I am aware of the fact that Fate emphasis is on the narrative aspects of the play, but still we are rolling dice and using numbers to measure the outcome of some actions. I am trying to figure out how deadly (or not deadly at all) is the system. I have in mind 2 scenarios:

  1. An npc sneak behind an unaware character and hits him with a sap or club to put him to sleep. How many shift does he need? Is a severe consequence enough? Has a consequence like Unconscious by Head Trauma the same effect as taken out, system wise and narrative wise (i.e. losing the control of the pc)?

  2. An npc shoot a pc with a shotgun (a deadly weapon, so with a high bonus is we use it as an extra) almost at point blank. How many shift does he need to take out the character? Reading the rules it seems that the pc can buy off the shift with all the consequences he has and one tick of stress. So it makes 2 + 4 + 6 + stress > 12. He can absorb a lot of shifts not counting the extreme consequence at 8.

So the general question is: How many shifts are needed to take out a character with a single blow?


2 Answers 2


It takes as many shifts of harm to take someone out as it takes. The amount is arbitrary, since the character may have more or less stress boxes, consequences, stunts, etc. Asking how many is kinda like asking how long a piece of string is.

To calculate someone's plot armor against getting taken out by a single attack, you'll need to add up the following, assuming they're willing to spend everything they can on avoiding being taken out:

  • The size of their biggest applicable stress box. A character has 2 stress boxes by default, and may have 3 or 4 if they have any/enough physique or will (see adding tracks and slots).
  • Their consequences (if they have them): minor (2), medium (4), severe (6), and their extreme consequence (8) for a minimum of 20 shifts, plus any other extra consequences added by their stunts/extras.
  • +2 for each aspect they can spend a Fate Point to invoke. (You can only invoke an aspect once via fate points.)
  • +2 for each free invocation they have on a relevant aspect. (You can stack an arbitrary quantity of free invocations, even from the same aspect. See that section, 4th paragraph, particularly the last sentence.)
  • +2 for each boost.
  • Add in the effects of any stunts or armor.
  • +1 shift to be the one to finally take them out.

Assuming all but the first two points add to nil, this results in a minimum of 23-25 shifts (20 from consequences + 2-4 from a stress box + 1) to take out a player character in one blow, if they have no extra consequences. This excludes their defence roll, which will add ±4 and their defence skill, too.

If you don't quite manage to take them out (e.g. you only get 20), the character will still be pretty hobbled after this, and significantly changed by the experience of whatever happened to them in this attack, thanks to their extreme consequence!

In a practical situation, this is a lot of variability, so if you ask me how many shifts a character can take, I'll be asking you to show me the character and circumstances.

Bear in mind, though, this doesn't make the system deadly. The majority of the section on getting taken out is on character death, and basically says it's boring. Even if someone's got a shotgun aimed at them, they probably won't be taken out by actually being hit by it.

Further, you mentioned knocking someone out via consequences - that's probably the least reliable way to knock them out. You're probably better off using create an advantage to place a knocked out aspect on them.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I understand the approach and to "why they didn't already concede?" I can answer that sometimes players want to try their luck even in the worst circumstances (like having a shotgun in the face) and sometimes a bad roll happens. Sure I want to avoid death, but I also would like to close the curtains on the scene like I would do on a concede or on a taken out. \$\endgroup\$
    – fortuna
    Jul 28, 2014 at 12:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, well then part of this answer may be unnecessary to you. But the answer is still that it's arbitrary and takes as much to take someone out as it takes, based on how much they have available for absorbing the attack. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 29, 2014 at 0:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs Maybe add a basic "here are the things you add together to get a given (N)PC's potential plot armour against a single Attack"? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 29, 2014 at 0:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose I can actually factor that, thanks. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 29, 2014 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think I've expunged the Fate Gremlin from my answer now... @fortuna, I apologise for responding from a position of doubt about your understanding of Fate. We discussed that ourselves in Meta a while ago - see The gremlin in our answers: “Fate is narrative” answers to mechanical Fate questions - and considering I was getting answers with the Gremlin in them on my own Fate questions, I'm pretty surprised I went and did the same myself here. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 29, 2014 at 23:22

The other answers are addressing the context of the narrative and the general tone of Fate, and at the table they're probably more useful. But let's answer the question literally too:

You need to inflict 24 shifts of harm in a single hit to take out the average unprepared "main" NPC.

That's shifts of harm, so I'm not taking into account whatever she rolled to defend. This is how much you need to exceed her defence roll by in order to take her out:

3 (3 stress boxes) + 2 (mild consequence) + 4 (moderate consequence) + 6 (severe consequence) + 8 (extreme consequence) + 1 (the point of harm which actually takes her out). Most NPCs will stop taking consequences before that point, but if you want to be sure they've got no more options to stay in the fight, this is what you know you'll have to overcome.

I include the extreme consequence in the equation for completeness's sake. By a strict legalistic reading of the Fate Core rules extreme consequences are a PC-only resource, but other Fate systems like DFRPG imply (through examples) that NPCs have access to extreme consequences. The formula is transparent enough for you to modify it according to how your own group has turned that dial.

(Most main NPCs have at least one more stress box, so in practice we should assume a slightly higher number to be safe. And naturally any stunts or extra goodies they've got --like armour or bonus consequences-- can make it much higher. However if you spread the shifts across multiple attacks the amount of harm could wind up being different as they're forced to spend larger consequences to soak smaller amounts of harm, but can use their stress track more efficiently.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do main NPCs have extreme consequences too? I thought only PCs have them. \$\endgroup\$
    – aragaer
    Jul 28, 2014 at 13:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aragaer A legalistic reading of Fate Core says NPCs don't have them. I think legalistic readings of Fate Core are somewhat silly and if an NPC is important enough to take 12 shifts of consequences to stay in the game she'll probably take another 8 too, but I'll add a note. (DFRPG has some examples which make it look like that system assumes NPCs can use extreme consequences, but legalistically the rules themselves indicate otherwise.) \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Jul 28, 2014 at 13:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for a Fate answer that is not "You don't understand Fate this is not how it works" \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28, 2014 at 23:22

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