Invoking & Compelling Aspects
Table of Contents
The primary way you’re going to use aspects in a game of Fate is to invoke them. If you’re in a situation where an aspect is beneficial to your character somehow, you can invoke it.
In order to invoke an aspect, explain why the aspect is relevant, spend a fate point, and you can choose one of these benefits:
- Take a +2 on your current skill roll after you’ve rolled the dice.
- Reroll all your dice.
- Pass a +2 benefit to another character’s roll, if it’s reasonable that the aspect you’re invoking would be able to help.
- Add +2 to any source of passive opposition, if it’s reasonable that the aspect you’re invoking could contribute to making things more difficult. You can also use this to create passive opposition at Fair (+2) if there wasn’t going to be any.
The Reroll Vs. The +2
Rerolling the dice is a little riskier than just getting the +2 bonus, but has the potential for greater benefit. We recommend you reserve this option for when you’ve rolled a –3 or a –4 on the dice, to maximize the chance that you’ll get a beneficial result from rerolling. The odds are better that way.
It doesn’t matter when you invoke the aspect, but usually it’s best to wait until after you’ve rolled the dice to see if you’re going to need the benefit. You can invoke multiple aspects on a single roll, but you cannot invoke the same aspect multiple times on a single roll. So if your reroll doesn’t help you enough, you’ll have to pick another aspect (and spend another fate point) for a second reroll or that +2.
The group has to buy into the relevance of a particular aspect when you invoke it; GMs, you’re the final arbiter on this one. The use of an aspect should make sense, or you should be able to creatively narrate your way into ensuring it makes sense.
Precisely how you do this is up to you. Sometimes, it makes so much sense to use a particular aspect that you can just hold up the fate point and name it. Or you might need to embellish your character’s action a little more so that everyone understands where you’re coming from. (That’s why it is recommended that you make sure that you’re on the same page with the group as to what each of your aspects means—it makes it easier to justify bringing it into play.)
Landon is trying to win a contest of wits with a rival in a tavern, and the skill they’re currently using is Rapport, which they’ve described as “attempting to shame each other as politely as possible.”
Lenny rolls badly on one of the contest exchanges, and says, “I want to invoke The Manners of a Goat.” Amanda gives him a skeptical look and replies, “What happened to ‘as politely as possible’?”
Lenny says, “Well, what I was thinking about doing was making some kind of ribald but not vulgar innuendo about the guy’s parentage, in order to get the crowd at the bar to laugh at him, perhaps despite themselves. I figure that bawdy put-downs are precisely my cup of tea.”
Amanda nods and says, “Okay, I’ll take that.”
Lenny spends the fate point.
If you want to see more examples of invoking an aspect, they've been scattered them throughout the book—they’re so integral to how Fate works that they naturally end up in many examples of play.
If the aspect you invoke is on someone else’s character sheet, including situation aspects attached to them, and the invoke is to their disadvantage, you give them the fate point you spent. (Invoking a third party’s aspect is treated just like invoking an unattached situation aspect.) They don’t actually get to use it until after the end of the scene, though.
The Ellipsis Trick
If you want an easy way to ensure you have room to incorporate aspects into a roll, try narrating your action with an ellipsis at the end (“...”), and then finish the action with the aspect you want to invoke. Like this:
Lily says, “Okay, so I raise my sword up and...” (rolls dice, hates the result) “...and it looks like I’m going to miss at first, but it turns out to be a quick feint-and-slash, a classic move from the Infamous Girl with Sword” (spends the fate point).
Ryan says, “So I’m trying to decipher the runes in the book and...” (rolls the dice, hates the result) “...and If I Haven’t Been There, I’ve Read About It...” (spends a fate point) “...and I easily start rambling about their origin.”
You don’t always have to pay a fate point to invoke an aspect—sometimes it’s free.
When you succeed at creating an advantage, you “stick” a free invocation onto an aspect. If you succeed with style, you get two invocations. Some of the other actions also give you free boosts.
You also get to stick a free invocation on any consequences you inflict in a conflict.
Free invocations work like normal ones except in two ways: no fate points are exchanged, and you can stack them with a normal invocation for a better bonus. So you can use a free invocation and pay a fate point on the same aspect to get a +4 bonus instead of a +2, two rerolls instead of one, or you can add +4 to another character’s roll or increase passive opposition by +4. Or you could split the benefits, getting a reroll and a +2 bonus. You can also stack multiple free invocations together.
After you’ve used your free invocation, if the aspect in question is still around, you can keep invoking it by spending fate points.
Cynere succeeds on an attack, and causes her opponent to take the Cut Across the Gut consequence. On the next exchange, she attacks him again, and she can invoke that for free because she put it there, giving her a +2 or a reroll.
If you want, you can pass your free invocation to another character. That allows you to get some teamwork going between you and a buddy. This is really useful in a conflict if you want to set someone up for a big blow—have everyone create an advantage and pass their free invocations onto one person, then that person stacks all of them up at once for a huge bonus.
In other Fate games, free invocations were called “tagging.” This was one bit of jargon too many. You can still call it that if you want—whatever helps you and your table understand the rule.
Hostile Invocations (Excerpted from Fateful Concepts: Hacking Contests)
Whenever you invoke another player character’s aspects against them—notably but not only consequences—that’s a hostile invocation, and that character’s player gets the fate point. This rule is an important part of Fate because it’s a way to give a player fate points. But this doesn’t just count for character aspects! If there’s an aspect effectively attached to or controlled by a PC, like some aspect-worthy gear they’re holding or an advantage they created, and it’s invoked against that character, that’s a hostile invocation.
If that aspect isn’t invoked directly against the character, but the action works against that character’s interests (which is generally the only reason you could invoke someone else’s aspect), that player still gets the fate point. This rule is key to remember when one player hostilely invokes another’s aspect.
Fate points from hostile invocations can’t be spent on the situation where they’re gained. They’re available starting on the next scene. (Otherwise, you could just spend back and forth and draw a contest out by invoking and counter-invoking each other.) Oh, and usually everyone can invoke On Fire even if one character deliberately created it as an advantage, because no one actually controls that aspect. (Unless you’re talking about magic or something else that grants control, hence “usually.”)
This section—Hostile Invocations—is an excerpt from Ryan Macklin's Fateful Concepts: Hacking Contests and is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. If you find this useful consider buying the e-book.
To use this text, include the following attribution in your work: “This work is based on Fateful Concepts: Hacking Contests by Ryan Macklin, licensed for our use under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.”
The other way you use aspects in the game is called a compel. If you’re in a situation where having or being around a certain aspect means your character’s life is more dramatic or complicated, someone can compel the aspect. That aspect can be on your character, the scene, location, game, or anywhere else that’s currently in play. We’ll start with character aspects, and then talk about situation aspects in a bit.
In order to compel an aspect, explain why the aspect is relevant, and then make an offer as to what the complication is. You can negotiate the terms of the complication a bit, until you reach a reasonable consensus. Whoever is getting compelled then has two options:
- Accept the complication and receive a fate point
- Pay a fate point to prevent the complication from happening
The complication from a compel occurs regardless of anyone’s efforts—once you’ve made a deal and taken the fate point, you can’t use your skills or anything else to mitigate the situation. You have to deal with the new story developments that arise from the complication.
If you prevent the complication from happening, then you and the group describe how you avoid it. Sometimes it just means that you agree that the event never happened in the first place, and sometimes it means narrating your character doing something proactive. Whatever you need to do in order to make it make sense works fine, as long as the group is okay with it.
GMs, you’re the final arbiter here, as always—not just on how the result of a compel plays out, but on whether or not a compel is valid in the first place. Use the same judgment you apply to an invocation—it should make instinctive sense, or require only a small amount of explanation, that a complication might arise from the aspect.
Finally, and this is very important: if a player wants to compel another character, it costs a fate point to propose the complication. The GM can always compel for free, and any player can propose a compel on his or her own character for free.
Clarification about Players Compelling Players
When you pay to propose a compel, the point you paid returns to the GM's infinite pool of fate points. The proposed compel is then negotiated with the target of the compel. Once the compel is agreed, a fate point is paid from the infinite pool of fate points to the target player. If the target player rejects the compel, their fate point is also paid to the infinite pool of fate points.
If this were not the rule, you would be able to propose compels risk-free to drain other people's fate points.
In other Fate games, you might have seen player-driven compels referred to as “invoking for effect.” It is clearer to just call it a compel, no matter who initiates it.
Types of Compels
There are two major categories for what a compel looks like in the game: events and decisions. These are tools to help you figure out what a compel should look like and help break any mental blocks.
An event-based compel happens to the character in spite of herself, when the world around her responds to a certain aspect in a certain way and creates a complicating circumstance. It looks like this:
- You have ____ aspect and are in ____ situation, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, ____ would happen to you. Damn your luck.
Here are a few:
Cynere has Infamous Girl with Sword while covertly attending a gladiatorial contest, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, an admirer would recognize her in the stands and make a huge fuss, turning all eyes in the arena her way. Damn her luck.
Landon has I Owe Old Finn Everything and is returning to his home village after hearing it was sacked by barbarians, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, Old Finn was captured and taken far into the mountains with their war party. Damn his luck.
Zird has Rivals in the Collegia Arcana and is attempting to get an audience with their Inner Council, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, his rivals force the Collegia to demand he provide a detailed account of his highly-coveted research to re-establish his relationship with the organization. Damn his luck.
As you’ll see with decision-based compels, the real mileage is in the complication itself. Without that, you don’t really have anything worth focusing on—the fact that the PCs continually have complicated and dramatic things happen to them is, well, exactly what makes them PCs in the first place.
GMs, event-based compels are your opportunity to party. You’re expected to control the world around the PCs, so having that world react to them in an unexpected way is pretty much part and parcel of your job description.
Players, event-based compels are great for you. You get rewarded simply by being there—how much more awesome can you get? You might have a difficult time justifying an event-based compel yourself, as it requires you to assert control over an element of the game that you typically aren’t in charge of. Feel free to propose an event-based compel, but remember that the GM has the final say on controlling the game world and may veto you if she’s got something else in mind.
A decision is a kind of compel that is internal to the character. It happens because of a decision he makes, hence the name. It looks like this:
- You have ____ aspect in ____ situation, so it makes sense that you’d decide to ____. This goes wrong when ____ happens.
Here are a few:
Landon has The Manners of a Goat while trying to impress a dignitary at a royal ball, so it makes sense that he’d decide to share some boorish, raunchy humor and/or commentary. This goes wrong when he discovers she’s the princess of this country, and his offense is tantamount to a crime.
Cynere has Tempted by Shiny Things while touring an ancient museum, so it makes sense that she’d decide to, ahem, liberate a couple of baubles for her personal collection. This goes wrong when she discovers that the artifacts are cursed, and she’s now beholden to the Keepers of the Museum if she wants the curse lifted.
Zird has Not the Face! when he gets challenged to a barfight, so it makes sense that he’d decide to back down from the challenge. This goes wrong when the rest of the patrons decide he’s a coward and throw him unceremoniously out into the street.
So the real dramatic impact from these kinds of compels is not what decision the character makes, most of the time—it’s how things go wrong. Before something goes wrong, the first sentence could be a prelude to making a skill roll or simply a matter of roleplaying. The complication that the decision creates is really what makes it a compel.
GMs, remember that a player is ultimately responsible for everything that the character says and does. you can offer decision-based compels, but if the player doesn’t feel like the decision is one that the character would make, don’t force the issue by charging a fate point. instead, negotiate the terms of the compel until you find a decision the player is comfortable making, and a complication that chains from that decision instead. if you can’t agree on something, drop it.
The decision part should be very self-evident, and something a player might have been thinking about doing anyway. The same goes for players trying to compel NPCs or each other’s PCs—make sure you have a strong mutual understanding of what that NPC or other character might do before proposing the compel.
Players, if you need fate points, this is a really good way of getting them. If you propose a decision-based compel for your character to the GM, then what you’re basically asking is for something you’re about to do to go wrong somehow. You don’t even have to have a complication in mind—simply signaling the GM should be enough to start a conversation. GMs, as long as the compel isn’t weak (as in, as long as there’s a good, juicy complication), you should go with this. If the compel is weak, poll the rest of the group for ideas until something more substantial sticks.
If you offer a decision-based compel, and no one can agree on what the decision part should be, it shouldn’t cost a fate point to counter—just drop it. Countering a decision-based compel should only mean that the “what goes wrong” part doesn’t happen.
GMs, remember that a player is ultimately responsible for everything that the character says and does. You can offer decision-based compels, but if the player doesn’t feel like the decision is one that the character would make, don’t force the issue by charging a fate point. Instead, negotiate the terms of the compel until you find a decision the player is comfortable making, and a complication that chains from that decision instead. If you can’t agree on something, drop it.
Sometimes, you’ll notice during the game that you’ve fulfilled the criteria for a compel without a fate point getting awarded. You’ve played your aspects to the hilt and gotten yourself into all kinds of trouble, or you’ve narrated crazy and dramatic stuff happening to a character related to their aspects just out of reflex.
Anyone who realizes this in play can mention it, and the fate point can be awarded retroactively, treating it like a compel after the fact. GMs, you’re the final arbiter. It should be pretty obvious when something like this occurs, though—just look at the guidelines for event and decision compels above, and see if you can summarize what happened in the game according to those guidelines. If you can, award a fate point.
Compelling with Situation Aspects
Just like with every other kind of aspect use, you can use situation aspects (and by extension, game aspects) for compels. Because situation aspects are usually external to characters, you’re almost always looking at event-based compels rather than decision-based ones. The character or characters affected get a fate point for the compel.
Here are a few examples:
Because the warehouse is On Fire, and the player characters are trapped in the middle of it, it makes sense that, unfortunately, the ruffian they’re chasing can get away in the confusion. Damn their luck.
The manor house Cynere is searching through is Littered with Debris, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, the city guard is going to arrive there before she finds what she’s looking for, which will leave her with a lot of explaining to do. Damn her luck.
The ancient library Zird is currently working in has Layers of Dust everywhere, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, while he might be able to find the information he’s looking for, the bounty hunter pursuing him will know that he was here. Damn his luck.
ALTERNATE RULES: Revisiting Fate Compel Refusal by Fate Core authors Ryan Macklin and Leonard Balsera.
The rules for how to handle refusing compels are re-examined with an eye towards moving the story forward in a more meaningful way.