Monthly Archives: January 2019

Different Ways to handle Mooks and Mobs in Fate

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One of the tings I love about Fate – I love that the knobs and dials of the game are exposed and intended to be adjusted to fit your game.

I was recently doing some cross-referencing across various Fate books, and realized that the concept of Mobs (groups of adversaries combined into a single entity) is presented differently every single time. In every single book. And they are different in pretty significant ways. Like… I kinda knew in the back of my head that the various books I’d read had different presentations, but I’ve always just been using the Fate Core version, or Skein version (see below), but now that I’m looking at it closely… man, this is overwhelming and a bit frustrating. The only other subsystem where I’ve seen this much variation is magic! The impression I get, and this is complete conjecture, is that there are some glaring issues with the baseline implementation in Fate Core, so subsequent books keep playing with it, looking for the right solution. And the differences are significant enough that it’s hard to see what the knobs and dials actually are within the system.

So that’s my purpose in writing this. I can’t possibly playtest all of these to understand the variations, but I can compare them, and try to call out the key differences and weaknesses that they provide. Ultimately, this is about me trying to make sense of all this, and identify where the knobs and dials actually are. I’m going to do a comparison of each implementation, and try to analyze the pros, cons, and implications of each. That being said, keep in mind that I’ve only ever used the Fate Core Mob rules and Skein’s Warband rules at the table, so consider my comments on the others to be uninformed opinions. For those who want to look at things themselves, I’ll provide links to the Fate SRD, or page references for stuff not covered there.

It seems like there are three variables to play with in terms of taking an individual adversary as a chasis, and then turning a bunch of them into a single entity. Three area’s you can play with and make choices between.

  • Skill – What sort of bonuses do the minions get for acting as a group, if any? This is primarily about turning weak enemies into a legitimate threat. Something else that is worth considering, is whether a given approach encourages adjusting nameless adversaries threat levels, or does everything use the Good at +2 / Bad at -2 dichotomy presented in FAE? This is really an adversary design question, not a Mob question, but that decision about adversaries has meaningful impacts for the Mob version.
  • Stress – When you mash together a bunch of Mooks into a single entity, how do you calculate the stress for that entity? One note – It helps my brain to add a [0] stress box, because in Fate you generally aren’t Taken Out when you mark off your last stress box, but if you take any more, you are then gone. For me, it’s easier to have a box to mark off when the guy is out.
  • Action Economy – An inherent truth of combining a bunch of Mooks into a single entity is that you lose action economy, and action economy is really important in Fate. So when you want to threaten PC’s, there is a balancing act between the bonus on the dice, and the number of times that those dice get rolled.

For each implementation, I’ll provide an example of whatever that version looks like. For versions that can scale the quality of the adversaries, I will use a Fair (+2) quality, which is most comparable to the Good at +2 / Bad at -2 FAE Mook design. I will use a group of 4, since that is an interesting breakpoint in several examples.

Alrighty, here we go…

Fate Core

Fate Core introduced the concept of Mobs, which are group of Nameless NPC’s. It’s worth noting that Nameless NPC’s can scale from Average to Good quality. This is the baseline for comparison for all the other implementations. So this section will be a bit longer than the others.

  • Skills – Each NPC beyond the first adds +1, using the standard Teamwork rules. So as the Mob gets whittled down, its offensive power gets weaker with every loss. Or at least, that’s how I’ve always understood this rule. BUT – see my note below…
  • Stress – Combine all of the stress of each NPC, one for one, into a pool. When a mob takes a hit, shifts in excess of what’s needed to take out one NPC are applied to the next NPCs in the mob, one at a time. There is a bit of an un-intuitiveness to the way Stress gets counted, mainly due to the trickiness of scaling stress boxes in Fate Core compared to the simpler approach using 1-stress boxes outlined in DFA and the Adversary Toolkit, but in the end, this is a minor quibble. The basic gist is – a mob of X dudes take exactly the same amount of stress to take out as X individual dudes. You definitely need to keep track of how many dudes are left in the Mob.
  • Action Economy – Something about this baseline implementation is that you can easily divide up the groups to apply pressure to all PC’s, maintaining an equal Action Economy to the party. And since the Teamwork mechanic gives a pretty linear relationship between group size and Action Economy, this feels pretty good. As groups collapse, stragglers can very easily regroup up to keep a bonus to their rolls, at the expense of Action Economy, or keep their Action Economy, but lose their bonuses. It’s quite natural to start with a big gang of dudes, and just spread them out to each PC, and figure their Teamwork bonus and stress pools dynamically, so you match the PC’s action for action.
  • Here is an interesting bit regarding the Teamwork bonus, which is what gets out of control with this approach – when I went to the SRD to review this, there’s a link to an article by the awesome Ryan Macklin, “Revising Teamwork in Fate.” In this, he proposes some limits to the Teamwork mechanic. The bit that is relevant to our purpose here, “The benefit you can get from teamwork caps at your skill rating. After that, you’re not really able to utilize the additional help. So you can get the benefit of four people helping you if you have a skill at Great (+4), just one person if your skill is Average (+1).” So using this, a mob of Average (+1) NPC’s would cap at Fair (+2). This makes mobs of weak minions only barely more dangerous than an individuals, and it mainly makes a Mob about being a big sack of Stress. This perspective is interesting in light of some other implementations, so keep it in mind.
  • Also interesting is the Comments section of that article. At one point Ryan responds, in reference to using the Teamwork mechanic with Mobs, “That doesn’t tell you to use the teamwork rules to determine their strength.” His comments seem to imply that the intent of Mobs was NEVER for them to get an unrestrained Teamwork bonus on Attacks, but instead that the Mob should just get the Stress of the group, and Attack as a single. I certainly didn’t get that sense from text, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Also, I find this interpretation rather unthreatening.
  • It’s implied by the example in the Fate Core book that the bonus applies to Defense rolls as well as Attack rolls, though I don’t think that’s actually intended in the Teamwork rules, since that is about teaming up on a pro-active action, not a Reaction (though a Mob could theoretically choose to team up to support the Defense action, rather than the Attack, but I don’t personally think they should be able to do both in the same exchange). I chalk this up to a case of a mistake in the example.
  • There are a few issues this approach. It mostly stems from the way Teamwork works, when you apply it to a big group of weak Mooks. This quickly creates mega-dangerous Mobs. A handful of Average minions is going to wreck some face until you beat it down (but if you interpret the Teamwork bonus applying to Defense, too, then that will be hard!). It also results in the Mob getting progressively weaker and weaker, which is kind of anti-climactic. But it’s clean and logical. But as we’ve seen, there is a lack of clarity about whether you are even supposed to be using Teamwork as written with Mobs? If you used Ryan Macklin’s proposed limitation, then you still can’t make a group of trash Mooks into a viable threat, since their bonus can only go from a +1 to a +2, for example.

Yakuza Ninjas – Mob of 4 Fair Quality Nameless NPC’s

  • Aspects: Shadowy Ninja Assassin; Loyal Yakuza to the Death
  • Skills: Fight (+2), Stealth (+1), Athletics (+1)
  • Teamwork: starts at +3, reduce by 1 for each NPC lost
  • Stress: [0] [1]  |  [0] [1] |  [0] [1] | [0] [1]

Fate Accelerated Edition

FAE introduces the concept of Groups of Mooks.

  • Skills – This very explicitly uses the same stats as an individual, so there is no bonus to this dimension for grouping up. “Each of these groups acts like a single character and has a set of stats just like a single mook would.” This means that Groups of Mooks just generally operate at Fair (+2), assuming that they’re “Skilled at” combat, or Mediocre (+0) if they aren’t. This also means that a Group of Mooks doesn’t lose any threat as they get beat down. They is exactly as dangerous on their final exchange as they were on the first (ie – not very).
  • Stress – You still pile the Stress together, but in a much reduced manner: “Give them one stress box for every two individuals in the group.” But keep in mind that these are scaling stress boxes. This is interesting because as the mob gets bigger, they get some big stress boxes, but as boxes fill up, a 1-stress hit could still mark off a 5-stress box if that’s all there is available. So as a group gets large, its stress pool will eclipse a similar Mob from Fate Core, but on the low end, they are weaker. It’s also worth noting that you don’t actually need to worry about how many Mooks are left. Once you group them up, the group is simply a unified entity. On the other hand, the only thing that adding more dudes to the Group does is add stress. There is no balancing act between Stress and threat. It’s just all Stress.
  • Action Economy – You completely lose Action Economy with this approach, and get nothing in return. There is no no trade-off between group size for some bonus, versus dividing up for more actions.
  • This generally makes Groups of Mooks sacks of stress with very little threat. A mob of 5 is just as dangerous a an individual, they just stick around longer. But that’s generally consistent with Mooks in FAE in general, which is why I’m not generally a fan of them. And the chasis that they are based on doesn’t allow for any scaling of threat, every Mook is always a +2 for what they’re good at, and a -2 for what they’re bad at. Now obviously, a GM can mess with those, but that isn’t presented as an option, it just is what it is (to be fair, FAE gives quick and dirty approaches to things). They are very good for throwing a big group of minions at the party and letting the players feel pretty awesome.

Yakuza Ninjas – Group of 4 Mooks

  • Aspects: Shadowy Ninja Assassin; Loyal Yakuza to the Death
  • Good At (+2): Hand to Hand combat, Infiltration, Loyalty
  • Bad At (-2): Social Interaction, Broad Daylight in Public
  • Stress: [0]  [1]  [2]

Three Rocketeers

This implementation basically take a scaling variation on Mooks from FAE, and then group them up like Mobs from Fate Core.

  • Skills – The Mob basically use the Teamwork rules from Fate Core, but the base chasis is a FAE Mook with some more scalable control. “Each mook in a mob after the first adds +1 to actions when doing something the mooks are skilled at.” While no hard limits are imposed, they do give the guidance “It’s best to keep the mooks in groups of three.” However, it does imply that the bonus applies to all Actions, not just the proactive 1/round like with Teamwork. So this means it could apply to Defense actions, which will make the group hard to take down if they are Skilled at their combat skill.
  • Stress – Exactly the same as Mobs in Fate Core.
  • Action Economy – Same balancing act of skill bonus versus action economy as Fate Core.
  • This results in all the same issues and benefits as Mobs from Fate Core, but it’s a bit clearer in the explanation, and it’s guidance, which I appreciate. Also, I appreciate the evolution of the FAE Mook to have some choices in threat scaling. And if you stick to the guidance of Mobs of 3, and just manage several Mobs of 3, you should be just fine, and can find a nice balance of threat, stress, and action economy. But this doesn’t solve the issues present in the Fate Core mechanic, it just provides better guidance around using it in such a way to avoid those problems.

Yakuza Ninjas – Mob of 4 Medium Mooks

  • Aspects: Shadowy Ninja Assassin; Loyal Yakuza to the Death
  • Skilled (+2): Hand to Hand combat, Infiltration, Loyalty
  • Poor (-1): Social Interaction, Broad Daylight in Public
  • Teamwork: starts at +3, reduce by 1 for each Mook lost
  • Stress: [0] [1]  |  [0] [1] |  [0] [1] | [0] [1]

War of Ashes

War of Ashes uses Minions, which are basically the same as Mooks from FAE, and then mobs them up into Groups of Minions.

  • Skills – Group of Minions have the same Good at/Bad at skills of their base Minion, but then, rather than using Teamwork, War of Ashes adds in their new mechanic of Weight. This is really interesting! “If the heavier side outweighs their opponents in the zone by at least two to one, they can replace any one of the dice they rolled with a [+]. If the heavier side attacker outweighs their target by at least four to one, they can replace two of the Fate dice results with [+].” This serves to give the mob a +1 or +2 bonus for outnumbering, but it affects the average result of the dice, rather than the range of possible numbers. This is a neat mechanic that seems like a spiritual cousin to Red & Blue dice for weapons. It’s also worth noting that, like Groups of Mooks in FAE, Groups of Minions operate at full power until they are taken out. Their Weight doesn’t decrease as they decline.
  • Stress – This takes the 1/2 stress approach to Groups of Mook from FAE, but adds a little extra. “Give them the same stress an individual would have plus one stress box for every two individuals in the group.”
  • Action Economy –  Groups do lose Action Economy, but they get a Weight bonus to compensate, up to a +2. I like the balancing act between arranging groups to maintain a 2:1 ratio or 4:1 ratio, versus getting the action economy of multiple groups. The fact that there are bonus breakpoints and a ceiling, instead of the linearly scaling bonus in Fate Core, give you interesting decisions during a battle. That’s a really fun tactical dynamic for the DM!
  • So in summation, this implementation is basically the most similar to Groups of Mooks in FAE, but giving them a little extra threat, and a little extra staying power, which I’m digging. There’s a lot to like here!

Yakuza Ninjas – Group of 4 Minions

  • Aspects: Shadowy Ninja Assassin; Loyal Yakuza to the Death
  • Good At (+2): Hand to Hand combat, Infiltration, Loyalty
  • Bad At (-2): Social Interaction, Broad Daylight in Public
  • Weight: 4
  • Stress: [0] [1]  [2]  [3]

Age of Arthur / Skein

If you aren’t familiar with it, Age of Arthur by Paul Mitchener & Graham Spearing, is an awesome game built on Fate, that came out either right before or right after Fate Core. While not an Evil Hat product, it’s still an awesome Fate-based game, and in particular it has a good implementations of Mobs that I think is worth including in this analysis, called Warbands. They also released a free SRD, called Skein, which you should definitely take a look at (and then go pay money for Age of Arthur, because it’s a great book!). Warband members (Skein pg 68) are defined by their quality (+0 through +4), which is their combat skill as well as stress. They are generally similar to Nameless NPC from Fate Core.

  • Skills – Warbands get a +1 when in a group of 2-3, and a +2 in groups of 4-6.  Groups larger than 6 don’t get any further bonus. They explicitly call out that this bonus does not apply to Defense. It’s worth calling out that this is a good example of how slightly tweaking the breakpoint for bonuses (comparing Skein to War of Ashes) is a nice dial that the DM can easily fiddle with to control the dynamics they want. I really like the idea that outnumbering your enemy gives you a significant advantage, but only to a certain point. Beyond that point of diminishing returns, the extra bodies simply add more staying power, and not additional threat.
  • Stress – This uses the same approach as Fate Core, where all stress is piled together, and shifts in excess of what’s needed to take out one NPC are applied to the next NPCs in the mob, one at a time. Warband members in Skein have a stress score equal to their quality, effectively having that many 1-stress boxes, like in the Adversary Toolkit or DFA. And when they run out, they are taken out.
  • Action Economy – Much like War of Ashes, the break-points in the bonuses create an interesting balancing act between skill bonus and action economy.
  • This is a method that I have used in my own games, and I really like it. You have flexibility of Mob quality, and numbers, and an interesting balancing act between group size for the bonus versus action economy. Big groups of weak adversaries become legitimate threats with as much staying power as you need, without getting out of control, and mobs of high-quality adversaries become downright terrifying.
  • I think the comparison of this version to War of Ashes is worth considering. Both provide a bonus of up to +2 for a handful of dudes ganging up on one PC. The Skein version is very simple and easy to use, but it in much more dangerous, because it shifts the entire spread of outcomes upwards by 2. The War of Ashes version is a bit fiddlier to use, but it cleverly shifts the average and bottom limit up by 2, but not the upper limit.

Yakuza Ninjas – Fair Quality Warband of 4 

  • Aspects: Shadowy Ninja Assassin; Loyal Yakuza to the Death
  • Combat Skill – Fair (+2)
  • Warband bonus: starts at +2, reduces to +1 at 3 members, gone at 1 member
  • Stress: [1] [1] |  [1] [1] |  [1] [1] | [1] [1]

Fate Adversary Toolkit

The Adversary Toolkit introduces Fillers, which are very similar to Nameless NPC’s from Fate Core, with a slightly modified spread of skills below the apex skill, which isn’t a big deal, and a switch to 1-stress boxes, like in DFA. This seems to be the new approach to stress going forward, which I do like. The scaling stress boxes in Fate Core are more interesting, but man, the single-stress boxes are easier to manage, and easier for new players to grok. Anyways, they introduce the concept of Grouping Fillers

  • Skills – This implementation does increase the skill level for the group – “For every two Fillers with the same skill in the group, add a +1 bonus to that skill.” This is very similar to the Teamwork approach presented in Fate Core, but it scales more slowly. They also, wisely, give a limit, “A Filler group’s skills can never be rated higher than Great (+4).” I think it’s also important to call out that nothing is said about whether you should or should not apply this bonus to Defend actions. My personal opinion is that you shouldn’t. However, I do feel that this implementation is a bit stingy with skills. I think I prefer the skill spread as written in Fate Core.
  • Stress – They use the same approach as Fate Core, but modified for the single-box stress, and make them fairly hardy. They also allow for combining Fillers with differing stresses, though this also means that you are definitely tracking individuals being taken out. “To make the group’s stress track, arrange the stress boxes of each filler in the group into a single track. Divide up the track so you can figure out when each filler in the group gets taken out, with weaker fillers on the left and stronger fillers on the right.” They also give a good visual example, like this – [0] [1] [1]  | [0] [1] [1]  |  [0] [1] [1] [1]
  • Action Economy – Groups lose some Action Economy, but they are compensated. Like War of Ashes and Skein, the scaling bonus, combined with a bonus limit, creates an interesting balancing act between skill bonus and action economy.
  • I really like this implementation! I like that it allows combining groups of slightly different Fillers, and that it is pretty explicit about how to handle the skill levels and stress management. I like that it lets the group present a greater threat than an individual, without allowing the threat level to spiral out of control. Depending on the campaign, and then group of PC’s, I might want to play with the threat limit of Great (+4), but that’s an easy knob to turn. The mechanical structure is sound and clear.

Yakuza Ninjas – Group of 4 Fair Quality Fillers

  • Aspects: Shadowy Ninja Assassin
  • Skills: Fight (+2)
  • Group bonus: starts at +2, reduces to +1 at 2 fillers, gone at 1 filler
  • Stress: [0] [1] [1] |  [0] [1] [1] |  [0] [1] [1] | [0] [1] [1]

Dresden Files Accelerated

DFA uses Minor NPC’s (pg 212), that are basically Mooks from FAE, except they use 6 x 1-stress boxes, which is appropriate to DFA, although that seems like a LOT of stress.

  • Skills – Mobs of Minor NPC’s have the same stats as the base Mook, but they get a baseline threat bonus, “a mob gets an inherent +1 teamwork bonus on any roll,” but then they also get a special AOE ability, “a mob can roll to attack all the PCs on their turn.” This effectively gives them as many attacks as they need, which very cleverly solves the action economy issue.
  • Stress – The way I read it, a Mob of Minor NPC’s still has 6 stress, the same as the base Mook. In fact, it seems like they are mainly intended to be used as a Mob, because 6 stress is a LOT for a Mook. For comparison, a single Fair (+2) NPC from Fate Core has 1 stress, while a single Minor NPC in DFA has 6 stress. But gang up 4 DFA Minor NPC’s, and it still has 6 stress.
  • Action Economy – This approach completely turns the skill bonus/action economy balancing act decision on its ear compared to every other implementation. There is no management or balancing to worry about. You simply design a Mook, declare that it is a Mob, give it a +1 bonus, and a special attack AOE attack option. These bonuses don’t go away as the Mob gets worn down, so the intensity contin. You also don’t have to worry about trying to divide up groups to engage all of the PC’s to equalize the action economy. The AOE attack solves for that.
  • This is a really clever implementation. Much like a cinematic team of ninja mooks, the fight keeps raging at a steady level, the ninja’s just keep on coming, until they are all suddenly lying on the floor, finished.  I’m not a huge fan of the Good at/Bad at skill style, but skill levels are a knob that is easily manipulated, as is the stress level. The approach is what I find compelling. Build a mob’s skill levels as appropriate to what they are, declare them a mob, give them as much stress as needed based on how long you want them to last, then give them a +1 bonus, and then give them the AOE attack power. Now, because of the abstraction this creates between an individual and a mob, what you can’t easily do in this version is have the group divide up if you want to, for example, apply pressure in two different zones.

Yakuza Ninjas – Mob of 4 Minor NPC’s

  • Aspects: Shadowy Ninja Assassin; Loyal Yakuza to the Death
  • Good At (+2): Hand to Hand combat, Infiltration, Loyalty
  • Bad At (-2): Social Interaction, Broad Daylight in Public
  • Teamwork: +1
  • Special: Make one Attack against all PC’s in your zone without splitting shifts. Each PC defends separately.
  • Stress: [1]  [1]  [1]  [1]  [1]  [1]

 

Summary

After working through all of these different implementations, I think that the one I like the most is Groups of Fillers from the Fate Adversary Toolkit. It creates interesting dynamism between teaming up and action economy, and the method of handling stress is easy to manage and also allows for similar but different Fillers in the same group. It also easily facilitates breaking groups up into other groups, or spreading threat across multiple zones. I do think I prefer the Skill spreads that come from Nameless NPC’s in Fate Core, so at my table, I think I’ll use that, but that has a minimal effect on the approach to grouping them up. Also, though the Adversary Toolkit doesn’t mention it, I think it’s important to not apply their bonus for Grouping up to their Defense, but rather only to the pro-active Action that the Group takes. Otherwise a large group becomes very hard to hurt, which I don’t think is the intent of the mechanic.

I could see myself using the DFA approach to Mobs for specific situations.  I think it would shine when I want it to feel like wave after wave of Mooks, where you aren’t sure if they guy you’re punching now is a new guy, or the same one you knocked down 2 rounds ago who got back up, and I’m happy to lean into the abstraction between the individual and the group.

Thank you for following along with me as I dug into this topic. I really needed to sit down and compare and contract these different implementations, and see how they all work compared to one another.

What method do you use at your table, and are tweaking the rules as written to suit your purposes? If so, what does it accomplish for you?

 

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