Many times in fiction the big bad’s minion lackeys are not competent opponents, but just obstacles in the way of the protagonists. In game terms, instead of them bing NPCs in their own right with skills, stress boxes, and maybe a stunt or consequence, you can treat them as if they were an obstacle to be overcome. This is mentioned briefly on page 217 of Fate Core, but only receives a paragraph worth of description.
##Complex Obstacles Instead of being a standard obstacle to overcome, minions are considered complex obstacles. With a normal obstacle, you roll to overcome against the difficulty. If you succeed, the obstacle is removed. If you tie or fail, you can still remove the obstacle at a cost.
Complex obstacles, on the other hand, cannot normally be removed with one roll. Rather you roll to degrade the difficulty. For example, a success against a Good (+3) complex obstacle will reduce it to a Fair (+2) complex obstacle. Complex obstacles are very similar to challenges, except that you’re not overcoming a series of related obstacles—it’s all the same obstacle, and you’re can use the same skill. Once a complex obstacle is reduced to Mediocre (+0) or below, it’s finally overcome and removed.
A success with style can give a boost as normal for an overcome action, or it can reduce the opposition by another one. For example, a Good (+3) obstacle can be reduced to an Average (+1) obstacle with a skill roll of Fantastic (+6) or better.
A tie or failure can, of course, be considered a success at a cost. Reduce the obstacle by 1 and suffer a cost. For minions in a fight, stress and/or consequences are a good choice, but a boost like Distracted or Stunned can work just as well, as can full situation aspects like Bloodied or Jammed Weapon. Of course, for success at a serious cost can just be a full situation aspect with a free invoke.
##Minions as Complex Obstacles Creating minions as complex obstacles is pretty straightforward. If you have an existing nameless NPC, you can just use their skill rating as the opposition number. If you don’t have an existing NPC, just follow the guidelines for determining opposition on pages 133 and 191 of Fate Core System, or page 37 of Fate Accelerated Edition.
Then come up with an aspect description for the obstacle. Ninja Death Squad, Mindless Zombie Horde, and Gawkers and Hanger’s-on are just a few examples. This aspect can be used to simulate strengths and/or weakness that the group have. These aspects can be invoked by the GM to make thing harder for the PCs or the PCs can invoke it against the minions when it would make sense. For example, if a player was using fire to overcome a minion mob of trolls, invoking the Slobberingly Stupid Trolls aspect since everyone knows trolls are weak against fire.
Once you figure out the base opposition difficulty, bump it down one, or even two, if you want it to be easy to overcome. Remember that it will take at a minimum of 1 roll per two steps on the ladder, and the higher the obstacle difficulty, the less likely a success with style will be. While a Fair (+2) namless NPC will go down with one successful attack, having only 1 stress box, it’ll take a successful overcome roll at Superb (+5) to remove that obstacle in one roll. Not a stretch by any means for a PC with a high combat skill and the use of an invoke, but not as much of a sure thing.
###Minion’s per Group When designing minions as complex obstacles, it’s assumed that it’s a group of them. While there is no set number of minions per step on the ladder, there are a few guidelines you can follow.
Fate measures units of anything according to an abstract ladder of half, one, a few, or several (see How Much Time is a Shift Worth? on page 197 of Fate Core). Once you step above the ladder, go to half of the next logical unit of measure up. For minions, the base unit is individual: so one minion, a few minions, several minions. The next step up is usually dozen, so from several minions to half-a-dozen.
The starting point for minions is several, assuming decently competent minions. If the minions are below competent—say mindless zombies or throw-away robots—feel free to start at half-a-dozen. Of course, if they’re highly trained or just ungodly tough, you could step down to a few. Ex-military hitters, ghouls, cybernetically-enhanced soldiers, and the like.
Of course, if you want to have a high obstacle difficulty, Good (+3) or above, feel free to take a step or two up on the ladder. A Great (+4) mob of highly trained ex-military hitters could be several or even half-a-dozen of them. Conversely, a Great (+4) mob of zombies could be as high as a few dozen!
###Number and Scale of Minion Groups As with groups of NPC minions, sometime you’re going to want to have more than one group. If there’s just one group, it can devolve into every PC overcoming them in short order—because of the success at a cost rule, each PC can reduce the obstacle difficulty by 1 on their turn. Also, a smaller group can be easily circumvented by cleaver players (or Cleaver PCs!).
Also of import is the scale of each group of minions. The more groups you have, the lower the difficulty should be on each, since it’s exponentially harder to reduce their difficulty and remove them from play. One Fair (+2) minion group requires one or two rolls to remove. Two of them require 2-4 rolls. Three identical groups require 3-6 rolls to eliminate.
Assume that each roll is going to succeed, even if at a cost, to figure out how many rolls is required to eliminate the group. How many exchanges is it going to take your PCs to get through all the obstacles? Is it going to be exciting for them to wade through minions that long before they get to the actual objective of the conflict? In the end, you know your players best, so adjust accordingly.
##Choice of Skills
Re-categorizing minions into obstacles instead of NPCs opens up a wide range of skill that can be used to remove them from the conflict. Instead of being stuck with the standard attack skills—Fight and Shoot—you may use any and every skill at your disposal, within reason.
- Physique can be used to bull-rush through a group of minions, or physically throw them into each other or walls
- Provoke is a great choice to scare the minions into running away, but it doesn’t work on undead, robots, and other minions without free will
- Fight/Shoot obviously can be used as the default attack skills, just use the overcome action instead of attack action
As long as your table agrees, you can justify any skill, since every skill has the overcome action.
##Stunts and Complex Obstacles Many stunts will have to be either rewritten or given special permission to work with complex obstacles. Since stunts are tied to actions as well as skills or approaches, you need to decide if stunts that benefit when attacking will also benefit when overcoming complex obstacles. Also, will existing stunts that benefit the overcome action be usable for complex obstacles, too?
If someone at your table has a stunt that is keyed off of the attack action, but is designed to eliminate minions, than by all means let that stunt be rewritten for overcoming complex obstacles instead. But for stunts that are not minion-specific, it’s a good idea to discuss with your table if it’ll work for minion groups as well as single targets. Overcoming complex obstacles and attacking can be easily used to show the difference between characters who are trained to fight swarms of enemies or fencing-style one-on-one duels.
Stunts that benefit the overcome action are usually worded in such a way that it’s obviously not designed to be used against complex obstacles. When in doubt, assume it can’t, but give the player the option to spend a fate point to let it apply to this one roll (see Fate Core page 202).