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The Multitude of Zones, Part 2

This discussion of zones in Fate Core continues from part 1, wherein I talk about the mobility, effect, and boundary elements of zones. Many of the problems people encounter when playing Fate or when designing Fate subsystems is that zones collapse these three things together. Today, I’ll talk about some concepts that extent from looking at those elements separately.

Up front: none of what I’m saying is a new ruleset for zones. It’s only taking what’s there apart so that you can remix and play with as needed. It’s certainly not the only way to look at zones. In fact, I assume quite a few of you Fate fans will probably realize you’ve already been thinking in these terms inherently all along, just maybe not with defined language.

Let’s bring up a small zone example:

courtyard zones

The green circles could be hedges or stone columns — the different is perhaps important to the story and what you can do, but right now they’re a form of boundary.

Varying Zone Boundaries

Zones are most easily defined by boundaries, and yet not all boundaries are made equal. The above set has four zones:

  • Main courtyard
  • Left row
  • Right row
  • Ritual Circle

And they have different forms of borders. The borders between the side rows and the main courtyard break up a sense of effect: if you’re trying to shoot at someone from the left row and you’re in the right, you have a lot of stuff in the way. Moving through the row is fairly easy — not as trivial as moving within the zone, because there’s limited space in between the pillars/hedges and there’s gunfire and stuff like that. So effectively, those zones are like normal: boundaries that affect mobility and effect. I call this a medium boundary, because you can move/act through it.

If they were walls, that would be a hard boundary, since you can’t move/act through walls without something special going on.

The ritual circle, on the other hand, is a special boundary. Normally, it’s weak: it doesn’t impede mobility or effect. Someone can walk or shoot through it easily enough (provided that there isn’t someone else opposing said action, like the imaginary gang of cultists I envision protecting the ritual circle from foolish interlopers). But it’s a hard boundary against magic and otherworldly creatures.

This distinction is key to understanding how to screw with zones. A person can run from the side zones into the circle just as easily as right next to the circle, because to that person, the ritual circle is just a part of the same zone. Similar, someone from the side zone can shoot into ritual circle just as easily as anywhere else in the main courtyard.

Now, you can change the nature of boundaries, which we touch on a bit in Fate Core. If those were hedges, maybe my Flame-Master Cultist could light them on fire, turning them into dangerous medium boundaries that attack you if you cross them (mobility) and affect your ability to shoot by the aspect Fire and Smoke (effect). You can still cross/affect through it, but now with conditions attached.

You probably get the picture of this, so we’ll move on.

Mini-Zones and Super-Zones

Next is to look at carving out elements in terms of “mini-zones” and “super-zones.” Consider that a zone is where a normal person — whatever you consider that for your campaign — has free mobility and effect. Mini-zones are areas contained within another zone where special boundary rules or other considerations apply: the ritual circle in the above example is one.

An effect might create a mini-zone, like a technological gadget that creates a force field around you. I’ve been watching Star Wars: the Clone Wars lately, and the roller droids show that off in a sense:

Though, it’s only worth calling a mini-zone rather than a personal effect if you can have someone else in the area, and it’s actually an area. (That gets a bit into splitting hairs, but I err on the side of “If I don’t have to draw it on my hastily scrawled map, it’s probably not a zone.”) Another form of mini-zone is something that’s self-contained within another zone, but is effectively a hard boundary. To do another Star Wars example, Luke being in the bacta tank is another potential mini-zone.

That said: like everything else with Fate, don’t overdo it with this concept. It isn’t worthwhile to make everything a mini-zone, just those things that are interesting and key to a plot or agenda.

Super-zones are a way to look at abilities that promote extended mobility, effect, or even boundary over multiple zones. Because I’m on a Star Wars kick, the shield generators you see on the ground touch on this idea as a super-zone boundary.

If you’re in a tank, you might re-do the zone map to show what super-zone mobility the tank has over a normal person.[1]

For super-zone effect, take the example at the top. Drop a big bomb on it. That bomb is affecting all of those zones (though maybe the mini-zone of the ritual circle has something funky going on that protects it, like some Jean Grey forcefield shtick.


That’s enough musing for now. Hopefully you see main thing I wanted to illustrate: that if you break zones up into effect, mobility, and boundary, you unlock potential. Happy gaming, folks!

– Ryan

(It turns out that deciding to make a blog post that involves drawing something means that I’ll have “bad illustrator paralysis.”)

[1] I cover this in a completely different way in the Achtung! Cthulhu vehicle rules, but there’s more than one way to approach most situations in Fate.

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One Response to The Multitude of Zones, Part 2

  1. Ryan Macklin says:

    As always, some interesting conversation on the Fate G+ group:
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/115238641855986579653/posts/bygzbJqsdWF