I'm thinking of running FATE, and read in one book (I think it's Dresden Files RPG) that Aspects can replace situational modifiers. However, situational modifiers in other games take place all the time, while Aspects require a tag.

For example, say the PC casts a spell that makes a target blind. In other systems, it would be a -X to hit or a flat-out percentage miss chance. In FATE, it would be an Aspect. However, it feels "strange" that the blinded NPC takes no penalty at all until someone use a Fate point.

Can such absolute conditions (blinded, stunned, petrified, poisoned etc.) be modelled using Aspects?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Generally, newly-generated Aspects can be tagged for free once. Otherwise, players have to pay their "plot goes my way" points to make the Aspect relevant to their story as usual, yeah. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 26, 2011 at 4:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind that FATE doesn't simulate game physics ("blinded people get -X to hit"), it models plot events ("and then the pilot hit the wrong control because she suddenly couldn't see"). Players pay points to narrate in the consequences of a condition—the condition itself is never important until it's tagged as critical to the success of a hero's actions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 26, 2011 at 5:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I guess some times a bit of the GM's fiat is involved. If someone has the consequence sprained an ankle, he shouldn't be allowed to move up to his Athletics in zones per combat round, even though the rules didn't state so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Extrakun
    Commented May 26, 2011 at 7:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, FATE isn't a GM fiat-free game. In fact, very, very few GMed games are possible to play without healthy doses of GM fiat to make the game run smoothly, because the rules aren't a complete program and the GM isn't a perfect computer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 26, 2011 at 15:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you guys distinguishing GM Fiat from GM Judgement? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 16:50

4 Answers 4


There are at least 4 ways to use FATE aspects:

  1. Tag opponent for bonus to self - you pay 1 Fate
  2. get tagged by opponent for penalty to self - You get 1 fate
  3. get compelled by opponent to force a move or prevent a move or attack- you get 1 fate if you accept, pay 1 if not
  4. get tagged by opponent to who narrates the outcome - You get 1 fate if you accept.

To illustrate these, I'll borrow a scene from Return of the Jedi.

Lando is fighting one of Jabba's henchmen, with Han and Chewie right nearby.

The henchman has just hit Lando.

The henchman wins a maneuver to cause Lando to be Off-Balance. Lando now has that tag.

The GM, realizing that this is just too good to pass up, tags that to lower Lando's initiative below the henchman. Lando's player accepts the fate point. The GM then decides to have some fun, and shoots the skiff. He calls for a roll on athletics to stay upright.

One of the bystanders, however, has a bright idea, and gets the GM's permission to offer a fate chip... to Lando to fall off (a compelled move). Lando's player accepts.

Han's player also blows the roll, and goes prone.

In fairness, the GM rolls for the henchman, who also fails, and decides he's not interesting anymore, so off he goes, too. Han blows a fate, and offers, "Not just down to shoot at Lando, but he fell into the sarlac... munch! munch!" The GM accepts this.

Han decides to grab Lando, but fails the roll. The GM ascribes it to Lando being grabbed by the Sarlac. (Fate point to Lando for narrating a truth about him.)

Han decides to shoot the tentacle, a maneuver to get a free tag on the sarlac, with which to compel a release, but still has that blinded injury. (Injuries can be tagged for free...) Lando helps (by describing Han's aim), and Chewie helps by preventing Han from falling. The GM offers Han's Player a fate to compell him to shoot Lando instead. Han's player thinks for a moment, and says no... So the GM uses the free tag on injuries, and han, of course, misses.

Han tries again the next round, and spends a fate activating his Blaster Master aspect to counter that injury penalty and tries again, and makes it. The Sarlac is labeled, gets compelled by lando, and it lets go. Han makes an athletics to pull him up.

As you can see, it's all about how you offer the FATE. If you offer a compel, it's a gamble... but it's good story. If you tag for a bonus, it's not - pay them, take the bonus, and go.

The one caveat, as I was reminded by Seven Sided Die, is the Authority, be it GM or Table. If a compel or tag is nonsensical, inappropriate, or simply bogs the story, it can be rejected by the Authority. In some FATE games, this authority is the GM's; in others, the authority is the group, and explicitly not the GM's alone. In either case, if an aspect is tagged for bonus, or for penalty, barring "That makes no sense" by the authority, it's a done deal, the fate moves. Compels for specific actions or against specific actions are always subject to review by the authority, and thus have 3 outcomes: Rejected by authority (no fate moves), accepted (Fate to compelled player), or rejected by recipient (Compelled player pays proposer of compel).

Noting that the compel portion can be an absolute bar - for example, blind. Many things, blind is a penalty to. But, for example, to read a book, just compel it with "can't feel the letters, can't see the letters, can't read it."

It's also worth noting that a player rejecting a fate chip for an obviously legit compel probably should be whacked with derision and peer pressure by the rest of the group as it's a clear break from the fiction.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, the point of spending FATE is forcing the generation of story revolving around an Aspect. The GM is within rights (and obliged to, or the game falls flat!) to reject any Aspect narration that is limp or doesn't contribute anything interesting to the ongoing narration. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 26, 2011 at 15:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie That rejection authority isn't always the GM's. Diaspora, for example, puts the rejection authority with the table as a whole - anyone can object, the players vote. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 6:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's true. Often it's still on the GM's shoulders to lead by example in a new rules paradigm, though. I found that to be the case in Diaspora, but of course it depends on how into the FATE mindset the group members are. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 27, 2011 at 13:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think (but I'm only just learning the system so am not sure) that the crucial bit of this answer with respect to the actual question is buried in the middle of the example: That the GM tags Lando's injury for free \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 20:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SimonWithers That's not actually the part answering the question. FATE doesn't use situational modifiers, only Tags on Aspects. Showing how, by use of aspects, including temporary ones by others maneuvering against you. No situational aspect gets used more than once for free in FATE. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Commented Nov 26, 2011 at 20:26

Here is a totally new answer, the previous version was based on my understanding of FATE back when I really hadn't understood it that well :)

In FATE, all the game mechanics are story facilitators, not situation simulators. The rolls you make and the modifiers you put on them are there to give the story some structure and help you tell it, but they say absolutely nothing about what that story has to be. That is completely up to you.

To understand this better, it helps to see the elements of the FATE game mechanic in a different light than what they would imply in a traditional RPG.

When creating a character in FATE, you do not define what that character is capable of. You define what kinds of stories you want to tell as a player, with that character.

  • Characters are storytelling tools. You use them to tell stories. You are not your character. You may have a totally different agenda than your character. You may, and sometimes even should willingly drive your character towards disaster and ruin if that leads to an awesome story.
  • Fate points are the storytelling currency. You use them to buy the right to tell a part of the story. The players have a limited supply, the GM has much more, but everybody pays to push the story in the direction they want.
  • The skills on your character give you priority in telling stories about specific subjects. The higher a skill on the character, the more likely that you will get to push your story on that subject. The dice rolls are there to randomise this a bit, so that everybody gets a chance to provide input for different subjects.

    This brings an interesting twist to how skill levels can be interpreted. A great peak skill of +4 could be interpreted as great skill, great luck, great aptitude or great destiny. Is it his years spent on the arena floor that gives Cassius Pontus his great(+4) Swordsmanship, or is it the daily prayer and sacrifice to Mars his young wife is making dutifully, so that he would guide Cassius' hand, and spare their love. For FATE, that does not matter, as it is your story to tell. What matters is that you made it very obvious that you strongly want to tell the story whenever swords are mentioned.

  • Aspects give you a pretext for pushing the story in interesting ways by using story elements previously introduced by you or other players. The bonus you get from aspect invocations isn't the advantage your character gets from a specific situation in the story. It is a bonus you get as a player for incorporating one of the aspects of the overall story into your narration. If your version of the story ties in more tightly with the established story than another player's, you get a bonus that makes it more likely that you will get to tell your version. If Cassius played dirty and threw sand in his nemesis' eyes, it would make sense that he would follow up on the opportunity. So you get a bonus for keeping a consistent story going if you say that Cassius easily flanks his blinded opponent.

    The Fate point requirement for subsequent aspect invocations helps on a different level here. It keeps players from getting lazy and capitalising on a single aspect indefinitely, so that the story keeps moving in more interesting directions. Of course, if you have some more interesting stuff to tell about an aspect, you can still invoke it over and over again if it's worth the cost.


You can spend one of your FATE points at the beginning to lock the Aspect in place, you can't use it for anything else and your refresh is one lower than what you'd normally get. You end up with a constant +2 bonus for everything that applies. It's an optional rule I read in one of the books.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This reads like for positive aspects; so for a negative one, perhaps the victim has a constant -2 for everything that applies, but get +1 to his Refresh? \$\endgroup\$
    – Extrakun
    Commented May 26, 2011 at 7:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you remember which book? There are a number of different implementations of FATE, each slightly different. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jadasc
    Commented May 26, 2011 at 13:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Extrakun - I think that would make sense, I actually wasn't sure how to handle negative ones, but that should work. @Jadasc - I don't have the time to look through everything right now, sorry. I'll update my answer if I find it. \$\endgroup\$
    – migo
    Commented May 26, 2011 at 15:45

As this question doesn't make mention of which version of Fate that it relates to I thought it would be appropriate to list the approach Fate Core uses, that of Compelling an Aspect:

The other way you use aspects in the game is called a compel. 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.

This means that "blindness" would be a negative Aspect placed on a character, which could then be Compelled as above. The important part, though, is this next bit (emphasis mine):

Finally, and this is very important: if a player wants to compel another character, it costs a fate point to propose the complication. The GM can always compel for free, and any player can propose a compel on his or her own character for free.

What this means is that any time a player with the "I'm blind!" Aspect tries to do something where being blind would come into play, the GM can invoke that Aspect for free and say "Uh, you're blind. Come up with another solution."

Since the GM always compels for free, this negates the issue spelled out in the question, that being "blindness only seems to take effect when someone wants to spend a Fate point."


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