Fate Adversary Toolkit
Enemies have one thing in common: you can punch them. Or more accurately, you can defeat them by attacking them. All enemies have aspects, skills, and stress tracks. Some have stunts, and some have consequences.
Enemies are the most familiar type of adversary because they are the most similar to player characters. The NPCs opposing the PCs are typically enemies, but enemies don’t have to be people (or robots, or gorillas, or whatever). It might be an idol in a magic circle that pulses with malevolent energy—as long as you can defeat it by dealing it stress, it’s an enemy. A fire raging out of control could be an enemy; it’ll attack nearby PCs and take stress whenever they hose it down or combat it with other firefighting techniques.
Enemies are your bread and butter as a GM. They’re the main course. They’re the lion’s share of the adversaries you’ll use, because fighting things in Fate is dramatic and interesting, whether it’s a fistfight or an argument on the floor of the Galactic Senate.
There are four types of enemies: threats, hitters, bosses, and fillers.
Threats exist to threaten: that is, they draw the PCs’ attention, hold it, and soak up punishment. They’re not necessarily the hardest hitters, but leaving them to their own devices is problematic. They get up in the PCs’ faces and make the PCs want to get rid of them. Threats are your tanks; they’re meat shields for the really important or nasty enemies in the fight.
Threats have a high concept and a trouble. If a threat’s particularly important, give her a third aspect. Emphasize her physical size, toughness, immovability, or stubbornness. Give her an Achilles’ heel that the PCs can exploit.
Set the threat’s apex skill to one step above the PCs’ highest-rated skill or, if you want a particularly tough threat, two steps above. Then, give your threat two more skills rated one step below the apex skill. If you want to define the threat further, give her three more skills rated one step below that.
A physical threat prioritizes Physique, then Fight or Shoot. Skills like Athletics and Will are useful for getting out of the way or resisting mental or social attacks. A social threat prioritizes Will, then some combination of Empathy, Rapport, Provoke, and Deceive. Lore is useful for creating advantages.
Threats need at least one stunt that they can use to make the PCs want to deal with them. A really tough threat could also have a stunt that makes her tougher, giving her an Armor rating or extra stress boxes. Here are some examples of threatening stunts:
Grenadier: By spending a fate point, you can physically attack everyone in a zone.
Bodyguard: Designate a character, place, or object to guard. Whenever that thing is attacked and you are in the same zone, you can spend a fate point to redirect the attack to yourself. You gain Armor:1 against this attack.
Naysayer: +2 to create advantages with Provoke by fomenting arguments that undermine the PCs or make them look foolish.
Quick-and-Dirty Enemy Stunts
If you need a stunt for an enemy quickly, pick one of these and call it a day. Some of these might be a touch powerful for a PC, but they’re fine for an NPC who might not be around for more than one fight.
- When you attack with your apex skill, you get Weapon:2.
- When you defend with your apex skill, you get Armor:2.
- Twice per session, you can use your apex skill in place of any other skill.
- Once per session, you can attack everyone in a zone with your apex skill.
Stress and Consequences
Physical threats have large physical stress tracks because of their high Physique, while social threats have similarly large mental stress tracks because of their high Will.
If you’re using Fate rules that don’t grant additional stress boxes for high skill ratings, consider giving the threat a stunt that does so. In addition, all threats have at least a mild consequence slot; particularly tough ones also have a moderate slot.
Threats always get right up in the PCs’ faces. They don’t let up. They don’t go easy. They attack constantly, relentlessly, making nuisances of themselves. When a threat gets taken out, the PCs should be relieved. Don’t be cautious with your threats; they exist to soak up punishment, and they have the chops to do so.
Put at least one threat into most fights. An easy fight has one, a standard fight has two or three, and a climactic encounter probably has four or five. Any conflict with a boss should have at least two threats to take the heat off of the boss, and any fight with a hitter should have at least one threat to distract the PCs.
When you’re describing threats, play up their menace. The bodyguards are big and tough, brandishing nasty-looking weapons. The king’s chamberlain brooks no nonsense, does not tolerate fools, and is looking for an opportunity to get the rabble-rousing PCs tossed out of the palace. Threats get in the way of the PCs’ plans; they exist to thwart and stymie. They’re roadblocks.
Hitters are often easily overlooked, but they’re able to strike with devastating effect. They don’t necessarily hit hard every time, but under optimal circumstances, they can really make the PCs hurt.
That said, hitters can dish it out but typically can’t take it. Often, the PCs won’t know that a hitter is a threat until it’s done some damage, but once the PCs know about it, they should be able to take it down fairly quickly. Hitters are glass cannons.
Hitters have a high concept and a trouble. If a hitter is particularly important, give her a third aspect. Emphasize how dangerous she is or why she’s difficult to notice. Give her a weakness that points to some oversight, overconfidence, or other exploitable flaw.
Set the hitter’s apex skill to one step above the PCs’ highest-rated skill or, if you want a particularly dangerous hitter, two steps above. Then, give your hitter two more skills rated one step below the apex skill. If you want to define the hitter further, give her three more skills rated one step below that.
Prioritize skills that deal stress to the PCs. For physical hitters, Fight or Shoot are the most important. Other skills should focus on mobility or keeping attention elsewhere; Sneak, Deceive, and Athletics are all good choices. For social hitters, Provoke, Deceive, and Rapport could all be used to good effect. Other important skills are Empathy, Notice, and Contacts. Don’t give hitters skills like Physique or Will. If an enemy is both tough and hits really hard, it’s a boss, not a hitter.
A hitter always has, at the very least, a stunt that confers Weapon:2 on her primary attack. If you want to make her particularly dangerous, give her a stunt that makes her harder to spot too. Another excellent type of stunt to give a hitter is a way to hit really hard with a non-standard skill under the right circumstances; this way, the hitter can do her job, but becomes less effective when confronted directly. Here are some examples:
Sniper: When you attack with Shoot and invoke an aspect representing careful aim, you gain Weapon:2 on the attack.
Sneak Attack: Provided you haven’t been spotted by your target yet, you can attack with Sneak instead of Fight.
Ninja Vanish: By spending a fate point, you can make yourself vanish from the scene entirely. Then, at the end of any later turn, you can spend another fate point to make yourself reappear anywhere in the scene and immediately attack.
Stress and Consequences
Most hitters will have the bare minimum stress track. If you want a hitter to be particularly important or nasty, give her a mild consequence slot. Otherwise, don’t give her any consequence slots. Hitters show up, hit hard, and die off quickly.
Where threats are all about relentless assault, using a hitter effectively is a game of patience and opportunity. At first, the PCs might not even clearly see there is a hitter in the scene. Keep your hitter unseen or unnoticed, maneuver her into position, and then strike without remorse. Don’t be afraid to spend a fate point or two to make a hitter’s attack count; she may not get a second chance. Once the PCs start focusing on your hitter, don’t spend a lot of resources trying to protect her. Let the PCs feel awesome. Hitters are meant to be fragile, and protecting them generally isn’t worth it, especially once they’ve pulled their trick off.
Don’t use hitters in every conflict. If you put a hitter in a conflict, a PC will likely take a consequence. Putting two in a fight means you might put down some serious hurt. Three could mean that a PC gets taken out.
When you do use hitters, put in other enemies to distract from the hitter. Threats are perfect for this, and fillers can be good too. As for obstacles, a distraction or a block can make for good camouflage, too.
Where threats and hitters are specialized enemies, and fillers are generic bad guys, bosses are those special enemies who the PCs just can’t wait to take down. Bosses are the focal point of a set-piece battle, the big personalities that drive the adventure, the antagonists that hound the PCs at every turn.
Bosses have a full spread of five aspects. Give your boss a high concept that drives home what she’s all about. Is she the Corrupt Police Captain? The Necromancer General? Your boss’s trouble should be a closely guarded secret that the PCs can exploit if they find out about it.
For the other three aspects, come up with some unique shticks that your boss relies on, things that’ll make her memorable. Maybe the corrupt police captain is an Expert Martial Artist, or maybe the necromancer general carries the All-Seeing Staff.
A good boss has highly rated skills, and lots of them. Bosses are far more versatile than either hitters or threats and, unlike those two types of enemies, it’s entirely within your purview to make a boss who’s both good at dealing damage andgood at taking it.
First, look at the highest-rated PC skill. Either give your boss one skill rated at two steps higher, or two skills rated at one step higher. If your boss has one apex skill, give her two skills rated at one step lower, then three rated at one step below that, and so on until you’ve filled out every step of the ladder down to Fair (+2). If the boss has two apex skills, give her three rated at one step below, then four, and so on down until Fair (+2). All of her other skills are Average (+1).
Your boss should prioritize skills that support her personality. The corrupt police captain probably has high social skills, some good combat skills, and skills like Drive, Lore, and Crafts down toward the bottom of her pyramid. The necromancer general probably prioritizes Lore above all else, then goes on to prioritize things like Resources, Provoke, Contacts, and Crafts, then leaves more physically oriented skills for the bottom of her pyramid. Of course, you can always subvert these expectations.
A boss always has at least one stunt, and as many as three. Create stunts that make the boss memorable, stunts that bring in more bad guys to fight, stunts that make the boss hard to deal with, and stunts that represent her social status or allies. Here are some examples:
Connected: Once per session, you can draw on your contacts to bring in reinforcements. These reinforcements take the form of either one hitter with an apex skill rated equal to your Contacts, two threats with apex skills rated one step lower than your Contacts, or Fair (+2) fillers equal in number to your Contacts. When you use this stunt, you can spend one fate point to gain +2 to Contacts, to a maximum of Great (+4), for the purpose of bringing in these reinforcements.
Escape Plan: Once per session, if you would get taken out, you can spend a fate point to concede instead.
Mook Shield: Whenever you are attacked, you can spend a fate point to divert the attack to nearby filler enemies.
Stress and Consequences
Bosses have stress tracks of varying lengths based on their skills, but all bosses have at least a mild and a moderate consequence slot, and a particularly nasty boss has a severe consequence slot too.
All bosses are memorable, with personalities and goals of their own. To that end, taking a boss down should always be a big deal, and probably shouldn’t happen every session. You can let the PCs fight a boss frequently, but be careful with your bosses—don’t be afraid to concede. They’re not as disposable as other kinds of enemies are, so it’s a viable tactic to concede, so the boss can threaten the PCs later. But don’t rob the PCs of their victory, either. When the PCs do defeat a boss, make it a big deal, and reward them accordingly.
Most fights with a boss contain only one, though you could have two or even three in a really climactic encounter. That should be the exception rather than the rule, though, and it’s often useful to call out which boss is a bigger deal than the others. In an encounter, use your boss’s personality to inform how she behaves. An aggressive, combative boss will get right up in the PCs’ faces, while a cautious, politically oriented boss will hide behind minions.
When you want to fill your scene with enemies, but you don’t want the complexity of adding more hitters, threats, or bosses, then fillers are what you need. Fillers are easy to run and keep track of, and they let the PCs feel like badasses as they take down hordes of bad guys.
Give your filler enemy a name that encapsulates its function in the scene, like Mob Enforcer, Crazed Velociraptor, or Flamethrower Turret. A filler’s name is an aspect, and its only aspect.
First, decide on your filler’s quality: Average, Fair, or Good:
- An Average filler has one Average (+1) skill.
- A Fair filler has one Fair (+2) skill.
- A Good filler has one Good (+3) skill and one Average (+1) skill.
You can use skills from Fate Core or whatever Fate game you’re playing, or you can make up brand-new skills specific to your fillers. Those mob enforcers might have Fair (+2) Tommy Guns, while the crazed velociraptors might have Good (+3) Claws & Fangs and Average (+1) Dodge. If a filler enemy ever does something that isn’t covered by its skills, it rolls at Mediocre (+0) or it automatically fails (if that would be simpler).
Fillers don’t get stunts. They exist to be simple, and stunts make them more complex than they need to be. You can, at your option, make them dangerous fillers, giving them Weapon:1.
Stress and Consequences
A filler has one 1-stress box per quality step—so a Good filler has three 1-stress boxes, for example. Unlike characters and other types of enemies, a filler can mark off as many of its stress boxes as it likes to absorb a single hit. So, if a filler takes a 2-stress hit, it can mark off two of its stress boxes.
Fillers never have consequence slots.
To make fillers simpler and more effective, you can group a number of them into a single enemy. A filler group has all of the skills that its fillers have. For every two fillers with the same skill in the group, add a +1 bonus to that skill. A filler group’s skills can never be rated higher than Great (+4), however.
A crazed velociraptor groups up with a mob enforcer, so the group has Good (+3) Claws & Fangs, Fair (+2) Tommy Gun, and Average (+1) Dodge. Later, when a second mob enforcer joins, the group’s Tommy Gun increases to Good (+3).
To make the group’s stress track, arrange the stress boxes of each filler in the group into a single track. Divide up the track so you can figure out when each filler in the group gets taken out, with weaker fillers on the left and stronger fillers on the right.
The group of two mob enforcers and a velociraptor would have a stress track that looks like this:
  |   |   
When the group takes stress, start ticking off boxes on the left, and move to the right until all the stress has been absorbed, or the entire group has been taken out. Because the track is divided up by each filler, you’ll be able to tell when each filler gets taken out, letting you reduce the group’s skills appropriately. When fillers are grouped, it’s entirely possible for PCs to take out multiple fillers in one go.
Fillers are there to be color. They fill out the ranks of the enemy team, but they’re not particularly dangerous or durable. Don’t be afraid to drop a bunch of them into a fight, grouping them up to keep things simple and make them a little more threatening. Fillers are easy come, easy go, so don’t go out of your way to protect them. You can also put fillers in a support role, creating advantages that they pass to more powerful enemies. A group of goons laying down distracting covering fire can make the hitter sneaking up behind the PCs that much more dangerous by passing him a free invoke or two.