FATE: On Combat Maneuvers

What I love most about FATE is the way its game mechanics can impact—and be affected by—the narrative, the setting, the characters, even events. Aspects are a clear example; they can Compel you to do something, or help you succeed, and in general round out your character’s background with game mechanics.

I’m most keen on Maneuvers, since they’re so underused yet so potent; these little babies can put any Aspect you want, on any target you want, thus give everything more Aspects. And Aspects are a critical part of the game; Tagging or Invoking one gives you a +2 bonus, which might not sound like a lot, but in FATE, where your results range from -5 to +5 (or -4 to +4) that’s a huge bonus. A bonus of around 50% if you’re using the -4 to +4 FUDGE Dice.

As defined, a Maneuver is “any attempt to change the situation or environment in some way”—that’s a pretty damn broad range. Literally, anything can be a maneuver, as long as their end goal is to change the scene by putting an Aspect on something. And they have a range of possibilities, limited only by the players (er, and the GM), much like Aspects.

For example. Kick over a fiery sconce? That’s a Maneuver, and gives the environment an “On Fire!” Aspect. What that means depends on how the players use it. They could try and throw enemies in the fire, giving them an “Also On Fire!” Aspect. Tagging it could deal more damage, or be used to distract them, or even drive them away to look for a river to jump in. Or maybe the players let the fire spread, setting fire to the building, giving everyone Consequences from the heat and stress unless they leave its area of effect.

Running Around to Eat Up Enemy Ammo

There’s a lot of good example Maneuvers in the book. My favorite is the suggestion to make an Athletics check against the enemies’ Guns skill, to try and give them an Out Of Ammo Aspect—running/flying around without being hit so the mooks empty their clips. It has a powerful result—enemies not being able to use Guns—if successful. And that’s a big if, since failure might mean enemies get free attacks on whoever tried to Maneuver, if the GM is feeling sadistic.

Covering Fire

Spycraft tried to apply some interesting combat maneuvers to d20, and I think most of them would work just as good if not better in FATE. Take the standard covering fire/suppressive fire: shooting wildly at enemies so they’ll keep their heads down so some others can act. Perhaps a Guns check against Athletics, to try and give an Aspect like Duck And Cover or Under Siege or something.

The characters who were moving or doing something could tag the enemies’ Duck And Cover aspect to add to their own defense, saying their foes are too busy hiding to fire back. Or tag that same Duck And Cover to add to their Athletics, saying they could cover more ground (and dodge any sporadic fire) before their foes stop cowering.

Stealth

The main example of why Maneuvers are so underused; Stealth can become one of the most brutal skills if used correctly. Rolling Stealth against Perception can give any number of Aspects: you could put an Aspect like “Where’d The Little One Go?” on the enemies, or something like Hidden And Dangerous on yourself. You could, obviously, tag that Aspect to increase your Stealth rolls, or tag it when making an attack, saying the enemy didn’t see you coming.

Monologue

Not all Maneuvers have to be physical; you could recreate TORG’s Monologue card with a good Deceit- or Intelligence-based Maneuver, rolled against the targets’ Resolve. By yammering and pontificating, you could give any number of Aspects: Baffled by Bullshit, Stunned by Science, Entranced by the Speaker, etc. Others could tag these to add to Stealth or attack checks, under the guise that their enemies’ focus is on the speaker, or add to their Athletics to dodge, saying foes are attacking half-heartedly since they’re paying more attention to the monologue. You could use it as a distraction, as a stalling tactic, or to get everyone’s attention right before you hit them with a hypnotism ray or flashbang or something.

And a Grab Bag

There’s about fifty trillion ideas out there, I’ve only come up with basic examples… such as those that replicate d20 combat maneuvers, TORG approved actions, etc. In reality, Maneuvers are more like the kinds of stunts you can pull in Exalted or 7th Sea—often specific, determined and constructed on a case-by-case basis to counter specific obstacles.

  • Resolve against Resolve to do a test of will/gunslinger showdown stare to give the target Blinked/Twitched First
  • Deceit/Intimidate to make a taunt/boast, giving the enemy “They said What about My Mother?”
  • Athletics to jump up on something, giving yourself Take the High Ground
  • Deceit to explain, to whoever you’re bluffing, that “It’s like second nature to me!”
  • Athletics against enemies to Put Them In The Corner, put them on Unstable Ground, or make them Flanked or Harried
  • Fists/Weapons to put an enemy Off Balance
  • Drive/Pilot/Starship Piloting to ram into an enemy vehicle to give both vehicles Wedged Together or Crashed or something
  • Drop a chandelier on some thugs to make them Pinned Down

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