Hostile Invocation is a term applied to a part of Fate Core’s mechanics that is often overlooked, but can be a very powerful tool for aiding the fate point economy. It’s a concept that is actually included in the core rules, but it didn’t get a name or much attention until after Fate Core was published. Here’s are the details:
“If the aspect you invoke is on someone else’s character sheet, including situation aspects attached to them, and the invoke is to their disadvantage, you give them the fate point you spent. (Invoking a third party’s aspect is treated just like invoking an unattached situation aspect.) They don’t actually get to use it until after the end of the scene, though.” – Fate Core SRD
“For those who don’t know, ‘hostile invocation’ is the post-publication term a bunch of us at Fate HQ use to describe when you’re invoking an aspect that someone else owns or is in control off against that owner. That’s the gist of “Having Your Aspects Invoked Against You” on p. 81, but considers situational aspects you’ve created and currently control, not just your character aspects. Making On Fire isn’t generally something you control after you make it, so it generally doesn’t count as a hostile invocation.” –Ryan Macklin’s Blog
In my opinion, Hostile Invocations have two very useful features: they allow you to hinder an action without using a compel to overwrite the story, and they are an excellent tool for the Fate Point economy because they provide a Fate Point next scene.
Hostile Invocations are like any other invocation: they provide a +2 or a reroll, but the trick here is that the aspects being invoked are someone else’s. Its a trick you can use when you want to make a character’s action more difficult instead of making a story decoration that would eliminate the action. It’s a nudge.
For an example, let’s say you’re running a space opera game, and one of the players has a high-tech engineer named Scot. Scot has just spent several actions mid-battle to crawl through the bowels of the ship to reach a damaged FTL engine, and then succeed with a Craft roll to place a Jury Rigged aspect on the engine so they can make good their escape.
Now the ship can break the light speed barrier again! …but it’s a slap-dash repair made to escape the Evil Empire right now, not a full repair to get the ship up to top speed. As the player of the ship’s pilot kicks the ship into FTL the Empire’s cruiser accelerate to prevent the escape… but is a Jury Rigged engine as good as one at 100%? No, of course not.
As GM you could offer up a compel on Jury Rigged to prevent the players from escaping, but then you’re negating all the work Scot did to get the engine running again. Moreover, using a compel to end their escape won’t help move the story with the rescued galactic princess along.
A Hostile Invocation, on the other hand, isn’t a story override like a Compel. It’s not a declaration like “Your ship’s FTL lurches and shorts out, leaving you stranded in orbit around Doomtopia IV” but instead provides your standard Invocation benefits of +2 or a Reroll. In this case, you could invoke aspect to give the NPC piloting Evil Empire cruiser a +2 to her pilot roll because the Jury Rigged engine is working, but it’s not as fast as a fully repair FTL, so the NPCs have an edge.
Hindering by providing bonuses to the opposition can be used all over the place in a fate game. I have a fantasy character named Malc, and his Trouble Aspect involves him being an Old Man With A Dark Past. Predictably his Dark Past comes up in a lot compels and helps to drive the story of the game, but his status as an Old Man frequently comes up conflicts. Younger foes often use Hostile Invocations on him being an Old Man to gain a bonus to attack him or to dodge his attacks. The GM could compel me into missing attacks instead, but that would less fun than making the attacks harder because it removes an action from me instead of just making it harder. It’s a nudge, not an override.
Fate Point Economics
If the “typical” fate story arc involves the players starting a session with a fair number of fate points, spending them, getting into trouble and struggling due to compels and lack of fate points, only to come back at the end with their newly acquired fate points, then Hostile Invocations make things easier, especially in the middle where the GM is supposed to be getting fate points back into the player’s hands.
Using compels to get players fate points can be a little difficult for two reasons: first compels tend to be big things, and it can be difficult to get every character that is low on fate points one or two story compels in just a scene or two. Second, compels provide immediate fate points then tend to put the players into tough spots where they may feel the need to use those fate points, leaving them lacking final scenes. Hostile invocations work as nudges, making them easy to throw into existing rolls. Moreover, the fate points they provide are put into a “queue” that doesn’t become available to them until next scene. In my experience this actually makes players more willing to spend their last few fate points because they know they will be getting more for the next scene.
A Few Other Benefits
Hostile Invocations provide GMs with a few more options when making invocations with NPCs, particularly simple NPCs with only one or two general Aspects are their disposal. If you’re looking to get a roll improved or rerolled, but don’t have a good aspect on the mook you’re rolling for, you might have better luck picking on a consequence or trouble aspect of a PC they are interacting with.
Hostile Invocations also keep the story focused on the Players Characters and their aspects. Is it more interesting for the game group to say my character Malc was hit with an attack from a mercenary because the NPC is Well Trained or because they are mercenaries after the Bounty on Malc’s Head? In my opinion, using the character’s aspects is often the more interesting option, especially against mid level opposition.
Lastly, because it’s an invocation instead of a compel, the players don’t get the option to spend a Fate Point to cancel the expenditure. They can, of course, spend a Fate Point on an aspect to counter bonus (+2 vs +2) but doing so does get that Aspect into play, and is only an option if there is a valid aspect available.