How to Train Your Mutant Fire Dog: Monster Training in Fate Accelerated
by June Shores
Luminescent fungus carpets the cave floor. It covers the tunnel with an eerie, multi-colored glow. Kairi can hear water flowing just beyond the tunnel walls. The walls press in on the space around her, pricking up goosebumps on her skin.
Zipp, her mutant fire dog, lets out a whine. He sticks close to her knees.
A rock falls ahead and Zipp jumps.
Eight gleaming eyes stare out from the darkness of the tunnel. A dreadful hiss echoes off the walls. The spider, as large as an elephant, rears up out of the dark with acid dripping off its joints.
“Zipp.” The dog hears Kairi's command and stands ready. “Burn it up.”
Monster training is a popular genre. From Pokémon and Medabots to Digimon and Shaman King, monster trainers get around. In this article I'll show you a way to drop player-directed monsters into your ongoing campaigns, how to give them life, and how to improve their abilities over time.
Monsters as Extras
Monsters are powerful, probably far more powerful than your player characters. That's okay because monsters are here to lend power to their trainers.
To make this power more real we’re going to create the monster as an extra (Fate Core, page 207) to attach to your PCs. While you won’t find extras discussed in Fate Accelerated Edition, anything from Fate Core can easily be tweaked to suit your FAE game. We’ll take basic Fate Accelerated building blocks of aspects, stress, stunts, etc. and make something new with them.
Monsters are simple for players and GMs to create. Wild monsters and monsters commanded by NPC trainers can be written up as mooks or characters in their own right. Once they’re in the hands of PCs, though, they’re written out like this:
Name your monster anything you like. A nickname, a code name, or whatever happens to come out of the monster’s mouth.
Monsters are divided into stages that outline how powerful they are. There are 3 stages in all. To ascend through the stages you need to gain XP (we’ll get back to this a little later).
Each monster gets their own aspect detailing three things: a core personality trait, an element that they embody, and a real-world animal or object that they resemble.
A monster has three stress boxes, just like their trainer.
A monster's consequences depend on their stage. Stage one monsters have one mild consequence slot, stage two monsters add on a moderate consequence slot, and stage three monsters get a severe consequence slot.
A monster gets one stunt at stage one, and one more each time it ascends to a higher stage.
Each monster has an XP track with a number of boxes to fill. Stage one monsters have five boxes, stage two monsters have six boxes, and stage three monsters have seven boxes.
Monsters don't have their own approaches. They’re only as good as their trainer and therefore depend on their trainer's approaches.
Monster Concept: Loyal Fire Dog
Heart of Fire. Because I have fire in my heart, I get a free invoke on the first consequence that my trainer or I take in a conflict.
Monsters in Play
Monsters can do things that their trainers can't. Throwing fire around like it’s a play thing is an example of this, but so is tracking by scent.
Zipp is a dog made of fire. By his nature, he can do all that implies, such as throw fireballs with his mouth, listen closely with his ears, or bite with his teeth.
PC monsters act on behalf of their trainer. Whenever a PC could take an action, they can use their monster instead, as long as it makes sense in the situation. Monsters don't get separate turns—when they act, they take up their trainer's turn. You’re basically substituting your monster for yourself. Perhaps you join in the fray and act together with your monster, but this is primarily narrative—either way, you get one action per turn between you and your monster.
The giant spider is closing in fast. Kairi orders Zipp to protect them with a spray of fire to force the bigger monster back. Kairi’s player rolls her Forceful approach and succeeds on her defense. The spider’s attack is stopped in its tracks.
If you fail a defense action then you can choose which of you takes the stress or consequences.
Let’s say that Kairi and Zipp failed that last defense action. The spider inflicts 2 stress on Kairi and Zipp. However, instead of letting Zipp take stress, Kairi’s player decides to soak up the stress with a mild consequence, Shaken. The spider is driven back by the fire, but Kairi is affected by the close call.
When a monster attempts to overcome an obstacle or create an advantage and the GM needs to set a target number, keep in mind the kind of monster it is and the aspects that could be working against it. Think about adjusting the difficulty for the action, perhaps by adding a +1 for every aspect working against it and +2 for aspects with elemental details that trump the monster's element.
Kairi and Zipp are trying to escape a collapsing tunnel. As they flee, water is trickling down from the roof and is about to crash into the tunnel along with some very big rocks.
The players at the table decided earlier that fire elementals don’t do fantastically against rock, so the GM decides that the difficulty would usually be Good (+3) for the collapsing tunnel. However, that Impending Flood is awfully intimidating to Zipp, which adds a +2 to the difficulty just for having the watery aspect present in the scene and making trouble for Zipp. So Zipp needs to get at least a Superb (+5) to make good on this escape.
If an NPC invoked such an aspect in a conflict, they’d award fate points to Zipp, but this sort of passive difficulty adjustment does not.
Monsters are also empathic toward their trainers. Any consequences that the trainer has will worry a monster. Consequences and other aspects on a trainer can be the basis for a compel on the monster's behavior. Any compels on the monster's behavior award fate points to their trainer.
And now, as promised, we’ll discuss XP. You might be scratching your head. “But June,” you say, “there are no experience points in FAE!”
Well, now there are, although they don't work the way XP usually does. In How to Train Your Mutant Fire Dog, a monster moves on to the next stage in a time of crisis or uncertainty. To model this I've added another resource to the game: XP. Once you fill up the required amount of XP, your monster develops new abilities and maybe even changes shape.
To gain XP:
Your character must be involved in a conflict.
Your monster must participate in that conflict.
Your character or your monster must take a consequence in the conflict.
In the end, you must concede the conflict.
Conflicts where you win don’t count. When you concede a conflict, you gain an XP and fill in a box on your monster's XP track. Once all the boxes are filled, your monster ascends to the next stage.
When your monster moves up a level, you do the following:
Add a stunt to your monster.
Redefine your monster's stunts (optional).
Add the next level consequence slot to your monster.
Redefine or add a part to your monster's aspect (optional).
This little sub-system rounds out the monster training experience, but….
There Are Still Spaces to Explore with This
Maybe you can catch and tame new monsters in your game. Perhaps the GM plays the monsters, or the players each play another PC’s monster. Or maybe you just want to drop the monster mechanics into a game about a magical school to give extra flair to familiars. There are a thousand different ways to train your mutant fire dog.