Sunless Fate 2

Welcome to the second part of the conversion of Atomic Robo rules to run a Sunless Sea-inspired game. The first installment dealt with character and ship generation, a mostly straightforward matter of applying existing rules. This post will cover ship combat, trading, and zeafaring, all of which required invention of new sub-systems, some of them a departure from what Fate normally does. But one thing at a time.

Ship combat & massive entities

Illustration by Oinkfrog

Illustration by Oinkfrog

The idea of different scales of combatants is not new to Fate. In this implementation, some entities, tasks, and obstacles, notably ships and giant monsters, are designated as massive. A massive creature cannot be harmed by a non-massive one. A massive obstacle cannot be removed by non-massive characters, though it can be overcome. A massive task cannot be completed. In short, regular non-massive characters can interact with massive entities, but not defeat them. You can dodge a giant crab’s claws just fine, just don’t expect to be able to punch it out.

There is one exception to this rule: by invoking an aspect, likely created specifically for this purpose, a character can directly attack or otherwise deal with a massive entity. Inflicted consequences are great for this. Expending trade goods such as gunpowder barrels (see Trade) works, too. Narrative as always trumps all, so if it makes sense for a character to deal directly with something massive, even if there aren’t any relevant aspects, go for it.

Normally, however, you will want to have a massive thing to deal with another massive thing. Your ship will fight giant zee creatures, not your characters personally. Which is not to say your characters won’t be crucial to actually winning the fight. Majority of the time, the PCs will be creating advantages for their massive ship to use. The captain will make sure the crew’s Disciplined, the engineer will keep the Engines Roaring, the gunnery officer’s will maintain the Cannons Aimed.

In addition to improving the skill checks of your ship, the aspects created by its officers can be invoked to let the ship take extra actions, as long as they use a skill the ship hasn’t used this round. For instance, your ship may fire upon the pirates with Iron, create advantage of Evasive Maneuvers with Veils because the navigator has invoked Frantically Spinning Wheel, then have her crew repel the boarders with Hearts due to the captain’s invocation of Patriotic Speech.

If the PCs could just keep doing the same thing over and over, it would quickly get repetitive, lots of dice rolled for little effect on the story. (Un)fortunately, when massive entities clash, everything is endangered. Whenever a massive entity attacks, it causes Calamity in one of the zones of its target, such as one of the decks of the ship slammed by a lifeberg. If the massive entity actually inflicts stress or worse, it causes Calamity in two different zones. What sort of Calamity? Anything and everything. It can be a negative aspect (Rolling Cannonballs, Spreading Fire) increasing the passive opposition of tasks in that zone and ready to be compelled, an attack against everyone present in the zone (shrapnel, lorn-fluke yelling in Correspondence), an enemy that got on board (a guinea pig shot over from a pirate ship, a drownie there to drag someone away in the confusion), valuable cargo that got knocked loose in the hold, etc. The purpose of Calamity, other than driving home just how chaotic and disruptive such conflicts tend to be, is to give PCs something to do that isn’t just giving Patriotic Speeches repeatedly.

While this chapter mostly discusses conflicts, and conflicts involving ships at that, the same idea applies to other situations. The crew of your ship is massive, too, and can be used in various ways – that’s what the Hearts skill is for. Chopping down enormous mushrooms for fuel is a massive task, made all the more difficult by stalking panthers and hallucinogenic spores. In that particular scenario, the mushroom forest itself could be a massive opponent – don’t you just love the Bronze rule of Fate?

Massive rules summary

  • Regular non-massive characters cannot defeat massive entities, unless an aspect is invoked for permission.
  • When a massive entity attacks, it causes Calamity in one of the target zones. It causes Calamity in two target zones if it inflicts stress.
  • Aspects placed on the ship can be invoked to allow it to take multiple actions, as long as each action uses a different skill.

Rightsizing the massive opposition – a bit of math

So how does this actually work? You can expect the PCs to use their best skills while helping the ship. The gunnery officer is probably decent at Combat, otherwise they wouldn’t have been hired for that position. Which is to say, their skill will be +4 or +5, potentially as high as +7 with a stunt. I would suggest the passive opposition to acting in somewhat adverse conditions out in the Zee should be Good (+3) or so, though circumstances may vary. This means the PCs will succeed at creating advantages for their ship or their crew most of the time, even without spending fate points, and successes with style will be frequent. However, Calamities will soon keep some of them occupied, and some of the invokes will be spent on extra actions. This translates to a bit under 1 free invoke per PC each round. In a party of 4, this means they’ll have 3 or so free invokes to spend on their ship’s action and defense against the massive opposition. Which is to say that the opposition’s skills should be about 3 points higher than the PC’s ship’s (or crew’s) for this to be something of a challenge.

Running the massive opposition

While we’re interested in what the PCs are doing during a ship battle, we probably don’t care all that much about what the officers on the opposing ship do (and albino eels don’t have officers to start with, unless you count the ones they’ve swallowed). So while the PCs will be doing all sorts of things, GM’s turns will be quite brief. To cover for a lack of officer actions, massive NPCs get another skill, Mirrors, which acts like Notice. If the NPC is meant to be a serious threat, consider letting them act twice in a round, following the same restrictions the PCs have.

Sample massive opponents

Giant Crab

Tiny Brain, Huge Claws

Iron +4, Veils +3, Mirrors +3

Armor:1 (physical), Weapon 1.

Pirate Ship

So Drunk They’re Flammable

Iron +4, Hearts +4, Veils +6, Mirrors +3

Ramming Speed. The pirate ship can attack with Veils, as long as she is in the same zone as her target.

Boarding party. Once per scene when the pirate ship rams an enemy or is otherwise in their vicinity, she may immediately make a Hearts check to have her crew board the enemy as a free action.

Hallucinogenic Mushroom Forest

Wet Mushy Darkness

Spores +3, Lurking Predators +5

Deeper into the ‘Shrooms. For each unit of fuel PCs log, the forest’s Spores skill increases by 1.

Too much?

These rules are quite detailed, and you may not wish to use them all the time (or ever!). Fortunately, Fate lets us zoom in and out of the action as we deem fit. Often, an encounter on the zee can be handled as a contest or a challenge instead. In that case, consider letting players roll the ship’s skills that they’re responsible for, instead of their own skills. In this variant, the PCs either give a Teamwork bonus to the skill check, or allow the ship to take an extra action. This slightly simplified approach works for conflicts, too.

Trading & goods

This is a tricky topic. Carting goods around the Zee is a major part of SS, as well as running out of fuel, food, and money, especially in the early game. It’s very granular: if you have 50 echoes and spend 30 of them on fuel, you’ll only have 20 leftover for food. Which sounds like a basic arithmetic problem, but that’s not how Fate works. Fate doesn’t do running out of resources. It does the story of running out of resources. In it, you don’t have 50 echoes, or 5 units of fuel you could spend them on. Money is typically represented by a skill, perhaps with its own stress track. For an example of such a system, see what Diaspora does.

You’ll have to make a choice as a group. If you’re fine with such abstract system, great. Borrow it from Diaspora, or another Fate version of choice. If there’s interest, I may take a crack at writing up my own version. However, it’s my opinion that SF needs to work with actual numbers. Here, then, are simple trade rules.


The amount of stuff you have is measured in numbers: 5 fuel, 3 casks of mushroom wine. So is money, which includes echoes as well as jade, glim, moon pearls, nevercold brass slivers, all traded and exchanged as currency across the Neath. Some of the goods take up space in the cargo hold, some don’t, much like in SS. The amount of available cargo space is determined by the weight class of your ship: light ships have 10, medium 20, and heavy 30. Note also a sample stunt in the previous post that increases these limits.

Goods as aspects

Those 5 units of fuel? They’re 5 invocations stacked on the Fuel aspect. In a situation where burning extra fuel would be beneficial, like when you’re trying to outrun another ship, you can spend those invokes in the regular manner. Bribing someone is a matter of spending a Money invoke for permission, then perhaps one or two more to improve your skill roll. Similarly, an attempt to acquire (rather than buy)  something is a Create Advantage action. Consequently, a success with style would mean two invocations of the thing are acquired. The item’s baseline price (see below) serves as a good starting point for the difficulty of such action.

To use our favorite mushroom forest as an example, the crew ordered to harvest the mushrooms for fuel would be rolling Hearts to Create Advantage, opposed by the forest’s Spores, potentially getting 2 invokes/cartloads of fuel with a single check.

The only limit to the goods-as-aspects approach is that you can’t spend fate points to invoke them.


We start with a list of goods and prices that are given for them, on average. The one presented in the table below is not quite the same as SS, and frankly, it is not authoritative. It is merely an example which you will no doubt build upon and modify to suit your game.

For each port the PCs visit, you’ll have to decide which of the goods are bought and sold there, and how the prices vary from the baseline. Sometimes it will be apparent: food and fuel are cheap in London, red honey is cheap on the Isle of Cats, etc. Often, though, you won’t have much of a clue. In that case, for each good you decided is available, roll 2 fate dice and adjust the price according to the result. When dealing with a particularly pricey item, roll 4 fate dice. This will allow for some variation of prices integral to trade.

Money and their replacements are always worth 1, and buying or selling goods is usually a simple arithmetic operation.

Trade GoodBaselineLondon
Bale of Parabola-Linen66
Cask of Mushroom Wine22
Crate of Human Souls44
Firkin of Prisoner's Honey22
Firkin of Red Honey46
Empty Mirrorcatch Box1010
Sunlight-filled Mirrorcatch Box2025

None of this is binding. Circumstances change, and prices follow. If there’s a very profitable route PCs discover, consider: why is it that way, who else is using it, what happens if it’s overused, who are the sellers and buyers, what’s their story? Much like SS, the game isn’t really about trading. It could be about amassing a fortune, sure, but the act of shipping around stuff is mostly there to provide a reason to travel from place to place and engage in stories of those places.


It’s a new topic, and that means it’s time for a new discussion with your group. Just how large is the Zee? First thing you’ll need to decide is how far 1 unit of food and 1 unit of fuel will get you. If you happen to be using the wonderful print of the map, the distance between the meridian lines is a natural choice. SS itself has slightly wider meridians, breaking the map into 6 columns, if that is your preference. This choice determines how hard it is to get around, and how often PCs will have to make stops along the way to replenish their supplies.

With that figured out, how long does it actually take to travel that distance? A day, a week? My personal preference is 4 days, as it echoes a mechanic we’ll discuss in a bit. On the one hand, the exact amount of time spent probably doesn’t matter all that much. On the other, it’s these details that give substance to the game.

As already mentioned, a ship expends 1 unit of food (a barrel?) and 1 unit of fuel (a cartload of coal?) per unit of distance traveled, with each journey costing at least 1 of each. If the ship makes a few closely placed stops along the way, an argument can be made to count that as a single trip. Should you wish to reflect a fuel-efficient engine in the mechanics, a stunt to modify fuel consumption would be entirely appropriate.

Every journey starts with the navigator plotting a course. In this case, an Overcome check with the Navigation skill. The opposition would likely start at 3 and be influenced by the length of the trip as well as whatever hazards are in the way. Success means the navigator does their job well and the ship goes where you wished to go. Success with style means you round down when counting the units of distance traveled, to a minimum of one. Through a cunning use of currents, freak gusts of wind and plain fortune, you shave off precious days of travel. If there is no rounding to be had, the ship gains a boost for the journey instead. Failure means the trip is going to be more erratic – see below. If none of the players elected to play a navigator, it would be a good idea to hire an NPC.

On the way

Illustration by Oinkfrog

Illustration by Oinkfrog

There you are, course plotted, engine purring, hold full of supplies. Time to zail! If only things were so easy. The Zee is unpredictable, and the crew is not to be trusted either. Following is a simple system designed to give the GM some ideas as to what might happen along the way. It is entirely up to them when and how to use it.

For each unit of distance traveled, roll 4 fate dice. If the Navigator failed to plot the course, reroll one die showing a blank face – the journey takes just a bit longer, with more opportunities for things to go wrong. This isn’t a skill check, instead the values on the dice suggest the nature of the occurrences to be had on the way. Minuses rolled indicate an internal event, while pluses hint at something external happening to the ship. The more of a symbol present, the more significant the event. One or two mean a brief scene, three might take some time to resolve, while four could take over a session.

The following list is merely suggestions, largely lifted from SS and FL. Once the game is underway, there will no doubt be plenty of plot lines that can come up during these journeys. It is also a great time to compel aspects: a bunch of proactive and dramatic people are stuck in a tiny ship for days or weeks on end, with nothing to do but be proactively dramatic at each other.

  • A bad omen disturbs the crew
  • Crew asks to tell them of the Surface
  • Nightmares among the crew
  • A game of cards, betting secrets
  • You’re out of candles. Again.

– –

  • A fight has broken out among the crew
  • Spoiled supplies
  • Stowaway discovered
  • A zailor becomes violent, ranting about Storm
  • A zailor is not who they claim to be. Undercover admiralty agent? A snuffer??
  • A spontaneous game of Stabbin’ Jack

– – –

  • Engine breaks down
  • Fire!

– – – –

  • Sorrow-spiders infestation
  • Mutiny!


  • False-stars shift. Could their new arrangement be fortuitous?
  • Man overboard
  • Fog
  • Passing a buoy. Is that a note?

+ +

  • Monsters: Auroral Megalops (young giant crab), bat swarm
  • Clinging coral threatens to crack the ship
  • Large rocks fall from the ceiling, threatening to damage the ship
  • Sudden whirlpool
  • Castaway on driftwood

+ + +

  • Drownies singing
  • Sinking island – what treasures might it hold?
  • Drifting ship ahead
  • Pirates!
  • Monsters: jillyfleur, bound shark, albino eel
  • Volcano rises: “Stone pigs cough”.
  • Killing wind
  • Off course

+ + + +

  • Monsters: Lifeberg, Mt. Nomad
  • Lost!

Ship log

ship log

Illustration by Cybele Wong

These events may come off as disjointed, a series of random encounters along the way – because they are. A log of the journeys, recording such occurrences would go a long way towards tying them into a more cohesive narrative. You could have one player responsible for keeping the log, or pass it around. If you choose to do this with an actual notebook as opposed to a digital doc, you’ll have a cool artifact at the end of the campaign.

Coming next

Exploring the Zee and its mysteries, GMing advice. A much smaller post (I hope!), we’re almost done. EDIT: I was wrong.


2 thoughts on “Sunless Fate 2

  1. Loving this series. Full of amazing inspiration. Would you be willing to share your full PC skill list for this game, in a post?

    • As the first post says, the changes to the basic skill list are minimal: Zailing replaces Vehicles and Secrets replace Science. Character modes are renamed but remain the same otherwise. The original modes can be found in the Atomic Robo SRD, linked at the start of that post. The skill calculator tool, also linked in the first post, contains that information as well. But, for the sake of completeness, here they are:

      Dangerous: Athletics, Combat, Notice, Physique, Provoke, Zailing
      Persuasive: Contacts, Deceive, Empathy, Provoke, Rapport, Will
      Shadowy: Athletics, Burglary, Contacts, Deceive, Notice, Stealth
      Watchful: Notice, Will, all Secrets

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