[RPG] How to mechanically create a “Zone of Truth”


In a Fate-Core game, I want to introduce an area in which a powerful ritual had been cast in which everybody must say the truth (kind of similar to the D&D Zone of Truth spell).

I have some problems thinking about it in terms of Fate-Core mechanics. The options I thought are the following:

  1. Giving each character the temporal Aspect In zone of truth. This would probably be the one that best represents what I want, since it can be compelled to force the players to tell the truth.
  2. Giving the area the Aspect Zone of truth. The problem is that it won't be able to compel the players. That makes it difficult to force them to say the truth.
  3. Like 2, but making it work as if it were an aspect for each character in the zone. That way it doesn't require writing down (and removing) such aspect from every character, but it would be treated exactly as 1.
  4. Like 2, but whenever a character wants to lie, they have to overcome an obstacle (such as lying inside a Zone of truth). That would let players overcome it using (probably) fate points and their aspects (which probably makes sense). The problem is that it looks like it might require many rolls (since lying is something that might happen a lot).

In the end, none of the 4 options I came up with really satisfies me. How could such Zone of truth be best represented using Fate-Core mechanics while ensuring the best experience for my players?

TL;DR: How to mechanically create an area where everybody is compelled to say the truth in Fate-Core.

Best Answer

First, decide how it works in the fiction

Figure out the actual fictional constraints the spell imposes. Specifically:

  1. Is the effect absolute or something you can resist through force of will (or whatever)?

  2. Are you compelled to speak truthfully, or simply prevented from lying? In other words, can you choose silence or omission?

You could crib from the actual D&D Zone of Truth spell, but to be honest I think that'll make for a weak scene: it's a low-level spell you can just dodge with a save, and at best it means you can't lie actively but doesn't otherwise constrain you — that's not really a "powerful ritual" like you wanted, and honestly it's more of an occasionally-convenient investigative tool than any kind of significant challenge.

So, just let go of mechanics for a second — both Fate's and D&D's — and figure out how you want it to feel. Then proceed…

As Aspect

Honestly? Don't sweat whether it's a situation aspect or a temporary character aspect or whatever — you know how you want it to work, you can communicate it clearly to your players, that's enough. (Anyway, there's no real mechanical hurdle here: it's completely legit to compel a situation aspect. See "Compelling situation aspects," Fate Core, pg. 75.)

Also, note that you don't have to keep banging on the aspect with compels every time someone wants to lie. A compel's gotta hurt. If they're taking the Fate point, they should expect to actually face some significant trouble for it. (Also, if they pay to avoid the compel, you're still welcome to narrate it as a test of will or a close call — that probably makes pushing past the magic truth field more satisfying than just "oh, ok, it doesn't affect you.")

A good way to understand this is to imagine a scene with the aspect "Separated By a Big Bottomless Pit" representing a huge chasm in the middle of the battlefield. Various actions the characters take could involve compelling or invoking the aspect. But, independent of that, the mere fictional presence of the Big Bottomless Pit can constrain their movement or present dangers without involving the aspect mechanics themselves. Because it's also just true that the Big Bottomless Pit is there, and important, regardless. (See "Importance," Fate Core pg. 59.)

As Passive Resistance

You can also model your zone of truth as an effect that applies passive resistance to lying and deception, or even automatically boosts NPCs' passive resistance level by a step or two.

Would this involve rolling a lot? No more than just lying normally. Follow your typical process of Fate skills. Roll when it matters dramatically, let it ride a bit, think about what the roll means, apply significant results to both success and failure.

My Recommendation

  • Make it a situation aspect, because that's easy to understand and matches the fiction.
  • Make it a big and powerful force in the scene. No simple "save to negate" structure. If the players try to lie, tell them: "I'm compelling the Zone of Truth aspect, if you blurt out something that hurts your own standing, you'll get a Fate point; if you want to talk around it convincingly, spend one instead — you can't lie directly but you can obliquely achieve the same effect. You can feel the spell clouding your mind a bit every time you even inch up to lying, so trying to lawyer your way out of all this with omission and self-control will only get you so far." (If they want to lawyer their way through anyway, that might be some kind of Overcome or Create An Advantage action. E.g. maybe you could roll Rapport to establish "I'm going to tell people about something bad I did but also try to convince them it was a forgiveable deed.")
  • If someone asks how to beat the spell more thoroughly, like breaking the enchantment, show them "Removing or Changing an Aspect" (Fate Core, pg. 78).
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