How to Fate Core — Part II: Action!

Petri Leinonen
10 min readMar 17, 2016

This series is my quick primer for any new Fate player, detailing the basics from ground up. It’s a recap / theoretical version of the Fate Core Combat Academy that I’ve been running lately.

I’ll do this in a few parts, with this second part being more focused on the actual actions of the system. If you are confused by the statement: “In Fate you add your Skill to a 4dF roll and adjust the end result by using Fate Points in a way that needs to tie into you using the Aspects in the fiction,” head over to the first part of the article series.

Also, I will simplify things, ignoring actively some exceptions to the rules that will be explained in further parts of the articles. This isn’t a textbook, it’s a tutorial — you’ll get it by the end.

The Fate Core rules can be found at: http://fate-srd.com/

This article is based on Fate Core System and Fate Accelerated Edition, products of Evil Hat Productions, LLC, developed, authored, and edited by Leonard Balsera, Brian Engard, Jeremy Keller, Ryan Macklin, Mike Olson, Clark Valentine, Amanda Valentine, Fred Hicks, and Rob Donoghue, and licensed for our use under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

The Four by Four

The meat of this second part will be The Four Actions and The Four Outcomes. I’ll go through all the cases, and while it starts simple, the end part might get a bit confusing. Let’s get cracking.

The Boost

There will be mentions of a Boost here and there in this part. While we’ll get to the actual mechanical bits of a Boost later, the simple (and wrong) way to describe the Boost for now is “a free +2 to your next roll”. It’s not that, but it’ll do for the moment. We’ll revisit it later and get some insight to what it actually is after we’ve gone through the actions.

The Four Outcomes

And before we can go to the actions, we’ll have to go through the possible ways the actions can go. You calculate the number representing the end result of the action by the “4dF+Skill, adjusted by Invoking Aspects”, and once you’re happy with that compare it to the difficulty of the action, like this:

  • Fail: If your end result is less than the difficulty, your action is a Failure.
  • Tie: If your end result is equal to the difficulty, your action is a Tie.
  • Succeed: If your end result is one or two higher than the difficulty, your action is a Success.
  • Succeed with Style: If your end result is three or higher than the difficulty, you Succeed with Style in your action.

Actions — Overcome

The basic of the basic-est action is the Overcome action. This is your character trying to climb a wall, notice a secret door, pick a lock. Anything where you’re trying to accomplish something that can be viewed on a nice Pass-Fail scale.

Overcome actions are nice and simple tests where there is a difficulty and you’re trying to get a result that is higher than that. If you do, you’ll succeed and do what you’re trying to do.

And if you succeed with style, you get a Boost. You were so amazing that you’re on a roll for whatever you’re going to do next.

In a tie, you still succeed, but there is a minor cost to your success. Something that’s not that bad, but still not good either, happens while you get what you were after. What that cost is depends on the situation and genre.

And when you fail, you have two options: You don’t succeed what you were trying to do. Or if it’s appropriate for the situation, you can succeed, but at a major cost. Succeeding with a cost is what keeps the game from grinding to a halt in situations like “I’m trying to find out where to go next”, and should be embraced as such an opportunity. The actual cost of a success depends on the situation, but should be something pretty bad.

Actions — Attack

The next in line is Attack. Still simple. It is when you’re trying to take someone out of the game. This might be with a gun, using the Shoot skill, or with your fists, using the Fight skill. Or it might be trying to get them to back down with Provoke. Attack is what you do when you’re taking someone out.

If you fail, nothing happens.

If you succeed, you cause damage equal to the number you beat the difficulty (more on the difficulty of an attack in a moment). So if the difficulty was 4 and you get a 6, you do two “shifts” (that’s the Fate term for it) of damage.

If you tie, you get a Boost. While you don’t get to damage them this time, you have the upper hand for the moment.

And if you succeed with style, you can lower the number of shifts of damage done by one to get a Boost.

The difficulty of an Attack is always defined by the target’s Defend action (below), so the two actions are paired.

Actions — Defend

When someone Attacks you or Creates an Advantage (more on that later) that is directed at you, you automatically Defend.

You make the Defend action with the appropriate skill. The difficulty of the Defend roll is the opposition’s Attack roll. So Defend and Attack actions will usually become bidding wars of Fate Points after the dice have landed: “Uhmn, that’s not good for me. But I’m a Badass Ninja, so (spends Fate Point) I’ll get a +2 to Defend” “Oh, is that so, well there are Strobe Lights Blinking, so I’m actually not where you expect me to be (spends Fate Point), +2 to my Attack!” “Well, I have …” and so on, until someone wins.

Defend, as an action, is simple. If you fail, the opposition will do damage (I’ll tackle damage in a later part). If you succeed or tie, you don’t take damage. And if you succeed with style, you get a Boost because you’re awesome.

Sidenote: Active Opposition

You can Defend only against Attacks and Create an Advatages that are directed at you. There are moments where you want to prevent an opponent from doing something else, and in fiction it would make sense that you did. For that, there is a non-action called “Active Opposition”, which means that instead of the opponent rolling against a static difficulty, the difficulty is set by your roll of 4dF+Skill, that can be modified by Invokes as normal. The way this differs from a Defend action is that you don’t get Boosts or anything, as you’re not making an action, but setting the difficulty for someone else’s action.

The biggest example for this is when you’re trying to prevent someone else from moving.

As a sidetrack, there is an article here about why the Defend Action and Active Opposition might be flawed concepts, if you’re interested: https://stepintorpgs.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/defending-in-fate-opposing-opposed-rolls/

Actions — Create an Advantage

Now, the three other Actions are pretty simple. Why Fate Core is difficult to wrap your head around is the fourth Action of Creating an Advantage, which is defined as:

Use the create an advantage action to make a situation aspect that gives you a benefit, or to claim a benefit from any aspect you have access to.

It’s two different actions in one — you can create new Aspects with it, or use Aspects that are already in play to your advantage. Because the end results are pretty identical, they’re lumped into an action.

So, when you flip over a table to create cover for you, you’re Creating an Advantage that is the Aspect Makeshift Cover. When you’re having a smoke to cool your nerves before that big shot, you’re Creating an Advantage for an Aspect called Hands That Don’t Tremble. When you have the Aspect By The Books Engineer and you want to read the schematics of the system before heading to fix it, you’re Creating an Advantage to tap into that (existing) Aspect.

I have stated multiple times that Fate is one of the few roleplaying games where your character should never be in a situation where they do nothing, mechanics-wise. Calming your nerves or observing what’s happening, they are all ways of Creating an Advantage.

Sidetrack — Free Invokes / Boosts revisited

Now, before we can go fully into how Create an Advantage works mechanically, we need to talk about the concept of a Free Invoke.

As you might remember from Part I, Fate Points work so that after a roll you spend one and declare which Aspect is helping you, and you either get a +2 to your result or a reroll. And that this is called by the fancy Fate people as “Invoking an Aspect”.

Now, from that term, it’s quite easy to realise that these Free Invokes are similar. They are essentially Fate Points that are already pre-tied to a particular aspect in the fiction.

You can use them in identical way to a regular Fate Point, but they do not count as Fate Points being spent. So if you have an aspect On Fire with two Free Invocations on it, you can use those two Free Invocations for a +4, and then spend a Fate Point and Invoke that Aspect through that for another +2 for a total of +6. Even if you can’t spend more than one FP per Aspect per roll.

Now, to quickly return to Boosts. The formal, correct definition of a Boost is a temporary Aspect that has a Free Invoke on it. You can use it to get a +2 to your roll or reroll your dice, and once it is used, the Aspect is gone.

Actions — Create an Advantage (cont.)

So, you are Creating an Advantage. There are two cases that are always the same no matter what Aspect you’re dealing with.

If you succeed, you get one Free Invocation on the Aspect you’re creating or benefitting from. And if you succeed with style you get to put two Free Invocations on the Aspect.

My Interpretation: Now, the RAW (Rules as Written) is a bit hazy in my opinion about stacking Free Invocations on a single Aspect, so I’ve made a decision about it that in my games they don’t stack per side. So if the players have one Free Invocation on the Aspect “Power To The Forward Shields”, and someone tries to Create an Advantage to put more Free Invokes on it, a success won’t give them any more, but a success with style will give the second one.

The two other cases depend a bit on what you’re up to.

If you are Creating an Advantage by utilising an Aspect already on the table, either one of your own or something else, and you tie, you get to put a Free Invocation on it.

If you tie and you were trying to create a new Aspect with your Create an Advantage action, the effect is only temporary — you only get a Boost instead of a real Aspect. This is the game mechanics reason for doing the advantage tango with pre-announced things.

And if you fail, and you’re trying to create an Aspect that’s not on the table yet, you get to choose: Either you don’t create the new Aspect, or you do, but someone else (who isn’t on your side on this) gets the Free Invoke.

With pre-existing Aspects, if you fail, you don’t get the benefit of choice. The Aspect is already there, so your enemy gets a Free Invoke on it.

Summa Summarum

In Fate, you do things by 4dF+Skill, adjusted after the roll by Invoking Aspects. You compare your result to a difficulty number. If you have a lower result, you fail. If you get the same number as the difficulty, you tie. If you get a result that’s 1 or 2 higher than the difficulty, you succeed. And if your result is 3 or more higher, you succeed with style.

When you are trying to accomplish a goal with your skills, you are doing an Overcome action. If you fail, you don’t get what you want, or you can sometimes succeed with a major price. If you tie, you get what you want, but at a minor cost. If you succeed, you get what you want, and if you succeed with style, you get what you want, and also a Boost.

When you are trying to take someone out of the game, you’re Attacking. If you fail, you don’t accomplish anything. If you tie, you get a Boost. If you succeed, you inflict as many “shifts” of damage as by how many points you beat the opposition. If you succeed with style, it’s the same, but you have the option to decrease the amount of damage by one “shift” to gain a Boost as well.

When someone is Attacking you or directly Creating an Advantage against you, you automatically Defend. If you fail or tie, the other person succeeds. If you succeed, they don’t. And if you succeed with style, they don’t, and you get a Boost.

Attacking (or directed Create an Advantage) and Defending get their difficulties from each other.

If you’re trying to prevent someone from taking an action, you can cause them Active Opposition, in which their difficulty for the task becomes your 4dF+Skill roll, which you can boost/reroll with Invocations as usual, but do not gain any Boosts or such from high success. It is not an action for you.

And lastly when you’re creating a new Aspect or making an Aspect in play work for you, you are Creating an Advantage. If you fail, and are creating a new Aspect, you can choose not to create the new Aspect or create it and have your opposition get a Free Invoke on it. If you’re tapping into an Aspect already in play, the opposition gets a Free Invoke on it. In a tie, if you’re making use of an Aspect already on the table, you get a Free Invoke on it. If you’re making a new Aspect, the effects are very fleeting, and you only get a Boost. With a success, you get a Free Invoke on the Aspect. When you succeed with style, you get two Free Invokes.

Free Invokes work just like Fate Points, except that they are pre-tied to an Aspect and don’t count against the limit of how many Fate Points per Aspect per roll you can use.

Boost is a very temporary Aspect that has one Free Invoke on it and disappears as soon as that Free Invoke has been used.

That’s all for now, the next part is probably more about Aspects.

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