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The issue with the compel system (in my opinion)


(SpaceButterflyApostle) #1

Firstly, I want to say that I really enjoy this system and all the insanity it entails. However, I feel that it sacrifices a little too much player agency -- particularly with the compel system. Last game we saw Qin be forced to betray essentially his entire character because of compels.

Here is my suggestion, it could be terrible it could be great:

Change the compel system to be like the foul ball system in baseball. Players have to give up fate points when they turn down a compel like usual, but when they are on their last fate point, they can turn down a compel at no cost. Like how you can't strike out on a foul ball.

This, to me, seems to circumvent the issues with players last session being forced to do things that were pretty far outside of their character.

I don't think Adam was being a malicious GM or anything, I just think that this system promotes the loss of player control.

This suggestion would also make players more willing to spend fate points because right now, it won't take long for the players to figure out that if they want to be able to do stuff, they must have 1-2 fate points in reserves at all times.

Love the show, just think that the system could use a little improvement.

(VyRe40) #2

I think the system mostly works well as it exists, but it requires a fine understanding of the implications in character creation.

It can only be used against you to compel weaknesses you built into your character, so it's important for you to paint a clear picture of your character with your conceptual traits. This gives the characters lives of their own outside of your own direct desires as a player - like all real people that make bad decisions because their characteristics defied impartial logic. It's a given aspect of the system, meaning you shouldn't play if you're not okay with the idea that your design intent has uncontrollable setbacks in accordance with the deliberate narrative mechanisms of the game. Taking away the "zero-point compels" weakens the core intent of the game itself.

However, it does seem that there is another design flaw with the system, BUT I don't have a copy of the rules so I can't say whether this exploit is actually addressed in the system: unrestrained compel chains. It seems entirely possible that a GM can simply throw a stream of difficult compels at players until it severely weakens their narrative positioning or drains them of fate points. This isn't to say that a GM has to necessarily be malicious in order for this to happen, as it's entirely conceivable for a GM to throw tons of compels "just cause" without noticing the balance implications (they're caught up in the fun or what-have-you).

Can anyone with access to the rulebook address that concern? I would imagine that there's some limiting mechanism that restricts the number of compels a GM can use per scene or something, or some other mechanism that states you have to compel all the players once before you can compel one of them again. Or something.

(banned) #3

With Fate Accelerated already being such a light system I don't think they should go about hacking it to pieces or messing around with the math involved.

If there's no repercussion to refusing a compel then players are more likely to always refuse a compel and never give up that last fate point.

(Kol_Saresk) #4

“Compelling Aspects
If you’re in a situation where having or being around a certain aspect means your character’s life is more dramatic or complicated, anyone can compel the aspect. You can even compel it on yourself—that’s called a self-compel. Compels are the most common way for players to earn more fate points.
There are two types of compels.
Decision compels: This sort of compel suggests the answer to a decision your character has to make. If your character is Princess of Alaria, for example, you may need to stay to lead the defense of the Royal Alarian Castle rather than fleeing to safety. Or if you have a Defiant Streak a Mile Wide, maybe you can’t help but mouth off to the Dean of Discipline when he questions you.
Event compels: Other times a compel reflects something happening that makes life more complicated for you. If you have Strange Luck, of course that spell you’re working on in class accidentally turns the dour Potions Master’s hair orange. If you Owe Don Valdeon a Favor, then Don Valdeon shows up and demands that you perform a service for him just when it’s least convenient.
In any case, when an aspect is compelled against you, the person compelling it offers you a fate point and suggests that the aspect has a certain effect—that you’ll make a certain decision or that a particular event will occur. You can discuss it back and forth, proposing tweaks or changes to the suggested compel. After a moment or two, you need to decide whether to accept the compel. If you agree, you take the fate point and your character makes the suggested decision or the event happens. If you refuse, you must pay a fate point from your own supply. Yes, this means that if you don’t have any fate points, you can’t refuse a compel!”

The compel system is meant to be that "Life has struck" mechanic of the game. That means that while a GM could compel a good decision, the RAI is that they're almost always to compel more complicated or "interesting" events and decisions. As such, a GM gets unlimited compels.

But this is why the players can also compel each other, and why they have the capability to refuse compels. Think of it as online shopping. You see something, you buy it, and then a bill or online subscription you forgot about comes due, and now you're in the hole. You coulda stopped yourself if you just remembered(by spending a fate point to resist), but you forgot(because you didn't have it, or your player chose to get the free fate point).

EDIT: I'm not sure how self-compels are supposed to work since the only person who gets an unlimited pool is the GM as I understand it. Players are supposed to spend points to compel each other, so I don't know if that means a self-compel is a way of cheating the system, or if it's just a "I compel myself out of your compel, so i don't lose a Fate point."

@AdamKoebel? @OneSevenDesign?

(VyRe40) #5

Yeah. I really like the design intent of the system as it makes for an exciting and different "cerebral" experience, but I'm just wondering what stops a GM from over-doing it and if that's addressed in the book. In a game like D&D, the limiting mechanism for that would be challenge ratings, etc.

Like, say a certain hated or cannibalistic character is in the middle of a delicate setting in the current arc, and that character has no points. Just because the GM is having a jolly-good time, they can start compelling the character to cause lots of trouble every 10 minutes. This either A) keeps that player down on points, restricting them from ever using the points to invoke mechanical aspects, B) throws the party's narrative position through a ton of ridiculous loops in a short amount of time, or C) forces the party to burn out the bulk of their limited point economy to keep that player padded. This isn't a malicious act, but it can be unintentionally unbalancing.

Does the book specify anything about using a long succession of compels in a very short amount of time? Are there any further rules addressing this? It's really not a tall order for a GM to come up with 10 compels in the space of an hour considering their economy is completely unrestricted. Personally, I would limit myself to one compel per player max in each scene.

(Kol_Saresk) #6

That is literally all there is. The only other section is "how many fate points does a GM get" and all it does say that a GM gets one fate per NPC in the scene, but the Fate points used to compel characters do not come from that pool.

So as far as I can tell, if he could find the reasoning, Adam could literally try to compel every aspect on a character in one go, and then just leave them defenseless for later on. Inversely, so could another player.

(Kol_Saresk) #7

I tried looking at Fate Core to see if there was any difference and there wasn't really any. The purpose of a GM compel is to make things complicated and dramatic for later purposes.

So while we may think compels are evil now, chances are they will pay off in the end. Like Eugene finds his babymama cast out on the street as a homeless marsupial because Rex ate her gangster husband.

(Karamor) #8

Whole book's here:

(Karamor) #9

Remember, if they accept the compel they GET a point. So even with no points now you will be able to refuse the next compel.

Also, the book does encourage you to discuss any compel to make player and GM, or compelling other player, agree on it. Even compels you then refuse should make sense within the character concept.
It's a system heavily relying on cooperation in the use of compels from all sides.

So if a compel is too ludicrous or bending a concept too far the player always has the right to say "No".


Self comples give you a point from the unlimited GM pool. Yes, that means you CAN create a point if you have none, but you need to get yourself into trouble. You still have to have your table agree on the compel in the first place, so it makes sense with your character and the scene/story as a whole.

Compels are meant to make the story interesting. If a player comes up with a creative complication themselves the game rewards it.

You also can't compel yourself out of a compel per se. You still have to fulfil a compel you accepted unless there's a significant change. That's why you are encouraged to discuss compels first and not just randomly throw them around.

(SpaceButterflyApostle) #10

I didn't know that compels could be discussed; I never read the rule book and just watched the players so it seems that the remedy is simply more discussion and better utilization of old rules rather than creation of new rules.


(Twitch: cyan_83) #11

Also not a big fan of this. I get the intention, and the players seem to be all fine with it, but meh, the damage to player agency it does is a downer. And saying "but you can compel only aspects you yourself designed", yeah that is true, but they are so wide, wide open to interpretation, that it allows others to push your char in directions you never wanted. For example, when Sam was forced in that violent sex thing with the huntress, his "apex predator of the galaxy" aspect was interpreted to mean "sexual predator" - I doubt he ever intended it that way, and it pushed his character in a severely different direction than I had imagined after character generation. Sam seems to be chill with that (all players are doing an amazing job to cope with the system <3) but I could easily see situations where a player could be disenfranchised from his own character; it's a dangerous system in that sense.

(Kol_Saresk) #12

Yeah, but see, the room for interpretation is up to the player. There's your example, but then there's also Jesse's "Dishonored Guardian of the 12th Serpentis", which in contrast has a ridiculously small window of interpretation. Maybe, it should have been discussed more in character creation. But for Sam's character, tehy already had that discussion when they streamlined Rex's attributes because he was wracking up so many and they were all interrelated anyways. Sam and Adam designed Rex's to be purposefully general and vague so Sam can get everything he can out of them.

Take for example if I made a bunny warrior character and I gave him the aspect "A Bunny's Gotta Do What A Bunny's Gotta Do". I might be thinking "it'll just make me faster at running away." Adam might use it to say I get swarmed by a crowd of tweenies who think I'm super adorable. Or to allow myself to be seduced against my better judgement because I want to breed like a rabbit.

Because I'm trying to get everything related to a bunny into that one aspect, it also creates this huge window that the GM can then compel into. It's a give and take, but I don't think the players are being as taken advantage as people seem to be thinking they are. But really it's no different than a Devil's Bargain.

(Karamor) #13

I'll just repeat myself a bit:

That's why the rules state you can and should suggest tweaks and changes to any compel you recieve.

This is a fluid system, but if you really only wanted to be the murder predator, you could bring that up right there.

Again, it's meant to make a story interesting and Sam IS playing the flashy animalistic leader, in context this is not far from his concept at all.

When someone would use that to play a cold stalking killer then that same compel sounds more out of line.

(OneSevenDesign) #14

It goes like this:

A. When you're compelled, you can veto that compel (same as you can veto absolutely anything in any game, ever. This isn't a FATE rule). "No, don't compel me like that. I don't like it. Do something else, please."

B. If you don't veto, you either pay a Fate point to resist the compel or you go along with it and take a Fate point.

C. If you don't like the compels you tend to get from an aspect, re-write it (maybe on the spot, to better reflect what you intended).

That pretty much covers it. There's no slippery slope or player agency issues if you have option A in place. If you play with people who don't understand option A, above, then yeah... FATE will probably be pretty painful to play with those people.

Whether or not this is good game design is another issue (and is also partly a matter of taste).

(evilwelshman) #15

The "problem" being raised is for when a player has no Fate Points to spend; at which point resisting a compel isn't an option. Sure, it's part of the overall strategy not to get oneself in that situation, but it is a shortcoming for a player to be left with zero agency.

Sure, there's always Option A. However, the main problem with it is people will tend to be pressured not to object; not wanting to come across as not being a sport, or of being unwilling to roll with the punches. Sure, that's a discussion that's worth to be had between the GM and the players but that's more of a between sessions kind of thing, and not something to be brought up at that particular point in time, lest they break the pace and immersion.

I suppose a sensible compromise would be to give the player a last ditch option (perhaps only applicable when they have no Fate Points) of coming up with a counter-offer using the same aspect. Kind of akin to your Devil's Bargain. It gives the player a little more agency (though they probably still aren't getting away scot-free) and makes the encounter a little more interactive; which is usually a good thing.

(Kol_Saresk) #16

Honestly, I feel like this should be a discussion for "us and our games", because Adam and the players involved, are perfectly fine with it and that has been said on at least one occassion.

So at this point, I really feel it needs to be said that it isn't likely going to change, and that we as the viewers should start accepting it. Maybe in any games we play, we might tweak it or just do away with it, but Nebula Jazz isn't our game.

(Kol_Saresk) #17

And to clarify what I mean, I think this discussion should continue along the lines of "how we would change it in our games", not "why the cast should or shouldn't use it", or "how they should change it".

(OneSevenDesign) #18

What 'people tend to do' in this situation isn't known (and I'm not aware of any data showing trends for how people act when they have zero Fate points). Maybe people tend to act that way, maybe they don't. In my experience, people I game with tend to communicate clearly and resist peer-pressure, but that's just an anecdote and doesn't represent 'what people do' at all. Which behaviors are rare and which are common? I don't know, and I would caution against assuming anything based on ridiculously small samples.

Anyway, I don't disagree with the proposed hacks here -- it's always good to have a solution if your group runs into a problem. It doesn't matter if the problem is rare or common across people in general, it just matters if it's happening in your group.

(Jewbobicus) #19

Exactly. This whole thread is full of "I would feel this way, so those on screen must". Plus, I guarantee that if the compel system didn't have this consequence, there would be another set (or some of these same people) whining about how compel's/fate points have no consequence, or don't mean anything. It's all so silly and completely wrapped in egoism.

(evilwelshman) #20

That's a fair and true criticism. Thanks. Perhaps a more accurate articulation is that it is foreseeable that some people would sometimes opt not to voice their personal dissatisfaction out of concern that it might jeopardize other people's fun. If this particular aspect is a specific area where this is happening (which appears to be the OP's bug bear), it would be beneficial for there to be a solution put in place.