Characters in your games are going to do a lot. For most things they do, there’s no real need for rules. Characters can stand, walk, talk, go shopping and otherwise do normal things without needing to roll dice. They can even take actions that use their skill, like driving to work, without worrying about the dice. The dice only come out when there is an interesting challenge with meaningful consequences.
On the simplest level, when a character rolls the dice, if he matches or exceeds the difficulty, he succeeds; if he doesn’t, he fails. When the issue is simple, then this may be all that’s necessary, but sometimes you also need to know how well a character did or did not do. Clearly, if a character rolls three higher than the target, that’s better than rolling only one higher.
The result of the roll is called the effort. Each point that the effort beats the difficulty by is one shift. If a roll is below the target difficulty, it’s a failure and it generates no shifts – there are no “negative” shifts (if you flip the perspective, the opposition could be said to generate shifts – but this is rarely relevant). If a roll matches the target difficulty, it is a success but generates no shifts. If it beats it by one, it generates one shift; if it beats it by two it generates two shifts, and so on. The number of shifts generated by a roll is used as a measure of many elements, and is referred to as the effect.
Shifts may be spent to affect the outcome of a roll. Often, the GM will implicitly spend shifts in accordance with the player’s description of his character’s actions. Sometimes, players may explicitly spend shifts as well. Basic uses for one shift include:
|Reduce time required:||Make the action take less time.|
|Increase quality of outcome:||Improve the quality of the job by one step.|
|Increase subtlety:||Make the job harder to detect by one.|
Exactly how shifts can be applied depends on the skill, and is detailed in the write-ups of the individual skills, beginning on page XX. Later in this chapter, we’ll also talk about how to deal with an excess of shifts, using the concepts of overflow and spin (page XX).
Dice are used in one of three types of situations:
|Simple Actions:||Where the character is rolling against a fixed difficulty.|
|Contests:||When two characters each roll, with high roll winning and generating shifts.|
|Conflicts:||When two or more characters act in direct opposition to one another, but where resolution is not as simple as a contest.|
Simple actions are rolled against a difficulty set by the GM and are used to simply see if a character can do something, and possibly how well he can do it. The GM describes the situation and the player chooses a skill to apply to it, and rolls against a difficulty determined by the GM (by default, Average). Some sample simple actions include:
- Climbing a wall
- Looking up an obscure fact
- Searching a crime scene for fingerprints
- Shooting a (non-character) target
Contests are very much like simple actions, except the action is in direct opposition to someone else and easily resolved one way or another. Rather than setting a difficulty, each party rolls the appropriate skill, and the outcome is resolved as if the high roll had beaten a difficulty equal to the low roll. A tie means both succeed, but whether that means the outcome is a tie or if it calls for another roll depends on the situation. Some sample contests include:
- An arm wrestling match
- A footrace
- A shouting match
Conflicts are what happen when two or more characters are in opposition in a fashion that cannot be quickly and cleanly resolved. A conflict is broken down into a number of exchanges where each party makes an effort to try to achieve their goal, taking turns to act. Opponents who stand in their way may be called upon to roll a response. They will accumulate success in the form of stress on opponents. Eventually, opponents will accumulate enough stress, or suffer enough consequences, to be taken out; alternatively, opponents may preemptively offer a concession.
Conflicts are the most involved actions, and an entire scene may revolve around a conflict. Conflicts include:
- Any kind of fight scene
- A political debate
- A long, tense staredown
- Trying to talk your way past a bouncer as he tries to scare you off
The complexity of conflicts is such that they merit an entire section detailing how they are handled.
Once a conflict begins, follow this regular pattern.
- Frame the scene
- Establish initiative
- Begin exchange
- Take actions
- Resolve actions
- Begin a new exchange
Framing the Scene
Over the course of a conflict, the elements in play in the scene can play a part in how the conflict unfolds. In framing the scene, the GM declares if there are any aspects on the scene, and lays them out for the players. (The use of scene aspects is detailed on page XX.)
If the scene is taking place over a broad area, the GM also describes the zones the scene will be occurring in. Each zone is a loosely defined area where characters may directly interact with anyone else within that zone (which is a nice way to say talk to or punch them). Who is in what zone affects things like whether or not characters can attack each other or if they’ll need to throw things or use ranged weapons. At the outset, determining which zones characters start in should be reasonably intuitive, but if there is a question, the GM can rule on where the character starts.
When looking for a quick rule of thumb, remember that people in the same zone can “touch” each other, people one zone apart can throw things at each other, and people two (and sometimes three) zones apart can shoot each other. Any one given scene should not involve more than a handful of zones. Considering that guns easily operate over three zones, sometimes a few more, a comfortable number would be around three to five zones – but don’t feel like you’re forced to cram in more zones than the area readily supports.
Opposing individuals may all be detailed characters like the player’s characters, but often minions, mooks, or other faceless supporters will supplement the opposing force. These supporters are collectively called “minions” and are handled slightly differently than other characters (page XX). Minions divide themselves into a number of groups equal to the number of opposing characters. If a side is composed of a mix of characters and minions, characters may “attach” themselves to a group of minions, directing it and taking advantage of its assistance.
Dealing with large groups is a potentially complex exercise for the GM. We have several recommendations and strategies for making this a lot easier, later in this chapter (page XX).
The order of characters’ actions is determined at the beginning of the conflict, with characters acting from highest to lowest Alertness skill (for physical conflicts) or Empathy (for social conflicts). This is referred to as the order of initiative (i.e., “who takes the initiative to go when”).
Ties in initiative are resolved in favor of characters with a higher Resolve. Any remaining ties are in favor of the player closest to the GM’s right.
When a character is attached to a group of minions, use the character’s initiative. Otherwise the group of minions has initiative as indicated by the quality of the group (as determined in “Minions”, page XX).
Once that order is established, that is the order in which actions are taken for the duration of the exchange. When the last person has gone, the exchange ends, and a new exchange begins with the first character acting again, and everyone else acting in the same order.
An Alternative to Skills
For some play-groups the idea of using particular skills to determine initiative may seem “unbalancing”, or at least unpleasant, in that it tends to force certain skills to prominence in many a skill pyramid. Also, some GMs don’t like having to keep track of a detailed order of actions. If your group doesn’t like skill-based initiative, use this alternative method instead:
- At the beginning of each exchange, the option to go first moves one player clockwise around the table.
- Initiative for that exchange proceeds clockwise (and includes the GM).
- Thus, the person who went first on the prior exchange goes last on the next one, and the others get their turn one step sooner.
This simple method makes sure that everyone gets a chance to go first over the course of a game, and doesn’t require the players to make any sorts of special initiative-based decisions in their skill selections.
When a player takes action, he describes what his character is doing and, if necessary, rolls an appropriate skill. Each action is resolved as either a simple action (if there is no opposition), or as a contest, with the details depending upon the specifics of the action.
Most actions in a fight will be either attacks or maneuvers.
An attack is an attempt to force the attacker’s agenda on a target, by attempting to injure them, by bullying them, or by some other means. An attack is rolled as a contest, with the attacking character (the attacker) attempting to beat the defending character (the defender) in a roll of skills.
Not all attacks are necessarily violent. An attempt to persuade or distract someone is also a sort of attack. When determining whether or not the attack rules apply, simply look for two characters in conflict, an agenda (or “want”) pushed by the acting character, and the target or obstacle to that agenda, the defending (or “responding”) character. The skills used to attack and defend depend on the nature of the attacker’s agenda. Here are some examples.
|The attacker wants…||So he uses…||And the defender can use…|
|To physically harm||Fists, Guns, Weapons||Fists, Weapons, Athletics|
|To deceive||Deceit||Resolve, Empathy|
|To charm||Rapport||Resolve, Deceit|
|To force movement||Might||Might|
If the attacker wins the roll, his shifts may be spent to inflict stress on the defender (see “Resolving Actions”, page XX). If the defender wins, the attack fails; if the defender wins significantly, he may even earn spin (see “Spin”, page XX), which he can use to his advantage.
A maneuver is an attempt to change the situation in some way, affecting the environment or other people, but without damaging or forcing the target (if force is used or damage is dealt, it would be an attack). When a character tries to jump to grab a rope, throw dust in an enemy’s eyes, draw eyes upon himself in a ballroom, or take a debate down a tangential path – that’s a maneuver.
A maneuver is either a simple action or a contest, with the difficulty or opposition determined by the nature of the maneuver. A maneuver that doesn’t target an opponent is resolved as a simple action. Most simple maneuvers like this result in a character rolling against a GM-set difficulty and doing something with the resulting shifts. A maneuver can also target an opponent, and, if successful, place a temporary aspect on him. Either kind can also be used to place a temporary aspect upon a scene. See the “Resolving Maneuvers” section later in this chapter (page XX) for details.
Some kinds of actions are “free” – they don’t count as the character’s action during an exchange, regardless of whether or not a roll of the dice is involved. Rolling for defense against an attack is a free action. So are minor actions like casting a quick glance at a doorway, flipping a switch right next to the character, or shouting a short warning.
There is no limit on the number of free actions a character may take during an exchange; the GM simply has to agree that each action is free, and should feel free to impose limits if it seems like someone is taking excessive advantage of this rule.
A character can opt to do nothing but protect himself for an exchange. By foregoing his normal action, he gains a +2 on all reactions and defenses for that exchange. Characters who are defending may declare it at the beginning of the exchange rather than waiting for their turn to come around. Similarly, if they have not acted in the exchange at the time when they are first attacked, they may declare a full defense at that point, again foregoing their normal action for the exchange.
Hold Your Action
A character can opt not to act when his turn comes around. When a character takes a hold action, he has the option of taking his turn any time later in the exchange. He must explicitly take his turn after someone else has finished their turn and before the next person begins. He cannot wait until someone declares what they’re trying to do, then interrupt them by taking his turn.
When the character’s action is preventative – trying to keep something from happening, rather than taking direct action to make something happen – he is performing a block action. He declares what he’s trying to prevent and what skill he’s using to do it. Players may declare a block against any sort of action or actions and may theoretically use any skill, but unless the block is simple and clear, the GM may assess penalties based upon how hard it would be, or how much of a stretch it would be. Players should never be able to “cover all bases” with a single block.
A blocking character can declare that he is protecting another character. He makes this declaration on his turn, and rolls the skill he’s using to block; the result is the block strength. When, later that exchange, any enemy tries to attack the protected character, the protected character gets the benefit of both the blocker’s defense as well as his own, whichever is better. The attacker rolls his attack as normal. The defender rolls his defense as normal. If that defense roll is higher than the block strength, he uses the defense result; otherwise he uses the block strength. The attacker then generates shifts as normal.
For other types of blocks, the blocking character declares the block on his turn, and rolls the skill he’s using to block, subject to any penalties imposed by the GM. The result is the block strength. Later that exchange, every time another character tries to perform the blocked action, he enters into a contest with the blocker. The character trying to get past the block rolls the skill he’s using for the action (not a skill specifically appropriate to the block), and compares it to the block strength. If the attacker gets at least one shift, he successfully overcomes the block.
Trying to get past a block always takes an action, though the GM may grant similar latitude in deciding what skill is being used to get past it. Even if the action is normally “free”, getting past the block takes additional effort, and thus the GM can declare that it takes up the player’s action for the exchange.
A variety of skills may be appropriate to getting past a block. Getting past a block may occasionally require rolling a skill modified by another, secondary skill, as demonstrated in this next example.
Sometimes a character needs to do something more complicated than just taking a single, basic action. Sometimes the complication is simple, like drawing a weapon and attacking; sometimes it’s more complex, like composing a sonnet while fencing.
When the character performs a simple action while doing something else, like drawing a weapon and attacking, or firing off a signal flare while intimidating the snapping wolves at the edge of the firelight, it is a supplemental action, and simply imposes a -1 on the character’s primary action roll (effectively spending one shift of effect in advance). When in doubt about which is the primary action and which is the supplemental one, the supplemental action is the one which would normally require no die roll.
Sometimes the GM may decide a supplemental action is particularly complicated or difficult, and may increase the penalty appropriately.
Movement is one of the most common supplemental actions. When it is reasonably easy to move from one zone to the next, characters may move one zone as a supplemental action (see “Framing the Scene”, above, for an explanation of zones). If they wish to move further than that, they must perform a primary (not supplemental) sprint action, which entails rolling Athletics and allowing the character to move a number of zones equal to the shifts generated.
Sometimes, it is more difficult to move from one zone to the next, such as when there is some sort of barrier (like a fence or some debris) or there is some other difficulty (like getting from a rooftop to the street below and vice versa). This movement complication is called a border. The numeric value of that border increases the penalty for a move action and subtracts shifts from a sprint action.
Sometimes the character needs to perform a task that really requires using two or more skills at once. You never know when a character is going to need to throw a knife (Weapons) while balancing on a spinning log (Athletics) or when he’s going to need to explain germ theory (Science) to one of the Dead Gods (Resolve).
In those situations, the GM calls for a roll based on the main skill being used (the primary thrust of the action), but modified by a second skill. If the second skill is of greater value than the first, it grants a +1 bonus to the roll; if the second skill is of a lesser value, it applies a -1 penalty to the roll.
When the second skill can only help the first, which is to say it can only provide a bonus, it complements the skill. A complementing skill never applies a -1, even if it’s lower than the primary skill. This usually happens when the character has the option of using the secondary skill, but doesn’t have to bring it to bear.
If the secondary skill comes into play only to hold the primary skill back, it restricts the skill, meaning it can only provide a penalty or nothing at all. A restricting skill never applies a +1, even if it’s higher than the primary skill. Often skills like Endurance or Resolve are restrictive skills – as you get more tired, you won’t get better, but if you’re resolute, you may not get worse.
In very rare circumstances, a primary skill may be affected by more than one secondary skill – say, a situation where a character needs to climb a wall (Athletics as primary), but is tired (Endurance restricts), but the wall’s part of a building the character has been studying in order to burglarize (Burglary complements). In such cases, no matter the number of skills in play, the most the combination can produce is one +1 and one -1. This is actually very quick to reason out. First, look at all of the skills that modify or complement; if any of them are higher than the primary skill, a +1 is applied. Next, look at all of the skills that modify or restrict; if any of them are lower than the primary skill, a -1 is applied. This may mean that multiple skills all affecting a roll will result in no modification at all – both a +1 and a -1!
It’s important to note that combining skills can never be done to perform two full actions at once – if that’s the goal, it should take two exchanges. When skills are used in combination, one skill is almost always going to serve a passive role, as the thing the character needs to be able to do in order to be able to perform the other skill. If a character is trying to throw a knife while balancing on a spinning log, Weapons is the main skill rolled, but Athletics restricts the roll, because without it, the character falls off the log, and his throw is moot. Similarly, if the character is gibbering before an ancient horror, his knowledge is simply not going to help him.
The difference between an action that combines skills, and a supplemental action, is not always obvious. In general, if both components of the action are something you’d expect to roll for if they were done separately, then it’s time to combine skills. If the lesser part of the action is something that normally doesn’t require a roll, just handle it as a supplemental action. Sometimes, an action will be both supplemental and modified – maybe the character is moving a little (supplemental), but is using his Athletics skill to get an edge (modifying the primary roll):
When a character is in a position to control the pacing of a conflict (which generally requires the conflict be one on one, or ritualized in some way), he may stretch it out and try to wear down his opponent. When this happens, actions in a conflict start using the character’s Endurance skill to restrict (see page XX) the skill used on any of his actions. Similarly, actions may be restricted by Alertness if the conflict starts having too many distractions, or restricted by Resolve if the conflict has become mentally fatiguing.
A successful attack inflicts an amount of stress on its target equal to the number of shifts on the attack (the difference between the attacker’s effort, and the defender’s effort). Stress represents non-specific difficulties a character can encounter in a conflict.
In a fight, it’s bruising, minor cuts, fatigue, and the like. In a social conflict, it’s getting flustered or being put off one’s game. In a mental conflict, stress might mean losing focus or running in circles.
Stress can usually be shaken off once a character has some time to gather himself, between scenes.
The type of stress that a character takes in a conflict should be appropriate to the type of conflict. Every character has two stress tracks. The first is the Health stress track, used for physical stress, such as wounds and fatigue. The second is the Composure stress track, representing the ability to “keep it together” in the face of social and mental injuries.
A character can only take so much stress before being unable to go on, represented by a stress track filling up. Each stress track defaults to 3 boxes, but the tracks can be increased by certain skills: Endurance can increase the Health stress track, and Resolve can increase the Composure stress track. See the skill descriptions of Endurance and Resolve on page XX and page XX for more details.
When stress is determined, the character should mark off that box on the appropriate stress track. For instance, if the character takes a three-point physical hit, he should mark off the third box from the left on the Health stress track.
At the end of a scene, unless the GM says otherwise, a character’s stress tracks clear out; minor scrapes and bruises, trivial gaffes and embarrassments, and momentary fears pass away. Deeper issues resulting from attacks, called consequences, may last beyond the end of the scene, and are covered further below.
Stress is a transitory thing, but sometimes conflicts will have lasting consequences – injuries, embarrassments, phobias and the like. These are collectively called consequences, and they are a special kind of aspect. We’ll talk more about what this means shortly.
Any time a character takes stress, he may opt not to check off a box and instead take a consequence. If the character takes a hit which he doesn’t have a box for, either because it’s higher than the number of boxes on his stress track, or because it rolls up past his last box, the character must take a consequence.
The exact nature of the consequence should depend upon the conflict – an injury might be appropriate for a physical struggle, an emotional state might be apt for a social one. Whatever the consequence, it is written down under the stress track. The first consequence a character takes is a mild consequence, the second is a moderate consequence, and any additional consequences are severe. (To understand exactly what these mean, “Removing Consequences”, page XX .)
Normally, the person taking the consequence gets to describe what it is, so long as it’s compatible with the nature of the attack that inflicted the harm. The GM acts as an arbitrator on the appropriateness of a consequence, so there may be some back and forth conversation before a consequence is settled on. The GM is the final authority on whether a player’s suggested consequence is reasonable for the circumstances and severity.
Characters may only carry three consequences at a time (barring certain stunts which allow more). If the character has already taken a severe consequence, then the only remaining option is to be taken out. We’ll talk about that next.
But here’s the thing about consequences being a special kind of aspect: As long as the consequences are on the character’s sheet, they may be compelled or tagged (or invoked!) like any other aspect. This also means that opponents may start tagging those aspects pretty easily, since it’s no secret that the consequence aspects are now on the character’s sheet!
If a character takes a hit which takes him past a severe consequence, that character is taken out. The character has decisively lost the conflict, and unlike the other levels of consequence, his fate is in the hands of his opponent, who may decide how the character loses. The outcome must remain within the realm of reason – very few people truly die from shame, so having someone die as a result of a duel of wits is unlikely, but having them embarrass themselves and flee in disgrace is not unreasonable.
The option to determine how a character loses is a very powerful ability, but there are a few limits on it.
First, the effect is limited to the character who has been taken out. The victor may declare that the loser has made an ass of himself in front of the king, but he cannot decide how the king will respond (or even if the king was particularly bothered).
Second, the manner of the taken out result must be limited to the scope of the conflict. After the victor wins a debate with someone, he cannot decide that the loser concedes his point and the loser gives him all the money in his pockets – money was never part of the conflict, so it’s not an appropriate part of the resolution.
Third, the effect must be reasonable for the target. People do not (normally) explode when killed, so that cannot be a part of taking someone out. Similarly, a diplomat at the negotiating table is not going to give the victor the keys to the kingdom – that’s probably beyond the scope of his authority, and even if it’s not, it’s unlikely something he would give away under any circumstances. What he will do is make a deal that is very much in the victor’s favor and possibly even thank him for it.
Lastly, players are not always comfortable with being on the receiving end of this and may, if they wish, spend all the fate points they have left (minimum one) and demand a different outcome, and the GM (or winning character) should then make every effort to allow them to lose in a fashion more to their liking. That said, if this is a real concern, the loser may want to concede somewhere before things reach this point (see “Concessions”, below).
Any time a character takes a consequence, he also has the option of offering a concession. A concession is essentially equivalent to surrendering, and is the best way to end a fight before someone is taken out (short of moving away and ending the conflict). The character inflicting the damage can always opt to not take the concession, but doing so is a clear indication that the fight will be a bloody one (literally or metaphorically). If the GM declares that the concession was a reasonable offer, then the character who offered it gains one fate point, and the character who refused it loses one.
The concession is an offer of the terms under which the character is taken out. If the concession is accepted, the conceding character is immediately taken out, but rather than letting the victor determine the manner of his defeat, he is defeated according to the terms of his concession.
Many conflicts end with a concession when one party or the other simply does not want to risk taking moderate or severe consequences as a result of the conflict, or when neither party wants to risk a taken out result that might come at too high a price.
Optional Rule: Grit
Some NPCs may be listed as having a certain amount of grit, usually rated at 1 or 2. This represents how committed the character is to the conflict at hand, and is the number of consequences the character will take before offering a concession. It is fairly rare for a character to be willing to go to the mat over trivial matters, so grit is somewhat contextual. If the matter ends up being of direct importance to the NPC, his grit might be considered to be higher, but if the matter is trivial, his grit might be considered to be lower.
Consequences will fade with time – characters heal, rumors die down, and distance brings perspective. How long this takes depends upon the severity of the consequence, which in turn depends upon how it was received.
Mild consequences are removed any time the character has the opportunity to sit down and take a breather for a few minutes. These consequences will last until the end of the current scene, and will usually be removed after that. The only exception is if there is no break between scenes – if the character doesn’t get a chance to take five, the consequence will remain in place.
Moderate consequences require the character get a little more time and distance. A good night’s sleep or other extended period of rest and relaxation is required. Moderate consequences remain in place until the character has had the opportunity to take several hours (at least 6) of “downtime.” This may mean getting sleep in a comfortable bed, spending time with a charming member of the opposite sex, reading by the fire, or anything else of that ilk, so long as it’s appropriate to the consequence. An afternoon of hiking might be a great way to get past a Heartbreak consequence, but it’s not a great choice for a Bad Ankle.
Severe consequences require substantial downtime, measured in days or weeks. Generally this means that such a consequence will linger for the duration of a session, but will be cleared up before the next adventure begins.
If the character is in back-to-back sessions where no in-game time passes between them, such as in a multi-part adventure, he gets a break – any consequences he begins the session with are treated as one level lower for how quickly they’re removed.
Some skills (such as Science, page XX) and stunts (such as Bounce Back, page XX) can also reduce recovery time, as described in their write-ups.
There are three types of maneuvers – uncontested maneuvers (without an opponent), scene-altering maneuvers, and maneuvers that target another character.
If the maneuver is uncontested – for instance, the character is trying to grab an idol or swing from a rope – it is a simple action, resolved just like any other simple action. The GM sets a difficulty, and the character rolls his skill and applies the resulting shifts as normal.
A maneuver can alter the scene in some way. How hard this is to do can range from trivial (knocking over a candle in a hay loft to add an “On Fire!” aspect to the scene) to virtually impossible (flapping one’s arms very hard to try to remove the “Foggy” aspect from a scene .) Whatever the result, the GM can decide whether or not the change the character makes merits adding or removing an aspect to the scene. The expenditure of a fate point can usually make a reasonable argument for making such a change; if the player’s willing to spend the point, his character’s actions to remove the aspect are invested with an unusual potency.
If the target is another character, the maneuvering character and the target make opposed rolls, using whatever skills the GM deems appropriate. Success is usually achieved if the maneuvering character generates at least one shift. A successful maneuver may add a temporary aspect to the targeted character; the target can either accept the temporary aspect, or spend a fate point to avoid accepting it. An aspect that results from a maneuver is temporary and does not last very long – we’ll get to the duration in a moment. The temporary aspect may then be tagged for a bonus on a subsequent roll. The first tag usually doesn’t cost the tagging player a fate point, but subsequent tags usually do (see the Aspects chapter, page XX, for more on the methods of tagging aspects). If a character is simply trying to increase the difficulty of another target’s action, this is considered a block action, and should be resolved as such; see page XX.
Maneuvers can also have other special effects, as determined by the GM. Some examples of these kinds of maneuvers are given later in this chapter.
Temporary aspects that result from maneuvers are usually fragile. A fragile aspect only exists for a single tag, and may even be cleared away by a simple change of circumstances. Consider someone who uses a maneuver to take aim at a target, placing an “In My Sights” aspect on the target. Once the shot’s taken, the aim goes away – this is clearly fragile. But it could get lost even before the first shot, if the character who (likely unwittingly) has the aspect on him manages to break line of sight or move significantly. Fragile temporary aspects are usually much easier to justify and pass muster with the GM.
Some aspects that result from maneuvers can be sticky. (Aspects that result from assessments or declarations, explained on page XX, are also usually sticky .) Sticky aspects don’t go away after they’re first tagged, allowing people to spend fate points to continue to tag them. The GM is encouraged to be much more picky about whether or not to allow a sticky aspect to result from a maneuver.
In many cases, the GM may require that the maneuvering character use spin (see page XX) in order to succeed at placing a sticky aspect. Sticky aspects may be easier to place on a location or scene than on another character, especially when they potentially offer complications to everyone present, on both sides – such as a maneuver to add an “On Fire!” aspect to a scene. It may be possible to remove a sticky aspect via a successful maneuver.
Some Example Maneuvers
This is not a comprehensive list of all possible maneuvers, but the examples provided below should cover a wide range of circumstance and provide the tools needed to cover unexpected situations.
- Whether it’s throwing sand in someone’s eyes, spraying someone with a harsh chemical or tossing a can of paint in his face, the goal is the same: keep him from being able to see. This likely involves the attacker rolling Weapons and the defender rolling Athletics, with the maneuver succeeding if the attacker gets at least one shift. A successful maneuver puts the aspect “Blinded” on the target, which may be compelled to add to the defense of their target, or to cause them to change the subject or direction of an action. It can’t force them to take an action they don’t want to (so a blinded character can’t be compelled to walk off a cliff if the character is not moving around).
- A successful disarm maneuver forces the target to drop his weapon or otherwise renders the weapon temporarily useless. The target must either spend an action to become re-armed, or pick up the weapon as a supplemental action. A supplemental action is normally a -1 penalty to the main action, but when a disarm maneuver is used, the shifts on the maneuver increase the penalty. For example, if the disarm attempt succeeds with three shifts, when the target tries to recover his weapon, he’ll be at -4 (-1 for the usual penalty, plus an additional -3) to his action that exchange – essentially the disarm maneuver has resulted in a block. His defensive rolls are not directly affected by this penalty, but they are indirectly affected; without a weapon in hand, he can’t use the Weapons skill to defend (Athletics and Fists are still options).
- Indirect Attacks
- Sometimes a character wants to do something like push a stack of boxes down on an opponent, or scatter marbles across the floor to trip him up. While this can potentially be an attack, it is usually meant as an inconvenience. If it’s an attack, it’s treated like any other attack. If it’s an inconvenience, the attacker has two options. The first option is to make an opposed roll (such as Might to knock over the bookcase versus Athletics to dodge) and generate at least one shift, allowing a temporary aspect (such as “Pinned”) to be placed on the target. The other option is to create a block (such as using Might to knock over the bookcase, with the value of the roll representing the block strength created by the scattered books, causing an opponent to have to roll Athletics in order to move through the mess).
- When the character carries something heavy, the penalty for a supplemental action is increased by the weight factor of the target (see page XX) for each zone he moves.
- Pushing a target requires a successful attack (usually Fists or Might) and must generate a number of shifts equal to the weight of the target +1 for each zone the target will be pushed (the +1 is basically the usual -1 for moving). While a throw or knockback moves the target to a different zone, a push moves both the target and the acting character into the destination. Because of this, the “cost” in shifts for pushing remains flat, while the cost for body-throwing and knockback increases over distance (see below). Any applicable border conditions affect the roll to push.
- Throw or Knockback
- It’s possible for a character to knock something or someone away from himself, without moving. Knockback covers any maneuver that can accomplish this, including throws. To knock something back one zone requires the maneuver have a success of 1 plus the weight factor of the target (a normal person has a weight factor of 2, see page XX)). Each additional zone costs as much as the previous zone did, plus one, so that the cost increases dramatically over distance.
- Every now and again a character just needs to carve his initial on someone’s chest, as simple as that. While it’s not a damaging attack, it’s a demoralizing one, and it adds a temporary aspect “Marked” which can be tagged to take advantage of the opponent’s reduced morale or appearance. The attack and defense roll for this is whatever’s appropriate to the situation – probably Weapons versus Athletics.
The term minions is used to refer to the large number of “faceless” followers of more important, “named” characters in a scene. The named characters are the villains of the piece; the minions are the bodies of the faithful (or at least the hapless) that the heroes must climb over to take on the named characters.
Minions have two important statistics, quality and quantity. The GM may build their villains’ minion mobs using stunts – see page XX – but should feel free to be a little loose with the rules if looking to size the minions appropriately to the opposition.
Minions may be either Average, Fair or Good quality. This quality denotes their base effectiveness in one sort of conflict (physical, social or mental), as well as their capacity for stress. Average minions can take one box of stress, Fair can take two, and Good can take three.
The quantity of minions is simply the number of minions present, but together, minions act in one or more groups, each of which is treated as single characters in a conflict. This allows the GM to minimize the number of die rolls she’s making, even when her heroes are facing off against a group of twenty frothing cultists. This shorthand technique also makes it a touch easier for the heroes to eliminate several minions in a single action.
Minions who act together as a group are much more effective than individual minions. When there are two or three minions in a group, the group receives a +1 bonus to act and react. If there are four to six minions in a group, the bonus is +2; seven to nine minions get a +3 bonus, and any single group with ten or more members gets +4.
As a rule of thumb, when a GM has a large number of minions, she should split them up into several smaller groups – preferably one group for each player character they face. These groups don’t necessarily need to be equal in number; sometimes it makes sense to pit the largest group of minions against the most capable opponent.
When minions take stress, it is applied sequentially (i .e ., filling all boxes instead of just a single one). Damage that overflows one minion is applied to the next minion. This means a solid enough effort can take out an entire swath of minions.
One of the main uses for minions, be they ninjas or yes-men, is to improve the effectiveness of their leader. Whenever a named character and a group of minions are attacking the same target, they are considered to be attached. This has two benefits for the leader: he receives a bonus based on the group size (including him), and damage is applied to minions before it’s applied to him. It has no benefits for the minions, who give up their ability to act independently, but that’s more or less their job (see the Leadership skill for more, page XX). Leaving or attaching to a group is a free action, and a character may detach from a group automatically by moving away from it.
Companions are characters who are a little more important than minions but are not quite full-fledged named characters in their own right. Only one companion may “attach” to a character at a time, the same as a minion might, taking hits to its stress track in substitute for the character’s own. An attached companion can’t take actions of his or her own, though the companion’s skills are available to the character while attached. In addition, companions give the character the ability to withstand an additional consequence – specifically, the consequence that the Companion is taken out, kidnapped, or otherwise removed from the conflict.
Companions are either granted as a short-term story element by the GM, or are established through the purchase and use of a number of stunts. By default, a companion is of Average quality and can assist in one type of conflict. The type of conflict that the Companion can assist with determines her type.
A companion can have a number of advances, with each advance making her more capable. Usually, when a named character gains a sidekick, aide, or assistant (through a stunt), the companion gets a number of advances to begin with, and the named character can buy more advances with additional stunts.
An advance can do one of the following:
- Companions start with a base quality of Average, and its quality may be increased by one step for each advance spent on Quality. The quality of a companion reflects how skilled he, she, or it is, and how resilient the companion is. Companions have a base of one stress plus one box per point of quality. The companion gets a single skill column (instead of a pyramid) with an apex equal to its quality and counting down from there. Therefore:
- An Average quality companion has 1 Average skill and 2 stress.
- A Fair quality companion has 1 Fair and 1 Average skill and 3 stress.
- A Good quality companion has 1 Good, 1 Fair, and 1 Average skill and 4 stress.
- A Great quality companion has 1 Great, 1 Good, 1 Fair, and 1 Average skill, and 5 stress.
- All companions are considered independent - able to act on their own - without needing to spend an advance on it; however, in order to send a companion off on an independent mission, the character must spend a fate point in order to do so. Only one fate point needs to be spent per significant mission (there’s no need to spend fate points when the companion is getting sent off to do something trivial). That said, the Independent advance may still be purchased for a companion, removing this fate point cost.
- Each time this advance is taken, an additional “column” of skills is added to the companion’s sheet. But this is at diminishing returns; each column after the first starts one rank lower than the previous. So a Good quality companion with the Skilled advance taken twice would have 2 Good, 3 Fair, and 3 Average skills in total. A third advance would only add 1 Average skill, and a fourth advance would be wasted. A Great quality companion who takes the Skilled advance 4 times would end up with a “blunted” skill pyramid that’s easily the equal of a PC!
- This advance may be taken a maximum of two times. Each time it is taken, the companion gains the use of a single stunt. The stunt may not confer companions of its own (though minions are possible).
- Keeping up
- If the companion’s patron has a means of locomotion or stealth that makes it hard for the companion to keep up with him, then the companion with this advance has a similar ability, but it is useful only for keeping up with her patron when attached, and for no other purpose.
- The companion has some means of communicating with her patron in even the strangest of circumstances – using secret decoder rings, ancient Atlantean secrets of telepathic trances, or what-have-you. Attempts to disrupt the method of communication between companion and character face a difficulty equal to the companion’s quality rating, or the character’s skill that yielded the companion, whichever is higher. Additional advances spent on Communication increase this difficulty by 2.
GMs should think twice before cutting off a character from his companion, when this advance is in play.
While characters are not obliged to take their companion as an aspect, it is highly recommended. Companions are the first people villains choose as hostages and targets, and by choosing to take an appropriate aspect, the player ensures that he’ll be rewarded for the inconvenience.
Minions vs. Companions: Who Gets Them
Unspoken in the above is a simple assumption, which you may choose to make use of or ignore as you see fit, and it’s this: minions are for bad guys – or at least NPCs – while companions are for the players. There will most certainly be exceptions – companions are the most able to show up in both – but very often it simply isn’t thematically appropriate for a player’s character to run about with twenty-odd minions at his beck and call. A plucky sidekick, on the other hand, is entirely in keeping…
When a character takes an action (an attack or a maneuver) against groups of minions, he will occasionally succeed by far more than anticipated. This leaves him in a situation where he has a large number of “wasted” shifts. These surplus shifts are called overflow, and can be used in an immediate, follow-up action so long as it’s not as another attack or other offensive maneuver. To put it simply, overflow is used to take supplemental actions.
When fighting “named” (non-minion) characters, overflow exists only as the number of shifts that are left over after the minimum number are used to produce a taken out (or consequence-producing) result.
In its broadest sense, spin is a special effect that occurs whenever a character scores a significant or better success (3 shifts or more). That special effect may simply be color – it may mean the character looks particularly cool, or is due some recognition for excellence. However, in some cases, gaining spin can result in an actual game effect.
Specific to combat, spin is a minor, defensive form of overflow (see above) used to represent minor changes in the cadence of a conflict. Applied to a defense, when a character who successfully defends against an attack roll by three or more, he gains spin.
Having gained spin, the character has the option to apply a bonus or penalty to the next roll that occurs. Defensive spin must be used on the very next action taken by anyone in the scene (whether it’s a hero’s action or villain’s action). Used this way, spin either adds one or subtracts one from any roll involved in that action (e.g., either the attack roll or the defense roll).
The player who gained spin on his defense chooses how that spin works into the scene. Thus, the only qualifier for using spin is that the character must explain how he was able to help or hinder, even if it’s just as simple as shouting some encouragement or providing a distraction. A player might not always be able to justify using spin. Spin that isn’t used on the next action simply goes away.
Note that spin, when used, is an effect that occurs instead of overflow. For example, someone might succeed on a defense by 3 shifts, generating spin. He could use his spin to give someone else a +1 as described above, or he could instead treat those three shifts as overflow, using it to dive clear of an impending explosion, or some other supplemental action.
Spin may affect certain maneuvers; see “Temporary Aspects” earlier in this chapter (page XX). And there are other applications of spin, found throughout this book. In general, spin serves as an easy way of making note that a character has done particularly well on a roll. In particular, skill and stunt uses might also create spin and utilize spin in special ways; see the individual descriptions for more details. The “+1 on the next action” effect of spin, however, only occurs as a result of a defensive roll in a con flict. This is because defensive rolls don’t usually get to use shifts when they succeed ; spin allows for a particularly good roll to be recognized, and not to go “wasted”.
Using the Environment
In the Aspects chapter, we’ve already talked about tagging scene aspects for bonuses. Another thing that scene aspects can be used for is the occasional use of one skill in lieu of another, in a way that skill wouldn’t normally be used. To do so, invoke the aspect (spend a fate point) to create a reasonable justification for the unusual skill’s use; the character may use the new skill for as long as the GM considers appropriate. If the new skill has a dramatic impact that is potent for its novelty, it is probably only appropriate for one roll, but sometime the skill may be appropriate for the entire scene.