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Lock and Load: Using Ammo in Fate

by Brian Engard

Fate isn’t a game that cares how many bullets you have left. In Fate, a gun is flavor; it’s a narrative device that allows you to use your Shoot skill. It’s not inherently more dangerous than a fist or a knife or a tire iron, and the only mechanical differences between these various implements of grievous injury are the skill you use and the range at which you can use them.

But what if you want to separate guns out a bit, make them different? What if you want to know how much ammunition you have left for your P90, or—if we use the term “guns” broadly—how many arrows you have left for your compound bow?

There are a few reasons you might want to include ammo in your game. First and foremost in many people’s minds is verisimilitude: if your gun can run out of ammo, then the world feels more real, more believable. It’s a simulation of a particular aspect of reality that Fate glosses over in favor of narrative importance or cinematic action, and adding some measure of limitation to guns can make them feel more dangerous or important.

You might also like the tactical decisions that ammo limitations can enforce. If you only have six shots in your revolver then you’re going to use them that much more carefully.

Finally, sometimes additional mechanical complexity can be good. I’m a gearhead to some extent; I like rules, I like the way they interact with each other, and I like seeing what happens when they meet in play. Fate already has plenty of meat, but some people want a little more.

In this article you’ll find three options for tracking ammo:

  • Counting Bullets gives you rules for tracking your individual shots.
  • The Ammo Track gives you boxes you can check off when you need to spend a little more ammo.
  • Ammo Aspects gives you a way to handle ammo as a spendable aspect.

Counting Bullets

If you want a high fidelity rule that more closely represents reality (or at least fictional reality), you can count individual bullets. This rule has the advantage of being simple to implement, but it has the disadvantage of imposing a lot of bookkeeping on the game, as well as imposing a limitation on guns and other ammo-driven weapons that Fate doesn’t normally account for.

Assume that when you shoot your gun, you’re using up a bullet; count it off. For each gun on your character sheet, track its ammo using the actual number of bullets it holds (if you know it), or make something up that feels right (if you don’t). Figure out how many spare magazines or clips you have so you can reload when you need to. Reloading is an action, but you can spend a fate point to make it a free action.

Some guns might allow you to fire a burst or open up with full autofire. Both of these options use the Weapon rules (see page 277 of Fate Core). Use the following guidelines for tracking bullets:

  • Burst Fire: If you’re using a weapon that supports short burst fire, you can use it any time you’d use the attack action. Mark off 3 bullets and increase the gun’s Weapon rating by 1 for that attack.
  • Autofire: If you’re just holding down the trigger and spraying, mark off about a quarter of your gun’s total ammo. Increase the gun’s Weapon rating by 1 for the attack, and attack everyone in the zone you’re targeting—even allies.

When you run out of ammo, you’re out of ammo; you can’t shoot your gun anymore. This rule isn’t compatible with an Out of Ammo aspect—applying such an aspect to someone who’s run out of ammo is redundant and unnecessary.

The Ammo Track

This ammo rule has the advantage of requiring less bookkeeping than counting individual bullets, and it also grants the players a few extra tactical options and choices. It does lean more toward cinema than realism though.

Give each gun you have an ammo track; each gun has at least 2 stress boxes and as many as 4 stress boxes. Shooting a gun doesn’t usually use up any of your ammo; you can just fire away as much as you want, as long as you’re just using one of the standard four actions with your Shoot skill. There are two circumstances under which you check off ammo boxes:

  • If you attack and fail, you can check off an ammo box to reroll your dice. This doesn’t count as an aspect invocation, and you can do it as many times as you want to per attack action. Each time you use this rule, check off another box.
  • If you spray an area, check off two boxes and make your attack action against everyone in the zone you’re targeting. You can use this rule in combination with the rule above, but you can only target one zone per attack action. Being able to do this is a function of the gun you’re using; you can’t spray an area with a six-shooter, for example, but you can spray an area with an MP5.

There’s no limit to the number of ammo stress boxes you can check off in a single action other than the number of stress boxes your gun has. Once you check off the last stress box on a gun’s ammo track, that gun’s out of ammo. When a gun’s out of ammo, you can’t use it until you get more ammo. Getting more ammo is an overcome action with Resources with an opposition set by the GM. Tying gets you half your ammo back, succeeding gets it all back, and succeeding with style gets you an Extra Ammo aspect.

You can create the Extra Ammo aspect with a create advantage action if you like, but you can only have one Extra Ammo aspect at a time. You can invoke it like any other aspect, but invoking it destroys the aspect and never costs a fate point. You can also invoke your Extra Ammo aspect to clear out the ammo track on one gun.

Ammo Aspects

If you want even more abstraction and less bookkeeping, treat ammo as a special aspect on each gun.

If you have a gun, that gun has a special Ammo aspect on it by default. As long as your gun has Ammo, you can shoot it. If you invoke your gun’s Ammo, it destroys the aspect and doesn’t cost a fate point, but otherwise has the same effect as invoking any other aspect (that is, a +2 or a reroll). In addition, if your gun is capable of spraying an area, you can invoke your gun’s Ammo to attack everyone in a zone. This uses up your gun’s Ammo aspect just like invoking it normally, but doesn’t get you the +2 or reroll.

When your gun runs dry, you can try to reload it. When you reload your gun, you’re creating a special advantage on it, trying to put the Ammo aspect back on the gun. Passive opposition for reloading is usually Mediocre (+0), but might be higher depending on the situation. If you fail, something prevented you from reloading. If you tie, you reload your gun but you’ve left yourself exposed or vulnerable; someone else gets a boost they can use against you. If you succeed, you’ve reloaded. You now have Ammo. If you succeed with style, you reload and get a boost.

Locked and Loaded

When it comes to Fate, ammo can be a contentious topic. The designers deliberately omitted a system of tracking ammo in Fate Core in favor of a more cinematic, faster-paced method of handling guns. Some people like complexity or tactical options or verisimilitude though; if you’re one of those people, then these optional rules are for you. Go forth and shoot things.