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Assume the following situation: The player wants to convince an NPC to help them in battle. However, the NPC has the aspect "Stout Pacifist" and would rather avoid being dragged into a war. This aspect must come into play here, but the question is: how exactly? I am a bit torn between the two options, as either choice would affect the fate point economy significantly.

Option 1: When it comes to the roll, GM offers to compel "Stout Pacifist" to the player who tries to convince the NPC.

Option 2: When it comes to the roll, GM, as the NPC, invokes "Stout Pacifist", paying a fate point from their own reserve into the bank.

There is also a third option, but this appears to be against the spirit of Compels and the GM's fate point reserve:

Option 3: When it comes to the roll, GM, as the NPC, invokes "Stout Pacifist", paying a fate point from their own reserve to the player.

What is the right way to approach this? I'd greatly appreciate any input!

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Note that in Fate Core, Points awarded for Compels are "cashed in" at the end of the scene. – Nigralbus Jun 11 '14 at 13:53
@Nigralbus No, that's invokes. You get fate points for compels immediately, whereas fate points for invokes on your own aspects are received only at the end of the scene. – doppelgreener Jun 12 '14 at 12:07
up vote 19 down vote accepted

None of these happen. They don't make sense or aren't using those mechanics properly, and ultimately, it's going to take a lot more than that to get this guy to join the war.

A preliminary dip into basics.

Since compels and invokes seem to be getting mishandled here, I'm going to take a brief dip into what they're for and how they work.

Compelling characters

Compels come in two varieties. Event-based compels, which come in this form (fill in the blanks):

You have ______ aspect and are in ______ situation, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, ______ would happen to you. Damn your luck.

And decision-based compels:

You have ______ aspect in ______ situation, so it makes sense that you’d decide to ______. This goes wrong when ______ happens.

Compels are about making the compelled character's life more complicated or dramatic. Decision-based compels are for when you notice an aspect would make someone naturally inclined to act a particular way, which would in turn complicate their life. Event-based compels just make the complication happen, because it makes sense. You get a fate point immediately if you accept, as compensation for your life becoming more complicated. This is where the name comes from: Superman is compelled by his heroic attitude to do everything he can to save people, for instance.

If the compelled individual's life isn't getting significantly more complicated, it's a weaksauce compel.

Invoking aspects

Invoking an aspect just says it's relevant enough to the situation that someone should get a mechanical advantage or disadvantage. Someone rolls better (by +2), someone's passive opposition becomes harder (by +2), or someone gets to reroll because surely they couldn't have rolled that badly (e.g. you're a Master Shot at a Hundred Yards; you couldn't possibly have that bad a result!).

That's it. If you invoked a character's aspect to their detriment, their controller gets the fate point at the end of the scene (to prevent zero sum), and in all other situations it goes to the bank.

Also, unlike previous editions, in Fate Core, aspects are always true. See the first paragraph of Using Aspects For Roleplaying. You don't have to invoke them for them to have narrative truth. Superman is always the Last Survivor of Krypton, and will always have the implied invincibility and weakness to kryptonite, regardless of whether that aspect gets invoked.

So why don't these options make sense?

Option 1: When it comes to the roll, GM offers to compel "Stout Pacifist" to the player who tries to convince the NPC.

This isn't how compels work. Compelling the NPC's aspects "to the player" makes no sense. Consider the decision/event-based compel templates above: this doesn't fit into either.

You can either compel the NPC, or you can compel the player. If you do, it needs to make sense and complicate the life of whoever's getting compelled.

  • You can't compel the Stout Pacifist to join a war because of that aspect, because it doesn't make sense. You could compel a situation aspect to make them feel conflicted, just don't make it weaksauce.

  • You could compel the player's character to make decisions or have bad stuff happen to them based on the NPC being a Stout Pacifist, but it would be that character's life getting complicated. They might react strongly to the NPC's pacifist attitude and bungle their discussion, or maybe as an event-based compel, the pacifist feels so conflicted and feels his way of life so in threat that he throws the player's character out of his home.

Option 2: When it comes to the roll, GM, as the NPC, invokes "Stout Pacifist", paying a fate point from their own reserve into the bank.

This will make it slightly harder to convince them, but the NPC is a Stout Pacifist. Being convinced would be against their very nature! That's not just a +2 to difficulty in convincing them!

Option 3: When it comes to the roll, GM, as the NPC, invokes "Stout Pacifist", paying a fate point from their own reserve to the player.

Option #2 was the correct way to invoke that aspect. The fate point doesn't go to the player.

What do you do instead?

Good question! If this is a big deal, make it one. Convincing someone who's a Stout Pacifist to join the war is no simple task, and will take more than a simple roll of rapport or something.

Think of other narratives you've seen, and what it's taken to convince someone determined not to join a fight to join it. The TV Tropes page Neutral No Longer contains some examples:

  • Treebeard, from Lord of the Rings, only joined the fight against Isengard after an entire section of the forest near the tower was felled.
  • Luke Skywalker only cared about the war when his entire family was killed.
  • In The Frisco Kid, a rabbi guns down a man to save his friend. Later, he agrees to a duel in order to keep his challenger from shooting innocent bystanders.
  • In real life, the USA only joined World War II after Pearl Harbour was attacked.

There's a bunch of ways to zoom in and model this mechanically. Drawing from Conflicts, Contests & Challenges, two ways make the most sense to me: a series of Legendary challenges, or a conflict against their nature as a Stout pacifist. You may find other ways that make more sense.

As a social conflict

This would be appropriate in a two-way argument, or if you want to model active resistance by the Stout Pacifist. Either give the character a Determination stress track representing their determination to stay out of the fight, or use the Bronze rule to create a character representing that determination.

Your players should create advantages that represent things that might motivate the NPC to fight: discover things the other side has done and show or report them to the NPC. Find things your side is doing that's in accordance with other parts of their nature: if they're a healer, show them the wounded that need help.

Wear down their determination. This may take days of in-game time. Eventually, they may concede, be taken out, or be hit by an attack they can't absorb by stress or their usual consequences. Then:

  • Force them to take an extreme consequence. They must replace their Stout pacifist aspect with something like The Crimson Army Killed My Family.
  • Or them taking that aspect is part of the terms of them conceding, or what you say happens when they are taken out.

Then compel that aspect to make them join the fight, if they're not already clear on a course of action they want to take.

As a series of challenges

This would be appropriate if your NPC does not provide active resistance, and you want to model his attitude just being steadily changed. Each challenge involves breaking down their resistance to joining the fight and changing their view of the war, similar to the conflict, but this is all one-way progress. As your characters work through the challenges, the NPC's essential nature will change bit by bit, as they become more and more uncertain of their pacifism and more and more convinced of the need to do something - and their aspects will change to reflect that.

Each of the challenges is Legendary (+8) or thereabouts on the ladder, forcing the NPCs to gather significant evidence (again, aspects) and work together in teamwork.

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Interesting analysis, not just answering the question but also a good go-to example for me when I next try to explain Fate to a group of players. – Anaphory Jun 12 '14 at 13:44
Very interesting and detailed description, thank you. However, I just re-read that section in the Fate Core rulebook (maybe different in other variants?) and it explicitly states: "That aspect [you are trying to compel] can be on your character, the scene, location, game, or anywhere else that’s currently in play." (Fate Core, p. 71) As I understand it, that includes other characters if the compel makes sense. You make a good point in that this compel could be used in other ways rather than just to give +2 to a roll though, as well as how to solve the situation in alternative ways. – monsterfurby Jun 12 '14 at 17:25
@monsterfurby I've updated this to address that - in truth I totally forgot about the situation/etc aspects being valid compel targets. #1 is still not how a compel would work out, though, since it's muddling up the dynamics of a compel. (Also: compels do not give +2 to a roll; invokes do.) – doppelgreener Jun 12 '14 at 23:17
Thanks again. I think most of my problem is having played "Strands of Fate" before, which was a third-party made Fate variant/toolkit which made compels essentially inverted invokes (-2 being a possibility besides effects), thus radically missing the point. I do think though that compels could be used to force a roll where there would be none otherwise ("You want to climb the stairs despite your busted ankle? Let's have a roll to see if you make it in any reasonable amount of time." Bad example, I know,) or to outright have the result of a roll go south. – monsterfurby Jun 17 '14 at 9:28

In addition to being invokable and compellable, aspects are True: if the NPC is a Stout Pacifist you're perfectly within your rights as a GM to have them refuse to get involved as a belligerent, no invoke or compel necessary.

If the player is trying to get the NPC to give a different kind aid, the aspect would be a good candidate for an invoke (to make the player's roll more difficult) or a compel (to flatly refuse in exchange for a fate point).

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I'd say both options 1 and 2, and in that order. The GM offers the compel, and the player can accept it, gain a fate point and sit down. Or he may refuse it, paying a fate point, which lets him continue with trying to convince the NPC as a challenge.

The GM still has the option to make that challenge harder by invoking the aspect. Since the aspect is on the NPC, the fate point spent by the GM does not go to the player. Depending on his roll, the player may have to invoke other aspects to deal with the increased difficulty. This makes it a costly success for the player if he wants it that bad.

And even if the NPC is somewhat convinced in the end, the same aspect could be used to ensure that he's not really helping as much as he can, being reluctant and ineffective in a situation that he has been forcibly dragged into.

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-1 As others have noted, option 1 is a misreading of the rules for compels, so it shouldn't happen. – Glenn Jun 12 '14 at 17:21

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