Compel: Action Roll required?


Since the Whisper in my game is going to start with “Compel” I am wondering how this special ability works.

Does it require an action roll (attune) to summon and compel a ghost or does it work automatically as long as there is one in the vicinity?
I guess it’s supposed to be the former, but I am not quite sure from the description.

Also, if a roll is needed, what factors into effect and position? Maybe stuff like the power of the ghost, how far away it is, and how much the Whisper’s order aligns with the ghost’s wants?
Do you as GMs make some kind of fortune roll to decide these things (i.e. power of the ghost etc.) and do you sometimes give your players multiple options (meaning: ghosts) to choose from?

One more question: Would you say a Whisper can just try to compel a ghost without knowing if there even is one? Or does the Whisper have to know about it? If so would this mean they have to “find” one first, using attune or something?

That’s a lot of questions, sorry… Have a nice weekend, everyone!

Hello, @Stollentroll17

There’s a lot to unpack here. I will first give a “strict/by the book” answer to your questions, then give my comments about it.

Strictly speaking, they need to roll attune, even if there’s a ghost nearby, since there’s risk involved (the ghost might get angry, so on). About position and effect, what you said can be accounted when deciding. For “these things”, you can roll or decide based on the books power table (it’s somewhere within the supernatural section of the book if I remember correctly). It’s up to you, but I normally give a “standard” ghost.

More strictly speaking answers: I suppose so? By the description: You can Attune to the ghost field to force a nearby ghost to appear before you and obey an order you give it., so I believe the whispers sort attract it like a magnet.

So, these are the answers more “by the book”. Now I will give you some of my personal opinion:

You don’t really have to make a roll for everything. So, if you want to “speed things up”, or maybe you don’t feel it will add much to the game, you can just say they succeeded. This can apply for anything, really. For example, the gang have a secure access to the backdoor, but it’s locked. You can ask for a roll in order to lockpick it, but you can also just “ah, the lock is not that hard and the alley is empty, you just pick it.”

For the position and effect, everything factors it, actually. Is the whisper under fire? Is there a lot of time to spare, or the compeling has to be done quickly? And so on. I personally liked the ideia of having the order align with the ghost wants.

For the strength of the ghost, you may just ask the player. “Are you looking for some ghost in specific? One particularly strong perhaps?” If there’s no preference, I personally would not account the power into the pos / effect.

Finally, I don’t think they have to know, but if an area is “deserted” (maybe the crematorium), you might reduce the effect (because conditions are not ideal). About having to find, I would go agains it in most cases. Ideally you don’t want players to roll twice for the same thing, and having to attune to find it then attune to compel feels like it. However, what you could do, is “offering” a setup action. In my mind, it would go like this “Compeling here will have limited / zero effect, since there’s no ghosts around. However, (player), you could try to to improve your odds first.” How they improve their odds? Let the players decide! (= Maybe they will try to make some sort of ritual to increase the potency, maybe they will survey a better location, so on.

Remember that ideally, you should avoid blocking players actions as much as possible. Setting the action to “zero effect” feels better than saying “you can’t do this”. It also gives them space to act, such as trading position for effect or making a setup as mentioned.

Thank you for this detailed answer!
That helps me a lot. I think you’re right, it is probably best to use “standard” ghosts or ask my player if they are looking for anything specific.

I’ve got another question regarding ghosts:
Do you (or someone else) have suggestions for how to exorcise ghosts which are possessing humans?
Or is there even an “official” way to do it in the book which I missed?

This question will probably come up soon, and I’m struggling a bit trying to think of ways to do this. Especially since the characters are completely fresh, so they don’t have any special items, rituals or anything available yet…

Btw, do you think it’s possible to Compel a ghost possessing someone? :grinning:

As far as I remember from the book, it doesn’t list an “official” way to exorcise.
I bet this is by design.

It’s really up for you, ideally together with the players, to decide. You can make the ghosts as simple (just compel it, or even a simple attune) or as hard (you need a specific ritual) to deal with as you desire.

As long as it’s fun and entertaining, it’s the “right” way to play.

This sort reminds me when I was discussing the technology level of the world with my players. Basically they wanted to know if telephones existed (not the mobile ones). At the moment I let them be, since it made sense for me. Later, I searched around the web and wrote a few paragraphs detailing the level of technology, from vehicles to communication and so on, then presented it to them. They all agreed and we stick to it from them on.

Moral of the story: As a rule of thumb, go for way you feel is more natural / makes most sense for you. If a player interjects, you can always explain your reasoning and ask their opinion on it. Worst case, you change it to what feels best for everybody.

Keep in mind that, it being easy or it being hard not necessarily implies how it’s going to be played out. For example, you can say that exorcising is a really complicated ritual. They can play scores going after the materials / performing it, or simply make a clock and they fill it as a downtime activity, maybe an “acquire asset” to find a suitable NPC. Both are, in my point of view, valid scenarios. This applies for everything else, really.

Now on my personal opinion on it, or rather, what makes most sense for me:

While “invading the body” players can interact with the spirit directly and “pull it out” of the person easily and directly (quite literally if someone has the “Ghost Hands” ability).

Once completely inside, however, things change. In order to force the ghost to leave, you need to compel it, but being hidden deep within the person, adds an extra complication. “Mechanics wise”, compeling it would have zero (or lower) effect. There are a lot of possibilities what they could do in this situation: perform a ritual (perhaps a more powerful way to compel), call a Railjack or Witch to help (someone that has more experience and items to increase the effect), maybe trade position for effect (risking the possessed own soul in the process?), search for some sort of “Ghost Repellent” potion and drink it (a rare item they need to craft) and so on.

As a last piece of personal advice, keep in mind that due to the “sandbox” nature of BitD, it is quite impossible to plan for everything. Of course, its always nice to have a general idea all around, but don’t get stressed if you didn’t plan for something. In these cases, do as the book says: “play to find out what happens”.

Remember you can always ask the players, it’s a neat opportunity to expand their background. Suppose there’s a character that used to handle ghosts, just “So, did you know about anyone that was exorcised? How did they do it?”. Likewise, if they know some NPC related to the supernatural, you can “So, NPC Name knows a lot about the supernatural. Have they told you something about it? Maybe mentioned?”. Finally, there’s always the reliable “Have you heard any rumors on this? How do you / your character knows?”

Those are great answers, thank you!

I guess it will come up soon in my game and I will just let my players (especially the Whisper) decide how to do this.

“Asking the players” is actually something I am still struggling with, a bit at least. But I am trying to be on the lookout for opportunities to do so.

I wouldn’t stress too much. I believe the book has some tips on the GM session about it (I remember something like “ask your players questions you are curious about”), so you might read that again.

Personally, I mainly ask questions on two “opportunities”: descriptions and background.

Descriptions is simple. Instead of describing everything in a scene, ask the players what they see. For example, my players got into a high tier cassino in order to discuss business with another gang. I’ve describe briefly the first two floors and, when they got into the VIP section (where the meeting would be held), I turned to the Slide (the character has gambling as it’s vice) and asked “So, how is the VIP section different from what you are used to? What did you expect and what came true?” The person then described the room and we rolled with it.

Personally, I like descriptions because they are mostly “risk free”. If the VIP room has a painting, rich people, drugs or whatever, it will probably not affect the narrative directly. You can use it almost anywhere, too. Players discussing stuff at their base: “Oh, so how is your planning room, anyway? Is there a big table with a map of the city in the middle? What else?” One player buying luxury clothes for their vice: “What kind of stuff does (character name) goes after? Are they into hats or boots? Which colors do they pick?” and so on.

About background, it’s asking questions that, while the player might not know, the character might. Sort the thing I’ve talked about in the previous post. For example, let’s say your whisperer comes from Severos and the players are discussing how to exorcise. Go on and: “Has (whisperer name) ever exorcised someone? How did they do it?” This is a neat opportunity to expand the characters background and decide game stuff (how exorcises are made) on the fly.

I believe the most important thing is to almost never directly disagree or reject their answers. Otherwise, they will lose the motivation to answer. One “simple” trick is to add a “but” on what they say. So, the Severos Whisper answers “Oh, it’s really simple, you just touch the person on the chest and the ghost goes away.” This might sound a bit anti-climatic, so you add “Sure, that’s how your shaman did it, but she was way more skilled and experienced than you. You will probably need some more training and time to do it” or “But that’s because you were under the protection of the ancient temples in Severos. You will probably need some way to replicate it here in Doskvol, maybe a ritual could do it?”

Of course, easier said than done. But the more you do it, more naturally it will come to you. Always be sure and remind your players that there’s always space for them to voice their ideas.

Yeah, I have to read the GM section again.

Asking the players is something which will improve with time I guess.
I am already trying to ask questions about setting stuff, even if it’s not really related to the characters, but I find it a bit hard to “let go” sometimes, coming from more traditional RPGs :smiley: But at the same time I am already noticing how liberating it can be :wink:

Regarding descriptions, I think I could try to ask for more details when describing the looks of characters and similar stuff.
And thanks for the tip with the scenery! I hadn’t thought of asking the players what they see when they enter new scenes etc. Especially these “leading questions” from your example - I will try to use something similar when I get the oppotunity to do so.