As a Fate enthusiast, I confess: when I heard that Evil Hat was going to publish a Fate Adversary Toolkit in August of this year, I was more than a little excited. It’s not often my five year old son asks me to stop bouncing off the walls. I got my hot little digital copy as soon as I could scrape together the $8 and beg Evil Hat to take my money. Now, though, it’s November; the honeymoon feeling has worn off, and I have to admit that I was disappointed about the purchase. I don’t regret it and I would buy it again in a heartbeat, as you’ll see toward the end of this article. Before you rush off to get your own copy though, here are some words and warnings for the wise spender of eight dollars.
1) Purchasing Problems
Now, to be clear, these problems have already been remedied. For the eager gate-crashing purchaser, there was more than one obstacle to overcome, however. First of all, the site’s advertisements were not properly linked to the purchasing page, and there was no “add to cart” option available. That, and Evil Hat has discontinued its international shipping, which is annoying to those of us who do not live in the good old US of A.
As a Canadian, I had the option to order from a store in Vancouver. I do not live in Vancouver. In fact, it is more than 1000 kilometers away. The good news? The store offers shipping! The bad news? At the time of release, the store did not have any copies available for purchase. I had checked into it again recently, and all of these complaints have been addressed. I am presently waiting/expecting to receive a hard copy for Christmas. At the time of the roll-out, however, the delay was insufferable because I wanted it right then!!
2) Short On Right-Sizing
My greatest criticism of the book is that it fails to deliver on the implied promise of providing enemies that will appropriately challenge groups of different sizes and skill sets. The Fate Core rulebook has guidelines for creating opponents that will match or challenge the skills of individual characters and small groups, so that’s well and good. If you follow the core rules about creating advantages and sharing invocations, however, you can run into some fairly silly situations. I recently played with a group that faced off against a much more powerful foe and, by working together, the group took this big baddie out in one shot (+21 on the Fate ladder is an... “Unpossible”??). What should a GM do to create more challenging opponents for a large group of (four or more) players? How does a single character with a full complement of stunts match up with 20 mooks? Maybe I’ve been spoiled with Dungeons and Dragons challenge ratings, but even a couple of specific strategies to create a challenging encounter for larger groups would have been welcome.
3) NOT A Monster Manual
The Adversary Toolkit features 10 nice little mini-adventures that span a wide range of genres, from Regency Romance to Post-Apocalyptic mutants. Each mini-adventure has opponents and sample NPCs embedded within. What it does not have is a list of stats for various monsters, neither mooks nor main NPCs. If that’s what you want, you’re better off looking for fan-made resources, like the Fate Fantasy Creatures site by Inkwell Ideas. This is the second implied promise broken. Granted, given the range of possible genres in Fate, it is impossible to make a comprehensive list of creatures and characters for every genre. It would have been nice, though, to have a list of opponents that goes beyond singular adventures, something for the GM to grab when he’s short on planning time. The one mitigating factor of this problem is that the opponents provided in the mini-adventures could be re-skinned for use in other genres if needed. There are even suggestions for re-skinning included. Nevertheless, that requires more hunting and editing than I was hoping for.
4) Threats & Hitters
Now, without unsaying the above criticisms, the book is not a total loss. Hidden in the disappointment, there are a few bright lights. The book suggests the Threat and Hitter character designs, for example. When grouped together or tied to a Main NPC, these supporting characters can flesh out a combat that otherwise might become straightforward or routine. Threats are supporting characters that are meant to be big and scary; they get in the characters’ faces and soak up a lot of damage, while dealing just enough that they can’t be ignored. Think of the big bruiser henchman in a Bond flick: Jaws shows up and gives the main villain just enough time to escape. Hitters are less scary, but more dangerous: a sniper that’s far away, or a ninja master that’s hard to hit but can take players down one at a time. Hitters represent threats to the group that must be dealt with quickly once they’re discovered. Both of these character types add depth and flavour to a combat scene. Perhaps they can be used to challenge a group that has mastered the classic Fate collaborative takedown.
5) Obstacles, Constraints & Environments
Obstacles, constraints, and environments are ways to use the Fate Fractal creatively in order to make memorable sessions and scenes. From a mechanical perspective, these three "adversaries” are not easily distinguishable from each other. They are more like variations on a common theme, non-character things designed to get in the way of, and/or do harm to, the PCs. They are details with teeth. Again, by using these guidelines, it might be possible for a GM to split a group’s resources enough so as to create challenging combat scenes that can resist the “dog pile” effect of combining free invocations.
The Fate Adversary Toolkit adds another layer to the complexity of Fate Core, which is both a strength and a weakness. Fate’s strength is that the rules remain flexible but robust enough to improvise nearly any situation. Fate Core rides the edge of this balancing act. The rules are simple enough to allow for flexible gameplay, but this works best if a substantial amount of background preparation has already been done. The gamemaster needs to have prepared at least some NPCs and possible scenes in advance for the game to go smoothly. The Adversary Toolkit adds things you can do during background preparation. What it does NOT do is make the preparation work any easier.
Landrew is a full-time educator, part-time art enthusiast. He applies his background in literature and fine arts to his favourite hobby (role-playing games) because the market for a background in the Fine Arts is very limited. He writes this blog on company time under a pseudonym. Long live the Corporation!
Image Source: Evil Hat Games
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.