Story time: A Perfect Storm of Compels
Wow. We had another session of Fate of Atreus, our Fate Core (more like Condensed, to be true) campaign set in a version of the Battletech universe. Giant Robots meets Top Gun meets Game of Thrones. Session after session, the campaign manages to amaze me with how the mechanics and the players and the story come together to something that is actually meaningful. Now I just have to dig down a moment to an aspect of the game that I love way too much: Compels. Long post ahead.
For those not in the know, in Fate games, “a Compel” is a mechanical action where a defining characteristic (Aspect) of a character or the situation would cause a player’s character to act in a way that is harmful to what the optimal course of action in the situation would be. The player is offered a Fate Point, a positive limited resource in the game, as a reward for accepting the proposed Compel. If they accept the offer, they then play out the harmful course of action. If they don’t, they’ll have to pay a Fate Point and can proceed with the more optimal course of action (defying their natural shortcomings)
Last night we had a beautiful perfect storm of Compels cascading in a single scene. So it is story time.
The player characters of our tale are in the middle of a long heist to capture back a WarShip from a force of pirates. They’ve so-far infiltrated the ship and done groundwork. The Lance (unit) of the player characters consists of: Thorn, a former athlete trying to be a knight, struggling with some dark decisions. Duke, the current Lance commander of the unit, and secretly a former member of this very pirate crew, trying to keep his past hidden from the rest of the Lance. And Thunderhawk, the rightful heir to House Marik who has been slowly losing his idealism.
In the middle of yesterday’s session, Shadow Macaw, a wounded pirate the players fought against a couple of sessions ago, is suddenly brought aboard the WarShip and this might compromise not only the heist, but Duke’s secret past as a pirate (Shadow Macaw is also Duke’s ex, because as far as genres go, Battletech veers on the edge of melodrama).
So Duke gives a vague order to Thorn to “go look into” Shadow Macaw, which Thorn misunderstands as “go kill her” command, because of all the past shady orders Duke has been giving. Thorn’s method of making choices has been to take the “hawk” route of a soldier lately, so it would be assumed that he would follow the order, but still he finds the idea of murder too harsh (Compel, to go ahead with the dark path of murder instead of exploring the options. Thorn’s player declined the offer and paid the cost of 1 FP to act against their There are choices. I make mine as a hawk Aspect), instead actually just going to investigate. Successful scouting mission to the sick bay reveals that Shadow Macaw is currently traumatised and non-responsive, but the ship’s doctor is trying to figure out how to bring her out of her shell.
Hearing this, Duke freaks out and decides Shadow Macaw is now priority #1 before their cover is blown (Compel, player accepted the FP for Duke’s Aspect I must remain hidden to ignore the actual mission at hand to deal with his ex). The mission can wait.
Thunderhawk, being the politician he is, sees an opportunity rising. One of the things they are trying to accomplish on the WarShip is to disrupt its chain of command. And Shadow Macaw’s presence plays to that idea in Thunderhawk’s mind perfectly. He has an idea and starts voicing out an ellaborate plot how to use the death of Shadow Macaw’s lance mate (at Thorn’s hands a couple of sessions ago) to cast suspicion on the pirate mechwarrior and cause distrust amongst the top brass of the ship. A true machiavellian scheme.
And that’s when Thorn shuts the nobleman down and has a huge, beautiful rant about how Thunderhawk should be better than that (Compel on Thorn’s A 31st century mechwarrior in a crucible Aspect to stop the planning and instead deal with all the bent up issues that he’s been keeping bottled up from cold-blooded execution of Shadow Macaw’s lance mate earlier with a missile barrage, just to keep Thunderhawk’s hands clean).
Having to witness his childhood idol lash out at him for a very justified reason like that, Thunderhawk just can’t deal with this (Compel on Thunderhawk’s What is the War doing to me? Aspect to not be able to deal with it) and freezes, followed by him running away from the rest of the group. Thorn is still agitated as well, disappointed in the others, and heads out as well, wondering who he is supposed to be.
The scene then branches out. Duke, still his hand forced by the earlier Compel, heads out to murder his former girlfriend himself. Just to keep his secret a secret a little bit longer. Thunderhawk goes to the loading bay to ask if he can blow off some steam by doing manual labour. And Thorn ends up having a heart to heart with the group’s biggest antagonist on board the WarShip, a very observant security chief that’s already close on their heels who has actually paid attention to Thorn and his internal struggles.
I love the mechanic, especially after a long campaign, where there is huge meaning behind the written down Aspects beyond just the words. And it is awesome how it really interacts with a very game-y situation like this, where the players are trying to figure out solutions to a task that requires tactical and optimal actions to pull off perfectly. The characters should have, instead of focusing on Shadow Macaw and all this drama, been figuring out how to take out the WarShips engines or weapon systems before it is too late. But because of who they are, they got us something beautiful instead.