Level One Wonk Reviews: Fate Adversary Toolkit

Are you a Butt-Kicker, a Specialist, or a Story-Teller? There is a huge world of games out there to satisfy every player’s and group’s style. And while there are academic discussions in every corner of the internet, sometimes it’s best to start at level one. Join the Level One Wonk in exploring the possibilities that RPGs have to offer, from Aberrant to Zorcerer of Zo. Thanks to the gang at Evil Hat, today we have a special treat: a sneak preview of the Fate Adversary Toolkit, due out next month!

When I first heard of the Fate Adversary Toolkit, my thought was “oh neat, a book that helps you build enemies.” This very primary sort of guidance would make sense for the first release in Fate’s new purple book “Toolkit” line, an expansion of the original purple book, the Fate System Toolkit. Given how straightforward Fate characters usually are to make, I was unsure exactly how useful the advice would be before I started reading. I, of course, had forgotten the Fate Fractal. The Fate Adversary Toolkit is a comprehensive guide for writing and running anything that can get in your party’s way, be it a character, an environmental obstacle, or a plot device. The book also includes worked examples for how to build and run adversaries in ten different genres, from Fantasy to Romance. This book is a strong start in the Toolkit series, as it plays to the flexibility of the Fate system and introduces as few additional rules as possible while still adding some depth and solid GM advice.

There are three sections to this book. First is the actual mechanical advice on Adversaries, which covers three subtypes: Enemies, Obstacles, and Constraints. Next is a section on Environments, which can be thought of as an encounter design guide. Finally is the Rogue’s Gallery, the abovementioned worked examples which include not only specific adversaries but also guidance on genre emulation and advice for structuring one-shots and campaigns in the genre using the worked example as an anchor. The Rogue’s Gallery takes up the bulk of the page count, which makes sense: there are ten worked examples, while the two preceding chapters each only have two or three heavy mechanical concepts.

The Enemies section of the book is the part most are likely envisioning when they think of an “Adversary Toolkit”. Here, enemy design and delineation is covered, discussing how to design filler mooks, more dangerous heavy hitters, and of course boss battles. Most importantly each of these has a number of skill levels, size of stress tracks, and number of complications delineated. This effectively works as the “challenge rating” mechanic of Fate, and helps the GM figure out if certain enemies will be too difficult or not difficult enough. Obstacles is the use of aspects and other descriptors in fleshing out environments and the flow of combat. The use of Hazard aspects is not new, but is given more detail here. Blocks and Distractions are a bit more interesting, bringing conditional design into the mix. Blocks are aspects which represent obstacles to the characters; instead of being invoked they have a rating which must be rolled against. Distractions are conditionals, except they are either events or hazards which present a choice. Ignoring them usually brings in additional danger, but spending the time to deal with them complicates the main objective. Neither Blocks nor Distractions are new ideas in game design per se, but by standardizing the forms they take, they can now fit into the flowchart mode of Fate adventure design smoothly. Constraints add some more new ideas, at least for Fate. Countdowns should be familiar, with the main enhancement to the idea being the inclusion of event triggers which (not coincidentally) slot in nicely with Distractions. Limitations are specific traits of adversaries that discourage direct engagement; while this is not a new idea it’s nice to see it specified as it’s a meta-mechanic that helps defend against aspect spamming and keeps games interesting. Resistances are another form of limitations, except the limitation “lock” also has a “key” which can circumvent it.

The most interesting new mechanics are environmental ones, specifically guidance around zones. Many, myself included, envision zones as specific areas across an encounter map, but there’s nothing stating that has to be true. The book describes three new zone ideas: Relative zones are defined by (you guessed it) relative distance, making for quick and easy chase mechanics. Mobile zones are defined by areas of effect or influence; the light put off by a lantern could create a mobile zone where darkness-related aspects don’t apply, for instance. Finally, conceptual zones allow a GM to use the zone mechanics in a completely different way. Having a party where there are zones for several different types of disguises (staff, guests, etc.) is the example in the book and it works nicely.

When considering the value of this book it’s important to consider the audience. As both an experienced GM and one who has played and run narrative games in the past, some of these new elements seemed a little obvious to me. Countdowns and limitations are things that exist in many games, and many GMs have already been using them for some time in Fate or in other systems. That said, for a Fate GM who is just starting out, thinking about ways to tweak the aspect logic can be very helpful (a limitation doesn’t work the same way as an aspect because it represents a “fact” as opposed to something that can be rolled against). The guidance around enemies, as well as the examples, are solid and also provide demonstrations of how these concepts are used in play. The new mechanics around environment were my favorite part of the book; demonstrating some different organizational principles for zones showed me exactly how versatile those rules are, and provided some structural guidance for how to implement the new adversaries.

What is clear to me after reading the Adversary Toolkit is that Evil Hat is intending to make encounter design in Fate as easy and as logical as possible. Using zone mechanics as a basis, all of the information necessary to run an entire session of Fate can easily be contained in a flowchart, complete with countdown and distraction triggers tying the physical space of the encounter to the time space. While some of the concepts illustrated here are not unique, they will help a new GM think about encounter design differently. Additionally, boiling down these concepts into shared language makes it easier still to provide ever more sophisticated designs in future Fate products. With the Fate Adversary Toolkit, it’s clear that Evil Hat intends to make the purple books into the “Fate Crunch” set of supplements. By drilling down to base principles of encounter design, the authors provide a set of first principles for new GMs to build whatever scenarios they like; the Rogue’s Gallery serves as an illustration of this strategy. While inveterate rules hackers like myself may find some of the material a little straightforward, Evil Hat is playing to its base by making what will arguably be the GM guides of the Fate system clear, user-friendly, and easy to translate into solid game sessions.

Thanks to Evil Hat’s Carrie Harris for sending us a copy! The Fate Adversary Toolkit will be released in August of 2017, for the suggested retail price of $15. More information is available from Evil Hat Productions.

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