Dungeons and Zones

For the sake of (typically physical) conflicts, Fate breaks spaces into zones. A zone is simply an area characters can move around in and interact with each other, usually the size of a room or two. If someone is in another zone, you cannot interact with them physically without a ranged weapon or some special power. You can move between zones, though some may have boundaries that make movement difficult or dangerous.

Zones are a foundational element for dungeon crawls and other adventures where positioning and space are important. In this post, I'm going to talk about some ways to use zones when creating dungeon-like environments.

Fate Core developer +Ryan Macklin has talked about zones on his blog, and I will be borrowing some of his terminology.

Zones are Containers

A zone is a place where characters take action and events occur. The best analogy in a dungeon would be a single room. Heroes and monsters can move around the room and strike each other with melee attacks

Zones also contain other scene elements that are not fully realized characters yet still have an effect on the action, such as traps and magical effects. Often these elements are expressed as aspects on the zone.

Zones can even contain other zones. A sub-zone has a soft boundary with its parent; movement between the two is trivial. If you are in the sub-zone, you are also considered to be in the parent zone for effects that fill the entire parent zone. Examples include areas marked off by magic glyphs, alcoves that provide a bit of cover, or inside an open sarcophagus.

Zones are Bounded

Something separates a zone from the next zone over. In a dungeon, it is often quite easy to see where the edge of a zone lies. You must open a door, jump down a hole, or turn the corner in a corridor. Typically, these are medium boundaries. Their primary cost is time; you can only move so far in one exchange.

A hard boundary requires more effort to cross. A locked door must be unlocked or picked. A high wall must be scaled. Overcoming a hard boundary takes an entire action and a successful roll.

Boundaries are not always the same strength in every situation. Jumping down the aforementioned hole is medium, but climbing back out of it may be hard. The magic glyph sub-zone may have a weak boundary for your hero, but it is actually a hard boundary against evil creatures and spells.

Finally, a boundary of any strength can be dangerous or have other conditions that change how you can move and what you can effect. This will usually take the form of aspects on the boundary itself.

Zones Demand Choices

As soon as you break an encounter area into zones, you ask players to make choices. Even if every zone is just a distinct area with a medium boundary to the next zone, players must decide "Which zone do I want to be in?" Adding on other layers of complications makes the decisions more difficult and more meaningful.

There should be ways to take advantage of the way zones are laid out, the effects they contain, and any boundaries between them. This can mean an actual create an advantage action to leverage zone aspects or alter the battlefield. It can also mean just crossing a boundary you know your enemy can't, then turning back and attacking from beyond his reach.

Zones Create Tension

By splitting up the space and forcing players to choose where to devote themselves, you can create situations where the heroes need to be in two places at once. If they split up, they weaken themselves. If they focus on a single problem, the one they ignore grows worse. By controlling what they know and where they can go, the GM can make the players feel free to act or constrained, altering the tenor of the adventure.

An Example

Map by HERWIN  WIELINK; CC-BY-NC-SAhttp://fantasy-maps.com/

  • The pit on the first landing is a dangerous medium boundary going down, but a hard boundary going up. The rooms at the bottom make up two zones with a medium boundary. The transporter may be a hard boundary if it requires arcane knowledge and an overcome action. The sarcophagus could be a sub-zone once it's opened.
  • The transport room is its own zone, again with possible hard boundaries to otherwise unconnected areas.
  • The room to the south of the transport has a medium boundary down the ramp and a hard boundary across the chasm.
  • The Two Coves? room is one zone, as is the Temple of Thime. The columns may block effects into the temple, but they won't block movement, being a medium boundary.
  • The ladder leading down from the zone with the sarcophagus and two depressions is a medium boundary both going down and coming up. If the ladder is removed, of course...
  • The Machine Room may be split into two (cramped) zones if you wish, but it can probably be left as just one.
  • The Abandoned Mine obviously leads to another dungeon level entirely, with any number of zones beyond.
  • The Cellblock consists of three separate zones.
  • The Lost City looks to be at least five closely connected zones broken up by walls and stairs (medium boundaries to movement that block most effects).
  • The Water Basin room obviously contains a sub-zone filled with water.
  • What? Who Cares? TREASURE! is a truly awesome aspect to have on the Treasure Room.

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