SotC 8 Running the Game

Spirit of the Century
1. The Basics
2. Character Creation
3. Aspects
4. How to Do Things
5. Skills
6. Stunts
7. Gadgets and Gizmos
8. Running the Game
9. Tips and Tricks
10. Quick Pick Stunt Packages
11. Character Worksheet
12. Character Sheet

8 Running the Game
In this chapter, we’ll take a look under the hood, and see how to make use of skills from the GM’s end of things. We’ll also talk about general principles for setting difficulties and other common situations as a GM. Overall, the focus here is to provide the GM with extensive (perhaps, at times, too extensive!) guidance on how to make the dice-rolling stuff really work. Where needed, with each skill we cover, we look at each trapping (see page XX) in depth. We’ll also look at other special uses for skills (which is why we put a section on poisons under the Endurance section, for example).

In the next chapter, we’ll pull the camera back a bit from this tight focus, and look at overall strategies for GMing from an adventure design perspective. But for now, onward, to the nuts and bolts…

8.1 Setting Difficulties
Before you – the GM – call for a die roll, it is critically important that you stop and do two things:

Imagine Success
Imagine Failure
It sounds simple, but it can make a critical difference. Success is usually the easy part, but failure can be bit trickier. You want to make sure that both outcomes are interesting , though interesting certainly doesn’t need to mean good.

If you cannot come up with a way to handle either outcome, you need to rethink the situation.

It’s as simple as that, because there are few things more frustrating to a player than making a skill roll and getting told that it nets them no new knowledge, no suggested course of action, no new development for the story, and so on.

So, whenever you call for a roll, be absolutely certain you understand entails. If one or the other branch does not suggest a course of action, then calling for a roll is probably a bad idea.

<Example>

Now, that said, every roll does not need to have high stakes. There should always be a consequence to failure, but there are degrees of consequence, and minor setbacks may be overcome for a larger success. If there is a large issue on the table, try not to have it hinge entirely on one roll – spread it out across the scene. Just as a roll has consequences, so does a scene, and the scene should have meaningful consequences.

The whole point of the consequences is to keep players engaged. It makes rolls into something a little more meaningful than hoping to get lucky on a die roll. That fact is the ultimate informer on how you want to set difficulties. The goal is to make any roll satisfying.

With that in mind, as a general guideline, difficulties should be set low (with a few exceptions we’ll cover in this chapter). If you leave difficulties at the default of Mediocre (+0) then characters will almost always succeed, but there is still a chance for failure. What this means is that characters will rarely fail, but failure is still a possibility in most circumstances. You can increase difficulties from that, but always stop and think about why you want to do that. The answer should always be “because you want failure to be more likely” – hopefully because failure’s cool too.

If you are tempted to make a roll so difficult that failure is likely, make sure you’ve got a solid reason why that’s so, and why you’re calling for a roll.

With difficulties set low, shifts (page XX) become critically important. When the question is not “will they succeed?” then it becomes “how (or how much) will they succeed?”, and that means the number of shifts a character generates on a roll becomes the yardstick you can use to frame how something turns out.

Effect Description
0 shifts Minimal success – The character pulled it off. It’s neither pretty nor graceful, but it works, at least for now.
1 shift Notable success – This is a clear-cut success. The character’s result is solid, reliable, and while it may not be inspired, it is absolutely workmanlike.
3 shifts Significant success – The success is sufficient enough to be noticeably well done, and will be of fine quality, very reliable and so on. A significant or better success can be said to generate spin (see below).
5 shifts Potent success – Not only is the quality of the success remarkable, it may have some unexpected, secondary benefits, such as a deeper insight into a problem at hand.

<Example>

The bottom line here is that every roll should be fun, whether it succeeds or fails.

8.1.1 Spin
In the interests of repeating ourselves: In its broadest sense, spin is a special effect that occurs whenever a character scores a significant or better success (3 shifts or more). That special effect may simply be color – it may mean the character looked particularly cool, or is due some recognition for excellence. In some cases, as outlined in skills and elsewhere, gaining spin can result in an actual game effect. In combat, if a character gets spin on a defensive, he can add a +1 to the very next action that occurs (even if it’s not his own). Other applications of spin, found throughout the text, will exist as well, but in general, it serves as an easy way of making note that a character has done particularly well on a roll. Whenever characters roll well enough to generate spin, it’s time to sit up, pay attention, and spice up the details. See page XX for deeper details on the concept of spin.

8.1.2 Setting Declaration Difficulties
Some skills (such as knowledge skills like Academics) may allow a player to make declarations. A declaration is typically a player-driven assertion that there is a particular aspect (determined by the player) on a particular target (an individual character, group, location, scene, or story). Broadly, declarations allow players to introduce facts into the setting and storyline. The difficulties for declarations should, honestly, be based on how interesting the proposed fact or aspect is. Ideas which would disrupt the game or are just unreasonable should simply be vetoed. These are the questions to ask yourself when determining difficulty:

Is the declaration interesting (or funny)?
Will the declaration have interesting consequences if it’s acted upon but is wrong?
Does the declaration propose a specific and interesting or heroic course of action?
Each “no” adds 2 to the base difficulty of Mediocre. If the proposed fact is very amusing, proposes an interesting course of action and has interesting consequences if wrong (three “yes”-es), a Mediocre difficulty is appropriate. By contrast, a boring fact with a dull course of action and no possible consequences has a difficulty of Fantastic.

If your players haven’t quite got a grasp of how much they can do with declarations, you will probably need to lower the difficulties to suit – but you should let them know what makes a declaration more likely to succeed.

8.1.3 Setting Assessment Difficulties
Several skills (perception skills especially) may be used to make assessments. An assessment is an effort made by a character to discover one or more hidden aspects about a particular target (an individual, group, location, or scene). If the target of an assessment is a person or a group, the difficulty of the assessment is usually an opposed skill roll. Static entities like locations or objects typically have difficulties based on their quality. If there’s no obvious way to determine the assessment difficulty, consider the baseline difficulty to be Mediocre.

Target Difficulty
Person Usually Rapport or Deceit (see skills).
Location Quality of concealment (default Mediocre).
Group Usually Leadership of group’s “Named” leader, otherwise, quality level of the minions in the group.

At the GM’s discretion, if a character gains spin (page XX) on an assessment roll, he may gain insight into a more potent fact, or one additional fact – potentially allowing good rolls to result in the revelation of two aspects.

8.2 Time
When a character takes an action, it is expected to take a certain amount of time, ranging from a few moments to a few days. Sometimes characters need to take longer to do something or want to do something a little faster. When that happens, take a look at the chart on page XX and find how long the tasks should take.

Each shift the character generates that is put towards doing something fast makes the task one step faster.

<Examples>

Time Increments

Instant
A few moments
Half a minute
A minute
A few minutes
15 minutes
Half an hour
An hour
A few hours
An afternoon
A day
A few days
A week
A few weeks
A month
A few months
A season
Half a year
A year
A few years
A decade
A lifetime
8.2.1 Taking Your Time
When a character fails a roll to perform a task that he reasonably should be able to do, the GM can simply rule that the task succeeds but takes longer than it normally would. For each step of additional time the character spends on the action, he gains a retroactive +1 on the roll, to a maximum of +4.

<Example>

8.3 Adjudicating Skills
All right. Here’s where we roll up the sleeves, look at each skill on a case by case basis, and get our hands a bit greasy. As a fair warning, we will be repeating ourselves a bit here and there in the interests of making sure that when you flip to a particular skill, you’ve got most all you need to make a quick judgement call right there. Hang on tight…

8.3.1 Academics
(Skill, page XX, Stunts, page XX)

When setting the difficulty for a research roll, the best yardstick is the obscurity of the knowledge sought.

Something with a Fantastic difficulty is probably only known by one or two people in the world. Superb difficulty is limited to the handful of leading experts. Great would equate to all the top men in the field, while Good and lower start getting into the common body of knowledge. Difficulties beyond Fantastic are appropriate for lost knowledge. Shifts on the roll should correspond to the depth of detail discovered.

◉ Declaring Minor Details [Academics]
For guidelines on setting difficulties for minor details, see “Setting Difficulties for Declarations”, above on page XX.

8.3.2 Alertness
(Skill, page XX, Stunts, page XX)

For surprises and the like, Alertness rolls are usually contests, so difficulties are easy to determine.

Beyond that, Alertness rolls should generally have a very low difficulty, for several reasons. Most notably, if you have included something like a clue for someone to stumble across, you probably want it to be found.

Additionally, nothing makes players more paranoid than a call for an Alertness check from out of blue. For even the best groups, it can increase tension as they wonder what it is they missed. Therefore, such general calls for Alertness rolls should be used sparingly, and should only be used when you actually have something to tell people… even if they don’t end up rolling well enough to discover it.

Consequently, if difficulties are set low, then characters will always see something – the trick is to make sure the outcomes are tiered, so that you have more information to give to the person who does well, but you still have something for the person who does poorly.

When you have multiple characters performing Alertness checks, provide the information to the person who did best first, then for each person down the line, tell them what they don’t see. Doing it in this order lets the players get a clear picture, while making the limits of their characters’ knowledge very clear.

If you want to simulate a confusing situation, one where it’s difficult to see clearly what to do because of smoke, mirrors or simply too much activity, it’s reasonable to say all actions will be restricted by Alertness (see page XX), imposing a -1 on all of a character’s skills rated higher than his Alertness.

8.3.3 Art
(Skill, page XX, Stunts, page XX)

◉ Art as Knowledge [Art]
When using Art for knowledge, the guidelines for Academics are sufficient (see the skill write-up on page XX, and above for adjudication advice).

◉ Art as Craft [Art]
Art can normally be used to create something with no real problem, especially if the character is a virtuoso. The dice only need to come out when the character is trying to get a specific effect. The conflict rules can cover most of those situations, but in a pinch, the character may use Art in contest to an opponent’s perception skill, as in forgery (see page XX).

◉ Art as Performance [Art]
When Art is used to put aspects on a scene, those aspects describe the mood of the scene, and as the GM, you should keep them in mind for more than just invocations and compels. For instance, if the mood of a scene is “somber” then you should take that as a cue for NPC behaviors, just like you’d describe a scene with a “dark” aspect as having things that are hard to see..

It’s also worth remembering that the mood of a group offers a secondary opportunity for compels and other complications – if the mood of the room is somber, and a player fails to act in accordance with the mood, others will probably respond badly to them, rather the way people might respond to someone using their cell phone in a funeral.

Not every performance is going to put an aspect on a scene. To start out, the artist describes what aspect he’s trying to put on the scene and how he’s going to go about it. The difficulty for an adequate performance is Mediocre, but the difficulty for a performance that’s good enough to shape the mood is starts two higher, at Fair. This difficulty may be further modified by other factors:

Difficulty Notes Mod.
Adding to a mood If the room has an existing mood, adding an additional mood is a little harder. +1
Changing a mood If the new mood is going to replace an existing mood (either by design, or because it’s actively contradictory to the existing mood), it’s more difficult. +3
Distractions A noisy room or other activities will make it hard to focus on the performance. +1
Major Distractions It takes active effort to pay attention to the performance, such as when the performer is in a large, active area with many distractions. +3
Total Distractions There’s no reason for anyone to be paying attention to the performance, such as on a battlefield. +5

So, the baseline difficulty is Mediocre, and as long as the character beats that, the performance is technically adequate. The modifiers are applied to the performance that has an emotionally transportive quality. Essentially, the second difficulty indicates the number of shifts over Mediocre the artist needs to get in order to place an aspect on the room – starting with two shifts for a distraction-free, no-existing-mood-to-address performance.

<Example>

◉ Satire and Eulogy [Art]
If the performance targets an individual, the base difficulty of the effort is the Contacting skill of the target being satirized. The target’s Contacting skill is used to approximate the character’s reputation and ability to mitigate the satire’s impact. Treat this as an attack or maneuver as appropriate to the situation.

◉ Static Art [Art]
When we say “performance,” it mostly means an active artistic endeavor, such as a play or musical performance. In those situations, the skill roll is made at the time of the performance. Occasionally a more static art form, such as painting, can be used to impact a mood, but it requires an active display of the artist’s work, such as at an art show or a dramatic reveal at an estate’s ball. Here, the revelation and discovery of the art piece is where its maximum impact occurs, and in game terms, that’s where the effort is focused.

◉ Using Performances [Art]
Performances are a powerful way to set up a scene with an advantage for the artist (or his sponsor). Using an artist’s performance to lay down some scene aspects can be very powerful if a character is planning to play on those aspects in the subsequent scenes. Players who have invested in a high Art skill will expect to be able to do this on a semi-regular basis, and as a GM you should be ready for them to do so, and to succeed.

◉ Forgery [Art]
Difficulties for forgery should be set at Mediocre for something simple like a letter or a ditty, Good for something more involved like a painting or a novel, and Superb for something that will be challenging in its own right, like a symphony. Subtract 1 from the difficulty if there is an original on hand to work from. An appropriate Investigation or Art use would be used to oppose or otherwise detect the forgery.

8.3.4 Athletics
(Skills page XX; Stunts page XX)

Because Athletics can be used for so many different physical activities, the GM needs to be especially aware of when she should and should not call for a roll. It’s very easy to think “That’s a wall; I should call for an Athletics roll to see if they can climb it,” forgetting that this is a bad idea unless you’ve got a good idea of how failure is going to be interesting. No skill should ever be rolled purely for its own sake, and Athletics is often in danger of being used without meaningful story impact.

Athletics can be used offensively in combat, but in strongly limited ways. Athletics should never be used to inflict stress, but it is often a reasonable skill for certain maneuvers. If the maneuver involves pushing around heavy things, Might (or Might modified by Athletics) will be more appropriate, but if it’s more about grace than power, Athletics is certainly a better match.

◉ Jumping [Athletics]
Jumping is, oddly, one of the most difficult things to adjudicate. Consider the classic situation of characters looking to jump over a bottomless pit – as GM, you want the scene to have some tension, but you don’t want anyone falling to their death because of dumb luck. Aspects and fate points can mitigate this to some extent, but this means you do not want to set the difficulty too high. Consider the difficulty you set to be the point where they barely make the jump and improve it by shifts. If you set the difficulty higher, but treat a failure as “barely making it” then your players will catch on, and the thrill will be gone. If, instead, you make the threat of failure smaller but more real, players will respond more strongly, and feel strong incentive to use aspects and fate points.

When not looking to introduce the chance of failure, simply avoid calling for a roll to clear the pit, and instead give it a high “border” value to increase the cost of crossing from one zone (the near side of the pit) to another (the far). Another softer approach is letting a failure be a realization that the character just isn’t up to the task – “You missed the roll by two? Well, it’s clear to you that it’s too far. You’ll have to find another way around, or get someone to throw you a rope.”

That said, if it’s only an apparently bottomless pit, and something interesting (rather than something lethal) happens to people who fail… let the dice roll!

◉ Climbing [Athletics]
Climbing is not quite as bad as jumping, but it can be quite boring. Unless you’ve got a really good reason why climbing needs a roll, just assume people get over the obstacle. If, however, the wall is virtually impossible to climb, that gives a character with appropriate stunts an opportunity to shine – absolutely a good time to call for a roll. Climbing difficulties are determined on two axes – first the base difficulty is determined by height. Climbs, like falls, are either Short, Medium, Long or Extreme, and they follow the same rules for height that falls do (see below, page XX).

Mod. Slipperiness Visibility Distractions
+1 Wet or slick Dark or Raining Non-threatening interactions
+2 Completely smooth Pitch Black External dangers

These difficulties assume a fairly easy climb, a situation with many hand and footholds, like a fence. They are subsequently modified by circumstance. The three main factors affecting a claim are slipperiness, visibility and distractions. Each of these can increase the difficulty by 1 or 2.

Height Base difficulty
Short Mediocre (+0)
Medium Fair (+2)
Long Great (+4) [4]
Extreme Fantastic (+6) [4]
[4] (1, 2) Climbs of this length are Athletics restricted by Endurance unless the character has the ability to rest occasionally

Given all these difficulties, certain climbs (like a glass skycraper at night, while someone’s shooting at you) are going to be too difficult even to try, so it’s important for a climber to know his limits (or have stunts to exceed them).

Most of the time, you won’t need to get into the nitty-gritty of a climb, since most climbs are either fairly simple (in which case, definitely consider why you’re asking for a roll) or are of the “Impossible! No man could do such a thing!” variety. If you’ve got a character who has taken stunts to allow such climbing, remember to hook him in with opportunities to show his stuff.

Climbing should usually be binary – if the character can’t do it, they usually figure that out near the bottom, so they succeed or they don’t, rather than getting partway up, slipping, and falling. However, if you want to insert such a moment of tension, halfway up a wall is an excellent time to compel an aspect (environmental ones are good for this) and, if the player accepts, demand a new roll.

◉ Falling [Athletics]
A short fall is usually anything under 20 feet. It can hurt, but in heroic fiction, such falls are little more than inconveniences. A medium fall is more substantial, anything up to three or four stories. If the fall is more than that, but you can still see details on the ground (say, 10 stories), it’s a long fall. Anything more than that is an extreme fall. By default, a short fall imposes minor consequence, a medium fall imposes moderate consequences, a long fall imposes severe consequences, and an extreme fall hops right to taken out regardless of die rolls (unless stunts get involved). See the table below for a summary of these effects.

When a character falls, he should roll Athletics. If he fails to make a Mediocre (+0) difficulty, the fall is treated as one category worse than it is. If he beats a difficulty based on the length of the fall (as shown in the table below), he may treat the fall as one step shorter (so a long fall would be come a medium fall and so on).

Extreme Falls (and falls in general) are more useful as a threat than a reality. The danger of a fight on top of a skyscraper is emphasized by the danger of falling, but the falling should never be central to the scene, unless you can think of a way to make it very cool.

Fall Height Base Difficulty Consequence
Short Up to 20ft Fair (+2) Minor
Medium Up to 40ft Great (+4) Moderate
Long Can see the ground clearly Fantastic (+6) Severe
Extreme Is that a house? Can’t be attempted without “Safe Fall” stunt, page XX Taken Out

8.3.5 Burglary
(Skill, page XX; Stunts, page XX)

◉ Casing [Burglary]
Casing can be treated as either an assessment or a declaration. Players may respond well to feeling that they have some ownership of the scene, so in general, if a player’s willing to step up and declare something about the joint he’s casing, you should not only let him, you should encourage it. If the player declares, see the “Setting Difficulties for Declarations” section, page XX, for guidelines about setting difficulties for casing.

There’s no guarantee that a player will do that, however. Sometimes you’ll instead approach this as assessment – the player wants you to reveal an aspect to him if he rolls well enough. This is also fine, but the guidelines for difficulty are less responsive to the “interesting”-ness of the aspect to be revealed – you’re the one coming up with it, after all, rather than the player. Since this will almost always give rise to a scene aspect that will be broadly available and have a significant impact on the shape of the coming scene, you should be looking for the character to score several shifts above a standard difficulty of Mediocre – so, all other things being equal, rolls of Good or better will reveal findable flaws, unless a strong effort has been made to conceal those flaws.

Both of these circumstances really only address a static target, where there is no strong, driving force behind the security effort. If a significant NPC is taking an active role in, say, patrolling or monitoring security at a location, the location has suddenly become much more difficult to burgle.

When this is the case, the casing effort may instead turn into Burglary (on the PC’s part) vs. Burglary or Investigation (on the NPC’s part) rolls – and the NPC may already be aware of the aspect knowledge he wants to keep out of the PC’s hands. If this is the case, such contests may function an awful lot like someone trying to “read” another person, as with Empathy, only it’s a building or other location here rather than a person. For an idea of how to handle such cat-and-mouse aspect revelations, see the sections on Empathy, Rapport, and Deceit both in Skills chapter and this one (page XX, page XX, page XX, page XX, page XX, and page XX).

◉ Locks [Burglary]
Burglary will frequently see use in overcoming locks and other security measures. Most locks that a person runs into on a day to day basis are of only Mediocre difficulty, but more specialized locks are more difficult. As a rough guideline:

Front Door, Simple Padlock: Mediocre
Quality Padlock, Office Door: Average
Security Door: Fair
Prison Cell: Good
Safety Deposit Box, Cheap Safe: Great
Expensive Safe: Superb
Bank Vault: Fantastic

Most locks require some sort of tools to open. For regular locks, this is some sort of pick, whereas safes and vaults require more specialized tools. These difficulties all assume investing a few minutes, if not longer, depending on the lock. If the character wishes to take less time, he must get additional shifts and adjust the timeframe according to the time table (page XX). If he lacks the proper tools, the difficulty is boosted by 2 at minimum. He must have some kind of tools to use, however; the job can’t be done otherwise unless it’s a very unusual lock indeed.

◉ Security [Burglary]
Security systems as a whole are just collections of smaller elements, like window locks, tripwires, alarm bells and so on. The quality of a security system (which determines its difficulty to assess or overcome) depends upon who was responsible for setting it up, and is based on either their Engineering or Burglary skill. The cost of a security system is equal to its quality. If a character is building a security system for himself, this cost is reduced by one (quality, of course, stays the same).

Most often a security system should be defeated (or not) in a single roll. Failing that roll should make the matter more complicated – increasing difficulty or revealing that there are multiple steps that must be taken in order to make the job even possible – if not outright setting off any security measures that the character was trying to circumvent.

If the scene is a big and important one, with a complex security set-up in order to allow a Burglary focused character to strut his stuff, the GM is encouraged to start things right at the “multiple steps” point. Such security systems may often be indicated by aspects on the scene, and a player trying to get around them may be trying to alter or otherwise remove those aspects from the scene. Alternately, the systems may have a stress track of their own, with the character’s Burglary actions acting as “infiltration attacks” against the securities and failsafes.

8.3.6 Contacting
The main difference between Contacting with and without stunts is the quality of the people you’re going to deal with. Every organization that a character tries to get an inroad into with Contacting is going to have a certain amount of bureaucratic smokescreens in place. A character’s reputation, without a stunt, can only get him so far. Thus, without an appropriate stunt, characters will end up contacting the lowest level functionary of the highest level of the organization – that is to say, its middle managers, sergeants and other mid-level folks, falling well short of the big cheese at the top … unless the storyline’s set up for such access. This isn’t to say that a stuntless character can’t eventually get there – just that it’ll take more work, or at least money. In a vacuum, easy access to heads of state, generals, and capos are in the domain of stunts (though it might be bought with a little creative use of Resources).

Whenever it comes into play, Contacting is the GM’s excuse to have a little bit of fun. Remember that information from Contacting always comes from a person. While the GM is not obliged to play out every Contacting roll, it’s always an excuse to get a chance to play a brief scene with a colorful NPC – and players being what they are, if you make the NPC interesting enough, they’ll want more of him. If you don’t enjoy that, no problem, just hand over the information. But if you do enjoy it, here’s your chance!

◉ Gather Information [Contacting]
When characters use Contacting to gather information, the information received should always suggest a clear course of action. A vague answer that is just going to call for more Contacting rolls is no fun for anyone.

◉ Getting the Tip-Off [Contacting]
Getting the Tip-Off is actually a bit of a dirty trick. It’s a bonus to the player, but it also creates a hook to draw them in – no one is going to be indifferent to a warning of a threat against themselves. However, make sure that the information in the tip off is either very vague or very specific. If it’s vague enough to serve as foreshadowing, it’s unlikely to distract the character, but if there’s any amount of detail, there’s a good chance the player will concentrate on this tip-off as something they must do next. As such, the advice for gathering information also applies to tip-offs – if it’s information that could be acted upon, the course of action should be obvious.

For example, if a hit man has been called in from Chicago to kill the character, an appropriately vague warning is “I heard you really got a hair up Mister Big’s nose. You should watch out .” A decently specific tip-off is “Iceman Jenkins is in town, over at the southside motel! They say he’s got a gang of guys and is here to whack you! You need to get outta town!” Something in the middle, like “There’s a hitter in town, and he’s after your head,” is potentially problematic, because the player may well become obsessed with tracking down this hitter, rather than dealing with whatever else is afoot.

The Iceman Jenkins tip-off at least says “to deal with this, you can go to the southside motel right now!” whereas “there’s a hitter in town” suggests that it’s simply the first step in a longer investigation to discover the identity of the hitter and, if necessary, neutralize him. If it’s your intention to kick off a potentially long investigation sub-plot, great – your tip-off is right what you want it to be. But if that’s not your intention, you’ve created a wrinkle for yourself that you’re going to burn some game time on smoothing out.

Regardless, you need to be sensitive, as with any kind of investigation, to making sure that the process you kick off with a tip is not simply a parade of frustrating dead ends. Tips should head somewhere!

As a rule of thumb, like Alertness, don’t have the character roll for a tipoff unless you have something to tell the character. To do otherwise is just mean!

◉ Rumors [Contacting]
When a player plants a rumor, consider it a mental bookmark. Assuming anything but a terrible roll, that rumor should resurface later in the game. What form it takes depends on the player’s roll.

Mediocre or Average: The rumor earns passing mention
Fair or Good: Other characters are passing around the rumor, even back to the original character
Great or better: The rumor has spread far enough that someone (presumably the target) will do something in response to it. Additional shifts above Great may indicate that the rumor has spawned a number of alternate or embellished versions as well, all with the same thread running through them, or may be used to speed up the rate at which the rumor spreads.

8.3.7 Deceit
People say you can’t con an honest man, and there’s a good reason for it. Even the most persuasive lie can only suggest a course of action, not compel one. At best, a lie can suggest that a given course of action is in the target’s best interest, but even if that’s convincing, some people still won’t take the bait because it violates their convictions.

What this means is that you need to be very careful about adjudicating Taken Out results in social conflicts where Deceit is in play. Deceit should never create behavior that is at odds with the basic nature of the target – an honest man won’t be tricked into stealing, for example, though he may be tricked into, say, holding stolen goods if he has no reason to think they’re stolen.

When Deceit is most successful, the target is put in a position where his own nature forces the decision that the liar wanted him to make, much the same way the compulsion of an aspect does. An honest man won’t steal, unless he feels he has to do so to protect something more important than his honesty. Part of the reason a character with a high Deceit is going to want a decent Empathy is to know what direction to spin things towards.

In any case, this is not a huge problem when Deceit is used on NPCs – though you should keep an eye out just to make sure the character doesn’t use Deceit as poor man’s mind control. But when players are taken out by a Deceit attack, it’s important to remember that they may believe something false to be true now, but it should not change their essential nature.

◉ Disguise [Deceit]
Disguises generally hold up until the worst possible moment. The trick with dealing with disguises is less about when the opposition wins a roll, and more about when the opposition is going to get close enough to use Investigate. That’s the trump card, and the way to play out tension in a scene with disguises is by making it clear such a roll could happen – and thus the question is whether or not it will.

◉ Cat and Mouse [Deceit]
In such a contest, the “reader” is effectively maneuvering (as he attempts to win an Empathy roll and pick up a piece of information) rather than attacking, but he is acting, so he does not get a full defense bonus. The deceiver is responding in kind with attacks and maneuvers as well, with the goal of planting false ideas on the reader. Usually, the opponent disengages after they’ve won the maneuver and gotten the information they want.

8.3.8 Drive
First thing to remember: Cars of the pulp era are just not that fast compared to the cars of today (45 miles per hour is the blistering top speed of a Model T). You want to bear that in mind when players want to jump the crick or try a bootlegger reverse. Now, this is pulp, so feel free to play a little fast and loose with the physics of it, but just remember that the baseline is lower than in the modern era.

If racing a car against something other than a car, refer to the guidelines on page XX.

◉ Chases [Drive]
Despite the caveat about speed, Drive mostly comes up in one important context: chases! Sure, sometimes there will be rolls against specific difficulties to get out of a burning building in time or the like, but really, if a character has a substantial Drive skill, it’s so he can come away as the winner of a car chase.

So here’s the first rule of chases: they aren’t about speed. Sure, in a straightaway, the faster vehicle wins, no question, but that should almost never happen. Car (or any other kind of vehicle) chases end when one party is no longer in the chase, usually because they’ve crashed violently (and possibly explosively).

Car chases play out like any other conflict, with one or two small differences. Vehicles have their own stress track (see Gadgets & Gizmos, page XX), but they do not “attack” each other as is normally the case in a conflict. Instead, they engage in a steadily escalating series of dangerous actions, until the lesser driver is weeded out.

At each exchange in a chase, the driver of the lead (“chased”) vehicle calls out an action. Even if other things are happening at the same time as the chase, this action declaration is made first, regardless of initiative. The driver declares a difficulty of his choice, and describes what complicated and dangerous maneuver he’s performing that this difficulty matches. He then makes a Drive roll against that difficulty.

If he succeeds, he pulls it off, but if he fails, it goes less well than planned – the car gets banged up some or slips out of control, and the car takes stress equal to the number of shifts the character missed the difficulty by (as if an opponent had rolled the difficulty as an attack).

<Example>

Next, the driver of the pursuing vehicle (see below if there’s more than one vehicle) rolls against the same difficulty. If successful, the car takes no stress and inflicts stress to the lead car according to the shifts on its roll as it manages to get close, slam bumpers, fire some shots, or otherwise make trouble.

Alternately, if the pursuer is not looking to damage the lead vehicle, he may roll for a maneuver. If he fails, his car takes stress as if the difficulty were an attack – poor driving or overzealousness has had him sideswipe a vegetable stand, or rip up his tires on a tight turn.

Eventually one party or the other will be taken out, and that should pretty well handle that – if the chased vehicle’s still in motion, an escape; if a pursuing vehicle’s in play, capture!

◉ Multiple Vehicles [Drive]
Now, this is all well and good for when one car is chasing another, but chases are usually a lot more crazy than that – it’s a lucky hero who is only pursued by only one vehicle! Usually, if one car goes down, another one is in its place, and villains are famous for having guys with grenades on just the right rooftop as the hero tries to get away.

Multiple vehicle chases usually use the minion rules (see page XX), with each car equating to a minion, and all of the pursuers acting as a single unit making a single roll. If there’s a named pursuer with a handful of unnamed companions, the minion vehicles attach to the named leader normally.

<Example>

However, if there are a lot of cars – say you have a named pursuer who has 10 minions – it’s a little hard (and anticlimactic) to have all of the vehicles on the field at once. When you look at movies and the like, the usual pattern is that a few cars show up in pursuit, they crash, and new cars come in to take their place, and this process repeats until there are no more reinforcements.

With that in mind, when you want to play out a more extended chase that has this kind of pacing, the Chase Scene rules become appropriate.

◉ Chase Scenes [Drive]
Chase scenes occur when the players are being pursued by a large enemy force. In a chase scene, the named pursuer stays out of the chase, at least initially. Over the course of the chase, the pursuing minions come at the player sequentially, with a new minion coming in as a prior one is taken out. This continues for the duration of the chase until the pursuer is out of minions, at which point, he enters the fray and the chase is then resolved normally.

Because the pursuer is not on the field, the minions never attach, so they use their own skill, which is often to the fleeing character’s benefit. In return for this, the pursuing villain is given a few tricks to balance the scales. (Players, being heroes, don’t use these rules, since they are potent individuals of action, rather than masterminds working through lackeys.)

At the beginning of a scene, the GM-controlled pursuer is given a certain number of points, which represent the total value of the pursuit. Five points makes for a very short chase, 10 for a one meant to be a major feature of this section of the story, and 20 can make for a chase scene that will take up a goodly portion of the session, as a climax to the action.

The baseline use of this value is to determine how many minions the pursuing character has. Each minion costs a number of points based on its value (1 for Average, 2 for Fair, 3 for Good). At the start of the chase, the pursuer can spend as many points as he wants (up to the total value of the pursuit) in order to buy minions. He can choose to have all of these minions go after the characters now, or he can hold some of them in reserve (in which case the reserve vehicles will enter the chase one by one, as individual minions are taken out). Also, at any time there are no pursuing vehicles (i .e ., all the minions that he’s bought have been taken out), he can spend points to add a single additional pursuing vehicle, which immediately enters the chase. More importantly, the pursuer may also spend 1 point per exchange for any of the following effects:

Reinforcements
Allows the pursuing character to add multiple cars at once. By spending one point, he may spend additional points up to half his remaining total on purchasing additional cars, which are immediately added to the field. These vehicles must all be of the same quality as the car already in play and each other. Adding extra vehicles allows them to get the bonus for being in a group, but has the drawback that overflow damage will roll onto the next vehicle as it does for minions (this does not happen when there is only one pursuing vehicle).
Road Hazard
The pursuers have managed to get someone ahead of the lead car and may launch an attack against the lead car, using the villain’s Drive (or Pilot, when appropriate) skill as the attack value. Other pursuing vehicles do not need to defend against this attack, since in theory, at least, they’re aware that the hazard is forthcoming. This is one of main tools the villain may use to offset the loss of not involving himself directly.
Shotgun!
One of the pursuing vehicles has someone with a gun in the passenger seat, and the addition of bullets into the mix makes things all the more dangerous. Any time the lead car takes stress, it’s increased by one as long as this guy is shooting. The guy with the gun can be removed when that car is taken out (reinforcements do not have a gun unless points are spent for it).
The Last Pursuer
If the pursuing villain is not going to join the fight himself, he can try to end the chase with one last, tougher-than-usual vehicle. This is the last ability the pursuer can use, and costs all his remaining points (minimum of 1). If the Last Pursuer is used, the villain himself cannot subsequently join the chase.

The last pursuer is always more impressive than the previous vehicles. Perhaps it’s big and armored, sleek and black, or maybe it’s something completely unexpected, like a biplane. It is always treated as a Good Minion, with one extra box of capacity for each point spent beyond the minimum.

It also has one other benefit from this list:

+3 Stress Boxes
+1 to Drive Rolls
Armed – Always treated as having the Shotgun! Effect.
1 point of armor (see Gadgets and Gizmos, page XX)
Alternate Movement – the pursuer can move in ways the lead vehicle can’t (such as flying, or water). Mechanically, this means that the pursuing car can opt to avoid almost any hazard, treating it as if the pursuer automatically succeeded at the roll, but inflicting no stress on the pursuer for doing so. The pursuer is only obliged to roll if the lead car can come up with a maneuver that forces the pursuer to respond.
<Example>

Dramatic Entrance
This is the moment when the named pursuer reveals himself, and begins the end of the chase. If the GM has used “The Last Pursuer” already, this option is off the table. This costs all the the pursuer’s remaining points (minimum 1) and triggers a Road Hazard for the fleeing vehicle, as the pursuer appears in a colorful and hopefully hazardous way. The stats of the pursuer’s vehicle depend on the pursuer, and if he does not have a signature vehicle, he may use the same rules as The Last Pursuer, above, replacing the minion quality with his own skill.

Once the pursuer is out of points and there are no pursuing vehicles left, the fleeing vehicle finally escapes.

◉ Passengers [Drive]
Each exchange, one PC or named NPC passenger may assist the driver, provided he has the means to do so. This allows him to contribute to the chase, as long as he finds a way to describe it, be it shooting at the pursuers (Guns), pushing a crate out the back (Might), or just shouting “look out!” when dramatically appropriate (Alertness). The passenger rolls his skill while the driver rolls his Drive as usual, and the driver may use the higher of the two results. (The only limit on this is that the same passenger may not help two exchanges in a row .) Note that this is a single result, not two – for instance, a passenger who is shooting does not get normal attack results, just the ability to let the driver choose between two rolls. This said, by dint of being passengers in the same vehicle, all characters – even those not able to roll in that exchange – may offer to spend fate points out of their own pool on behalf of the driver, so long as they supply a bit of color dialogue, e.g., “Alleyway ahead!”

Furthermore, there’s nothing saying that characters along for the ride can’t be doing other things that don’t contribute directly to the chase. While they can only act against the pursuers by partnering with the driver as described above, there’s nothing to say that your car chase can’t feature the Academics guy in the back seat furiously trying to read through the book the heroes just stole from the villain’s lair… just in case the guy’s minions catch up with them and the book returns to its owner.

The reason for these rules are twofold. First, if all the passengers were engaging in full participation at the same time, the chase would finish very quickly and would almost certainly be less interesting. But second and perhaps more important, by focusing the chase experience around the person in the driver’s seat, the driver’s shtick of being good at driving gets backed up. Chases are uncommon enough that, when the opportunity to shine comes up, the driver should most certainly get the spotlight.

8.3.9 Empathy
◉ Reading People [Empathy]
Knowing someone’s aspects is a powerful tool, both because it allows that person to tag them, and because it gives potent insight into the target’s nature. It’s critical to remember that a character’s aspects are not necessarily public knowledge. While a scenario may call for compelling a character’s aspects, NPCs should not be planning for that aspect unless they have some reason to have found it out, either because the player showcases it, or because they’ve successfully used Empathy on the character.

When you decide which NPC aspects Empathy reveals to a player, there are two possible yardsticks. The first is showcasing those aspects you feel are closest to who the NPC really is. The second is showcasing the ones you think would be most entertaining if the player found out about. If neither of those yardsticks work, pick the one closest to the top of the list; it’s probably reflective of what you thought was most essential at the time.

8.3.10 Endurance
To handle a scene where you feel fatigue should be an issue, use Endurance to limit the primary skill (similar to the use of Alertness and Resolve).

◉ Poisons [Endurance]
Poisons are an interesting case, and one that bears some discussion, since they fall into a few categories which in turn follow a few rules.

Poisons have a potency and a subtlety, both rated on the adjective ladder. The potency determines how hard it is to resist using Endurance (see below) and the subtlety is the difficulty for any Alertness, Investigation or Science rolls to detect or analyze it – either to prevent exposure, or to determine the cause of someone’s sudden ailment. Poisons also need to have a means of application, such either as food, gas or injection.

First, we have damaging poisons. Damage is used loosely here, as it may be lethal or it may mean knockout drugs or any number of other things.

Damaging poisons are often fast-acting, found on the blades of enemies and tips of blowgun darts. When such a poison is introduced into the system, it makes an attack (at its level of potency – Mediocre for a mild poison, Superb for something very potent) against the target’s Endurance.

This attack occurs before the first initiative of an exchange. This attack repeats every exchange until the end of the scene (at which point the poison has run its course) or until the character somehow stops the poison, such as with a stunt or medical treatment (or even something as mundane as inducing vomiting when appropriate). Many such poisons may stop if the player acquires spin on his defending Endurance roll (beating the attack by 3 or more).

Some damaging poisons are slow acting and kill over a much longer period of time, but those are often more appropriate for background than showing up directly in play. If you are looking to introduce a slower-acting poison, rather than treating it as a standard attack, make a roll once per scene against the victim’s Endurance roll. If the poison’s roll beats the Endurance roll by 3 or more, then the victim acquires a consequence. Regardless of severity, these consequences do not disappear until after the poison is cured. After three such rolls, escalating from minor to moderate to severe, the fourth will leave the victim succumbing, with a taken out result. Alas, with poisons, there are no concessions!

Next, we have exotic drugs. Rather than damaging their target, they put one or more additional aspects directly on them (as with a maneuver rather than an attack). Their potency is the value which the subject rolls their Endurance against in a simple test. If the subject wins, the symptoms are passing, but if he loses, he immediately gains the aspects as described in the poison. The duration of these effects depends upon the poison. This approach is specifically different from a slow-acting damaging poison, as these aspects are not consequences, and thus do not push the character closer to taken out.

Lastly, we have special poisons. These are the poisons that violate the rules in some way and tend to either leave a beloved NPC in a coma, needing a very exotic cure, or will kill the person who has been exposed in a fixed period of time so they must race to find the antidote. Alternately, they may have killed someone in a very peculiar way and may prove the only clue to the killer’s location.

In short, these are poisons that serve no purpose but to motivate the plot. That’s OK! Pulp can tolerate a little bit of cliché, but try to keep their use to a minimum unless absolutely necessary.

<Example>

8.3.11 Engineering
Most of the guidelines for Engineering can be found in the Gadgets and Gizmos chapter, page XX. For explosives, jump to the end of this chapter, page XX.

Engineering requires a workshop, the same way Academics requires a Library and Science requires a Lab. While Engineering can have very potent effects, it’s fairly time-consuming to work something up in game time. Frequently, a gadgeteer character will have multiple ranks of the Universal Gadget stunt to help speed this process along. If the character does not have enough improvements from stunts to buy a gadget outright, he can use the stunt’s improvements to reduce the time required.

For example, a device with 3 improvements usually requires 24 hours to make. If the engineer uses his Universal Gadget stunt’s two improvements to cover part of those improvements, the gadget will only take 8 hours to build (see page XX for more on the gadget improvement process and timeframes). Engineering improvements do not last from session to session, so if a player wants to start play with a gadget, he should buy a stunt to reflect it. With that in mind, you should not be giving players the opportunity to engineer for its own sake. If the pacing of the game is giving everyone time to stop by the workshop for a few days to upgrade their guns, that is a sign that you badly need to increase the urgency of the threat facing the players. Pulp gadgetry is done under the gun, with the clock ticking down to a dire midnight (see “Keeping it Pulpy”, page XX).

For devices that have stress tracks, the difficulty of repair is the quality of the device. Removing stress or a mild consequence takes a few hours, a day for a moderate consequence, and a week for a severe consequence. For devices that don’t have stress tracks, the difficulty is based off the highest value of the device, or its resources cost, whichever is higher.

Failure on a repair roll can be made up in a few ways, retroactively. First, each additional step longer on the time chart (page XX) gives a retroactive +1 to the player’s roll, up to a maximum of +4 for four steps on the table. Second, the device can be repaired on the usual timeframe, but, the quality drops by one for every point shy of the target. Both methods may be combined; a character can get a retroactive +3 to take two steps longer and drop the quality of the item by one. Degradation in item quality may mean that some of its special abilities are lost, if it has any. Subsequent efforts may be made to restore the item to its original quality, but those face a difficulty equal to the target quality, plus one for every two steps the current quality is below the target. Missing a restoration roll can only be made up by investing time, and the starting length of time on such efforts is usually a week.

<Example>

If the GM agrees to it, a player may make a partial repair when falling just short of the target. In these cases, the consequence on the device being repaired is downgraded in severity, rather than being entirely removed. If the character misses the roll by one, he may opt to downgrade the consequence, regardless of its severity, to a mild one. If the character misses the roll by two, he may opt to downgrade the consequence one step, taking severe to moderate and moderate to mild. If the consequence is mild in any of these cases, it is removed, but the device’s stress boxes are all filled to the point of one shy of “taken out”.

8.3.12 Fists
Most of the issues with Fists come up in combat and are addressed there (page XX). One thing to bear in mind with Fists (and Weapons and Guns, for that matter) is that they are balanced on the level of the skills rather than the situation. That means that the system is designed based on the assumption that a fight between a character with Fists and a character with Weapons is a fair fight because the Fists guy always has a “weapon” but can do little to extend its capabilities, while the Weapons guy may be at an advantage or disadvantage due to his choice of, and dependency upon, a weapon.

This can be jarring for some people, because it means that we are not giving a bonus to the weapons guy for having “superior weaponry” or the like. The reasoning is simple enough – the fight is about the people involved, not the trappings – but this can be a problem when the weapons should give some obvious advantage, like reach.

In those situations, there are two ways to go. First, in the small set of situations where the guy with Fists shouldn’t be able to attack, then don’t let him. As an example, if there’s a chain link fence between the combatants, and the guy with a weapon is jabbing his spear through, the Fists guy just isn’t going the be able to counterattack, simple as that (though he may defend). These should be obvious, common sense solutions, and if they’re not, then consider the second option.

The second option is more appropriate when there seems like there could be some disparity, such as when the character’s weapon provides an advantage of reach which should help out. In those situations, it falls on the head of the disadvantaged fighter to describe the actions in such a way that it acknowledges the disparity. As long as he does so, there is no penalty. If he fails to do so, it may be appropriate to impose a -1 penalty on his actions until a plan for counteracting the disadvantage is done. This plan need not involve anything more complicated than a free action and a bit of color description, but sometimes, it may require something more than a free action.

<Example>

Effectively, this is just mandating color, but it saves a lot of headaches. Players may respond well to bare-fisted characters starting a fight out with a brief penalty, even if it’s one that’s easily discarded, so don’t be afraid of feeling like an ogre for penalizing them out the door – just be ready and willing to penalize your own fist-swinging NPCs similarly!

And if you really want to make a point of weapon advantage, bring a little back and forth into it – maybe the Fists user is describing ways to deal with the presence of a weapon, but the Weapons user gets to reassert the penalty on a subsequent exchange by using his weapon in a new and unexpected way. Mix it up a little!

8.3.13 Gambling
(Skill, page XX; Stunts, page XX)

If a player has bothered to put Gambling anywhere on his character sheet, he’s casting a vote for gambling to be a factor in your games where he’s playing. Make sure to keep that in mind, and always have in the back of your head an idea for a cool gambling vignette that ties into your storyline!

In practice, Gambling requires striking a balance between cool scenes and boring play. The moment that matters in a gambling scene is the last one, when everything is on the line and the last card gets turned over. Compared to that, playing out each hand of cards can be numbingly boring.

It’s possible to play out a gambling contest as an extended social conflict, but there are only limited circumstances where that’s appropriate. Instead, Gambling scenes should usually be picked up in medias res. Give a quick rundown of who’s at the table, making sure to include their body language, before picking up with the gambler character and the fall of the dice. If the character beats the quality of the game (equivalent to the Resources value of what’s staked), he walks out with the pot. If issue that brought the character to the game is a vital one, this may be too quick a shorthand – or, at the least, you should be ready for a lot of aspect use to hit the table.

Once won, the pot allows the character to make a single Resources check using the pot’s value rather than his Resources skill – assuming the pot is something as mundane as cash or easily-liquidated items of little importance otherwise. Under more exotic circumstances, such as a high stakes game, the pot may contain all manner of unusual things – maybe giving the character a temporary gadget for the session, or kicking off an entire storyline on its own. (More on that shortly.)

If the character loses a game and doesn’t have the Resources to cover the pot, he’ll have to go into debt. Make a note of the debt on the character sheet. This is not that big a problem for most games, not even significant enough to merit a temporary aspect – the character simply can’t get into another game until it’s paid off. Or rather, he can still get in, but it requires beating the quality of the game with his Deceit skill to try to sneak in passing as someone else.

If the game is high stakes (where the pot is two ranks higher than the game’s quality) then things get more interesting. If the character wins a high stakes game, the pot should include at least one odd thing, like a mysterious artifact, someone’s wedding ring, a writ for someone’s soul, the services of a bondsman, an ancient sword, a life debt, and so on. For games of a Good or lower quality, this item is usually just a curiosity, but for Great or better games, this item is important enough that the player takes it as a temporary aspect, and it remains on his sheet until he resolves it, usually because you will use the item as a hook for one of his upcoming adventures. A character may only have one such aspect at a time, so until it’s resolved, high stakes wins are only worth the pot.

If a character loses a high stakes game, that may be very bad indeed. He marks down the debt as a temporary aspect, but his problems are not limited to money. His debt will usually be picked up by someone important who will demand a favor or some other payment to resolve the debt. Until that happens, everyone knows the character owes someone big, and he will not be welcome at high stakes games.

8.3.14 Guns
(Skill, page XX; Stunts, page XX)

It’s worth noting that the main advantage of guns in this game is that they offer a range advantage; despite their lethality, they’re no more dangerous in a fight than fists, knives, chains or anything else. This is a genre decision – making guns more lethal quickly moves things away from pulp and into noir, which is not bad, but not the goal of this game. The advice under Fists (page XX) for handling mismatches in weaponry applies to Guns as well.

◉ Ammunition [Guns]
One thing that inevitably comes up when dealing with guns is how many shots one has left. Thing is, aside from tracking how much clip capacity every type of gun has, counting bullets is just not a valid approach, because a character may actually fire off their weapon many times in a given exchange, with the outcome summarized in one roll. To a great extent, reloading is considered to be just part of the flow of a fight and the use of the Guns skill.

With that in mind, running out of ammunition is something that only happens when it’s dramatic and interesting, which is to say, when it’s something appropriate for the application of aspects. Running out of ammunition is a legitimate compel for a character with gun-related aspects, but even more, it’s an excellent first consequence or concession, or the possible result of a maneuver (such as using Athletics to run all over the place, drawing fire and getting the bad guys to expend their ammunition).

Shy of this, if you want the flavor of a reload without the drama, simply be reasonable and request that the character take a supplemental action (basically, a -1 to his next roll) to reload after every three or four exchanges of sustained gunfire.

8.3.15 Intimidation
Intimidation requires a reason for fear, however tenuous. This makes it hard to intimidate someone over the telephone unless you have something very specific to threaten them with. This is the most important thing to bear in mind when deciding how vulnerable an NPC is to Intimidation or how intimidating an NPC is. Without a reason for fear, Intimidation will produce, at best, annoyance, and at worst, explosive anger. Then again, that can be a goal for its use too… Regardless of whether or not there is a reason for fear, a potent success on an Intimidation roll should produce a strong emotional response – just not, necessarily, one that was intended, nor that is controlled.

8.3.16 Investigation
As with Alertness (page XX), when in doubt, set the difficulties low. You never want to derail your own game because players failed to find a clue at the crime scene. It may seem like it makes life less interesting if there is no challenge in the Investigation roll, but this is one of those odd situations where that is not the case. A lack of information is clearly frustrating to players, and if you have a player who really savors the challenge of figuring out clues, the challenge is usually less in finding the clues than in figuring out what they mean once they’re found. And there’s the rub: clues don’t come with explanations baked right in. Position your mystery in the clues they find, not in the clues they don’t.

Remember, unless there’s something actually there for them to find, don’t make them roll. You’ll have a much healthier game if you just say, “Nah, don’t roll – after a bit of searching it’s clear there’s nothing here,” and get moving on to the next eventful thing. Don’t give your players the opportunity to “waste” a really good Investigation roll on finding out that there’s nothing to find out!

In general, characters will use Investigation in two possible ways. Either they will be searching an area for whatever they can find (such as when searching for a clue) or they will be looking for something specific. When searching for something specific, the difficulty of the Investigation roll should be kept at Mediocre, with the shifts on the result being used as a yardstick for how long it takes to find the thing.

The only exception to this is if you (the GM) have a reason the thing in question shouldn’t be found. In those situations, it’s often better to just make the thing unfindable due to a critical missing piece that would “unlock” access to the otherwise unfindable objective (if so, don’t make them roll; instead, put them on the path to discovering what that missing piece is). This missing piece could be equipment, like X-Ray specs, or the utterance of a certain codeword, like “Open Sesame”, or something else entirely. Once that piece is in place, the difficulty should drop back to the usual level. And remember, if there’s no chance of success, here, don’t make the players roll for it – that’s just rude.

If characters are just searching an area for clues, the guidelines for Alertness very strongly apply. Set the base difficulty at Mediocre, and make sure that players can find something. Once characters find things, the burden is on you to make sure that whatever they find suggests a course of action. Even a red herring should suggest something, sending the characters into a situation that deepens or complicates the plot. The good news is that if players know what they’re looking for, they usually already have a pretty good idea of what they’re going to do with whatever they find. For clues that you provide, you’re going to have to put some thought into what comes next.

One of the tricky things about clues is how much to explain when you give one. If you give a piece of information that seems like it suggests a clear direction, but your players don’t seem to see it, there’s a temptation to explain the significance of the clue to the players to push them in the right direction. This may do in an absolute pinch, but it’s an easy way to frustrate players – it can feel like you’re leading them around by the nose, and that breaks the feeling of heroism you’re striving to create, because it undermines their role as protagonists.

If the players are talking about what the clue might mean, or have some other direction to pursue, don’t sweat it for the time being. If they’re working on it, and they’re interested in it, then all is well in the world. Similarly, if they’re pursuing something else, they’re busy, and it gives you time to drop in new hints. It’s only if things look like they’re in danger of slowing down should you resort to interpreting things for the players. The exception is when a player explicitly asks you something like “What does this mean?” or “What would I know about this?” When that happens, it’s an opportunity to be as forthcoming as you feel you need to.

Investigation can be to used, in a somewhat more radical application, as the skill to put some control of the story into the players’ hands. Consider the “Declaring Minor Details” trapping of Academics – a declaration action – as it might apply to Investigation. If your group’s up for it, why not allow the same sort of trapping for Investigation? This would allow your investigators to make Sherlock Holmes-like declarations, asserting minor details about a crime scene, say, and backing up the truth of their assertions with a successful Investigation roll. Sure, this may mean that you’ve lost some control over the storyline yourself, but if you’re up to facing this sort of challenge, the effect on your players could be electrifying.

There are occasions when a clue should be frustrating – for the characters. This shouldn’t happen often, and usually only very early in a session. Such clues should always make sense later on in the adventure; otherwise. they’re just frustrating. The best such clue should be designed so players go “Ah!” and may be even better when paired with other, more explicit clues that suggest action. For more on clues and information management in a game, see page XX.

8.3.17 Leadership
Players may have a little bit of this skill for the bureaucracy parts, and maybe the occasional act of battlefield leadership, but this skill is more of a villain thing. Why? Villains have minions, simple as that.

Taking a lot of leadership tends to indicate that the player is most interested in being in charge of something, and while that should be encouraged to a certain point, this can be a red flag if the player is too disinclined to get his own hands dirty. A character who is a mastermind who directs things from the shadows makes for an interesting story, but is fairly dull to play. Make sure the player doesn’t have an expectation of not getting involved. If he seems overly attached to the idea, see if he’s willing to consider making a character who works for this guy in the shadows, and then take him as an aspect.

◉ Command [Leadership]
This is a villain trick. It lets you make villains who don’t have much combat skill themselves, but who can still help out their minions in a fight.

Assuming a villain has Good minions attached to himself, if his combat skill is better than Good, then he’ll usually be attached to those minions and rolling his own skill. Characters with a high Leadership, on the other hand, can get by without any combat skills because they can make a small quantity of Good minions into Superb (+1 for numbers, +1 for command) combatants, which is very potent.

A hero can do all of these things too, but in such situations the word “hero” is pronounced “chicken”.

8.3.18 Might
Might is a pretty simple skill to use, and it should be remembered that it is a fairly flashy skill – explosions of physical force can be as dramatic and interesting as any other kind of action. If someone has put Might on their sheet, make certain he faces the occasional heavy obstacle to bull through with naught but his strength!

◉ Breaking Things [Might]
Given time and tools, pretty much anything can be broken. In general there are two ways to break something: methodical and abrupt.

To break something methodically generally requires no rolling. Given time and tools, you can eventually break anything. How long it will take is mostly just a matter of common sense, ranging from a few moments to saw a board, to decades to scratch through a door with a spoon. This is usually done off-screen, and a Might (or Engineering roll) might do to get a sense for how well or quickly the job is done, but if no one is interrupting or otherwise involved, it will work sooner or later.

If it’s necessary to break up a methodical roll into something measurable, you may call for a number of rolls and tally shifts to get a sense of progress, but that is ultimately more a narrative convenience than a real measure of difficulty. In short, if you want to interrupt a methodical effort with things like enemy attacks, you can certainly call for a roll between each interruption, but make sure you know what those rolls mean. If they aren’t actually going to affect the speed of the progress, then you’re just rolling to maintain pacing. There’s nothing wrong with that (see “Testing the Breeze”, page XX), but it’s important to remember why you’re doing it.

Breaking something abruptly is more dramatic – knocking down a door, splitting a board with one’s hands, bending iron bars and so on. That’s just a quick roll against a difficulty based upon the target’s nature. Having an appropriate tool (like a hammer, crowbar, or axe) may reduce the difficulty by up to two.

Mediocre: Paper or glass. Why are you rolling this?
Average: Flimsy wood. Again, why are you rolling?
Fair: Cheap wood broken with the grain; bamboo.
Good: Non-reinforced wooden board, like a pine twoby-four, or an interior door.
Great: Strong wood, hardwood boards, exterior door.
Superb: Reinforced wood, heavy door.
Fantastic: Security door.
Epic: Bending prison bars (an inch or two).
Legendary: Bank vault door, the door of a safe.

In case you’re curious, outright ripping the door off a jail cell is Legendary +2, and ripping the hatch off a tank is Legendary +4.

Characters can try (and fail) to break something twice without penalty; after two tries, the difficulty goes up by 1 for each additional time they try.

◉ Lifting Things [Might]
Characters have a default amount of weight they can lift and still do something with that weight (like moving slowly, or trying to place it carefully), shown on this page in pounds. If purely lifting without moving – like, say, a heavy portcullis so others can scurry through – they can roughly double that capacity. For things like knockback (page XX), the weight factor (WF) is figured as shown in the table.

Might Lifting Table

Might Capacity WF
Abysmal 10 0
Terrible 50 1
Poor 100 1
Mediocre Small man (~150lbs) 2
Average 200 2
Fair 250 3
Good 300 3
Great 350 4
Superb 400 4
Fantastic 450 5
Epic 500 5
Legendary 600 6
Each +1 +100 +0.5
A character can try to push themselves into the next category, which requires a Might roll against his own Might skill as the target difficulty, and if successful (the dice don’t come up negative), he may perform a single Might action at the next category up. Appropriate use of tools can increase this capacity, using anything from a lever (which may grant a bonus) to a pulley system (which may outright multiply capacity).

This may seem like a number-heavy approach in what has otherwise been a fairly abstract system, but the reason for this is pretty simple. People are used to thinking in terms of weight when talking about how heavy something is, and they have certain expectations that the 90 pound weakling is not going to have “a good roll” and carry more than the trained power-lifter.

The exception to this is the famous idea of a mother’s pulling a car off her child – people are known to perform heroic acts of strength when there is a need, and as this is a heroic game, it is only appropriate that we support that.

The trick in those situations lies in the fact that the line between Lift and Break is sometimes fuzzy. If someone is trapped under rubble and you want to get it off them, if you do it carefully, that’s an appropriate use of lift. If it’s a moment of panic, ripping aside something heavy to free a loved one, well, then the guidelines for breaking things are more appropriate, and the amount the character can remove (lift) is based off their roll. While this may seem like a tricky distinction, it’s actually very easy to distinguish in play. When in doubt, look and see if the character has any personal aspects that might apply. If so, then this may be a moment of passion.

◉ Pitching In [Might]
Many hands make light work, and for lifting things, it’s a simple matter of adding each person’s capacity to figure out the total pounds the group can lift. For abruptly breaking things, gain an additional +1 to the roll for each person helping who can practically pitch in. This is usually one or two people.

◉ Encumbrance [Might]
This is not a game where we’re going to make characters empty out their pockets to figure out exactly how much they are carrying. For the most part, day to day equipment and clothing is just not an issue. From time to time, however, a character may need to perform an action while carrying a large amount of weight, like a bomb that’s ticking down or a wounded buddy slung over their shoulder.

A character can easily carry something that is 4 steps lower than their lifting capacity without a problem. Now, remember common sense applies – just because Dan Dynamite can run at full tilt while carrying 100 pounds of TNT doesn’t mean he can do so all day. Trying to do so for more than a scene calls for an Endurance roll against the weight of the load, and additional rolls each subsequent scene, with the difficulty going up by 1 each time!

For each step heavier than this carrying capacity, the character takes a -1 on all other physical action, up to a maximum of -4 (-5 if they’re really pushing themselves). This may also lead the GM to demand that the character start performing all skill rolls limited by his Endurance skill.

8.3.19 Mysteries
This is an odd skill, and if a player chooses it for his character, it is a vote for a little bit of weirdness in the game. While pulp (and this game) is strongly rooted in early 20th Century science fiction, Mysteries occupies that fuzzy fringe where things that look supernatural live, even if they have explanations that sound scientific. Psychic phenomena of various stripes have been the subject of serious scientific study over the years, and in a pulp game, Mysteries is the skill focused on such study. The importance of Mysteries is going to depend a lot on the tone of your game – Mysteries has a strong presence in games influenced by The Shadow or the writings of H .P. Lovecraft, but much less so in a game of science heroes.

When a player decides to invest heavily in Mysteries, make sure to sit down and talk to him a little bit about what his expectation for the ability is – while one player may want to play the man of mysteries, cloaked in shadows, another may want to play the academic or scientific crackpot, using Mysteries to explain their bogus theories. Most importantly, make sure that Mysteries is going to be a good match for your group and your game. If you don’t feel that Mysteries adds anything useful to the game, there is no harm in simply disallowing the skill and its stunts (or making it a solely “bad guy” skill).

When using Mysteries to do research, think of it as Academics for crazy people. Mechanically it’s no different from Academics, but the material found will usually be tracts by madmen, obscure prophecies, and dark books bound in human skin. With that in mind, remember that libraries suitable for Mysteries research are rare and should always be colorful, and are occasionally in locations that may be an adventure in and of themselves to reach.

◉ Sixth Sense [Mysteries]
Mysteries as a sixth sense follows the same guidelines as Alertness – set difficulties low and make sure the information is something usable. Of course, the fun thing about Mysteries is that you are less obliged to make the information useful so long as it’s colorful. Things like “there’s an oppressive sense of darkness” don’t necessarily mean anything, but they can add color to a scene and give the player a sense of secret knowledge, which is pretty satisfying, even if it’s based in a vague phrase of foreshadowing.

◉ Mesmerism [Mysteries]
Mesmerism is one place you may need to rein in player expectations. There are stunts that allow for more cinematic effects if a player is interested in that. Unless noted in a stunt, all mesmerism effects require a willing target and a roll of Mysteries versus Resolve, though the mesmerist gets a +2 on the roll if the target is actively participating (lying back, relaxing, otherwise really getting into it). Again, if the target flat-out unwilling, it will simply not work.

When using mesmerism to help someone remember something, the mesmerist rolls a quick contest of Mysteries against the target’s Resolve. If successful, the target may act as if he has the Scene of the Crime Investigation stunt for the scene in question, but his skill is restricted by the mesmerist’s Mysteries skill. Thus, if a character with a Great Investigation skill is put under by a Good Hypnotist, the memories are a little fuzzy, and he treats his Investigation as if it were Good (Great - 1) for purposes of what he can remember.

Putting a character in a calming trance reduces all of his perception skills to Poor, but allows him to use the mesmerist’s Mysteries skill in lieu of his Resolve skill (which may temporarily improve his composure capacity). The mesmerized person also leaves the decision regarding whether or not to resist an aspect compel in the hands of the mesmerist (the mesmerist may contribute fate points of his own to turn down a compulsion). Unfortunately, the character is also unable to take any action other than what the mesmerist directs. While a mesmerist may misuse this trust, any shock, surprise, or suggestion that the character would find repellent will knock them out of the trance instantly.

◉ Fortune Telling [Mysteries]
Fortune Telling difficulties follow the same principles as a declaration action, though with slightly different criteria for the difficulty. The base difficulty is Mediocre, and the three criteria to judge a whether a prediction can be made are specifics, presentation, and obscurity.

First off, predictions should never be too specific. To predict that good fortune will come to your family is nicely broad, but to predict that your sister will get some money is a bit too specific.

Obscurity is a complementary component to specifics. A good fortune usually is cloaked in metaphor and can be taken in a number of different ways. Saying that fortune will come to your family may be specific, but saying that a flower shall blossom in the garden of your blood is specific and obscure.

Lastly, presentation is all about how the fortune is told. Just rattling off a fortune or reading a horoscope from the paper has no sense of deep mystery. A proper fortune requires an appropriate set of props, like tarot cards, chicken bones, tea leaves, the I Ching or something similar, or at least a great show of ritual and incantation. While the first two criteria are about the “text” of the prediction the player is trying, this criterion focuses on how well the player roleplays the revelation of that text.

For each of these criteria which is not met to the GM’s satisfaction, the difficulty increases by two. If any of these criteria are outright ignored (such as predicting that “Sam will win at Bingo tonight and walk out with a 100 clams”) that penalty may be increased to 4 or more – in short, if your player is abusing this, you’re under no obligation to help him.

Only one fortune can be considered to be “in effect” at any given moment (so no telling a fortune for each character), and it is up to players to make it come true or not. Basically, when there is a chance that some course of action will make the prediction be true, that’s when someone can try to invoke the aspect (assuming the predicting was true in the first place – you’ve got no reason to tell them until they try), just as with any normal declaration.

The big difference with fortune telling is that a fortune aspect is persistent throughout the story – it’s not tied to a scene, and as such, it casts its strange light over the entirety of the adventure. Once a player has made a successful fortune-telling, the GM should be ready to play along as well. At the least, she should think about how the fortune might come to bear in the climax towards the end of the session. The occasional compel of the fortune’s aspect is a great way to toss a few extra fate points to the players and to remind them that a fortune is very much a genie out of its bottle.

Nevertheless, the burden is on the players to make it work. Remember that while one character is making the prediction, it’s out there for everyone to take advantage of, and this may mean that the final interpretation is very different than the initial player intended. That’s a good thing. After all, telling the future is a tricky business.

You can, however, definitely make it easier for a prediction to come to pass if you find the prediction particularly interesting (or if you’ve got a particular twist on the interpretation you want to pursue). As such, one good use for compels on the fortune is the introduction of obviously foreshadowing components. As an example, if a character’s fortune is that he will face death by cats, you can put a bunch of cats in an alley and ask the player (offering a fate point) if they’re entirely sure this fortune telling is mumbojumbo.

8.3.20 Pilot
Most of the guidelines for Drive also apply to Pilot, though most chases will be single-opponent affairs. There’s just a little bit less craziness possible in the air – if only due to there being fewer planes in operation than cars.

One thing to note is that this is still very early in the age of aviation, and planes are still in transition from the wooden framed biplanes of the Great War to the sleeker metal vehicles of World War Two. Long range aircraft are still a very new idea, and the Zeppelin is still a viable means of long range travel.

All that said, it’s also worth remembering that characters exist a little bit ahead of the curve, so they may have access to technologies that are not available to the public (particularly through gadgets). At the very least, this is certainly true of their adversaries!

8.3.21 Rapport
Rapport is the fallback social skill. While Empathy, Deceit, and Intimidation are fairly specific in their applications, Rapport is the catchall that covers everything else.

◉ First Impressions [Rapport]
When characters meet an NPC for the first time, their opinion is going to fall into a fairly narrow band – they’ll have no opinion, or they’ll have a mildly favorable or mildly unfavorable opinion. Stronger opinions – friendliness, love, hate and so on tend to be based on some existing knowledge of the person, and are unlikely to change simply from meeting them.

That said, small differences matter. A clerk who has a bad first impression of a character might grudgingly help him out, but the character has got no real reason to trust his work, while a clerk with a good first impression is likely to remember that third piece of paperwork he needs to fill out which becomes so much more important when he gets to the border.

When a player first meets an NPC, that NPC’s inclination towards the player will be negative, neutral, or positive. If you need to determine this on the fly, rolling a single die should do the job (⊞ for positive, ⊟ for negative).

The player can simply accept this reaction roll, or he can attempt to turn on the charm, and make a better first impression. To do so, the player rolls Rapport against the NPC’s Resolve (Mediocre by default). If the player generates any shifts, he improves the inclination by one step (so negative becomes neutral and neutral becomes positive and positive remains the same .). If the player fails badly enough that the target generates some spin, then the impression instead shifts one step for the worse. If the player does so well that he gains spin himself, then it might be grounds for a reversal from negative to positive (or extremely negative to, say, merely suspicious), unless the NPC has a strong reason not to change his mind.

While this will absolutely color the way the scene plays, it should also have some effect on the game. Before the roll is made, think of something this NPC can affect. Ideally, you’ll think of this while planning the adventure, but sometimes you’ll be surprised and need to think quickly. Look at what the players want from the NPC, and base your decision off that.

What you don’t want to do is make players regret rolling Rapport. For example, say your characters encounter a clerk and you have them roll Rapport to establish first impressions. If the NPC is a clerk looking at their paperwork, you could decide there is a problem with the paperwork which may make trouble later on. A friendly clerk will spot the problem and warn them, and an unfriendly one will ignore it, creating a problem. That may seem satisfying on the surface – the friendly result has averted a problem. However, it’s averting a problem that would not have existed in the first place if there had not been a Rapport roll to affect the clerk’s impressions.

A first impression is the possibility to introduce an NPC that will either enhance or complicate the characters’ lives. If you aren’t ready for that sort of thing to occur, keep the interaction as smooth as possible.

This isn’t to say you should only roll for first impressions in moments of import. We’re merely saying that outside of that, it’s best in small doses, such as when you’re in a hurry and you just want to get past something but let the player feel their skill mattered, but if you do it too much, then the player will get (justifiably) annoyed as their skill is effectively thrown back in their face, particularly if they haven’t made a strong investment in Rapport.

It’s more useful to think of potential consequences down the line. Given the same situation, the GM can just decide that when the players get to the border and need to give their paperwork and convince the guards to let them pass, they may be due for a +1 bonus if their papers were well prepared or a -1 penalty if they weren’t. Just having the NPC comment on the state of the papers when they make the roll at the border is enough of a tip of the hat to the character who befriended or alienated the clerk to let them feel their skill wasn’t wasted.

By focusing on potential consequences you can create a wonderful alchemy by combining first impressions with NPCs, provided that the NPCs in question have proven interesting to the players. Anytime an NPC proves interesting to your players, it’s a good idea for you to think about bringing them back later on – and what the first impressions the players made on that NPC will inform you what sort of role that might be. A “bit-part” NPC left with a bad first impression could easily turn into a minor rival or colorful (if petty) villain down the road – and those with good impressions may inevitably end up in your players’ growing stable of allies.

8.3.22 Resolve
It’s important to remember that a failure of Resolve should never take control of a character out of a player’s hands. A bad Resolve roll affects how the character carries himself, and how well or poorly he convinces everyone else that he’s unfazed by events. If a character is exposed to something disconcerting (like a fright), Resolve is useful to see how well they “keep it together” and may impact whatever penalties the character is exposed to, but how the character reacts, such as whether they run from the room, is a decision the player makes. Such decisions can be influenced by aspects normally, but the failure of the skill only removes control of the character when he is taken out.

One good way to handle very stressful situations or other crises where keeping your cool or otherwise keeping it together is paramount, is to use Resolve as a modifier or restriction on whatever other skill the character is using, the same way one would use Endurance to restrict skills when tired.

8.3.23 Resources
How much specific things cost is covered below, but there are a few things to bear in mind when players start throwing money around.

Most importantly, be willing to be generous. Characters with a high Resources skill should be throwing money around. That was the whole point of them taking the skill. The important thing to remember is that money should be able to remove obstacles, but it should not solve problems. A fat contribution to the Mayor’s re-election campaign should get you an audience with him to plead your case, but it should not get him to solve your problem for you (unless he’s fantastically corrupt).

When a character is in a place where they can’t draw upon their usual resources, you may increase the difficulty of making a purchase – anywhere from +1 for a modest amount of red tape, to a +4 if they’re limited solely to the already-converted local currency they happen to have in their pockets. This boost to difficulty needn’t indicate an increase in the actual cost of the purchase; it is more likely to represent the increased effort necessary to make the purchase happen.

◉ Spending Money [Resources]
For guidelines to determine the difficulty target for Resources rolls when spending money, see the various cost tables in the Gadgets & Gizmos chapter (page XX).

8.3.24 Science
Science is the backbone of pulp, so this is a fairly common skill, and it shares a lot with Academics in terms of how it is used in play.

◉ Lab Work [Science]
This is the Science equivalent of Academics research (page XX), using a lab rather than a library. Labs come in varying qualities, much like libraries do, and the availability of a lab is one of the main limitations on lab work. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Lab Work is like any other effort to get information – base difficulty should be low, with details provided by a greater number of shifts, and the information found should be something that can be acted upon unless it is specifically supposed to be frustrating.

◉ Medical Attention [Science]
When using Science as first aid in the middle of a fight, the character must take a full action with a target who’s not trying to do anything else active (i.e., forfeiting his next action). Make a roll against a target of Mediocre; if it succeeds with at least one shift, the subject may remove a checkmark in his one-stress box on his physical stress track. Every two shifts beyond the first improves this effect by one; for example, with five shifts, a character can remove a checkmark in his target’s three-stress box. Success can also be used to “stabilize” someone who has taken a severe or lesser consequence that would appear to be life-threatening (e.g., a Bleeding to Death aspect) – in game terms, this has the effect of limiting the extent to which the aspect can be compelled. A given person can’t be the target of more than one first aid action in an exchange.

When using Science to address someone’s long-term injuries, the character must spend a scene providing proper medical attention. This is a use of Science to directly address someone’s physical, long-term consequences. If the roll is successful, then the time it takes the subject to recover from the consequence is reduced by one step on the time table. Multiple such attempts may not be made.

The difficulty of the roll depends on the severity of the consequence; starting at moderate, the difficulty increases by two steps for each level of severity:

Consequence Difficulty to Reduce Time
Mild Mediocre
Moderate Fair
Severe Great

At the GM’s discretion, when the doctor in question gains spin on his roll, the time to recover may be reduced by two steps instead of one.

◉ Science! [Science]
This follows the rules for Academics’ “Minor Details” (and declaration actions in general), page XX and page XX , almost to the letter, except that the fact or facts involved must be of a scientific (or scientific sounding!) nature.

8.3.25 Sleight of Hand
◉ Pickpocket [Sleight of Hand]
One common pickpocket technique that players may try is the “bump and grab”, where an accomplice distracts the target, usually by bumping into them, so they are less likely to notice the pickpocketing attempt.

If the player has an accomplice, the accomplice rolls a quick contest of Deceit or Sleight of Hand against the target’s Alertness. If successful, they’ve distracted the target, and the target doesn’t get the +2 bonus to their Alertness as mentioned on page XX. Without an accomplice, a player is already presumed to be doing as good a job at distracting the target as he can.

8.3.26 Stealth
Stealth really depends on conditions. First and foremost, if someone is actively watching the character, there’s no way to start sneaking. Beyond that, Stealth is greatly affected by the environment.

Bonus Environment
+4 Pitch black, no visibility
+2 Dark, smoke, thick fog, no clear line of sight, greatly diminished visibility
0 Dim lighting, cluttered line of sight.
-2 Good Lighting, clear line of sight
-4 Bright lighting, clear area

If you’re not certain how to handle something, treat it as a half step. For example, if a ninja is hiding in the dark (+2), but the guards have flashlights, reduce the bonus to only +1. Also note, these are all matters of visibility. Extreme noise can grant an extra +1, while total silence might impose an additional -1 penalty.

Stealth is usually a quick contest between Stealth and Alertness, though anyone who is “on alert” gains a +2 to their Alertness (as if they were making a full defense). Usually, Investigation isn’t in use because there’s no active searching effort. Simply being on guard does not equate to being on alert – there must be some reason for a heightened sense of alert, and it can only be sustained for so long before boredom sets in again.

◉ Hiding [Stealth]
If someone is actively searching for a hidden character, they use Investigation rather than Alertness and gain a +2 on the roll so long as they have some reason to actually be looking and are taking the time to do a thorough search in the right place. When someone is searching you can usually assume they’ll do logical things like turn on the lights or otherwise do things to put penalties on any attempt to hide. The +2 is not available without reason or time, and lacking both will often set things back in the realm of Alertness.

This means that if a stealthy character is ever in a position where people are actively searching for him, he’s in a lot of trouble. That usually requires that the character was spotted or somehow set off an alarm – which, if he’s doing his job, he wasn’t, and didn’t.

For example, consider a character hiding in a storeroom. If a guard opens the door, shines a flashlight in, and looks around, it’s just a quick Investigation roll (reason, perhaps, but not time), and the character can probably stay hidden. If the guard flips on the lights and starts methodically going through the room, hiding is much, much more difficult – he’s imposed some penalties, and he has both reason and time.

The good news is that this sort of searching is usually obvious, so when the guard flips on the lights and starts looking, it’s the player’s cue to act now or give up his chance at surprise.

◉ Skulking [Stealth]
When a character tries to move while remaining unseen, anyone looking for him gains a +2 bonus for each zone he moves. Within a conflict, normally, moving at more than a cautious creep or a walk will automatically break stealth, so this is usually limited to a one-zone move. As a rule of thumb outside of conflict, observers are at +2 for a cautious creep, +4 for walking pace, +6 for a jog and +8 to run.

8.3.27 Survival
(Skill, page XX;Stunts, page XX)

Survival is a very broad skill covering virtually every sort of outdoorsy activity from wilderness survival to animal handling. As a general rule, if it seems like something man was doing before that pesky technology came along, there’s a better than even chance that Survival’s the skill to roll.

◉ Animal Handling and Riding [Survival]
Animals are dumb. This is an important thing to remember when dealing with them.

Most animals will act in a specific way in any given situation. How an animal responds to a person is very much like a first impression (see Rapport). If the animal has been trained, like an attack dog, then not much is going to change it’s mind, but if it really could go either way, Survival can be rolled against the creature’s Resolve to see if the impression is favorable or unfavorable. If the animal is potentially hostile, a friendly result means it’s not likely to attack. If the animal is potentially useful (such as with riding), a friendly roll is necessary to get it to work.

◉ Scavenging [Survival]
The difficulty for finding something is based off how likely it is to be found and how interesting it will be to use. The base likelihood depends on the environment and what’s being looked for. If it makes sense that it could be there (like wood and vine in a forest) then the difficulty is Mediocre. If it’s a bit of a stretch, but still possible (decent wood in a swamp) then the default is Good, and if it’s less likely or simply outright rare, it’s Superb or higher.

Each qualifying criteria increases the difficulty by 1. Thus, if a character needs sticks in a forest, the difficulty is Mediocre, but if he needs sticks of a certain size and strength (2 criteria) the difficulty is Mediocre +2 (Fair). If the character is trying to build something, like a trap, it’s an Engineering roll, modified by Survival.

8.3.28 Weapons
First and foremost, remember that the ability to throw things is the main mechanical balance for the Weapons skill versus the Fists skill. The Weapons skill bridges the gap between Fists and Guns as a combat skill. Provided an actual weapon is in hand, the Weapons skill may be used to attack – and some weapons will either be thrown (like a knife) or have an unusually long reach (like a whip), allowing the attack to reach into an adjacent zone – as well as to defend. The downside, simply, is that the skill requires the use of a weapon – someone who successfully disarms a character using Weapons has effectively deprived him of using this skill.

The primary disadvantage a Fists user faces against a Weapons user is the ability of the weapons user to make use of this additional reach, and the GM is encouraged to be generous when allowing a Weapons user to make maneuvers that take advantage of this. At the same time, the advice under Fists (see page XX) about mismatched weapons remains valid – a weapon does not in and of itself grant a bonus, but it does shape the way a fight is described.

8.4 Other Common Situations
Beyond the situations covered by specific skills, above, there are other common situations which bear some examination.

8.4.1 Fire
Fire and other environmental hazards are rated by their intensity. At the beginning of the exchange, they inflict that much physical stress on every person in the scene. Intensity basically means:

Intensity Means…

0: The building is on fire, but the fire can be avoided.
1: Almost everything is on fire, and the heat is pressing in on you in waves.
2: Everything is on fire, and the flames lick up near you.
3: Inferno. There may well be nowhere to run, you have only moments to live.

Some environments are fatiguing rather than damaging, such as trying to operate out in the hot desert sun. In those situations, it is more appropriate to have Endurance restrict other skills, rather than any physical stress.

8.4.2 Explosions
Explosions and other area attacks have the potential to do damage against everyone within their radius. They are deadly and can end a fight or alter a scenario significantly once used. Choose very carefully before allowing free and easy use of explosives in your game.

As discussed briefly on page XX, explosives have three ratings: complexity, area, and force. Here, we’ll dig deeper into what these mean.

Complexity is the difficulty to disarm the bomb once the fuse has been lit or the pin has been pulled.

The area of an explosion determines how many zones the explosion will cover. An area of 1 means the explosion affects only one zone. An area of 2 means it affects one zone and every zone adjacent to it. And area of 3 expands it out to all zones adjacent to that. An area of 10 can pretty effectively cover a small town, and a 20 can cover a large city. This of course assumes that your zones are roughly the same size, that the explosion originates in the center of its zone, and so forth – feel free to tweak how things behave. There’s nothing saying some area 2 explosions don’t hit all of their adjacent zones, merely that they could.

The force of an explosion is a measure of how dangerous it is once it finally detonates. When an explosive detonates in a zone that a character is in, the force value is the difficulty of the free action Athletics test to take cover behind something solid. People unaware that a detonation is impending automatically fail this roll. If successful, the character takes a consequence (unless he generates some spin, in which case he makes a miraculous escape). If he fails, he is taken out immediately and is either badly injured or dead (though only minions should outright die in explosions).

The good news is that the force of an explosion drops by one for each zone it crosses, so characters in an adjacent zone have to deal with a force level that’s 1 lower. If there is a border between the zones that would provide some cover (like a wall) it also reduces force by the value of the border. The force of an explosion drops to zero once it reaches its maximum radius indicated by the area.

In case that doesn’t make it perfectly clear, the use of explosives in a fight is extremely, perhaps even insanely dangerous, but extremely potent. Setting and using explosives can usually be done using the Engineering skill, but throwing a stick of dynamite into a fight is something else entirely. Fuses are not your friend. Before a character throws, the GM should ask if the fuse is short, medium or long (for some explosives this is fixed, and not a choice of the player’s). This does not literally need to mean a physical fuse – it could just as easily be a timer or some other control. If the explosive supposed to go off on impact, it will need a hair trigger (see page XX in Gadgets and Gizmos).

Throwing an explosive as an attack works in two stages. When a character throws an explosive, it’s an attack using Weapons against a difficulty of Mediocre. If successful, the explosive lands in an appropriate zone (remember that thrown weapons have a range of one zone), and if not, it lands in the thrower’s zone.

When the explosive lands, everyone within a zone covered by its area rolls Athletics against the attacker’s Weapons result (from above) to get clear, should they so wish; if they gain spin on this defense roll, they may move one zone away from the zone the explosive is in by “diving clear” as a free action. Anything short of spin has no effect – they’ll have to hope that they get a turn before it goes off or, otherwise deal with a detonation scenario as described above. The thrower has the option to reduce everyone’s difficulty to dive clear (he may not want to make it too difficult for his allies to dive away), so long as that difficulty is not reduced below Mediocre. If the thrower makes a bad throw – missing the Mediocre target entirely – then as noted, the explosive lands in the thrower’s zone, with the difficulty for the thrower to dive free increased by one for each step he missed the target. The thrower does not have the option to reduce it, though in such a circumstance everyone else merely faces a Mediocre difficulty to dive clear.

After this initial “dive clear” check, the GM makes a quick check before every individual action to see if the bomb explodes, by rolling 2 dice:

Dice result Short Fuse Medium Fuse Long Fuse
+2 Explode Explode Explode
+1 Explode Explode No explosion
+0 Explode No Explosion No Explosion
-1 No Explosion No Explosion No Explosion
-2 Fizzle Fizzle Fizzle

On a fizzle result, make a mark on a piece of paper. The next time a fizzle result comes up, if a mark’s already been made, the bomb is a dud or otherwise unable to explode. If the GM chooses to make it an option, characters with appropriate aspects may invoke them to demand that GM re-roll the dice after revealing the result.

Each time the turn comes around to the person who lit the fuse again, a full exchange has passed, and the fuse’s length drops by one step – so if a long-fuse explosive is out there for a full exchange, it becomes a medium fuse explosive, and so on. If it’s a short fuse explosive (pretty improbable that it lasted a full exchange), then it goes off right then and there.

Playing With Fire
When a character has an unexploded bomb in his zone and the opportunity to act, he may try a few things.

Pick It Up and Throw It.
This uses the same rules for throwing the explosive that the original thrower used, but at a -1 penalty for taking the supplemental action of picking it up. This can become a deadly game of hot potato, and not one you want to get into with a character who has the Catch stunt (see page XX).
Pick It Up and Disarm It.
A character may use his own Engineering to disarm a bomb. This action is at -1 for the supplemental action of picking it up and is at a difficulty equal to the complexity of the explosive. It’s easy to pull the fuse out of a stick of dynamite, but somewhat harder to stop a grenade without the pin.
Leap on Top of It.
Well, first off, this will pretty much kill the character dead. That said, it will improve the chances of everyone around him by reducing the force of the explosion by 3. If the character is armored in some way, then the value of the armor is also subtracted from the force. Under particularly unusual circumstances, sets of stunts, or strange arcane invulnerability rituals, the character might be able to walk away from this, but really, players should be discouraged from such actions unless they’re looking to start a new character. Fate points could be brought to bear, of course, to force a fizzle once this is done, but the GM should feel quite free to charge the player every single fate point he has to pull it off (sort of like the Death Defiance stunt, page XX, only temporary, and with more bite).
Run Away.
Often the wisest course, using Athletics to sprint away from the bomb is not such a bad idea. The trick is that you need a chance to take a turn to be able to exercise this option. Players are often going to want to bring their friends along on their flight away from the scene of a bomb, so GMs should make sure to review the rules on throwing, pushing, and carrying (page XX). While an individual will most always get away faster, the nature of a fuse – getting checked on every action – may make a player prefer to get less distance, if he’s helping a slower person get some distance too.
Bombs Outside of Combat
When a character encounters a bomb in a situation other than having it thrown by a maniac, there are a few commonalities to expect. It is usually larger, heavier and more powerful, and it usually has an explicit trigger, such as a timer on a countdown or an event it will trigger in response to, like a tripwire.

Such bombs are inevitably powerful enough that characters in close proximity to them when they detonate have very little chance of survival. Thankfully, the role of such bombs is not to blow up but rather, to threaten to blow up. Usually such bombs are in important places so that if they go off, there will be serious consequences, even if the characters are unharmed.

Attempts to disarm one of these bombs will require one or more Engineering rolls against its complexity. A failure on any roll shouldn’t result in the bomb exploding immediately; instead turn the bomb into one with a fuse that starts counting down! Roll a single die: minus means it’s become a short fuse, blank means a medium, and plus a long. Hopefully, this buys time enough for everyone to run like the dickens. More information on handling situations like this can be found under “Death Traps and Other Dooms” on page XX.

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