Mission briefings, like brainstorms, give players a concrete way to collectively steer the narrative. However, instead of answering the question “What’s going on here?”, a mission briefing asks the players “What stands between you and your objective?”
During a mission briefing, the players take turns inventing expected obstacles and resistance they expect their characters to face in the course of achieving their goal. They also indirectly tell the GM what sorts of things they’d like to do during the mission by choosing what skills will be especially relevant. This also generates a supply of communal fate points that can be used during the mission, with certain restrictions.
Running a Mission Briefing
Typical mission briefings occur in the following steps: mission overview, expected obstacles, and resource allocation.
Step One: Mission Overview
Start off by giving the players a basic overview of the mission, starting with the chief objective and including some other useful intel, like schematics, blueprints, NPC names, or whatever might be relevant. But don’t make it too extensive or detailed—think about what the PCs would or could have already learned prior to setting off. And don’t shy away from a little misinformation or faulty intel. Don’t assume whatever it was they’ve already learned was actually correct. The best missions keep the PCs on their toes.
Then name the mission—something along the lines of “Operation [Blank]” or “The Quest for the [Gribble].” If you’re stuck, do what Fate GMs always do and ask the players. It doesn’t have to sound cool. In fact, sometimes it’ll probably ring truer if it doesn’t.
Write the mission name on an index card—this is the mission aspect. This aspect has no free invocations. Make sure the players know that. Leave room on the card for more stuff, because you’ll be writing a few more things on it.
Step Two: Expected Obstacles
Here’s where the GM hands it over to the players to fill in some details.
Pick a player, or ask for a volunteer. Have them describe an obstacle the party’s expected to encounter in pursuit of their mission. Take note of this. You’re not obligated to include it verbatim—bad intel is a thing!—but as an indication of what each player would like to have the opportunity to do during the mission, it’s invaluable. If you don’t include their obstacle exactly as described, at least replace it with something with a similar feel.
Next, have the player pick a skill, and explain why or how this skill will be vital to the mission’s success. Then write the name of that skill on the mission aspect’s index card. These skills are called mission skills. (Their use is described in the next section, Resource Allocation.) Go around the table until every player has described an obstacle and chosen a mission skill.
Let them know they’re free to come up with whatever obstacles they like, but they must flow from the chief objective or other obstacles that have already been established. Use logic and common sense. If it’s a bit of a stretch, that’s fine, but direct contradictions are right out.
These obstacle descriptions don’t have to occur in chronological order, either. Players can say things like “But before that” or “Next” to indicate when something during the mission might happen, but there’s no obligation to treat the order in which the obstacles are presented as some sort of timeline.
Keeping It Real
If there’s a third party delivering a mission to the PCs, like a shady wizard or a Mr. Johannson, encourage the players to present their obstacles as if they were that person. An easy way they can do this is to preface their obstacle descriptions with phrases like “We have reason to believe” or “Intel indicates” or “According to our informant”—that kind of thing. Not only does this give the mission briefing the right feel, it also highlights that none of this is a certainty.
Step Three: Resource Allocation
For each mission skill, the player who contributed it makes a roll. The specifics of this roll, such as how it’s modified or what its difficulty is, can vary depending on the setting. Here are a few possibilities:
- If the players belong to an organization that’s providing this information to them, use a skill related to that organization—or, if the organization itself has skills, use the one that’s most relevant to the mission briefing. For example, if the Academia Magicka has skills in Coffers, Guards, Scholars, and Spies, the most appropriate skill would probably be Spies.
- All players roll the same skill, chosen by the GM. This is best if the PCs are thematically similar, such as a group of soldiers or psychics, and that the information they’re receiving was either provided by them in an implied, off-camera scene. Alternatively, it could be that the person briefing them isn’t necessarily being straightforward, and the roll represents trying to separate lies from truth.
- Each player rolls the mission skill they’ve contributed. This is best if the players are encouraged to pick mission skills that play to their own strengths, and if you’re less concerned with having a strong connection to the fiction than you are with making a fun little mini-game out of it.
- Each player rolls 4dF, no modifiers. This is best if the situation is unpredictable and there are no guarantees.
The default difficulty is Good (+3). (If everyone’s doing a straight 4dF roll, it’s a good idea to drop it to Average (+1) or Mediocre (+0), or this whole thing will be an exercise in futility.)
Modify this difficulty by any factors the GM or players find relevant. Some examples include:
- Proposed obstacle seems like a natural extension of the chief objective or other obstacles: +0
- Proposed obstacle makes a leap in logic from the chief objective: +2
- Proposed obstacle seems iffy in the context of another proposed obstacle: +1 per obstacle
Note that nothing lowers the starting difficulty.
For each success, place one fate point on the mission aspect. For each success with style, place two fate points on the mission aspect.
On a tie, the mission aspect gets a fate point, but at a minor cost. This is a good excuse to decide the reported obstacle in question is the result of miscommunication or deception.
On a failure, either the mission aspect doesn’t get any fate points, or it gets one fate point at a serious cost. This is the player’s choice, as usual. As with a tie, the cost will be something that occurs during the mission itself, so make a note of it.
Don’t hold back on a serious cost. Make it something truly dangerous, like maybe the targets are expecting the PCs, or their shady wizard friend feeding them this information is secretly in thrall to the Dark Lord. A serious cost during this phase of the mission briefing could easily change the entire nature of the mission—unbeknownst to the players, of course.
The Mission Briefing in Play
The fate points on the mission aspect are a communal supply to be spent by players when invoking an aspect—any aspect—for a bonus or reroll, but only when using a mission skill. This is their only use—making the PCs more effective with the skills they’d anticipated would be crucial to the mission’s success. The mission aspect’s fate points can’t be spent to refuse compels, pay for stunts that require fate points to activate, or anything else that might be done with fate points during play.
Once the mission aspect’s fate points are gone, they’re gone—preparation can only get you so far.
It’s The Economy, GM
It’s important to retain these restrictions on the use of the mission aspect’s fate points for two major reasons. One, handing the players a pile of fate points is not to be done lightly. You’ve probably heard or read that fate points should flow like water between the players and GM during a Fate game, and that’s true. But that’ll only happen if the players actually need those fate points, a condition that giving them extra fate points is likely to endanger unless you’re careful. Any reasonable limits on the use of these “free” fate points are virtually necessary to maintain the fate point economy that lies at (or close to) the heart of a good Fate game.
Two, they’re not all that limiting, really. All they really do is encourage the players to use the skills they were excited about using in the first place. It might feel subversive to them, but the upshot is that the PCs will be a bit more effective with the mission skills than with other skills. It’ll be almost as if the team was specifically put together because of their complementary skillsets. Which, y’know, they almost certainly were, in the fiction. In the end, these constraints enforce the narrative, and that’s what we want anyway, so it’s a win-win.