Friday, September 6, 2013

Weapons and Armour in Fate

There's been a lot written and discussed about how to best handle weapons and armour in Fate. This appears to be a very common topic which pops up on the Fate G+ Group and on the various forums. The beauty and frustration of Fate is that it is so flexible and really allows you to tailor the system for your specific game and setting. This is a good thing!

Let me list all the ones I've encountered (not in any particular order):

Ratings: This appears to be the oldest method where weapons and armour have a rating from +0 to +4. There are variants on this where you either add the bonus to your attack/defend roll directly, or add the bonus as stress if you tie or generate shifts. The main disadvantage is the zero-sum problem where weapons and armour cancel each other out and become an escalation war where you need bigger weapons against bigger armour, and so on. This method is popular and used in Starblazer Adventures, Legends of Anglerre among other variants and ports which predate Fate Core.

Damage Floors & Ceilings: This method is proposed in the Fate Core Toolkit. Basically weapons have a minimum amount of stress they can cause, between 1 and 4 (even on a tie) and armour has the maximum number of stress they can allow through which is also between 3 (light armour) and 1 (heavy armour). The armour max stress allowed always overrides the weapon minimum stress dealt. If you get hit with a heavy weapon (4) and are wearing medium armour (2) and the roll generated 1 shift, you would deal 2 stress to the opponent. The armour only permits 2, where the weapon wants to deal at least 4. I don't particularly favour this system because it makes everyone want to wear the heaviest armour and combat progresses extremely slow. Oh, and weapons and armour are also aspects which may be invoked though I'm not really sure how that helps when the armour restricts the stress which can be caused as a hard limit. And the fact you can invoke the armour aspect for additional protection. I'm not a fan of this at all and was a bit surprised since it is very unbalanced and un-Fate-like out of all the systems here. [Edit] If you score an attack with style, you bypass armour and it cannot be invoked.

Red & Blue Dice:  This system assigns 1-4 red dice to weapons and 1-4 blue dice to armour. You can also mix/match the dice colours in instances where a weapon can be used for offence or defence - same with armour (spiked armour, anyone?). Each + you roll on a coloured die counts as an extra +1. So a red + is really a +2 on the attack. A blue + is +2 to defence, etc. You always roll the standard 4dF and supplement the rest of the dice with non-red/blue dice and they are treated normally. This system sounds a bit fun at first, though everyone knows that a lot of rolling and counting dice gets tedious eventually. Probably not for everyone, though I was intrigued at first. This also comes from the Fate Core Toolkit.

Aspects & Consequences: This is another Fate Core Toolkit system. Basically the armour type (light, medium and heavy) and weapon types (light, medium and heavy) are the aspects which represent the weapon. You invoke them as usual, and can have them invoked against you. When you invoke a weapon aspect, you can add a +2 bonus to the attack or re-roll. Alternatively, you can instead cause a consequence which is determined by the type of weapon: light: Mild, medium: Moderate, heavy: Severe. If you succeed with style, you can move the consequence up one level. Armour works the same except the armour can absorb a matching consequence. You can also take a one level up consequence but the armour is then considered damaged until repaired. This is a pretty flexible system; the consequence part makes combat deadlier. The offset here is that it costs Fate Points to get the deadlier effect. I can see many players burning their Fate Points quickly this way. This system does intrigue me though.

Just Aspects:  This system is also old and commonly used in may Fate systems. Basically weapons are just aspects and you can invoke them for a bonus using Fate Points. This is a very pure and clean Fate way to handle equipment. I like this and don't like it for the same reason as the Aspects & Consequences approach. It can burn through Fate Points quickly. There is a great example here.

Weapon Min Stress vs. Armour Stress & Consequences: I proposed this on the G+ Group which generated a really good discussion which you can read here. I doubt this is an original idea though. Basically it proposes weapons do minimal stress in the range 1-4 (you must generate shifts, ties go to the defender) and armour can absorb stress and a single consequence based on type (light: 1 stress, Mild consequence, medium: 2 stress, Moderate consequence, heavy: 3 stress, Severe consequence). The consequence when absorbed means the armour is damaged and must be repaired, it can no longer absorb any stress. The idea was to give a strategic decision to taking damage by the players. Take the stress, or put it on the armour? When do you decide that your armour took too much by absorbing the consequence? Sounded great on paper, but more experienced Fate players indicated this would prolong combat and cause too much tracking; I did not like that. My other major concern was tracking NPCs and mooks and how much additional burden this would cause.

Aspects With Free Invokes: This method was recently provided in the Fate Freeport Companion. Coincidentally, I arrived at this same solution which came about from the G+ Groups discussion mentioned above. That is before I read about it in the Fate Freeport Companion. Weapons and armour are aspects, however you get a number of free invokes per session based on the type: light: 1 invoke, medium: 2 invokes, heavy: 3 invokes. You can of course invoke them more, but that costs Fate Points. My system had it exactly the same but per scene. Since Freeport was playtested, I am now considering changing my system to be per session because those guys knew what they were doing and I am fumbling still. My group's sessions are approx 3-4 hours max, since we play on Monday nights and we all have to work next day and have grown up stuff. For that reason, per session might be a better fit. I might have to experiment. This is my leading contender. Also see here.

Stunts: Another popular method. This was first proposed in Spirit of the Century, I believe. Basically equipment is represented by stunts and it costs you stunt slots to have anything better than the average piece of gear which gives no bonus. I'm not a fan of this system because it 1) takes up stunt slots; 2) is very artificial in that you can't benefit from something without giving up the slot for another thing; 3) Feels more like a video game limitation on equipment than an RPG. Probably my least favourite method. Though it has merits for games like Spirit of the Century because it embodies the setting style.

Additional Stress: I think I came across this on a link in the Evil Hat Wiki links section. Basically armour adds additional stress boxes to the character and I guess weapons have a weapon rating. The problem with this is that if you already have say 4 stress and you get 2 more from say medium armour, you now have 6 stress and that's a damn lot of stress you can eat before taking consequences. Not sure how this would play out, but it would take a long time to do combat, I'm sure.

Added 2013-09-06:

For Better Or Worse: This approach was contributed by Robert Hanz in this G+ Groups topic. The rule is simple and elegant and uses the constraints and complements rule of Fates past. If you have a more powerful weapon than the opponent's armour you deal one extra stress. If your opponent has better armour than the power of your weapon, they receive a one less stress. You can also do this straight up with attack and defence rolls where the attacker may get +1 to attack when they have a better weapon and the defender +1 to defend in the case of better armour. You can also add a consequence optionally to delineate the armour got damaged, for example. This system is pretty flexible, however the downside is that everyone will want to have the best weapon and the best armour. This could be offset with aspects on the equipment which could be invoked for or against and provide situational bonuses for specific gear (i.e. Targeting Scope, Slow Firing).

Added 2013-09-07:

From the Yahoo! Groups Weapons & Armour discussion.

Shift Limits: Weapons and armour have ratings in the range +1 to +8 (or whatever rating range you choose). Your benefit from weapons and armour is limited by the number of shifts you generate. If you roll 2 shifts and are using a +6 weapon, your total is +4 shifts and not +8. Same with armour, generating 1 shift with a +4 armour will only total +2 shifts for defence. This limits effectiveness of equipment by the skill being used.

More Than 4dF: This approach adds additional dice to the roll beyond 4dF (or less than 4dF). Weapon ratings translate directly into additional or less dice and you take the best 4 die results for your final. This is proposed here.

Re-Rolls: This is a gut-reaction alternative to More Than 4dF above. The weapon and armour rating falls between 1-4. The rating allows you to re-roll any 0's (empty dF roll) up to the rating of the weapon. This means that if you roll: -1, 0, 0, +1 and you are using a rating 1 weapon, you get to re-roll one of the 0's. If you had a rating 2 weapon, you could re-roll both 0's. If the weapon has a higher rating, your re-rolls can be re-rolled as long as they are 0's and not -1 or +1. This way, strong weapons and armour have a potential to provide more protection. The down side of this is all the re-rolling. Many people are not fond of rolling lots of dice, including myself. I threw it in here because I think it is still a viable solution for those who like lots of dice rolls. A variant could be to only re-roll -1's and not 0's. Though I prefer 0's because you should still have a chance to fail or not succeed with style every time you pull out that massive weapon.

Consequential Increase:

For each +1 from a piece of equipment you use one extra Fate Dice, but still keep 4. So a Sword +1 would mean when using a sword Roll 5dF and keep 4.  e.g. Sword +1 [~]  [~] [  ] [+] [+] So you'd toss one [~] and the result would be a +1  It roughly translates to the following bonus:
+1 = +0.86
+2 = +1.54
+3 = + 2.05
+4 = +2.45
Higher bonuses would be possible with increasingly diminishing returns.

Had a thought for an alternative, not sure it's simpler though. The rating let's you convert a zero to a + instead. That way the 4dF remains constant but you are more likely to get a better result on a neutral roll, but not a terrible roll. Skill still rules.

Added 2013-12-15

Stress Max: Weapons limit the value of each stress box. For example a two handed beast of a weapon might limit each stress box to a max value of 2. Therefore, rather than having boxes of values: 1, 2, 3, 4, your values would be: 1, 2, 2, 2, for example. The lower the number, the more deadlier the weapon and the sooner it will cause consequences. Small and less deadly weapons might not have any limit.

To offset this, armour would provide a bonus to the consequence value. Armour 1 would add +1 to Mild, Moderate and Severe: 3, 5, 7. Alternatively the consequence bonus could be represented as 2/1/1 for example (mild/moderate/severe).

There was some discussion about this system here.

Added 2014-01-02

Murder She Wrote:  +Jacob Poss proposed this on the G+ Fate Group here. Weapons cause a set amount of stress when you succeed and cause more stress when you succeed with style. For example: a dagger might cause 1 stress when you succeed and 3 stress when you succeed with style and a sword might cause 2 stress when you succeed and 5 stress if you succeed with style. Additionally weapons may have additional bonuses or effects instead of damage when you succeed with style (i.e. disarm, etc.).

Added 2014-01-04

D&D Weapons and Armour: +Jacob Poss did up a fantasy weapons and armour list here. Weapons have certain qualities based on their type and armour gives you a stress box of varying size to absorb stress with.

Nova Age Gear: +Jacob Poss also wrote up some gear rules for Nova Age here. Weapons negate the stress track (you take consequences) unless you are wearing armour.

Added 2014-03-09

Stress Box Bonus: The system is inspired by +Ryan Macklin's blog post. Armour provides a Stress Box Bonus, rather than a straight up stress absorption. For example, Light armour provies +1 stress bonus, Medium +2 stress bonus, and Heavy +3 stress bonus. The stress box bonus is added to each of your stress boxes. Say if you had 2 stress boxes, normally they would be rated at: 1 and 2. When you put on Medium armour, they are: 3 and 4. If you put on Heavy armour, they become: 4 and 5.

The net effect is that you can absorb more stress than someone who is unarmoured, however you still take stress when hit. You are able to take larger hits before suffering a consequence than someone without armour. This contrasts with the common armour rating which always subtracts X stress from the attack.

This system still keeps combat flowing and stress being dealt, while limiting the number of exchanges where nothing really happens due to stress absorption.

Pros: Combat is still quick, every exchange counts and armour is not a stop-all solution. Armour keeps you from taking consequences sooner, though you will eventually take a consequence and being taken out from a thousand cuts is still possible. Tracking armoured NPCs is a matter of making their stress boxes modified by the armour bonus.

Cons: More complexity. Everyone has to track the value of their stress boxes which differs from character to character.

There's a discussion here

Added 2014-04-06

Weapon/Armour Ratings Discussion: Excellent and deep discussion on weapon/armour ratings, whether they are needed at all, with their benefits and downsides -- a lot of wisdom can be found here.


I will continue to update this as I find more variants.


  1. One thing I have been considering in the combat hack I've been working on-- an attempt to make Fate a little bit more like Rolemaster, which absolutely *nobody* but me is interested in-- has been a system with random injuries instead of Consequences. Stress is based on shifts, while Injuries are based on the number of minuses rolled.

    Weapons would then grant extra dice on a damage roll, with the opportunity to generate extra pluses (stress) and minuses (injuries).

    To go even further in the RM direction, I had the idea of using one of those wonderful three-dimensional charts I saw on RPGnet.

  2. You should read this:

    In Fate consequences are not damage, they are... consequences of something or other that happened to you.

    Rolemaster + Fate. That's quite the marriage, sort of like marrying a cupcake and an elephant, no? ;)