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I am looking for advice regarding Fate/FAE conflict.

In my group, the conflict takes quite a while. Not because our team is just doing simple attacking and defending. We spend lots of time on "create-advantage" and "overcoming" action. However, it just becomes a tedious advantage arm race.

Sure, the situational aspect they are building is different each time. But my players feel all of the combat feels too similar. In the end, it is whoever stacked the most advantage, without getting erased by overcoming action, is the winner.

Our usual conflict goes like this:

A wants a', B wants b'. A' and b' can't coexist together, so they get into conflict. (For instance, A needs to get out of this temple, and B wants A to stay in the temple.)

1st round:

  • A makes an advantage a1.
  • B either tries to disarm the a1 or try to make b1. (Usually disarm fails because A use advantage defensively too)

2nd round:

  • A makes advantage a2 if a1 is defended.
  • B either tries to disarm a2 or try to make b2.

(repeat 1,2 round for 5~6 times)

A or B, whoever feels confident they can knock out the other side with stacked advantages, finally attacks. With three players, this usually means 5~6 advantages, thus winning the fight. (Usually Knock out doesn't happen, but gives 1 or 2 consequences, thus forcing the other to concede or risk losing)

If one side doesn't reach that point, we continue to create advantages or sabotage the other side's advantage. Both sides, knowing attacking with a mere one or two advantage won't cut, continue to churn them out. This making advantage to the tipping point is what slows our conflict process. More often than not, the competition-type scene is faster and more engaging for my players because they don't have time to create multiple advantages. In competition, players can try to make advantage only once and have to fight right away. They can't just sit there and keep making advantages till they sure win.

So how should I help to make conflict more engaging & fast? Changing Stress Box from 1, 2, 3 to 1, 1, 2 slightly helped.

TL;DR: Our team stacks advantage during the conflict until they can surely win. This advantage grinding makes the battle feel dragging and boring. What could I do?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hello Goblin_Lord, welcome to RPG.stackexchange! Kindly take the tour. Always nice to see Fate questions, so I hope you stick around :) \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri May 14 at 12:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ What kind of advantages are your team making and stacking? It sounds a bit like the actual act of setting up the right kinds of advantages is boring, which suggests the actual advantages being made aren't particularly fun. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik May 14 at 12:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hm. Maybe that is one of the problem. Some advantages are interesting, and tied to the specific scene (for example, [Activated Ancient Traps]), but most of the time it is something small like [Aiming], or [Prone], or [Flanking] or [Pinned Down]. Maybe I should encourage my players and I need to come up with more.... exciting advantage? \$\endgroup\$ – Goblin_Lord May 15 at 6:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ This sounds much like actual real-life combat, where you carefully try to make sure you will win before you attack. Lots of boredom punctuated by few moments of intense action. \$\endgroup\$ – edgerunner May 15 at 17:48
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Advantages shouldn't just be mechanical gatherings of numbers, they should meaningfully advance the story.

Aspects, created by that move, are always true. which means they have narrative weight in the game. You should be using aspects not just to layer on debuffs to win, but to change the story in interesting ways. Think about the story first, not about the pure numbers, and ways that you can have cool stuff happen.

If you have an advantage on someone, it's gonna open up new options, restrict options, and change the game in a meaningful way. For example, the first advantage A creates might be activating an ancient trap in the temple so a giant boulder rolls down to crush B like Indiana Jones, creating the advantage Pinned Down by a Boulder. If B chooses to ignore the boulder so they can set up an Unsteady Ground debuff or something boring for A, the boulder will pin them down, and they won't be able to block A leaving.

This forces some creative problem solving, like riding the boulder, or creating an advantage We Are Pinned Down by a Boulder. If they are stacking multiple advantages, then it should be strangling off options of their enemy, or creating a huge advantage for them that allows the plot to move forward even before the numbers come into play.

If the fight is getting boring, use compels to push it to more interesting angles.

Compels are a key tool to make the narrative more interesting. So, if the scene is dragging on, use a compel to push it in a more interesting option, like having them have a motorbike chase scene (you have an aspect Vengeance At Any Cost, one fate point for them to escape and you to pursue them), or having the temple fill with poisonous gas (I'm compelling your Angry Little Red Girl aspect to have you trigger a trap to fill the temple with poison soon) so that the scene is more interesting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think our group is using advantages as... just numbers. It should be "True" and "make story move forward." Like I mentioned above, frequent aspect they create is [Flanking] or [Pinned Down] sort (yes, most, if not all, my players are from DnD/PF groups). Maybe that is why just piling advantages are just too.... boring. So I will try to fix that. What about the dragging part? Should I set a limit of "You can't just create advantage for three rounds in a row"? That sounds horrible, but just building up and doing nothing might be an issue here, both me and my players.... \$\endgroup\$ – Goblin_Lord May 15 at 6:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Goblin_Lord Lead by example. Have bad guys create advantages that are more than "pinned down" or "flanked". And when they try to do something that the advantage logically doesn't allow, say "but Advantage is true, that won't work". \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk May 15 at 20:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ If someone is pinned down, then you can imagine bullets flying as they hide behind an ancient statue. When pinned down they can't run, they can't shoot, and their options are restricted. That's a powerful statement. That would completely end the temple conflict, unless the NPC had some alternative, like pushing over the statue to crush the PC, or unleashing the dead god to hurt people. And yeah, if nothing interesting is happening, use a compel to drive it in an interesting direction. You could do it at the start of a conflict, or after three rounds. Building up is dull. \$\endgroup\$ – Nepene Nep May 15 at 20:37
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As a Fate GM, you shouldn't be nickel-and-diming Advantages in conflicts.

There are actually three separate vectors here that have all plotted a collision course with your game to make it less exciting than it could be, so let's take them out one at a time.

Are You Too Conflicted?

There's some advice in Fate Core that honestly goes a little too far:

If someone tries to attack in a contest, then they're doing direct harm, and it ceases to be a contest. You should immediately stop what you're doing and start setting up for a conflict instead.

-- "Attacks in a Contest", from the SRD

But that's not entirely true. "As long as the characters involved have both the intent and the ability to harm one another, then you're in a conflict scene." ("Conflicts", from the SRD, emphasis mine) If you're trying to get away from someone who wants to hurt you -- you don't intend to hurt them -- then you're not in a conflict scene. You're in... some kind of contest/conflict hybrid.

It sounds like the scene you're describing falls in that weird middle part. The PCs want out of the temple, your NPCs want to capture them -- even if this has reached the point where your NPCs have cornered or outnumbered the PCs to the point that they can force attacks on them, it doesn't have to operate as a full conflict if your PCs would rather escape than fight, or if the total number of NPCs you could bring to bear make an actual fight a very unlikely victory.

The first time I remember seeing this floated was in Dresden Files Accelerated, which interspersed contest and conflict rounds for people who were trying to accomplish something else while a conflict was going on, and it's undergone some more development since then until landing in Fate Condensed:

In a contest, the PCs can't or aren't trying to harm the enemy. External threats (e.g., erupting volcano, angry god) may attack any or all sides; those threats might also be a participant in the contest.

-- "Contests", from the Condensed SRD

In that case, create an advantage risks your turn as usual, and your contest roll is also your defense roll. Every PC should be making their own contest roll unless they'd be depending on one PC to defend them, like the driver of their getaway chariot or whatever.

When two sides are trying to accomplish different things and they aren't both willing and able to harm each other to do it, you shouldn't run it as a conflict in the first place. And again, that's "harm" as in "total narrative control". Sometimes you do want to knock out all the guards so you can do an extended search of a warehouse (for example), but consider a smaller case, where you're trying to leave a warehouse in a hurry and there are a couple guards blocking the most obvious door.

Sure, the way that it plays out is that Twilliam distracts the guards, Athens follows up on that from a blind angle to knock them clear of the door, and then Starhound shoots the lock out and you're gone, but you don't need to get total control of the guards to pull that off, just get them out of the way for a second - this can just as easily be run as a challenge as a conflict.

By limiting conflicts to the times when one side needs to control another, rather than just the times when one side is opposing another, you'll only be spinning up conflicts when you need to, reducing the often-repetitive nature of small conflicts.

Small conflicts shouldn't use Advantages for numbers, and casual conflicts should be small

By "small" I mean "mostly involving mooks or nameless NPCs". Maybe a supporting NPC but that's as high as it goes. In those cases, maybe the supporting NPC is there to actually provide some kind of narrative, but what you're after is more the texture of conflict - your opposition has every intention of winning, but from a dramatic standpoint this isn't a battle the heroes have much chance of losing.

Again, keep in mind - this is a case where you have to control your opposition to get what you want. Sometimes it happens, with varying frequency depending on what genre you're running, but just because it's happening doesn't necessarily mean it's a big dramatic production that needs a bunch of supporting or main NPCs made for it.

In those cases, you don't go after numbers by individually having your NPCs try to create Advantages or counter PC advantages. You go for numbers by having your NPCs coordinate attacks to stack up a teamwork bonus, and by spending Fate Points from the scene pool. When you're starting to run low on nameless NPCs and the scene pool is empty it's probably time to concede out of the fight rather than running it to the bitter end.

In the big conflicts, your Advantages should be spectacular

When facing down roughly equal numbers of supporting NPCs, or a main NPC, you're in a conflict that the story turns on, and you should go big with your own Advantages, to the point of, well:

Invariably, if you play Fate long enough, someone's going to try to affect multiple people at once in a conflict.

[...]

The easiest way to do this is to create an advantage on the scene, rather than on a specific target. A Gas-Filled Room has the potential to affect everyone in it, and it's not too much of a stretch to suggest that the Inspirational Mood in a room could be contagious. In this context, the aspect presents an excuse to call for a skill roll (using the overcome action) from anyone in the scene who attempts to get past it. Generally speaking, it won't cause damage, but it will make things more difficult for those affected.

and

Likewise, keep in mind that your NPCs have a home turf advantage in conflicts if the PCs go to them in order to resolve something. So, when you’re setting up situation aspects, you can pre-load the NPC with some free invocations if it’s reasonable that they’ve had time to place those aspects.

and, well, Advantages are Aspects and Aspects are true... until they're not. A scene or zone or personal aspect created by your NPCs, possibly when using their prep, could just cancel out PC advantages. Your main NPC's been dogpiled and restrained? Now they've got a Sparking Golden Force Field and none of that matters because nobody can lay a hand on them. PCs are hiding and taking aim? Now the whole place is Flooded With Black-Hole Light and none of that works anymore. PCs have created cover or obstacles? Now their adversaries have the Flight of the False Gods.

If NPCs in the big showstopper fights can just slam down an Advantage and clear the board (again, because this is a showstopper fight and your NPCs have prepared for this) then that takes round-to-round Advantage shepherding completely off the table for your PCs - they'll need to deal with these big impactful Advantages from you, and do what they can with their personally-created Advantages while they have them.

And one final note:

Your players might be playing too defensively.

Mentioning that your players spend their free invokes on defense reminded me of a common antipattern I saw running Fate demos that a more experienced GM was kind enough to caution me against. Fate Points and free invokes are there to help you the player make cool things happen. When you spend them on defense, what you're doing instead is making nothing happen, and "nothing" isn't cool.

You're not forbidden from spending them on defense because doing it might stop you from getting Taken Out, and "never anything again" is even less cool than "nothing", but by and large you should spend your stress bar on defense, since that's what it's there for, and spend Fate Points and free invokes on making cool things happen. Otherwise you'll just be making nothing happen, and your situation sounds like there's a lot more nothing happening than anyone wants.

There may be something similar you're familiar with if you're coming to Fate from Pathfinder, or 3rd or 5th edition D&D: don't use magic to heal in combat. Sure, you can spend your turn and those resources to partly roll back the damage the other side did on their turn, and sometimes the benefit is big enough to warrant it, like bringing somebody else back into the fight. But most of the time, you're better off spending those resources to help your side win faster instead of losing slower.

Fate Points and free invokes work the same way.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The third and fourth note hits really hard. Maybe I am keep thinking fight should be fair and give the BBEG little to no preparation/pre-scene advantage. I will try to fix on that. The fourth one... I think this is one of the reason why the conflict feels dragged out. Instead of using advantage to change the situation (hurting enemy or swinging the court, etc), we use them defensively. How should I approach this? I can just tell/persuade my group to discourage using free invokes for defensive purpose to move forward. But what else should I do? Maybe something like weapon/defense system? \$\endgroup\$ – Goblin_Lord May 15 at 6:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ By weapon/armor system, I meant if you use free invoke for defensive purpose, you get +1 instead of +2, or something like that. Maybe that will probe them to use it now and move on, instead of piling? Again, just throwing ideas. Me and my players are DnD/PF oriented group, so any insight for FATE/FAE would be helpful. And I know nothing more helps my players to think in specific way is game mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ – Goblin_Lord May 15 at 6:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Goblin_Lord Oh! If you're coming from D&D there's a real easy analogy. I've added it to the last section. \$\endgroup\$ – Glazius May 15 at 14:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you're coming from D&D and going to Fate you might get something useful from this old question of mine: Problems to look out for if you are a D&D group who play Fate for the first time? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik May 15 at 20:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ In Taking out main NPCs without exhausting all their stress and consequences, option 3, I write about how I wouldn't even use Conflict rules for simple, small exchanges. I use Avatar for an example: lots of fights are just the Gaang taking out a no-name guard or two in a single move because they're just trying to get from A to B and the guards are in the way, and that's not worth structuring an entire Conflict around. Instead, I'd reserve those for serious head-on fights with personal stakes where the entire goal is both are trying hard to win. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 17 at 12:05

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