Fate and Contests Under Fire

Often in adventure scenarios, the player characters will encounter threats that will harm them, but they can’t harm back. Some of these are environmental conflicts, like “escape from the erupting volcano.” Others are about overwhelming force, like “repair the anti-aircraft guns while being bombed from the skies” or “run from Cthulhu!” And still others are about trying to achieve something while being attacked, such as “complete the ritual to open the Gates of Hell before the good guys shoot me.” In Fate, this his handled in a simple fashion: blending contests and conflicts together. I call this technique contests under fire.

In general, contests under fire work by having one (or more) side work toward achieving a goal using the contest system before being taken out by one (or more) other side via the conflict system. It spirals from there, but that’s the core of the concept. This it’s why I call it a “technique,” because this isn’t a new rule for Fate, just applications of the existing rules.

Figure Out the Sides

Figure out the sides involved the situation and what their agendas (for those making conscious decisions) or natures (for those not making conscious decisions) are. I’ll use our  examples above.

Escape from the erupting volcano:

  • Fleeing people; agenda: not die
  • The volcano; nature: fiery destruction

Repair the anti-aircraft guns while being bombed from the skies:

  • The repairmen; agenda: fix the AA guns while also not dying
  • The bombing; nature: fiery destruction

Note that I could have said “the bombers” instead, but I intentionally didn’t. The frame of action isn’t switching from the bombers to the people on the ground. so I just treat the bombs directly as an inhuman threat not making conscious decisions.

Run from Cthulhu:

  • Tasty mortals; agenda: run
  • Cthulhu; nature: sow ruin

Again, I’m making Cthulhu have a nature rather than agenda, because it’s an unknowable god-thing. I could just as well say it’s agenda, but you’ll see why I don’t shortly. There might be a third group of “cultists,” depending on the situation, and they would certainly have agenda. So let’s add that:

  • Cultists; agenda: show devotion to their god

Complete the ritual to open the Gates of Hell before the good guys shoot me:

  • Necromancer; agenda: open portal
  • Cultists; agenda: protect necromancer
  • Heroes; agenda: stop necromancer

Stat Up the Sides

Anyone with an agenda is some form of character, and should be stated up as you would a character appropriate to the game and to that character’s scale (nameless, supporting, and main NPCs).

Those elements with a nature are much simpler to stat up: give them some overall meta-skills (skill modes or approaches) relating to the challenge. And don’t bother with stress or consequences, because they can’t be attacked. To start, look at the average of the skills that the contest side will roll to defend against the assaults from the conflict side. If the contest is going to be short, increase the skills by 2 or more; if it’s going to be drawn out (especially with side-elements), you might decrease it by 2.

As for meta-skills, here’s what I’d do for the actors above:

  • Volcano: Burn and Smother All In My Path
  • Bombing: Rain Down Fire
  • Cthulhu: Devour Humans and Bring Forth Ruin

These conflict actors don’t require more than one meta-skill, but you could easily create a situation where more are needed. Also, you could tweak this to include weapon ratings, stunts, or other funky business, just like fractaling anything else.

Determine the Contests and the Conflicts

The conflicts part is easy: Decide which sides are mainly inflicting stress and consequences on another. That defines what their actions are. We’ll call the people on this side conflict actors, even those who aren’t characters per se.

The contests part is slightly more detailed: Decide what the contest is, how to achieve it, and how many victories it requires (just as you would with any other contest). We’ll call these people contest actors. The trick is balancing the number of victories needed. First, we’ll assume that a +0 on a roll is enough to get a victory.

  • 3 victories is a short contest. Anything less is just a single roll, because success with style will achieve a 2-victory contest, and someone will always find a way to make that bump happen. That means each conflict actor will get one or two opportunities to inflict harm, assuming there’s only one contest actor.
  • 5 victories is a medium contest. Conflict actors will have at least three chances to inflict stress, and likely more as aspect invocations start to dry up.
  • 7+ victories is a long contest.

Again, this assumes a baseline of +0 — that the skill required to achieve the success is the same as the difficulty of the contest. If the roll needed is  -2 higher the skill is, the more likely the contest length will be the minimum number of exchanges. If the roll needed is +2 or higher, then success with style won’t be as frequently, and misses are more likely in general, both of which extend the length of the contest and thus allow more opportunities for the conflict actors to harm.

You also have to decide if there’s a single shared contest, or if there is a separate contest for each contest actor. Escaping from lava is likely a separate contest situation. Having two necromancers working together to make the portal open is a shared contest situation. For shared contests, multiply the victories figured out above by the number of actors working together on it to get the same sense of time (and adjust for taste).

For separate contests, the narrative could be crafted so that one person’s victories are given to another, like succeeding with style while trying to help a wounded friend to safety leading to giving one victory to the friend.

For the contests above, I might do:

  • Flee from the Lava: 5 victories against relative +0, requiring Athletics, Drive, or similar. Separate contests.
  • Repair AA Gun: 5 victories against relative +2 (representing that it’s very damaged) against a skill like Mechanics. Shared contest.
  • Run from Cthulhu: 8 victories against relative -2. Separate contests.
  • Open the portal: 5 victories. Gains automatic 2 for each round unopposed, otherwise requires Lore if there’s active opposition. Shared contest (though in the example, there’s only one necromancer).

The last example gets to another hack point: a conflict actor might also find some way to interfere with the contest instead of inflicting stress. Only do that if it requires special justification to interfere, such as having a rival arcanist getting in the way. If anyone can interfere, then you really just have a contest where the conflict is superfluous in that moment.

That’s all for now. As you probably see, this is the sort of technique that fractals and extends in many different directions, but the underlying principle is simple: one side wants to achieve a goal, and the other wants to inflict harm to stop it. When you have that, you have a contest under fire.

– Ryan

Post inspired by this G+ Fate thread.

Photo from: www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1244651/Daring-scientists-grab-peek-hot-foot-gushing-lava-seconds-spare.html


One Response to Fate and Contests Under Fire

  1. Ryan Macklin says:

    I should also point out that there’s a difference between succeeding at the contest either ending the conflict or changing in. In the “run from something” contest, succeeding means it’s over. In the AA gun and portal contests, succeeding doesn’t stop the conflict sides inherently stop the conflict side immediately. For the AA gun, it means the bombers will likely start to thin out & retrieve, but there are still some bombs that will probably drop before that happens, maybe causing the next exchange or two about pure survival. With the portal, either the necromancer escapes into it (which ends the conflict portion) or summons a horrible being into this world (which changes the conflict).