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I've asked this elsewhere before, and am still in search of an answer that will give me clear guidelines for making such decisions in actual play (whether as a GM or as a player who's making up a part of a consensus).

Let's say we have a situation where an action would normally be uncontested (e.g. moving between zones), though somehow failing to do it would still be noteworthy for the narrative. However, according to the narrative, whether as an initial condition or as a result of something that happened mid-scene, we currently have an obstacle of some sort, which we of course translate into game mechanics as an Aspect. Knee-High Snow for moving between zones, a Thick Black Smoke for trying to read a piece of paper on a table, a Fragile Pencil for a stenographer trying to write down a speech etc.

The main question: When would such obstacles require an Invocation to make them mechanically affect an action ('create passive opposition at Fair (+2) if there wasn’t going to be any'), and when should a passive opposition be assigned 'for free' against everyone who tries to perform the action in question? Keep in mind that in all of the above cases the Aspect is relevant to the action (otherwise invoking it wouldn't be possible at all). And that in the former case, not spending an Invocation would result in the Aspect not mechanically influencing the chances of outcomes.

Answers that are not helpful:

  • Too vague: 'Whatever makes the best story!'. But if you go down that path, criteria of a good story are usually the plot being both engaging not having holes (including holes discovered during a fridge logic moment); those criteria seem to be either mechanics-agnostic, or favour mechanical principles that favour coherent and consistent resolutions.
  • Evasive: 'Ask the GM/table!'. I am a GM and a member of a table, I'd like to know the procedural principles of making decisions like this.
  • Off-topic: 'Don't offer a Passive Opposition that makes an action harder, use a Compel to make it fail completely instead!'. I do know about Compels, but that's a very different kettle of fish and the answer I'm seeking relates to Passive Opposition (free and invoked), not Compels.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Almost forgot to ask: you removed the 'faked' formatting without replacing it with 'real'; how do I add the real replacement using SE's system? \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh Jan 21 at 9:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ There isn’t a way to force a page to have real indented paragraphs when its paragraph style is already set to be spaced-no-indents. Paragraph style is set by a site-wide standard setting and can’t be overriden. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 21 at 15:38
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Apples and oranges.

Passive Opposition

Generally you want to use passive opposition to indicate the general difficulty of a task. If a task is significantly more difficult because of a fact that's represented by an aspect, then increase the passive opposition. A lot of times that's less than strictly linear for me, as a lot of little things don't really make something significantly harder, but that's a matter of interpretation and taste.

Invocations

Invocations aren't really just "it's more difficult". They're more like dramatic reversals. It looks like things are going one way, but then - oh no! - the hero slips at the last second or thinks of something to give them the last bit of oomph or whatever the case may be.

That's a big part of why I require narration for invocations, rather than just "because" statements. In writer terms, this becomes "show, don't tell".

Both Can Work Together

As an example:

GM: "Okay, the wall is Frozen Over With Ice so it's going to be really tough to climb... +4 difficulty."

Player: "Okay, I got a five. I climb up the wall..."

(note the use of the ellipsis trick here)

GM: "Not so fast, as you get to the top of the wall, your hand slips on an icy section, since the wall is Frozen Over With Ice, and you're in danger of falling down... Care to invoke something else?"

Player: "Yeah. I've got Fast Reflexes, so as I start slipping my hand darts out and grabs another rock, preventing my fall..."

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Yes, No, or Fate Point

For a second, pretend Fate Points don't exist. Ask yourself "is this state of affairs going to present a dramatic obstacle?" If your first impulse is "yes, absolutely" then yes. If your first impulse is "absolutely not" then no. If your first impulse is anywhere in between, Fate Point. Is knee-high snow going to present an obstacle to:

  • hard-nosed vigilante, Jack Tarot? Yes.
  • everyone's favorite metal boy, Atomic Robo? No. (Unless MAD SCIENCE is at work, anyway.)
  • hard-nosed vigilante Jack Tarot's beat-up old Studebaker? Well, it depends how well-packed it is and how fast he's- Fate Point.

Of course, you have to bring table consensus to that point - clear yes, clear no, or somewhere-in-between Fate Point.

Bringing Table Consensus To That Point

So, first, if you are the GM setting up or anyone else creating elements of the scene with the intent that they will provide an obstacle, actually say that's why you're doing it. This will both get any dissent out of the way up front and get you closer to a neutral read from everybody else at the table -- revealing it later has a certain air of "surprise, you fools, I am invincible" about it, which never goes over well.

Second, if you're clear yes or clear no, say why you're not conflicted:

  • Jack Tarot is only a man, and knee-high snow is tough going.
  • Atomic Robo has Atomic Strength and laughs in the face of Nature.

Or, if you're conflicted and trying to get people off clear yes or clear no, say what would push you to clear yes/clear no, but is not currently true.

  • Yeah, if Jack Tarot's car was actually having trouble running it would always need to make this check, but it's "beat up" in the sense that he keeps it in good repair but doesn't care about cosmetics.
  • Yeah, if Jack Tarot spent some time kitting his car out for winter driving, with a plow or tire chains or something, snow wouldn't pose an obstacle, but -- wait, it's the dead of winter in New York, of course he would, objection withdrawn.

Sometimes you'll find yourself getting argued out of it! That's fine too.

Adjudicating: Making an Aspect vs. Creating an Obstacle

So if a player intends to do something to create or discover an aspect that is a barrier, just by existing, as opposed to an aspect that's basically just holding an invoke or two to be used later, how do you respond to that, as a GM? Well, a couple ways.

If the aspect is being created proactively; that is, it's meant to block something nobody is currently trying to do, kick the difficulty of the passive opposition to the check up by +2, over what it would have been as just an aspect with some invokes.

If the aspect is being created reactively; that is, there are people right now interested in doing the thing it's blocking, then make it an opposed roll against them, even if the aspect isn't going to attach to them necessarily. This is usually going to end up harder than just creating an aspect against passive opposition but you're also asking more of it.

Of course, even that might not get you all the way there. Just remember: the bridge between "yes" and "no" is "Fate Point".

Starhound: Don't worry, Athens, I'm very distracting! SUPPRESSIVE FIRE!

GM: This is more Create an Advantage than an attack for stress, right?

Starhound: Yeah, I'm rolling Shoot to put Suppressive Fire on the guards.

GM: Cool, I'll roll their defend and-- *TIME PASSES* -- and Suppressive Fire is on the guards with one free invoke. The guards know better than to pop up and shoot - you hear a subcomm hum to life and one of them says "Boss! This is the West Gate, we're pinned down!"

Athens: Way to announce we're here, Starhound.

Starhound: Wait, aren't they too busy cowering to do anything else? That's what I was going for.

GM: Oh. Yeah, that'd actually be more Provoke than Shoot, because you want to fill them with fear and not blaster fire. Tell you what, spend a Fate Point and they'll be rolling Will against your raw Shoot to get the message out.

Starhound: This isn't active opposition? I'm still kinda throwing shots at them, right?

GM: Well, it could be. Do you want to be standing out in the open cowing them?

Starhound: Point. Passive it is.

GM: You'll still get to burn the invoke and bank a Fate Point off Suppressive Fire if they crit this or whatever. Now let's see...

This seems a little iffy...

Can you "cleverly cheat" this system by inventing doubts about anything the GM says and oh-so-earnestly saying your character's just invincible?

Yes!

Please don't try to cheat your friends. You are never as clever as you think.

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If there is a situation aspect from any source which would definitively make a specific task more difficult, it should always provide opposition without spending fate points. For example, if a room is Pitch Black any attempts to see things in that room should now require a roll even if they wouldn't normally, and any attempts that would already require a roll should be made more difficult. It is worth noting that the GM or the players could invoke that aspect with a fate point to increase the passive opposition by a further +2.

If an aspect would not normally be expected to interfere then it should require justification and an invocation. For example, my character is a Paranoid Weirdo, so as someone attempts to sneak into his house while he's not at home I spend a fate point and retroactively declare that he's set up surveillance cameras that make a stealth roll required to enter unseen, establishing passive opposition where there would not ordinarily be any. Or I have Claude, My Faithful Bird Companion, so when an enemy is trying to cross a rickety, narrow bridge I spend a fate point and declare that the bird is flapping in their face, making their roll to cross safely more difficult. In both those cases we have an aspect that would not ordinarily affect the roll, but can be justified by the fiction, so it requires a fate point.

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