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Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, landslides, blizzards, fires—they’re staples of both supernatural fantasy and frontier fiction. Natural disasters are one of the most significant ways the spirits express their displeasure. Although denied other avenues to affect the physical world on a large scale, it’s quite easy for a spirit’s facets to make tweaks across its territory that combine to create a larger, out-of-control calamity.
While disasters can be caused by spirits, spirits are rarely actively involved in their progress. This absence of active opposition makes a disaster a perfect excuse to break out the challenge rules. There’s a variety of things clearly at risk: damage to homes and buildings, personal injury, and endangerment of other property. Since the challenges will all be happening during the same scene, inflicting shifts of physical or mental stress equal to the margin of failure on one roll to the characters is a suitable success at a cost, one that renders the impact of the disaster in a personal context.
At the other extreme, clearing fields or destroying buildings, tools, or other infrastructure can cause great harm to a frontier settlement, as does personal injury. Replacing lost or damaged property is an arduous and lengthy endeavor, suitable for a subplot in and of itself, as is medical treatment.
When running a disaster response, remember to call for all the rolls for the challenge before narrating the outcome (Fate Core, page 148). The narration and interpretation phase is when you should consider whether an immanent episode has occurred, or if some other complication has emerged that requires more detailed resolution. Immanent episodes are likely to be common during a disaster response challenge, and this procedure means that you can resolve one question—What is the outcome of our disaster relief?—before moving on to the next: What happens when the otherworld intrudes during our work?