I GMed my first game the other night and, while we had fun once I got the hang of what I was doing, we found the combat difficult to get our heads around.

Let me set the scene:

A wild "5 giant spiders" appears!

5 Sinew Spiders
4” tall, thin red legs, black and red bodies. Fat bodies 3” wide. Will target weapons.
Aspects: Spindly Legs, Hard Carapace.
Good At (+2): Climbing, Webbing from Up Close.
Bad At (-2): Dodging, Webbing from Distance.
Stress: 1▢ 2▢ 3▢

(I know it should've had one more stress box... maybe?)

Now, this is meant to be a pretty beefy challenge. There's a beefy NPC there too though, so it shouldn't be a TPK from the first scene at least. But there were two main issues:

Balancing: Those spiders dropped. Hard. In a round and a half every last one of them was dead. I even tried extending the fight a little longer by crossing out their "Carapace" aspect as a consequence of sorts instead of one spider getting punched and a shockwave taking out the other 3. (What can I say? I had literally no idea what I was doing.)

Targeting: Players would attack some particular spider, and it would hit, covering one of the stress boxes. But narratively, I didn't know what to do. If there are 2 spiders left and one arrow is shot, how does it kill both of them outright? No matter what I did, they'd be superhuman beasts of power to do that amount of damage in a single hit. (Which the PCs weren't by the way.)

Should each spider have been a separate sheet, to give them more staying power? Should they have just had a load more stress boxes?

(Sorry about the nebulous question asking, here. I couldn't figure out how to condense things into something more specific. Would really appreciate any help you guys can give me~)

Notes on my second game, and how it helped me understand some of the tips I got from here: Reddit.

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Fate's actions

Contrary to many classic RPG's on which many of us cut their teeth, there's a disconnect between the game mechanics/terminology and the corresponding narrative in the Fate system. Unfortunately, depending on which implementation you're reading, this is not as clearly explained as it should have been.

An "attack" action does not have to correspond to a single swing/blow/shot/etc. A hit and the resulting stress does not have to correspond to a wound/damage/kill/etc. Being taken out is not necessarily being killed/incapacitated/knocked-out/etc.

Players may or may not describe attacking single or multiple spiders. Swinging an axe at a spider may be a single "attack" action, or plowing through the spider pack with the said axe may also be a single attack.

A player may describe attacking the legs of the spider, and that may be a "create advantage" action to put the aspect "missing a few legs" on the spider.

Another player may describe attacking a spider to divert its attention from a vulnerable teammate, and that attack may actually be a "defend" to reduce the effectiveness of the spiders' attack.

An attack may consist of a smoke bomb that won't actually harm the spiders, but disorient them. The resulting stress is not harm. Not yet. It just means that the spiders are now closer to being taken out. And if they are taken out, it does not mean they are dead. They may as well be scared, subdued, disoriented or scattered. They may even get frustrated/distracted and give up. It only means that they somehow no longer have agency in the current conflict. They are not a threat any more.

How to adjust

That part out of the way, if you want your spiders to have more staying power, just give them more stress boxes and maybe a consequence slot or two. (Consequence slots are good for recurring/long running threats. Those leftover consequences give a good sense of continuity. For one-off threats, stick to the good old moar stress boxes)

If you want them to represent a bigger threat for the players, do not fiddle with their good/bad at scores. Just pick those wisely, and make sure that the scene has a few aspects they can take advantage of. Play them harder. Build up by creating advantages (what are those webs for?) and hit hard at once. Force the players to take consequences or concede the conflict.

  • Great advice! I think this is the exact stuff I needed to hear. I've only read Accelerated all the way through, and it seems to be unclear in the main thrust of the game: everything is narrative. Thanks for helping me with this! – Whothehellisthat Jul 19 '17 at 20:13
  • A minor question related to the conflict topic: should the player narrate their attack before or after the roll? eg. "I shoot an arrow at that particular spider." (rolls +3 and should take out 2 spiders). This actually happened, and I shrugged and said "I guess it skewers through 2 of them?" But maybe things would be smoother for them to just start the action: "I draw another arrow" (roll +3 as before) "I loose a barrage of arrows, hitting one square in the face and slicing 2 legs off another." (As a writer this would be more satisfying; less take-backs and weird results) – Whothehellisthat Jul 19 '17 at 20:16
  • Keep in mind that if you define a group of spiders as a single entity, you don't have to link the number of spiders to the number of stress boxes. Maybe the arrow just kills the lead spider and that's a big blow to the pack. Maybe it doesn't kill any but the flaming arrow dismays them all. And what you said is also valid, maybe the PC had an opportunity to quickly kill one more after the first. The game mechanics don't specify or enforce any of them. It's up to your table and story. – edgerunner Jul 20 '17 at 17:05
  • I personally prefer a post-roll narration, it is like a fun exercise in constrained creative storytelling. You have a numeric result and maybe a couple of invoked aspects, and now you must figure out how that fits into the story. All kinds of creative ideas flow from that. – edgerunner Jul 20 '17 at 17:10
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    In my second session, it was definitely more difficult. But dragged on for a good couple of hours to kill 2 giant wolves. I've written up something about what I've figured out (with help from SE of course) over on Reddit. – Whothehellisthat Jul 25 '17 at 10:45

Stealing from the soon to be released Fate Adversary Toolkit there are four kinds of Enemies:

  • Threats, which soak hits
  • Hitters, who deal damage
  • Bosses, who do both
  • Fillers, are everyone else, like mooks.

Looking at your spiders, I would say that they should be Hitters. So to make sure that they are able to hit the PCs, set their primary skill/approach to one higher than the apex skill of the PCs. Make sure that their defense skill/approach is fairly low, +1 or +2. Because you wanted this to be a "beefy challenge", I would run them as separate creatures. I would start with a number of them equal to (PCs - 1). If the combat goes well for the PCs then I would have 1-2 more show up in round 2 or 3.

I would also adjust their aspects to reinforce their main tactics of using webs and biting.

Sinew Spiders

Aspects: Web Weavers, Sharp Teeth.
Good At (PCs apex + 1): Webbing things, Biting
Good at (+2): Climbing, Skittering away quickly
Bad At (-2): Working together, Planning
Stress: 1▢ 2▢ 3▢

  • Thanks for that. That would make the PCs actually take damage (which they didn't when playing). But what about the spiders taking damage, more than one dying at a time, and so on? – Whothehellisthat Jul 11 '17 at 14:46
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    @Whothehellisthat the answer suggests to run them each as separate creatures, so unless someone has a stunt to attack two things with their action you shouldn't have any issue with more than one dying at a time. With 3 stress boxes each they should be able to take at least one hit, probably two (depending on combat prowess of the protagonists); any more than that and they start getting really really hard. – Delioth Jul 11 '17 at 15:25
  • @Whothehellisthat If you'd rather have the spiders take a lot of damage instead of dealing a lot of damage, switch the skill ratings: Good At (PCs apex + 1): Climbing, Skittering away quickly; Good at (+2): Webbing things, Biting – Amazing Rando Jul 11 '17 at 18:25
  • @Whothehellisthat If you want the spiders to be both tough and damage dealing, then make the "Good +2" skills rating "PC's apex" instead of +2. Then add Mild and Moderate consequences. And only have one of them. (If they are having an easy time, add a second in round 2-3.) – Amazing Rando Jul 11 '17 at 18:34
  • Ah, okay. That makes sense. I'm wondering how it would work if they were just a mob, all on one card though. I think it's something to do with how to view Stress--as more cognitive pressure on the target than damage necessarily (could be both of course)... – Whothehellisthat Jul 12 '17 at 9:24

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