FATE is very clear in that its Aspects and Skills are largely metagame elements - they are meant to highlight what is important and true in the story, not to simulate what would happen in reality.

This however is currently causing a bit of a difficulty in a setting I am running, as it deals with giant, Anime-style mecha which can be piloted by characters.

Normally, I am treating mecha as Extras, with their own stress track and consequences, stunts and a couple of aspects. Player character aboard a mecha just use their own skills and may use either their own stress boxes or those of their mecha, same goes for consequences (to allow for pilot injuries).

This system works fine for combat mecha vs. mecha, as both sides are about equal in balancing terms. It works less well however for situations where the heroes are up against a mech while they themselves are on foot, trying to bring it down. In plot terms, this is meant to be a climactic battle where the mech suddenly is much tougher than it would be if seen from the cockpit of another mecha.

Three possible courses of action appear:

a) Use the same rules (extra) I'd normally use, making the battle fairly anticlimactic since we're still just rolling on the same scale (I'd like to prevent skill inflation if possible).

b) Forego the extra entirely and make this the roleplaying equivalent of a Shadow of the Colossus-style quicktime event chain, giving no explicit stress track but just letting players beat the enemy through Overcome and Advantage actions.

c) Give all mecha by default a stunt that gives them +2 against smaller-scale opponents.

FATE gives no direction on how to deal with this. I personally feel that c) is very gamey and leads to exactly the kind of inflation I am hoping to prevent, while a) might raise some eyebrows and feels very anticlimactic and b) turns the game into essentially an illusion of gameplay, even though this may be very much in the spirit of FATE.

What do you recommend? Are there house rules that could be employed here? Have I missed anything in the official rules? Any help would be appreciated!

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ There is very good q&a from one of fate authors about scale problem in general. Check it out here ryanmacklin.com/2014/05/qa-scaling-in-fate \$\endgroup\$
    – aardvark
    Jun 23, 2014 at 10:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aardvark, That post looks like it could be made into a good answer. A +4 difference as mentioned in it also sounds like a pretty good balancing factor for people vs. anime mecha. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian S
    Sep 19, 2014 at 14:07

4 Answers 4


Shadow of the Colossus is a good place to start...

...but we can take the general notion and use Fate mechanics to make it a tactical complication the players can control.

To do this we'll use option A, with an option B twist. (I originally developed this idea to model monsters like vampires which have particular immunities or vulnerabilities that can make it trivial for an informed PC to defeat them, but which makes it nigh impossible for an uninformed character to survive them).

Give the mecha a stress track and features as normal, but with one extra feature: armor or immunity to stress unless certain conditions are met. This means that in order to damage the mecha, there must be certain narrative justifications (usually aspects placed on it or removed from it).

For example (I'll go with the extreme "immune to stress" option, but they could just as easily be an armor rating of, say, 4):

Reinforced Vitals: The mecha with this stunt has extra plating over vulnerable spots. It gains the aspect Reinforced vitals, and so long as it has this aspect the mecha is immune to all physical stress. Attempts to remove the aspect (via the Overcome action) can be defended against with its Physique skill.

Psychic Quickness: The mecha with this stunt can anticipate and avoid attacks by reading its opponents' minds. It is immune to stress from any intelligent attacker which is not psychically protected (as with an aspect like Faraday cage hat or Supreme mental discipline). It may attempt to remove these aspects from its attackers as the GM deems appropriate.

Heat Vulnerability: The mecha with this stunt is immune to stress dealt by sources other than heat.

Now you've got mecha which present major tactical challenges but are otherwise reasonably balanced (we haven't changed any of the numbers or introduced new mechanics). The fight will last longer as aspects are applied and removed to truly create advantages in the conflict, and players may want to manipulate their turn orders on the fly to exploit this. I say let 'em.

Note that you can take this concept and get even fancier, to whatever extent you like:

Reflective Armor: So long as this mecha's armor is shiny and unmarred, it has armor 4 against all light- and sound-based attacks (such as lasers). Whenever stress is reduced by this stunt, the mecha must automatically deal 1 stress to a target of the mecha's choice within its zone (if no opponents are available, it must choose an ally).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Whatever option you choose, please drop by the chat to share how it turns out in your game! \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Jun 21, 2014 at 12:34

I have run in the same issue with starships (and mechas, actually) in the past. I used a mechanic roughly adapted from the old Star Wars d6 system and the Scale mechanic in Fate's toolbox. For that answer, I will refer to vehicles/characters/starships/mechas as elements.

I roughly define how many size categories there is between elements. I tried for a while to define a whole range of categories (people, vehicles, mechas, small starships, big starships, and so on) but it was too cumbersome, so now I just do it case by case. An element can be bigger, way bigger, or reaaaally bigger.

For each category an element is bigger than its opponent, it gets +1 to Armor and +1 to Weapon, but -1 to defense and attack tests. Aaaaand... that's it.

*For example, the group's space pirate is trying to have his starship shoot the King's royal mecha. I compare the two, and decide the starship is bigger than the mecha. When attacking, it will have -1 to attack, but +1 to damage. When the mecha retaliates, the ship will have -1 to dodge, but take -1 damage.*

This is quite light from a rule point a view, but it fit my needs considering how often different scale interactions happened in our game. You can also apply the size bonus to other tests if it feels relevant (stealth, chases...)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the response! Wouldn't those modifiers nullify each other in the end though? For example, +1 armor counteracts the -1 defense roll, since it's applied to the same roll only at a different time (after the decision whether damage is done versus before). Or maybe I am missing something? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2014 at 15:19
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know anything about FATE, but, in reading the question, Star Wars' scales was my first thought. @monsterfurby, the idea is that a smaller character/item/vessel will have an easier time hitting the bigger target, but will do less damage. The bigger "shooter" will have a harder time hitting a smaller, more maneuverable target, but if it hits, will do significantly more damage. Using an example from Star Wars, imagine a horde of X-Wings attacking a Star Destroyer. The fighters have no trouble hitting a capital ship but the damage they can inflict is generally severely limited. \$\endgroup\$
    – Adrien
    Jun 23, 2014 at 22:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Exactly as @Adrien said :) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27, 2014 at 20:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ That does make sense, but I suppose the fact that damage and to-hit are the same roll is throwing me off. So basically +1 weapon and -1 attack means that it is 1 harder to hit the target, but the damage inflicted would be unmodified (because the -1 is taken from the roll to reach the 'hit' threshhold' and the +1 is applied to the same roll afterwards). I think the shift would have to be asymmetrical, i.e. +2 vs. -1. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 1, 2014 at 8:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @monsterfurby Well, a -1/+1 makes a small difference but not that much yeah. A -2/+2 starts becoming brutal, which is how I wanted it to be :) Anyway, I think the best would be to try it in your games and tell us how it worked \$\endgroup\$ Jul 3, 2014 at 13:21

From The Day After Ragnarok port

In the section on vehicles, there's a discussion of scale. I don't want to quote too much here, but I think I can safely summarize (please edit if I'm wrong!). To summarize from pp.48-49 of the DAR Fate book:

There are three scales: personal, vehicle, and massive. Each one is a big enough jump to make the one below it basically meaningless. Personal is a regular character; vehicle is something you ride around in, from a jeep to an airplane; massive is big enough to adventure inside of - an aircraft carrier.

Attacking or otherwise affecting something one scale jump bigger requires that you have created an advantage first. More than one scale is basically impossible. Something one scale down automatically gets consequences instead of stress (if you're using those pieces of the system, I guess) when you attack, and two scales different is not even a conflict.

I like this system because in my mind, it meshes very well with a famous movie scene where small fighter craft (vehicles) cooperate to create an advantage against and destroy an enormous battle station (massive).

Here's what I find to be the best quote:

When you’re trying to affect something a scale bigger than you, you must set up an advantage first, justifying how you’re able to affect it. This might be as simple as having a certain piece of gear. But it might mean that you need to carefully line up the fuel tank in your sights, or crawl up under its belly in the dead of darkness, or something else adventurous. And after your first attack, the target will likely try to nullify your advantage somehow.

What I like about this system is the way that it interacts meaningfully with the rest of Fate - it drives you to adventurous action. It's not about simulating interactions between real-world entities, it's about turning the gears of Fate's story-generating machinery.

So in your game, we'll call Mecha vehicles - you wouldn't stage scenes inside of them, but players can pilot them, so they sound like vehicles. Plus, you might have some sort of Mecha-mothership or forge-base or something that's a scale bigger than Mecha. In this case, characters on foot will have to Create an Advantage in order to hurt the enemy Mecha. Some things off the top of my head include:

  • Prepare the ground - mines, unstable rolling surface (barrels or spheres?), or just plain tiger traps put the giant bots off balance
  • Use environmental constraints to put the Mecha in bad positions...trap them between skyscrapers and knock the top floors down onto them?
  • Use environmental dangers, like power lines & electrified rails (I guess I'm assuming an urban battle here...) or if it's rural, scorch the earth by setting the forest, fields, or whatever on fire. Take a cue from Battletech and make that overheat the mechs
  • Anything the Ewoks did to the walkers in Jedi

My usual approach to this sort of task is to break it down from one mega-goal (defeating the mechs) into a bunch of smaller goals. For example, one way to beat the mech is to get on it, then climb up to the cockpit, rip the cockpit open with my handy chainsaw, then attack the pilot inside. You'd accomplish this same as any other chain of task resolutions, like climbing a wall, opening a lock, meleeing an antagonist in that order. Depending on how the sequence played out, I'd put down environmental advantages/disadvantages for the scene. For example, as you're running up to the mech, it shoots you. It has the advantage "MUCH bigger than you", which would be anywhere from a +2 to higher, depending on how lethal the weapon was. (Conversely, YOU might invoke "too small to hit") unless the mech had anti-personnel weapons.)

Anyway, when scale is that far out of whack, it's best to treat it as a series of goals, rather than a straight-up combat precisely because the dynamics of battle will change. You don't run a battle between a PC and a Star Destroyer directly, do you?


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .