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So we played Dresden Files RPG, using a set of premade characters. One of these characters was an investigative paranormal detective type build, which worked extremely well (maybe too well?) in the 'story' part of the game. However, when it came time to fight, it seems that the overwhelming majority of the time was spent in the following manner:

Player 1: I shoot the ghoul. roll got a +3

GM: Ghoul dodges with athletics. roll got a +4. Next.

Player 2: I punch the ghoul. roll got a +2.

GM: Ghoul dodges with athletics. roll got a +5. Next.

Combat seemed relatively ineffective. Since the Ghoul had a high athletics score, it was very difficult to hit it, and since most of the maneuvers the characters devised ("knock him off balance"/"trip him"/"grab him"/"shove him") were opposed by athletics, it was very difficult to stack aspects on to tag-combo him effectively. The investigative character, especially, found little to no way to leverage things like Alertness or Inspection into meaningful combat maneuvers, especially against such a mindless opponent as a Ghoul. What ways are there to make combat more varied and fun for characters without high Guns or Athletics? Is there a side of combat we're missing entirely or something?

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Attacking a character with high Athletics (or anything else) is pretty simple, as long as you don't simply try to beat it head-on. Simply put: use maneuvers that aren't opposed by Athletics. (Or, ideally, at all.) FATE is highly flexible, and gives you lots of room to work.

  • Leverage your skills.

There are lots of ways to turn scores in other skills into aspects. Some simple examples:

Alertness: Create scene aspects! Often! See details below.

Craftsmanship: Break the scenery. Improvise weapons from nearby objects. If given time and a distraction, drop the ceiling on him...

Deceit: Distraction and misdirection. Get him somewhere poorly-lit, and then con him into wasting actions attacking looming sacks and crates, while you plan team ambushes.

Intimidation: Use it, maneuver with it, attack with it. See details below.

Might: Can't grapple the opponent? Rearrange the furniture. Overturn crates or bins to create scene aspects, then jump on them for a height advantage. Shove things into (or onto) your opponent. Or just in his way.

Stealth: Get someone to distract him, and hide. Then set up an ambush. Maneuver to give him aspects like "Blissfully unaware" or "He's Behind You!", then tag them for attacks. Athletics is no defence.

  • Pick your fights

If it's "time to fight" the ghoul, why are you letting him pick the battleground? If he's doing something right now that you need to stop, then sure, you'll have to act now. If not... why fight now? Back off, use assessment to create advantages for later use, lure him into a trap, set up all the tags you can in advance.

This is why it's hard to use Investigation/Empathy in combat... you shouldn't need to. A good investigative character should have figured out what he's up against in advance, and used Investigation for assessment rolls (YS p115, p195).
Against a 'typical' ghoul straight out the book, for example... assess his Insatiable Appetite in advance. Then work out distractions involving fresh meat, or taunt him with how hungry he must be getting. Tag it for effect and say he's already hungry and hasn't hunted tonight... if he fails a Discipline roll, and he'll be in trouble.

  • Social attacks.

Just because the guns are out doesn't mean the social rules turn off. Dresden uses, and falls for, social attacks in fight scenes all the time. This is what Intimidation is for.

Example: Defend one character well. Use scene aspects, get him into cover. Then use those weaknesses you assessed in advance... use Provocation to taunt him into attacking, then sit there taking total defence actions. Total defence + "In cover behind the dumpster" aspect is +4 defence, keeping that character safe... while everyone else coordinates on one big attack.

Or just make Threats attacks with Intimidation, for direct social/mental damage. Maybe you can't hit him... but does he know that yet? He can't defend that with Athletics! If you can't take him out with it, even one good hit can hand out a consequence like "Rattled"... which you can then start tagging to aid your physical attacks.

  • Use your own aspects.

If you tag personality traits that make you want to kill the ghoul, or that are particularly relevant to how you fight, that's a +2 bonus that can't be counter-maneuvered away. Of course, it gets expensive in fate points fast, but that's why you have them.

Use Scholarship or Alertness rolls, Investigation assessments, or relevant aspects, to explain just why you'd happen to have a bottle of holy water with you.

  • Teamwork.

Check the assistance rules (YS p208). Don't all try to hit the ghoul independently... give assistance to your best fighter. Assistance rolls are against a difficulty 1 or 2 points lower (as GM, I'd definitely rule -2 in a situation like this), and every roll made at the lower difficulty is a +2 bonus all invoked at once for the lead. (Adam gets to make his Fists roll... at +4 for "Bea's got my back" and "Charles is keeping him distracted.")

  • Scene setting.

If you couldn't leverage Alertness into combat maneuvers, you were trying the wrong thing. Use it to create scene aspects. Then tag them for help with maneuvers. Check the declaration rules (YS p116); using Alertness to create an against an overwhelming opponent is the default example!

Declare convenient objects to dodge behind. Add laundry that you can drop over the ghoul's head. Confuse it with a sudden turn into a blind alley it hadn't noticed. Then tag all of them for every bonus you can load on.

That's if you couldn't choose the fight location. If you could... you can do much better. Prepare traps. Level the playing field. (Heck, cover the floor in sticky putty. That should be good to restrict everyone's athletics to +2 or +3 max... which'll bother him a lot more than you.)

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  1. The PCs can use their skills in unusual ways to make the ghoul roll against less than optimal skills to resist. As an example- if the fight was taking place in a warehouse and the investigator has a gun, he rolls an alertness assessment to see that there is a piece of heavy equipment hanging by a rope above, and then invokes that aspect as he shoots the rope. The Ghoul has to roll alertness not to be caught flat-footed and lose his ability to dodge.
  2. The PCs can use Fate Points whenever they want to re-roll or get +2 per Fate Point used to invoke their own/a scene aspect/an aspect on the ghoul. These aspects can be their own, or found out with assessments using their alertness or investigation.
  3. The PCs can invoke one of their aspects for effect, showing that their characters are prepared even when they aren't. If they have an aspect that they have that could reasonably be used to show why they are prepared with holy water or a blessed object, that would serve as a catch in this instance.
  4. Similar to the above, at the beginning of the scene, tag the insatiable hunger for effect. Use it to make the ghoul experience a feeding failure- you aren't the ghoul's first target of the night. A failure on that roll can put the ghoul in a world of hurt.
  5. Maneuvers can be sacrificial - have a PC (especially one that has been hit) pretend to run away. Deceit vs discipline to get the ghoul to turn his back to the PCs fellows, taking advantage of the ghoul's insatiable appetite if necessary.

The cool thing about The Dresden Files (and FATE based games) is that they are very open ended, without requiring a lot of rules to be so. The hard part is that it requires a bit of imaginative thinking to unlock the full potential.

For more examples, see this thread on introducing a character to the FATE combat system, and this thread for an example of combat.

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If the character has an appropriate aspect they could also invoke it to get +2 to the roll when they really want to make an attack or maneuver stick.

Also, don't forget scene aspects. An investigative character should be allowed to find things in the environment to allow them to turn the tide of the fight.

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