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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.


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.

December 2010

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