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Burn Notice in the Fate Core RPG

With its focus on dramatic and competent heroes, the Fate Core RPG is a perfect fit for running a game based on Burn Notice. If you haven't played Fate, it's a simple system that divides mechanics between skills (the things you roll against to do anything) and aspects (important concepts from which you can benefit by spending fate points). And if you haven't watched Burn Notice, it's an excellent TV show in which a disavowed ex-CIA spy works with his friends (such as a former IRA terrorist and retired Navy SEAL) to unravel shadowy conspiracies while helping people in need -- think MacGuyver meets a far-less-silly A-Team. As with most uses of Fate, this setting just calls for a few specific tweaks.


Resources (PDFs and Websites)

General Fate resources:

Specific to Burn Notice:


Skills

A Burn Notice game uses all of the Fate Core skills, plus a few new ones. Any skill marked with a * has further information below; all others are unchanged from Fate Core.

There is no specific skill for tactics. Instead, use Empathy to gauge your enemies' particular goals, Fight or Shoot to come up with intelligent attack plans, or Lore for general questions about battle strategies.

Computers

Computers is the skill of dealing with any computerized hardware or software. It is not required to use a computer -- even a complex one -- but is necessary for doing anything you aren't supposed to do or making a system do something it wasn't designed to do. Because this is a modern game, it's also the go-to skill for counterfeiting and forgery.

Overcome: Use Computers to hack into systems, trace financial transactions, remotely turn a webcam into a bug, set up false records, create a fake ID, or other similar illicit things. For full superuser ("root") access, you'll usually have to Succeed With Style.

Create an Advantage: With Computers, you can create virtual aspects that work to your advantage, such as fake bank accounts that give a temporary +2 to Resources. This includes false identities and cover stories. You can also improve the scope or performance of a computer system, including the dedicated ones found inside of most high-tech gear (from cell phones to automobiles).

Attack: Only use Computers to attack with remote-controlled weaponry, or similar cases where your typing and mouse speed is more important than personal reflexes.

Defend: As for attacking.

Computers Stunts

♦ Financial Expert. +2 to Computers when creating, tracking, altering, etc., financial records.

♦ Firewall. Anyone trying to trace your hacking must first succeed at a Fair (+2) Computers roll before they can even attempt it.

♦ Google-Fu. Your ability to search is so potent that as long as you have at least a smartphone handy, you can use Computers to replace Lore for questions about non-secret topics.

Contacts

In a conflict where the followers are acting as a group to support a leader, the Teamwork bonus augments the leader's skills and he may choose whether he or his followers (as a group) take the initial stress from any appropriate attack (with excess stress carrying over normally). Be sure to note my modifications to the Teamwork rules, below.

Contacts Stunts

♦ Followers. Each purchase of this stunt gives you either four Average NPCs, three Fair ones, or two Good ones who follow your orders. See p. 215 for details. All followers bought as part of the same stunt must have the same character sheet (exception: their aspects may differ). Lost or killed followers can be replaced, but it should take a significant amount of time and effort in-story (and at least a session or two out-of-story).

♦ Recruiter. (Requires Followers.) If you've lost one or more followers for whatever reason, you may pay fate points to locate suitable replacements before the end of the current scene!. This costs one fate point for up to two Average followers, or one fate point for each Fair or Good one. Add one extra fate point (once, not per person) to recruit reinforcements in the middle of a conflict!

♦ Sidekick. You have a supporting NPC (p. 218) who is completely loyal to you. It requires GM permission to have more than one sidekick. More so than followers, a sidekick should be played as a unique person, one who has personal motivation and desires. The sidekick has the following statistics:

Drive

In a Burn Notice game, this skill also covers the use of light planes, speedboats, etc. Roll at -1 or worse for massive vehicles (e.g., jumbo jets or cargo ships).

Explosives

Explosives is the skill of demolitions, explosive ordnance disposal, creating fireworks or smoke bombs, arson, and "interesting" chemical reactions in general.

Whenever multiple charges are used in an action (to attack, to stack advantages, etc.), the GM should roll 1dF for every charge past the first. If any minus signs come up, the effects of the explosion spread further than you anticipated (e.g., another zone has to defend, a sinkhole forms, or a fire starts). The GM will use the number of minuses as a rough guide to how out-of-control things are.

Overcome: Use Explosives to destroy inanimate objects; this requires some sort of charge unless the object is inherently combustible (e.g., a gas tank). Or you can use it to disarm a bomb, opposed by the original bomb-maker's skill. You may also answer general chemistry questions, but not pharmaceutical ones (which are the province of Medicine). When using Explosives to make charges in advance, the difficulty is twice the Weapon Rating you're trying to create, minimum +1. A tie produces one such charge; better success produces (3 x shifts) charges. This includes appropriate detonators (usually remote). Modest failure is only annoying, but failure by 4 or worse causes an immediate explosion!

Create an Advantage: Explosives is commonly used to create an advantage. Blowing the right things up can act as a distraction, a smokescreen, or even cover fire. With time (and enough charges), a demolitioner can set up multiple advantages in an area, stacking them for an impressive action. When doing this for an Explosives attack, each advantage (and charge) gives you the option of the attack affecting an additional zone instead of getting +2 or a reroll. You may only do this once per advantage, and you must decide when first invoking the advantage.

Attack: Explosives also includes knowing how to set bricks of C4 to take out enemies, how to properly throw a grenade (up to one zone away), and so on. Stress is based on your Explosives roll plus the Weapon Rating, but everyone in the zone (friend or foe) who isn't protected by cover must defend using Athletics to get behind something!

Defend: Explosives is normally not used to defend.

Explosives Stunts

♦ Always Loaded. Once per session, you may roll against Explosives to have one or more charges already on hand. This requires a standard overcome roll as if you were creating the charges, but is retroactive and thus takes no time or resources. If you fail by 4+, the explosion happens when you attempt to use it, not while it's in your pocket.

♦ Careful Mixer. Your difficulty to create charges is reduced by 1. In addition, no matter how badly you fail, you will never cause an explosion when making them.

♦ Explosion Surfer. You know how blast waves form so well that you can get out from under them. You may use Explosives to defend against explosions (instead of Athletics) and you automatically take 1 less stress from them.

Fight

Use this skill to throw small melee weapons, such as knives, up to one zone away. Targets usually oppose with Athletics, but a foe with a weapon in hand may use Fighting, if better, to knock it out of the air.

Gadgeteer

Gadgeteer replaces Crafts for all purposes other than computers and networks (use Computers), explosives and most chemical reactions (use Explosives), or drugs (use Medicine). (Exception: With Gadgeteer, you can use computer hardware as an electronic component in a device, but if the resultant device is to be computerized and programmed you must roll against the lower of Computers or Gadgeteer.) This skill otherwise uses the Crafts rules as written.

Lore

Lore covers "spycraft" as well as general academics. It is specific to each agency, organization, or training method. For example, the Lore known by a CIA spy will be slightly different than that learned by an IRA terrorist. It will usually be obvious which flavor of Lore the character has; if not, be certain to clarify it. The following modifiers apply to Lore rolls:

Lore Stunts

♦ Cross-Trained. Replace the modifiers above with the following:

♦ Linguist. You are amazing with languages (see below). When you encounter a new language, you can justify adding it regardless of your aspects -- and the first language you add each session is free (no fate point required)! If the GM stonewalls you with "an obscure dialect," you can't add it, but you do receive a fate point for your trouble. Finally, you may roll against Lore to notice key linguistic details (e.g., about dialect or geography) -- even of a language you don't speak. This can provide useful information or let you create an advantage. The difficulty depends on how well you know the language: Mediocre (+0) if you're fluent in it, Average (+1) if you aren't, or Fair (+2) or worse for "obscure dialects."

Medicine

This is the skill of first-aid, surgery, pharmacy, triage, poisons, and so on. You can use it for anything involving the human body, including questions about biology and physiology.

Overcome: Use Medicine to check someone's vitals, diagnose a disorder, identify the symptoms of someone being drugged, read a patient's chart, neutralize (or administer!) poisons, and so on. If you have access to basic pharmaceutical supplies (e.g., a full medicine cabinet and a stove), you can also whip up various drugs (which you can later use to create an advantage; see below).

Create an Advantage: If you have access to the right drugs (or can make them; see above), you can make a person more or less receptive to talking, more or less focused, or even feign their death! In a fight, you can use Medicine to identify weak points ("He has a bum knee!") or locate nerve clusters to strike.

Attack: Medicine is rarely used to attack. However, if you're trying to stick a syringe into someone's neck, you may use Fight or Medicine to do so.

Defend: Medicine is rarely used to defend, but it may replace Notice to counter things like feigned death, etc.

Special: Medicine is the main skill you use to help others recover from physical consequences.

Medicine Stunts

♦ Bedside Manner. You are very good at convincing patients to take your medical advice. Assuming the subject is already listening to you and at least considering your words, you may either get +2 to Deceive or Rapport for this purpose, or replace either with Medicine, whichever is better.

♦ Drug-Resistant. Your exposure to drugs gives you an edge against them. You may either get +2 to Physique or Will when resisting their effects, or use Medicine to resist, whichever is better.

♦ Triage. Once per session, you can reduce someone else's physical consequence by one level of severity. This uses the rules for Psychology (the Empathy stunt).

Survival

Survival is the skill of dealing with nature (from animals to plants), keeping alive in the wilderness, and general outdoorsmanship.

Overcome: Survival can find a place to stay during a storm, navigate on a long journey, convince an animal not to attack, track someone through the woods, gather food, and so on. (In an urban environment, you'd use Investigation to track someone.)

Create an Advantage: You can use Survival to make preparations before hand, like setting up a trap or surveying the land. For example, a certain tree might have the aspect *Nest of Hornets.

Attack: You don't attack with Survival.

Defend: When dealing with natural environmental hazards, you can defend using the better of Physique or Survival.

Survival Stunts

♦ Animal Ken. You can use Survival as if it were Empathy, Rapport, or Provoke when communicating with domestic animals. (You can only read/convey the most basic concepts!) If you spent a fate point, you can do this with wild animals for the rest of the scene.

♦ Herb Lore. When in a natural environment with access to plants, you can substitute Survival for Medicine to create natural treatments or poisons.

♦ Pathfinder. You never get lost when traveling. You have an internal compass and always have a rough idea of how to get back to any known landmark. If you get teleported somewhere or otherwise have no way to have tracked your path, you still get +2 to rolls to get your bearings.


Languages

Everyone starts off fluent in English and one other language; for non-Americans, this should be your original language. Keep track of what languages you know in the "Extras" box of your character sheet. You speak these like a native, including cultural knowledge, street jargon, and so on. We'll establish what other languages you know as the game progresses.

When you encounter a language that isn't written on your sheet, you can add it to your list, as long as:

  1. You have an aspect that suggests you should know this language.
  2. You spend a fate point to invoke that aspect.
  3. At no point in this adventure have you suffered the complication of not being able to speak this language (see below). It's okay if it happened in previous adventures; we'll assume you studied during downtime.

However, every Burn Notice game has the story aspect *Language is an Issue, which the GM may invoke to counter you -- or even compel you right off the bat -- turning this into a complication instead. If so, you never learned that particular language or dialect, which may penalize your skill or make a certain action impossible.

As long as a language remains off your sheet, you aren't fluent in it. However, it's up to the story whether that seriously inconveniences you (and is thus worth a fate point) or is just a minor annoyance. It's believable that your PC might speak enough Spanish to get his point across to a barrio gang in one session, but that in the next, he can't figure out the phrasing to complete a key money transfer. Players and the GM alike should feel free to invoke *Language is an Issue for compels.

Important: Whenever lack of comprehension is important, the GM is allowed to declare that NPCs are speaking a language that no one on the team knows. In-game, this will be represented by the key words "an obscure dialect." No one can attempt to know this language and no one receives fate points for this happening; it is a narrative story detail, not a complication.


Body Count

In the world of Burn Notice, the authorities are willing to overlook a lot . . . as long as no one dies. After each conflict, roll 4dF with the following modifiers, along with any others the GM feels are appropriate:

* Don't apply this if the team orchestrated a good cover-up for the missing person (e.g., forged records and witnesses indicating that he left the country).

Consult the table below. Treat the bolded text as a new story aspect, filling in the name of the actual group. This should rarely be used for positive things!

+4 or less Nothing happens.
+5 A local group takes a mild interest. This may be a gang, local mob, or the cops. They start keeping an eye out for the PCs, but will stay in their "jurisdiction."
+6 A local group takes a strong interest. As above, but now they're actively searching for them.
+7 or +8 A powerful group takes a mild interest. State police, the local mob's bosses, etc. This group will cross state lines.
+9 or +10 A powerful group takes a strong interest.
+11 or +12 An international group takes a mild interest. Now it's the feds, a drug cartel, or some other powerful group who can (and will) cross national lines.
+13 or worse An international group takes a strong interest.

These results are cumulative. If the same one is rolled again, then either a different group has taken an interest as well, or the existing interest has been expanded (either "mild" becomes "strong" or the group refers the problem to their superiors)! These aspects must be removed through roleplaying.


Weapons and Gear

Some weapons are good for close range, some for long. Some are quiet and stealthy, some loud and intimidating. A weapon is an aspect that reflects this! When using a sniper rifle for a distant shot, you can invoke *Sniper Rifle for +2 -- but in a close firefight, your foes can invoke it for +2 to their defense or compel it to force you to aim before firing. A trained operative can invoke *SMG by making careful, three-round bursts, but can also compel a foe's *SMG by saying that he's using spray-and-pray. The same goes for any other important gear. Because choosing the right equipment is an important part of the game, if you get into a sticky situation and it turns out you thought to bring along the perfect tool or weapon for it, the GM may reward your foresight with a free invocation.

Ranged weapons can be compelled to run out of ammo as well. After an exchange or two of gunfire, this forces you to spend the turn reloading the weapon. After several exchanges (or after throwing a few weapons), this causes you to run out of ammo completely; find more ammo or another weapon!

As a general rule, fists have Weapon: 0, civilian weapons (knives, pipes, pistols, SMGs, etc.) have Weapon: 1, and military-grade gear (assault rifles, LMGs, etc.) has Weapon: 2+. Armor will not come up unless you're facing elite military or merc troops.

Certain attacks call for further notes:

Automatic Weapons: With a full-auto gun, or a pair of semiautomatics, you may shoot at multiple targets (pp. 206-207.) In brief: (1) Declare who you're targeting. (2) Roll your attack. (3) Divide your success levels among the targets (at least +1 to each, if possible). (4) Each target defends.

Explosives: See the Explosives skill (above) for details. A typical pipe bomb or concussion grenade has Weapon: 1. A full brick of C4 or a fragmentation grenade has Weapon: 2. Smoke grenades and such do no damage, but can be great for setting up advantages.

Grappling: Grappling is a way to Create an Advantage; both sides use the better of Fight or Physique. If you succeed, your target now has the aspect *Grappled; this lasts until he succeeds at an Overcome action to get out of it. While he's grappled, you may justify providing active opposition for almost any action he takes. (This does not require using any invocations.) If his action is trying to attack someone else, you and the target both technically oppose it, so defend with the better of your two skills, at +1 for teamwork. You may also make grappling Attacks on subsequent turns, to inflict stress.

Grappling Something Specific: When you absolutely must stop someone from calling for help, triggering a handheld remote, shooting his gun, etc., you can grab just the appropriate body part or item to prevent it. This uses the rules above, but instead gives the target a more specific aspect, like *Hands Over My Mouth. This makes it impossible (not just opposed) for him to use the named body part or piece of gear until he overcomes it. However, you don't get to oppose his other actions, since all of your effort is going into stopping this one thing.

Improvised Weapons: If you find yourself weaponless, you may spend a fate point to find a nearby pipe, bat, etc., for use with Fight. Sorry, shooters, but no amount of fate points will let you find a pistol. You can also use Gadgeteering to put a weapon (for Fight or Shoot) together as an overcome action, but the first time you fail an attack roll, it breaks!

Stun Guns and Tasers: A stun gun is a one-shot Fight weapon that must be held against the subject's body for a full second. A taser is a one-shot Shoot weapon (range: same zone) with wires that can be ducked or batted away. Both thus work best as surprise attacks! A wary target defends with the best of Athletics, Fight, or Physique. A surprised one "defends" with Physique at -2, representing his attempt to shrug it off. If the attack succeeds, the subject takes a flat 2 stress (3 if you Succeeded With Style) -- regardless of the actual shifts (even on a tie). Store-bought models leave taggants (microscopic pieces of identifying information) behind; either buy black market or use Gadgeteering to disable that "feature."


House Rules

These are minor tweaks and adjustments that I use in my games.

  1. For most skill rolls, the bonus from teamwork can at most double the lead person's skill. For example, if you have Lore at +3, you can get up to an additional +3 from teamwork. The exception is when "throwing dozens of bodies" at a problem should help without limit (e.g., in combat).

  2. When splitting your successes among multiple enemies in a conflict, you must assign at least +1 to each foe if possible. (If that isn't possible, spread whatever you rolled as evenly as you can.)


Fate is released under an Open Gaming License (OGL). All Fate-specific rules on this page should be considered part of this OGL. Fate Core is ©Copyright Evil Hat Productions, LLC. Burn Notice is ©Copyright and Trademark The USA Network. All rights reserved by their respective owners. This work makes no claim on either intellectual property. The Survival skill above is adapted from the Wild Blue supplement.


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