Fate Hustle is a community mini-toolkit for crime action/caper games in Fate Core. It's heavily inspired by the movies like Reservoir Dogs, The Killer and Oceans 11.
Of course "crime action/caper" covers a lot of possibilities. So while the hacks in Fate Hustle are meant to work particularly well together, they are also intended to be useful individually. That way, you can pick and choose the parts that best suit your game, just like the Fate System Toolkit.
Fate Hustle is still in the design/discussion stage. Feedback welcome!
Table of Contents
Fifteen million dollars is not money. It's a motive with a universal adaptor on it — The Way of the Gun
The long con. The bank heist. The train robbery. What do they all have in common? Money.
Given it's importance, Fate Hustle handles money with aspects, and with a stress track. These two mechanisms represent the different levels of focus money gets in crime fiction.
When substantial money is in play — like at a poker game, exchange, or heist — it's a situation aspect. As an aspect, it can be invoked and compelled, used to create advantages, and so on. If you've got cash in aspect form, it's value is important enough to mention.
In the movies, this is the money in the briefcase that everyone wants to get their hands on. While a briefcase full of cash can be used to buy things — after all it is currency — it's cursed by being a plot device. In the traditional caper, this plot device is so powerful, it's rare for more than one person to be alive to enjoy the money by the end.
Now, role playing games are usually a team effort. Fate Hustle is more like the British TV series, Hustle, where loyalty is a big factor and successes and failures are shared. Shared successes are plot outcomes, not plot devices! This is represented by the Cash Track.
The Cash Track
Fate Hustle adds a stress track called cash. The is deliberately abstract, an overall financial 'power level'. A small gang might have one stress box, a king pin might have all four boxes. Available boxes represent bundles of cash stashed in air conditioning vents, money laundering schemes, and offshore bank accounts. You might use this money to bribe officials, or put together a briefcase stacked full of banknotes as a Convincer.
This exact amounts are unspecified. The movies don't give you an accurate financial breakdown of every major character, and neither does the cash track.
When you want or need to pay up some cash, your GM will ask for a payment from the track. Each character can only use one box towards the same purpose, but characters can pool their resources. If you and your party doesn't have enough spare cash on the track, you can take consequences instead, e.g. Owe money to Triads. So if GM asks for 3 points on the cash track, and have the "1" box available, you could use that and also take a mild consequence. Or, three characters could pool together their "1" boxes. You may of course decide that you can't or don't want to pay; although the person expecting payment may not take kindly to that.
Characters start without any of these boxes. They are unlocked at milestones, usually major milestones, representing the big successes like pulling off a spectacular long con, or winning a turf war that gives you control of a bigger revenue stream. In each case, it's a group reward.
Cash stress boxes can be cleared gradually from successful jobs, and income from turf that your group controls. These same conditions also trigger the recovery of cash-related consequences.
Wealth and Character Background
Your character might come from a particularly wealthy or poor background. That's handled with character aspects, like Inherited the Family Business, or Grew Up on the Streets. Such aspects are useful for social interactions, but don't provide any extra boxes on the cash track. One of the conceits of Fate Hustle is that, rich or poor, drawing upon existing personal resources has consequences. Using money that traces back to you can attract undesirable attention. Borrowing money means that you owe somebody, with interest. That's why the Contacts skill grants the extra mild consequence box for cash at Good (+3); you may know more people who can bankroll you, but don't expect a handout with no strings attached. There is a Contacts stunt, Good for the Money, which helps take this further. But ultimately, your group is starting from the ground up.
Weapons as Aspects
Movies like The Raid and Hard Boiled have weapons. Lots of them, used in imaginative ways. In some settings like Hong Kong, weapons can be difficult to obtain and highly illegal, but give you a crucial advantage over your opponent.
For ultimate flexibility, Fate Hustle treats weapons as aspects. A weapon somebody has dropped on the floor, or placed on the table, or has in their hand, is an aspect. Characters also have an aspect slot to represent their primary weapon.
As an aspect, your primary weapon can be invoked. It doesn't necessarily have to be drawn to be relevant to the scene; for example you could invoke a holstered gun while intimidating a witness. In any case, you can draw your primary weapon as a free action during a conflict. This can even be from a concealed location you have prepared in advance, within reason. You might tape your handgun to the underside of a desk, hide a sub-machine gun in a guitar case, or smash a birdcage to reveal pistols in its base.
If you have a primary weapon aspect at the start of the conflict, it comes with a free invocation. This represents the advantage of bringing a weapon to the fight. Having no primary weapon means that you have the Unarmed aspect in its place, and you don't get a free invoke. Remember that invoking an aspect needs to make narrative sense, and this includes the free invoke of your primary weapon. If you have a knife and you take on someone with a pistol, you'll have a tough time justifying the invoke. Unless you're on a plane! Then you might point out that it's dangerous to fire a gun in a pressurized cabin, causing your opponent to hesitate. This is why weapons are represented as aspects rather than having a fixed bonus: no weapon is perfect in all situations.
Note that you don't have to use the free invocation on an attack. You might use the invocation when defending, to parry or put up cover fire against someone else's attack, for example.
Even if a character is carrying secondary weapons, only the primary weapon is an aspect, and only the primary weapon can be wielded. You can switch weapons by creating an advantage. This changes your primary weapon. All the usual rules of aspects apply to your primary weapon, so you can create an advantage on it to get more free invokes. The main thing to note is that weapons can be taken away; your primary weapon isn't part of your character.
GM Note: The free invocation is optional. In a pulp game where weapons are easy to come by, the free invocation of weapons may be too much. In a game where guns are dangerous and you have to work to even find an arms dealer, get the weapons past bodyguards, then dispose of them because they leave a ballistics trace, so it's risky using the same gun for too long… The free invocation represents a reward for the risks.
Thrown Weapons and Explosives
You can attack with the Throw skill. The range for Throwing is up to one zone away. You can do this without making the object you are throwing your 'primary weapon', although this doesn't make the thrown object an aspect. If you do throw your primary weapon, you are left Unarmed. If the target succeeds with style when defending against a thrown object, they can catch the object in addition to getting the boost. This gives them the opportunity to throw the object next round. This can result in the movie classic of passing the grenade 'hot potato'.
Instead of targeting an individual, you can target a whole zone, as long as the object you are throwing explodes. Divide your attack result equally between everyone in the target zone, rounding up. Everyone in the zone defends against the split result.
Note: low-level NPCs often form mobs. Mobs are treated as a single target. This means that you can take out multiple NPCs in a mob with a grenade without splitting your attack result. This is nothing special; you can also do this with other forms of attack. Blowing up a mob isn't mechanically different from spraying them with bullets, or a martial artist beating them up with ease.
Grenades and explosives are great for detonating situation aspects, an optional rule in the Fate System Toolkit which is ideal for Fate Hustle.
You can dual wield small weapons and handguns. You still only have one primary weapon aspect, but the aspect might be something like 'dual mini-uzis'. You can drop one of your weapons as a free action, which changes you primary weapon aspect appropriately. Dual wielding pistols is common in Hong Kong action cinema, and is a good candidate for stunts.
You can't catch a grenade if you dual wield weapons (unless you are willing to drop one of your weapons first).
Armor and Cover
Armor is an occasional plot device in crime action films, where the guy who looked like he'd taken a bad hit reveals the convenient cigarette case or bulletproof jacket. However, most characters in the movies don't wear Armor, they wear shades. For this reason, in Fate Hustle, armor isn't anything special. It isn't even an aspect. To survive, you'll need skills, and to create or discover advantages in situation aspects such as cover.
Some zones might be declared by the GM as being close quarters. An enemy who has entered your cover is usually at close quarters, too. If opposing sides are armed and at close quarters, then neither side can use the Shoot skill without first playing out a standoff.
You got guns on us. You decide to shoot, we're dead. Up top, they got grenades. They drop them down here, you're dead. That's a Mexican Standoff, and that was not the deal. No trust, no deal. — Inglourious Basterds
Standoffs are a staple of the crime action movies, and a particularly dangerous form of physical conflict. This includes complex Mexican Standoffs, as well as the iconic two-person standoffs in John Woo movies. As long as it makes narrative sense (GM being final arbiter of this), anyone can declare a standoff by paying a fate point. It doesn't have to be at close quarters, but either way a fate point has to be paid.
All standoffs are resolved according to initiative; if it's part of a larger conflict just continue taking turns as usual. It is possible for others to join in the standoff by creating an advantage, which involves threatening someone with your primary weapon (gun aiming at head, knife to throat…). Switching who you threaten with your weapon requires creating an advantage. Dual wielders can threaten two targets simultaneously. An explosive or grenade threatens a whole zone.
Characters in a standoff can take non-attack actions in an attempt to sway and eventually resolve the standoff in their favor. They can also attempt to inflict mental stress on others in the standoff. But if anyone makes a physical attack, then they trigger a bloodshed round. This is as bad as it sounds. Targets a character was threatening at the start of the bloodshed round lose the skill bonus to defense (usually athletics) against their physical attack. Explosives and grenades have to be used against a whole zone to benefit; there isn't time to target an individual as the bloodshed round resolves. Here's the kicker: everyone except the person who triggered the bloodshed round gets this benefit to their attacks. Also, the person who triggered the bloodshed gives up their right to concede for the round.
The standoff is considered to be over after the bloodshed round. A standoff also over if the conflict ends, only one side remains armed, or if all but one side escapes.
Note: By definition, more than one side has to be under threat for there to be a standoff. If the other side decides to shoot after you have laid down your weapons, there’s no standoff anymore, so you won’t be at +0 defense. Hostage situations can develop into a standoff, but again, there has to be at least two sides at gun or knife-point. Hostages are only at risk from the flat +0 defense if the hostage takers have weapons trained on them. Hence hostages may encourage you to do what their kidnapper says, and drop your weapons! Of course, that leaves you Unarmed…
Here are the suggested changes to the core skills for crime action settings:
- Burglary becomes Sleight of Hand
- Contacts at +3 grants access to an extra mild consequence box, that can only be used for cash.
- Craft is the appropriate skill for disguise kits, explosives and forgeries. As a diverse skill, advanced uses need to be backed up by a character aspect
- First Aid added, which can be used to start recovery of mild and moderate physical consequences. Severe consequences requires a backstreet surgeon (let's hope they know what they're doing), or a hospital (where suspicious injuries are reported to the police). Take your pick.
- Lore removed. What you know depends upon your aspects, and your other skills. You either know something or you don't, rather than making a roll.
- Throw added, for throwing grenades, flash bangs or anything else
- Provoke becomes Persuade. Mental conflicts in Fate Hustle usually represent standoffs, where you want to convince or intimidate your opponent to give in, not annoy them into shooting you.
- Resources removed, replaced by cash track
- Will becomes Grit.
The skill list becomes:
- First Aid
- Sleight of Hand
- Greaseman. +2 to Overcome rolls for contorting and squeezing into small spaces
- Good for the Money. You have friends who trust you to invest their money wisely. When paying cash, you can spend a fate point to reduce a consequence taken from severe to mild, or from moderate to mild
- Not a Threat. When you create an advantage to make yourself as non-threatening as possible, enemies will find other targets for as long as that aspect exists. As soon as you successfully attack someone, the aspect goes away. (Fate System Toolkit, p.42)
- Fearless. +2 to defend against Provoke attacks specifically related to intimidation and fear. (Fate Core, p.127)
- Hard Boiled. You can choose to ignore a mild or moderate consequence for the duration of the scene. It can’t be compelled against you or invoked by your enemies. At the end of the scene it comes back worse, though; if it was a mild consequence it becomes a moderate consequence, and if it was already moderate, it becomes severe. (Fate Core, p.127)
- Strength From Determination. Use Will instead of Physique on any overcome rolls representing feats of strength. (Fate Core, p.127)
- Takes a Thief. You can use Larceny in place of Investigate to gather evidence relating to a break-in or heist.
- Guns Akimbo. When dual wielding handguns, you can split your Shoot attack result between two targets.
- Sharpshooter. When wielding a single semi-automatic, manual or select-fire gun, you gain +2 to create advantages related to taking aim.
- Marksman. When using a scoped rifle, its range in zones is equal to your Shoot skill (instead of 2).
- Lead in the Air. You really like emptying magazines. Any time you’re using a fully automatic weapon and you succeed at a Shoot attack, you automatically create a Fair (+2) opposition against movement in that zone until your next turn, because of all the lead in the air. (Normally, you’d need to take a separate action to set up this kind of interference, but with the stunt, it’s free.) (Fate Core, p.90)
- Called Shot. During a Shoot attack, spend a fate point and declare a specific condition you want to inflict on a target, like Shot in the Hand. If you succeed, you place that as a situation aspect on them in addition to hitting them for stress. (Fate Core, p.125)
- Infiltrator. +2 to Overcome rolls to silently take down unaware NPCs.
- Backstab. You can use Stealth to make physical attacks, provided your target isn’t already aware of your presence. (Fate Core, p.89)
- Face in the Crowd. +2 to any Stealth roll to blend into a crowd. What a "crowd" means will depend on the environment—a subway station requires more people to be crowded than a small bar. (Fate Core, p.126)
- Hard Throw Targets who defend with style against your Throw attack cannot catch the thrown object
- Hot Potato If a grenade is targeted against you, you can catch it if you succeed on your defense (normally you have to succeed with style).
- Fire in the Hole! In place of a +2 or re-roll on an invocation, you can exclude an ally (including yourself) from your Throw attack against a zone. You can use this multiple times on a single action.