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So in the Dresden Files RPG, one can spend a fate point, invoke an aspect, and make a declaration. I'm having trouble coming up with a reasonable set of guidelines as to the scale and scope of declarations that can be made. For example:

  1. Phil is an investigator. He has an aspect, Memory like a Camera. He sees some ancient writing on an artifact, and he'd like to identify it. Rather than rolling Lore, he spends a fate point and declares that "I have a Memory Like a Camera; I've seen this writing before and therefore know its source/text".

  2. Bill is in a fistfight. He uses a maneuver to place an aspect Off Balance on a thug. In the next exchange, he tags that aspect and declares "The Thug is Off Balance, so he falls and I run away safely."

  3. Johnny is in a gun battle with an evil vampire of doom. He knows that the Vampire has an aspect Vulnerable to Fire. He spends a fate point to declare that the forest they are fighting in is full of dry kindling. He then spends another fate point to declare that the forest has caught fire, and then another fate point to compel the vampire to flee, confronted by this fire.

  4. Fred is in a confrontation with the bartender. He deduces that the bartender has an aspect like Runs at the first sign of physical danger. He brandishes a knife, and spends a fate point to compel the bartender to immediately back down and yield.

I'm having trouble figuring out if these are reasonable usages, too far, or even not far enough? What are the standard guidelines for usage of fate points/aspects/declarations in these contexts?

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Those seem quite reasonable to me, with the exception of #2, which is a little sketchier but still acceptable. Just remember that those Fate Points are going to bolster those characters later.

As far as standard guidelines go, on page 313 of Dresden Files: Your Story, we find the following:

The difficulties for declarations should, honestly, be based on how interesting the proposed fact or aspect is. Ideas that would disrupt the game or are just unreasonable should simply be vetoed. These are the questions to ask yourself when determining difficulty:

  1. Is the declaration interesting (or funny)?
  2. Will the declaration have interesting consequences if it's acted upon, whether it's right or wrong?
  3. Does the declaration propose a specific and interesting course of action.

Each "no" adds 2 to the base difficulty of mediocre.

Although spending the Fate Point means you won't have to roll (as per page 116 and page 20), knowing what the game suggests as a "good" declaration means you're less likely to be vetoed.

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They seem very powerful, then. The idea is that they're balanced because the opponent can spend points to counter? For example, in #3 or #4, could the vampire or bartender spend a fate point to ignore the compel? How about in #2? –  GWLlosa Nov 8 '11 at 15:16
    
In #3 and #4, they certainly could -- and, as per page 107, the PC doesn't get their Fate Point back if they do. (Also recall that an NPC or other character compelled by a PC gets to keep that Fate Point. Every time you do this, the opposition gets stronger.) #2 is a little trickier, as I don't see textual support for the idea that you can declare an Aspect like that in combat. –  Jadasc Nov 8 '11 at 15:27
    
Re-reading your answer (I'm away from my books at the moment) I just noticed you talked about the difficulty of a declaration. Am I correct in interpreting that as there actually being a die roll involved in declarations (that I've apparently not been using, lol)? –  GWLlosa Nov 8 '11 at 15:36
    
@GWLlosa - whenever you use a fate point, there is no roll, so you're not missing anything, he was quoting that for guidelines as to what is possible with fate points. As far as #2 is concerned, I see how it is possible, and have had players use it. In a precarious situation, first maneuver to place the aspect, then tag for effect, and thug falls off of dock/catwalk/etc. In this case, I don't see why you couldn't spend the fate point to ignore. –  wraith808 Nov 8 '11 at 16:08
    
@GWLlosa I cover that in the last sentence -- it's possible to make a declaration concerning an Aspect with an appropriate roll instead of a Fate Point expenditure. Check the cited pages for the details. –  Jadasc Nov 8 '11 at 18:02
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A reasonable usage: "What makes the story more fun and interesting" Note that this does not mean "abuse the system". It means, use it in such a way as the story is enhanced -- which can spell trouble for the character at that time or not.

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I know the terminology and rules differ among FATE games, but I'll try to answer from a pure FATE perspective. Please keep in mind that I don't have access to DF books so I don't know what they have overridden.

Maneuvers, Assessments and Declarations are the same thing when you consider their mechanics. Roll 4dF + skill to place an Aspect on something/someone. The only difference between them is how they come into the story. A maneuver is something the character does. An assessment is something the character notices. A declaration is something the character knows. But whatever the story, you roll your 4dF, add a relevant skill, maybe invoke aspects for bonuses and try to beat the difficulty or the opposing roll.

If you succeed, you place your intended Aspect on your target. That's all there is to it. No fate points required, unless you use one to boost your roll.

The examples

  1. When Phil says that he has a Memory like a camera, so he should remember, it is not a declaration but probably an invocation of the aspect. Of course, the rule zero of FATE is different: Say yes or roll the dice. If you as the GM, agree that Phil remembers, he does. If you don't, then you set a difficulty for remembering, and Phil rolls a relevant skill and if the result isn't enough, he may spend a fate point to invoke his aspect and gain a +2 bonus.
  2. What Bill is doing is a compel. After his successful maneuver that places Off balance on the thug, Bill can offer a fate point and compel the thug to fall. The thug can take the fate point and fall, or give Bill a fate point and refuse to fall. Of course, this technically only means that the thug forfeits an action. The 'fall' is only a story element, and Bill running away is represented by Bill moving away on the map while the thug does nothing.
  3. Johnny can use his Survival + 4dF to declare that the forest is probably Full of dry kindling, placing that as an aspect on the forest. Then he can do a maneuver to light up the forest (again, Survival+4dF) tagging Full of dry kindling for a +2 bonus. (This first tag is free, no FP required) If successful, he places the aspect Raging brushfire on the forest.

    The last part is a bit more open to interpretation. Johnny can compel either Vulnerable to fire or Raging brushfire to compel the vampire to run. In my opinion, both are acceptable, and the benefit of having two compellable aspects is that if the vampire refuses the first compel, Johnny or an ally can compel the second aspect to insist that the vampire cuts and runs. If the vampire accepts now, he has a net gain of zero fate points. If he refuses again, Johnny has just robbed the vampire of two shiny fate points.

  4. Fred observes the bartender for a while, and rolling his Empathy+4dF versus the bartender's Deceit+4dF, successfully assesses that the bartender Runs at the first sign of physical danger. Then he can brandish his knife and offer the bartender a fate point and compel him to run. The bartender now must either run, or give Fred a fate point to hold his ground.

That's how I would have done it. Hope it helps.

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Judging reasonable usages is a pretty dicey thing, until you realize two facts.

  1. As Moderator, I am facilitating the story, rather than in opposition to the players.
  2. The story is the key thing, and adding drama and suspense.

Basically, Fate Points are the economy of the game, and the mechanic players are given to make changes to the story and move it along. If the use of the fate point helps to move the story along then I rule in favor of the players. Their are willingness to spend their Fate Points lets you as moderator know what they are interested in. Of course, this is in contrast to other games, where the system is king, but those gaming instincts are things to be overcome when playing FATE.

But in my opinion, all of the above are reasonable as long as they don't totally derail the story or make it less fun for any involved. That is the only case when uses of Fate Points should be vetoed in my opinion. One other thing that helps to clarify this a bit- if you're on the borderline on whether to let something stand, spend a fate point yourself, tagging an aspect, instead of outright vetoing it. If they really want it, they can up the ante. If not, they are rewarded for their choice being taken away.

(Also, one side note - in the case of 2-4, the person being opposed gets the fate point spent, which can be a thorn in the side of the player at a later point)

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My main concern with some of the above situations is that it may trivialize combat/conflict, in that it may come down to who makes the first "declaration of finishing blow". –  GWLlosa Nov 8 '11 at 15:29
    
@GWLlosa You'd certainly be justified in vetoing a "finishing blow" declaration — see the guidelines on page 20 about the Doctor and his heart attack. –  Jadasc Nov 8 '11 at 15:34
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How important is the combat to the story? If not, then take the finishing blow declaration- that means they weren't that interested in it. If it is, then use fate points. Vetoing is also possible as @Jadasc says above, but I prefer not to use that power unless absolutely necessary. –  wraith808 Nov 8 '11 at 16:05
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@GWLlosa Exactly as wraith says. After all, none of those are really finishing blows: the thug, vampire, and bartender are all still alive, and worse, the PC has lost track of where they are! Escaping from an enemy but losing track of them may feel like a victory for the players, but they've really only just handed the strategic initiative back to the enemy. What will the enemy do about the PCs now? –  SevenSidedDie Nov 9 '11 at 19:46
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