implies complication in all instances. The limitation of choice has to make the character's life more complicated, or the result of something has to be more complicated because of the aspect. At no point has there *ever* been a definition of a compel that suggests relevant complication isn't part of the thing.

I'd be careful with the idea of "idiomatic", and focus more on "relevant". If I have the Greedy aspect, it doesn't automatically mean I sell out my friends for money, it just means I want the money. How do I interpret that? Do those relevant decisions, over time, equate to an idiom? Maybe.

But maybe not. What if I end up getting compelled on my greed and roleplay my way into turning over a new leaf? Would you call that an idiom... or the rejection of an idiom? (To be clear, I'm aware that I'm splitting hairs at that point. This paragraph is largely just for fun.)

To more directly answer your question: God yes, I would hope that if you have the option of introducing a nifty complication in a way that's relevant to a PC's aspect, and introducing a complication in a way that isn't, you'd choose to do the former. Because it's a story about those people, right?

And if you're a player, and you've got the option of roleplaying your character in a way that's relevant to your aspects or ignoring them, I would hope you'd choose to do the former. Otherwise, why did you write down those aspects to begin with?

(Here's an interesting side note for you - given how generous SotC is about fate points, it suggests that maybe the need for the GM to personalize the stories isn't as great. So in SotC, like in pulp, you can have "Jet Black vs. the Giant Tarantula Bears" and not really have too much to worry about - as in, what personalization there is can function more as color. It turns out this is a "dial" in the system, depending on your genre expectations.)
"Now" was a poor choice of words, so please forgive me. It's just that your explanation seems new to me, though I can see that it really isn't. What really threw me is the idea of compels that introduce a complication that's not right in the here and now, i.e., the potential outcomes you gave in many of your examples. That's really cool, I just hadn't thought compels worked that way. Compels are even more awesome than I had thought! Thanks for the elucidation.
""Now" was a poor choice of words, so please forgive me."

Woah, dude. I can't put a smiley after every sentence.

But, like, there's a smiley after every sentence. Just to let you know. Like, don't mistake my bombast for gravity - all we're missing in this space is a 12-pack of beer.
Regarding Diaspora and how it describes compels, I'm going to be coy and say that when I finally get the chance to run or play it, if following their text does something to my experience of the game, you'll probably hear about it on this blog.

Until then, any opinion I might have is just smoke.

Delayed compel consequences

I likewise think it's a cool idea that the consequence of a compel isn't necessarily going to play out in the next move the character makes, or even the same scene in which he's compelled (which is, sadly, what I've been limiting them to). This perspective gives the concept as a whole a lot more depth and power, and makes it about a lot more than just a way for characters to gain FPs.

Now, my need to understand compels came about due to my players bitching about not getting enough FPs back in the session. What is your take on forcing PCs to compel themselves once in a while? Is it unreasonable to make players responsible for contributing to the complexity of the story as well? Maybe it's just because my players are used to D&D and not having any input into the story, but they really tend to rely on me for everything.

Also, what do you feel about giving FPs for stuff other than compels? Coming up with a brilliant plan, making the perfect one-liner, great dramatic RP, etc? Should these things be rewarded mechanically? It would take some pressure off me to do it, but am I missing the point if I do? These types of actions would normally be rewarded with extra XP in some other systems, and since there is no other form of reward in FATE, I thought it appropriate.

Re: Delayed compel consequences

Sorry if I'm slightly off-topic :)

Re: Delayed compel consequences

I don't really think it's a good idea to force anybody to do anything in a gaming session. There's a cliche, you know, about horses and water.

Regarding other rewards - if you need 'em, you need 'em. You know your group. My opinion is that "roleplaying awards" and "following the rails" and the like are not compels. That doesn't mean I'm judging your use of them. That just means they aren't compels.

(Though, in Dresden, you also get FP for conceding or losing conflicts. That may help too.)

Re: Delayed compel consequences

I think it's finally sunk in- the player, when buying off the compel, isn't rejecting their aspect(X), the choice their character is making(Y), or even a specific complication (Z.1,Z.2), but the fact that there is a complication(Z) at all as a *result* of their decision (Y).

Re: Forcing PC compels: Okay. "Force" was bad wording :) Should players be active participants in the FP economy? How should a player go about compelling their own character?

Re: Delayed compel consequences

Yeah, you got it. And again, remember, practical articulation trumps opinionated rubrics posted on a blog any day - maybe the *reason* why Z doesn't happen is because you choose not to do Y in the first place. After the compel is accepted or rejected, you still have to justify what happens like you would with any skill roll.

Players are always actively encouraged to participate in the fate point economy. Dresden has (notice a trend?) good advice for compelling your own character, which is needed, because initial fate point totals for PCs are usually very low.

The main one I use is this: remember that any time you could choose to roll the dice, you might choose to compel instead. The great part is, as a player, you don't need to come up with your own Z - you just need to signal that you want a Z to occur or are willing to accept one because you need points or want to start story shit.

Re: Delayed compel consequences

OOOH! That's big! ANY time I could do a roll is also an opportunity for a compel instead! That totally solves my problem of "when do I compel a PC?" Awesome. This thread's been long overdue :)

Re: Delayed compel consequences

Can you give an example of "Any time you make a roll, try for a compel instead"? I'm having trouble seeing that for most things.

Or would that fall into the territory of the "Yes, but..."?

Re: Delayed compel consequences

Sure. Understand that you could take any of my stated examples so far, and choose to resolve them with skill rolls instead.

"You're Greedy, give him this info and he'll give you all this money."
"I give him false info to get the money."
"Roll Deceit."

"You're pressured for time between the crime scene and picking up your girlfriend."
"I go get my girlfriend. We'll see what happens."
"Roll Drive."

The reality of it is, what you choose to resolve with compels and what you choose to resolve with the other mechanics is entirely dependent on your personal sense of pacing, your perception of what is dramatic, and the social contract your group has.

So you can also work that process backwards:

(PC has Aspect "The Worst Luck")
"Hey, I want to break into this facility by picking this lock."
"Okay. You realize you do have The Worst Luck, right?"
"Ooof, you're suggesting this is a bad idea. But could I get inside the building anyway?"
"If you're willing to accept what might go wrong once you're in."
"Okay, done."
"Good - here's your fate point, and you seem to just glide right through the lock and into the building. Easy as pie, right? But as you're heading in, a silent alarm blinks on a console somewhere inside..."
"Oh, crap."

You see how that still has a clearly articulated X, Y, and Z as I've been saying? It doesn't matter that the elements didn't occur in that order or whatever, but by the time you've agreed on how to resolve the situation, all the elements are present:

1.) The PC has to go through a chancy lock, and has "The Worst Luck".
2.) He chooses to go for it anyway.
3.) He triggers a silent alarm.

Re: Delayed compel consequences

(Though, in Dresden, you also get FP for conceding or losing conflicts. That may help too.)</I. REALLY? Where is that at? I didn't know that.

Re: Delayed compel consequences

In the Playing the Game chapter.
Complications can be purely "color" (in terms of hey, my girlfriend is upset). They make the story interesting, but they're going to add problems Later that can easily spill over into more direct things.

For instance, let's take Lenny's example. You just blew your girl off to go snoop on this case, yeah? So now, when you get back to the Office, your girl is Waiting for you. She lays into you for blowing her off - and just then, Thugs bust through the door.

Now, were it You by yourself, you could easily just dive out the window or whatnot. But now you have to deal with the implications that your Girl is there. She might have her own Aspects that ought to be compelled (maybe she's a Coward, and rather than run away, hides, meaning you can't just flee. Maybe she Thinks She's Scrappy - But Really Isn't, and wants to slap the nearest thug with a coat rack, only to just piss him off.)

It's a very common trope to have the Background Character Interaction Plot crash into the Main Plot at the least convenient time.

Fair warning?

Based on the earlier examples with grandma's fate in the balance: Is the player fully aware of the specific doom that awaits them for accepting the compel, even when that doom may be connected to the immediate situation in the most tenuous way?

Re: Fair warning?

I'd say that's up to the social contract of the group. I've had players of Fate who didn't handle implication very well, and I've had others for whom implication made the moment of revealing Z all the sweeter.

Re: Fair warning?

Also, keep in mind that negotiation is, according to the rules, part of the process as well.
I've seen compels used many different ways, but the X Y Z version that you describe is one of the less common. Do you have any thoughts about the compel models described below?

Version 1.
- Situation X exists.
- The player has unlimited possible responses Y.
- The compel is offered to establish that, in addition to the normal consequences of any of the possible actions Y, there will also be a particular complication for the character Z, related to the aspect compelled.

Version 2.
- Situation X exists.
- The player would normally have unlimited possible responses Y. A compel is offered that reduces the choices available to the player.
- Game mechanics and/or the logic of the story indicate that the character will probably get a less desirable outcome than if he were free to chose any possible outcome.

- Version 3
- Situation X exists.
- The player would normally have unlimited possible responses Y. A compel is offered. The compel states that the character will do Y1, and the outcome will be Z.

- Version 4
- Situation X exists.
- The player would normally have unlimited possible responses Y. A compel is offered. The compel states that the character will do Y1, and the outcome will be Z1, or that the character will do Y2 and the outcome will be Z2

Version 5
- Situation X exists, but in exchange for a fate point, the situation will also be complicated by X1.
None of these situations are fundamentally different than what I'm saying - all they do is indicate where certain kinds of negotiation between the participants have taken place during the process.

Even in Version 5 - my experience is that when this has come up, a choice of some kind has already been made to create the situation at hand. So what you're calling X is really X and Y.

Despite the firmness of my language, I'm not really a strict constructionist - all this stuff necessarily gets modified by how your gaming group talks to one another. It doesn't (and no mechanic can) trump social interaction.

What you're going to find, a great deal of the time, is that when you go back and look at compels you've done in retrospect, you'll see where the X, Y, and Z were if they were good compels.
Couldn't the player argue "Hey, my Girlfriend is a Damsel in Distress", at which point you end up in a Fate Point vacuum (taking this point to pay off that one)?
The fact that there are two damsels doesn't mean there are two compels - it's still one event, one choice, relevant to the aspect that's being discussed.

Your take on the example in SotC on page 45

I know this is an old post, but it and SotC are new to me. I think I am following your thought process, but I am confused most by the example using Jet Black of Compelling Aspects section.

It seems to suggest that X is the action that is being ignored if Jet's player decides to wait for backup.

What's your take? Could you make this example more clear and fit your formula?

December 2010

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