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How the Fate RPG System Works

Updated on August 30, 2013

I've given my thoughts on Fate Core system before, which you can read here if you want. I will actually be explaining the basics of Fate mechanics in this Article. Because Fate is a toolkit system with several game lines to its name instead of a single game, this means that this article will be helpful for better understanding all Fate based games and not just Fate Core.

Aspects and Fate Points

Aspects are custom built descriptive qualities that can be exploited to shift the odds and are usually phrased in interesting and informative. They are applied to people, places, and things and can be anything from a relationship in a character's life to a hazard in the surrounding area and more. Characters might have Aspects like "Crush On Avasa" whereas places might have Aspects like "Loose Floorboards Everywhere" and things tend to have Aspects like "Smells Like Prehistoric Cheese".

Using Aspects comes in the form of Invoking and Compelling with Fate Points. Fate Points are small boons that are earned by suffering from Aspects and spent to prosper from them. At any point, someone can Compel an Aspect to make things go wrong for someone. If this person suffering the effects of the Compel agrees to let it happen they suffer the consequences and earn a Fate Point. Invokes work similarly, but are helpful instead of harmful. At any point, someone can Invoke an Aspect to make things go well for someone. So long as the Game Master allows it, the good event happens and the person Invoking the Aspect (who may or may not be the person benefiting from it) loses a Fate Point.

  • For Example. Pat and Rose are currently discussing whether or not to risk blowing their cover as agents for the revolution by stealing a copy the marching orders from some Imperial soldiers in a nearby tavern. Rose want to prove herself but Pat is wary of this plan. Rose's player Compels Pat's Aspect "A Loyal Friend" to say that Reth gives in to the idea on the grounds that he knows Rose would just go alone if he said no and Pat's player agrees, earning a Fate Point. Pat is now plunging in to the proverbial lion's den, but he also has a Fate Point to give him an edge later.


Number of Skills in Fate Games

System
Number of Skills
Fate Core
18
Fate Accelerated
6
Dresden Files
25
Legends of Anglerre
27
Others
?

Skills and Stunts

Skills are how characters accomplish tasks. They are broad categories that encompass various areas of expertise and are the main element to dice rolls. Each Fate game has it's own list of Skills of varying length.

Stunts are how you make your Skills special. Stunts are custom built abilities that can give you bonuses to using certain skills in special situations, add new ways to use a Skill, or otherwise tweak the way the rules work for your character. Much like how each Fate game provides a list of skills, each game also presents a list of pre-made Stunts for each skill as well as guidelines for making your own.

  • For Example. Pat is trying to talk a barfly in to picking a fight with some surly Imperial soldiers. Pat needs the distraction for Rose to have a chance at pickpocketing the soldiers' marching orders, so he takes the man aside to fill up on "liquid courage". Since Pat has the Stunt "A Hit at Parties" he gets a +2 to all Rapport checks when sharing a drink with someone. This should give him the edge he needs to convince his new friend to help him with this bit of spy work.


Rolling Mechanics

Rolling in Fate games is always done by rolling 4 Fate Dice (special dice that are marked evenly with plusses, minuses, and blanks) and adding the result to your Skill rating. Reading Fate Dice is a matter of simply adding 1 for every plus and subtracting 1 for every minus. Alternatively, you could simple roll 2 normal 6 sided dice and have one add to your Skill rating and the other subtract. Either way, the end result is compared against whatever your opponent rolled or a flat number determined by the difficulty of the task if there is no opponent. Stunts and Aspects can make results go up or down and Aspects can even be thrown in to the mix after the roll has been made.

If the result is lower, you Fail and can't get what you want without serious consequences. If the result is higher, then you Succeed at your action and get what you want. If the result is higher by 3 or more, then you Succeed with Style and get both what you want and get an extra benefit on top. Ties result in both sides either getting what they want at a small price or nothing at all.


  • For Example. Going back to our friend Pat and the barfly, to determine the outcome of Pat's little chat up Pat's player rolls his Rapport and the Game Master rolls for the barfly's Will (this might normally be a Mental Conflict but the group wants to move this part along quickly). Pat gets 2 minuses, a blank, and a plus for a roll of -1. He subtracts that from his Rapport of 2 and add the +2 from his Stunt for a sum total of 3. The barfly rolls much better getting 3 pluses and a minus for a roll of +2. Thankfully, the barfly has a Will rating of 0 and only gets a total roll of 2. Having succeeded in talking the barfly in to picking a fight (in the name of Le Resistance!), Pat signals for Rose to get ready to start picking some pockets.

Actions and Combat

All actions fall in to 4 categories called Attack, Create an Advantage, Defend, and Overcome. Attack inflicts either Mental or Physical Stress (essentially damage) on targets, Create an Advantage let's you add temporary Aspects to people and situations and use them without spending Fate points, Defend let's you stop other people's Attack and Create an Advantage actions, and Overcome is a generic "catch-all" category for non-combat uses of skills.

Conflicts are a matter of using these four action types to accomplish your goals. Stress is accumulated throughout the fight and can be mitigated by accepting Consequences. Consequences are temporary Aspects that are purely negative and can be Invoked once for free by whomever inflicts them and for Fate points as usual. Characters can take more serious Consequences (ranging from Mild, to Moderate, to Severe) to mitigate more Stress, but can only take a certain number of each type but the more harsh the Consequence the harder it is to get rid of. Conflict ends when either one side Concedes or gets Taken Out or something forces both sides to focus on something else. To Concede you must accept defeat but in exchange, you receive one Fate Point as though you just accepted a Compel and you get to decide how you get defeated. However, if any character gets accumulates more Stress than their maximum tolerance they are Taken Out and whomever landed the final blow gets to decide how the defeat turns out.


  • For Example. Pat and Rose have are about to steal the Imperial Marching orders when a sudden snag appears in the plan. Some of the more heavily intoxicated bar patrons have noticed that someone if finally standing up to those Imperial jerks and have decided to turn a small scuffle into a pub-wide revolt! Soldiers start to advance on anyone not wearing their colors including poor Pat and Rose. Hoping that the inevitable riot will cover their tracks, Pat decides to simply punch out the nearest officer and grab the papers from his unconscious form. Pat makes Attacks the Imperial officer with a sharp blow to the chin. Pat's player rolls his Fight and the Game Master rolls for the officer's Fight. Pat gets 3 blanks, and a plus for a roll of +1. He adds that from his Fight of 3 for a sum total of 4. The officer rolls and gets 2 pluses and 2 minuses for a roll of +0. Having a Fight of only 3 the officer gets a result of 3 and a fist in the face. Since Pat succeeded by 1 that means he would inflict 1 Physical Stress but Pat's player isn't satisfied with that. He spends the Fate Point that he earned back in the first example to Invoke his Aspect "The Empire Killed My Parents" to channel righteous vengeance through his fist and get an extra +2 to his result making him succeed by 3 instead of 1. This is enough to Succeed with Style as well as make it more likely that the officer will be taking a Consequence. Pat uses the extra boon granted by his Success with Style to give the officer the Aspect "Too Stunned to Pay Attention" to set himself or Rose up to grab the papers they came for.

My Personal Thoughts

Personally, I like Fate a lot. I like the way that Aspects and Stunts makes characterization and narrative matter. I love the way that everything is super customizable. I even love the way that everything from cutting implements to cutting remarks work off of the same unified combat system. I'll admit that the Fate Dice can be a bit off-putting and that it isn't for everyone, but I still think that Fate is an excellent system that every game should at least try.

Be good to yourself and those you love. This is AccidentalHipster signing off.

Which Fate game are you most interested in?

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