Fate Space Toolkit
Extras in a science fiction game can be particularly useful for representing special abilities, advanced technology, spaceships, and star-spanning organizations that can affect play. When designing a setting, look to extras as the way to portray things that make the setting unique. Fate Core (page 269) gives lots of guidance about creating extras.
High technology can be an extra that allows players to gain stunts representing weapons or tools that might not be generally available, such as a blaster from a higher-tech world, illegal neuro-mods that allow the user to read surface thoughts of those around her, a universal language translator (in a game where language differences are an obstacle), an alien serum that provokes rapid healing, or a personal, portable spacesuit. An extra representing an object can always be compelled to be stolen, borrowed, misappropriated, or otherwise taken out of the character’s hands, at least temporarily.
Technological artifacts can be assigned a tech level, an aspect that reflects its relative technological or scientific sophistication. When used against more primitive artifacts, the more sophisticated artifact grants its user an advantage with one free invocation per scene, or two free invocations if the tech level difference is three or more.
The most basic or earliest types of tools capable of the task
Out-of-date and obsolete tools
Slightly dated technology, relatively inefficient or early-stage design
Standard technology for the setting
Refinements of existing tools and techniques
Tech which incorporates newly discovered principles or innovative design elements
Tech so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic
The tech level also represents a difficulty—with Primitive equivalent to Mediocre (+0) and Incomprehensible equivalent to Fantastic (+6)—against attempts to overcome defenses operating at that level of technological sophistication.
Tech level can also be used to define the effect floor or effect ceiling—in other words, the minimum (on a successful attack or overcome action) or maximum (on a successful defend action) number of shifts of effect possible when using an artifact for its intended purpose. In general, effect ceilings (defenses) trump effect floors (attacks) unless the attacker succeeds with style, in which case the ceiling is ignored. Effect floors and ceilings are described more in the Fate System Toolkit (page 70).
You can apply tech levels, described in the previous section, to specific types of artifacts, creating tool classes to systematize how a given piece of technology affects individual actions. Instead of having a single tech level that defines the effectiveness of all equipment produced by a society or culture, you can separate its different types of tools—its guns, armor, power sources, communicators, and so forth—into different tech levels.
- Armor: Personal protective gear can be given an Armor rating* or damage ceiling.** Generally, armor protects against physical attacks, but certain kinds of drugs or hypno-conditioning might be available to protect against mental or social attacks.
- Communicators: Equipment for transmitting and receiving messages allows for characters to interact. If you wish to reflect the issues of using communications technology with limited bandwidth that lacks immediacy and presence, you can give the device an effect ceiling that restricts the maximum shifts of its result when you use it to act with Rapport, Provoke, Deceive, and other interpersonal skills. Operating communicators to reach distant stations or penetrate jamming may require overcoming with Lore, with the device’s rating acting as the effect floor. Jamming is technically a defend action, and may require specialized equipment.
- Firearms: Ranged weapons used with Shoot can be given a Weapon rating* or damage floor.**
- Hand Weapons: Melee weapons used with Fight can be given a Weapon rating* or damage floor.**
- Heavy Weapons: Artillery and other ranged weapons used with a skill other than Shoot that reflects technical expertise, such as Crafts (Engineering), can be given a Weapon rating* or damage floor.**
- Mobility: Jetpacks, grav skates, personal ornithopters, hoverbikes, and similar devices. Define a given mobility device according to its relevant skill, which may be Athletics, Lore, Drive, Spacehand, or Crafts. You can give it an effect floor that establishes the minimum number of zones it allows the user to cross on a successful overcome action. Certain devices are designed for particular environments or circumstances—ice, water, space (zero-gee), paved surfaces, and so forth. Countermobility devices may be used to establish barriers that make crossing zone boundaries more difficult.
- Power Sources: Batteries, capacitors, fuel cells, turbines, and other power sources can be treated as pools of fate points available for invoking aspects related to the things they power. In essence, the power source consists of a high concept, such as Antimatter Reactor Core, and a refresh rating.
- Sensors: Scanning devices, analyzers, and similar equipment used in Notice or Investigate actions. Use the device’s rating as an effect floor for the shifts of result, indicating the range and sensitivity of the device. Successful use typically creates an advantage related to characteristics of the object of the scan or conditions in the scanned environment.
- Spacesuits: Personal life-support systems to protect spacers from vacuum conditions, including low pressure, lack of breathable air, and the difficulty in disposing waste heat—cooling systems are important in space. If the suit is particularly cumbersome, you can use its rating as an effect ceiling for overcome actions with Athletics. As spacesuit technology improves, it provides extended duration, better protection from radiation, and greater ease of use. More sophisticated models will include built-in armor, sensors and communicators, mobility devices, and possibly even weapons.
In a setting where modern-day humans have to deal with aliens in UFOs, the humans’ gunpowder-using guns and artillery are each treated as a Primitive (+0) tool class, while the aliens’ energy blasters are Conventional (+3) and their hypercannons are Bleeding-Edge (+5).
In play, characters use Shoot to fire guns and blasters and a setting-specific Heavy Weapons skill to operate artillery and hypercannons, but those using an alien weapon get to use its tech level bonus as a weapon rating, adding to the shifts of effect of a successful attack. The humans will have to get to work developing armor to protect themselves!
Alternately, the effectiveness of a tool class available to a character can be treated as an extra, with the shifts of effect for a tool class determined by the number of stunts spent to gain access to the device by the character, one stunt giving two shifts of effect, two stunts giving four shifts of effect, and so on.
In a setting where aliens from across the galaxy participate in an interstellar grand prix, PCs spend stunts to build their ships as technology. One ship may have an Advanced (+4) engine (2 stunts) but Old-Fashioned (+2) sensors (1 stunt), while another may have an Incomprehensible (+6) propulsion system (3 stunts) that puts the rest of the field to shame. In this setting, a ship’s technology sets an effect floor for the use of a character skill; any success with Pilot, for example, will be at least as effective as the tech level of the propulsion system.
Extra: Cold Fusion Cell
Permissions: Access to a cold fusion cell.
Effect: You have access to a cheap and reliable Cold Fusion Cell with a refresh of 2. Its fate points can be spent to invoke aspects related to channeling power to connected technological artifacts. Its power output can be manipulated with Lore, creating advantages such as More Power!
Extra: Near-Future EVA Suit
Permissions: Access to a functioning EVA suit.
Effect: You are wearing a specially equipped Extra-Vehicular Activity Suit suitable for extended spacewalks. It protects against threats related to exposure to vacuum, with a Good (+3) Duration of several hours, and Fair (+2) Mobility in zero-gravity with its built-in thrusters. It has only an Average (+1) Communicator, a voice-only link with a controller back inside the ship.
Military, Naval, or Official Rank
In settings where characters might be serving in some official capacity as part of a more or less hierarchical organization, and want to be able to use that authority, the Rank skill can be a useful extra. Characters who have an aspect specifying their rank, title, or position gain access to the Rank skill as an extra.
Military organizations are frequently divided into enlisted and commissioned (or “officer”) ranks. Lower enlisted ranks are the rank and file of the organization; senior enlisted ranks are noncommissioned officers with technical, administrative, and day-to-day supervisory expertise and responsibility. Officer ranks tend to be charged with command, planning, and organizational management.
There are, of course, other hierarchies to which a character may belong: an order of space knights, perhaps, or the diplomatic corps of a star-spanning regime, or even the management of an interstellar trading company.
Far-Future Space Navy Ranks
Enlisted: Astronaut Recruit, Astronaut 4th Class, Astronaut 3rd Class, Astronaut 2nd Class, Astronaut 1st Class, Assistant Chief Astronaut, Chief Astronaut, Senior Chief Astronaut, Master Chief Astronaut
Officer: Ensign, Junior Lieutenant, Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander, Commander, Captain, Commodore, Admiral, Fleet Admiral
In the Space Navy, a lieutenant may command a gunboat (a small, expendable attack ship), a commander a frigate (a large, versatile ship of the line), and a captain a dreadnought (a huge, heavily armed and armored spaceship that sacrifices some speed for power and resilience). Senior enlisted personnel lead crew sections devoted to particular ship functions and duties, at higher levels forming a parallel chain of command that advises the corresponding officer rank. It’s the Navy, but in space.
Alien abilities can be handled in several ways, depending on the prevalence of aliens in your setting and whether or not PCs will be playing alien species.
In settings where only NPCs will be aliens, the GM can define alien abilities on a case-by-case basis without too much regard for character balance or similar factors.
The Grimaldons are an alien race whose individuals have No Sense of Self, and so are easily indoctrinated by megalomaniacal would-be galactic conquerors; on their long-vanished home world, they had established a collectivist utopia of altruism and peace. The GM mandates that all Grimaldons have Terrible (-2) Will on their own but also have the Collective Purpose stunt.
Collective Purpose: Because you have imprinted upon your mind the collective purpose of a group or leader, whenever you could defend or overcome with Will to stay committed to that purpose, you can spend a fate point to tie your opposition, no roll required. You may spend a second fate point to succeed, and a third fate point to succeed with style.
In other settings, most PCs will be human but one or two players may want to be alien instead. In this instance, you can make the set of alien stunts and skills into an extra for characters who have an aspect that refers to their alien heritage.
In a game about humanity’s first wave of expansion through the galaxy, a player wants to play an alien from a species that was largely wiped out after its contact with humanity, one of the lonely last survivors of its race. He wants his character, because of its alien perspective, to be really good at interacting with other aliens, so the GM allows him to take ranks in Encounter, which is not otherwise on the skill list for this setting.
Finally, in a setting where everyone is at least potentially an alien, you don’t need an extra to highlight a character’s alien nature. In such cases, a player could make a character with an alien-related high concept or a specific alien species aspect, and then identify one to three alien invocations that refer to the character’s special nonhuman talents and establish typical ways in which the character’s alien aspect can be invoked. The GM may similarly add one to three typical alien compels that establish ways that the character’s alien aspect can be compelled. The GM and player may need to negotiate a bit to create a mutually satisfying suite of alien skills.
In this game, the characters are among a multi-species legion of pangalactic patrol officers. A player decides to create a character who is a High-Flying Balloon Creature from a Jupiter-Like Gas Giant. This alien nature might be invoked to zoom for short bursts at high speed via a jet of gas or to float unnoticeably high in the atmosphere, and might be compelled to need more gas after a period of activity and movement.
The GM may define alien species similarly; alien compels can be either discovered by the characters gathering information in-character or created by the players collaborating out-of-character. The first method is appropriate for a game involving first encounters with aliens; the second, for a game that takes place in a “cosmopolitan” setting filled with a number of alien kindreds supposed to be already well-known to each other.
These are the Martians from H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. They are octopoid, with overdeveloped brains in leathery brain-cases and underdeveloped physical capabilities. They subsist on a diet of blood transfused from slave species, and operate advanced machinery with astounding capabilities.
- Alien Invocations: To communicate telepathically over great distances or to many minds; to possess a vast, cool, and unsympathetic intelligence.
- Alien Compels: To be sluggish in Earth’s gravity; to be vulnerable to terrestrial disease and microorganisms.
Psychic powers can be handled just like alien skills, with players and GMs collaborating to determine the ways in which a character’s suite of psychic powers can be invoked and compelled. Alternately, having psychic powers might provide access to the Psionics skill or to a psychic stunt such as Psionic Attack: You can use Will to make mental attacks. In a setting where psychic powers are common, the Psionics skill might be available to all characters, while in a setting where they are rare, the skill should be an extra, requiring a relevant aspect and a dedicated stunt.