Today’s article is 100% for Fate Core players, and it is all about the skills. Specifically it is about inflicting stress with all 18 skills, which only 3 are specifically designed for at Attack skills. Most of these I have witnessed first-hand, and the rest are just ideas I want to try some day.
Now a quick warning to GMs. Rewarding player creativity is always a good idea, but you sometimes run the risk of breaking the game when you let players do whatever they want. If you let players use these ideas (or their own similar ideas), be sure to ask for a Fate point to allow them to use it once (or make a stunt of it for repetitive use). Otherwise you will unbalance the game and cheat other players that paid a fair price for their skill modifications. If they have no fate points or refresh or free invokes, but it is still a great idea, be sure you let them know it is a one-time only thing and that they will have to pay later if they try to use it again.
All squared away? Then here we go!
Athletics is the universal dodge and move skill, and some systems allow for a success with style (Defending roll beats the Attacking roll by at least 3) to inflict physical stress instead of gaining a temporary boost. It makes for a great stunt in kung fu games.
But one player character got it into their heads to try and use Athletics to inflict mental stress. Their ninja-like character picked up an NPC and started jumping rooftops and swinging from street lamps in an effort to terrify the NPC (who was afraid of heights) into giving up their boss. Lucky for me they did not drop the NPC at any point.
Burglary is an interesting skill that does not often get used outside of an actual thieves RPG (future podcast hint), though most groups want at least on player to have a good rank in it. This specialized skill is usually used just for Overcome, but of course if one player puts a high rank into it and does not often get to use it often, they will start trying to get creative with it.
Unless you are willing to allow an Indian Jones character a chance to steal someone’s heart in the literal sense, Burglary is only going to deal physical stress when you plant a bomb on someone or have a stunt that lets you make traps with Burglary instead of Crafts. Though my favorite memory is when someone literally stole the emperor’s clothes during a parade. I had to spend a fate point to keep him from literally dying of embarrassment.
The old Dresden Files RPG had a wonderful example pulled out of the books for using Contacts to attack. The player character makes a deal with a bunch of little fairies and arms them with box knives for an attack on a wicked fairy queen.
Rather than make lots of little individual rolls for each fairy NPC, it was much more efficient to use Contacts as one roll, since that would affect how many fairies the PC could recruit for the attack. And any time you are using minions or low-level allies to do something for you, Contacts is a great skill to exploit.
Crafts is a skill that we often have to push in order to use. It is mostly a skill for creating advantages or for dismantling them. Occasionally you will get a chance to use Crafts to cover some odd art like Interpretive Dance or Marionette Puppeteering, but you cannot really use those to Attack, can you?
The easy way to attack with Crafts is to make a trap or a bomb. But if you fail the check (especially with the bomb making), then the GM will get to roll the attack against you instead. Voodoo/Hoodoo is another options, or I suppose that puppeteering application could work if you make killer attack puppets like that Detective Dee movie.
Lies and trickery can get you into or out of a lot of trouble, but the Deceive skill does not usually lend its self to a direct method. Some stunts use it as a defense against lies, so it would make sense that you could use it as a mental attack in a battle of establishing lies such as in a court room or an interrogation.
The only time I have ever once seen a Deceive Attack that made more sense than using Provoke or even Fight was a fairytale one-shot where someone played a Pinocchio puppet. To be fair though, I did not have the player roll in order to kill the jailer. It was one of those moments when a player makes a GM laugh so hard that you can get away with anything.
Despite how rarely Drive is used, I imagine some ideas for causing stress with Drive come readily to mind. Bumping into enemy cars with your own vehicle or running over the goblin emerging from the manhole are good applications. Maybe even park and peel out on the imp.
If you want to do mental stress, I could see you trying to make a fellow passenger sick or terrified with your driving skills. I’ve never seen anyone use Drive for anything except a move check or creating an advantage though, so…CHALLENGE!
When Empathy inflicts stress, it is usually self-infliction. You hear someone’s sob story and it hurts. You look into the demon’s soul, and it really hurts. Your fellow player says something stupid, and it hurts so much you can hardly stand it.
Why not make a stunt that shares that pain with others? Any attempt to push your feelings onto others is probably going to be a Provoke Attack, but if you have the ability to channel other people’s emotions into a magical spell or win some tormented ghosts to your side for an Attack, then Empathy is the more appropriate skill choice.
You punch something, and it hurts. Fight is the most used Core skill for inflicting stress, and most of the creativity here is going to be flavor text. Describe sweet kung fu moves or sword techniques or improvised weapon strikes or breaking bones on your opponent.
Passive search checks really should not inflict stress, but occasionally players will get violent with a frisking. It could also be that you are playing a detective game where rooms have stress meters, for example, and tearing through cushions or mattresses may result in consequences.
What really stands out as an Attack with Investigation, though, is something that a Sherlock Holmes style detective would try. They roll investigation to use their deductive reasoning to tell someone about themselves. They are not trying to Provoke or use Empathy as these are all physical clues they are reading, but it makes people uncomfortable and is far more efficient than rolling investigation to create an advantage and then invoke it for an attack. But again, there should be a stunt that lets you do this rather than for free because that efficiency is VERY advantageous to the player.
Knowledge is power, and in FATE Core that power is usually represented by advantages. Even when you are using Lore to inflict stress, it is usually going to need some sort of aspect invoke to make sense as far as the story goes.
For example, I had a player create an advantage where they dumped water out of the diving pool in the middle of a circus tent. The water was high metal content, perfect for conducting electricity, so on their next turn they dropped live wires from the lights into the water. Lore attack on the evil clowns standing in the wetness.
Notice is the most passive reactionary skill in FATE Core, and using it to inflict stress just really does NOT make sense. You really have to have a sense of humor or a really interesting Extra set up in order to use Notice to inflict stress. Something that depends on you being able to see it coming.
Such a stunt is probably not going to let you roll an attack, but it could let you inflict the difference in physical stress when you see a surprise attack coming. This would represent you being able to avoid a pounce so that they hit the floor at a bad angle or your ability to slap a surprise attacker in the face to aid your dodge.
Physique is most useful for inflicting stress as a Defense action or as an Attack. It can be a counter attack to represent scaly hide or sharp armor. It is great for grappling and wrestling. And as a real life example, when I watch that super macho boxer on the Wii game flex his glutes individually…yeah, I am taking mental stress now just thinking about it.
Originally my Blue Steel stunt was for using Physique to do anything that did not make sense, including a beautiful wink Attack, but I have since made it to use any skill since it is limited to once per scene and costs you both the refresh to have and a fate point per use. It is amazing what people will come up with to justify using that stunt.
Provoke is all about inflicting that mental stress to make people do what you want, though not often in the way you want them to. Using this skill for mental Attacks, you can intimidate, inspire lust, enrage, terrify, confuse, manipulate, and even make your opponents cry.
While a bard’s “Cutting Words” might be an obvious way to use Provoke to inflict physical stress, the near-and-dear-to-my-heart method is to use the words of power. Say something in a different language to breath fire, call down lightning, or curse your opponent into taking an arrow to the knee!
Rapport is sort of the nice and polite form of Provoke, and when most of us think of “nice” we think of not inflicting stress on other things. But really the way FATE Core is set up, positive skills can and often should be used in combat as well. After all, just because you are trying to change someone’s nature does not mean you are not trying to change them for the better.
The goal with a Rapport Attack is to inflict a consequence on your opponent, which means you probably need to invoke another aspect to justify it. Make them fall in love with you, have them realize they don’t want to be evil, or simply calm down their rage. Stress inflicted means progress towards that goal, in a very temporary sense at least.
As stressful as money can be in real life, using your Resources to inflict stress in FATE Core can be a bit tricky. Really what most people want to do is buy something to use in an Attack, such as a weapon or a vehicle. For that you are really just creating an advantage and then using Fight or Shoot or whatever other skill represents using the advantage you created.
The only times I have been able to justify using the actual Resources skill as an Attack are the times that the resources themselves are inflicting the stress. For example if Scrooge McDuck had a trap to burry thieves in his pile of coins or if someone opens up a bottomless bag of books inside a dragon’s stomach, then what is really important is how many coins/books the player character actually has rather than how they aim them.
Shoot is clearly designed to be a skill for inflicting physical stress at a range. The real trick is trying to come up with other ways to use the skill. But we’re talking about stress in this article, so here are a couple of examples on how to use Shoot to inflict stress a little more creatively then point and pull the trigger. For mental stress, you can see how close you can get to a target without hitting it and inflict some fear into them.
My favorite example of creative shooting, however, is when a player wanted to use a catapult to shoot an enemy that was in the same zone. I told them this was a bad idea and would be very difficult since…you know…catapult range and all that. So another player threw the enemy onto the catapult and told their fellow player, “There. Now you can shoot them!” And they did.
You know, I honestly have no ideas for a good way to inflict stress with Stealth. Stealth is most often used to aid your primary attack skills: giving you a surprise physical attack or making the mental attacks that much creepier when you don’t know where you are coming from.
The only think I can think of would be to use stealth to disappear from an incoming attack, much like the Athletics dodge, and let the attacker take a point or 2 of stress for hitting a boulder or something instead. Hopefully you can come up with a more clever way to use Stealth for stress. CHALLENGE!
While Will as a basic skill does not lead its self to much stress inflicting, it is actually an excellent target for setting extras when you want a fantastical ability that inflicts stress. A charisma-based spell caster, a VR Hacker, a mentalist, and a semi-divine being are all great ways to use Will to Attack.
Outside of setting up extras for your theme, you will probably use Will to inflict mental stress defensively much as you would with the other passive skills. Having a mental shell that hurts people failing to attack or frightens those that actually see a glimpse of your soul can be very stressful for an attacker, after all.
Now I am not saying that you should always try to inflict stress in every situation with every skill. In fact, I generally encourage creativity with skill checks to Create an Advantage rather than attack or defense rolls. So please don’t accuse me of saying attacks are everything.
What I do hope you pulled from all of this is not just some clever ideas for stunts and characters. I hope it got you thinking more about WHY it is so hard to make some skills inflict stress and what that really says about the nature of the skill itself. In a game like FATE Core where everything is open, we can sometimes lose focus of context and meaning.
Here’s hoping your games never fall apart and you have lots of fun! Let me know if you come up with any ideas of your own, and special kudos to anyone that can meet today’s challenges.