The following is a guest FateRPG.com post from Fate Core community member Richard Bellingham. Richard caught our attention early on during the Fate Core kickstarter for his efforts to understand how blocking and obstacles work in Fate Core. We asked him to write up his notes to give y’all another perspective on the concepts involved. What follows is the result! (He’s from across the way, so he spells “maneuver” “manoeuvre”, but we’re sure you’ll find it in your heart to forgive him for that. Or us. Depending.)
I’d been running my Dresden Files game for just a few weeks when the FATE Core preview was released to Kickstarter backers in December last year. I read the book voraciously and was very impressed by the clarity and flexibility of the updated rules. In fact I liked them so much that I immediately began updating my Dresden game to use the FATE Core rules.
Only one area of the new rules caused me significant confusion and that was the handling of the “Block” action.
In Dresden Files blocking was one of the core actions types. The player would describe what their character was doing and what types of action they were trying to block and then roll an appropriate skill at a difficulty set by the GM. Shifts on this roll would then increase the difficulty for blocked targets to perform the action(s) which were intended to be blocked. Likewise the borders between conflict zones could be assigned a Barrier Rating which acted as a block for anyone attempting to cross them.
Blocking and barriers have both been deleted in FATE Core and their function has been absorbed within the more general rules for the Create Advantage and Situation Aspects. In the first draft however it wasn’t entirely clear exactly how this had been done.
Over the next few weeks I and many others discussed the topic exhaustively with Fred Hicks and system developer Lenny Balsera. They gave us lots of details of the intent behind the new rules and examples of how they apply that made the situation a lot clearer, but these examples were scattered across the Yahoo Group, Google+, the Kickstarter comments and Twitter.
The guide you are about to read was compiled primarily for my own reference before the March preview of the rules was released that makes most of these systems and the intent behind them much clearer. I’ve been sharing it on Google+ whenever the topic arises (which it is still wont to do with some regularity) as I had the freedom to go into the ideas behind the different types of obstacle with more depth and clarity than the book’s page count allows. Where possible I’ve quoted clarifications from the developers or given explicit page references.
All page references relate to the March 18th Preview of FATE Core.
Blocking and Obstacles in FATE Core
Aspects Are Always True
This is a fundamental rule of Fate Core which is worth stressing before you read the rest of this text. Aspects remain true whether or not they are invoked (FC 76). Once someone gains the Hands Cuffed Behind My Back aspect they aren’t going to be doing anything that requires their hands to be in front of them until they have overcome the aspect. The GM is also free to consider aspects when working out what difficulty should apply to an action (FC 192).
Situation Aspects may provide Passive or Active Opposition
Situation aspects now fill the role that was previously occupied by barriers, representing obstacles that apply to crossing between zones (e.g. “Sheer Cliff”). Other situation aspects, like “Blacker than Midnight” or “Slippery Floor”, may provide constant passive opposition to certain actions (FC 131). The type (passive or active) and level of opposition is set by the GM. For instance, “Slippery Floor” might provide passive opposition at Fair to any action involving rapid movement while an “Imposing Wall” might provide Great passive opposition to moving between zones. You can also mix in the rule about treating Aspects as characters – for example “Moat of Fire” might provide Good active opposition when you try to cross it and also inflict damage with a “Burning Things” skill if you fail (FC 208).
“You could have passive opposition by GM fiat, or passive opposition justified precisely from a scene aspect like ‘Littered With Debris’ at the GMs discretion or player insistence or whatever. Group consensus.
“Like, a major, major role of [situation] aspects is to serve as a rubric for the GM to say, “Hey, there should probably be opposition there, because X is true.” So, that debris could still affect someone if no one invoked it – the GM always, always has the power to suggest that opposition exists. If someone did invoke it, it could add to that opposition.”
Situation Aspects can be used as a passive Defence
It’s implicit in the previous notes on aspects as opposition but I’ve separated out to highlight it as an important concept: Characters can create advantages with situation aspects to obtain a passive defence against certain kinds of action as long as this is internally consistent with the fiction.
Example: You’re a stealthy but not particularly athletic character who has ended up in a gunfight in a packed warehouse. Rather than trying to dodge the gunfire you decide to take cover behind some packing crates. You roll Stealth to create advantage on the “Piles of packing crates” to establish that you are now tucked behind cover, making it harder to shoot you. Mechanically the GM decides that the gunman needs to beat a passive difficulty of Good to hit you through the crate. Because you succeeded on your create advantage action you not only established your position behind the crates in the narrative but also gained a free invocation which you can use to make the passive opposition to shooting you Superb for one exchange.
Situation Aspects can be created tactically to block certain actions
Characters can proactively block certain actions by creating applicable advantages. If you successfully place the “Painful Headlock” aspect on another character then that aspect remains in play until you let it go, the victim manages to overcome the headlock, or the fiction otherwise implies that the grapple is no longer sustainable. Narratively this restricts the actions available to the victim until he has overcome the grapple and at the very least allows you to provide active opposition against actions where that makes sense in the fiction (see below).
NPCs and Characters can provide active opposition when this is supported by the fiction
If you can arguably be ‘in the way’ of an action (as is often justified by aspects like Grappled or All Up In His Grill) then you can provide active opposition to it (FC 131). This does not require an action and it does not count as a Defend action.
Example: You have created advantage with your Shoot skill to establish that you’re providing “Covering Fire” in your zone. This means you can provide active opposition to movement or to other actions that would logically be hampered by the flying lead with your Shoot skill.
This does not necessarily require a situation aspect though if in doubt a relevant aspect should always be considered as sufficient justification.
Example: If you’ve mentioned that you are standing next to a door then you can provide active opposition to anyone trying to move through the door by physically getting in their way, even though there isn’t an aspect in play to support this: It just makes sense in the fiction.
Where your active opposition helps to defend another (such as when you have a gunman grappled) then the active opposition and defence rolls do not stack. Either one of them rolls and the target has to live with the result or if the table agrees the the defender or the target (whoever has the highest value) rolls with a +1 teamwork modifier (Per discussion with Lenny).
If you allow the teamwork option bear in mind that a teamwork action means that all participants are subject to the negative consequences in the event of a failure (FC 174). Depending on the exact events unfolding this may or may not be appropriate.
Example: Fred uses his eldritch powers to create a Wall of Fire aspect between him and Lenny and a psychotic gunman. The gunman shoots at Lenny and Fred argues that he can use his wall of fire as justification for providing active opposition. Lenny says he’s also going to try and dodge in case the bullet makes it through the wall of fire. The table agrees that this is an example of teamwork so the one with the highest skill rolls against the gunman with a +1 bonus. If they fail to defend it doesn’t make any sense for the bullet to hit Fred and Lenny, so the table agrees that the worst that can happen is Lenny takes the hit by himself.
NPCs and Characters can Defend to provide opposition
Defend actions are usually reserved for cases where you are trying to fend off an ‘attack’ or negative consequence for yourself. However, you can also defend others as long as it makes sense for you to be able to get in the way of the attack (or get them out of the way of it) but this has the drawback that you must suffer the hit yourself if you fail to defend successfully. (FC 159) This is subtly different from the case of providing active opposition. Lenny says:
“The assumption I probably left out of the text is that being the source of active opposition and taking a defend action aren’t the same thing. The former is just a fictional justification – it’s no different than the GM setting a difficulty. It just changes who gets to roll. The latter is specifically intertwined with attack and create advantage as described in the book.”
The observant among you will note that FC 140 says that opposition to an attack always counts as a defend roll and this remains true when the one providing opposition is the target.
An invoked aspect can add +2 to any opposition you choose
If you can justify how the aspect gets in the way you can either pass a +2 benefit to another character’s active opposition roll or simply add 2 to a source of passive opposition. This means that if there would have been no opposition, your invocation provides it at Fair (FC 68).
The other side of the coin relates to getting rid of or overcoming obstacles.
If you want to get rid of a situation aspect, you can do it in one of two ways: roll an overcome action specifically for the purpose of getting rid of the aspect, or roll some other kind of action that would make the aspect make no sense if you succeed (FC 78).
Example:, if you’re Grappled, you could try a sprint action to move away. If you succeed, it wouldn’t make sense for you to be Grappled anymore, so you’d also get rid of that aspect.
If a character can interfere with your action, they get to roll active opposition against you as per normal. Otherwise, GMs, it’s your job to set passive opposition or just allow the player to get rid of the aspect without a roll, if there’s nothing risky or interesting in the way.
Finally, if at any point it simply makes no sense for a situation aspect to be in play, get rid of it.
Example: If you’re Grappled but the opponent holding you describes wandering off to do something else, it no longer makes sense for the Grappled aspect to be in play and it is immediately discarded.
Regarding the level of difficulty to overcome an obstacle, Leonard says:
“Setting the level of passive opposition for anything is the GM’s province unless a player is making a hard statement by spending a fate point. You can talk about it, like you can talk about anything, but the GM retains the last word.”
This is an important change from Dresden Files, where the difficulty to overcome a block was set by the shifts obtained on the block. Changing the way this works has two major advantages:
- You don’t have to remember the successes rolled when you later come to work out the difficulty of overcoming an obstacle
- You can’t stack lots of aspects when you create the obstacle to make it virtually impossible to overcome. Instead you have to burn fate points or invocations whenever the obstacle is challenged in order to maintain it at a high level. This prevents the game from getting blocked or bogged down for a sustained period by an obstacle.
This means that a character’s skill (+/- luck) no longer correlates directly to the difficulty to overcome an obstacle. Instead GMs are encouraged to use the usual rules for setting difficulty based on the needs of the story or the realities of the situation.
Example: John Rambo is alone in the forest and he decides to set up some pits and wooden traps to deter people from following him into the wilderness. He describes what he’s setting up and the GM considers his description, Rambo’s aspects, the materials available and the time he’s taking and settles on passive opposition of Good to overcome the traps. He also notes that most of the traps are deadly and that they will inflict a Good attack with weapon 2 on anybody who fails to overcome them…
When an obstacle is overcome, it’s overcome
As to what happens to an aspect/obstacle when it’s overcome, Lenny clarifies:
“When an obstacle is overcome, it’s overcome – whatever considerations need to go into effect to make that legitimate, make them. That may mean the aspect goes away. That may mean you call ninja bullshit on pulling the same trick over again. It’s the same kind of thing as, ‘talk about a concession until you find something that has real teeth’.”
If the obstacle is not overcome, it’s not overcome. i.e. it stays in effect until it’s overcome, subject to modification by context.
“So, in the cover fire example that’s starting to make me feel like hearing “Love Shack” at karaoke, failing [to overcome] means no opportunity to fire, and maybe other costs atop that. Next turn, whatever that person does, firing at the intended target is off-limits. That can choose any other actions, though.”
The changes on blocking in FATE Core may take a little getting used to if you’re used to Dresden and earlier iterations of FATE. Once you realise that it’s all about aspects though it becomes apparent that the Core way of doing things is a significant improvement, streamlining the process of getting in people’s way so that it doesn’t get in your way.
The Block action was always basically a Manoeuvre action that created a slightly unusual aspect which required a certain amount of effort to overcome. Now all aspects are the same and there’s no need to refer to the action of creating an obstacle aspect by a special name.
Hopefully this has been a useful guide to the various options available to you in FATE Core and, more importantly, gave you some insight into how and why these options work.