The kid brother to the defend action is the idea of opposition, but is usually lumped in with the defend action. There are some small, but important differences between the two.
What Opposition Isn’t
Usually you start with what something is, but in this case it’s easier to define opposition by what it isn not. First and foremost, it is not always the defend action. The defend action is a type of opposition, but not all opposition is a defend action. Since not all opposition is the defend action, not all opposed rolls get the benefits of a success (or with style) roll. It’s important to know which opposition is the defend action, and which isn’t.
What Opposition Is
Opposition is the number you’re comparing any roll to (Fate Core 131). There are two main types of opposition: passive, and active.
Passive opposition is when the GM tells you what the target number for your action is. Rolling to pick a lock, and the GM says that it’s a Fair (+2) lock, you’re rolling against a passive opposition of Fair (+2). All rolls in a challenge are against passive opposition.
Active opposition is anytime someone is rolling dice against you. The defend action is a specific type of active opposition, and it opposes both create an advantage actions and attack actions (Fate Core page 142). Most contest rolls are active opposition, except for when both sides are rolling against passive opposition (Fate Core 150).
When to Use Opposition
Sometimes opposition is obvious: someone is trying to slap you with an aspect, or you’re trying to fix a broken-down car. Other times, however, it’s not so obvious. You’re crossing a room in a firefight, or trying to convincing an NPC of something.
When you’re not sure if you should use opposition or just go with the flow, look to the aspects that are in play—both situation aspects and character aspects. Aspects tell you when to use game mechanics (Fate Core page 60). Are you trying to cross a room, but your foes have laid down Covering Fire? It makes sense that you would need to overcome that Covering Fire in order to move from your position—since that’s the entire point of covering fire.
The same goes for character aspects. In the aforementioned scenario where you’re trying to convince a (nameless) NPC of something, look to their aspects. If they Fall for Anything you don’t need to roll the dice, since they can’t help but believe you (if the outcome would be detrimental to the NPC, a compel would be in order). But if they’ve Seen it All and Not Impressed, then you know you have your work cut out for you.
Sometimes you’re not sure if opposition is warranted or not. Some aspects don’t have enough story weight to warrant opposition, instead are there to make opposition more difficult.
For example, if there’s a Fallen Tree on your path. Is it a small tree, a large tree? Is the entire path covered, or just part of it? Is the foliage on either side of the path dense? If a conflict were happening on that path one side or the other could invoke the Fallen Tree to represent backing an opponent against it and limiting their actions (thus making their action more likely to succeed). When in doubt, discuss it with your table and come to an agreement.
If one person wants it to be an obstacle that needs to be overcome, they have a way of vetoing the rest of the table: invoke the aspect! An invoke can be used to create a Fair (+2) passive opposition when there wasn’t any (Fate Core page 68). For example, normally a space opera soldier has a Personal Force Field gadget that she invokes on defense rolls, but decides that her character overcharges the force field, making it impenetrable. By invoking the aspect, the Personal Force Field aspect must now be overcome before anyone can attack her. Or the above mentioned Fallen Tree could be invoked to force the PCs to roll Athletics to overcome the obstacle in their way before they can carry on.
It’s really easy to figure out the difficulty of active opposition: it’s whatever the other player rolls. Passive opposition, on the other hand, is a bit harder to nail down.
Both Fate Core and Fate Accelerated have some good advice on choosing the difficulty number for passive opposition (Fate Core pages 133 and 191-192; FAE page 37).
There are two things that I want to point out, though.
- “Average is called Average for a reason—if nothing about the opposition sticks out, then the difficulty doesn’t need more than a +1” (Fate Core page 133)
- “If you can think of at least one reason why the task is tough, pick Fair (+2)” (FAE page 37)
Without any in-fiction reason otherwise, most sources of passive opposition are going to fall in the Average (+1) to Fair (+2) region. There are going to be exceptions to these rules, of course. For example, trying to hack the local police station’s computer systems could easily be Great (+4) or even Fantastic (+6)! The vast majority of passive opposition is going to fall in this range.
Don’t despair on the low difficulty rating, though. When the opposition is that low, it’s to show off how awesome the PCs are, not how awesome your story is. The heroes are competent (Fate Core 18), and the low default opposition helps to re-enforce that. It also helps show how bad-ass the villains are when all of the sudden difficulties go from Fair (+2) on average to Good (+3) or Great (+4)!
There are quite a few ways to get passive opposition higher than Fair (+2), however. The first, of course, is narrative justification. Hacking into INTERPOL to get at documents is going to be harder than hacking into Podunk PD’s computer system. “Hacking” your friends Facebook password is easier than hacking the school’s computer to change your grade.
Another way is aspects. As GM, spend a fate point to invoke an aspect to increase the difficulty, bonus points if you invoke an aspect on the acting character’s sheet. For example, the party’s ranger is trying to pick a lock to free the rogue and is Inept With Civilization. Normally it’s an Average (+1) lock, but the aspect invocation (which also gives the ranger a fate point, Fate Core page 69) makes is a Good (+3) difficulty.
However you go about coming to a decision on the opposition, remember to justify your choice (Fate Core page 192). As long as your choices make sense to you and your table, go with it! At the end of the day, you only need to make sure your table is having fun—and that includes you, by the way.
A corollary to this is to listen to your table. Players have a tendency to think of worst-case scenarios, and you can use that to your advantage. When one of them mentions a hurdle or unforeseen difficulty, run with it! Not only are they sharing in the creativity and helping you figure out why a roll is so difficulty, but you make them feel smart for “figuring it out”—when it was their idea all along.
- In Fate Accelerated Edition, the defend action is used to oppose all dice rolls against you, so is used in place of active opposition. This was done, it seems, to simplify opposition (FAE page 17). ↩
- Fate Core pages 104, 120, and 121 says that convincing nameless NPCs is a single overcome roll, and a named NPC or another PC is a contest. ↩