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In a recent game of Diaspora, I pitted three of my "5 cap" player characters against four "3 cap" and one "4 cap" character in physical combat, and was surprised to see that the characters came away with barely a scratch: no consequences taken, and two stress taken total. While I had expected them to be successful, I hadn't expected the encounter to be such a pushover (it was intended for five "5 cap" PC's).

How can I estimate the opposition required to pose a credible challenge to a given group of player characters in FATE based games?

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How many Fate points did they have left? (That is the true resource that is taxed, not their stress tracks or consequences. There are few challenges that are going to leave marks if they have a full Fate point pool and have no reason to not spend them all. Consequently, how "damaging" an encounter is very much depends on where in the Fate point economy they're sitting, so challenge is more under their control than yours. Apart from that, you only really threaten them when the numbers are 2:1 against.) –  SevenSidedDie Jan 14 '13 at 2:31
    
I think they spent three or four points, and accepted one compel. –  C. Ross Jan 14 '13 at 2:34
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1 Answer

up vote 8 down vote accepted

First of all, the Fate point pools available to a character would alter the balance significantly, so let's disregard the use of aspects and fate points for now.

Let's assume that on any given skill involved in a fight, a 5-cap character has a +1 advantage over a 4-cap character. When on the offensive (ie. when a result of zero favors the attacker), the character with the one-higher skill would come on top at least ~75% of the time. When it is the lower character's turn, he only has a ~40% chance of coming out on top.

If we take these numbers represent the resource cost of an attack to the target, it becomes clear that you need two 4-cap characters to cope with a 5-cap character. (or two 3-cap characters vs. a 4-cap character)

With two shifts of difference between characters, the numbers become ~85% vs ~25%, so three 3-cap characters could somewhat be handled single handedly by a 5-cap, while four of them would represent actual trouble.

Of course, using smart tactics and efficient application of aspects and fate points, it is entirely possible for two 3-cap simpletons give a very hard time to a 5-cap hero.


Update

A simple stress-per-exchange analysis based on the assumption that characters do nothing smart but whack at each other continuously indicates that a single shift of difference between characters equates to a threefold potential in hurting the other. Of course, in normal gameplay, three 4-caps would easily beat the excrement out of a 5-cap by stacking maneuvers.

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Thanks for the good answer! It would have helped if I had realized how many fate points the NPC's were supposed to have in Diaspora ... –  C. Ross Jan 14 '13 at 14:08
    
If you consider them in the same vein as regular characters, giving them the same number of FP as their skill cap would be appropriate. Of course, with many characters to play, it becomes tedious. A good compromise is using a pool of fate points that refreshes every scene instead of waiting for a refresh, shared between all NPC's at the scene. For the pool size, the same number that player characters refresh at (a fixed 5 FP for Diaspora) works for most cases. –  edgerunner Jan 14 '13 at 14:32
    
Diaspora suggests FP = NPC aspects (2 to 3 in most cases) per NPC. Fate Core suggests FP = count(PC) as a pool for all NPC's. I'm going to experiment with both. –  C. Ross Jan 14 '13 at 14:37
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