When You Need to Spend a Fate Point

When someone asks if their aspect allows them to do something (or generally tries to act upon  ‘aspects are alwasy true’ thinking), the answer is usually obvious, but there are fuzzy border zones, and this create some confusion.

You can resolve that confusion by spending a fate point, but it’s not always clear when that threshold is hit.

Some people think that this should be resolved conservative, with things that *might* be within bounds demanding a FP.fp1


But me, I’ve always opted for a more open policy – the FP is necessary only for stretching the aspect beyond expectations.



In reality, it’s not always clear cut. You and I may disagree on where that line is.  And in large part, this is why I feel that as a GM you will rarely go wrong with the more generous interpretation.  If the player constrains themself, then you aren’t creating a problem, but if you end up constraining a player, that’s fun-corroding.


On the off chance that you need an example,  let’s say I have the Hell on Wheels aspect and two questions come up:

1. Do I know how to hot wire a car?

2. Do I know a car thief in this town?

Is #1 covered by the aspect as written? Mmmmmaybe.  By conservative interpretation, the player would need to spend a FP to be able to do it (however that is handled), by a liberal interpretation, it’s in bounds.

Is #2 covered by the aspect as written. Probably not, but since you can make the case that it’s in the same domain, then it becomes possible with a Fate Point under a liberal interpretation (and probably impossible under a conservative one).

This is not to say that my answer is the right one. Both approaches have their place, and there are a lot of nuanced issues of genre, taste and tone that they fold into.  But what *is* important is that everyone at the table have the *same* understanding of how aspects are being interpreted.







6 thoughts on “When You Need to Spend a Fate Point

  1. Amazing Rando

    When coming up with aspects I usually provide, or ask my players to provide, explicit examples of the aspect in use. This has led my group to creating stronger and more interesting aspects, as well as helping everyone get on the same page on what an aspect means.


    Greek Geek Magus
    Invoke: I use my knowledge of the Star Wars universe to realign the crystals, getting a +2 to create my light saber.
    Compel: I throw myself in front of James’ rectangle of force so that it doesn’t hit the mint condition number one issue of Fantastic Four that is on the wall next to the bad guy. I’ll take the stress from the hit.

    Narnia is my Home
    Invoke: In my mind the air elementals are air furies from Alera, and knowing that I use mud to hide myself from their presence, gaining a +2 to stealthy
    Compel: As you are being chased by bad guys in an SUV, you believe that you are Bo Duke from the Dukes of Hazzard and begin driving recklessly, believing that you will never get hurt or caught by Boss Hog.

    Powered by ThinkGeek
    Invoke: I ordered a certified replica of the Sonic Screwdriver from ThinkGeek as the base, so I get a +2 to create it.
    Compel: I can’t afford the ticket into the show to find the bad guy … because I ordered too many t-shirts from Think Geek.

    Son of Hephaestus
    Invoke: I have an instinctual understanding of weapons and metallurgy, so I can more easily enchant the tactical pen to pierce the bad guy’s force armor.
    Compel: You’ve made too many items out of plastic and Hephaestus is displeased. Your crafting fails.

    1. CL

      I would certainly agree with wanting players to provide more detail than the one-liner aspect. And while asking for some examples of invocations and compels is not bad, what I’d rather see is the character background that drives the aspect because that is far more likely to provide the context in which one can decide if an aspect applies in an unfamiliar situation.

      1. Amazing Rando

        Agreed. I also talk through the richer experience of a background with players. I find that having them write an invoke and compel first helps them to realize if the aspect is a strong one or not.

  2. Paladin Jack

    Point of clarification — I was under the impression that invoking an Aspect always involved the use of a FATE point. Is that not so? Are you meant to be able to “free-tag” an Aspect? That is, in the “liberal” diagram above, it seems like anything inside the circle doesn’t require a FATE point, but things just on the outside do?

    Was this something I missed in FATE 2.0? XD

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      So, if we’re talking invoking for a bonus, that’s a bit more clear cut, but I’m thinking more about situation where the impact of the aspect is a bit more fluid, specifically when it impacts decisions like whether you should roll at all.

      As an example, if a character has an aspect like “French Knight” and a situation comes up where it would be useful to be able to speak french, the player is entirely within his rights to say that the aspect pretty clearly indicates that he should be able to speak french. Assuming the GM agrees, no die roll is involved, no fate points are spent, it’s a simple matter of description. By a very technical read, the player has made a declaration (that his character can speak french) and that might arguably demand the expenditure of a fate point, but I would argue that is *too* technical a read.

      Now, a more borderline question might be whether our French Knight has any friends in the court of the french king. It’s certainly possible, and in keeping with the aspect, but the aspect does not seem to guarantee it (in the way that it did reasonably guarantee he could speak french). Since this is a borderline case, the uncertainty can be resolved in a number of ways, but the simplest is for the player to spend a fate point to declare that of course he has has friends in the french court, he’s a french knight! And so it is resolved.

      That is the simple resolution to something that may have numerous gradients of nuance. For example, at some tables, the player is free to know people at the court, but the expenditure of a fate point determines if the player has any authorship over those details. There’s a huge chunk of taste to it.

      And one of those chunks is, of course, what falls under the auspices of a given aspect, and that’s what the charts speak to.

  3. Hans

    I have always thought that a “Five Second Rule” works for most of these sorts of things, such as Aspects in Fate or Distinctions/Assets/pretty much everything in Marvel Heroic. That is, if it takes you more than five seconds to decide whether you think your own stuff applies in a situation, it probably doesn’t. This should apply to all players, including the GM, and if people apply it to themselves consistently, I think it can make for a smooth game where people “take their lumps” when they should, but also get to use their stuff in cool and interesting ways.

    As a GM, I feel no need to police this. If someone asks me if I think an aspect applies, my answer will usually be “Well, if it takes you more than five seconds…” but I try to never say no. Let them come to their own conclusions and let the spirit move them as it will.


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