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In a Fate-Core game, I want to introduce an area in which a powerful ritual had been cast in which everybody must say the truth (kind of similar to the D&D Zone of Truth spell).

I have some problems thinking about it in terms of Fate-Core mechanics. The options I thought are the following:

  1. Giving each character the temporal Aspect In zone of truth. This would probably be the one that best represents what I want, since it can be compelled to force the players to tell the truth.
  2. Giving the area the Aspect Zone of truth. The problem is that it won't be able to compel the players. That makes it difficult to force them to say the truth.
  3. Like 2, but making it work as if it were an aspect for each character in the zone. That way it doesn't require writing down (and removing) such aspect from every character, but it would be treated exactly as 1.
  4. Like 2, but whenever a character wants to lie, they have to overcome an obstacle (such as lying inside a Zone of truth). That would let players overcome it using (probably) fate points and their aspects (which probably makes sense). The problem is that it looks like it might require many rolls (since lying is something that might happen a lot).

In the end, none of the 4 options I came up with really satisfies me. How could such Zone of truth be best represented using Fate-Core mechanics while ensuring the best experience for my players?

TL;DR: How to mechanically create an area where everybody is compelled to say the truth in Fate-Core.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's no reason you can't use an aspect on an area to compel, so the premise of #2 is a bit flawed. :) That said, #4 is a solid option, because aspects provide rationale for active opposition. Consider having the mage roll to defend against any effort to lie (Will vs. Deceive, or whatever) once the Zone is in place. \$\endgroup\$ – Fred Hicks Jun 4 '18 at 13:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hey @FredHicks! We'd love to have an answer from a game designer but here on RPG.SE we don't allow answers in comments. Could you consider putting that into an answer below so it can get voted up and preserved for the future? Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jun 5 '18 at 22:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sure. I mean my answer will lose all context without being attached to this one, but you folks do you. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Fred Hicks Jun 6 '18 at 22:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @FredHicks That’s okay, this is attached to the question post, not an answer; the answer you’ve submitted will continue to be associated with this question post. (Generally, when in doubt just post in the Answer box; we can easily automatically convert answers to comments if it’s needed, but we can’t do the reverse, so misplaced comments we can only remove or contact you about.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 6 '18 at 23:09
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First, decide how it works in the fiction

Figure out the actual fictional constraints the spell imposes. Specifically:

  1. Is the effect absolute or something you can resist through force of will (or whatever)?

  2. Are you compelled to speak truthfully, or simply prevented from lying? In other words, can you choose silence or omission?

You could crib from the actual D&D Zone of Truth spell, but to be honest I think that'll make for a weak scene: it's a low-level spell you can just dodge with a save, and at best it means you can't lie actively but doesn't otherwise constrain you — that's not really a "powerful ritual" like you wanted, and honestly it's more of an occasionally-convenient investigative tool than any kind of significant challenge.

So, just let go of mechanics for a second — both Fate's and D&D's — and figure out how you want it to feel. Then proceed…

As Aspect

Honestly? Don't sweat whether it's a situation aspect or a temporary character aspect or whatever — you know how you want it to work, you can communicate it clearly to your players, that's enough. (Anyway, there's no real mechanical hurdle here: it's completely legit to compel a situation aspect. See "Compelling situation aspects," Fate Core, pg. 75.)

Also, note that you don't have to keep banging on the aspect with compels every time someone wants to lie. A compel's gotta hurt. If they're taking the Fate point, they should expect to actually face some significant trouble for it. (Also, if they pay to avoid the compel, you're still welcome to narrate it as a test of will or a close call — that probably makes pushing past the magic truth field more satisfying than just "oh, ok, it doesn't affect you.")

A good way to understand this is to imagine a scene with the aspect "Separated By a Big Bottomless Pit" representing a huge chasm in the middle of the battlefield. Various actions the characters take could involve compelling or invoking the aspect. But, independent of that, the mere fictional presence of the Big Bottomless Pit can constrain their movement or present dangers without involving the aspect mechanics themselves. Because it's also just true that the Big Bottomless Pit is there, and important, regardless. (See "Importance," Fate Core pg. 59.)

As Passive Resistance

You can also model your zone of truth as an effect that applies passive resistance to lying and deception, or even automatically boosts NPCs' passive resistance level by a step or two.

Would this involve rolling a lot? No more than just lying normally. Follow your typical process of Fate skills. Roll when it matters dramatically, let it ride a bit, think about what the roll means, apply significant results to both success and failure.


My Recommendation

  • Make it a situation aspect, because that's easy to understand and matches the fiction.
  • Make it a big and powerful force in the scene. No simple "save to negate" structure. If the players try to lie, tell them: "I'm compelling the Zone of Truth aspect, if you blurt out something that hurts your own standing, you'll get a Fate point; if you want to talk around it convincingly, spend one instead — you can't lie directly but you can obliquely achieve the same effect. You can feel the spell clouding your mind a bit every time you even inch up to lying, so trying to lawyer your way out of all this with omission and self-control will only get you so far." (If they want to lawyer their way through anyway, that might be some kind of Overcome or Create An Advantage action. E.g. maybe you could roll Rapport to establish "I'm going to tell people about something bad I did but also try to convince them it was a forgiveable deed.")
  • If someone asks how to beat the spell more thoroughly, like breaking the enchantment, show them "Removing or Changing an Aspect" (Fate Core, pg. 78).
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    \$\begingroup\$ By simply pointing out pg. 75 you solved many of my doubts. I totally forgot that rule. Thanks for also nicely explaining how and when to compel aspects, and when it is simply a truth regarding the environment. \$\endgroup\$ – Masclins Jun 4 '18 at 8:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Re "power through" -- shouldn't that be treated as a "climb to the bottom of the bottomless pit" possibly? Ie, this is a zone of truth, saying something that is not true is possible in-fiction. Or did I misunderstand, or are you suggesting differently? \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Jun 4 '18 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk Good point. You might as well make the effect absolutely true and use Aspects to govern how it affects the PCs, if you want a "powerful ritual." (Updated) \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Jun 4 '18 at 15:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also agree with the comment on the question that a great way to model this is the Aspect gives the casting mage narrative permission to use a relevant skill/stunt/etc to create active opposition. \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Jun 4 '18 at 20:39
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There's no reason you can't use an aspect on an area to compel, so the premise of #2 is a bit flawed. :) That said, #4 is a solid option, because aspects provide rationale for active opposition. Consider having the mage roll to defend against any effort to lie (Will vs. Deceive, or whatever) once the Zone is in place.

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As already said, #2 works because you certainly can Compel with the situation or location aspect.

#4 also is very relevant. Compel doesn't necessarily have to be the only option. There are ways to manage your main complaint about anticipating a long string of Overcome attempts as a player tries to maneuver their character out of being forced to reveal the truth.

Simplify mechanics while supporting story texture.

I know that Fate appeals to people who want to roleplay (RP) things out. It's certainly possible to RP out all the lies someone wants to attempt, while not letting the Zone of Truth become a tar-pit of lie rolls. There are a couple of options.

Determine the stakes.

Remember to roll the dice only when both success and failure are each potentially interesting to the story. Make sure the players know why they're in it, and don't let it spin aimlessly as they try to turn it into a long string of lie attempts just because they feel like they have to win it. It's possible to locate part of a scene in the Zone of Truth without really demanding much conflict or making players feel like they're expected to grind their way through it. On the other hand, it's definitely a great dramatic element, so, when the direction of the story really does hang on a turning point in the Zone, that point of drama should be clear enough that it's identifiable as a single focus, which you can then spend as much or as little play time on as the story calls for.

Zoom out.

Page 200 of Chapter 8, on Running the Game, describes reducing the stakes of the scene to a single roll, and this doesn't at all rule out the RP possibilities. It's a zoom-out from the point of view of the mechanics wrangling, but doesn't say you have to zoom out of the RP.

Create a Challenge.

Chapter 7, Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts is described entirely as a set of tools for zooming in on the stakes and highlighting the specific points of drama which lead to the outcome. If you, or your player(s), want the stakes of a particular visit to the Zone of Truth to really be determined by the maneuvering of the character's thoughts or statements, use the Challenge mechanic to give the player the opportunity to narrate their lies and exercise different parts of their character's sheet (skills, Aspects, stunts). Yes, this does mean there will be more than one roll, but it will be manageable, by-design, and not an unlimited scope for whatever the player can think to try before the stakes are won (or lost, as the case may be).

Take those Fate points.

In Fate, obstacles, problems, or achievements which are very important to the player come down to "How bad do you want it." Fate points are limited enough that it's a built-in limitation to how many times a player can really crank on a problem. GMs should not drag scenes out till they have wrung all of the Fate points out of the player(s) and then continued to call for rolls. So with the above ideas about structuring the scene around a specific stake in such a way that there's only a finite number of rolls before the outcome is revealed, be free to go ahead and make it hard. The Zone of Truth shouldn't be easy to beat. As GM, one of my phrases I use with players is, "How bad do you want it?" but I only use it when stakes are interesting either way (success or failure). Invoking Aspects or buying off Compels are narrative drama: Tell me how your character dodged that bullet and why it was a great bit of story to see that happen, and drop that Fate point in the cup as your thanks for my giving your character a chance to be awesome (Fate Core, page 4, page 88, page 210).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Also an amazing answer! Thanks for giving so much information about how to handle such situations. \$\endgroup\$ – Masclins Jun 6 '18 at 7:28

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