Teamwork, Mobs, and You

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Caleb H. initiated a conversation over at Fate Community on Facebook regarding the adjudication of the Teamwork and Mob rules in conjunction with each other. Caleb was having an issue of power, of the teamwork rules turning mobs into unstoppable bad-asses, and its an issue I am sure a lot of us who GM Fate have had (I know I did, initially). There are a lot of good thoughts in that discussion as well as link to a very interesting post by Ryan Macklin on the subject. Let’s add to it, shall we?

What is Teamwork?

Teamwork in Fate Core (pr. 174) is divided into two mechanics: combing skills and stacking advantages. Combining skills is the culprit in question, but I’ll be talking about both in throughout. When combining skills, the character with the highest skill rolls and gains a +1 for each other character that can reasonable help the roll succeed (though the helpers then share in the costs of failure, a key point!). Stacking advantages is when multiple characters take create advantage action, passing the free invokes gained to a single character in order for one spectacular roll.

Here’s an example of combining skills:

Lethera the elvish blade-dancer, Kursh the human reaver, Zathar the saurian artificer, and Winifred  the human sorceress are fighting the deathless guardians within the labyrinth beneath the lost city of Talnara. They are trapped in a tight corridor, attempting to break the ancient mechanism locking the door which is their only means of escape. Zathar has the highest relevant skill – Burglary +3 – and is attempting to quickly disable the complex mechanism (the GM sets the passive opposition at Superb +5). Both Lethera and Kursh have experience burgling (+2 and +1 respectively), which leaves Winifred holding the line against the deathless guardians.

Quickly working his tools into the mechanism, with Lethera’s keen eyes and Kursh’s dry, withering critiques to aid him, Zathar’s Burglary roll goes from a +3 to a +5. He rolls, scores a Fantastic +6 and succeeds! The mechanism churns, whirls and disappears into the stone-slab of a door as it opens. The party beats a hasty retreat after that.

And an example of stacking advantage:

Realizing that they can’t out run the deathless guardians, Winifred decides to collapse the doorway behind them. She rolls to create an advantage, Collapsed Doorway, against a Fair +2 passive opposition. She rolls well, scoring a Good +3 to place the aspect with a free invoke, and with a word the doorway collapses to fill the passage behind them. 

With the deathless already scraping and clawing to break through, the rest of the party move to shore up the collapse. Kursh bashes down a surviving pillar, Zathar strategically plugs a hole, and Lethera uses one of her swords to pack a large piece of stone against the others. Collapsed Doorway now has a four free invokes on it.

A few moments later, further into the new passage, the party hear the screeches of the deathless and the shifting of rock – they might be getting through! Since Winifred created the aspect, the GM allows her to roll active opposition to their overcome attempt. The rest of the party pass their free invokes to her, giving her an additional +8 to add to her roll.

What are Mobs?

Mob are a wonderful addition to Fate Core that makes every Fate GM’s life a little bit easier. A mob is a composite of two or more nameless NPC’s – mook enemies meant to give the player character a bit of trouble and then be dramatically overcome – that work together to better their odds against the more competent PC’s. It also doesn’t hurt that it lowers the bookkeeping a GM has to do when running conflicts!

For all intents and purposes, the mob is a single character. The GM rolls once for all member of it and that’s it. Acting as a mob entitles the mooks to gain the advantage of combining skills, which can lead to…

Bad Ass Mooks

Imagine this: you are the GM of a Fate Core spy drama. Your player characters are being hunted by a squad of four Fair nameless NPC’s from the security forces of Watsitstan. Cornered, your PC’s turn to fight. The femme fatale of the group levels a snubbed-nose pistol at the security guards and open fires with her Good +3 Shoot, scoring a Superb result! Now the mob rolls its Athletics to defend, but they’re used to moving as a unit: they roll once and since they each have an Athletics of one, they add +1 to the total. What would have been an Average roll becomes a Great roll!

This is a fairly routine example and is an example of the rules working as intended. However, even this number of individual mooks can lead to them becoming bad asses – in Caleb H.’s original post, that was exactly the problem he ran into: four Fair mooks were a mob and coordinated their defensive actions (Athletics was their apex skill), causing his player characters to feel equally or even slightly outmatched by the random nobodies!

What is a GM to do to account for this?

The Balancing of Power

If you had the issue of bad ass mooks, you might have come away feeling that perhaps the rules were imbalanced or needed tweaking. This is not an unfair feeling to have if you managed to nearly Take Out your whole table with just a half-dozen or so shambling zombies. But I’m here to tell you that you need look no further than the Fate Core rules to bring those unruly mob’s to heel.

Keep Them Small

Mobs are a great way of managing a battle against large numbers of nameless NPC’s, but that doesn’t mean a GM should create large super mobs. A mob should be a small number of NPC’s combined. Need help determining what small means here? Easy – lets look at the structure of modern Western armies for help:

The smallest organizational unit is the specialist/support team of 2-3 soldiers. Next up is the fire team of 3-4 soldiers. After that is a squad of 8-12 soldiers. Your mobs become certifiable bad-asses at somewhere between fire team and squad strength, right? I mean, if your mob has eight mooks in it, even if they only have an Average rating that would still be a Legendary roll they’re making.

So don’t do that. Instead, limit your mobs to fire team strength. This still makes life easier on you as a GM, improves the survivability of the mooks , and keeps them from ballooning with bonuses. Have a dozen baddies trying to dogpile your PC’s? Divide that squad strength down into three or four fire teams and presto, you have a well-organized fight with only three or four rolls for the GM to make while keeping the enemies manageable for the PC’s

“But John,” I hear the novitiate Fate GM say, “what about Good-rated nameless NPC’s!? Even three of them together easily brings the mob to +5 total bonuses on their top skill!”

Excellent point newbie! In that case, consider using the specialist team of only 2-3 mooks in that case. Also, running with the theme of keeping them small, only bring out Good or better rated NPC’s when you really intend on giving your players a hard time. Also consider limiting the number of such mobs to two or three in a conflict.

The Mooks with the Right Stuff…?

It is very easy, to use a common parlance of gaming, to want to min-max characters in Fate. As beautiful as the Ladder and Skill system are in their simplicity, it is this simplicity that can readily lend itself to think: “well this character is a trained soldier with Great Shoot, Good Athletics and Fight, and is essentially Rambo”. For player characters, this isn’t that big of a deal – they’re supposed to be big damn heroes and players should feel their characters are exceptional at what they do.
For GM’s though, it helps to take a broader view of character building…especially when it comes to mooks. A GM can easily balance a combat encounter in Fate by simply looking at the competency of the nameless NPC’s in a mob – whether they are Average, Fair, or Good (see Fate Core, pg. 215) – and by the composition of their skills. I’ll show you what I mean:

I have two mobs, both rated Fair. One mob has the aspect Well-Trained Militia and the other has the aspect Hunger-Crazed Zombies.  Each mob has four mooks and are also equally annoyed at the player characters. It would be simple to give each mob a fighting skill as their +2 skill and let them have at the PC’s, right?

But, I look at their aspects. For the militia, it makes sense that their skills might look like this: Fight +2, Athletics +1, Notice +1. For the zombies though, maybe it looks like this: Physique +2, Athletics +1, Notice +1. The militia are a relatively well-trained fighting force, but the zombies are simply unnatural beings driven by hunger and the need to hunt human flesh. In a fight with comparable numbers, the zombies are more horrific but not as capable as the militia (or the PC’s).

Something I often tell new players to Fate is that Aspects should inform their choices in Skills and Stunts. This should be no different when creating the opposition.

Poor Team Players

Nothing in Fate Core rules says that a mob HAS to combine skills on every single exchange. See, in Fate there is a phrase that comes up a lot if you’ve been playing for a while: “narrative justification or “why can that thing happen”. If I as GM describe a disorganized mob of twenty or so townsfolk charging at the PC’s, there is nothing compelling me (no pun intended) to have that mob act as a cohesive unit if it comes to a conflict.

This cuts both ways of course. If I stay it’s a disorganized mob charging them, a savvy player could roll to uncover or spend a fate point to declare a Disorganized Mob aspect and say “well, since aspects are true and they’re an unruly lot, they shouldn’t get any benefit from teamwork”.

Encourage Combat Tactics

Now, while balancing encounters and creating the opposition is your job as the GM, that doesn’t mean you should be pulling your punches solely based on your PC’s skill ranks. Fate is a system that allows for wonderful coordination and tactics in conflicts through the use of the Create Advantage action. It is also the most under utilized action by new players and GM’s. Encourage it! Get your players thinking of ways they can disrupt the mob’s Teamwork advantage.

Quick example: your player characters are ambushed by a large pack of demonically-enhanced dogs. You’ve split them into three mobs of four each – one mob for each PC. One of your PC’s decides they don’t want to handle the demon doggies as an organized group and wants to use magic to create an advantage on them that says they are Tumbling in the Air. You’re fine with it, they roll, and succeed.

When that mob comes up next, the player that placed the advantage says “since aspects are true and they’re Tumbling in the Air, they no longer can act as a team”, logic that you accept therefore negating the Teamwork bonus. Or the player says the aspect allows them to provide active opposition against an attempt to overcome the aspect (to which they can add a free invoke). Or they could use it justify creating passive opposition, using free invokes to make the mobs life harder.

Players have lots of tools to at their disposal to defeat their opponents and as GM you should help them understand that.

They Are But Speed Bumps on the Road to Glory

So far, I’ve only talked about how to balance the strength of Mob and Teamwork as they relate to Conflicts. But when it comes to mooks, even ones in mobs, sometimes you and the players want to blow past them. On Fate Core pg. 217, it states that nameless NPC’s can be overcome by a simply rolling against an appropriate opposition (or, if the stakes are a bit higher, with a challenge). In this way, you sidestep the issue entirely!

For example, remember that angry mob from earlier? Why not make it an overcome action the PC’s to disperse it instead of a messy combat? They’re pretty angry and there’s a lot of them, so I assign a Superb +5 opposition to it and give the the players the choice of what skill they use to overcome it (they could Fight their way out or soothe the crowd with Rapport).

Wrapping it Up

Fate is a very flexible system that exemplifies the axiom “there is more than one way to skin a cat”. While it is certainly possible to design yourself into some Bad Ass Mooks as GM, you also have a plethora of options to get yourself right back out of that corner. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and explore different ways of tackling a scenario. Be sure to encourage your players to get out there and create advantage. Use all those options to help craft a great adventure with the right amount of tension!

Questions about my thoughts on Teamwork and Mobs? Have some thoughts you’d like to add to my pile? Comment below and let me know!

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Author: John Drury

Hi, my name is John and I REALLY like my blog...

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