Actions and Outcomes >

The Basics

  • Welcome to Fate!
  • What You Need to Play
  • Players and Gamemasters
  • The Character Sheet
  • Taking Action
  • Fate Points
  • Start Playing!

Welcome To Fate!

If you’ve never played a roleplaying game before, here’s the basic idea: you and a bunch of friends get together to tell an interactive story about a group of characters you make up. You get to say what challenges and obstacles those characters face, how they respond, what they say and do, and what happens to them.

It’s not all just conversation, though—sometimes you’ll use dice and the rules in this book to bring uncertainty into the story and make things more exciting.

Fate doesn’t come with a default setting, but it works best with any premise where the characters are proactive, capable people leading dramatic lives. We give more advice on how to bring that flavor to your games in the next chapter.

Sidebar: For Veterans

You might be reading this because you’re familiar with Fate from our other games, Spirit of the Century and The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game. Several other popular RPGs, like Galileo Games’ Bulldogs! and Cubicle Seven’s Legends of Anglerre, also use the Fate system.

This is a new version of Fate, which we developed to update and streamline the system. You’ll recognize some of what’s in here, but we’ve also changed some rules and some terminology. You can find a master list of all the changes we’ve made later on in the book.

Sidebar: New To Fate

If you’re a new player, all you really need to know is in this chapter and on your character sheet—the GM will help you figure out the rest. You may want to check out the cheat sheet for conflicts on page XX just to save your GM some effort, but otherwise, you should be good to go.

If you’re a new GM, this is just the tip of the iceberg for you. You should read and get familiar with the whole book.

What You Need To Play

Getting into a game of Fate is very simple. You need:

  • Between three and five people. One of you is going to be the gamemaster (or “GM” for short), and everyone else is going to be a player. We’ll explain what that means in a moment.
  • A character sheet, one per player, and some extra paper for note-taking. We’ll talk about what’s on the character sheet below. (GMs, any important characters you play might have a character sheet also.)
  • Fudge dice, at least four, but preferably four per participant. Fudge dice are a special kind of six-sided dice that are marked on two sides with a plus symbol (), on two sides with a minus symbol (), and has two blank sides ().
  • Sidebar: If you don’t want to use Fudge dice, you don’t have to—any set of regular six-sided dice will work. If you’re using regular dice, you read 5 or 6 as XXX, 1 or 2 as XXX, and 3 or 4 as XXX.
  • Tokens to represent fate points. Poker chips, glass beads, or anything similar will work. You’ll want to have at least thirty or more of these on hand, just to make sure you have enough for any given game. You can use pencil marks on your character sheet in lieu of tokens, but physical tokens add a little more fun.
  • Index cards. These are optional, but we find they’re very handy for recording aspects during play. We’ll talk about aspects here in a bit as well.

Players and Gamemasters

In any game of Fate, you’re either a player or a gamemaster.

If you’re a player, your primary job is to take responsibility for portraying one of the protagonists of the game, which we call a player character (or “PC” for short). You make decisions for your character and describe to everyone else what your character says and does. You’ll also take care of the mechanical side of your character—rolling dice when it’s appropriate, choosing what abilities to use in a certain situation, and keeping track of fate points.

If you’re a gamemaster, your primary job is to take responsibility for the world the PCs inhabit. You make decisions and roll dice for every character in the game world who isn’t portrayed by a player—we call those non-player characters (or “NPCs”). You describe the environments and places that the PCs go to during the game, and you create the scenarios and situations they interact with. You also act as a final arbiter of the rules, determining the outcome of the PCs decisions and how that impacts the story as it unfolds.

Both players and gamemasters also have a secondary job: make everyone around you look awesome. Fate is best as a collaborative endeavor, with everyone sharing ideas and looking for opportunities to make the events as entertaining as possible.

Sidebar: The Example Game

All of our rules examples in this book refer to the same example game and setting. The name is Hearts of Steel, a tongue-in-cheek fantasy romp about a group of troubleshooters for hire. They traipse about the countryside and get into trouble at the behest of the various petty kings and fief lords who hire them.

The participants are Lenny, Lily, Ryan, and Amanda. Amanda is the GM. Lenny plays a thuggish swordsman named Landon. Lily plays the nimble, dashing, and dangerous Cynere, who also happens to love swords. Ryan plays Zird the Arcane, a wizard who, by contrast, has absolutely no love for swords.

Check out Game Creation to see how this game came about. We included character sheets for the example PCs at the end of the book.

The Character Sheet

Players, your character sheet contains everything you need to know about your PC—abilities, personality, significant background elements, and any other resources that character has to use in the game. Here’s an example of a Fate character sheet, so we can show you all the components.

Aspects

Aspects are phrases that describe some significant detail about a character. They are the reasons why your character matters, why we’re interested in seeing your character in the game. Aspects can cover a wide range of elements, such as personality or descriptive traits, beliefs, relationships, issues and problems, or anything else that helps us invest in the character as a person, rather than just a collection of stats.

Aspects come into play in conjunction with fate points. When your aspects benefit you, you can spend fate points to invoke that aspect for a bonus. When your aspects complicate your character’s life, you can gain fate points back—this is called accepting a compel. See the section below for more information about that.

Lily’s character, Cynere, has the aspect Tempted by Shiny Things on her sheet, which describes her general tendency to overvalue material goods and make bad decisions when gems and coin are involved. This adds an interesting, fun element to the character that gets her into a great deal of trouble, bringing a lot of personality to the game.

Aspects can describe things that are beneficial or detrimental—in fact, the best aspects are both.

And aspects don’t just belong to characters; the scene you’re playing in can have aspects attached to it as well.

Stress

Stress is one of the two options you have to avoid losing a conflict—it represents temporary fatigue, getting winded, superficial injuries, and so on. You have a number of stress levels you can burn off to help keep you in a fight, and they reset at the end of a conflict, once you’ve had a moment to rest and catch your breath.

Refresh

Refresh is the number of fate points you get to spend for your character at the beginning of every game session. Your total always resets back to this number, no matter what you were at last session.

Stunts

Stunts are special tricks that your character knows that allow you to get an extra benefit out of a skill or alter some other game rule to work in your favor. Stunts are like special moves in a video game, letting you do something unique or distinctive compare to other characters. Two characters can have the same rating in a skill, but their stunts might give them vastly different benefits.

Example…

Landon has a stunt called “Another Round?”, which gives him a bonus to get information from someone with his Rapport skill, provided that he is drinking with his target in a tavern.

Skills

Skills are what you use during the game to do complicated or interesting actions with the dice. Each character has a number of skills that represent his or her basic capabilities, including things like perceptiveness, physical prowess, professional training, education, and other measures of ability.

At the beginning of the game, the player characters have skills rated in steps from Average (+1) to Great (+4). Higher is better, meaning that the character is more capable or succeeds more often when using that skill. If for some reason you need to make a roll using a skill your character doesn’t have, you can always roll it at Mediocre (+0). There are a couple exceptions to this, like magic skills that most people don’t have at all. We’ll talk about skills in greater detail in their own chapter.

Zird the Arcane has the Lore skill at Great (+4), which makes him ideally suited to knowing a convenient, obscure fact and doing research. He does not have the Stealth skill, however, so when the game calls upon him to sneak up on someone (and Amanda will make sure it will), he’ll have to roll that at Mediocre (+0). Bad news for him.

Consequences

Consequences are the other option you have to stay in a conflict, but they have a more lasting impact. Every time you take a consequence, it puts a new aspect on your sheet describing your injuries. Unlike stress, you have to take time to recover from a consequence, and it’s stuck on your character sheet in the meantime, which leaves your character vulnerable to complications or others wishing to take advantage of your new weakness.

Taking Action

Sidebar: The most common reasons to use the dice in Fate are:

  • To overcome an obstacle
  • To create or unlock an advantage for your character, in the form of an aspect you can use
  • To attack someone in a conflict
  • To defend yourself in a conflict

Players, some of the things you’ll do in a Fate game require you to roll dice to see if your character succeeds or not. You will always roll the dice when you’re opposing another character with your efforts, or when there’s a significant obstacle in the way of your effort. Otherwise, just say what your character does and assume it happens.

Rolling the Dice

When you need to roll dice in Fate, pick up four Fudge dice and roll them. When you read the dice, read every as +1, every as 0, and every as -1. You’ll get a result from -4 to +4, most often between -2 and +2.

Here are some sample dice totals:

= 0

= +1

= +3

= -2

The result on the dice isn’t your final total, however. If your character has a skill that’s appropriate to the action, you get to add your character’s rating in that skill to whatever you rolled. So, once you’ve rolled the dice, how do you determine what a particular result means? Glad you asked.

The Ladder

In Fate, we use a ladder of adjectives and numbers to rate the dice results, a character’s skills and the result of a roll.

Here’s the ladder:

+8 Legendary
+7 Epic
+6 Fantastic
+5 Superb
+4 Great
+3 Good
+2 Fair
+1 Average
0 Mediocre
-1 Poor
-2 Terrible

It doesn’t really matter which side of the ladder you use—some people remember the words better, some people remember the numbers better, and some people like using both. So you could say, “I got a Great,” or “I got a +4,” and it means the same thing. As long as everyone understands what you’ve communicating, you’re fine.

Results can go below and above the ladder. We encourage you to come up with your own names for results above Legendary, such as “Zounds!” and “Ridiculously Awesome.” We do.

Interpreting Results

When you roll the dice, you’re trying to get a high enough roll to match or beat your opposition. That opposition is going to come in one of two forms: active opposition, from someone rolling dice against you, or passive opposition, from an obstacle that just has a set rating on the ladder for you to overcome. (GMs, you can also just decide your NPCs give passive opposition when you don’t want to roll dice for them.)

Generally speaking, if you beat your opposition on the ladder, you succeed at your action. A tie creates some effect, but not to the extent your character was intending. If you win by a lot, something extra happens (like doing more harm to your opponent in a fight).

If you don’t beat the opposition, either you don’t succeed at your action, you succeed at a cost, or something else happens to complicate the outcome. As before, some game actions have special results when you fail at the roll.

When you beat a roll or a set obstacle, the difference between your opposition and your result is what we call shifts. When you roll equal to the opposition, you have zero shifts. Roll one over your opposition, and you have one shift. Two over means two shifts, and so on. Later in the book, we’ll talk about different instances where getting shifts on a roll benefits you.

Example…

Landon is trying to escape an ancient mechanical death trap he accidentally set off during a “routine” exploration of the Anthari Catacombs. Dozens of tiny (and some not-so-tiny) spears are shooting out of the walls in a certain hallway, and he needs to get past them to the other side.

Amanda, the GM, says, “This is passive opposition, because it’s just a trap in your way. It’s opposing you at Great (+4). The Anthari really didn’t want anyone getting to their temple treasure.”

Lenny sighs and says, “Well, I’ve got Athletics at Good (+3), so I’ll try dodging and weaving through them to cross the hall.”

He takes up the dice and rolls, getting XXX, for a result of +2. This steps up his result on the ladder by two, from Good (+3) to Superb (+5). That’s enough to beat the opposition by one shift and succeed.

Amanda says, “Well, it takes equal parts acrobatics and frantic stumbling, but you manage to make it through to the other side with only some cosmetic tears in your tunic to show for it. The mechanism shows no sign of stopping, though—you’ll still have to deal with it on your way out.”

Lenny replies, “Just another day at the office,” and Landon continues his trek through the catacombs.

Fate Points

You use tokens to represent how many fate points you have at any given time during play. Fate points are one of your most important resources in Fate—they’re a measure of how much influence you have to make the story go in your character’s favor.

You can spend fate points to invoke an aspect, to create a scene aspect, to declare a story detail, or to activate certain powerful stunts.

You earn fate points by accepting a compel on one of your aspects.

A word of warning: don’t use edible things as tokens, especially if the food hasn’t arrived yet.

Invoking an Aspect

Whenever you’re making a skill roll, and you’re in a situation where an aspect might be able to help you, you can spend a fate point to invoke it in order to change the dice result. This allows you to either reroll the dice or add +2 to your roll, whichever is more helpful. (Typically, +2 is a good choice if you rolled -2 or higher, but sometimes you want to risk a reroll to get that +4.) You do this after you’ve rolled the dice and aren’t happy with your total.

You also have to explain or justify how the aspect is helpful in order to get the bonus—sometimes it’ll be self-evident, and sometimes it might require some creative narrating.

You can spend more than one fate point on a single roll, gaining another reroll or an additional +2, as long as each point you spend invokes a different aspect.

Example…

Cynere is trying to covertly goad a merchant into describing the security features of his personal vault by posing as a visiting dignitary. The merchant is giving her passive opposition at Good (+3), and her Deceit skill is Fair (+2).

Lily rolls. She breaks even, getting a 0. That leaves her result at Fair, not enough to get the information she wants.

She looks at her character sheet, then to Amanda, and says, “You know, long years of being Tempted by Shiny Things has taught me a thing or two about what’s really valuable in a treasure hoard and what’s not. I’m going to impress this merchant by talking about the rarest, most prized elements of his collection.”

Amanda grins and nods. Lily hands over a fate point to invoke the aspect, and gets to add +2 to her standing roll. This brings her result to a Great (+4), which exceeds the opposition. The duly impressed merchant starts to brag about his vault, and Cynere listens intently…

Creating a Scene Aspect

You can spend a fate point to create a scene aspect at any time. This also counts as an invocation as long as you explain how the new aspect is beneficial to you when you make a skill roll. Use this if you need a bonus from an invocation on a roll, but don’t see a good candidate from the aspects currently in play.

Example…

Zird the Arcane is in full-on magical battle with Gornak the Terrible, a sorcerer who has called upon the most unholy powers to aid a mission of conquest. They’re in Gornak’s sanctum, exchanging spells in the unfriendly way.

In the fight, Ryan decides to do the most uncharacteristic thing imaginable—he has Zird run up and body check Gornak, hoping to turn this into a physical grapple. His Fighting attack is only an Average (+1), though, which Gornak could easily oppose.

Ryan looks over his aspects, but doesn’t really see a good way to justify invoking any of them. So he spends a fate point and says, “Yeah, Zird’s not a great fighter, but he notices that Gornak is standing on a Throw Rug, which he telekinetically pulls from under Gornak’s feet as he charges.”

Because he worked the aspect into his action, he gets an invocation also, which bumps his roll up to a Good (+3). Also, that Throw Rug is now an aspect on the scene, which might come up again later.

Declaring a Story Detail

Sometimes, you want to add a detail that works to your character’s advantage, but it doesn’t seem right to represent that as an aspect. For example, you might use this to narrate a convenient coincidence, like retroactively having the right supplies for a certain job (“Of course I brought that along!”), showing up at a dramatically appropriate moment, or suggesting that you and the NPC you just met have mutual clients in common.

You should try to justify your story details by relating them to your aspects. GMs, you have the right to veto any suggestions that seem out of scope or ask the player to revise them, especially if the rest of the group isn’t buying into it.

Example…

Zird the Arcane gets captured with his friends by some tribesfolk from the Sagroth Wilds. The three heroes are unceremoniously dumped before the chieftain, and Amanda describes the chieftain addressing them in a strange, gutteral tongue.

Ryan looks at his sheet and says, “Hey, I have If I Haven’t Been There, I’ve Read About It on my sheet. Can I declare that I’ve studied this language at some point, so we can communicate?”

Amanda thinks that’s perfectly reasonable to assume. Ryan tosses over a fate point and describes Zird answering in the chieftain’s own speech, which turns all eyes in the village (including those of his friends) on him in a moment of surprise.

Ryan has Zird look at his friends and say, “Books. They’re good for you.”

Compels

Sometimes (in fact, probably often), you’ll find yourself in a situation where an aspect complicates your character’s life and creates unexpected drama. When that happens, the GM will suggest a potential complication that might arise. This is called a compel.

Sometimes, a compel means your character automatically fails at some goal, or your character’s choices are restricted, or simply that unintended consequences cloud whatever your character does. You might negotiate back and forth on the details a little, to arrive at what would be most appropriate and dramatic in the moment.

Once you’ve agreed to accept the complication, you get a fate point for your troubles. If you want, you can pay a fate point to prevent the complication from happening, but we don’t recommend you do that very often—you’ll probably need that fate point later, and getting compelled brings drama (and hence, fun) into your game’s story.

Players, you’re going to call for a compel when you want there to be a complication in a decision you’ve just made, if it’s related to one of your aspects. GMs, you’re going to call for a compel when you make the world respond to the characters in a complicated or dramatic way.

Anyone at the table is free to suggest when a compel might be appropriate, for any character (including your own). GMs, you have the final word on whether or not a compel is valid. And speak up if you see that a compel happened naturally as a result of play, but no fate points were awarded.

Example…

Landon has the aspect The Manners of a Goat. He is attending the annual Grand Ball in Ictherya with his friends, courtesy of the royal court.

Amanda tells the players, “As you’re milling about, a sharply dressed young lady catches Landon sticking out of the crowd. She observes him for a while, then goes to engage him in conversation, obviously intrigued by how different he looks among all the stuffy nobles.” She turns to Lenny. “What do you do?”

Lenny says, “Uh… well, I guess I’ll ask her to dance and play along, see what I can find out about her.”

Amanda holds up a fate point and says, “And is that going to go wrong, given Landon’s excellent command of courtly etiquette?”

Lenny chuckles and replies, “Yeah, I presume Landon will offend her pretty quickly, and that’ll get complicated. I’ll take the fate point.”

Amanda and Lenny play a bit to figure out just how Landon puts his foot in his mouth, and then Amanda describes some of the royal guard showing up. One of them says, “You might want to watch how you speak to the High Duchess of Ictherya, outlander.”

Lenny shakes his head. Amanda grins the grin of the devil.

Start Playing!

These are the basic things you need to know to play Fate. The following chapters go into greater detail on everything we’ve covered above, and will show you how to get your game off the ground.

Where To Go From Here

Game Creation takes you through the process of setting up your game, so that should probably be your next stop. Then Character Creation will show you how to make the characters you’ll play.

Players, you’ll eventually want to read Actions and Outcomes and The Long Game, to help you get a better handle on the nuts and bolts of doing stuff and developing your character during play.

GMs, you’re going to want to familiarize yourselves with this entire site, but Running the Game and Scenes, Sessions, and Scenarios are of particular importance to you.