I'm trying to recreate an existing character in FATE, but she has an aspect that I'm unsure how to handle.

This aspect is something that I want to be able to bring up in play, and I mostly see myself self-compelling it. At the same time I don't want to completely block off the possibility of someone else compelling that aspect, I just want to have more control over it than it seems like the rules for Invoking and Compelling allow at first glance.

If you’re in a situation where having or being around a certain aspect means your character’s life is more dramatic or complicated, someone can compel the aspect. [...]
You can negotiate the terms of the complication a bit, until you reach a reasonable consensus.
Whoever is getting compelled then has two options:

  • Accept the complication and receive a fate point
  • Pay a fate point to prevent the complication from happening

GMs, you’re the final arbiter here, as always — not just on how the result of a compel plays out, but on whether or not a compel is valid in the first place.

I can envision both of the options, figuratively, leaving a bad taste in my mouth; either feeling pressured into doing something (albeit with an in-game reward) or feel penalised for preventing something from happening by giving a up a fate point. That is unless I can convince the GM it's not valid in the first place.

Given the aspect involved a potentially sensitive topic for myself, I've been advised by someone else that this could be a good place for using an X-Card, from the TTRPG Safety Tools Toolkit (Google Docs link), which is also discussed here in What are the benefits of using the X Card safety tool in comparison to plain communication?.

My issue here is that I don't want to have ultimate power to block the topic, as for me at least, it's not something that I don't want to ever come up, which seems like the remit of the X-Card. At the time same time I'm not sure how to handle the potential for X-Carding personally feeling like an arbitrary move to preserve in game resources. Likewise I don't want to make it a line or a veil; something that would never come up or get skipped over.

I've briefly read ALTERNATE RULES: Revisiting Fate Compel Refusal by Fate Core authors Ryan Macklin and Leonard Balsera. :

To be totally honest, the mechanics around refusing compels is meh—by design. The Fate compel directives push for a yes-and or yes-but play ethos, where the GM can propose an interesting complication for players to have fun with. But to keep people from being strongarmed into situations they don’t want to be in, we have the refusal mechanic.

The drafted rule reads:

Buying out of a compel should create story, just as accepting and negotiation does. Refusing a compel could mean your character shows fortitude in the face of temptation, struggles with a dramatic choice, etc.

When you buy out of a compel with a Fate point, the act of spending that Fate point does one of two things: it either creates a situational aspect relating to the refusal (which has a free invoke), or it puts a free invoke on an existing aspect. That aspect naturally relates to a relevant story element. That way, you still get a die roll benefit from the fate point expenditure; you’re just pushed into a situation where you had to spend your fate point now rather than later.

But my character isn't "Refusing a compel could mean your character shows fortitude in the face of temptation, struggles with a dramatic choice" the issue I'm facing is "not having a perceived "fair" way to navigate the aspect being brought up in a way the querent doesn't want to follow through with" (as per Doppelgreener's comment).

As an example of play I am concerned about, I'm going to take inspiration from a game I played with the same character in a different system:

Fin grabs hold of the window ledge, scrambling and heaving to get her center of mass high enough to tumble over and into the room.

Here, if it were a game of FATE I'd have wanted to self-compel and get a FATE point by making the characters life harder (I haven't named the Aspect, partly to not get bogged down in the details, and partly due to its nature):

Can I self-compel one of Fin's aspects <name of aspect>, that makes it harder for Fin to physically fit through the window without help?

I made a choice, and want to use the compel to explain/justify why that might be complicated for the character.

But there will be times where I might not have wanted to accept someone else compelling that same aspect. Here are two situations, and I'd like to know how to handle them if they came up (for the record, neither up in game, but they could have):

What if Fin landing so heavily on the bean bag bursts it, and makes extra noise alerting the monster? Can I compel the same aspect and get more fate points for Fin's player?

I might be comfortable with that, and accept the compel! I decided to have the character land on a bean bag. Or I might feel like I could spend a fate point and refuse, by saying Fin is acrobatic enough to land without the bean bag.

However let's look at something that feels less fair:

Can I compel it as well? Fin is the fattest character here, so the monster should target her first.

I would definitely have not been comfortable with that. I might have wanted to X-Card it even, but also I don't want to signal that I never want something similar suggested.

As the aspect as a whole might be a grey area I'm not sure how I feel about ever X-Carding the result, especially if it's the GM compelling the aspect, or putting off players from trying to compel it. I don't want to give myself a get out of jail free card, especially one I could apply (or be accused of applying) in every scenario I don't like (as opposed to being actually distressing and wanting me to avoid it entirely), when others don't get that either. I don't want complete control over my character's fate.

Going back the alternate rules, I don't know how best to phrase that version of refusing a compel in a way that:

creates a situational aspect relating to the refusal (which has a free invoke), or it puts a free invoke on an existing aspect

What am I refusing here? That the beanbags don't break? What kind of 'free invoke' is "Doesn't break beanbags when landing on them", which wouldn't have existed before?

I could just agree this ahead of time in a session 0, but that doesn't feel much better making it a Line/Veil. The previously linked question also points out the issues with just relying on communication alone.

Is there some way of wording the Aspect, or another rule that makes compelling and safety tools work in the way I want?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think we can answer the question "How can I word an aspect that I can veto/Is there some way of wording the Aspect" without more context. I could guess that it relates to the character being physically large from your examples, but that doesn't indicate how large they are, or in which fashion (heavily muscled, morbidly obese, slightly fat, etc, etc...). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 12:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso thats the detail I don't want to get bogged down in. I might ask a later question specifically about the spect, but I didn't want to get to that now. Mainly to avoid people arguing why I even need to be careful about the topic when it's quite personal, and partly as I might want to play other characters where the specific answer doesn't work. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage That's fine, but I guess my point is that you're asking a different question than you're "asking". Essentially, "how should/can I word an aspect" isn't answerable with the details provided and should be reworded itself. Something like "How can I communicate to my group that I need to be able to Veto compels on an aspect for personal reasons" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 0:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind that not every trait of a character must necessarily be an aspect. If you want to play a character with a certain character trait but don't want compels from other people breaking your agency of that character, then you can play it safe by just not writing it down as an official aspect on the character sheet. You can still reference that character trait during your narration. You just can't use it as a part of the compel and invoke mechanic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 9:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast OP wants an aspect with unspecified characteristics, which will be useable in some unspecified circumstances but not in other unspecified circumstances, and is committed to using a system which makes this difficult for unspecified reasons. There's a lot of words, but precious little relevant detail. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Commented Aug 7, 2022 at 18:43

8 Answers 8


You can always "veto an aspect being compelled". You don't need an X-Card, but using safety tools can help.

If I could set myself in the ideal place to handle your scenario, I would be playing with a group who were all willing to use Script Change, a safety tool that generally provides more state information than the X-Card. When I wrote down the Aspect I was worried would be controversial, I'd say as much when introducing the character, and draw the Frame Advance symbol on the index card with the Aspect so other people had a reminder to take it slow when using it against me.

There are two important things here: the ongoing table conversation about Aspects and the proper use of safety tools.

The Rulebook Is Incomplete: Aspects At Table

People can tend to put a lot of emphasis on having Aspects with funny or memorable turns of phrase in them, because that's fun and memorable, but every Aspect stands for a universe behind itself that even the best and pithiest of phrases can only hint at. Every written example of a Fate Aspect is missing this essential component, but that's to be expected, because it only really matters when you're at table trying to use Aspects other people have written and they're capable of reacting to you, something a book can never do. As such, always keep in mind that you're not writing an Aspect for the entertainment of a stranger on a different continent two years later; you're writing an Aspect for use at table. It's there to remind you and everybody else of that entire universe behind itself, but as the author of the Aspect you're not likely to tell everyone else the entire thing up front, and anyway it's hardly fair to expect them to remember it.

One thing that can help is to leave the downside in the universe behind; phrase the aspect in such a way that while it's understood to refer to your character's downside, it doesn't state it openly, making it less available to people who are just scanning the play surface looking for relevant Aspects. Keep in mind that the default assumption of Fate is that (SRD) all characters are competent: "they are the right people for the job, and they get involved in a crisis because they have a good chance of being able to resolve it for the better". Plenty of stories feature people who can acquit themselves well in an action scene teaming up with people who can't to accomplish something neither of them could do alone, so when you write this Aspect, a theme to consider is "why you're there anyway". Maybe you're More Of A Desk Operative but your analysis skills are needed in the field, so you go. Not having regular contact with the underworld can actually be a plus when you're trying to sell a cover identity, too. Or maybe you're a Scarred Veteran of the Secret War and, yes, you can only walk with a cane, but when it comes to the shadow players and their shadow stages, you've got a depth of knowledge few people can match. It can help, but ultimately it's not possible to write in such a way as to guarantee you can't be misunderstood.

This is all to say that, at table, the operational limits of an Aspect are always a topic for conversation, and the handful of Fate Points you start a session with are not your only weapon in this conversation; heck, they're not even your best weapon. When somebody tries to compel your Aspect there are more options possible than you having to take the compel or paying a Fate Point to stop it; it's entirely possible that the compel was wrongly offered in the first place because somebody else's concept of how your Aspect should operate is different from yours.

The conversation about the limits of your Aspect is, necessarily, ongoing, and requires the good faith of everyone involved that it's serious and worthy of time. Because if you pull good faith out of that? Well, the players each have their handful of Fate Points and the GM has unlimited ammo. How's that going to end? So have the conversation. With luck, other people will start to get a sense of the universe behind the phrasing and you won't need to have it as much as time goes on.

A good set of safety tools can help communicate clearly during that conversation, so here's:

Safety Tools: X-Card Considered Harmful

The X-Card doesn't have a lot of affordances to it, and there's a common misuse of it out there -- I attribute it mostly to imperfect teaching -- which goes about like so:

The X-Card is the nuclear option. Whenever something's happening that troubles you, touch the X-Card and we'll blank out the scene and move on, no questions asked.

This isn't how the card's creators envisioned it being used - at a bare minimum they usually talk about the card's use as a two-step process where you tap it to signal caution or take it to take control. Ultimately you have to be willing to blank out the scene and move on no questions asked if that's what the person who took the card is most comfortable with doing, but that's not the only use of the card.

Using the card in this way results in someone who wants to express discomfort losing all agency over how their concerns are handled because they spoke up about them, and that hasn't sat well with a lot of people. When I'm in a larger organized space where the X-Card is institutional, I try to teach it in a more nuanced matter, but as a matter of personal preference I favor Script Change because the vocabulary of video manipulation offers a lot more affordances to talk about how you want play to proceed. Also it meshes well with Fate's usual cinematic angle on things.

But regardless of what tool you use, the purpose of its use is to signal very clearly to everyone involved: this is no longer a conversation that serves a gaming purpose. This is a conversation about the limits of my safety and comfort.

You shouldn't be worried about using a safety tool. You shouldn't be concerned that your use of the safety tool won't be taken seriously when the entire purpose of a safety tool is to signal that you should be taken seriously. There is no secret double-serious mode to unlock. The safety tool is maximum serious.

Maybe you're worried about finding out that the people you game with aren't willing to take you seriously? But as painful as that might be, well, better to find out and move on than wait for disaster. Not gaming is better than bad gaming.

Oh hey, that reminds me of the secret third part to this answer that was always here:

The Move-On Gambit Reversed: The Backfire

I'm not going to say "don't ever put something problematic in an Aspect". One of the best Aspects I ever heard about was in a supers Fate game where one superheroine's Trouble was "Backwards in High Heels", which ultimately called back to a pithy newspaper comic observation about Ginger Rogers that seems so trenchant the popular consciousness has put it in a lot of wrong mouths over the years. All Fate characters are capable of proactive dramatic action, and sometimes that action is against or in spite of a blatant societal double standard about your own accomplishments.

But a problematic Aspect can be kind of a land mine, especially if the thing that makes the Aspect so problematic are its cliched or dismissive expressions in popular media.

This is because the use of Aspects at table is often very improvisational. The GM might prep a scenario with thoughtful use of character Aspects as the driver, but in many cases the use of Aspects isn't so premeditated. The game's guidance on appropriate use of Fate Points to hit Aspects should be viewed through an improvisational lens; you're not looking for reasons to shut it down, you're just making sure someone's doing something people can believe in and keep the improv going.

But the problem with improv is that when you're not being conscious and deliberate about things, you can wind up just hitting the poison frothing at the top of your brain, the cliched and dismissive expressions that popular media put there.

Confronting your own brain poison is ultimately a healthy course of action that makes you into a more considerate person, but it also takes work. Not everybody is going to show up for game night expecting, willing, or even able to put in that work.

All of which is just to say: you can't force anybody to play a game with you. It's legitimate for you to want to explore an Aspect which might turn out dramatic and cool or might be problematic, but it's also legitimate for other people to not want to do that. No matter how you frame the aspect, how the discussions go, or what tools you use, it might just be unworkable for someone else and there's nothing more to be done about it. At least you'll have dealt with it openly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an excellent answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2022 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Land mines" in improv are really important to discuss. When I play TTRPGs - particularly narrative-focused ones - I'm juggling a hundred different things. "How can I help make this scene cool/dramatic/fun? Have I been talking too much? How can I work the quieter player into the scene?" If the task "it's important to Player A to sometimes do X, but carefully read their mental and emotional state beforehand" is one of those things, then I'm absolutely going to try. But that focus means that the other things I'm juggling may get dropped. \$\endgroup\$
    – Red Orca
    Commented Aug 10, 2022 at 21:22

What you want is impossible

You wrote a lot on the topic while taking great pains to not mention anything material about the aspect which makes it very difficult to provide any real advice. However, I'm going to distill the key points which will hopefully make it clear that what you want doesn't exist.

  1. You want to apply an aspect to your character that is personally distressing to you
  2. You want your players and GM to know that the aspect is distressing to you
  3. You want the players and GM to still compel the aspect
    • If the players and the GM compel it too often, it will cause you distress
    • If the players and the GM don't compel it often enough, it will cause you distress
  4. You want to have the ability to unilaterally forego the aspect without suffering the consequences of foregoing it, but also not make everyone at the table feel like you're unilaterally foregoing it (even though that's exactly what you're doing)

There is simply no universe in which you're going to get what you want. Someone is going to compel it too often and distress you. The person next to them isn't going to compel it often enough and also distress you. And in reality, any rational person is going to see this laundry list of complex rules and immediately commit to memory "NEVER EVER EVER BRING UP ASPECT_X WITH AncientSwordRage," and if I were at your table I'd be looking for a way to leave the game ASAP.

An RPG group is a group of people who are coming together for a shared storytelling experience. An RPG group is not your therapist. Things like X-cards exist for common topics that someone may be sensitive to, so if someone was triggered by descriptions of gore, an X-card would exist in case the story naturally ventured into that topic. You're going out of your way to bring this topic into the game, and then getting distressed when people don't act out your exact head-cannon on when and where it's appropriate to bring it up.

I would take a long, hard look at why you want to apply an aspect that causes you physical, out-of-game distress. If you're doing it to confront your fears, then you should treat it like a normal aspect. If you're doing it as part of a power fantasy then you need to re-write it so that it becomes something else (eg. an arachnophobe changing "I'm terrified of spiders" to "I'm terrified of cockroaches" so you can face your fear in-game without actually having it spill over into real life). But you can't pull a real-life triggering issue into a game, force your players and GM to interact with this real life trauma, get upset when they don't do it exactly perfectly, and expect the game to run smoothly. It's just not possible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Let me address what I can here: "You want to apply an aspect to your character that is personally distressing to you". No, I want to apply an aspect that could be personally distressing depending on how it's handled. Also: "If the players and the GM compel it too often, don't compel it often enough" it's not about the amount, it's about how it's handled. I can't predict how others will handle it, thus I wanted to find out if there's a way to create a safety net of sorts. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 12:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage Do you feel like this is a reasonable request though? You seem unable to define ahead of time what you would and wouldn't tolerate, so how the heck do you expect a group of people (none of whom are you) to figure that out on-the-fly in complex scenarios? I still think you need to take some time and figure out what exactly you're getting out of bringing this aspect into your game. You're imposing a lot of work and social pressure on your RPG group to bring this aspect into your game, so what's the payoff? What is the ideal outcome of this aspect being in your game? \$\endgroup\$
    – Percival
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 13:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage I'm really not trying to be a jerk, but the system already has that built in: if someone compels you to do something that distresses you, you simple refuse the compel. However from my understanding, you don't want to do that because that causes you to have to pay a FATE point. So I keep circling back to: why are you putting yourself in this position. You know that aspects come with compels. You know that certain compels will cause you distress. You know that it's impossible for the people to know ahead of time which compels those are. What is the goal here? \$\endgroup\$
    – Percival
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 14:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener The OP freely admits they want to use an aspect that distresses them. They admit they want to be compelled but would be upset if compelled in the 'wrong way'. They admit they don't know what the 'wrong way' is, but that if it occurs it will cause them lots of distress. Even the suggestion of it will distress them, so simply refusing the compel isn't a solution. They also would be distressed if they aren't compelled to use the aspect. Discussing the aspect with the table is also distressing. This is all from the OP's own post and comments. What am I missing here? \$\endgroup\$
    – Percival
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 14:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Percival First, I would point out that your summary just now makes no mention of quantity (compelled enough Vs not enough) while your answer is essentially torpedoing the question on the basis of quantity. Meanwhile, I would point out that the distress is entirely based around not having a perceived "fair" way to navigate the aspect being brought up in a way the querent doesn't want to follow through with — this is in fact the problem needing a solution. It's not impossible or a contradiction, it needs advice on how to navigate it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 15:07

It sounds like you’re opposed to prejudice from the real world applying to the game

In light of clarification in the examples given in the question, I actually think the answer is straightforward, if not easy: you need to have a conversation with your table about the way they show respect for the characters around attributes which are usually demonised and belittled in society at large. You don’t want the character to be treated like a joke for something that they are, using harmful tropes, stereotypes or assumptions from the real world.

That might be an easy conversation to have. In one of my current games, set in a sci-fi futuristic space-travelling setting, one of the characters is in a wheelchair. We just straight up said we didn’t want to have the wheelchair be limiting in any way unless the player found it dramatically interesting or appropriate. In our case, the player is not also in a wheelchair, but our group does deal with other kinds of disability and this was a solution that works for us.

In the example you give that you don’t like, it feels like the characteristic in question is being used unfairly. There are unspoken assumptions being made about the character’s ability, or perhaps unkind tropes and jokes from fiction being brought into play. Neither is based on the character’s individual capabilities, but a general and usually harmful idea of what the characteristic means. (And to be honest, the beanbag thing seems a bit on the jokey side too - but it is at least based on actual physical limitations that might exist in the game world, rather than an assumption of another player at the table.) You could try and incorporate anti-stereotype into an aspect but like all such stereotypes it’s multilayered and you can’t head off everything that will be like this at the pass that way.

So if you can, have that talk upfront: that characters in the game, as with people in real life, should be treated with individual respect and not pigeon-holed because of any specific characteristic they may have. This is your game too and you should feel welcome and safe. If you then also use an X-card, it should be clear without you needing to explain what the problem is.

I might be off base with this updated answer, though; perhaps you’re not so sure about the difference between those situations, and what you really want is an opportunity to find out where your boundaries are. If so, my original answer might be more helpful, so I’ve left it in below.

You can’t rely on rules or tools for this scenario

You’re right that the X-card is not a solution for this. It’s too simple a tool for what you want. Its point is to prevent triggering or upsetting topics from getting far enough to cause distress or harm, and so part of its design is that it is simple and absolute - if you tap it, the game changes tack without you having to explain why. (This also goes for its extensions, the N and O cards.) You could use it in this scenario, but you’d have to go to great lengths to ensure other players understand that X-ing a compel on the aspect once doesn’t mean it will always be unacceptable. That is probably difficult without a lengthy discussion about the specifics, which is against the spirit of the tool. In any case it sounds like you don’t want to have that discussion.

It is also hard to see how you can word an aspect to make this work; by their nature, aspects are meant to be flexible and interpretable. Indeed, negotiating a situation in which they’re compelled is an intended part of the game, as discussed in the accepted answer to this question about self-compels.

They also work best when they are reasonably broad but also specific, so generalising it won’t work well. To make a frivolous example, if I didn’t want to have people making fun of my character’s red hair because that’s something too close to the bone for me, I could write an aspect about them having “distinctive” or “unusual” hair or even “features”, but it’d become so vague it’d be hard to use effectively in the game without it being jokey. And there’s always the risk of another player filling in that blank with exactly the thing I didn’t want to specifically come up - or, even if I substitute something else specific but distinct, that I would still know what it was standing in for, and feel uncomfortable about it anyway.

This doesn’t mean you can’t play a game that goes to the kind of places you want to explore. Serious roleplaying, including games that go into dark or potentially distressing territory, has a long history, especially in traditions like Nordic LARPing and the Australian freeform scene. I’ve played a few myself, though it’s been many years now. But to do it safely, you need to have a very open, honest discussion with your fellow players, and to have a high degree of mutual trust, understanding and maturity. You also need to be comfortable with out of character table talk and nuanced communication.

Safety tools like the X-card, lines and veils and many others are great, but they are designed for preventing potentially unsafe play. They are not designed to facilitate potentially unsafe or distressing play in a controlled manner. Games which venture into that territory are often LARPs or freeforms for a reason: they are roleplaying with few if any rules that aren’t about safety; games where players have complete control over their character, without the whims of dice or cards or rules that force them into situations they do not want. The most serious games also include deep briefing well beyond a standard session zero, opportunities for timeout, and proper aftercare or counselling.

If you honestly have a group who want to help you explore whatever this aspect represents, you can do it, but understand it’s a big ask - especially in a tabletop game where you explicitly do not entirely control your character. And you can only do it if you are willing and able to talk about it.

If that’s not the case yet - and it sounds like it isn’t, or at least you’re not sure - but you want to play this character anyway, I would suggest not making this characteristic an aspect.

FATE isn’t just about aspects

While aspects are a core part of the FATE system, you can make something part of the character without making it an aspect. Aspects must be able to be invoked and compelled to be effective, and that means they have to have positives and negatives, and the latter must be out of your control, at least in terms of the offers made. So making this an aspect seems like a bad fit for you.

So have it be something else. It could just be something you describe about the character, allowing you to control how and when it comes into play. It could be modelled through a stunt, or possibly a custom skill, if you want a mechanical benefit for when it is useful. That doesn’t preclude the potential downside coming up in play, but it does mean you can’t be compelled in the way you wish to avoid.

You say you’re converting this character from another system, but not that you had this problem in that system, so presumably it wasn’t something modelled by an aspect-like mechanic. You also don’t suggest that other mechanical downsides to it (like the effects of failing a dice roll or other test relating to this characteristic) would have a similar effect to a compelled aspect. So look at your other options in FATE and see if there’s something else that’ll fit.

But even if there is, I would strongly caution you against playing this character without the ability to discuss what might distress in you in play with the other players - for their well-being as well as your own. It can be fine and good to explore those sorts of things through roleplaying, but it has to be something everyone at the table is comfortable with and able to support. And regardless of how it’s modelled in the game, especially if you’re playing with a GM, there’s always a chance of some kind of offer that will be upsetting or difficult for you, regardless of the mechanics.


The whole system of Fate compels are about driving the player-characters to the limits of their comfort zones. It's all about exploring the weaknesses (but also strengths) that character's aspects imply for them. That exploration is not just done by the player who plays them but by the whole group. Which is why anyone at the table can suggest compels.

If you don't feel comfortable with the group's exploration of your character's aspect in that manner, then you probably should not give the character that aspect. Keep in mind that not everything that defines your character must be an aspect. If you want your character to have certain traits but don't want those traits to be used with the compel system, then just don't write them down as aspects. Now nobody can compel you to lean into that character trait when narrating your character and it's up to you when and how you do that.

But if you really want to do it, then you could negotiate rules with the rest of the group about how that aspect can be compelled and how it can not, which then apply to the whole table. For example, let's say your character has the aspect that they are a cannibal. It would totally be in-character for them to eat children if they had the chance, but you don't want them to eat children during the game because that should be a taboo. Then you can ask that nobody (not you, not the GM, not another player) will ever compel their cannibal aspect if there are children involved.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Part of my issue is that I don't think I am sure what restrictions I need to propose in session zero. How would you handle the situation where the cannibal realises they also don't want the aspect compelled when some other group are involved mid-game? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 12:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage Well, you can always ask to interrupt the session and negotiate additional rules. But it could get pretty annoying for the rest of the group if you constantly bog down the session by meta-discussions. So it would be good if you would make up your mind before you start playing. And if you can't, then you should really reconsider if you are comfortable with having that character aspect at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 12:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ If I could make up my mind before the session I wouldn't have had to ask this question, because then I'd probably know how to word the aspect. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 12:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good edit! I don't think it completely changes my opinion but it's good. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 13:18

Don’t play Fate

If you want complete control of your character, Fate is not your system. There are many other RPGs available - find one that fits.

It seems like you have a red-green morality problem. Fate is very good at certain types of gameplay and very bad at others. What you want doesn’t really fit into Fate’s paradigm. Fate explicitly interferes with player autonomy, if that makes you uncomfortable, play something else. I don’t really like horror movies, therefore, I rarely watch them.

Alternatively …

Aspects in Fate reminds me of an old joke:

“Would you sleep with me for $1,000,000?”


“Would you sleep with me for $1?”

“Of course not! What kind of person do you think I am?”

“We’ve established what kind of person you are, now we’re just negotiating the price.”

If you create an aspect, you’ve established what kind of person you are. If you aren’t that kind of person, don’t establish that aspect.

“The spice must flow”

Fate simply doesn’t work if there isn’t a free and rapid exchange of fate points. One player who hoards because they’re scared out of their wits of being compelled on a particular aspect breaks this.


You can't have it both ways

I'm not fussed about the specifics of the (potential) aspect in question, because it seems to me your problem is more fundamental than that.

Details aside, the universe of possible outcomes is necessarily limited to one of the following:

  1. You specify in advance what your limits are.
  2. You reserve the right to bring up limits you weren't previously aware of.
  3. You don't reserve that right, and have to accept people crossing your boundaries.
  4. Some variation on "don't do this" (don't make it an aspect, don't play this character, use another system besides FATE, etc.)

Those are the only possibilities. Whether you're technically "using a safety tool" or "wording the aspect carefully" or "relying on discussion" - even, at the end of the day, whether you play FATE as written, modify the rules, or play a different game - doesn't change the reality: Either you have the final say over what happens to your character, or you don't.

Your question contains a dilemma. If you have to accept triggering compels, that will feel pretty gross. If you refuse the compel, you'll either have to pay some kind of in-game price - which also likely won't feel great - or not. When you ask, essentially, if there's some way out of having to pick one of those options, I feel confident that the answer to your question is no.

But there is some hope

Having some arrangement where you don't have to pay a penalty to get your emotional-safety needs met certainly sounds to me like the way to go. Dan B and Red Orca both gave good suggestions in their answers: a "C-Card" that functions like the X-Card but lets you avoid preconceptions people might have, or a note in the description of the aspect that says "except when it would be distressing for the player."

The concerns with this approach that you and others have brought up are:

  1. You might be perceived as unfairly taking advantage of "free" refusals. My suggestion is: don't play games (certainly not this game) with people whose response to "hey, this makes me super uncomfortable, can we not?" is to resent you or suspect you of faking your distress. If you don't know the group well enough to trust them on this point, then this is, alas, not the right setting for exploring this character/issue.
  2. You, yourself, might feel like you're unfairly taking advantage. You can mitigate this by having a conversation with yourself (before each session, if necessary) where you remind yourself that you're not going to do that - that you're going to do your best to honor the spirit of the game, and let your character have complications and setbacks in service of the story, and only use your "veto" when it's appropriate.
  3. People might hesitate to compel an aspect that they know carries a risk of distressing you. That's... true. They might. You can't control people's emotions, and you can't force them to be comfortable with risking your discomfort. But you can reassure them with your words and behavior that just suggesting something that turns out to be off-limits doesn't cause any lasting harm (only if that's true, of course.) And your character has several aspects, and you can make sure that some of them are easy to compel frequently, so it doesn't have to interfere with play too much if one of them feels effectively off-limits.

Overall, the exact mechanics matter less than the general idea: set boundaries, ask for what you need, and trust people not to be jerks about it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I was apprehensive when I started reading this answer, but I feel like you've most closely understood my question and have best answered it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 13:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast that was a comment posted a day before the currently accepted answer was posted. I'm good, but I'm not a time traveller. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage Aha, now it makes sense. 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 16:15

A _-Card is the right idea

In my experience using safety tools, the X-Card is often perceived as the nuclear option. People respect one's choice to use it, but may still feel like something (almost) went very wrong. That doesn't line up with the original document by John Stavropoulos:

The X-Card does not have to be a tool of last resort. The less special it feels, the more you use it, the more likely someone will use it when it really is badly needed.

In fact, a real use case John lists is:

We played a modern realistic horror game. Someone introduced funny elves.

The C-Card

Changing the table's perception of the X-Card may not be the most expedient path. Instead, you could talk with your table about introducing a C-Card specifically for problematic compel situations.

Like the X-Card, it would be usable by anyone (including the GM). Unlike the X-Card, it wouldn't carry the baggage of "I never want something like this to happen". Any other parameters are up to your table, but you may want to establish what happens after usage. Should the table try to find a different aspect to compel in the near future (to avoid the get out of jail free feeling), or just move on?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ There's a red/yellow/green type system (I think from "Script Change," or at least explained there) that sounds a lot like this: "red" for "stop now," "yellow" for "please proceed with caution," "green" for "this is working, it's okay to dial it up a little more." \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 16:28
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ N- and O-Card sometimes accompany the X-Card in a similar way. They don't seem to precisely fit, though, since the question leaves the door open for similar situations having different comfort levels. That's what lead me to come up with a completely new card. \$\endgroup\$
    – Red Orca
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 19:54

Actually, This Is Possible

Your character has the aspect "red hair, but only in situations where this would not be distressing for AncientSwordRage".

If someone tries to compel this aspect and you find it distressing, you can point out that you find it distressing and therefore the aspect doesn't apply here.

(Presumably the character always has red hair, but this is only an aspect in certain situations and therefore can only be compelled in those situations.)

Arguably, this is the only way to word the aspect that will work for you, because this is the only way that expresses that you don't know in advance what will be distressing for you and you're going to need to adjudicate it in-game.

But Please Don't Do This

Other players will find it unpleasant to try to interact with this aspect, because every time they touch it they'll have to pause and ask your permission and check if they're distressing you. Your GM will also have this problem.

A safety tool says: "In this moment, my emotional status is so urgent that it trumps whatever you are feeling or doing. It's okay to take you out of the game, and end whatever fun you were having, because my needs are more important and we need to make sure those needs are met first."

And it's okay to use that safety tool, if you need to. But you should recognize that it's unpleasant for other players when they get safety tools used against them, and you should try to respect their needs by not deliberately putting them in a position where that's going to happen frequently.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You say "you should try to respect their needs by not deliberately putting them in a position where that's going to happen frequently." Which is what I'm asking for help doing. If there's some way of wording an aspect, that I don't think should be distressing most of the time, but also negates me needing to use safety tools then that's what I'm after. It feels like I'm saying "I don't want to do X when I do Y, can you help me and avoid that?" And these answers are saying "don't do X" which, I didn't want to do. Or "don't do Y" which was not on the cards either. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 18:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, this is the best answer. The question asked was "How can I word an aspect so that I can veto it being compelled?" and this is the wording that allows that. It comes with a note about possible side effects, but you can ignore that if you disagree or you're okay with those consequences. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 5:03

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