In my Fate core campaign, my group is fighting against aliens in a near future setting (the campaign is loosely inspired by XCOM: Enemy Unknown)

In the core book, most combat examples are melee ones, rolling Fight vs Fight, and the odd ranged fight with bows and arrows or thrown knives is usually resolved with Shoot vs Athletics. I don't think that Shoot vs Athletics is a good fit for laser beams and plasma bolts.

The problem

How can I represent gunfight using opposed skill rolls? Or, in other words, which skill can be used to defend against Shoot where the weapons are high energy, high velocity plasma guns?

Attempted solutions

Here's what I've tried so far:

  1. Shoot vs Athletics, as per core book suggestion. Did not work because it looked like a poor Matrix rip-off.
  2. Shoot vs passive opposition. The character shoots against a fixed difficulty target based on environmental conditions. Pretty good when the PC are shooting enemies, very boring in the reverse because the players aren't involved in fight resolution.
  3. Shoot vs Notice. Notice is representing the battlefield knowledge of finding a good cover. The opposed roll is delayed: when characters scramble for cover they'd roll notice and use that value as passive opposition, like #2 above. Slightly better results, but it seems "weird" to use notice to "find cover" and also if the player makes a good roll (or invests in advantages/fate points) he'll be pratically invulnerable.

What I need

I need an opposing roll because, at the moment, I'm struggling to have coherent damage output: we have fixed stress output mitigated by armor values (for example: a plasma gun does 7 stress, heavy armor reduces the amount by 3). I want to have guns and armor to have aspects instead (as suggested here, which is a beautiful idea), and the stress output decided, by the most part from an opposed roll.

The same example above, translated with my ideal opposed roll, would be like this:

  • The alien shoots with his plasma gun and rolls a 5
  • The player defends with [skill] and rolls a 4
  • The player suffers 3 damage: 1 (from delta) +3 (from weapon:3 property of the plasmagun) -1 (from armor:1 of the player's body armor)

I tend to think that setting such pairings in stone tends to make the game boring. If Shoot is always opposed by Athletics (or whatever else you pick to replace it), then players justifiably tend to hog those two and all other skills are sidelined.

I believe the best way would be allowing creative use of the whole skill set, even allowing unorthodox choices if supported by interesting aspects. (Remember that aspects are true whether somebody invokes them or not)

Somebody's shooting at you with lasers. How are you going to deal with that?

  • Of course I'm in cover already, and I only move when their attention is elsewhere. Never let them take a shot if I can help it: Stealth
  • I keep track of their targeting dot. Never let it touch me when it's steady: Shoot
  • I'm the Master jury rigger. The suit inserts I made out of white styrofoam should be ablative enough for the couple of seconds I need to get out of the way. (They flare brightly and stink afterwards though): Craft
  • There's Thick foilage everywhere. If I keep moving, they'd be hard-pressed to take a proper shot: Athletics
  • I already Spotted that sniper. I'm sticking to the blind areas where they can't shoot: Notice

This makes the game more interesting in my opinion, and no one skill tends to be more important than the other.


In my opinion, the base solution doesn't satisfy your preconceptions because of narrative problems.

Shoot vs Athletics, as per core book suggestion. Did not work because it looked like a poor Matrix rip-off.

Don't narrate it as a dodge... but rather like your third suggestion. Seeking cover. And the player has to be able to justify the cover in order to get the dodge.

If you want to make sure that players are involved in the resolution, you can also make a change to the world to add an aspect that reflects the fact that bullets can't be dodged without cover. And allow free tags to it when any opponent is attempting to dodge in a flat terrain without cover. This reflects the fact that you can dodge the shooter if not the projectile... but it is harder.

If you do want to have a skill, the one thing that I could think to base it on was shield use (if you have the technology) or armor use. This would reflect the in-combat tuning and positioning of the defensive technology to dissipate the weapon's energy.

But in the end, it's still just athletics by another name, so we come around to where anything used in combat is mechanically the same- its a matter of narration and such and imposing penalties for a lack thereof on those that don't narrate it in an appropriate manner.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I was trying to compose basically this answer - it's not about "I see him shooting, I avoid that bolt/blast/beam..." It's about "We're in a dangerous gunfight! I'm ducking, weaving, diving behind cover!" The Athletics roll is just a way to abstract all that activity. \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Oct 3 '14 at 13:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ How can I prevent repeated justifications like "I take cover behind these rocks/trees/concrete bunkers"? That's already what happened in our first attempt \$\endgroup\$ – STT LCU Oct 3 '14 at 14:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @STTLCU: You don't prevent repeated justifications like "I take cover behind rocks". That's reasonable narrative under the circumstances; firing from cover at the enemy is exactly the right response to undodgeable plasma fire. You're already trying to rule out the Matrix/Feng Shui "acrobatics" solution... if you rule out "take cover" as well, you'll be left with "stand still and pray hard". (Remember that they'll have to generate some new aspects if they want free invokes, though.) \$\endgroup\$ – Tynam Oct 3 '14 at 14:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @STTLCU Well then, why not add a battlefield awareness skill? Paul Marshall rightly says that overemphasizing shoot as an offensive and defensive skill for free would have a possibility of putting all eggs in one basket. A stunt to add the dodge trapping to the shoot skill could be appropriate- though that seems to get more into the matrix type universe than merely using athletics or notice to duck behind a hardened obstacle. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Oct 3 '14 at 16:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @STTLCU A car door does obscure vision, which is better than nothing. \$\endgroup\$ – Brilliand Oct 3 '14 at 23:04

A couple grab-baggy ideas —

Make perception operate defensively without making it something you roll for your defense. In order to use Athletics to seek cover/whatever before the shooter gets a chance to shoot at you, you first have to know the shooter is there/aiming at you. If you don't know the shooter is there/aiming at you, your defense is considered 0 (with no rolling). This method privileges snipers and sneak attacks, which may be considered a feature. Basically if you can't pinpoint the origin of the attack, you can't defend against it.

You could also consider taking a page from Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie, from the Fate Worlds books. That has a dogfighting rule, where you can't actually use your attack action against another plane until you've first put an aspect on it ("On His Tail" or whatever). But flip that around: suppose you can't roll to defend against gunfire until you've established an aspect rationale (cover, special sci fi armor/defense systems, accelerating to too-fast-to-track speeds); otherwise you're in the "defense is considered 0" state.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I decided that we'll try using notice as defence skill, and if this isn't going to work I'll try do introduce some new skill. \$\endgroup\$ – STT LCU Oct 13 '14 at 12:26

Shoot !

If you absolutely need an opposed roll (something I think deserves its own discussion), why not try Shoot vs. Shoot ? In-universe justification ? The skill represents the character's combat training in gunfights situations, his ability to anticipate fire and position himself optimally. This opens the possibility to have Stunts such as Gun-Kata to enhance Defend rolls made with Shoot or other fun stuff if thematically appropriate.

It has been commented that this might make the Shoot skill too important. This would indeed make the skill vital for anyone wanting to get involved in firefights. One way you can counteract this is by giving the "Defend with Shoot" action a Stunt cost. This compensates nicely but may take you back to your original question in the case of those who didn't "take the course"...

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer. It's simple and makes sense. I'll definitely try it the next time. \$\endgroup\$ – STT LCU Oct 3 '14 at 14:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ This over-emphasizes the Shoot skill; it's thematically appropriate, but it means that in a firefight, if you maximized Shoot, you don't need much else. If you have one skill for offense and one skill for defense, then the players have more interesting choices to make during character creation. \$\endgroup\$ – PotatoEngineer Oct 3 '14 at 16:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @paulmarshall which skill do you suggest then? \$\endgroup\$ – STT LCU Oct 3 '14 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @STTLCU the other suggestions in answers work fine: you're looking for some sort of Situational Awareness skill, so either Athletics (finding the right place to hide and getting there cleanly) or Notice (finding the right place) work fine. Of the two, I'd go for Athletics, because a) it's what the rules suggest and b) Notice is already incredibly useful for keeping characters out of trouble or finding useful things/clues. (I play Dresden Files rather than Fate Core, but I can't count how many times my GM has asked for an Alertness check.) \$\endgroup\$ – PotatoEngineer Oct 3 '14 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Lohoris - taking into account a game where you get a limited supply of resources to create a character, the choice of one skill or two is more key in balance and character creation. There's a reason that offense and defense are in separate skills for ranged, but not for melee. This isn't to say that you can't choose not to go by that, but you have to be aware of it, which your statement does not show. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Oct 3 '14 at 18:50

I broke some skills for firefights up into Marksman (making direct attacks; basically the normal Shoot skill) and Maneuver. Maneuver was used to create advantage for cover, whether it was seeking cover or creating suppressive fire on enemies.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer and points out an important dial in the Fate system - setting skills up to emphasize what's important in your game. In The Day After Ragnarok, Drive is split into separate skills for land, sea, and air vehicles, because the difference between a helicopter and a jeep is likely to be important in that game. Likewise, in a combat-oriented game, Shoot may be too broad. Maybe skills should be introduced for Pistol, Rifle, and Blaster, for example, and skills for defense such as Cover, Evade, and Locate? \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Oct 4 '14 at 18:11

Ryan Macklin came up with a Survival skill in The Fate Codex Vol. 1 Issue 2. It replaces Notice, and is used for general awareness as well as the "duck and cover" skill to defend against "gunfire and other such attacks…" when taking cover.

In this type of game Athletics can still be used to defend against ranged attacks, like when running from cover to cover. But if you want mostly a "get in cover, shoot from cover" then Survival might just be what you want.


Touching on what was mentioned in the comments from a previous answer, I think that if none of the existing skills work for you thematically, then you should simply create one. Call it Battlefield Awareness, as suggested, or Firefight Tactics, Spec Ops Training, Take Cover, whatever you think best describes the action the players should be taking when getting neemed by a laser.


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