Important NPCs may have hidden aspects that PCs are supposed to assess somehow before using them: can such a NPC invoke one of his hidden aspects without the GM revealing it to the players?


Let's say that Lenny is a drug-dealer working for a local crime lord that PCs are trying to take down. They met him a few times and suspect he may know something about his boss they can use against him. What they don't know is that Lenny is actually working for the good guys, as for his Undercover police detective aspect.

Things escalate (social conflict?) and PCs decide to try and scare Lenny to get the informations they think he has: they tell him they're working with the cops and threaten to put him behind the bars should he refuse to cooperate.

Now Lenny may invoke his Undercover police detective aspect to get a bonus, but how should I handle this as a GM? Should I simply declare: "Lenny invokes one of his aspects and gets a +2"? Or should I tell the players what the aspect is, instead? (thus blowing his cover and letting them know something they didn't really assess themselves)

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrodante - I added this to my answer, but in FATE, since the players have a great degree of control over how much fate they spend on a roll, they need to know their target for such interactions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Feb 3, 2012 at 23:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Valid in WoD, because the storyteller isn't really a moderator like in FATE- just a DM by a different name. The social contract is different in FATE. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Feb 3, 2012 at 23:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kyle You can't really secretly roll for players in Fate, and besides, Aspects do more than just give roll bonuses. They're meaningless until a player interacts with them, so secret Aspects are kind of a self-contradiction. \$\endgroup\$ May 24, 2013 at 0:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie - I totally agree with your comment to a point. However, I did want to point out that secret Aspects are not really a contradiction, as you can discover aspects that are on a 'character' in the scene through the use of skills. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    May 24, 2013 at 1:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @wraith Right, yes. I should say then, secret Aspects that stay secret, maybe? That's more what I meant. \$\endgroup\$ May 24, 2013 at 3:50

3 Answers 3


One of the problems that I run into with Fate is the preconceived notions of what a GM is, and the role played in other games. Fate is about the story, more than the system, i.e. the story utilizes the system rather than being constrained by it. So, though it may seem that you are letting the players know about something that they do not, what you are really doing is introducing a story point to move things along.

In the best instances of synergy, his utilization of the aspect would involve revealing it if it affected some roll that involved the player. But, just because this is not the case doesn't mean that the characters know- just the players.

This does not mean that the player can't invoke it by spending a fate point, but it does mean that the invocation does have to be explained in such a way that it would not rely on the character's knowledge. An example of this might be the player spending a fate point to hinder the other character because of the fact that he is an undercover police detective, and this fact constrains him, rather than the player.

I've found that though details may be hidden outside of interaction with the player, once the players become involved, its not so much hiding details, as to how they interact with the story.

Also see this thread where I pose a similar question- like I said, I had a hard time getting past this.

One last point- the reason that the players need to know is stated in that other thread- since the players can spend fate points to alter the results of the roll, they need to know their target.

That said, if you do want to have aspects that are hidden to the players, I'd say that there are a couple of ways to do it- and a couple of caveats that you have to watch out for.

You can use tangential aspects to the primary aspect to act as breadcrumbs towards puzzling out the primary aspect. I've done this in my game. But the caveat is that you can't be too obscure in your placement, so that players can actually puzzle out that their is more to the situation than meets the eye. If you are too clever, then you can find yourself in the unenviable position of having to try to figure out ways to drop hints so that your players can find out your big reveal.

An example of how I've used this: There was a person of note in the campaign that was seemingly a villain, but was actually a patsy and a victim; their bodyguard was the real threat in the scene.

The patsy had the aspects Detached to a fault, Listens to his subordinates, and Winning is everything. These covered that he was Addicted to Red Court Venom.

The bodyguard had the aspects Divided Loyalty, Has his boss' ear, and Strong as an Ox to imply that he was Red Court Infected.

The aspects that told the story were there, and as the players saw clues, they were able to puzzle out the mystery. But it was harder than it needed to be, as though the aspects seemed obvious to me, they weren't obvious to the players.

Always keep that in mind, and have a definite plan for the reveal that doesn't necessarily involve the players' agency.

As I looked back on it, I saw that last caveat as the reason that I would use this sparingly, and concentrate more on the story than the plot points and being the GM. Player agency is important in Fate, and to an extent, this removes that if they don't follow your orchestrated plot.


Wraith's answer is absolutely right: Fate is designed to be open and transparent, and revealing aspects is crucial to the players' mechanical viability in the narrative.

Now, DFRPG itself occupies a rather peculiar niche in the Fate paradigm and its narrative style unfortunately led to a lot of engine philosophy being implied rather than stated. So I'm going to quote from the just-released "Fate Core," which is a codification of the Fate engine as a generic platform and as such delves into the philosophy of the system a bit more explicitly so that groups can leverage the ideas for their own settings. The ideas here are, I believe, implicit in DFRPG and can be seen employed by some of the examples given in its manuals.

Generally speaking, we assume that most of the aspects in play are public knowledge for the players. The PCs’ character sheets are sitting on the table, and probably the main and supporting NPCs are as well. That doesn’t always mean the characters know about those aspects, but that’s one of the reasons why the create an advantage action exists—to help you justify how a character learns about other characters. ["Fate Core" p. 79]

I have confidence in my players' ability to separate knowledge from their characters, and usually this transparency between GM and player encourages great stories. But sometimes the GM wants to hold something back for a dramatic reveal to make the players gasp; I empathize.

GMs, we know that sometimes you’re going to want to keep an NPC’s aspects secret, or not reveal certain situation aspects right away, because you’re trying to build tension in the story. If the PCs are investigating a series of murders, you don’t exactly want the culprit to have Sociopathic Serial Murderer sitting on an index card for the PCs to see at the beginning of the adventure. ["Fate Core" p. 79]

So here's the solution:

Re-craft the aspect to be more subtle.

we recommend you don’t make an aspect directly out of whatever fact you’re trying to keep secret. Instead, make the aspect a detail that makes sense in context after the secret is revealed. ["Fate Core" p. 79]

One of the lovely things about aspects is that they can imply a great deal. So I'll create aspects that reference the secret in ways which let me invoke it without giving the game away.

Example: I won't give the guy a high concept of "Ensouled Vampire." I'll give him something like "Brooding Anti-Hero" and make his trouble "Guilt-ridden By My Violent Past." Notice that by unpacking the idea I was able to strengthen the aspects and put more play into the character. (The in-book example is a vampire too, but I didn't want to just keep quoting.)

With a bit of creativity (yes, it's often difficult, but if I want to play a secrets game in Fate then I accept that it's going to be a bit of work), I can design aspects that do everything I need them to --while still letting the players enjoy them as well without giving anything away. DFRPG has so many aspects floating around compared to most other implementations of Fate that it seems well-positioned to accomodate this approach with great nuance and subtlety.

I could hide the aspects; the DFRPG "assessment" action is replicated in the Core through the "reveal hidden aspect" function of the "create an advantage" action, so it's not a concept anathema (or even unfamiliar) to the Fate engine in any iteration. Just... there are more elegant ways to achieve the same goal and it's clear Evil Hat thinks these options are better. One reason may be that hiding aspects reduces the number of invocation and compel options available to the players. Weakening players' narrative influence for the sake of a dramatic reveal seems like the kind of thing a GM should do very rarely and with great deliberation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is the kind of subtle narrative foreshadowing that authors often employe. It makes your plot believable without giving too much away to the reader. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    May 23, 2013 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for this, especially the references from the rulebook. \$\endgroup\$ May 27, 2013 at 2:25

One of my favourite things about FATE is the distinction between players and characters. FATE assumes that you, as a player, are on board with bad but interesting things happening to you as a character. I would suggest revealing the secret aspect to the players, but not to the characters. This is easy enough to do in play ("none of you realized at the time that he was actually an 'Undercover Agent!'") but may take some wrapping your head around if you're from a different playstyle. More than just not 'cheating' and having your characters figure it out, look for ways to enhance the experience based on what you (the player) knows. It can be really amusing! Here's the best example I've run into- (I'm playing Greycloak)

Martin Greycloak, Detective O'Hanna, and the Half-fey Beeblebrox are holed up in a safehouse after a fight gone bad with a pack of ghouls. The DM called for an Alertness roll- Beeblebrox missed by a few shifts, but Greycloak and O'Hanna fail so spectacularly that' we're in the negative numbers. Laughing, the DM says "Alright, so none of you notice the extra large Ghoul pry off the front door and waltz in with his buddies. What are you doing that you missed that?" Beeblebrox: "Dude, guys, check this out, I found a ball of string! This thing is awesome!" DM: "And you two? You were in the room right next door. How the heck did you miss that?" Me and O'Hanna's player look at each other, and crack up. "We're doing it." DM: "Now? In a warehouse? And into it enough that you didn't notice someone ripping the door off? Us: "Ayup."

Our characters didn't find out that there were ghouls around until after Beeblebrox had fought off two whole waves of them. We still helped with the fight though- using Performance and Endurance to give Beebles aspects of "I really don't want to go in there" and "I prefer the moans of the dying" even though our characters were completely unaware.


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