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[Fate] Compels in a Nutshell...

Hack Type: Advice
System: Spirit of the Century, The Dresden Files RPG, any Fate v3 variant

Just because it came to my mind and I wanted to archive it somewhere, this is as simple as the definition can get:

1. Something relevant to aspect X happens.
2. The player chooses to respond with Y.
3. Z happens as a result.*

* = Z is something complicated and/or horrible, and is not bound by the application of other game rules (like skill rolls, etc.)

Accepting or rejecting the compel is almost always (and by this, I mean if it's not, reexamine the compel) about accepting or rejecting Z, not X or Y. 

When in doubt, applying this as a litmus test is a pretty good way to go, I think.

EDIT: I've been asked to provide examples. Didn't any of you folks ever take algebra? :)

Aspect is Greedy.

1.) A crime boss offers you money to sell out your friends. 
2.) You sell out your friends for the money.
3.) As a result of this, your home base gets destroyed. (And probably, your friends are pissed at you, but they're PCs too, so that's for them to decide.)


1.) A crime boss offers you money to sell out your friends.
2.) You want the money, so you give him false information.
3.) As a result of this, he discovers the deception and puts a price on your head so large every bounty hunter within 1,000 miles wants to kill you.

New example. Aspect is Senior Assassin for the Black Mambo Society

1.) The Society asks you to do a job of questionable ethical value.
2.) You refuse.
3.) They kill your grandma.


1.) The Society asks you to do a job of questionable ethical value.
2.) You agree.
3.) Your grandma finds out and disowns you.


Why does it not become a compel until the third part? Two reasons.

The first is, because this could always happen instead:

1.) Crime boss offers you money to sell out your friends.
2.) You lie to get the cash.
3.) I ask you to roll Deceit against the crime boss' Empathy, to see if you successfully get the cash or not, and you invoke your Greedy aspect to help you on the roll.

See the difference? With a compel, you *automatically* decide the outcome is going to be dramatically or "plot" complicated, as opposed to using any other means of resolution. With compels, plot happens because of who you are and what you choose.

The second reason is, you cannot ever, ever, EVER take away a player's choice regarding his character's actions. Period. Even when we didn't know how to articulate these things as precisely as we do now, we knew enough to tell you on SotC page 44 that you can limit the available range of choices but not dictate precise actions. Aspects are not, and never should be used as, a railroading tool.

I'll be the first to admit the text in SotC could have been clearer on this point. It's clearer in Dresden.


Would you be willing to replace X, Y and Z with some examples? I'm confused.

I'd thought compels were the GM offering the player a fate point in exchange for taking a given course of action related to an Aspect in play.

Player: "I'm going to rush in."
GM: "Are you?" Brandishes a fate point. "I think you're going to stay put due to the Covering Fire Aspect on that zone."

What you wrote sounds more like a compel is a complication to an action the player is going to take regardless.

Or is it both?
*pokes Lenny* You never got back to me, Captain...


So is Z stated when you compel the aspect?

What is actually stated at the table at the time the aspect is compelled? Reading SotC, I would have thought X... with a bit of Y (which could be negotiated)... but I wouldn't have guessed Z.

Re: huh.

I don't think Z is stated, necessarily. Here's something I said over on my facebook:

Fred Hicks
It's basically saying:

If you have the "Greedy" aspect, the GM can't say "because you're Greedy, you must do X" when the compel happens.

The compel is the GM saying, "Greedy affects your choices here. How does it affect them?"

If the player says "it doesn't, period", then they're buying out of it, pay the fate point.

Otherwise the player still has some freedom of choice within the constraint of the aspect as far as how he behaves... but in accepting the compel, story consequences *must* follow, or the compel had no teeth and shouldn't have been offered in the first place.

Re: huh.

That makes sense and largely fits with how I've run it. I'd usually make a suggestion about how I think the aspect could affect the choices (because I had an idea), but the player was free to make a counter-offer...

I guess my concern is that if the story consequences are unknown to the player at this point, how are they the things which the player rejects?

Re: huh.

If you know accepting a compel means a big pile of doom is coming your way, even if you don't know the shape of the doom, isn't it still possible make a decision whether or not to opt out of the compel knowing that the inchoate doom is set aside if you do?

Re: huh.

Oh, sure. I think this was more a concern about the clarity of the original post - it isn't a rejection of any specific Z, but rather a rejection that there might be a Z.

Is that clear?

At the same time, there are various levels of doom. Should compels all be of the same level of seriousness? Do you consider it good practice or bad form to leave in the possibility of a 'minor doom' so as to give players hope that they might get off easy?

At the same time, how often do you compel? If you do it too often (and players like success), at what point does this simply become a fate point tax?

Re: huh.

I agree that Z isn't always explicitly stated. If your group has enough trust that the GM can choose not to define Z, and you'll roll with it, awesome for you.

Re: your comment about rejection, it's actually both. If I reject the specific Z, we might continue to negotiate. If I reject any and all potential Zs, then I'm paying a fate point.

I don't think you have to worry too much about consistency of severity between compels - this type of thing tends to get negotiated pretty quickly in a group's social contract. You know when the compel has no teeth, because the looks of the people playing will tell you so.

I compel as often as I can think of an interesting reason to do so. And keep in mind, it doesn't have to always be tied to failure - success at a price is just as often a reliable option.

Re: huh.

Ok, THAT makes me feel better. Lenny's post here seems to imply to me that the Compel is the reprecussions (regardless of the player's choice), NOT the "Do you or do you not?" of introducing conflict.

On the FateRPG group, you gave the example of "Damsels in Distress Always Get Me" - you don't compel it to just put the damsel there in your face, you compel it when going after the Damsel would be Seriously Inconvenient to your current goal (like, running into that burning building to save a girl at a window rather than stop that guy with the crucial info from escaping).

What it seems like Lenny ehre is talking about (in this example I just pulled out) is compelling you after you've made the decision to pursue or rescue, by tossing in the reprecussion action. If you WENT with the girl, then the compel comes with "And you are late to the villain's plot". And if you chase after the Escaping Guy, you are compelled because "The Girl's Family Sues You".

The latter, what Lenny is talking about, is really confusing and hard to wrap the brain around. Among other things, it means that giving the player fate points is something that happens much further down the road - meaning he may be lacking in the Fate point department.

The whole premise of Compels, I was under the impression of, is that the player has Incentive to take the Compel (the fate point vs. paying it off). He is never FORCED to (i.e. you MUST take the money because you're Greedy), but if he feels taking the money is not acceptable, he has to spend the fate point.

Re: huh.

My original post carries no severe implications. I'm unclear how you arrived at the interpretation you did. Please clarify.

I said, if you have X, Y, and Z as stated above, you have a compel. By definition. And I said that accepting or rejecting the compel really is about accepting or rejecting repercussions (aka Z) rather than being about anything else.

So, when Greedy you says, "I'm not taking the money," and you spend the fate point, you're not really *just* saying that. You're really saying, "I'm not taking the money, and *therefore* complication Z, whatever it may be, isn't going to happen."

That last part is always, always the point of emphasis, regardless of how you express what actually happens. Because it'd be bad form, wouldn't it, if I as a GM contrived a consequence for you to suffer *even though you've paid a fate point*? That spending of a point needs to matter to the story somehow, besides just as a metric of how much you're fighting against your personality.

Re: huh.

Okay. I misunderstood what you were getting at. The way I was reading the original post, it was the compel was Z itself, and the individual wasn't getting the fate point until Z occurred.

I understand now what you mean: When a compel happens, Z is the unstated Unknown, but it's what is on the line - the risk - of the Compel itself, not whether you take the money or not. Taking the money or not is irrelevant, it's the issue of the fate and "Do you take the fate point, or pay it?"

Re: huh.

The fact that Z is happening or is going to happen is what ensures that a compel represents a "significant" enough circumstance to warrant a payout. No Z, the "compel" is just color.

If It Doesn't Suck, It's Not Worth It

I often have to remind newcomers to FATE that a compel isn't worth anything unless it puts you in a disadvantageous position. Something bad has to happen, or has to be coming down the pike, to earn that Fate Point. Too often, players want the Fate Point simply for acting in character, whether it puts them in a bad spot or not.

F'rinstance, once I had a player want to self-compel his "Wife and Kids" aspect (or the equivalent) to essentially hide during a fight -- because, y'know, he wanted to stay alive for them. I pointed out that that wasn't worth a Fate Point unless something tangibly bad came of it, and simply protecting himself (by flying out of combat) wasn't tangibly bad. At all. In fact, it'd make more sense to invoke that aspect to help him fly away, which is a clear sign (to me) that it isn't really eligible for a compel.

Now, if you want to compel that aspect to guarantee I attack you, for added drama -- "Oh, how ironic! I'm the one here with the most to lose, and here I am being targeted by these monster-things!" -- that's fine. Or compel it to force you to leave, but as a result something worse than usual happens to your remaining companions still in the fight that, were you still there, wouldn't be a problem, that's fine, too.

Re: If It Doesn't Suck, It's Not Worth It

Is there an issue with scope here?

A compel is taking the story line out of the hands of the players. If I accept a compel, something bad will happen, no matter how hard the PCs (myself included) try to avoid it. Right?

So why can I accept a compel and have the other PCs pay for it? Shouldn't the bad things have to happen to me?

Re: If It Doesn't Suck, It's Not Worth It

Well, for the same reason teachers say things like "If whoever put gum on my seat doesn't come forward in the next 30 seconds, you're all writing a 1,000-word essay on the topic of responsibility."

That aside, yes, generally speaking, a compel ought to be something that's a problem for you personally. But that doesn't mean I can't compel an aspect to create a little intra-party conflict, either, if it adds additional drama and roleplaying opportunities.

Another question

I usually let players compel NPCs toward specific actions (Y). Does anyone think this lack of parallelism is a problem?

Re: Another question

In my experience, when that happens, there's usually a consequential result that the player has in mind, even if they don't explicitly state it. It's usually a good idea to talk about that a bit.

As both a player and a GM, I'll only debate Y, the action chosen, when it matters to accurately portraying the character. Otherwise, I'm just as likely to do what you do.

My point is, taking aspect-relevant actions aren't compels by themselves... it's the explicit agreement (or disagreement) that the situation will resolve with complication or trouble that actually completes the process.
I may be misreading this (the fever and exaustion make it quite likely, actually), but it sounds like you're saying, "Here is a compel. If you take the fate point, something bad will happen. If you buy it off, something else bad will happen." I think it should be more like:

1. Something happens to compel aspect X.
2. The player accepts the compel with action Y, and
3. Bad thing Z happens.
2. The player buys off the compel with action Y, and
3. The character avoids bad thing Z.

Buying out of a compel shouldn't just mean swapping out one bad result for another.
I think the confusion is coming from the use of multiple examples. Every single one of these is a compel. When I say "or", it means, "here's another example of another compel using the same initial circumstances". None of the above examples are "bought off" compels.

Explicitly, yes, if you pay to reject Z, then Z doesn't happen.
Thanks for the examples!

Honestly, having read SotC and Diaspora, I never understood compels to work like this. SotC says:

"An aspect may limit actions and choice. If a character is given a situation where he would normally have a number of choices, and limiting those choices to act in accordance with his aspect is going to make more trouble for the character, that’s grounds to compel the aspect."


"An aspect may also complicate a situation, rather than directly limiting a character’s choices. If everything would be going along normally, and the aspect makes things more difficult or introduces an unexpected twist, that’s also grounds for a compel. In come cases, complications may suggest that certain consequences are mandated, such as failing at a particular action – perhaps the character would succeed at a defense roll against a Deceit action, but his Gullible aspect is compelled, forcing a failure if accepted."

It seems like what you posted is what's discussed in the second paragraph above.
I'm taking my reply to your comment to another post. Find me there? Thanks!

Narrative Control - Episode 64 - The Lennisode

User seannittner referenced to your post from Narrative Control - Episode 64 - The Lennisode saying: [...] 1] Reward players for making decisions that have bad consequences either way.  From his LJ [...]

December 2010

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