Fate Adversary Toolkit

Using Environments

In Fate, the environment can often play as big a role as the pack of werewolves or trio of gunmen you’re fighting. The enemies in a scene are the most obvious, active opposition to your goals, but a conflict in a dark warehouse is different from a conflict on the median of a busy highway, and both are very different from a tense negotiation in the White House’s Situation Room.

Spicing Up Zones

Many new Fate GMs—and even some experienced ones—have trouble using zones in a way that makes the environment come alive. Here are a few easy tricks you can use to give zones both mechanical and narrative importance and to make your players sit up and take notice of their environment.

Make Each Zone Count

When you’re setting up a conflict, it’s tempting to think of the physical space and divide up every bit of it into zones. If you’re planning a fight in a darkened warehouse, it might seem obvious to make three or four zones on the first floor, another few on the upper floor, a zone or two to represent offices, and a couple of zones to represent streets and alleys outside, and leave it at that. That will divide the space up logically, but you’ll find many zones won’t get used, leaving the warehouse to feel a lot like the park the PCs fought in during the last session, just with slightly different window dressing.

Instead, consider something like this:

  • One zone for the general floor space in the middle of the warehouse. This zone has lots of Crates for cover.
  • A zone for the area near some Industrial Equipment. If it gets switched on, the equipment becomes a block: Great (+4) Mashing Gears with Weapon:2.
  • A zone near the windows, where the snipers surrounding the warehouse can see PCs. The snipers are a hazard: Superb (+5) Snipers with Weapon:3.
  • A zone up on the Precarious Catwalks. The fall off these catwalks is a limitation with Weapon:2.

And that’s all you need. If people go outside, or into an office, that’s fine; you can improvise a zone that doesn’t have much special about it, or you can apply the effects of another zone to it—for example, the snipers would likely have a clear line of sight to anyone outside. The trick is to come up with three to five zones, each with narrative importance. If you can’t think of something interesting about a particular zone, don’t bother including it or even mentioning it in your description. It’s not a place where the story’s likely to go.

Tying Game Elements to Zones

The previous example illustrates how to do this, but it’s important to realize that you’ve been doing it all along, simply by putting enemies in zones. The gang leader is over here, by the tables full of guns. His henchmen are spaced around the room, guarding the exits. So on and so forth. Now all you have to do is take that kind of thinking and apply it to all the other stuff you can put in a scene. Make sure that there’s an aspect, an obstacle, or a constraint associated with each zone. Also make sure there’s a reason to interact with or avoid each zone, that something interesting can happen in each one.

Offer Free Environmental Invokes

If you distribute aspects around your zones, you might give the players some free invokes on these aspects, encouraging them to interact with their environment. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Give the PCs, collectively, one free invoke on an environmental aspect in each zone. After using this free invoke, they can continue to invoke environmental aspects in that zone by spending fate points or advantages.
  • Give each PC two free invokes on environmental aspects only.
  • Give each PC one free invoke on each environmental aspect, after which they must invoke it by spending fate points or advantages.

Option one makes the PCs compete for the free invokes, which can create a sense of urgency. The PCs will rush to use those invokes, so the environment will get a lot of attention early in the conflict. By encouraging this kind of play early, you’ll help the players to continue interacting with the environment throughout the fight.

Option two gives the PCs much more flexibility: they get to choose which elements of the environment they interact with. This method doesn’t really add any urgency, though, and it effectively gives each PC two more fate points to play with, which can skew their power to the high side.

Option three is the most generous, will make for a significantly easier fight, and is best for groups that just aren’t in the habit of paying attention to their environment. Once the PCs get used to interacting with their environment, consider scaling back to one of the other options.

Types of Zones

It’s easy to think of zones as discrete physical spaces, but they don’t have to be. They can be fluid, movable, or even conceptual in nature. A zone is, at its core, a mechanical way to represent fictional positioning. As long as you’re accomplishing that, you can bend the nature of a zone in any number of directions.

Relative Zones

You might define zones relative to another zone or to each other, rather than tying them to specific places. This works well in something like a chase scene, where the characters are moving throughout the city constantly, never staying in one physical space for very long. In a case like this, you might have the following zones:

  • Near your quarry
  • Within sight of your quarry
  • Out of sight of your quarry
  • Above your quarry
  • Below your quarry
  • Falling behind

Moving from zone to zone might require rolls, with attacks representing trying to catch up with your quarry and stress representing becoming exhausted and being left behind.

Occupying Multiple Zones at Once

It might seem a little counterintuitive, but why couldn’t you occupy more than one zone at the same time? In the chase scene mentioned earlier, you might be running on the rooftops while your quarry is in the streets below. This might mean you’re both above your quarry and within sight of your quarry, gaining whatever benefits and disadvantages come with each zone.

Mobile Zones

You might have an environment made up primarily of static zones that represent physical spaces, but have one or two zones that can move around. Perhaps there’s a crane moving around wildly, or you’re navigating an arctic cavern while huddled around a handheld heater that radiates warmth—both the crane and heater could be mobile zones. Most importantly, you’ll want to keep track of where the mobile zone is relative to the other zones. The easiest way to do this is to let the mobile zone occupy another zone at any given time, allowing people to occupy multiple zones at once.

Conceptual Zones

Zones don’t have to represent physical space; some might represent conceptual states of being. In a darkened warehouse, you might have a zone that represents being in the shadows. Because the warehouse is dark, this zone can exist pretty much anywhere, provided you’re sticking to pools of shadow and not calling attention to yourself. This trick can be an easy way to keep track of who’s hidden and who’s not, or who’s in the emperor’s good graces and who’s not.

Conceptual zones work well during social conflicts, where physical positioning is less important. If your PCs are infiltrating a high-society party to steal some valuable jewelry, you might have zones that represent blending in with the party guests, pretending to be wait staff, out of sight of the general populace, or under scrutiny.

Keeping Track

Given all this, what’s the best way to keep track of all these zones? Write them down! Index cards are great for this, but you could easily use a dry-erase board or battle map. Write the zones down and arrange them in relative positions that make fictional sense. If they have special effects, write those down in the spaces you designate for the zones. Then, players can track their characters with tokens of some sort: dice, colored beads, figurines, or anything else you have on hand.