Core/FAE has Stunts that give a numerical bonus to actions or otherwise let a character do things beyond the normal rules. But reading through the rulebooks, I haven't found any guidance for the opposite effect: an "anti-stunt" that imposes a penalty on an action or prevents an action that's normally allowed. Is there any official text covering this topic? If their response is, "Don't do it this way; model disadvantages with another method," that's okay too.

Question inspired by the comments in this answer where SevenSidedDie gives an example of making an Aspect or "bad" Stunt so a zombie horde can't move zones as quickly as other characters. Of course I could make it an Aspect and let the PCs compel/invoke so the zombies get hung up on obstacles and have to stop moving or roll an overcome action. My question is about creating a persistent, clearly-defined mechanical effect, which to me sounds more like a Stunt.

The best resource I've found so far is FAE's section on Bad Guys, where you pick what they're skilled at (+2 to rolls) and bad at (-2 to rolls). You've got the mechanical modifier there, but the descriptions seem broader than Stunts. It also doesn't cover "the character just can't do this at all."

  • As I've shown in my answer, using official texts, Fate makes a conscious design decision to avoid explicit penalties. – Caleb Hines Apr 27 '15 at 21:27
up vote 6 down vote accepted

There's a really simple alternative to penalties (at least for passive opposition) that I haven't seen mentioned yet: just set the difficulty higher. This is the recommended approach in the rules, and it is clearly a deliberate design decision to prefer this over penalties. Under the section "Running The Game" > "What To Do During Play" > "Setting Difficulties" (http://fate-srd.com/fate-core/what-do-during-play) it states (emphasis mine):

When you’re setting passive opposition for an action, keep in mind the difficulty “break points” mentioned in Actions and Outcomes—anything that’s two or more steps above the PC’s skill is probably going to cost them fate points, and anything that’s two or more below the PC’s skill will be a breeze.

Rather than “modeling the world” or going for “realism,” try setting difficulties according to dramatic necessity—things should generally be more challenging when the stakes are high and less challenging when they aren’t.

(Functionally, this is the same as setting a consistent difficulty and assessing a circumstantial penalty to the roll to reflect rushing the task or some other unfavorable condition. But psychologically, the difference between a high difficulty and a lower difficulty with a penalty is vast and shouldn’t be underestimated. A player facing a higher difficulty will often feel like they’re being properly challenged, while that same player facing a large penalty, likely chosen at the GM’s discretion, will often feel discouraged by it.)


As further proof that the Fate rules deliberately eschew explicit penalties, we can check the System Toolkit, which discusses the topic of Supplemental Actions (http://fate-srd.com/fate-system-toolkit/supplemental-actions) -- "...in previous versions of Fate... performing an action that would distract from your primary action imposes a -1 penalty on your primary action", but this was removed in Fate Core. The reasoning:

Supplemental actions don’t appear anywhere in Fate Core, despite having appeared in previous versions of Fate. We did this for two reasons. First, we feel it’s better to use bonuses than penalties, and supplemental actions imposed a penalty. Second, supplemental actions are there to make things more “realistic,” but they don’t necessarily make things more fun or more like an exciting story. They make it harder to do cool things, not easier.

They then propose an alternative that's "a little more in keeping with the ethos of Fate Core", which is to place a boost on you -- something like Distracted -- which (as with any boost) can be used once by your opponents, and then goes away.


"the character just can't do this at all."

The existing answers already mention using aspects (which are always true) as permissions (or lack thereof). But, as I mentioned in a comment on harlandski's answer, the rules also allow for certain skills to be "unavailable" if you don't have them.

Mediocre (+0) is the default for any skill you do not take. Sometimes, a skill will state that it’s unavailable if a character didn’t take it; in those cases, it’s not even at Mediocre.

None of the default skills are like this, but you might make this the case for certain complex skills in your game: casting, piloting, hacking, and surgery come to mind as such skills. But these can also be modeled using aspects as permissions.

Fate has allowance and precedent for weakness, and primarily that comes in two forms I've seen. I'll get to how to pull them off, but they're these:

  • Creatively leave a blank in your character's capabilities, and design around it deliberately. This goes beyond simply not putting a point somewhere, and can be quite fun to work with and design.
  • Create opportunities for compels and for things to go badly when you engage in something, because you don't do that thing well. This can involve more than setting up the right aspects.

I'm not aware of much precedent for simply adding -2's. Fate doesn't tend to deal in negatives much. I wouldn't say that's necessarily a bad idea though, maybe it's fine! I haven't seen it or played with it though, and maybe authors have just decided to go with the positive flow.

Now, pulling this stuff off. I'm going to explain in reverse order, because the compels thing is simpler, and the other option builds on it. My examples will mostly be using the Atomic Robo RPG, the Fate implementation of the Atomic Robo comic, because that's where I've really been able to play around with this stuff.

Opportunities for compels

A good aspect on its own will often be a double-edged sword that can be compelled to your detriment - character flaws such as impatience getting in the way of your work or attempts to succeed. Use the heck out of these, and build your weaknesses directly into your character's behaviour. (Of course, this can also be invoked against you to make things harder. Do this! But compels tend to be an even meatier way to express a weakness.)

Atomic Robo goes a bit further than this, and introduces some mechanical bits you might want to ransack: costs and weaknesses. They're designed to reduce the value of a stunt so you can take more, and certain extra-powerful stunt types must be coupled with a cost or weakness, but they're fun in their own right for the havoc they can cause, and they ask the GM to help things go worse for you.

  • Weaknesses are attacks and effects you're vulnerable to. Atomic Robo has a fear of insects and a weakness to electromagnetism, Daredevil's weak against overwhelming noise, etc. Pick interesting things you want to see used against your character.
  • Costs are a more generic invitation that when you use the stunt that involves a cost, something should go wrong. Super-strength? Compelled to break something, or you become doing it, or you might lose control of yourself. Great with a sword? Your demonstration might actually frighten some people, or you might choose to demonstrate on the Duke's heirloom drapes.

Building around blanks

This can be as simple as not giving someone a key stunt: don't give them Empathy, or don't give them Shoot, and so on. Deliberately leave them without strength in areas that could be important.

Where this gets more fun, though, is when you add a stunt to compensate in specific ways, so that they can only approach that area of weakness from a strange angle or one that causes as many problems as its solves. One of ARRPG's suggested stunt types is one that lets you use one skill in place of another for a specific purpose: for example, use Computer Science instead of Empathy to create social advantages when dealing with a robot. This is something you can play around with:

A prewritten stunt lets you use Deceive instead of Empathy or Rapport when you're in disguise and acting in character. This can leave you with someone who is inept at making friends or reading people - but comfortable doing it as long as they're pretending to be someone else. (This stunt was used by a rather creepy secret agent in one of my games.)

I've chosen to take a similar stunt for a Charles Babbage character — a statistician who invented the computer, but whose idea of parlour conversation was reciting trivia. He can use Mathematics in place of Empathy to create advantages and overcome, but at a cost: and the suggested cost is that he offends someone, possibly the person he's talking to. The stunt name is Let me explain why you're wrong.

Likewise, dig out stunts that let you apply what you're good at in strange ways - or ways that will work but help things go wrong if you use them.


Craft weaknesses, in other words, by either simply not investing in competency, or by creating effects that will make things go wrong when you try what you're not good at, and which will in turn make the game more interesting.

This can just be modelled with an Aspect

Remember that Aspects are always true. If your guy has the Aspect I can't read, then you effectively already have a stunt that blocks out a part of the available actions (ie; you can't read)

And whenever reading could reasonably help you do something faster (such as having to read road signs to get to a place before the bad guys do) you already have a stunt that makes your life harder: you could be compelled ("Since you have to follow the written signs, but you have the I can't read aspect, it would seem that unfortunately you get lost and arrive to the scene late. Damn your luck!")

Modelling it like this instead of using a mechanical negative or anti-stunt has an advantage for the game, too. The player who has a negative aspect like this has more of a reason to actually use their disadvantage in game, because they'll get a Fate point.

It's much easier for a person to say "Hey, can I botch this and get a Fate point?" than it is for them to say, "Hm, I was going to pass this check, but instead I'll use my anti-stunt to fail anyway and get nothing for it."

This problem doesn't exist as much with mooks, who aren't all that relevant anyway. But the players are the star of the show, they are supposed to be competent. For them, failure is a thing you do to add to the story, or to collect resources for later on (preferably both at once)

Plus, you never know when a negative advantage suddenly works in your advantage. This is much less likely to come up a negative stunt (which always will give a -2 to something) but it's usually interesting to the story when it happens with an Aspect.

"The evil cultist cast a spell on the sign that explodes anyone who reads it."

"Well, sucks to be him, I can't read."

There aren't any "negative stunts"...

No, Fate Core and FAE do not offer "anti-stunts" in the sense of "persistent, clearly-defined [negative] mechanical effects". I can think of at least two reasons for this:

  • Characters in Fate are meant to be "proactive, capable people leading dramatic lives." (FC 2)
  • Generally Fate is more about narrative-based effects rather than persistent mechanical effects.

The FAE rule about giving Bad Guys a -2 to one thing is something of an exception, and is a quick-and-dirty way of generating mooks with one plus and one minus.

...but there are various ways to model disadvantages

1. Invoke aspects against a character

The first is to invoke aspects against a character. The most obvious of these are Trouble aspects. Mechanically this gives the opponent the benefits of invoking aspects described on FC 68, and the character whose aspect is invoked gets a Fate point at the end of the scene.

If the aspect you invoke is on someone else’s character sheet, including situation aspects attached to them, and the invoke is to their disadvantage, you give them the fate point you spent. (Invoking a third party’s aspect is treated just like invoking an unattached situation aspect.)

Note however, this is not persistent - the aspect has to be invoked to cause a problem.

2. Not having a skill

In FAE there are no skills, but aspects imply characters are skilled (and so by implication unskilled) in different areas. (FAE 22)

In Fate Core the skill pyramid means that there are going to be things you are unskilled in.

Here this is not so much a disadvantage as a lack of an advantage, but if you are attempting a difficult task I suppose it amounts to the same thing.

3. Adjusting dials

Using the Fate System Toolkit, you can adjust the bottom of the pyramid, to make it more of a persistent mechanical disadvantage, though the wording of this in the Toolkit makes it sound like it's not recommended!

Suppose that each “rank” of a skill was actually two steps on the ladder—you might now have a pyramid of 1 Superb (+5), 2 Good (+3) and 3 or 4 Average (+1), and if you’re feeling mean, move the default down to Poor (-1).

I suppose this is the closest to what you are asking for (and most similar to the -2 in FAE for mooks), but it does mean stepping outside the established FAE and Fate Core framework and fiddling with some dials.

  • 1
    As far as "not having a skill", it's worth reminding people that while Fate Core defaults those to Mediocre (+0), they also give the option for skills that can't be used untrained: "Mediocre (+0) is the default for any skill you do not take. Sometimes, a skill will state that it’s unavailable if a character didn’t take it; in those cases, it’s not even at Mediocre." fate-srd.com/fate-core/skills – Caleb Hines Apr 27 '15 at 20:51

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