Emerging Threats Unit – a Fate Horror game skeleton
Last night, I ran an action horror game. It’s a thing I do: if I talk about how I hate something, I start wondering why, and try to come into contact with it. I proposed running a game for some friends, and giving the timing, it was just billed as a “spooky” game.
I decided on action horror because I forgot what action horror does well: it’s good for a lighthearted game. And it turns out that I actually like running those. It’s more than I’m desiring psychological thrillers in my gaming these days, because I don’t get that enough, and so I don’t really want to play action horror.
Once everyone was there, I pitched the following (edited, of course):
There are three lines of defense the United States has against paranormal threats. You’re who they send in when the first line fails. Welcome to the secret paramilitary wing of the Centers for Disease Control — the Emerging Threats Unit.
This will be a standard ETU-CDC operation. The Secret Service has failed to contain the problem. You’ll be going in under the guise of quarantining an outbreak, of course. If you do not report back within 48 hours, we will have no choice but to consider you as sacrificed. FEMA is waiting with a Ripley team to neutralize the local population, and I for one don’t want to see them cause another Katrina because we failed.
With that, I explained how this Fate game different from the Diaspora game they had played. In addition to playing this as a one-shot with abbreviated character setup, I tried some new tricks.
First of all, I only used eight skills:
Chase is used for most physical activity. It’s a measure of your athletic ability and twitch nervous responses. Use it for athletics, chasing to/from monsters that want to eat you, initiative, etc.
Drive is used for doing anything high-stress in a moving vehicle. Along with the obvious, driving in a stressful situation, it can also limit other activities in a vehicle (like, say, shooting at a monster that wants to eat you).
Subterfuge is used for dealing with people. Intimidation, charm, empathy, deceit, all that emotional and social manipulation jazz. It’s also useful for resisting such manipulation.
Special note: You can use this skill against another PC. In that case, if you succeed, they have a temporary aspect on them like “[Your name] is manipulating me” that’s being instantly compelled. If they go along with what you want, they get a Fate point. If not, they have to pay one. Thank you, Apocalypse World.
Survival is used for not fucking dying. In addition to being great for dealing with urban and wild environments for knowing what’s safe and what isn’t (which translates into scene aspect declaration), it’s what you use to notice things that are about to eat your face. Yes, it’s your Alertness skill.
The ETU has some advanced technology, but not much. They get by more with tech on the ground. When you’re up against a Class II Vvak Tunnel Vampire, being able to modify local firearms to fire plasmashot is handy as hell. It’s also needed for following the ETU mandate: utter signal discipline. No information about the supernatural is to leak out.
This skill is dangerous. People who have studied Unnatural Sciences (which is everyone in ETU, to some degree) are able to tell the difference between a quantum projection and an actual rift in spacetime. Importantly, that translates into knowing which isn’t a waste of ammunition (in 75% of cases, actual rifts). Unnatural Sciences is used mostly to declare either monster or research aspects. (Also, research aspects are AWESOME. That’s for next week, though.)
ETU does not fuck around. Your mission is the sterilize the local paranormal threat. Violence is how that’s achieved. Fists. Knives. Guns. Rocket-propelled grenades. That’s what Violence is about. It can also be used to defend against Violence (which Chase also covers, if physically dodging and the like).
This skill is a passive one. ETU agents must confront the horrors they face. The GM will call for Withstand Horror rolls in two cases: either when being assaulted by a sight or when an entity is actually using psychic violence against them. If the roll is made, nothing happens! (And if you get spin on the roll, instead of getting a +1 to the next roll, you get a free declaration or assessment based on what you’ve just learned dealing with this threat.)
If you fail, you have a temporary aspect of Fleeing, Frozen or Fighting, your choice. And the GM is going to compel that for bad fun times! If failed against a psychic attack, it may instead be stress against Sanity.
…And those are my eight skills. Anything not covered in them is rolled at +0 or can be added to an existing skill as a new trapping via a stunt.
There are no generic aspects in ETU. For character aspects, there are:
- Drive Aspects — these are what motivate your character on the mission
- Hope Aspects — these are something your character hopes for, above and beyond just surviving
- Personal Demon Aspects — these are the tragic flaw your character has
- Relationship Aspects — these are one-sided feelings or opinions you have about another character
Drive aspects are simple, similar to High Concept aspects in Dresden Files RPG.
Personal Demon aspects are likely similar to Trouble aspects in DFRPG, but typically focused on being an internal problem.
Hope aspects are fun. I gave people the option of not filling it in before play, and finding something they wanted to hope for by the first hour of play. And I told them their Hope aspects were free to invoke.
The first time someone did, I dropped a fate point into a bowl for me. And again, and again. The more they used their hope for free, the more points I had for the Threat later to invoke its own aspects. But it was sort of safe to use those aspects, because I might use that Fate point to hurt someone else.
Relationship Aspects were awesome. I asked everyone to come up with relationship aspects for different people, asking what they think of another character are writing them down as their aspect. “Butler is a danger to herself and others.” or “Forty-Five is my hero.” It’s important that it doesn’t have to be true. But if you’re helping or being helped by this aspect, either of your can invoke it — though if you’re invoking someone’s opinion about you, you have to show why that opinion might be true.
There’s a killer non-character aspect type called Research Aspects. Someone should remind me to blog about them next week. It’s the thing that made me suddenly be able to run an investigation game on the fly that didn’t suck.
The last thing I sketched up were the character skeletons, to be fleshed out at the table. I made six characters, which only consist of a Codename, team role, Drive aspect, High skill, Low skill.
Briefly, about skills: since I had eight, I decided the distribution would be: One at Great [+4], two at Good [+3], two at Fair [+2], two at Average [+2], and one at Poor [-1]. Anything not covered by one of those skills that is important enough to roll (and I haven’t encountered that yet) is rolled at Average [+0]. Thus, I prescribed the Great and Poor skill, and left the others for filling in either right away or in play.
“Butler” – the leader
Drive: No one on my team will be left behind.
Great [+4] Withstand Horror — been on a lot of missions
Poor [-1] Chase — lamed by an earlier mission
“Forty-Five” – the sterilizer
Drive: I am here to sterilize the environment.
Great [+4] Violence — people and things will die
Poor [-1] Tech — that’s for other people, I’m busy shooting things
“Mute” – the information disciplinarian (a.k.a. hacker)
Drive: Containing Information is more important than anything else.
Great [+4] Tech — with enough gear, I’ll own the environment
Poor [-1] Subterfuge — people are choatic and make no sense
“Tome” – the scientist
Drive: The unknown must be explored.
Great [+4] Unnatural Sciences — non-euclidian genius
Poor [-1] Drive — I’m more comfortable in my lab back home
“Network” – the face
Drive: People are my playthings.
Great [+4] Subterfuge — Like I said, people are my playthings
Poor [-1] Survival — I am most likely to be eaten by a grue
(Yes, I intentionally named the not-hacker “Network.”)
“Park” – the sixth character I realized I had to make and kinda phoned in
Drive: People need protecting, sometimes at their own expense.
Great [+4] Chase — I will catch anything, no matter the terrain
Poor [-1] Violence — But I’m shell-shocked, so violence doesn’t come easy.
I think that’s enough for now, since I’m at 1500 words. Probably enough for Fate-heads to play with, but I’ll follow up with more as I keep playing this out. The scenario is either called “Emerging Threats Unit” or “Paranormal Containment,” as the idea of the game is a bit Hellboy-ish: monsters are on the loose in a dense urban environment, the first line responders failed, and if you fail FEMA is going to call in a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or whatever to take out the city.
Because they don’t fuck around, neither can you, agents. Briefing dismissed.
 A bias that’s frankly shown in my post the other day
 Which they were in my game. And named that. That’s canonical now.