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Richer Character Aspect Compels

While working on a small project over the weekend, I finally articulated an idea that’s been kicking in my head for some time: What happens if we award fate points for character aspect-based compels only if they complicate more than one PC’s lives?

This question came from my ongoing experiment of melding Fate and Apocalypse World concepts into one weird game engine that isn’t quite either (and which seems to be the key to figuring out how to make the Emerging Threats Unit work). We often look to the John McClane model of a Fate hero for how compels and invocations work, and tend to forget that Die Hard is a single-protagonist story.

Fate games aren’t single-protagonist stories, though, but always viewing compels with a sense of solipsism can lead to telling four or six independent stories rather than one intertwining story. That play behavior isn’t even necessarily intentional, but is easy to slip into when the rule just says “When an aspect complicates your life…”

Word the rule as “When an aspect complicates the situation for you and another PC,” and you force everyone at the table to look to everyone else for support. That becomes a game where people who fate points look to other players for direct help, and get them involved.

Now, that’s as far as I would go for the moment, and only apply that to character aspects. Situation aspects and consequences would work without that restriction—the former because that’s a playing with the game environment, the latter because that feels narratively right and allows for a release valve when you can’t figure out how to make a richer compel from your character aspects.

(“Richer compel” might be a good term for this. I should rewrite the title.)

Here are two further hack points that I’m not interested in playing with right now, but maybe you are:

  • The person who gets the fate point is the other player affected, rather than the one with the aspect. That inverts the story direction, where you’re looking to get involved in someone else’s issue for fate points (and shifts who has the right of refusal). I would worry a bit about fuzzy awarding and confusion, which is the reason I wouldn’t play with it myself right now.
  • As written, I’m talking about one fate point, but this could pay a fate point out to everyone affected. That might be too much dumping into the fate point economy, but the real reason I’m cagey about that is that it makes who has to pay to refuse (and thus who drives negotiation) really fuzzy.

If you try this explicitly (or already have before I posted this), please let me know how it works for you! :)

– Ryan

Image: Screenshot from Final Fantasy XIII, by way of the Take My Hand TV Tropes article. Seemed appropriate.

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2 Responses to Richer Character Aspect Compels

  1. Josh says:

    Interesting thoughts, actually. I want to experiment with this in my own game now, just to see how things shake up my players.

    I wonder, though, could you partially enable this by having an aspect or two shared by everyone in the group? I’m thinking of Rogue Squadron, but there are films with all sorts of groups taking up a distinct group identity. That feels like the natural proto-idea to this one for me. Some groups have collective problems that complicate all of their lives in stories, although that is not always true.

    Still, nice thought. Very kewl.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      While I wasn’t thinking about this for game aspects—the aspects shared by the group as described in Fate Core—yeah, I would also apply it there.

      But there’s a psychology going on there that I’m not into. People look to their character sheets first, and many Fate games fall into the realm of solipsism, or at least a total lack of awareness of others’ aspects. This is to make people look and be aware of others’ threads in a way that right now Fate doesn’t care about (for or against). To be clear, I’m not trying to fix a bug; I see this as adding a feature that works for various narratives.