Simple NPCs for Fate
Nov. 3, 2019, 6:43 p.m.
I got the chance to run another game of Fate Core recently and I did it with very little prep. In the past, I've tried reducing prep time as my life gets busier, but the one thing that often takes more time than I expect is statting out NPCs. It led me to making up NPC stats as I go, to keep from doing the prep. I would hold the numbers in my head, and I probably changed them mid-conflict at times, but at least it kept the game moving. Even doing this though, I had a hard time tracking stress correctly. So after this most recent game, I got to thinking about how to create NPCs that are quick and easy to make and track at the table.
So here's my idea. Basically, you give a high concept and a level, so to speak. For example, I might send an Average (+1) Goblin at my party, and for a basic enemy, that's all the information I need to run that NPC. Here's how it works:
Interpreting the NPC
Goblin is my high concept, and what comes along with that is anything you tell your players when they first encounter one or anything implied by the common knowledge of what a goblin is. Maybe you say that sneaky little green creatures with pointed ears and sharp teeth come out of the woods. Then your players know that all of those features are tied to the High Concept of Goblin.
You can always add more aspects if you want to differentiate a character, but this is all you need to start using them in play.
Next is the level. The level, or difficulty, or affectiveness, (whatever you want to call it) determines the NPCs base skills. So if a Goblin tries to run after a player, you would roll Average (+1). If you don't expect the NPC to be especially good or bad at the action they're performing, they roll that base level.
However, it doesn't make sense for the NPC to roll the same number for everything they do, so if they perform an action that they would be especially good at, add two to the level of the NPC. So if my Average (+1) Goblin tries to sneak up on someone, I would roll Good (+3) instead of their level because we have established that they are pretty good at sneaking. On the other end of the spectrum, if there is something the NPC would be especially bad at, subtract two from the base level. Goblin's aren't usually that smart, so if my Average (+1) Goblin tries to see through a lie, I would roll at Poor (-1).
Stress and Consequences
So just with those attributes, High Concept and Level, we are able to cover aspects and skills. But it can do more than that too. The level also determines how many hits an opponent can take before getting taken out. In the case of our Average (+1) Goblin, a single hit will take him out. If we had a Great (+4) Cave Bear attacking the party, the fourth successful hit would take him out.
I know what you're thinking though, "What the heck is a hit? Fate measures attacks with Shifts, Stress, and Consequences!" Yes, you're right, but I find stress confusing in the midst of a conflict. I've been playing for years, and I still have a hard time tracking it for multiple NPCs in a manageable way. So instead, we're going to change the Attack action a little bit. Now, when attacking an NPC, if you succeed you deal one hit. If you succeed with style, you can either deal two hits or deal one hit and get a boost. There, that wasn't so hard.
So with this method of tracking hits instead of stress, you can track how long a character can stay in a fight just by tally marks. If the number of hits on the character is the same as the level, they are taken out.
In the case of bigger and badder NPCs, we can give everyone that is Great (+4) or better consequence slots. Great (+4) gets one double-hit consequence slot, and any NPCs that are Superb (+5) or better get three double-hit consequence slots. What was stated above is still true with consequences in play. Once a character takes as many hits as their level they are taken out, but consequences can soak up to two hits from a single attack so that they don't count toward the character's total amount of hits taken. If an NPC soaks a single hit with a consequence, that consequence cannot soak anymore hits, just like in the normal system if you use a consequence to soak one stress.
As a note on PC stunts: since the stress system is a little different when attacking NPCs, treat any +2 to attack stunts as adding an extra hit to an attack instead.
Stunts can work just like they currently do. If you want to give the NPC stunts, jot them down with the High Concept and level or keep a list of premade stunts by you when you GM for easy on-the-fly NPC creation. We can also say that NPCs get as many stunts as their level minus two, so our Great (+4) Cave Bear would get two stunts. I wouldn't force myself to stick to this rule though. Some NPCs should have more stunts while others should have less. Do what your game needs.
- A basic NPC is made up of Level and High Concept (i.e. - Good (+3) Lazerwolf)
- High Concept can be used for all invokes/compels on that NPC. Add more aspects if needed.
- Skills that the NPC would be decent at are rolled at the NPC's level
- If they perform an action they are especially good at, roll their level + 2. If they do something they are especially bad at, roll their level - 2.
- An NPC is taken out when they receive as many hits as their level.
- Consequences keep hits from counting towards a character's total hits
- All consequence slots can soak up to two hits from a single attack
- Great (+4) NPCs get one consequence slot. Superb (+5) NPCs and better get three consequences slots
- Add stunts as needed. Roughly, NPCs get two less stunts than their level. (i.e. - Superb (+5) gets three stunts (5 - 2 = 3)).
So with our new system for quickly making NPCs, let's try some examples.
Average (+1) Goblin
As stated above, this guy would use Good (+3) when trying to sneak around or do stealthy things, and would probably roll at Poor (-1) when trying to use his smarts. Also, a single hit would take him out of the conflict.
Great (+4) Orc Warchief
- War Cry: Once per conflict, you can let out a terrifying roar that inspires your comrades. Create an aspect called War Cry for free with two free invokes.
So this Orc Warchief is clearly the leader of some kind of warband, and he's looked to for orders in the chaos of battle. From the three lines above, we also know that he'd probably roll Fantastic (+6) to inspire others, and maybe and when attacking with his weapon of choice and he would probably roll Fair (+2) when navigating social situations, since being an Orc warrior doesn't really keep you in the know with the more civilized folk. We can also easily see his stunt and we know that once he takes four hits he is taken out, but he can also soak up to two hits from a single attack in his one consequence slot to stay in the fight.
Even though the orc warchief has a consequence slot, I wouldn't write it down ahead of time. Instead, I would just mark down tallies for his hits during the fight, and if I chose to take a consequence, I would write down that aspect next to him instead of taking the hits dealt from the attack.
I plan to use this NPC creation method the next time I run a game, but I have been doing a lot of these things already. Still, I'm excited to see how much this system improves prep time and gameplay. What are your thoughts on this system? Do you plan on trying it? Do you see any glaring flaws with it?
Orc by Jason Coates is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
Tags: fate accelerated fate core npc prep tips ttrpg
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