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I find myself in a pinch trying to understand what Aspects do when they are not being invoked. I do know that they are supposed to be narrative tools that describe the character. When invoked, they give a +2 to a skill roll as long as they are relevant to it. However, I do not know what I should do to when they are not being invoked and how big of a difference they make.

Example: My player has Retired Captain of Royal Army aspect. Thus I treat him as knowledgeable in military affairs. When he invokes it, he usually wants to influence military decision with Rapport and I'm happy to give him a bonus. However, sometimes he expects to be recognised as former military and says it should be apparent given the aspect, but do not know whether he would need to spend a Fate point to walk up to a soldier and be recognised as military personnel (notice it's not about his current authority, more like "oh, so you're a soldier too!")

On another occasion a player wanted to cash in on Courtroom conspirator to be generally welcome in the court and have friends and allies there. The discussion went for a while and we didn't really reach a conclusion.

When does the minor bonus from having an Aspect ("that's just who I am") becomes major plot-changing bonus that requires a Fate Point?

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In Fate Core you invoke aspects to improve rolls or passive opposition

The Fate Core rules are clear about this. Invoking an aspect is described on FC 68 and gives the following things you can do when you invoke an aspect:

  • Reroll all your dice.
  • Pass a +2 benefit to another character’s roll, if it’s reasonable that the aspect you’re invoking would be able to help.
  • Add +2 to any source of passive opposition, if it’s reasonable that the aspect you’re invoking could contribute to making things more difficult.
  • You can also use this to create passive opposition at Fair if there wasn't going to be any any.

You need to spend a Fate point to invoke the aspect for any of the above effects, unless you have a free invoke on the aspect.

Being recognized for your aspect is narrative, and doesn't require a roll or a Fate point

From FC 76:

Does someone have the aspect Strongest Man in the World? That’s a reputation that might precede that character, one that people might know about and react to.

It seems to me that Retired Royal Army Captain and Courtroom conspirator would also get a certain reaction from people, and that would extend to being recognized and respected (or maybe recognized and reviled) in the right circles.

But you can invoke your aspects when creating new aspects

Of course, you could invoke Retired Royal Army Captain on a Create an Advantage roll to create the aspect Yes, sir! on a soldier. This would cost a Fate point unless you have a free invoke.

You could also add invoking for effect into your game from the Fate Toolkit if you like, which would allow you to pay a Fate point to invoke your aspect for special effect without a roll.

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The SRD says...

This may seem self-evident, but it should be called out anyway—the aspects on your character sheet are true of your character at all times, not just when they’re invoked or compelled. [...] Inserting these kinds of aspect-related details into your narration can help your game seem more vivid and consistent, even when you’re not shuffling fate points around.

This is true of character aspects as well as situation aspects or consequences. Just because no one invokes/compels The roof is on fire doesn't mean it's not going to come crashing down at some point.

This means that yes, your character being an ex officer is something that can be used without him spending a fate point to give flavor to the narrative. You could have a soldier recognize and salute you. This could even be grounds for you to go see said soldier and ask a few questions about the current state of affairs. The response you get, however, will demand a roll, on which you may spend a Fate point or more if you want to be sure to get the information you want.

A good rule of thumb is : "If you're using it to make progress along the narrative, you should probably spend a Fate point on it".

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Aspects are true all the time. You pay for an aspect when you want it to have mechanical consequences (i.e. when you want it to have an effect on the story).

Yes the soldier might recognize him. If he wants to use that recognition to get the soldier to do something for him, then he needs to pay.

Courtoorm Conspirator He would easily be known at the court, and likely have access to it. He would probably have acquaintances who might be friendly enough to offer him a kind word, but if he wants real allies who will help him overcome opposition, then he needs to pay for it.

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Let's see... looking at the things one can do with aspects: Compel them, Tag them, invoke them, justify a narrative declaration with them... Aspects also are already a declared narrative truth if worded correctly. (see p. 76.)

The general guideline should be: "does this amount to a narrative declaration?" and "does this bypass what should be rolled for?" Conversely, if it merely allows a roll that would otherwise be moot, that's a free use, as it's not changing the game state.

If it doesn't rise to narrative declaration, say yes and move on. If it does, as in it establishes a truth at the player's request, and that truth is more than what the aspect states already, then you should charge the fate point.

Likewise, if the player expects a bonus on a roll, ever, he needs to pay for it. Invocation is NOT free.

Courtroom conspirator... being welcome is inherent. Having actual friends? that's beyond what's established, so spend the fate to declare it as truth. If calling upon those friends for making a better roll, paid for or not, that's using the invocation, and isn't free; if they weren't declared separately, they cease to matter after the one roll's bonus... using your friends costs!

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The big question is, "is this true all of the time"? If so, no invoke is required.

If you're a Princess of the Realm, you can get into the castle. The guards let you in. This is just a thing that happens.

However, that doesn't mean that the peasants will necessarily do everything you say! However, being a Princess of the Realm definitely could weigh into that, so it's invokable.

The question is really a matter of "what does the fact that this aspect represents imply?"

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