In traditional games such as D&D, the mechanics of the NPCs you face are generally an unknown quantity. The players and the characters only have a rough idea of what an NPC is capable of, based on what they’ve already seen - ultimately, a player does not know much about his or her adversaries. This generates a very particular fear of the unknown in the players themselves which is exciting and useful, and lends considerably to immersion for some players.

In Fate, contrariwise, all the cards are on the table. The enemies are all known quantities, and there are no surprises for the players. If the elderly Count Montgomery is actually a facet of a hellish demigod, the players know that as well as the GM does. There is no fear of the unknown except that which the players decide to roleplay through their characters, because Fate’s system integrity requires these things:

But D&D’s fear of the unknown is created through concealing its equivalents of these things, and I want to capture that Fear of the Unknown in Fate while keeping the Fate philosophies and engine intact. I want to be able to usefully make my player’s opponents an unknown quantity, whilst still letting the players operate as close as possible to full Fate capacity. Fate Core p79 explains how to create aspects which can be meaningfully invoked and compelled, yet not give away secrets about the NPC. But this is not a full solution: How do I accomplish similar feats with other mechanics, or is there another entirely different way to use Fate to evoke the Fear of the Unknown in a game’s players?

I don't know if "Fear of the Unknown" is exactly the best description of what I'm after, but I want the players to not know their adversaries on a meta level. I want this to be possible (set in D&D 4e):

The first time my players had a proper Slaad encounter, they didn't know what Slaadi were.

Five obvious caster-types in the front of the room and a great hulking toadbeast in the back. Naturally, the party assumed that the toadbeast was going to charge the door, keeping everyone bottled in the hallway while the casters pew-pewed from behind him. They consulted and agreed that the casters could probably teleport, but the toadbeast would be easy to pin against the back wall. The tank would do that while the DPS cleaned up the casters. So the tank wins initiative and runs in screaming, pushing the toadbeast into a corner and ready to keep him from moving past.

Suddenly, the party learns that toadbeasts can teleport, because he's in the hallway ripping up the squishies while the casters are keeping the tank from getting back out of the room to help. (Lesson learned: the big muscley guys aren't always limited to walking where they want to go.)

(Please note that I do not feel it is necessary to specifically hide DCs; I want the effect that kind of thing creates, as I’ve described - keeping their exact capacity obscured - but I’m not attached to the methods used by 4e.)

I can hear what you’re thinking: ”You don’t hide stuff in Fate!” I understand. This is definitely a strange thing to do in Fate - but I still want to do it.


2 Answers 2


I think that the problem is conflating the hiding of relevant story related aspects and the hiding of the unknown.

Hiding the unknown is totally cool- in those two questions that you link (and one of them is mine), it involved hiding what the player was using, and what the player was rolling. That takes away player agency, and interferes with one of the tenets of Fate.

However, use of descriptions to convey dread and obfuscate the nature of an opponent- that is dealing with the unknown. As long as when that opponent intersects the player's agency they understand the nature of what they're dealing with, you're in clear territory.

To take an example: In one of my games, the bodyguard for the person that the PCs were trying to protect turned out to be working for the Big Bad. He had aspects that would point to his cover that were obvious, i.e. Disdain for his Charge. He also had aspects that were not as obvious that revealed his loyalties, i.e. Divided Loyalties. He also had abilities that were far outside of what a bodyguard should have- this is where the ladder and their descriptors come into play when describing his movements. Instead of saying that he used a Melee +5 to block the players attack, I instead say the total that they have to beat. Then when describing it, depending on how obvious I want to be about his abilities, I might say that "his defense was far above average- one of the most superb examples of wing chun that you have ever seen. Or for less obvious uses, I would just describe it.

The player has the agency to use his fate points as normal to overcome the DC. But they don't know whether I rolled well, the NPC was very skilled, the NPC used Fate points, or a combination of the three. But it does become obvious in the dialog that something is going on, and if they player wants to guess/use a skill/invoke an aspect, they have the information that they need to make it happen.

In this way you're able to maintain the air of mystique around the opposition, and in many cases, ratchet it up more than if you didn't give the information at all. After all, what you're really trying to engage is their imagination and their mind- this information sometimes makes them freak out more than just not knowing; I've seen it in action.


So, here's a thought about Fate -- if you want to hide something, that's totally cool, as long as what you're masking (or the way you're masking it) doesn't:

  1. keep the characters from being competent and proactive
  2. interfere with the Fate point economy

Other than that, consider mechanical visibility to be another one of Fate's dials. Of course, that piece of advice doesn't actively solve your problem, so here's one possible setting of the dials that could help you:

One of the most immediately obvious ways to mask your NPC's capabilities is to hide its skills. However, this really isn't as interesting as, say, hiding an Armor Class in D&D might be -- as soon as your NPC defends at +5 with Athletics, their skill level is revealed, and there's no guesswork left beyond remembering that it was this particular NPC (or NPC type) that had Superb Athletics. So, let's change it.

The Fate System Toolkit, in its chapter on Skills, has a section on structural changes that modify the underlying assumptions of the skill list. One in particular would suit the idea of maintaining mystery:

If you want to take a very extreme step, you can forgo skills entirely, and use aspects for everything. This requires a single change to the way aspects work. Now, in addition to everything else, they provide a passive +1 bonus in situations where they apply. Thus, if my aspects are Acrobatic, Lady’s Man, Strong, and Swordsman, I can count on a +2—effectively a Fair skill—in most sword-fighting situations, which bumps to a Good (+3) if I do something acrobatic. [FST 25]

Since you're dropping skills in favor of aspect-based bonuses, you'll probably want to expand the number of aspects that affected characters have access to, in order to keep them competent in a number of areas. The above section concludes with this advice:

As is so often the case, the most interesting characters will be the most mechanically potent.

Note that this replacement can work in a mixed system: if you want the player characters to still have a skill list instead of aspect bonuses, great, though you might consider bumping the bonus from important NPCs' important aspects (their high concept, for example, and maybe one other) to a +2 in order to keep them viable against the players' specialty skills.

With these aspect-based bonuses, there is one more change that I would make: default to hiding the aspects of NPCs for whom you want to emphasize uncertainty and fear -- it doesn't have to be all of them, and probably shouldn't be when it's not interesting -- but (and I consider this critical), freely tell your players the size of the bonus you are applying to rolls, and drop enough hints in the narrative that they will be able to use Create Advantage to discover the aspects when they've observed that the fast-talking merchant they're dealing with does, in fact, have a Gilded Tongue.

It might go without saying, but don't make your players describe the aspect exactly as you have: if the aspect they're looking for with Create Advantage covers the same ideas as the one you have on the index card, either reveal the aspect as written or, better yet, swap it out for the one that the players have described (players love to be right).


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