Fate System Toolkit
This Means War: Mass Combat
Suitable for inserting into any Fate Core game or for playing on its own as a minigame while waiting for the pizza guy to show up, this hack gives you simple tools to play out conflicts on a grand scale. These rules are not compatible with the squad-based rules presented above, as they encompass the actions of groups larger than a handful of people.
YOU WILL NEED:
- Index cards, for use as unit sheets and keeping track of zones.
- Tokens or miniatures to represent units and leaders.
- Friends, Fate dice, and all the usual stuff you need to play Fate Core.
Combatants are units on a battlefield made up of zones. All three of these are fairly abstract concepts, mutable enough to suit your particular game and conflict.
Units are built like characters, with skills, aspects, and consequences, but no stress boxes or stunts. A unit might consist of a few battleships, a dozen biplanes, or a thousand shrieking orcs, but they all act as one in battle.
Represent each zone of the battlefield with an index card, or zone card. Represent every unit with an identifying token or miniature of some kind, and place it on a zone card to indicate its current location on the battlefield.
A unit can have a leader attached to it, in the form of a PC or a supporting or main NPC. Leaders make their units more efficient, and can engage each other one-on-one in the midst of battle.
When activated, a unit can move one zone for free, as long as there isn’t an obstacle in the destination zone, such as an enemy unit or obstructing terrain. It can also take one action—overcome, attack, or create an advantage, detailed below.
If the unit has a leader attached to it, the leader may give up their action to give the unit a second action. A player can also spend a fate point to give one of their units without a leader a second action.
Regardless, no unit can take the same action twice in a turn, and attacking always ends a player’s turn.
If you have a unit with a leader attached, it can move one zone and attack, create an advantage and attack, and so on, but it can’t attack twice, create an advantage twice, or attack and then create an advantage or move.
C Create an Advantage
This can take the form of scouting the terrain, intimidating another unit, using the environment, or anything else that makes sense in context. Here are some specific ways to use this action to make your battles more dynamic.
Ambushing: A unit can use Stealth to put a situation aspect like It’s a Trap! into play. This can’t be attempted if the unit has an enemy in its zone.
Intimidating: A unit can use Provoke to put a situation aspect into play, such as Frenzied Berserkers, The Might of the Imperial Fleet, or Hesitant.
Pinned Down: Use Shoot to put a Pinned Down situation aspect on one enemy unit. A unit with this aspect can’t move into another zone unless it succeeds on an overcome action opposed by the attacker’s Shoot skill. The aspect goes away if the defender successfully moves or if the attacker doesn’t use an action to maintain it from turn to turn.
Scouting: A unit can use Notice to put a new zone aspect in play in an adjacent zone that doesn’t already have a unit in it. The difficulty is Fair (+2), +2 for each aspect the zone already has. For example, if a zone has the aspect Tangled Woods, the difficulty to give it a second aspect would be Great (+4).
Surrounded: A unit can put a Surrounded into play if it has more allies than enemies in its zone. Each allied unit in the zone gets a +1 to its attacks as long as this aspect remains in play.
Use a skill to move into a zone with an obstacle or enemy unit:
If the zone has an aspect that would hinder movement, such as Dense Forest or Asteroid Field, the difficulty equals twice the number of hindering aspects. For example, the difficulty to enter a zone with Rocky Terrain and a Raging River would be Great (+4).
If the zone contains one or more enemy units, one of them can actively oppose the attempt with a defend action, usually using Athletics, Drive, or Pilot. Each additional unit in the zone allied with the defender gives the defender a +1 to their roll.
Either way, use the usual outcomes for overcome to resolve the action.
Use a skill to move one or two additional obstacle-free zones:
On a tie or success, move one zone (with a minor cost, in the case of a tie). On a success with style, the unit can forgo the boost to move a second zone instead.
If your battle uses both Fight and Shoot, attacks against enemies in the same zone use Fight, and attacks against enemies in an adjacent zone use Shoot. If your battle only uses Shoot—as is typical in a dogfight—then all attacks are made with Shoot, regardless of range. Attacking an enemy two zones away gives the defender a +2 to their defense roll.
Provoke can’t be used to attack, only to create an advantage. See Intimidating, above.
Depending on the venue of the battle, you may want to tweak the way defenses work. For example, in medieval warfare, maybe the only defense against Shoot is Will—you don’t dodge arrows, you stand your ground and keep your wits about you. This takes some functionality away from Athletics, but applies to all units equally, so no one’s especially disadvantaged.
A unit’s quality—Average, Fair, or Good—determines how many skills, aspects, and consequences it has.
- Average: Conscripts. One Average (+1) skill. One aspect. No consequences—a single hit takes out an Average unit.
- Fair: Grunts. One Fair (+2) skill, two Average (+1) skills. Two aspects. One mild consequence.
- Good: Elites. One Good (+3) skill, two Fair (+2) skills, three Average (+1) skills. Three aspects. One mild consequence, one moderate consequence.
Here’s a sample list of skills taken from Fate Core that units might have.
Not all of these skills will be appropriate for every unit in every conflict, of course. If it’s a spaceship battle, you’re not going to have much use for Fight or Drive, and a subterranean battle between dwarves and undead probably won’t involve Pilot. Use common sense.
A unit’s first aspect is its name, which doubles as its high concept: Rebel Starfighters, Dwarven Grenadiers, 27th Heavy Infantry, etc.
If the unit is Fair or Good, define those extra aspects however you want.
Each player gets a “battle chest” of build points for the battle—the higher the number, the more units and the bigger the battle. Spend build points to create units or to buy additional fate points to spend during the battle. Five build points would make for a small battle with relatively low-quality units, while 20 would be fairly epic. 10-12 is a good middle ground. Leftover build points can be spent during the battle, but any remaining go away afterward, as do any fate points purchased with build points.
Average unit: 1 build point
Fair unit: 2 build points
Good unit: 3 build points
Fate point: 3 build points
Write each unit’s particulars on its own index card. If it’s defeated, turn it over—but hang onto it, so you can use it again in a future battle.
A zone might be a single hill, a hundred yards of open meadow, or a sector of space. The specifics depend on your game and the scale of the conflict.
Number of Zones
As a rule of thumb, give the battlefield a number of zones equal to one more than the number of players you have. That includes the GM, so a game with a GM and three players would have five zones. If that feels claustrophobic for the number of units you have in play, throw in a couple more index cards.
Adding Zone Aspects
For a fate point, a player can write an aspect on an empty zone card after it’s been placed on the battlefield but before the battle begins. Put the zone card back on the battlefield face down. When a unit moves into the zone, or scouts it, turn it face-up to reveal the aspect.
If a player puts a new aspect on a zone by creating an advantage during play, write it on the zone card for everyone to see.
Creating the Battlefield
Players take turns placing zone cards, starting with whoever has the most fate points left in their battle chest. Each zone card must be adjacent to an existing zone card. Try to avoid an overly linear battlefield—multiple ways in and out of most zones will make for a more interesting battle.
Any PC or a supporting or main NPC can be a leader. Use a miniature or some other marker to represent each leader—something that can be attached to a unit card as well as placed directly on the battlefield, if their unit is defeated or when they are otherwise acting independently. Defeating a unit doesn’t defeat its leader—only a leader can directly attack and defeat another leader.
Attaching a leader to a unit, or detaching one from a unit, doesn’t require an action, but a leader can’t do both in the same turn.
An attached leader can take their action whenever their unit does. They can give this action to their unit, to let it take two actions, or they can do something else, like engage another leader in combat or remove a consequence from the unit.
An attached leader provides several other benefits to their unit.
- All of a unit’s skills with a rating below the leader’s Will get a +1 bonus as long as the leader’s attached. If your game has another, more suitable skill for this, use that instead.
- The leader can invoke their aspects on behalf of their unit.
- The leader can use Will to remove a consequence, at the usual difficulties outlined in Fate Core. This counts as the leader’s action for the turn.
- The leader can use their action to put a boost on their unit, such as Charge!. This doesn’t require a roll unless the unit’s taken a consequence, in which case the leader uses Will with a difficulty equal to twice the number of consequences the unit has.
An independent leader has to be activated to do anything, just like a unit.
Sequence of Play
1. Pick one of your leaders and roll their Will. Highest roll goes first, and so on, down the line. In the case of a tie, highest Will wins. If that’s a tie, too, then the player with the most units wins.
2. When it’s your turn, choose and activate one of your units or independent leaders. If you choose a unit with a leader attached, the leader gets to take their action as well. If you choose an independent leader, they can’t affect units, but they can interact with other leaders (violently, in all likelihood). Every unit and leader on a side must act before any unit or leader on a side may act again.
3. When all non-allied players lose all their units or concede, the battle’s over.
Everyone on the winning side gets a fate point. Every player who defeated an enemy leader—whether in battle, by persuading them to surrender or switch sides, or whatever—gets a fate point for each leader they defeated.