In the FATE mini-campaign setting Eagle Eyes, the players are detectives in Imperial Rome working against conspiracies in the Eternal City. It’s an awesome setting and I really recommend it, but the conspiracy mechanic is a great feature for other FATE campaigns. It’s especially powerful if you use all the brilliant vision of Ken Hite from Night’s Black Agents. Combine these two and you’ll have a great game dealing with dark, shady ladder of evil whether fueled by Red Court vampires in The Dresden Files, corrupted tribes in Ehdrigohr, or self-made supervillains in Base Raiders.
Conspiracies in FATE are unraveled by dealing “stress” through investigation. Each node of the conspiracy has 4-7 stress boxes which should take about two gaming sessions to pull apart (you can halve this for a much faster, high-octane game). Stress is dealt to the conspiracy during Moments of Clarity, situations where the PCs have a chance to deal a blow against the conspiracy. If they defeat a major asset of the conspiracy, uncover a particular clue, or gain an important item then the conspiracy is injured.
If the PCs are successful in their goals then the conspiracy fills in a stress box against that node. Once the conspiracy stress track is full, that node is taken down. Conspiracy nodes can try to resist these with consequence slots (representing fall-back plans or emergency caches) depending on their level.
- Level 1 Nodes have one mild consequence slot.
- Level 2 Nodes have two mild consequence slots.
- Level 3 Nodes have one mild and one moderate consequence slot.
- Level 4 Nodes have two mild slots and one moderate consequence slot.
- Level 5 Nodes have one mild, one moderate, and one severe consequence slot.
- Level 6 Nodes are handled as individual characters, as fits their role as endgame villains.
As nodes are taken down, the conspiracy responds in the ways described by Night’s Black Agents.
Each conspyramid is made of six levels (core leadership down to the street level) just as in Night’s Black Agents. Obstacles for a conspiracy node have a default modifier equal to the node’s level+2 (so sneaking into the headquarters for a national-level bank would be +6 while pulling one over on a city-level crime boss would be a +4 task).
Another guideline is that Opposition forces tend to have specific levels of NPCs in them. Use the following guidelines to populate the conspyramid on the fly.
- Level 1: Nameless (Average) NPCs.
- Level 2: Nameless (Fair) NPCs leading Nameless (Average) foot soldiers.
- Level 3: Nameless (Good) NPCs with Nameless (Fair) lieutenants and Nameless (Average) support.
- Level 4: A Supporting NPC or two with lots of Nameless (Fair) and Nameless (Average) servants.
- Level 5: A Supporting NPC or two with lots of Nameless (Good) and Nameless (Fair) servants.
- Level 6: A Main NPC (obviously).
Example of a Conspiracy
The PCs are infiltrating the head offices of a bank being used as a front for the campaign’s conspiracy. While some of the group distracts the bank manager, the two stealthy ones slip into the man’s office and rifle through his files.
Since this is a Level 3 node, the GM uses Good NPC stats for the manager and their head of security. The other guards in the bank are going to be Average, but the GM secretly decides there are some Fair guards in the wings that will be called in if there are any alarms tripped. Back in the manager’s office, the stealthy pair are up against Good (+3) security measures, both physically and digitally. It’s also a Good (+3) task to rifle through files when they overcome these measures.
As a scene where some major information is gathered on the bank as a conspiracy Node, this counts as a Moment of Clarity. If the PCs successfully gain the manager’s information, they can deal a box of stress to this node and get a little closer to taking down the conspiracy. If they don’t but do something equally drastic (getting the bank manager arrested, burning down the building) they can also deal a box of damage on the conspiracy stress track.