Fate System Toolkit
Fate characters are already incredibly competent and accomplished folks, but sometimes your group might want to push the system even further, telling a story of actual superheroes who fight crime and supervillains who want to conquer the world. This section will give you a few tools to make superheroes work for your group!
Fate superheroes are a lot like regular Fate characters, but they can replace the trouble phase of character creation with an origin story, an aspect that quickly summarizes how the character acquired superpowers and/or why those powers cause the hero problems. Remember that aspects should always be double-edged, noting the character’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, a hero might take the high concept Genetically Engineered Supersoldier to represent his superhuman strength and agility and the origin story Dimensional Traveler to simultaneously note that he’s a fish out of water in our world.
One way of creating superpowers in Fate is to allow players to designate skills as superpowers, instead of taking stunts. A hero born on an advanced alien world might take Super Lore. A teen touched by the powers of an ancient, primordial god might take Super Athletics. Heroes that use technology or magical items can invest the skills into the item itself as skill extras, carrying Spears of Destiny (Physique) or building fantastic clockwork robots (Shooting).
Heroes can use the skill as normal, but can also opt to make use of the power by spending a fate point. When activated, the superskill allows the hero to attempt fantastic feats, doubling his current skill bonus. After rolling, the characters must step back the skill by one. As long as the skill is not reduced to zero, the power refreshes next scene. If the power is exhausted, however, the hero will have to find some way to rest or recharge before using it again.
Maxine, a Valkyrie with Superb Physique (+5), can spend a fate point to throw a car at a supervillain—adding 5 extra shifts to her roll—but after the roll the skill steps back to Great (+4). If she continues to use her superstrength to the point that her Physique is exhausted, she will need to journey to Valhalla to drink from the Horn of Might to regain her strength.
This system lends itself to Golden Age-style heroes who achieve amazing feats with few downsides beyond getting tired or running out of power. It also gives the GM a chance to set up interesting refresh scenes (see Refresh), when the heroes have to recharge their powers, reconnect with their human lives, or rest for long enough to face the villain at full strength. For example, a teenage hero might need to head back home to connect with her dad, while a shapechanging nightstalker might retire to his lair to sleep through the day before resuming his hunt.
Creating Super-Powered Stunts
If your group prefers more defined superpowers, you can allow players to purchase superpowers as stunts, perhaps even giving them an extra stunt or two for free. For a low-powered superhero game, emulating gritty 1980s antiheroes, the existing stunts in Fate Core are probably fine—the heroes aren’t empowered paragons, just extraordinary people who put on costumes.
If you want to tell more epic superhero stories, you can also write stunts that allow for stronger powers but require the player to bid fate points. Static obstacles may be defeated by spending a single fate point, but other superpowered characters can accept, cancel, or raise the action by bidding a fate point back and narrating opposition. This goes back and forth until one character is unwilling to spend any more points. If the action ends in a tie, the points are given to the GM, but if one character clearly wins, the loser gets all the fate points bid. Note that this might result in dramatic swings in the fate point economy, as one player is going to catch a windfall of fate points at the end of a conflict.
Sergio is a hero with Bend Bars, Lift Gates, a stunt that allows him to destroy physical impediments by bidding a fate point. If no superpowered characters oppose him, the action is successful without a roll. However, if Maxine uses her Norse powers to shock him through the metal bars he’s trying to bend, she can spend a fate point to cancel his action or spend two fate points to try to apply her power (Lighting Storm) in addition to canceling his stunt. If she spent two fate points, Sergio would get a chance to bid back to cancel or raise, or he could accept her action and claim the two fate points she bid.
The Fate Worlds setting Wild Blue has some awesome ideas for creating powers as stunts with narrative costs, such as time travel that a hero can’t quite control, or telepathy that always uncovers unwanted information. Check it out for another way of creating powers in Fate!
Similarly, superpowers by any other name might be called magic. Have a look at the previous chapter to get an idea of how you could do something more involved and intricate with your superpowers by way of building them as a “magic” system.
Villains and Sidekicks
Fate already has great rules for generating NPCs. For superhero stories, the GM can designate these as minions, villains, and supervillains to better signal to the heroes the level of danger each group poses.
Pay particular attention to the suggestions in Fate Core for grouping up minions and treating them as obstacles. Sometimes the best way to portray a hero beating up on a group of low-level thugs is a single roll or expenditure of a superpower.
Villains should look a little more like the heroes themselves, probably picking up a superpower or two. Ideally you want a group of villains to be able to take on your heroes toe-to-toe for long enough to make a contest interesting, but they probably aren’t the real threat your heroes face.
Supervillains, however, can be full-fledged characters, complete with high concepts, origin stories, superpowers, and extras of their own. Don’t skimp on origin stories for your supervillains; they are a great place to get the flavor of the character across to the players. An evil cultist might have the origin story I’ve Lost the Only Man I Could Ever Love while a demonic supersoldier might have the origin story Doomed to Wander the Earth by Forces Infernal.
Heroes can also pick up sidekicks (see Sidekicks vs. Allies) and minions of their own as your story goes on, purchasing them as extras when they achieve milestones.