Fate Adversary Toolkit
Constraints aren’t so much a type of adversary as they are a way to modify other adversaries. They make it more difficult or complex to deal with enemies or obstacles. You can use constraints to create urgency, to make particular adversaries more threatening, or to force the PCs to deal with an adversary in a way they otherwise wouldn’t.
You don’t have to use constraints at all, but they can add texture to an encounter or nuance to a villain. Note that adding constraints to an adversary can make that adversary a lot more difficult to deal with. There’s advice on this in each constraint entry.
There are three types of constraints: countdowns, limitations, and resistances.
A countdown adds urgency to an adversary: deal with it now or things will get worse. Whether you’re talking about a ticking bomb, a ritual near completion, a bus teetering on the edge of a suspension bridge, or a soldier with a radio who’s about to call in reinforcements, countdowns force the PCs to act quickly or face a worse outcome.
Countdowns have three components: a countdown track, one or more triggers, and an outcome.
The countdown track looks a lot like a stress track: it’s a row of boxes that you mark from left to right. Every time you check off a box, the countdown gets closer to being over.
A trigger is an event that marks a box on the countdown track. It can be as simple as “a minute/hour/day/exchange elapses” or as specific as “the evil villain takes a consequence or gets taken out.”
When you mark the last box, the countdown ends and the outcome happens, whatever it is.
You can give your countdown more than one trigger if you want; perhaps the countdown proceeds at a predictable pace until something happens that accelerates it. You could also give a different trigger to each box on the countdown track, if you want a specific series of events to set off the outcome.
You can find some examples of countdowns attached to enemies and obstacles starting on
Ticking Time Bomb
Opposition: Good (+3)
Trigger: An exchange elapses.
Trigger: Someone tries to disarm the bomb, but fails by 2 or more shifts.
Outcome: The bomb explodes. (Depending on the needs and tone of your game, the explosion might kill everyone in the building, cause automatic stress to everyone in its zone, create a temporal anomaly, or have any number of other effects.)
Loyal Agent of the Empire; Better Part of Valor
Good (+3): Athletics
Fair (+2): Shoot, Sneak
Scout Armor: The scout has Armor:1 against small-arms fire and melee weapons.
Trigger (first box): The scout is attacked.
Trigger (remaining boxes): One minute elapses.
Outcome: Reinforcements arrive.
Baron von Darkness
Dark Lord of Crime; “My intellect is unparalleled!”; Fearsome Death Ray; Wanted in Sixteen Countries; “I’ll rule this city one day.”
Superb (+5): Contacts
Great (+4): Deceit, Will
Good (+3): Provoke, Rapport, Shoot
Fair (+2): Crafts, Fight, Lore, Physique
Average (+1): Everything else
Contingency Plan: Whenever Baron von Darkness takes a consequence, you can pay a fate point to remove him from the scene (in a puff of smoke), replacing him with two threats.
Trigger (first box): The pathetic PCs fail to stop me from robbing the First National Bank.
Trigger (second box): Those fools don’t prevent the assassination of Mayor Roberts.
Trigger (third box): Those meddlesome heroes don’t stop me at my secret undersea base.
Outcome: My glorious mind-control device allows me to secretly control the city from beneath the waves!
Countdowns are all about urgency. They force the PCs to deal with particular threats, or to escape them before things get worse. Use them sparingly; sometimes you want the PCs to be able to deal with threats at their own pace, so they can highlight their competence. But when you want to really put the screws to them, countdowns can help.
Countdowns are also useful for threatening PCs who are hard to threaten. If your PCs are incredibly efficient in every fight, give them a fight with a countdown or two that threatens to make their lives incredibly difficult. Or, better yet, give them two countdowns that are difficult to deal with simultaneously. Force them to choose.
You can also use countdowns to add verisimilitude to encounters, as with the forward scout (
You don’t have to confine a countdown to a single scene. You could attach a countdown to your main villain, as with Baron von Darkness, that represents their master plan and its stages. Doing this adds both structure and urgency to your adventure or campaign, impressing upon the PCs that if they don’t act, the villain will go ahead and realize his plans.
One word of caution: tracking many countdowns at once can be difficult, particularly if they all have different triggers. If your scene has three or four countdowns that all trigger at different times, you might find yourself forgetting to check off some of their boxes.
Limitations are fictional elements that alter how PCs must deal with a particular threat. Maybe they can’t just kill the werewolf that’s been terrorizing a small Pennsylvania town, because he’s the son of one of the PCs and doesn’t know what he’s doing when he’s a werewolf. Maybe the mob boss is protected from on high by powerful politicians, and the direct approach is untenable. Maybe the reactor that’s in meltdown is nearly impossible to repair because it vaporizes any organic material that comes near.
When you create a limitation, give it either an aspect or a fact. A fact is a true thing: the reactor vaporizes organic material when it comes near. If you want to make a limitation more concrete and mechanical, use an aspect instead. Aspects are always true, just like facts, but you can invoke and compel them.
But be wary of giving something too many aspects. For most adversaries, you can just add the aspect and be fine. For adversaries that already have five aspects or are really complex, you may want to replace an existing aspect with the limitation aspect.
You can also give a limitation a Weapon rating. For example, if the PCs are battling on the edge of a pool filled with carnivorous fish, you might impose a limitation of Filled with Piranha with Weapon:3. There’s no roll involved with getting attacked by the piranha; instead, entering the pool of water acts as a special sort of compel. In this case, you’d offer the player a fate point, and if they accept it—piranha, damn your luck!—they’d take stress equal to the Weapon rating (in this case, 3). In this way, you can create situation aspects that have hard mechanical consequences attached to their compels.
Limitations don’t outright forbid actions; they simply discourage them. There’s nothing saying that the PC can’t kill her werewolf son to stop the threat to the town, but she’s unlikely to because she cares deeply about him, and because he doesn’t actually realize what he’s doing.
When you add a limitation to an adversary, you’re doing two things: First, you’re creating an interesting wrinkle that the players have to deal with. Limitations are best when you reveal them unexpectedly; they work well as surprise twists. Second, you’re making that adversary more important to the story. A limitation forces the players to deal with a threat in a way other than the most straightforward method. This means the players will likely have to spend more time dealing with the threat, making it more important in the fiction. They might spend a few extra exchanges taking out a particular bad guy, ensuring they remember that bad guy more. Or they might spend the entire adventure figuring out how to deal with something. Either way works.
Try not to use more than one or two limitations in an adventure. If too many issues need to be dealt with in atypical ways, you’ll risk frustrating players with characters built for handling regular tasks. If you’ve got an engineer character, but every machine the PCs encounter is biomechanical and requires knowledge of advanced xenobiology knowledge to handle, the engineer is going to feel pretty useless. If only one such machine exists, though, the engineer gets to keep doing his thing, and that one machine becomes a focal point of the adventure.
Resistances are similar to limitations, except that they do effectively forbid a particular course of action. The dragon is immune to the weapons of mortals, so you can’t fight it in physical combat. The alien does not understand Earthly communication, so you cannot reason with it. The wall’s surface is unnaturally smooth, so you cannot climb it. Where limitations encourage the PCs to deal with an adversary in a new way, resistances force such an approach. There is, however, always a chink in the armor, embodied in the resistance’s two parts: its lock and key.
The resistance’s lock is an aspect that states exactly what the adversary is immune to. Aspects are always true, so you don’t have to spend fate points to make the lock affect the story. If the PCs attack the dragon with their swords, the fact that it’s Immune to Mortal Weaponry means they have no chance of hurting it.
The key is the one thing that can bypass the lock, allowing the PCs to deal with the adversary in the way they want to. The key can be an aspect, an extra, a character, another adversary, or just a fictional element. It varies by adversary and by resistance.
Here are some examples:
Lock: Immune to Mortal Weaponry
Key: The Sword of Avelah, created by an immortal race long ago, can harm the dragon.
Lock: Doesn’t Understand Earthly Communication
Key: Emily Jace, the only survivor from a deep-space expedition, is the only human known to have learned the alien language.
Lock: Unnaturally Smooth, Can’t Be Climbed
Key: If you can get a device that’ll vibrate at the right harmonic frequency, you can walk right through the wall.
One danger of using a resistance is that it is, effectively, a roadblock. A limitation encourages the players to think creatively, while a resistance forces them to find another way, or to find the one thing that lets them address the problem directly. This means two things:
First, never have more than one resistance in play at a time, unless you have a very good reason. Resistances have the potential to frustrate players even more than limitations do, so don’t overuse them.
Second, unless the players decide to give up on addressing the adversary, they’ll likely need to go on an adventure, or at least a series of scenes, to get the key to the adversary’s lock.
Resistances can be good adventure hooks. A dragon threatening the village is an easy way to get the PCs to buy in, but if what you actually want them to deal with is over on the other side of the world, sending them off on an adventure there to get the key to the dragon’s lock can be a sneaky way to do it, and can add some urgency to boot.