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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.


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. :)

December 2010

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