Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts
- Zooming In on the Action
Zooming In On The Action
Most of the time, a single skill roll should be enough to decide how a particular situation in play resolves. You’re not obligated to describe actions in a particular timeframe or level of detail when you use a skill. Therefore, you could use a single Athletics roll to find out whether you can safely navigate a rock face that will take days to climb, or use that same single skill roll to find out whether you can safely avoid a swiftly falling tree that’s about to crush you.
Sometimes, however, you’ll be in a situation where you’re doing something really dramatic and interesting, like pivotal set pieces in a movie or a book. When that happens, it’s a good idea to zoom in on the action and deal with it using multiple skill rolls, because the wide range of dice results will make things really dynamic and surprising. Most fight scenes fall into this category, but you can zoom into anything that you consider sufficiently important—car chases, trials, high-stakes poker games, and so on.
We have three ways for you to zoom in on the action in Fate:
- Challenges, when one or more characters try to achieve something dynamic or complicated
- Contests, when two or more characters are competing for a goal
- Conflicts, when two or more characters are trying to directly harm each other
A single overcome action is sufficient to deal with a straightforward goal or obstacle—the hero needs to pick this lock, disarm this bomb, sift out a vital piece of information, and so on. It’s also useful when the details of how something gets done aren’t as important or worth spending an intense amount of time on, when what you need to know is whether the character can get something done without any setbacks or costs.
Sometimes, however, things get complicated. It’s not enough to unpick the lock, because you also have to hold off the hordes of attacking zombies and set up the magical ward that’s going to keep pursuers off your back. It’s not enough to disarm the bomb, because you also have to land the crashing blimp and keep the unconscious scientist you’re rescuing from getting hurt in said landing.
A challenge is a series of overcome actions that you use to resolve an especially complicated or dynamic situation. Each overcome action deals with one task or part of the situation, and you take the individual results as a whole to figure out how the situation resolves.
GMs, when you’re trying to figure out if it’s appropriate to call for a challenge, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is each separate task something that can generate tension and drama independently of the other tasks? If all the tasks are really part of the same overall goal, like “detaching the detonator,” “stopping the timer”, and “disposing of the explosive material” when you’re disarming a bomb, then that should be one overcome action, where you use those details to explain what happened if the roll goes wrong.
- Does the situation require different skills to deal with? Holding off the zombies (Fighting) while pushing down a barricade (Physique) and fixing your broken wagon (Crafts), so that you can get away, would be a good instance for a challenge.
To set up a challenge, simply identify what the individual tasks or goals are that make up the situation, and treat each one as a separate overcome roll. (Sometimes, only a certain sequence for the rolls will make sense to you. That’s okay too.) Depending on the situation, one character may be required to make several rolls, or multiple characters may be able to participate.
Zird the Arcane is attempting to finish the consecration ritual of the Qirik, in order to sanctify the ground of the roadside inn where he is and grant it the protection of the Qirik gods. Normally, this wouldn’t be too interesting, except that he’s trying to get it done before a hoard of slavering, flesh-hungry zombies he unwittingly set free earlier in the adventure overruns the inn.
Amanda sees several different components to this scene. First, there’s the ritual itself, there’s keeping the inn boarded up, and there’s keeping the panicking inhabitants of the inn calm. That calls for Lore, Crafts, and some kind of social skill—Ryan immediately chooses Rapport.
Thus, Ryan will be rolling all three of those skills separately, one for each component Amanda identified. She sets the opposition for each of these at Good (+3)—she wants him to have even chances, while leaving room for a variable outcome.
Now they’re ready to start.
To conduct a challenge, call for each overcome action in whichever order seems most interesting, but don’t decide anything about how the situation turns out until after you’ve collected all the results—you want to have the freedom to sequence the events of each roll in whichever order makes the most sense and is the most entertaining. Players, if you get a boost on one of your rolls, feel free to use it on another roll in the challenge, provided you can justify it.
Ryan takes a deep breath and says, “All right, let’s do this.” He takes up the dice.
He decides to tackle securing the inn first, so he rolls his Good (+3) Crafts skill and gets a 0 on the dice. That ties the roll, allowing him to achieve the goal at a minor cost. Amanda says, “I’m going to say that I get a boost called Hasty Work to use against you if I need it—you are working fast, after all.”
Ryan sighs and nods, and then goes for the second goal in the challenge, which is calming the locals with his Good (+3) Rapport. He makes his roll and gets a terrible -3 on the dice! Now he has the option to fail or to succeed with a major cost. He goes for success, leaving Amanda to think of a good major cost.
She thinks a moment. How to make calming the villagers costly? Then she grins. “So, this is a story thing more than a mechanics thing, but you know… you’re using Rapport, so you’re probably being pretty inspirational right now. I could see you inadvertently convincing some of these farmers and peasants that those zombies are no real threat, and that they totally can go out and fight with little consequence. Because your magic is keeping them safe, right?”
Ryan says, “But they have to be in the inn for that to work!” Amanda is just grinning. Ryan sighs again. “Okay, fine. Some people get totally the wrong idea and are potentially going to get themselves killed. I can just hear them now… Zird, why did you let my husband die? Augh.”
Amanda grins some more.
Ryan goes for the final part of the challenge—the ritual itself, cast with his Great (+4) Lore. Amanda spends one of her fate points for the scene to invoke the boost she got earlier and says, “Yeah, you totally have very distracting zombies chipping apart your barricades. Very distracting.” That pushes the difficulty for the final roll up to Superb (+5).
He rolls a +2 and get a Fantastic (+6), enough to succeed with no cost.
Amanda nods and together they finish describing the scene—Zird finishes the ritual just in time, and the holy power of the Qirik descends on the inn. Some zombies on the verge of breaking in get sizzled by the holy aura, and Zird breathes a sigh of relief… until he hears the panicked screams of villagers outside the inn…
But that’s next scene.
If you have any boosts that went unused in the challenge, feel free to keep them for the rest of this scene or whatever scene you’re transitioning to, if the events of the challenge connect directly to the next scene.
Advantages in a Challenge
You can try to create an advantage during a challenge, for yourself or to help someone else out. Creating an advantage doesn’t allow you to also complete one of the challenge goals, but failing the roll could create a cost or problem that negatively impacts one of the other goals. Be careful using this tactic; advantages can help complete tasks more effectively and create momentum, but trying to create them is not without risk.
Attacks in a Challenge
Because you’re always up against passive opposition in a challenge, you’ll never use the attack action. If you’re in a situation where it seems reasonable to roll an attack, you should start setting up for a conflict.
Whenever two or more characters have mutually exclusive goals, but they aren’t trying to harm each other directly, they’re in a contest. Arm wrestling matches, races or other sports competitions, and public debates are all good examples of contests.
GMs, answer the following questions when you’re setting up a contest:
- What environment does the contest take place in? Are there any significant or notable features of that environment you want to define as scene aspects?
- How are the participants opposing each other? Are they rolling against each other directly (like in a straight sprint race, or a poker match), or all trying to overcome something in the environment (like an obstacle course, or a panel of judges)?
- What skills are appropriate for this contest? Does everyone have to roll the same one, or do several apply?
Zird the Arcane has been felled in a battle with a shadowy group of assassins who ambushed him and Cynere just outside of town! Cynere finishes off the last of them, ending the conflict, then starts toward her fallen friend.
That’s when the assassins’ leader, a cutpurse she knows well as Teran the Swift, blinks in with teleportation magic next to Zird’s unconscious form! He starts casting another teleportation spell, clearly intending to leave with Zird. Cynere breaks into a run. Can she get there before Teran finishes his spell?
Amanda looks through the questions for setting up the contest.
The previous conflict scene had a scene aspect of Muddy Ground, so she decides to keep that in play.
Clearly, Teran and Cynere are directly in opposition to one another, so they’ll be providing active opposition to each other.
Teran’s going to be rolling his Lore skill for the contest, because he’s casting a spell. Because this is a pretty straightforward movement-related situation, Amanda and Lily agree that Athletics is the most appropriate skill for her to roll.
Now you can get started.
A contest proceeds in a series of exchanges. In an exchange, every participant gets to make one skill roll to determine how well they do in that leg of the contest. This is basically an overcome action.
Players, when you make a contest roll, compare your result to everyone else’s.
- If you got the highest result, you win the exchange. If you’re rolling directly against the other participants, then that means you got the highest rank on the ladder out of everyone. If you’re all rolling against something in the environment, it means you got the most shifts out of everyone.
- Winning the exchange means you get to score a victory (which you can just represent with a tally mark or check mark on scratch paper) and describe how you take the lead.
- If you succeed with style and no one else does, then you get to mark two victories.
- If there’s a tie, no one gets a victory, and an unexpected twist occurs. This could mean several things depending on the situation—the terrain or environment shifts somehow, the parameters of the contest change, or an unanticipated variable shows up and affects all the participants. GMs, you should create a new scene aspect reflecting this change and put it into play.
- The first participant to achieve a three-victory lead wins the contest.
Cynere has Athletics at Great (+4). Teran has Lore at Good (+3).
In the first exchange, Lily rolls poorly for Cynere and ends up with an Average (+1). Amanda rolls a 0 on the dice and stays at Good (+3). Amanda wins, so Teran wins the exchange and takes 1 victory. Amanda describes Teran completing the first major rune of the spell, raising a lambent green glow into the air.
In the second exchange, Lily turns the tables, rolling exceptionally well and getting a Superb (+5), whereas Amanda only gets a Fair (+2) for Teran. That’s a success with style, so Lily picks up two victories and the lead. Lily describes Cynere in a full-on sprint, bearing down on Teran.
In the third exchange, they tie at Good (+3)! Amanda now has to introduce an unexpected twist into the contest. She thinks about it for a moment, and says, “Okay, so it looks like some of the various magical reagents on Zird’s belt pouch are reacting weirdly with the magic of Teran’s spell, throwing Magical Distortions into the air.” She writes down that scene aspect on an index card and puts it on the table.
In the fourth exchange, they tie again, this time at Great (+4). Lily says, “Forget this noise. I want to invoke two aspects—one, because I have I’ve Got Zird’s Back on my sheet, and Magical Distortions, because I figure that they’re going to interfere more with his spellcasting than my running.” She passes Amanda two fate points.
That puts her final result at Legendary (+8), another success with style and another two victories. That gives her four victories to Teran’s one, and she wins the exchange and the contest!
Amanda and Lily describe how she snatches Zird just before Teran finishes his spell, and he teleports away without his prize.
Creating Advantages in a Contest
During any exchange, you can try to create an advantage before you make your contest roll. If you’re targeting another participant, they get to defend normally.
However, doing so carries an additional risk— failing to create an advantage means you forfeit your contest roll, which means there’s no way you can make progress in the current exchange. If you at least tie, you get to make your contest roll normally.
Cynere tries to throw mud in the eyes of Teran the Swift as she’s running to save Zird. Lily says she wants to create an advantage, with Teran as her target and a new aspect called Mud in the Eyes. (Imaginative, we know.)
She rolls Athletics to create the advantage and gets a Great (+4). Teran rolls Athletics to defend and gets a Good (+3).
Teran gets mud in his eyes as Cynere intended, and Lily marks that she has a free invocation on it.
Because Lily didn’t fail, she gets to make her contest roll normally. Amanda decides that being semi-blinded isn’t going to stop Teran from continuing to cast, so he also gets to roll normally.
Attacks in a Contest
If someone tries to attack in a contest, then they’re doing direct harm, and it ceases to be a contest. You should immediately stop what you’re doing and start setting up for a conflict instead.
In a conflict, characters are actively trying to harm one another. It could be a fist fight, a shootout, or a sword duel. It could also be a tough interrogation, a psychic assault, or a shouting match with a loved one. As long as the characters involved have both the intent and the ability to harm one another, then you’re in a conflict scene.
Conflicts are either physical or mental in nature, based on the kind of harm you’re at risk of suffering in it. In physical conflict, you suffer bruises, scrapes, cuts, and other injuries. In mental conflict, you suffer loss of confidence and self-esteem, loss of composure, and other psychological trauma.
Setting up a conflict is a little more involved than either contests or challenges. Here are the steps:
- Set the scene describing the environment the conflict takes place in, establishing who’s participating and what side they’re on, and creating scene aspects and zones.
- Determine the turn order.
- Start the first exchange:
- On your turn, take an action and then resolve it.
- On other people’s turns, defend or respond to their actions as necessary.
- At the end of everyone’s turn, start again with a new exchange.
You know the conflict is over when everyone on one of the sides has conceded or gets taken out.
Setting the Scene
GMs and players, you should talk briefly before you start a conflict about the circumstances of the scene. This mainly involves coming up with quick answers to variations of the four W-questions, such as:
- Who’s in the conflict?
- Where are they at relative to one another?
- When is the conflict taking place? Is that important?
- What’s the environment like?
You don’t need an exhaustive amount of detail here, like precise measures of distance or anything like that. Just resolve enough to make it clear for everyone what’s going on.
GMs, you’re going to take this information and create scene aspects to help further define the arena of conflict.
Landon, Zird, and Cynere are breaking into a dockside warehouse in order to find smuggled goods on behalf of their latest employer. Unfortunately, someone tipped the smuggler off. Now Og, one of his thug lieutenants, is at the warehouse waiting for them to show up, and he brought along four friends.
The participants in the conflict are pretty obvious—the PCs, plus Og and four nameless enforcers, all NPCs under Amanda’s control. The warehouse is the environment, and the group takes a moment to talk about it—boxes and crates everywhere, large and open, there’s probably a second floor, and Amanda mentions the loading door is open because they’re waiting for a ship to come in.
GMs, when you’re setting the scene, keep an eye out for fun-sounding features of the environment to make into scene aspects, especially if you think someone might be able to take advantage of them in an interesting way in a conflict. Don’t overload it—find three to five evocative things about your conflict location and make them into aspects.
Good choices for scene aspects include:
- Anything regarding the general mood, weather, or lighting—dark or badly lit, storming, creepy, crumbling, blindingly bright, etc.
- Anything that might affect or restrict movement—filthy, mud everywhere, slippery, rough, etc.
- Things to hide behind—vehicles, obstructions, large furniture pieces, etc.
- Things you can knock over, wreck, or use as improvisational weapons—bookshelves, statues, etc.
- Things that are flammable
Considering our warehouse again, Amanda thinks about what might make good scene aspects.
She decides that there are enough crates in here to make free movement a potential problem, so she picks Heavy Crates and Cramped as aspects. The loading door is open, which means that there’s a large dock with water in it, so she also picks Open to the Water as a scene aspect, figuring that someone might try to knock someone in.
GMs, if your conflict takes place over a large area, you may want to break it down into zones for easier reference.
A zone is an abstract representation of physical space. The best definition of a zone is that it’s close enough to where you can interact directly with someone (in other words, walk up to and punch in the face).
Generally speaking, any given conflict probably shouldn’t involve more than a handful of zones. Two to four is probably sufficient, save for really big conflicts. This isn’t supposed to be a minatures board game—zones should give a tactile sense of the environment, but at the point where you need something more than a cocktail napkin to lay it out, you’re getting too complicated.
- If you can describe the area as bigger than a house, you can probably divide it into two or more zones—think of a cathedral or a shopping center parking lot.
- If it’s separated by stairs, a ladder, a fence, or a wall, it could be a zone, like two floors of a house.
- “Above X” and “below X” can be zones, especially if getting there takes some doing—think of the airspace around something large, like a blimp.
When you’re setting up your zones, note whether there are any scene aspects that make moving between those zones problematic. That’ll be important later, when people want to move from zone to zone during the scene. If that means you need more scene aspects, add them now.
Amanda decides the warehouse needs to be multiple zones. The main floor is big enough, in her mind, for two zones, and the Heavy Crates she mentioned earlier make it hard to freely move between them.
She knows there’s also a second floor ringing the inner walls, so she makes that an additional zone. She adds Ladder Access Only to the scene.
If, for some reason, someone decides to run outside, she figures that can be a fourth zone, but she doesn’t think she needs any aspects for it.
She sketches the rough map on an index card for everyone to see.
It’s important to know everyone’s goal in a conflict before you start. People fight for a reason, and if they’re willing to do harm, it’s usually an urgent reason.
The normal assumption is that the player characters are on one side, fighting against NPCs who are in opposition. It doesn’t always have to be that way, however—PCs can fight each other and be allied with NPCs against each other.
Make sure everyone agrees on the general goals of each “side,” who’s on which side, and where everyone is situated in the scene (like who’s occupying which zone) when the conflict begins.
It might also help, GMs, to decide how those groups are going to “divvy up” to face one another—is one character going to get mobbed by the bad guy’s henchmen, or is the opposition going to spread itself around equally among the PCs? You might change your mind once the action starts, but if you have a basic idea, it gives you a good starting point to work from.
In our continuing warehouse fight example, the sides are obvious—Og and his buddies want to do in the PCs, and the PCs want to keep that from happening.
Ryan asks Amanda about finding the smuggled goods, and Amanda replies, “If you think you can sneak in a moment during the fight to look for them, go for it. We’ll see what happens.”
The conflict starts with everyone on the main warehouse floor. Amanda decides that Og and one of his friends are going to go after Landon, two of the other thugs are going after Cynere, and the final one is going to chase after Zird.
Your turn order in a conflict is based on your skills. In a physical conflict, compare your Notice skill to the other participants. In a mental conflict, compare your Empathy skill. Whoever has the highest gets to go first, and then everyone else in descending order.
If there’s a tie, compare a secondary or tertiary skill. For physical conflicts, that’s Athletics, then Physique. For mental conflicts: Rapport, then Will.
GMs, for simplicity’s sake, pick your most advantageous NPC to determine your place in the turn order, and let all your NPCs go at that time.
Cynere has a Notice of Good (+3), higher than everyone else, so she goes first.
Zird has a Notice of Average (+1), so he goes second.
Landon and Og both lack the Notice skill. Landon has Athletics at Good (+3), and Og has it at Fair (+2), so Landon goes third and Og goes last.
Exchanges in a conflict are a little more complicated than contests or challenges. An exchange lasts as long as it takes every character in the conflict to perform one action and respond appropriately to the actions of others. GMs, you get to go once for every NPC you control in the conflict.
Most of the time, you’re going to be attacking another character or creating an advantage on your turn, because that’s the point of a conflict—take your opponent out, or set things up to make it easier to take your opponent out.
However, if you have a secondary objective in the conflict scene, you might need to roll an overcome action instead. You’ll encounter this most often if you want to move between zones when there’s a scene aspect in place which makes that problematic.
Regardless, you only get to make one skill roll on your turn in an exchange, unless you’re defending against someone else’s action—you can do that as many times as you want.
If you want, you can forego your action for the exchange to concentrate on defense. You don’t get to do anything proactive, but you do get to roll all defend actions for the exchange at a +2 bonus. You can also forego your action and the bonus to roll defend actions for yourself and anyone else when you could reasonably intervene on their behalf. Failing a defend action on someone else’s behalf gives you the option to take the hit yourself.
In the first exchange of our warehouse fight, Cynere goes first. Lily’s going to have Cynere attack the thug that’s eyeing her. That’s her action for the exchange—she can still roll to defend whenever she needs to, but she can’t do anything else proactive until her next turn.
On Ryan’s turn, he’s going to have Zird do a full defense—normally, he’d be able to defend and get an action this exchange, but instead, he gets a +2 to his defense rolls until his next turn.
On Lenny’s turn, he’s going to have Landon create an advantage by placing an aspect on Og called Hemmed In, hoping to corner him between some crates. That’s his action for the exchange.
Amanda goes last, and she’s just going to have all of her NPCs attack their chosen targets.
A successful attack lands a hit equivalent to its shift value on a target. So if you get three shifts on an attack, you land a 3-shift hit.
If you get hit by an attack, one of two things is going to happen: either you’re going to absorb the hit and stay in the fight, or you’re taken out.
Fortunately, you have two options for absorbing hits to keep that from happening—you can take stress or consequences to stay in the fight. You can also concede a conflict before you’re taken out, in order to preserve some control over what happens to your character.
One of your options to mitigate the effect of a hit is to take stress.
The best way to understand stress is that it represents all the various reasons why you just barely avoid taking the full force of an attack. Maybe you twist away from the blow just right, or it looks bad but is really just a flesh wound, or you exhaust yourself diving out of the way at the last second.
Mentally, stress could mean that you just barely manage to mitigate some comment, or clamp down on an instinctive emotional reaction, or something like that. Stress boxes also represent a loss of momentum—you only have so many last-second saves in you before you’ve got to face the music.
Your stress boxes each have a shift value. By default, all characters get a 1-point and a 2-point box. You may get additional, higher-value stress boxes depending on some of your skills (usually Physique and Will). On your character sheet, you have a number of stress boxes that have different values.
When you take stress, check off a stress box with a value equal to or greater than shift value of the hit (and only that stress box). If there is no next available box, you’re taken out of the conflict.
Remember that you have two sets of stress boxes! One of these is for physical stress, the other for mental; you’ll start with a 1-shift and a 2-shift box in each of these. If you take stress from a physical source, you check off a physical stress box. If it’s a mental hit, check off a mental stress box.
After a conflict, when you get a minute to breathe, any stress boxes you checked off become available for your use again.
Og batters Landon with a whopping 3-shift hit on this exchange, wielding a giant club with a nail in it.
Looking at his character sheet, Lenny sees that he’s only got two stress boxes left—a 2-point and a 3-point. He reluctantly checks off the 3-point box, realizing that if he takes another hit of that magnitude he’ll be out of commission.
Amanda and Lenny describe the outcome—Landon gets his sword up just in time to barely deflect a blow that shatters a nearby crate, peppering Landon’s face with splintered wood. One inch closer, and it might have been his face that got splintered.
Landon has one more stress box on his sheet, a 2-shift box. That means his reserves are almost gone, and the next major hit he takes is going to hurt bad…
The second option you have for mitigating a hit is taking a consequence. A consequence is more severe than stress—it represents some form of lasting injury or setback that you accrue from the conflict, something that’s going to be a problem for your character after the conflict is over.
Consequences come in three levels of severity—mild, moderate, and severe. Each one has a different shift value: two, four, and six respectively. On your character sheet, you have a number of available consequences, in this section:
When you use a consequence, you reduce the shift value of the attack by the shift value of the consequence. You can use more than one consequence at a time, and even combine the use of stress and consequences if they’re available.
However, there’s an additional penalty. When you use a consequence, your character also gains an aspect that represents the lasting effect incurred from the attack. The opponent who forced you to take a consequence gets a free invocation, and the aspect remains on your character sheet until you’ve recovered from that consequence. While it’s on your sheet, it gets treated like any other aspect, except because the slant on it is so negative, it’s far more likely to be used to your character’s detriment.
Unlike stress, consequences cannot be reused until you’ve recovered from them, which may be long after the conflict is over. Also unlike stress, you only have one set of consequences; there aren’t specific slots for physical versus mental consequences. This means that, if you have to take a minor consequence to reduce a mental hit and your minor consequence slot is already filled with a physical consequence, you’re out of luck! You’re going to have to use a moderate or severe consequence to absorb that it (assuming you have on left).
Still, it’s better than being taken out, right?
Cynere gets teamed up on by three of the thugs during this exchange, and with the help of some maneuvers, manage to land a 6-shift attack on her. She’s escaped harm so far this fight, and still has all her stress boxes and consequences available.
She could use her 1, 2, and 3-point stress boxes to take the hit, or her 4-point and 2-point, or any other combination that adds up to 6. But, she wants some of those stress boxes open for future exchanges in case she needs them. So Lily decides to use her 4-point stress boxes, and also take a mild consequence, cancelling out a further 2 shifts.
Amanda and Lily agree to call the mild consequence Bloodied. Cynere takes a wicked slash from one of the thugs’ swords, but manages to avoid the worst of their team-up…
Naming a Consequence
Here are some guidelines for choosing what to name a consequence:
Mild consequences don’t require immediate medical attention. They hurt, and they may present an inconvenience, but they aren’t going to force you into a lot of bed rest. On the mental side, mild consequences express things like small social gaffes or changes in your surface emotions. Examples: Black Eye, Bruised Hand, Winded, Flustered, Cranky, Temporarily Blinded.
Moderate consequences represent fairly serious impairments that require dedicated effort toward recovery (including medical attention). On the mental side, they express things like damage to your reputation or emotional problems that you can’t just shrug off with an apology and a good night’s sleep. Examples: Deep Cut, First Degree Burn, Exhausted, Drunk, Terrified.
Severe consequences go straight to the emergency room (or whatever the equivalent is in your game)—they’re extremely nasty and prevent you from doing a lot of things, and will lay you out for a while. On the mental side, they express things like serious trauma or relationship-changing harm. Examples: Second-Degree Burn, Compound Fracture, Guts Hanging Out, Crippling Shame, Trauma-Induced Phobia.
Recovering from a Consequence
In order to regain the use of a consequence, you have to recover from it. That requires two things—succeeding at an overcome action that allows you to justify recovery, and then waiting an appropriate amount of game time for that recovery to take place.
The action in question is basically an overcome action; the obstacle is the consequence that you took. If it’s a physical injury, then the action is some kind of medical treatment or first aid. For mental consequences, the action may involve therapy, counseling, or simply a night out with friends.
The difficulty for this obstacle is based on the shift value of the consequence. Mild is Fair (+2), moderate is Great (+4), and severe is Fantastic (+6). If you are trying to do the recovery action on yourself, it’s two steps harder.
Keep in mind that the circumstances have to be appropriately free of distraction and tension for someone to make this roll in the first place—you’re not going to clean and bandage a nasty cut while ogres are tromping through the caves looking for you. GMs, you’ve got the final judgment call.
If you succeed at the recovery action, or someone else succeeds on a recovery action for you, you get to rename the consequence aspect to show that it’s in recovery. So, for example, Broken Leg could become Stuck in a Cast, Scandalized could become Damage Control, and so on. This doesn’t free up the consequence slot, but it serves as an indicator that you’re recovering, and it changes the way the aspect’s going to be used while it remains.
Whether you change the consequence’s name or not—and sometimes it might not make sense to do so—mark it with a star so that everyone remembers that recovery has started.
Then, you just have to wait the time. For a mild consequence, you only have to wait one whole scene after the recovery action, and then you can remove the aspect and clear the slot. For a moderate, you have to wait one whole session after the recovery action (which means if you do the recovery action in the middle of a session, you should recover sometime in the middle of next session). For a severe, you have to wait one whole scenario after the recovery action.
Cynere ended up with the mild consequence Bloodied as the result of the fight.
Back at the inn, Zird attempts to bandage up the cut. He has a stunt called, “Scholar, Healer” which allows him to use his Lore skill for recovery obstacles. He makes his Lore roll at a difficulty of Fair (+2) and succeeds.
This allows Cynere’s Bloodied aspect to get renamed as Bandaged and start the recovery process. After the next whole scene, she’ll be able to erase that aspect from her sheet and use her mild consequence again in a subsequent conflict.
In addition to the normal set of mental and physical consequences, every PC also gets one last-ditch option to stay in a fight – the extreme consequence. Between major milestones, you can only use this option once.
An extreme consequence will absorb up to an 8-stress hit, but at a very serious cost—you must replace one of your aspects (except the high concept, that’s off limits) with the name of the consequence. That’s right, an extreme consequence is so serious that taking it literally changes who you are.
Unlike other consequences, you can’t make a recovery action to diminish an extreme consequence—you’re stuck with it until your next major milestone. After that, you can rename the extreme consequence to reflect that you’re no longer vulnerable to the worst of it, as long as you don’t just switch it out for whatever your old aspect was. Taking an extreme consequence is a permanent character change; treat it as such.
Conceding the Conflict
When all else fails, you can also just give in. Maybe you’re worried that you can’t absorb another hit, or maybe you decide that continuing to fight is just not worth the punishment. Whatever the reason, you can interrupt any action at any time to declare that you concede the conflict. This is super-important—once dice hit the table, what happens happens, and you’re either taking more stress, more consequences, or getting taken out.
Concession gives the other person what they wanted from you, or in the case of more than two combatants, removes you as a concern for the opposing side. You’re out of the conflict, period.
But it’s not all bad. First of all, you get a fate point for choosing to concede. If you’ve sustained any consequences in this conflict, you get an additional fate point for each consequence on top of that. These fate points may be used once this conflict is over.
Second of all, you get to avoid the worst parts of your fate. Yes, you lost, and you have to reflect that loss when you narrate. You can’t use this privilege to undermine the opponent’s victory, either—the group has to pass muster on whatever you say happens.
But it can make the difference between, say, being mistakenly left for dead and ending up in the enemy’s clutches, in shackles, without any of your stuff—the sort of thing that can happen if you’re taken out instead. That’s not nothing.
Og proves to be too much for Landon to handle in the warehouse conflict, having hit with several devastating attacks in the course of the fight.
Before Amanda’s next turn, Lenny says, “I concede. I don’t want to risk any more consequences.”
Landon’s taken both a mild and a moderate consequence. He gets a fate point for conceding, as well as two more fate points for the two consequences he took, giving him three total.
Amanda says, “So, what are you trying to avoid here?”
Lenny says, “Well, I don’t want to get killed or captured, for starters.”
Amanda chuckles and says, “Fair enough. So, we’ll say that Og knocks you out cold and doesn’t bother to finish you off, because he still has Cynere and Zird to deal with. He may even think you’re dead. I feel like the loss needs some more teeth, though. Hm…”
Ryan pipes up with, “How about he takes your sword as a trophy?”
Amanda nods. “Yeah, that’s good. He knocks you out, spits on you, and takes your sword.”
Lenny says, “Bastard! I’m so getting him back for that one…”
Getting Taken Out
If you don’t have any stress or consequences left to buy off all the shifts of a hit, that means you’re taken out.
Taken out is bad—it means not only that you can’t fight anymore, but that the person who took you out gets to decide what happens to you after the conflict and what your loss looks like. Obviously, they can’t narrate anything that’s out of scope for the conflict (like having you die from shame), but that still gives someone else a lot of power over your character that you can’t really do anything about.
So, if you think about it, there’s not a whole lot keeping someone from saying, after taking you out, that your character dies. If you’re talking about a physical conflict where people are using nasty sharp weapons, it certainly seems reasonable that one possible outcome of defeat is your character getting killed.
In practice, though, this assumption might be pretty controversial depending on what kind of group you’re in. Some people think that character death should always be on the table, if the rules allow it—if that’s how the dice fall, then so be it.
Others are more circumspect, and consider it very damaging to their fun if they lose a character upon whom they’ve invested hours and hours of gameplay, just because someone spent a lot of fate points or their die rolls were particularly unlucky.
We recommend following the latter approach, mainly for the following reason: most of the time, sudden character death is a pretty boring outcome when compared to putting that same character through hell instead. All the story threads that character was connected to just kind of stall with no resolution, and you have to expend a bunch of effort and time figuring out how to get a new character into play mid-stride.
That doesn’t mean there’s no room for character death in the game, however. We just recommend that you save that possibility for conflicts that are extremely pivotal, dramatic, and meaningful for that character—in other words, conflicts in which that character would knowingly and willingly risk dying in order to win. Players and GMs, if you’ve got the feeling that you’re in that kind of conflict, talk it out when you’re setting the scene and see how people feel.
At the very least, even if you’re in a hardcore group that invites the potential for character death on any taken out result, make sure that you telegraph the opponent’s lethal intent. GMs, this is especially important for you, so the players will know which NPCs really mean business and can concede to keep their characters alive if need be.
In a conflict, it’s important to track where everyone is relative to one another, which is why we divide the environment where the conflict’s taking place into zones. Where you have zones, you have people trying to move around in them in order to get at one another or at a certain objective.
Normally, it’s no big deal to move from one zone to another—if there’s nothing preventing you from doing so, you can always choose to move one zone in addition to your action for the exchange.
If you want to move more than one zone, a scene aspect suggests that it might be difficult to move freely, or another character is in your way, then you must make an overcome action using Athletics in order to move. This counts as your action for the exchange.
If you fail that roll, whatever was impeding you keeps you from moving. If you tie, you get to move, but your opponent takes a temporary advantage of some kind. If you succeed, you move without consequence. If you succeed with style, you can claim a temporary advantage in addition to your movement.
In our continuing warehouse conflict, Cynere wants to go after one of Og’s thugs, who has started shooting arrows down from the second floor. That requires her to cross one zone to get to the access ladder for the second floor, and then climb it up, making her opponent two zones away.
She’s currently mixing it up with a thug herself, whose Fighting is at Fair (+2).
Lily tells Amanda her intent, and Amanda says, “Okay, the thug you’re fighting is going to try and keep you from getting away, so he’s going to provide active opposition.”
Cynere’s Athletics is Great (+4). She rolls and gets +0, for a Great result. The thug rolls his opposition, and rolls -1, for a result of Average (+1). That gives Cynere three shifts, and a success with style.
Lily and Amanda describe Cynere faking out the thug, vaulting over a crate, and taking the ladder two rungs at a time to get up top. She takes a temporary advantage, which she calls Momentum.
The thug up top swallows hard, bringing his crossbow to bear…
Advantages in a Conflict
Remember that aspects you create as advantages follow all the rules for scene aspects—the GM can use them to justify overcome actions, they last until they’re made irrelevant or the scene is over, and in some cases may represent as much a threat to you as
When you’re creating advantages in a conflict, think about how long you want that aspect to stick around and whom you want to have access to it. It’s difficult for anyone else besides yourself or anyone on your side to justify using an advantage you stick to a target, but it’s also easier to justify getting rid of it—one overcome action could undo it. Placing an aspect on the environment means that it’s harder to justify getting rid of it (seriously, who is going to move that Huge Bookcase you just knocked over?), but anyone in the scene could potentially find a reason to take advantage of it.
In terms of options for advantages, the sky’s the limit. Pretty much any situational modifier you can think of can be expressed as an advantage. If you’re stuck on an idea, here are some examples:
- Temporary Blinding: Throwing sand or salt in the enemy’s eyes is a classic action staple. This places a Blinded on a target, which could force them to do an overcome action for anything dependent on sight. Blinded might also come with opportunities for a compel, so keep in mind that your opponent might also be able to take advantage of this to replenish fate points.
- Disarming: You knock an opponent’s weapon away, disarming them until they can recover it. The target will need an overcome action to recover their weapon.
- Positioning: There are a lot of ways to use advantages to represent positioning, like High Ground or Cornered, which you can invoke to take advantage of that positioning as context demands. In some cases, that aspect may also force an overcome action if the target wants to move away.
- Winded and Other Minor Hurts: Some strikes in a fight are only debilitating because they’re painful, rather than because they cause injury. Nerve hits, groin shots, and a lot of other “dirty fighting” tricks fall into this category. You can use an advantage to represent these, sticking your opponent with Pain-Blindness or Stunned or whatever, then following up with an attack that uses it to do more lasting harm.
- Taking Cover: You can use advantages to represent positions of cover and invoke them for your defense. This can be as general as Found Some Cover or as specific as Behind the Big Oak Bar.
- Altering the Environment: You can use advantages to alter the environment to your benefit, creating barriers to movement by scattering Loose Junk everywhere, or setting things On Fire. That latter example is a favorite in this game.
Other Actions in a Conflict
As stated above, you may find yourself in a situation where you want to do something else while your friends are fighting. You might be disarming a death trap, searching for a piece of information, or searching for hidden assailants.
In order to do this, GMs, set the player up with a modified form of challenge. One of the tasks is always “defend yourself”—in any exchange where someone attacks you, you must defend successfully in order to be able to take one of the other actions in the challenge. So long as no one has successfully attacked you or stuck an advantage on you, you can use your action to roll for one of the challenge goals.
Cynere is trying to get a door open, so that her and her friends can escape into an ancient vault rather than fighting off endless hordes of temple guardians.
Amanda says, “Well, let’s call it a Fair (+2) Crafts action to get the door open, and a Fair (+2) Physique roll to push it open enough to slide through, because it’s one of those heavy vault doors. The other action is defending yourself.”
On that exchange, Cynere successfully defends against an attack, so she uses her action to pick the lock. She fails, and decides to succeed at a cost. Amanda figures the easiest thing is to hit her with a consequence because she’s in a fight. So she gets the door open, but not before one of the temple guardians gives her a Gouged Leg.
On the next exchange, she doesn’t defend against the attack, so she doesn’t get to roll for the challenge.
On the third exchange, she defends and succeeds with style at the Physique roll to get the door open. She signals to her friends and takes a Head Start boost, because it’s about to be a chase…
Ending a Conflict
Under most circumstances, when all of the members of one side have either conceded the conflict or have been taken out, the conflict is over.
Once you know a conflict has definitively ended, GMs, you can pass out all the fate points earned from concession. Players, make a note of whatever consequences you suffered in the fight, and erase the check in all your stress boxes.
After much struggle and insanity, the warehouse conflict is finally over. Amanda concedes the conflict on behalf of Og and his remaining thug, meaning that the PCs stay alive and can proceed to check out the smuggled goods they were interested in.
Because it was a concession, Og gets away to fight another day. Because Lenny conceded to Amanda in an earlier example, Og also gets away with Landon’s sword as a personal trophy.
Because Lenny conceded, he gets fate points. One for conceding, and another two for the mild and moderate consequences he took in the conflict. All the invocations used against him were free, so that’s all he gets. Three fate points.
Ryan gets two fate points, because Amanda let one of the thugs invoke his Not the Face! twice against him during the conflict.
Lily gets no fate points, because all the invocations against her were free, all from maneuvers. Because she won, she doesn’t get awarded for the consequences she took.
Transitioning to a Contest or Challenge
You may find yourself in a conflict scene where the participants are no longer interested in or willing to harm one another, because of some change in the circumstances. If that happens, and there’s still more to resolve, you can transition straight into a contest or challenge as you need. In that case, hold off on awarding the end-of-conflict fate points and whatnot until you’ve also resolved the contest or challenge.
In an earlier example, Cynere managed to get a vault door open so the three PCs could escape an endless horde of temple guardians. They all decide to run and try to lose them.
Now, the guardians and the PCs have mutually opposing goals but can’t harm one another, so now it’s a contest. Instead of running the next exchange, Amanda just starts setting up for the chase.
Even though the PCs have some consequences and are due some fate points, they won’t get them until after we find out if they can get away, or if they get caught.
Characters can help each other out on actions. There are two versions of helping in Fate—combining skills, for when you are all putting the same kind of effort into an action (like using Physique together to push over a crumbling wall), and stacking advantages, for when the group is setting a single person up to do well (like causing multiple distractions so one person can use Stealth to get into a fortress).
When you combine skills, figure out who has the highest skill level among the participants. Each other participant who has at least an Average (+1) in the same skill adds a +1 to the highest person’s skill level, and then only the lead character rolls. So if you have three helpers and you’re the highest, you roll your skill level +3.
If you fail a roll to combine skills, all of the participants share in the potential costs—whatever complication affects one character affects all of them, or everyone has to take consequences, etc. Alternatively, you can impose a cost that affects all the characters the same.
Continuing with our temple chase example, because it’s group vs. group, everyone decides it’d be easier to just combine skills.
Of the three PCs, Cynere has the highest Athletics, at Great (+4). Landon has Good (+3) Athletics, so he contributes +1 to Cynere. Zird has no Athletics skill, so he doesn’t contribute. Cynere rolls the contest on behalf of the PCs at Superb (+5).
Amanda’s temple guardians only have Average (+1) Athletics, but there are six of them, so they roll Fantastic (+6) for the purposes of the contest.
When you stack advantages, each person takes a create advantage action as usual, and gives whatever free invocations they get to a single character.
Zird and Cynere want to set Landon up for an extremely big hit on Tremendor, the much-feared giant of the Northern Wastes.
Both Cynere and Zird roll to create an advantage on their turns, resulting in three free invocations on a Flashy Distraction they make from Zird’s magical fireworks and Cynere’s glancing hits.
They pass those to Landon, and on his turn, he uses them all for a gigantic +6 to his attack.
Scene Aspects And Zones In Mental Conflicts
In a mental conflict, it might not always make sense to use scene aspects and zones to describe a physical space. It’d make sense in an interrogation, for example, where the physical features of the space create fear, but not in a really violent argument with a loved one. Also, when people are trying to hurt each other emotionally, usually they’re using their target’s own weaknesses against them—in other words, their own aspects.
So, you may not even need scene aspects or zones for a lot of mental conflicts. Don’t feel obligated to include them.
GMs, if you have a lot of nameless NPCs in your scene, feel free to have them use passive opposition to keep your dice rolling down. Also, consider using mobs instead of individual NPCs to keep things simple.
If, for whatever reason, you want to forego your defense and take a hit (like, say, to interpose yourself in the path of an arrow that’s about to skewer your friend), you can.
Because you’re not defending, the attacker’s rolling against Mediocre (+0) opposition, which means you’re probably going to take a bad hit.