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I am running a Fate game in which I have the following characters:

  • A Japanese high-school student wielding a haunted katana
  • The MVP of the last Neo-baseball universal championship, wielding a mythical adamantium bat and clad in a Mass Effect-like armor.
  • An augmented cop à la Adam Jansen with Psychic powers
  • A time travelling space pirate, complete with spaceship and space parrot

The katana and Neo-baseball bat are major artifacts, and I am considering giving them a Weapon rating. The Neo-baseball armor would also qualify to have an armor rating. Those items already have Aspects/Stunts attached to them (taken from their owners' total). Characters without weapons/armors are not especially interested in having some.

However, it feels unfair giving these characters Weapon/Armor ratings without giving anything to the other characters. On the other hand, giving Weapon/Armor ratings to everyone kind of defeats the purpose. Finally, making the owning characters pay for it seems unfair too.

How can I give a Weapon/Armor rating to some characters without having anyone feel cheated?

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Why would they feel cheated / why would it be unfair? –  SevenSidedDie Apr 8 at 0:17
    
@SevenSidedDie Well, let's say I randomly decide that the haunted katana has Weapon 2, and don't change anything to any of the other characters. The katana wielder suddenly became way better at fighting with no disadvantage, while all the other characters didn't become better at anything. –  Cristol.GdM Apr 8 at 0:24
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Okay, but how is it fair to not make a sword behave like a sword, and armour behave like armour? Everyone started with the same Aspect and Refresh budget, and they could have allotted them to signature weapons/armour as well if they wanted to, right? –  SevenSidedDie Apr 8 at 0:28
    
Yep, but this Weapon/Armor thing is on top of Aspect/Refresh budget. Let's say a character took the Aspect "Wielder of that famous haunted katana" and another took "My gut instinct is always right". They both buy relevant skills/stunts. Then I give Weapon 2 for free to the first one because his Aspect mentions a weapon, and I give the second nothing because "Hey, your Aspect don't mention a special Weapon, so no candy for you". I'm not saying the second character should also get Weapon 2, but he should get something. –  Cristol.GdM Apr 8 at 0:36
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I believe that your doubt is way less about how it would break the Fate-Core system, and more about making your players confortable with wathever decision you make about it. Did I got it right? –  Gunar Bastos Apr 8 at 12:00
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3 Answers 3

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If you are going to use a rule, use it in full.

Looking closely on how Fate works, I don't see that giving to weapons a weapon rating is a problem, however I can see how giving to only 2 weapons a weapon rating could be.

The thing you cannot ignore is that everyone have an armor and a weapon, even if it is a natural armor (your body) and natural weapon (your fist, nail, teeth, head, etc), and all weapon and armor should have an armor rating. Most of these are defaulted to Zero, and this gives the impression that you don't have a armor or weapon, and this feeling can lead to people feeling cheated.

So here is a few things you can do about it

1. Do not use the Zero rating.

Change the default to 1. Every weapon and armor would default to 1, and the game would be as balanced as if the default was Zero, but now with everyone being acknoledge as holding a gun and having an armor. The Katana and Bat players should still have better scores, but that can be justified by having spent an aspect on it.

2. Rate every weapon individually.

The Haunted Katana, Adamantium Bat and the Neo-Baseball Armor aren't the only weapons and armor. You could give an armor rating for the biologic modifications and a weapon rating for unarmed strikes on the augmented cop, give pistols, submachine guns, energy pistols (for the space pirate if applicable) all of them with weapon and armor ratings. You could also discriminate lethal from non-lethal damage and resistance, and having separate stress tracks for them, just be careful to not make the system too complex.

3. Make player equipment superior from NPC equipment.

Instead of just changing the default to 1, you could give all players minimum armor and weapon rating as 2, and enemies NPCs minimum armor and weapon rating as 1, but give the NPCs 1 (or two) extra shifts. Your players characters are competent people and having a better equipment than the normal enemy minion can work as a good morale boost, just make sure that if an enemy is supposed to die in 3 hits or 1 lucky roll, it doesn't fall appart to 1 normal roll of the space pirate/augmented cop.

4. Give the weapons also a limited social aplicability.

The Haunted Katana most likely will have a spirit attached to it, and this spirit can do more than just harm, it could help the player in non-fight situations. The Mass-effect like armor could have an EDI like AI attached or remotely connected to it that would have the same function.

5. Treat non-combat encounters with weapon and armor ratings as well.

Your agumented cop have psychic habilities that would give him an edge on social enconters, your space pirate have spaceships that can give an edge on traveling/speed encounters and a pet that can give him an edge on stealth enconters. If you treat all encounters as having "weapons" (things that help you progress) and "armors" (things that help enemies counter your weapons) the "unfairness" may simply go away.

6. Don't use weapon or armor ratings, but enforce aspect invocations rules.

Everyone can create an advantage with a attack skill, but not everyone should be able to spend a fate point to get +2 on a attack roll based on aspects. If there is no way to make your players not feel cheated just don't give armor or weapon ratings, but remeber that is easier to justify being better at dealing damage because of a Haunted Katana, than because of having a Space Parrot.

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Re: 6) Except that having a haunted katana can be invoked in many more combat situations than a space parrot. The combat focus of the item narrows it's field of applicability, but it's a pretty important field in some games and the hobby as a whole. A player who convincingly and entertainingly explains how his space parrot gives him +2 to his fight roll should be just as rewarded as a player who says, "I hit him with my haunted katana again." –  gomad Apr 8 at 17:59
    
@gomad the point is that to the space parrot owner the part of "convincly and entertainingly explains how" should be enforced more on combat than of the Haunted Katana, in the same way that the Haunted Katana guy would need to explain better why his spirit helps him create a distraction, than the Space parrot owner that just tell him to flap wings in front of the enemy –  Gunar Bastos Apr 8 at 18:26
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Fate isn't a combat game, and doesn't aim to balance characters in only the combat realm. If you have any habits from other games whispering to you that combat should be balanced, take some time to drag those habits behind the woodshed. They don't apply here and can only lead you astray.

For example, you say that one player has an entire starship, yet you don't seem to be concerned about that being unfair. Another has psi powers, which are traditionally a super–game-breaking set of abilities for any PC to have, yet that raises no red flags either. The other two being somewhat more suited to combat shouldn't be ringing fairness alarm bells either.

There's nothing unfair about giving weapons and armour stats to reflect their weapon-ness and armour-ness. Fate isn't a game designed to make the combat field level, it's a game designed to make the narrative control over the game level. Ironically, combat-centric characters can be a liability in that regard, because they are often useless outside of combat and unable to find a way to influence the story—they're good at making NPCs dead or unconscious, but have a hard time controlling their fate otherwise. I learned that the hard way by using the character-creation freedom of Fate to make a kick-ass space marine type—but she was useless when there was no shooting or EVA-ing to be done because I bent all her abilities toward combat effectiveness dirtside and in space. Your two combat-ish characters seem more diverse than that though, so even that shouldn't be a worry here.

Don't worry about balancing the characters in combat—they chose the kinds of characters that they did because that's who they want to play. A fighty type of character that doesn't have the armaments to match is acutally handicapped compared to a non-fighty type, because they're unable to do their job and fulfill their chosen role. Furthermore, if a PC finds a handgun and uses it in combat... that should be an added advantage over being unarmed, yes?

Just make sure that your game doesn't revolve around set-piece combats every session, since the characters your players have made are waving all kinds of flags that that's not the kind of game they're hoping for. Then you will have balance problems, but of a completely different kind.

Flip the switch, or not

This is a normal "switch" in Fate Core. Using weapon and armour ratings is normal, functional, non-broken. All it does is give anyone who can lay hands on a piece of gear a bonus that reflects that they're more effective when armed and armoured than without. Nearly all Fate rulebooks use this rule, and there's ample evidence from those games that it is neither unfair nor reason to feel cheated.

It's not a special PC bonus though—using rated gear is something that everyone can do. If you intend this to be something that's special to just these two PCs, and "mundane" gear doesn't have ratings, then weapon ratings aren't the way to handle this. Instead, leave the ratings switch "off" in Fate Core, and instead require these two PCs to devote a Stunt to making the weapons give a bonus to one of the four actions (probably Attack) under specific circumstances (e.g. "When in my powersuit" or "When the spirit of my katana is active"). Then this bonus is from the investment of limited character-creation resources.

With the switch "on", giving gear ratings isn't unfair, because anyone can also get gear, and it will have ratings. With the switch "off", then yes, giving the katana and powersuit "free" ratings would be unfair, so model it instead using the standard mechanics offered by Stunts.

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I still don't see it as a combat issue. Giving for free the ability to do 1-3 more shifts in a specific kind of conflicts seems unfair no matter how you look at it. If I gave another character the ability to do 3 more shifts of "damage" in Mental conflicts, just because it fits his/her Aspects, that would be unfair too. I know the difference between Fate and more traditional games. –  Cristol.GdM Apr 8 at 1:07
    
All characters start with the same number of Aspects/Skills/Stunts+Refresh, no matter what their "job" is. And if I randomly give one of the characters this kind of bonus, I'm afraid all future characters will have Aspects mentioning how they have a huge armor and weapon –  Cristol.GdM Apr 8 at 1:10
    
Remember that gear can be lost; it has no plot immunity without using a stunt to give it plot immunity. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 8 at 1:38
    
You don't need aspect to get a "mundane" armor or weapon and get the same (or a bit lower) bonus. –  aragaer Apr 8 at 7:16
    
@aragaer Yes, exactly... In fact, that makes me realise there's a point I should mention. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 8 at 15:06
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To your final, in bold, question, the simplest mechanical answer is as follows.

You are not giving them, the characters, a rating; you are numerically defining an object's rating.

This by itself does not give the two characters an advantage. They would only be gaining an advantage if you outright deny and prevent the other players from possessing, gaining, or using any object; which would have a defined numerical rating. Other answers have provided examples of suggestions you can make to the remaining players, or simply let those players pick what they want to do.

That being said, if you feel that the inclusion of a numeric system will add over-complexity, create an unbalanced and un-fun game, or otherwise result in unhappy players; do not do it. If you feel that extra damage, protection, or some other effect should not be free, then make it require activating the associated aspect.

However, that extra power could be part of the items being artifacts, and something you want them to have and not the other players; an ace in the hole in case something goes terribly wrong. If your desire to to both prevent complaints in this game and escalation of items in future games, the answer is to limit the usefulness of the more powerful objects by making physical combat only a last resort and focus on social and mental based interaction. It is a lot less galling if the thing you do not have is nearly never used, and when it is, it is used for everyone's benefit.

If the artifact players keep escalating into physical combat, or get too big in their britches:

  • Two of the items in question are melee weapons. Have people shoot them. If the guy in armor is the only one standing, that means he is getting shot at more. Ranged combat allows for retreat, and getting bigger guns.
  • If he wants to play the mass-effect game, show him the effect of mass and hit him with a truck, while quoting why Isaac Newton is the deadliest man in space.
  • If Psychic powers exist, throw them at the party. The Psychic cop has obvious defenses and the space pirate is chronological offset and resistant or could have come from a time where everyone has psychic defenses or something else entirely.

Another way to go with it is to make the items themselves have some detriment. As Uncle Ben says, "With great power comes great responsibility", and aspects can go both ways. The girl's sword is haunted, it probably wants to do stuff, like solve its own murder or get into fights with a rival martial arts school. Or maybe it does not want to do stuff, like harm uniformed individuals or other figures of authority. Maybe people want to buy/steal the mystical bat, or the guy himself is constantly getting mobbed by fans. In more simple terms, if a player receives an in-game bonus in addition to character points, make them pay for it in-game. You can achieve this through compelling aspects. From the Fate Core rulebook:

The complication from a compel occurs regardless of anyone’s efforts— you can’t use your skills or anything else to mitigate the situation. You have to deal with the new story developments that arise from the complication.

and

Finally, and this is very important: if a player wants to compel another character, it costs a fate point to propose the complication. The GM can always compel for free.

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