In a conflict, characters are actively trying to harm one another. It could be a fist fight, a shootout, or a sword duel. It could also be a tough interrogation, a psychic assault, or a shouting match with a loved one. As long as the characters involved have both the intent and the ability to harm one another, then you’re in a conflict scene.
Conflicts are either physical or mental in nature, based on the kind of harm you’re at risk of suffering. In physical conflicts, you suffer bruises, scrapes, cuts, and other injuries. In mental conflicts, you suffer loss of confidence and self-esteem, loss of composure, and other psychological trauma.
Setting up a conflict is a little more involved than setting up contests or challenges. Here are the steps:
- Set the scene, describing the environment the conflict takes place in, creating situation aspects and zones, and establishing who’s participating and what side they’re on.
- Determine the turn order.
- Start the first exchange:
- On your turn, take an action and then resolve it.
- On other people’s turns, defend or respond to their actions as necessary.
- At the end of everyone’s turn, start again with a new exchange.
You know the conflict is over when everyone on one of the sides has conceded or been taken out.
Setting the Scene
GMs and players, you should talk briefly before you start a conflict about the circumstances of the scene. This mainly involves coming up with quick answers to variations of the four W-questions, such as:
- Who’s in the conflict?
- Where are they positioned relative to one another?
- When is the conflict taking place? Is that important?
- What’s the environment like?
You don’t need an exhaustive amount of detail here, like precise measures of distance or anything like that. Just resolve enough to make it clear for everyone what’s going on.
GMs, you’re going to take this information and create situation aspects to help further define the arena of conflict.
Landon, Zird, and Cynere are breaking into a dockside warehouse in order to find smuggled goods on behalf of their latest employer. Unfortunately, someone tipped the smuggler off. Now Og, one of his thug lieutenants, is at the warehouse waiting for them to show up, and he brought along four friends.
The participants in the conflict are pretty obvious—the PCs, plus Og and four nameless enforcers, all NPCs under Amanda’s control. The warehouse is the environment, and the group takes a moment to talk about it—boxes and crates everywhere, large and open, there’s probably a second floor, and Amanda mentions the loading door is open because they’re waiting for a ship to come in.
GMs, when you’re setting the scene, keep an eye out for fun-sounding features of the environment to make into situation aspects, especially if you think someone might be able to take advantage of them in an interesting way in a conflict. Don’t overload it—find three to five evocative things about your conflict location and make them into aspects.
Good options for situation aspects include:
- Anything regarding the general mood, weather, or lighting—dark or badly lit, storming, creepy, crumbling, blindingly bright, etc.
- Anything that might affect or restrict movement—filthy, mud everywhere, slippery, rough, etc.
- Things to hide behind—vehicles, obstructions, large furniture, etc.
- Things you can knock over, wreck, or use as improvised weapons—bookshelves, statues, etc.
- Things that are flammable
Situation Aspects & Zones In Mental Conflicts
In a mental conflict, it might not always make sense to use situation aspects and zones to describe a physical space. It’d make sense in an interrogation, for example, where the physical features of the space create fear, but not in a really violent argument with a loved one. Also, when people are trying to hurt each other emotionally, usually they’re using their target’s own weaknesses against them—in other words, their own aspects.
So, you may not even need situation aspects or zones for a lot of mental conflicts. Don’t feel obligated to include them.
Considering our warehouse again, Amanda thinks about what might make good situation aspects.
She decides that there are enough crates in here to make free movement a potential problem, so she picks Heavy Crates and Cramped as aspects. The loading door is open, which means that there’s a large dock with water in it, so she also picks Open to the Water as a situation aspect, figuring that someone might try to knock someone in.
As the scene unfolds, players might suggest features of the environment that are perfect as aspects. If the GM described the scene as being poorly lit, a player should be able to invoke the Shadows to help on a Stealth roll even if she hadn’t previously established it as an aspect. If the feature would require some intervention on the part of the characters in the scene to become aspect-worthy, then that’s the purview of the create an advantage action. Usually the barn doesn’t catch On Fire! without someone kicking over the lantern. Usually.
GMs, if your conflict takes place over a large area, you may want to break it down into zones for easier reference.
A zone is an abstract representation of physical space. The best definition of a zone is that it’s close enough that you can interact directly with someone (in other words, walk up to and punch them in the face).
Generally speaking, a conflict should rarely involve more than a handful of zones. Two to four is probably sufficient, save for really big conflicts. This isn’t a miniatures board game—zones should give a tactile sense of the environment, but at the point where you need something more than a cocktail napkin to lay it out, you’re getting too complicated.
- If you can describe the area as bigger than a house, you can probably divide it into two or more zones—think of a cathedral or a shopping center parking lot.
- If it’s separated by stairs, a ladder, a fence, or a wall, it could be divided zones, like two floors of a house.
- “Above X” and “below X” can be different zones, especially if moving between them takes some doing—think of the airspace around something large, like a blimp.
When you’re setting up your zones, note any situation aspects that could make moving between those zones problematic. They’ll be important later, when people want to move from zone to zone. If that means you need more situation aspects, add them now.
Amanda decides the warehouse needs to be multiple zones. The main floor is big enough, in her mind, for two zones, and the Heavy Crates she mentioned earlier make it hard to freely move between them.
She knows there’s also a second floor ringing the inner walls, so she makes that an additional zone. She adds Ladder Access Only to the scene.
If, for some reason, someone decides to run outside, she figures that can be a fourth zone, but she doesn’t think she needs any aspects for it.
She sketches the rough map on an index card for everyone to see.
It’s important to know everyone’s goal in a conflict before you start. People fight for a reason, and if they’re willing to do harm, it’s usually an urgent reason.
The normal assumption is that the player characters are on one side, fighting against NPCs who are in opposition. It doesn’t always have to be that way, however—PCs can fight each other and be allied with NPCs against each other.
Make sure everyone agrees on the general goals of each side, who’s on which side, and where everyone is situated in the scene (like who’s occupying which zone) when the conflict begins.
It might also help, GMs, to decide how those groups are going to “divvy up” to face one another—is one character going to get mobbed by the bad guy’s henchmen, or is the opposition going to spread itself around equally among the PCs? You might change your mind once the action starts, but if you have a basic idea, it gives you a good starting point to work from.
In our continuing warehouse fight example, the sides are obvious—Og and his buddies want to do in the PCs, and the PCs want to keep that from happening.
Ryan asks Amanda about finding the smuggled goods, and Amanda replies, “If you think you can sneak in a moment during the fight to look for them, go for it. We’ll see what happens.”
The conflict starts with everyone on the main warehouse floor. Amanda decides that Og and one of his friends are going to go after Landon, two of the other thugs are going after Cynere, and the final one is going to chase after Zird.
Your turn order in a conflict is based on your skills. In a physical conflict, compare your Notice skill to the other participants. In a mental conflict, compare your Empathy skill. Whoever has the highest gets to go first, and then everyone else in descending order.
If there’s a tie, compare a secondary or tertiary skill. For physical conflicts, that’s Athletics, then Physique. For mental conflicts, Rapport, then Will.
GMs, for a simple option, pick your most advantageous NPC to determine your place in the turn order, and let all your NPCs go at that time.
Cynere has a Notice of Good (+3), higher than everyone else, so she goes first.
Zird has a Notice of Average (+1), so he goes second.
Landon and Og both lack the Notice skill. Landon has Athletics at Good (+3), and Og has it at Fair (+2), so Landon goes third and Og goes last.
Exchanges in a conflict are a little more complicated than in contests. In an exchange, every character gets a turn to take an action. GMs, you get to go once for every NPC you control in the conflict.
Most of the time, you’re going to be attacking another character or creating an advantage on your turn, because that’s the point of a conflict—take your opponent out, or set things up to make it easier to take your opponent out.
GMs, if you have a lot of nameless NPCs in your scene, feel free to have them use passive opposition to keep your dice rolling down. Also, consider using mobs instead of individual NPCs to keep things simple.
However, if you have a secondary objective in the conflict scene, you might need to roll an overcome action instead. You’ll encounter this most often if you want to move between zones but there’s a situation aspect in place making that problematic.
Regardless, you only get to make one skill roll on your turn in an exchange, unless you’re defending against someone else’s action—you can do that as many times as you want. You can even make defend actions on behalf of others, so long as you fulfill two conditions: it has to be reasonable for you to interpose yourself between the attack and its target, and you have to suffer the effects of any failed rolls.
If you want, you can forgo your action for the exchange to concentrate on defense. You don’t get to do anything proactive, but you do get to roll all defend actions for the exchange at a +2 bonus.
In the first exchange of our warehouse fight, Cynere goes first. Lily has Cynere attack the thug that’s eyeing her. That’s her action for the exchange—she can still roll to defend whenever she needs to, but she can’t do anything else proactive until her next turn.
On Ryan’s turn, he has Zird do a full defense—normally, he’d be able to defend and get an action this exchange, but instead, he gets a +2 to his defense rolls until his next turn.
On Lenny’s turn, he has Landon create an advantage by placing an aspect on Og called Hemmed In, hoping to corner him between some crates. That’s his action for the exchange.
Amanda goes last, and she just has all of her NPCs attack their chosen targets.
A successful attack lands a hit equivalent to its shift value on a target. So if you get three shifts on an attack, you land a 3-shift hit.
If you get hit by an attack, one of two things happen: either you absorb the hit and stay in the fight, or you’re taken out.
Fortunately, you have two options for absorbing hits to stay in the fight—you can take stress and/or consequences. You can also concede a conflict before you’re taken out, in order to preserve some control over what happens to your character.
If, for whatever reason, you want to forego your defense and take a hit (like, say, to interpose yourself in the path of an arrow that’s about to skewer your friend), you can.
Because you’re not defending, the attacker’s rolling against Mediocre (+0) opposition, which means you’re probably going to take a bad hit.
One of your options to mitigate the effect of a hit is to take stress.
The best way to understand stress is that it represents all the various reasons why you just barely avoid taking the full force of an attack. Maybe you twist away from the blow just right, or it looks bad but is really just a flesh wound, or you exhaust yourself diving out of the way at the last second.
Mentally, stress could mean that you just barely manage to ignore an insult, or clamp down on an instinctive emotional reaction, or something like that.
Stress boxes also represent a loss of momentum—you only have so many last-second saves in you before you’ve got to face the music.
On your character sheet, you have a number of stress boxes, each with a different shift value. By default, all characters get a 1-point and a 2-point box. You may get additional, higher-value stress boxes depending on some of your skills (usually Physique and Will).
When you take stress, check off a stress box with a value equal to the shift value of the hit. If that box is already checked, check off a higher value box. If there is no higher available box, and you can’t take any consequences, you’re taken out of the conflict.
You can only check off one stress box per hit.
Remember that you have two sets of stress boxes! One of these is for physical stress, the other for mental; you’ll start with a 1-shift and a 2-shift box in each of these. If you take stress from a physical source, you check off a physical stress box. If it’s a mental hit, check off a mental stress box.
After a conflict, when you get a minute to breathe, any stress boxes you checked off become available for your use again.
Og batters Landon with a whopping 3-shift hit on this exchange, wielding a giant club with spikes.
Looking at his character sheet, Lenny sees that he’s only got two stress boxes left—a 2-point and a 4-point.
Because his 3-point box is already checked, the hit must be absorbed by a higher-value box. He reluctantly checks off the 4-point box.
Amanda and Lenny describe the outcome—Landon gets his sword up just in time to barely deflect a blow that shatters a nearby crate, peppering Landon’s face with splintered wood. One inch closer, and it might have been his face that got splintered.
Landon has one more stress box on his sheet, a 2-shift box. That means his reserves are almost gone, and the next major hit he takes is going to hurt bad....
The second option you have for mitigating a hit is taking a consequence. A consequence is more severe than stress—it represents some form of lasting injury or setback that you accrue from the conflict, something that’s going to be a problem for your character after the conflict is over.
Consequences come in three levels of severity—mild, moderate, and severe. Each one has a different shift value: two, four, and six, respectively. On your character sheet, you have a number of available consequence slots, in this section:
[Your character sheet image here] [Image to come. -Site editor]
When you use a consequence slot, you reduce the shift value of the attack by the shift value of the consequence. You can use more than one consequence at a time if they’re available. Any of the hit’s remaining shifts must be handled by a stress box to avoid being taken out.
However, there’s a penalty. The consequence written in the slot is an aspect that represents the lasting effect incurred from the attack. The opponent who forced you to take a consequence gets a free invocation, and the aspect remains on your character sheet until you’ve recovered the consequence slot. While it’s on your sheet, the consequence is treated like any other aspect, except because the slant on it is so negative, it’s far more likely to be used to your character’s detriment.
Unlike stress, a consequence slot may take a long time to recover after the conflict is over. Also unlike stress, you only have one set of consequences; there aren’t specific slots for physical versus mental consequences. This means that, if you have to take a mild consequence to reduce a mental hit and your mild consequence slot is already filled with a physical consequence, you’re out of luck! You’re going to have to use a moderate or severe consequence to absorb that hit (assuming you have one left). The exception to this is the extra consequence slot you would get from a Superb (+5) Physique or Will is reserved for physical or mental harm, respectively.
Still, it’s better than being taken out, right?
Cynere gets teamed up on by three of the thugs during this exchange, and with the help of a huge die roll and some situation aspects, they manage to land a 6-shift attack on her. She’s escaped harm so far this fight, and still has all her stress boxes and consequences available.
She has two ways to take the hit. She could take one severe consequence, which negates 6 stress. She could also take a moderate consequence (4 stress) and use her 2-point stress box.
She decides that it’s not likely she’s going to get hit for that much again, so she takes the severe consequence to keep her stress track open for smaller hits.
Amanda and Lily agree to call the severe consequence Nearly Gutted. Cynere takes a wicked slash from one of the thugs’ swords, gritting her teeth through the pain....
Naming a Consequence
Here are some guidelines for choosing what to name a consequence:
Mild consequences don’t require immediate medical attention. They hurt, and they may present an inconvenience, but they aren’t going to force you into a lot of bed rest. On the mental side, mild consequences express things like small social gaffes or changes in your surface emotions. Examples: Black Eye, Bruised Hand, Winded, Flustered, Cranky, Temporarily Blinded.
Moderate consequences represent fairly serious impairments that require dedicated effort toward recovery (including medical attention). On the mental side, they express things like damage to your reputation or emotional problems that you can’t just shrug off with an apology and a good night’s sleep. Examples: Deep Cut, First Degree Burn, Exhausted, Drunk, Terrified.
Severe consequences go straight to the emergency room (or whatever the equivalent is in your game)—they’re extremely nasty and prevent you from doing a lot of things, and will lay you out for a while. On the mental side, they express things like serious trauma or relationship-changing harm. Examples: Second-Degree Burn, Compound Fracture, Guts Hanging Out, Crippling Shame, Trauma-Induced Phobia.
What Skill Do I Use For Recovery?
In Hearts of Steel, physical recovery can only happen through the use of a Lore stunt, which Zird the Arcane has taken. This makes physical fights dangerous and suggests that actual medical training is quite rare. For mental recovery, use the Empathy skill.
If you want it to be easier to help people recover physically, you could add it as a default action to a skill. Lore is a good default option, but it could be seen as a function of Crafts, too. It might even be important enough in your game to add a Medic or Survival skill.
Likewise, if you want to restrict access to mental recovery, make it an Empathy or Rapport stunt, rather than having it built in to a skill.
Recovering from a Consequence
In order to regain the use of a consequence slot, you have to recover from the consequence. That requires two things—succeeding at an action that allows you to justify recovery, and then waiting an appropriate amount of game time for that recovery to take place.
The action in question is an overcome action; the obstacle is the consequence that you took. If it’s a physical injury, then the action is some kind of medical treatment or first aid. For mental consequences, the action may involve therapy, counseling, or simply a night out with friends.
The difficulty for this obstacle is based on the shift value of the consequence. Mild is Fair (+2), moderate is Great (+4), and severe is Fantastic (+6). If you are trying to perform the recovery action on yourself, increase the difficulty by two steps on the ladder.
Keep in mind that the circumstances have to be appropriately free of distraction and tension for you to make this roll in the first place—you’re not going to clean and bandage a nasty cut while ogres are tromping through the caves looking for you. GMs, you’ve got the final judgment call.
If you succeed at the recovery action, or someone else succeeds on a recovery action for you, you get to rename the consequence aspect to show that it’s in recovery. So, for example, Broken Leg could become Stuck in a Cast, Scandalized could become Damage Control, and so on. This doesn’t free up the consequence slot, but it serves as an indicator that you’re recovering, and it changes the ways the aspect’s going to be used while it remains.
Whether you change the consequence’s name or not—and sometimes it might not make sense to do so—mark it with a star so that everyone remembers that recovery has started.
Then, you just have to wait the time.
- For a mild consequence, you only have to wait one whole scene after the recovery action, and then you can remove the aspect and clear the slot.
- For a moderate consequence, you have to wait one whole session after the recovery action (which means if you do the recovery action in the middle of a session, you should recover sometime in the middle of next session).
- For a severe consequence, you have to wait one whole scenario after the recovery action.
Cynere ended up with the severe consequence Nearly Gutted as the result of the fight.
Back at the inn, Zird attempts to bandage up the cut. He has a stunt called, “Scholar, Healer” which allows him to use his Lore skill for recovery obstacles. He makes his Lore roll at a difficulty of Fantastic (+6) and succeeds.
This allows Cynere’s Nearly Gutted aspect to be renamed Bandaged and start the recovery process. After the next whole scenario, she’ll be able to erase that aspect from her sheet and use her severe consequence again in a subsequent conflict.
Potions and Other Insta-Healing
Many genres have some sort of mechanism by which characters can quickly recover from injuries. Fantasy settings have the ubiquitous healing potion or spell. Sci-fi has superscience dermal regenerators or biogel. Usually, these mechanisms exists because many games express injuries in terms of a constant numerical penalty that drastically affects a character’s effectiveness.
In Fate, however, a consequence is largely just like any other aspect. It only comes into play when someone pays a fate point to invoke it (after the initial free invoke, of course), or when it’s compelled.
At best, powerful healing should simply eliminate the need to roll for a recovery action, or should reduce the severity of a consequence by one level or more. So, a healing potion might turn a severe consequence into a moderate one, making the recovery time much shorter. The PC should have to spend at least one scene where the consequence could affect things, before you let it go away.
In addition to the normal set of mild, moderate, and severe consequences, every PC also gets one last-ditch option to stay in a fight—the extreme consequence. Between major milestones, you can only use this option once.
An extreme consequence will absorb up to 8-shifts of a hit, but at a very serious cost—you must replace one of your aspects (except the high concept, that’s off limits) with the extreme consequence. That’s right, an extreme consequence is so serious that taking it literally changes who you are.
Unlike other consequences, you can’t make a recovery action to diminish an extreme consequence—you’re stuck with it until your next major milestone. After that, you can rename the extreme consequence to reflect that you’re no longer vulnerable to the worst of it, as long as you don’t just switch it out for whatever your old aspect was. Taking an extreme consequence is a permanent character change; treat it as such.
Conceding the Conflict
When all else fails, you can also just give in. Maybe you’re worried that you can’t absorb another hit, or maybe you decide that continuing to fight is just not worth the punishment. Whatever the reason, you can interrupt any action at any time before the roll is made to declare that you concede the conflict. This is super-important—once dice hit the table, what happens happens, and you’re either taking more stress, suffering more consequences, or getting taken out.
Concession gives the other person what they wanted from you, or in the case of more than two combatants, removes you as a concern for the opposing side. You’re out of the conflict, period.
But it’s not all bad. First of all, you get a fate point for choosing to concede. On top of that, if you’ve sustained any consequences in this conflict, you get an additional fate point for each consequence. These fate points may be used once this conflict is over.
Second of all, you get to avoid the worst parts of your fate. Yes, you lost, and the narration has to reflect that. But you can’t use this privilege to undermine the opponent’s victory, either—what you say happens has to pass muster with the group.
That can make the difference between, say, being mistakenly left for dead and ending up in the enemy’s clutches, in shackles, without any of your stuff—the sort of thing that can happen if you’re taken out instead. That’s not nothing.
Og proves to be too much for Landon to handle in the warehouse conflict, having hit with several devastating attacks in the course of the fight.
Before Amanda’s next turn, Lenny says, “I concede. I don’t want to risk any more consequences.”
Landon’s taken both a mild and a moderate consequence. He gets a fate point for conceding, as well as two more fate points for the two consequences he took, giving him three total.
Amanda says, “So, what are you trying to avoid here?”
Lenny says, “Well, I don’t want to get killed or captured, for starters.”
Amanda chuckles and says, “Fair enough. So, we’ll say that Og knocks you out cold and doesn’t bother to finish you off, because he still has Cynere and Zird to deal with. He may even think you’re dead. I feel like the loss needs some more teeth, though. Hm...”
Ryan pipes up with, “How about he takes your sword as a trophy?”
Amanda nods. “Yeah, that’s good. He knocks you out, spits on you, and takes your sword.”
Lenny says, “Bastard! I’m so getting him back for that one...”
Further Clarification on Conceding vs getting Taken Out
The following text is from a comment in the Fate Core Google+ Community by Leonard Balsera.
Concession, as a mechanic, specifically faces outward to the real people playing. It's explicitly about the parsing of narrative authority over the fate of the character post-conflict, and nothing else.
Characters do not concede. People do.
So it's basically like this:
The consequence of getting taken out is that the chief advocate for that character (GM included) gets no say over the fate of that character after that scene. Theoretically, anyone who takes anyone out in a physical conflict could follow that up with, "...and I kill you," and barring social contract disruptions in the group, that assertion stands.
If you concede before you get taken out, you as the chief advocate have the final word over the fate of the character after that scene. The bit that's up for negotiation is how we express the terms of your defeat in the fiction, but the chief advocate gets the last word.
Personally, I think the book makes that distinction pretty clear, and I think in practice it's pretty clear if you prioritize the rules over your own group's particular cultural expectations from prior RPG play. I'm biased about the text because I wrote it, and I know in practice that the degree people are gonna choose their local culture of play over the game as it's designed varies, and, like, that's okay. Do what you like and what's fun for you.
But for the folks who want to explore what emerges from hardcore RAW, here are some things that might help perspective-wise:
1.) Fate deliberately stands in contradiction to the tradition of playing out a conflict until its mechanical end point. If you don't want to lose control over the fate of your character, you should never fight until you're taken out, period.
2.) The GM is not exempt from the concession vs. taken out rule—like, part of the reason the rule exists is for GMs to preserve NPCs they want to use later. Fate explicitly prioritizes playing to find out what happens over playing to jump through the GM's hoops. If your plan hinges on an NPC's survival, GMs, you're probably bringing scenario prep ideas from other games into Fate.
3.) You have to fully justify all terms of a concession in the fiction. So in a scene where one of the terms is, "and the NPC escapes," part of the material you make up is why the PC's don't just keep up the pursuit. So if the player says, "Why don't I just jump out the window and go after them?" the response should be, "Good question. Why don't you just jump out the window and go after them?" and work together to make up why.
4.) Conflict is serious business, moreso than it may seem. It's a scene where you can lose authority over what happens to your character. Treating it as such elevates the stakes and tension of Fate play.
5.) The social contract trumps all rules. The fact that the GM will seldom respond to taking a PC out with, "...and the NPC kills you" isn't because the rules don't let her. Explicitly, the rules let her. She doesn't do that because she knows that would kill the fun for her players.
Getting Taken Out
If you don’t have any stress or consequences left to buy off all the shifts of a hit, that means you’re taken out.
Taken out is bad—it means not only that you can’t fight anymore, but that the person who took you out gets to decide what your loss looks like and what happens to you after the conflict. Obviously, they can’t narrate anything that’s out of scope for the conflict (like having you die from shame), but that still gives someone else a lot of power over your character that you can’t really do anything about.
So, if you think about it, there’s not a whole lot keeping someone from saying, after taking you out, that your character dies. If you’re talking about a physical conflict where people are using nasty sharp weapons, it certainly seems reasonable that one possible outcome of defeat is your character getting killed.
In practice, though, this assumption might be pretty controversial depending on what kind of group you’re in. Some people think that character death should always be on the table, if the rules allow it—if that’s how the dice fall, then so be it.
Others are more circumspect, and consider it very damaging to their fun if they lose a character upon whom they’ve invested hours and hours of gameplay, just because someone spent a lot of fate points or their die rolls were particularly unlucky.
The latter approach is recommended, mainly for the following reason: most of the time, sudden character death is a pretty boring outcome when compared to putting the character through hell. On top of that, all the story threads that character was connected to just kind of stall with no resolution, and you have to expend a bunch of effort and time figuring out how to get a new character into play mid-stride.
That doesn’t mean there’s no room for character death in the game, however. It is recommended that you save that possibility for conflicts that are extremely pivotal, dramatic, and meaningful for that character—in other words, conflicts in which that character would knowingly and willingly risk dying in order to win. Players and GMs, if you’ve got the feeling that you’re in that kind of conflict, talk it out when you’re setting the scene and see how people feel.
At the very least, even if you’re in a hardcore group that invites the potential for character death on any taken out result, make sure that you telegraph the opponent’s lethal intent. GMs, this is especially important for you, so the players will know which NPCs really mean business, and can concede to keep their characters alive if need be.
In a conflict, it’s important to track where everyone is relative to one another, which is why the environment is divided into zones. Where you have zones, you have people trying to move around in them in order to get at one another or at a certain objective.
Normally, it’s no big deal to move from one zone to another—if there’s nothing preventing you from doing so, you can move one zone in addition to your action for the exchange.
If you want to move more than one zone (up to anywhere else on the map), if a situation aspect suggests that it might be difficult to move freely, or if another character is in your way, then you must make an overcome action using Athletics to move. This counts as your action for the exchange.
GMs, just as with other overcome rolls, you’ll set the difficulty. You might use the number of zones the character is moving or the situation aspects in the way as justification for how high you set passive opposition. If another character is impeding the path, roll active opposition and feel free to invoke obstructing situation aspects in aid of their defense.
If you fail that roll, whatever was impeding you keeps you from moving. If you tie, you get to move, but your opponent takes a temporary advantage of some kind. If you succeed, you move without consequence. If you succeed with style, you can claim a boost in addition to your movement.
In our continuing warehouse conflict, Cynere wants to go after one of Og’s thugs, who has started shooting arrows down from the second floor. That requires her to cross one zone to get to the access ladder for the second floor, and then climb it, making her opponent two zones away.
She’s currently mixing it up with a thug herself, whose Fight is at Fair (+2).
Lily tells Amanda her intent, and Amanda says, “Okay, the thug you’re fighting is going to try and keep you from getting away, so he’s going to provide active opposition.”
Cynere’s Athletics is Great (+4). She rolls and gets +0, for a Great result. The thug rolls his opposition, and rolls –1, for a result of Average (+1). That gives Cynere three shifts, and a success with style.
Lily and Amanda describe Cynere faking out the thug, vaulting over a crate, and taking the ladder two rungs at a time to get up top. She takes a boost, which she calls Momentum.
The thug up top swallows hard, bringing his crossbow to bear...
Advantages in a Conflict
Remember that aspects you create as advantages follow all the rules for situation aspects—the GM can use them to justify overcome actions, they last until they’re made irrelevant or the scene is over, and in some cases they represent as much a threat to you as an opponent.
When you create an advantage in a conflict, think about how long you want that aspect to stick around and whom you want to have access to it. It’s difficult for anyone besides you and your friends to justify using an advantage you stick to a character, but it’s also easier to justify getting rid of it—one overcome action could undo it. It’s harder to justify getting rid of an aspect on the environment (seriously, who is going to move that Huge Bookcase you just knocked over?), but anyone in the scene could potentially find a reason to take advantage of it.
Cover Fire and Other Impositions
When you’re trying to prevent someone else from getting attacked, the main way to do it is by creating an advantage. You can pass your buddy the invocation and make it harder to hit them.
You could also put yourself directly between the attack and the intended target, such that the bad guy has to get through you to get to your buddy. Then you’re just defending as normal and taking the stress and consequences yourself.
If you want to defend other people without directly interposing yourself between them and the attack, you’ll need a stunt.
In terms of options for advantages, the sky’s the limit. Pretty much any situational modifier you can think of can be expressed as an advantage. If you’re stuck for an idea, here are some examples:
- Temporary Blinding: Throwing sand or salt in the enemy’s eyes is a classic action staple. This places a Blinded aspect on a target, which could require them to get rid of the aspect with an overcome action before doing anything dependent on sight. Blinded might also present opportunities for a compel, so keep in mind that your opponent can take advantage of this to replenish fate points.
- Disarming: You knock an opponent’s weapon away, disarming them until they can recover it. The target will need an overcome action to recover their weapon.
- Positioning: There are a lot of ways to use advantages to represent positioning, like High Ground or Cornered, which you can invoke to take advantage of that positioning as context demands.
- Winded and Other Minor Hurts: Some strikes in a fight are debilitating because they’re painful, rather than because they cause injury. Nerve hits, groin shots, and a lot of other “dirty fighting” tricks fall into this category. You can use an advantage to represent these, sticking your opponent with Pain-Blindness or Stunned or whatever, then following up with an attack that exploits the aspect to do more lasting harm.
- Taking Cover: You can use advantages to represent positions of cover and invoke them for your defense. This can be as general as Found Some Cover or as specific as Behind the Big Oak Bar.
- Altering the Environment: You can use advantages to alter the environment to your benefit, creating barriers to movement by scattering Loose Junk everywhere, or setting things On Fire. That last one is a favorite in Fate.
Other Actions in a Conflict
As stated above, you may find yourself in a situation where you want to do something else while your friends are fighting. You might be disarming a death trap, searching for a piece of information, or checking for hidden assailants.
In order to do this, GMs, set the player up with a modified form of challenge. One of the tasks is likely “defend yourself”—in any exchange where someone attacks you or tries to create an advantage on you, you must defend successfully in order to be able to take one of the other actions in the challenge. So long as no one has successfully attacked you or stuck an advantage on you, you can use your action to roll for one of the challenge goals.
Sometimes it just makes sense that your character is doing something else in conjunction with or as a step toward their action in an exchange. You quick-draw a weapon before you use it, you shout a warning before you kick in a door, or you quickly size up a room before you attack. These little bits of action are colorful description more than anything else, meant to add atmosphere to the scene.
GMs, don’t fall into the trap of trying to police every little detail of a player’s description. Remember, if there’s no significant or interesting opposition, you shouldn’t require a roll—just let the players accomplish what they say they do. Reloading a gun or fishing for something in your backpack is part of performing the action. You shouldn’t require any mechanics to deal with that.
Cynere is trying to get a door open so that she and her friends can escape into an ancient vault rather than fighting off endless hordes of temple guardians.
Amanda says, “Well, let’s call it a Fair (+2) Crafts action to get the door open, and a Fair (+2) Physique roll to push it open enough to slide through, because it’s one of those heavy vault doors. The other action is defending yourself.”
On that exchange, Cynere successfully defends against an attack, so she uses her action to pick the lock. She fails, and decides to succeed at a cost. Amanda figures the easiest thing is to hit her with a consequence because she’s in a fight. So she gets the door open, but not before one of the temple guardians gives her a Gouged Leg.
On the next exchange, she fails to defend against an attack, so she doesn’t get to roll for the challenge.
On the third exchange, she defends and succeeds with style at the Physique roll to get the door open. She signals to her friends and takes a Head Start boost, because it’s about to be a chase…
Ending a Conflict
Under most circumstances, when all of the members of one side have either conceded the conflict or have been taken out, the conflict is over.
GMs, once you know a conflict has definitively ended, you can pass out all the fate points earned from concession. Players, take the fate points for when your aspects were invoked against you, make a note of whatever consequences you suffered in the fight, and erase any checks in your stress boxes.
After much struggle and insanity, the warehouse conflict is finally over. Amanda concedes the conflict on behalf of Og and his remaining thug, meaning that the PCs stay alive and can proceed to check out the smuggled goods they were interested in.
Because it was a concession, Og gets away to fight another day. Because Lenny conceded to Amanda in an earlier example, Og also gets away with Landon’s sword as a personal trophy.
Because Lenny conceded, he gets fate points. One for conceding, and another two for the mild and moderate consequences he took in the conflict. All the invocations used against him were free, so that’s all he gets. Three fate points.
Ryan gets two fate points, because Amanda let one of the thugs invoke his Not the Face! twice against him during the conflict.
Lily gets no fate points, because all the invocations against her were free, from advantages and boosts. Because she won, she doesn’t get awarded for the consequences she took.
Transitioning to a Contest or Challenge
You may find yourself in a conflict scene where the participants are no longer interested in or willing to harm one another, because of some change in the circumstances. If that happens, and there’s still more to resolve, you can transition straight into a contest or challenge as you need. In that case, hold off on awarding the end-of-conflict fate points and whatnot until you’ve also resolved the contest or challenge.
In an earlier example, Cynere managed to get a vault door open so the three PCs could escape an endless horde of temple guardians. They all decide to run and try to lose them.
Now, the guardians and the PCs have mutually opposing goals but can’t harm one another, so now it’s a contest. Instead of running the next exchange, Amanda just starts setting up for the chase.
Even though the PCs have some consequences and are due some fate points, they won’t get them until after they get away, or if they get caught.