"Beneficial" Compels

It’s probably due to crosstalk, but a few different communities have had similar Fate Core discussions lately. Some of them featured rather generous interpretations of compels that look more like invocations, that I’m calling “beneficial” compels. I figured I’d string together a few thoughts I have about them.

First, a little drawing I made:

This is not the new Evil Hat mascot

Where does the Fate Point go?
Character aspects are probably the most likely suspect for a “beneficial” compel, but it applies to any aspect. The idea is that the compel might have the same basic effect as an invoke. For example, doing a self-compel on a Consequence to make an attack miss, versus invoking the Consequence as a bonus to a defense roll. The crazy thing about this method is that not only does the character not get hit, but since they compelled their own aspect they’d get a Fate point. Win-win, right?

It doesn’t wind up being quite that simple.

To illustrate this I’ll be using an example from Revolution (warning: potential spoilers if you haven’t been keeping up with the show and plan to). Charlie, the spunky Action Girl, is tracking down Monroe, the Evil Former Friend of her uncle. She’s set up to give him a complementary trepanning with a crossbow bolt when two guys shanghai him, causing her shot to miss and hit the tree next to his head.

Under the “beneficial self-compel” scenario, it would appear that Monroe self-compelled his Most Wanted Man In North America trouble aspect to avoid getting skewered. If they work the way I’ve seen it described, the conversation leading up to it looks like this:

Charlie’s Player: I take the shot. Rolls Shoot. I got a 6.
GM: Some guys knock him down and put a bag over his head, because Monroe is Most Wanted Man In North America. Your shot automatically misses. [Monroe gets a Fate Point].

There’s a huge problem with this. Charlie actually made a Shoot roll only to have it invalidated by the character compelling his own aspect. It obviously doesn’t work, on multiple levels. First, if she actually made the roll it means a thing happened. She took her shot, and he needs to defend against it. Second, compels mean complication. Getting clonked on the head and taken away is definitely a complication, but it’s actually secondary to the intent of the compel (which was to avoid the attack). The complication of the compel should never be secondary.

A far better arrangement would look something like this:

Charlie’s Player: I’m lining up the shot on Monroe.
GM:  Because Monroe is Most Wanted Man In North America, it’s likely others are looking for him too. How about some guys knock him down and put a bag over his head. They take him away before you can shoot him. [holds up a Fate Point]
Charlie’s Player: Damn [takes the Fate Point]. Well, at least can we say the bolt hits the tree where his head would have been, so Monroe knows someone took a shot at him at the same time?
GM: Sure, that’s a really cool touch.

Do you see what happened there? Charlie had a narrative stake in the outcome of the compel. Charlie gets the Fate Point, not Monroe. This is kind of like a “hostile” invoke – the GM compelled Monroe’s aspect to screw up Charlie’s action. When that happens, they receive the Fate Point instead of the character who was compelled. Alternately, Charlie could have compelled Monroe’s aspect to get him captured – then she would have paid the Fate Point and he would have received it. But my focus here is defusing the idea that the compel can be used to get out of something that would otherwise be a given within the narrative.

As an aside, and hopefully not to detract from the topic hand too much, there are a couple more options here. Monroe’s player (or the GM) could concede the conflict, and it’s decided Monroe gets captured by someone else. He could also actually have been Taken Out by the attack, and Charlie decides it means he’s captured by the bounty hunters. Both of them don’t seem as satisfying as the compel of his aspect to me though.

The narrative circumstances to allow a compel to have even a glimmer of a beneficial aspect should be pretty narrow – and this goes for any party affected by it. In the end, compels should always have strings attached, and narrative bite, unless you want your game to start looking like a Chevy Chase movie or an episode of Jackass.

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