Whenever two or more characters have mutually exclusive goals, but they aren’t trying to harm each other directly, they’re in a contest. Arm wrestling matches, races or other sports competitions, and public debates are all good examples of contests.
Setting Up A Contest
GMs, answer the following questions when you’re setting up a contest:
- What are the “sides”? Is every character in the contest in it for herself, or are there groups of people opposing other groups? If you have multiple characters on a side, they roll together using the teamwork rules.
- What environment does the contest take place in? Are there any significant or notable features of that environment you want to define as situation aspects?
- How are the participants opposing each other? Are they rolling against each other directly (like in a straight sprint race or a poker match), or are they trying to overcome something in the environment (like an obstacle course or a panel of judges)?
- What skills are appropriate for this contest? Does everyone have to roll the same one, or do several apply?
Zird the Arcane has been felled in a battle with a shadowy group of assassins who ambushed him and Cynere just outside of town! Cynere finishes off the last of them, ending the conflict, then starts toward her fallen friend.
That’s when the assassins’ leader, a cutpurse she knows well as Teran the Swift, blinks in with teleportation magic next to Zird’s unconscious form! He starts casting another teleportation spell, clearly intending to leave with Zird. Cynere breaks into a run. Can she get there before Teran finishes his spell?
Amanda looks through the questions for setting up the contest.
The previous conflict scene had a situation aspect of Muddy Ground, so she decides to keep that in play.
Clearly, Teran and Cynere are directly opposing each other, so they’ll be providing active opposition.
Teran’s going to be rolling his Lore skill for the contest, because he’s casting a spell. Because this is a pretty straightforward movement-related situation for Cynere, Amanda and Lily agree that Athletics is the most appropriate skill to roll.
Now you can get started.
A Series of Exchanges
A contest proceeds in a series of exchanges. In an exchange, every participant gets to make one skill roll to determine how well they do in that leg of the contest. This is basically an overcome action.
Players, when you make a contest roll, compare your result to everyone else’s.
- If you got the highest result, you win the exchange. If you’re rolling directly against the other participants, then that means you got the highest rank on the ladder out of everyone. If you’re all rolling against something in the environment, it means you got the most shifts out of everyone. Winning the exchange means you score a victory (which you can just represent with a tally mark or check mark on scratch paper) and describe how you take the lead.
- If you succeed with style and no one else does, then you get to mark two victories.
- If there’s a tie for the highest result, no one gets a victory, and an unexpected twist occurs. This could mean several things depending on the situation—the terrain or environment shifts somehow, the parameters of the contest change, or an unanticipated variable shows up and affects all the participants. GMs, you should create a new situation aspect reflecting this change.
- The first participant to achieve three victories wins the contest.
ERRATA: The example below that features Cynere from the SRD is technically incorrect. See the official Fate errata by Evil Hat. "We plan to rewrite this for the PDF at the least, but we were too slow to catch it before the book went to press. The example will show Cynere not succeeding with style in her second exchange, just succeeding normally; then everything proceeds as written, with her double-invoke getting a SWS result and a total of three victories."
Cynere has Athletics at Great (+4). Teran has Lore at Good (+3).
In the first exchange, Lily rolls poorly for Cynere and ends up with an Average (+1). Amanda rolls a 0 on the dice and stays at Good (+3). Amanda wins, so Teran wins the exchange and takes 1 victory. Amanda describes Teran completing the first major rune of the spell, raising a lambent green glow into the air.
In the second exchange, Lily turns the tables, rolling exceptionally well and getting a Superb (+5), whereas Amanda only gets a Fair (+2) for Teran. That’s a success with style, so Lily picks up two victories and the lead. Lily describes Cynere in a full-on sprint, bearing down on Teran.
In the third exchange, they tie at Good (+3)! Amanda now has to introduce an unexpected twist into the contest. She thinks about it for a moment, and says, “Okay, so it looks like some of the various magical reagents on Zird’s belt pouch are reacting weirdly with the magic of Teran’s spell, throwing Magical Distortions into the air.” She writes down that situation aspect on an index card and puts it on the table.
In the fourth exchange, they tie again, this time at Great (+4). Lily says, “Forget this noise. I want to invoke two aspects—one, because I have I’ve Got Zird’s Back on my sheet, and Magical Distortions, because I figure that they’re going to interfere more with his spellcasting than my running.” She passes Amanda two fate points.
That puts her final result at Legendary (+8), another success with style and another two victories. That gives her four victories to Teran’s one, and she wins the exchange and the contest!
Amanda and Lily describe how she snatches Zird just before Teran finishes his spell, and he teleports away without his prize.
Creating Advantages in a Contest
During any exchange, you can try to create an advantage before you make your contest roll. If you’re targeting another participant, they get to defend normally. If someone can interfere with your attempt, they provide active opposition as normal.
Doing this carries an additional risk—failing to create an advantage means you forfeit your contest roll, which means there’s no way you can make progress in the current exchange. If you at least tie, you get to make your contest roll normally.
If you’re providing a bonus via the Teamwork rules, failing to create an advantage means the lead character doesn’t benefit from your help this exchange.
Cynere tries to throw mud in the eyes of Teran the Swift as she’s running to save Zird. Lily says she wants to create an advantage, with Teran as her target and a new aspect called Mud in the Eyes.
She rolls Athletics to create the advantage and gets a Great (+4). Teran rolls Athletics to defend and gets a Good (+3).
Teran gets mud in his eyes as Cynere intended, and Lily marks that she has a free invocation on it.
Because Lily didn’t fail, she gets to make her contest roll normally. Amanda decides that being semi-blinded isn’t going to stop Teran from continuing to cast, so he also gets to roll normally.
Attacks in a Contest
If someone tries to attack in a contest, then they’re doing direct harm, and it ceases to be a contest. You should immediately stop what you’re doing and start setting up for a conflict instead.