Internal vs World Compels

Remember last week’s post on Mutant Healing Aspects?[1] And Brad Murray’s follow-up? It triggered some more thoughts regarding compels in Fate, and the difference between an “internal” compel and a “world” compel.

Let’s take a fun example: Renowned Rakehell. It’s nice and alliterative. Also, it’s totally Bond.

Internal Compels

An internal compel is one where your character is driven to act in a particular way. The GM could say “you see a beautiful woman sitting alone at the bar,” and to chat her up rather than push with your mission could be a compel. It could complicate your life by allowing yourself to fall into the clutches of a femme fatale. But for whatever reason, it’s your character’s feeling that’s pushing action complicating your life, or your resistance of that feeling that’s canceling the compel.

World Compels

A world compel is one where because of your aspect, the world complicates your character’s life. The GM could say “remember that woman you were with in Monte Carlo last month?” (Naturally, the right response is “which one?”) “Well, her husband just saw you from across the room. And he’s armed.” Or someone snubs you because of your reputation, or seeks you out because of it, whatever.

Supernatural Compels: Internal Compels That Really Aren’t

Let’s take another example, one from The Dresden Files RPG: White Court Vampire. Now, technically, the GM saying “there’s a tasty mortal there, and you’re hungry” is an internal compel from my write-up above. It’s your character’s feeling pushing an action, but it comes from a different place. It’s an entity that is a part of you but isn’t entirely under your narrative domain. So, it looks like an Internal Compel, but it really comes from the World. Ths distinction is important for the upcoming bit.

A New Way of Compelling and Buying Off

Once we separate these three types of compels, we can change the way in which compels are triggered or bought off. Now, what I’m proposing is for the sort of people that hate the GM inflicting an Internal Compel on you (or for GMs uncomfortable with it). Or, hell, just people who want to mix it up.

Internal Compels are entirely done as self-compel. The player says “I’m doing X because of my aspect” and bam, Fate point. The GM can propose a compel, if he thinks there’s a neat moment for it, but the player can refuse without spending a Fate point — thus making it functionally a self-compel.

World Compels are entirely done by the GM, and without the option of buyoff from the player. That’s because once the GM asserts a fact about the world, buying that off feels weird to me. It also allows for adventure construction based on a projected budget: the GM should create an adventure that “costs” him, oh, 5 Fate points (number pulled out of the air) through the course of the adventure.

Supernatural Compels work like compels do now, where the player can self-compel or the GM can propose a compel, with the player allowed to buy-off in resistance.

What All This Means

Here’s the thing to consider: this paradigm and the standard compel paradigm are equal in validity, but whichever one you use will change the feel of your game. As would allowing players to buy off Word Compels. I feel like a Bond-style game (without Supernatural Compels) would work well like this. Or a Bond-style game with Supernatural Compels. But if I wanted to do something like Warren Ellis’ The Authority, I would probably allow World Compels to be bought off, or even self-compelled.

There’s a lot to think about when you look at different scopes of compels mixed with different scopes of aspects[2] (as presented by Diaspora) as well, but that’s an exercise for another time. And maybe another person (*cough* Brad *cough*).

– Ryan

[1] And thanks to everyone who StumbleUpon’d it. I appreciate it!

[2] My favorite piece of Fate tech that came from outside the Evil Hat team.


8 Responses to Internal vs World Compels

  1. Leonard Balsera says:

    The only thing I want to add to this is the following: my personal Tao of Fate suggests that compels are only worthwhile when worthy, weighty consequences are attached to them. I recognize this as a bias of mine, so take it for what it’s worth, and if it speaks to your game, take it.

    I would express the dichotomy you’re laying out here as what the source of the worthy consequence is – is it from something the character initiates (Internal), or is it something that occurs as a fact of who that character is (World / Supernatural)?

    Let’s take your example. If the lady at the bar is not a femme fatale, a double agent, or represents a serious threat to the mission, the choice to be distracted really isn’t a compel. As a player, what you’re doing with this tool is *dictating* to the GM that this is the time for serious consequences. It’s more than just paying up for acting as your character in an iconic manner. It’s a little macho, like a dare. “Here’s my person, doing his/her thing. Now what?”

    So what you end up with, following your model, is a cool dichotomy for who’s raising the stakes on whom.

    Internal compels become the player’s way of telling the GM that it’s drama time, and if they can’t reach consensus on what that might mean, then the player simply doesn’t spend the fate point.

    World compels are the GM telling the player it’s drama time, based on the elements under her control. If you’ve got the trust for your GM not to be an ass about this, or you’re playing in a genre where it’s accepted that shit happens and you just have to deal, then yeah, there’s no real issue with forbidding refusal for the sake of world consistency. I mean, who’s going to say no to fate points, seriously?

    Supernatural compels then get to exist in this middle (hence, supernatural) ground, where it’s fair game for either party to raise the stakes, with a caveat… one you commit, there *will* be fate points exchanged one way or another.

    All this to point toward a central axiom: the way you handle compels in your game should reflect your ideal regarding who gets to turn the dramatic volume up under what circumstances. Where divisions like this can clarify that structure in your game, it’s inherently a good thing.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      This is me sagely nodding. The important take-away, I hope, is that such structures can exist, not that what I prescribe is the One True Way of treating them.

      – Ryan

    • Leonard Balsera says:

      I’d even go further and say, those structures *should* exist.

  2. I really like these compel definitions and I think they would work well for a group that doesn’t like the standard compel mechanic. You nailed a lot of the issues I discussed with Brad in his blog on “World” or “External” compels and I think he came to a similar understanding of not allowing the player to buy it off. The only two changes I would make:

    – Allow players to self compel “World Compels”. I like the idea of players complicating the scene based on their characters aspects. As with regular self compels the GM can say “no”.

    – GM can compel “Internal Compels” but players can buy off for free. This is my default when I run into a player who can’t stand the idea of compelling.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Totally! But I can also see the subtle ways that changes the game. Which is not a bad thing, but a “know the impacts rule changes have” thing. Particularly with world compels and the increased traffic that the GM will have to handle in that.

      And in a pulpy game, I see those changes working well. In a more Bond-like game, I wouldn’t care for them. All about dials.

      – Ryan

  3. David Goodwin says:

    Nice thinking. I just followed a link here from this conversation:


    …and this ties in very nicely. I like how you can swap out the different breaks depending on your genre; perhaps in a Cthulhu game you can NEVER refuse a supernatural compel, while in a game with deliberate player agency you might encourage “world self compels” a la Leonard’s neat analysis above.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      You’ll see some discussion on this division (though with different words, and not a suggestion on different mechanics for them) in the upcoming Fate Core.

      – Ryan

  4. David Goodwin says:

    I am REALLY excited for the Fate Core. I can’t wait.