Success at a Cost with Attacks in Fate

One of the thorns in Fate’s side is that success at a cost works wonderfully well[1] for overcome actions and creating advantages, but it doesn’t work for attacks. That’s because attacks require the shifts of success to feed into the tightly wound stress/consequence economy. As it stands, that economy is delicate (which is worthy of its own post), so most attempts at making attacks have a success-at-a-cost element fell flat or went overboard.

Here’s what I’ve come up with that works with Core’s stress/consequence system:

If you attempt an attack and fail, and the defender doesn’t succeed with style, you can succeed at a cost on your attack (a.k.a. “attack at a cost”). If you do, you inflict a 1-stress hit, which isn’t affected by any Weapon ratings, Armor, or any other mitigator that affects stress.

If you choose this, the GM then gets to choose one of the following:

  • You also suffer harm: take a 1-stress hit, similarly not affected by Weapon, Armor, etc.
  • An advantage is created against you, and has a free invocation on it. (This isn’t a boost, which means it lasts as long as is relevant and may need to be overcome to remove.)
  • A fact that’s detrimental against you becomes true, such as being out of ammo[2] or having your gun jam. This isn’t an aspect or a compel, so you can’t buy your way out of it.

The choice isn’t a negotiation, though as always players can call bullshit on the GM for being weaksauce. Whether you can choose to succeed at a cost or the GM has to offer it depends on how your table handles that rule normally. (There’s no wrong answer in that regard.)

This is a dangerous option to take, because once you do this, opposition can do this against you, and the GM always handles the form of cost. That should push people who start doing this to want to spend invocations to defend with style as a safeguard, which I think is cool.

Finally, this is only an option for PC-vs-GM situations. For PC-on-PC violence, there’s no success at a cost with attacks. That just gets funky-weird.

The “This is a dangerous option to take” paragraph was what I needed to add to make this Leonard Balsera-approved, because he was afraid of this being overpowered. And it’s still walking a delicate line, because a 1-stress hit can mean anything, depending on whether you’re hitting someone who hasn’t taken any stress or someone for whom a 1-stress hit really means having to take a moderate or severe consequence.

I imagine that the easy way of handing the danger is once you choose to do so, that option is unlocked against your character until you hit a significant milestone; if on something lesser, you could unlock it as your last action in a session and then let it reset without any detriment. Or you could even tally how often a player chooses it, and bring it back that much, if you’re the sort of GM that loves tracking painful karma. Hell, maybe you’re playing in a setting where you want that to just be default.[3]

When I originally wrote the rule, I said “If you attack and inflict no stress, and the defender doesn’t succeed with style,” so that if you tied or Armor got in the way or something, you could still use this rule. I took that out to simplify the language, but it’s easy enough to slide that back in.

I’m also assuming that overall, success at a cost is off the table once some has started throwing down invocations (or boosts, which is part of what I refer to when I say “invocations” in the general). So if you succeed at your defense with style (by just 3), I can’t buy my way into attacking at a cost by just doing an invocation to bring that down to a normal success at defense. Which makes invocations the safeguard against attacks at a cost, which in turn gives further reason to use up those resources.

Of course, I just came up with this yesterday. It’s not playtested at all, but if you try it, please let me know how it goes!

– Ryan

Photo: John McClane from Die Hard with a Vengeance, with the Fate attack icon overlaid. Because McClane is the posterchild for attacking at a cost. (The Fate Core font is © Evil Hat Productions, LLC and is used with permission. The Four Actions icons were designed by Jeremy Keller.)

[1] Which incidentally comes from what we made in The Dresden Files RPG for investigation failures, extrapolated to most actions.

[2] Lately, I’ve come to realize that Out of Ammo is a lame aspect, and is instead a compel for a gear aspect like Rapid Fire. That’s because being out of ammo isn’t something interesting to compel it an of itself, but it’s the result of an interesting compel.

[3] I wish I had come up with this for firefights in Achtung! Cthulhu.