Fate Boosts Revisited
A post in the Fate G+ community turned into a lengthy discussion between Leonard Balsera and I about the nature of Fate boosts. There’s a number of vague and somewhat contradictory issues in the language around that rule, which apparently leads to people either being confused or arguing about how it works. And it turns out that that’s partly because Lenny & I disagreed on it. So in the past day, we decided to rewrite it, for clearer language that shows the intent and utility. I’ll start with what the rule should be, then explain why and some history behind that part of the design.
Consider this a replacement for the text about boosts on page 58.
Boosts are temporary, free-floating invocations that happen when you get a momentary benefit that isn’t lasting enough to be an aspect. You get a boost when you’re trying to create an advantage but don’t succeed well enough, or as an added benefit to succeeding especially well at an action (notably defending). You invoke boosts just like you would for an aspect, for the +2, reroll, or other effect that a free invoke can do. As with aspect invocations, you need to describe what’s happening that makes that boost relevant to your action.
Once you invoke the boost, it goes away. They go away on their own fairly quickly—usually after the next action when you could use them—so use them as soon as possible! If you want, you can allow another character to invoke your boost, though it needs to be relevant to their action and could help them out.
When you earn a boost, give it a name like you would an aspect to help you remember where the boost came from and how you can use it. Don’t dwell on coming up with something clever, since it doesn’t last long.
Just remember that a boost isn’t a full, “grown up” aspect—you can’t compel with it, use it as permission for extras, pay a fate point to invoke it again, or other things that manipulate aspects or that aspects affect. But you can promote it to a full aspect; see Promoting Boosts below.
Leaving Boosts Unnamed
If you’re struggling to name a boost, let it be unnamed and continue playing—boosts aren’t worth stopping play to name! If you do, though, you’ll have to keep track of the situation that created the boost, which some people find difficult to remember.
Sometimes when you’re creating a new aspect, you find that there’s a boost in play that’s exactly the aspect you want to make, turning a momentary benefit into a lasting one. Great! That’s called promoting a boost. Just declare an aspect you’re making to have the same name as a boost in play, and you’re done. If the action gives this new aspect a free invocation, it has two instead thanks to the boost being active. If you haven’t named the boost yet, now’s the time to do it.
For example, say you parry my sword strike and get a boost from that defend action, and we say that you managed to get me A Little Off-Balance. On your next action, you follow-up by saying that you want to keep me off-balance by creating an advantage. You roll for the advantage, succeed without needing to use the boost, and then name the advantage A Little Off-Balance with two free invocations (or three if you succeeded with style—essentially one extra free invocation).
Even if you’ve used a boost already, nothing says you can’t bring that idea back around as an aspect later in the scene if it’s appropriate. There’s no special rule about that, just something to keep in mind. In our example above, you could still create the A Little Off-Balance advantage, even if you use the boost on that roll or on a past turn.
Remember that Boosts are not Aspects
Unlike aspects, you cannot compel a boost or pay a fate point to invoke a boost (including invoking it against its owner (“Having your Aspects Invoked Against You” on Fate Core System p.81). Any other rules that require an aspect to exist or be used don’t count for boosts. Don’t let the fact that they’re often given names mislead you.
You’re free to use this text! The above block of text is released under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/). Proper attribution: “Fate Boosts Revisited” from ryanmacklin.com © 2014 Leonard Balsera and Ryan Macklin. Legal: This work is based on Fate Core System and Fate Accelerated Edition (found at http://www.faterpg.com/), products of Evil Hat Productions, LLC, developed, authored, and edited by Leonard Balsera, Brian Engard, Jeremy Keller, Ryan Macklin, Mike Olson, Clark Valentine, Amanda Valentine, Fred Hicks, and Rob Donoghue, and licensed for our use under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).
[Edit 11/4/2014: clarified a minor point: “for the +2, reroll, or other effect that requires an invocation” is now “for the +2, reroll, or other effect that a free invoke can do.”]
Why This is a Thing
It turns out that Lenny and I had a disagreement about how boosts should work. We often had disagreements about how stuff should work during Core, which lead to Core’s design—we made stuff that found a way to make us both happen. In fact, as I’ll mention shortly, the creation of boosts was one such thing!
Lenny’s Thinking: I’ve seen that people have problems conceptualizing precisely what a boost means in the fiction, and that they tend to forget about or lose track of boosts without some kind of tangible hook or callout, especially in big conflict scenes. Framing boosts as fragile aspects helped focus the narrative and kept them from getting lost in the shuffle.
Ryan’s Thinking: I’ve seen that people have problems with making up aspects on the fly, and found that reducing the creative load helped. That was one of my Fate Core design principles: The game should not require unexpected creative input in the form of snappy language, nor should socially penalize creative fatigue in those moments. And calling boosts aspects when they aren’t that makes explanations messy, like how they aren’t meant to be compelled or can be otherwise manipulated by things that manipulate aspects. Both of these are things aimed at newer Fate fans, admittedly.
These are problems we’ve both experienced in years of running Fate. The bit above combines both views, which again is how many things in Core came about. It solves Lenny’s “naming it helps people” and my “leaving it unnamed helps people” bits by making the not-naming optional and explaining both virtues. It also removes the “it’s kind of an aspect” confusion—it’s an invocation, not an aspect, which is a subtle but crucial distinction.
The Cool Idea from This
Leaving boosts unnamed has a cool side-effect: it’s defined in use rather than in creation. I think there’s a lot of powerful mojo in that concept. It’s something that I used to use in Spirit of the Century games in order to deal with my own creative fatigue as a GM—when someone would ask for a Mysteries roll to understand something strange, I would say “roll” and based on the result, I would hand one or more blank aspect cards (index cards with a free invoke checkbox on them) and say “at some dramatic time, you should totally reveal what you’ve just learned.” Which is to say that instead of having create an advantage actions make fleshed-out aspects, you could also make aspect slots, and let them be defined in first use rather than in creation.
Now, keeping track of circumstances that created the slot and policing abuse are a couple issues, but that’s refinement of the idea. The idea itself is pretty fun though, and it’s one I’ve seen people do for heist genre Fate games. Lenny and I have a few notes back and forth about this, regarding how the implementation can get thorny.
Design History of Boosts
So many rules in Fate Core came from “Screw it, we’re arguing in circles. What’s the midway point and we’ll go from there. *Writes midway point* Oh, wait, that’s almost good. *Writes a bit more* We’re done. *drink*” Boosts was one of those. Long-time Fate fans remember spin in Spirit of the Century. Long-term Fate Yahoo Group people also remember all the endless arguments and confusion about spin. That lead Lenny to being tired of spin as a concept, so it was on the chopping block for Core (as an “optional rule”). However, I was a fierce proponent of spin as a general concept, and wanted to apply it to more stuff. This was one place where I stuck to my guns, but I didn’t have to stick very hard.
Lenny was cool with a general idea that wasn’t tied to a special defense rule…especially once we established that success with style should be a thing rather than just counting shifts all the time. So with “you can succeed with style on a defend action,” spin was a foregone conclusion. The seller, though, was the idea that tying on an attack roll should also create spin. Two applications now, which got fascinating. Lenny eventually abstracted the idea and named it “boosts,” a name which I dig.
On multiple free invocations: incidentally, if you like the idea of multiple free invocations on an aspect or renewing an aspect’s free invocations, that comes from the same creative fatigue idea. (Plus sometimes it’s just plain funny to say “Yeah, that guy is totally Tripped again!”)
 So don’t dismiss them unless you’ve also run Fate games for a couple hundred people and never encountered either problem. When people say “I disagree with X because it’d never happened to me,” I don’t hold much regard for what else those people have to say, since they’re not thinking outside of themselves or their play group.