by Phil Vecchione and Chris Sniezak
In cinema, cartoons, and video games, the protagonist often turns things around when a fight is going badly. Whether something small like cracking an opponent’s pristine armor or grand like summoning a blazing sword, these moments portray momentum swings in the favor of the protagonist as victory becomes possible. The Momentum mechanic is designed to simulate these tide-turning events in a Fate game.
The Momentum Mechanic
The Momentum mechanic is centered on one of the four Actions from the Fate Core rules: Overcome, Create Advantage, Attack, and Defend. Each character gains Momentum through the use of one of these actions. During character creation, the player and GM agree upon one of the Actions that will generate Momentum for that character. This will be the character’s Momentum Action.
In a rough and tumble fantasy world, a Sword Master decides to take Momentum in the Attack action. Conversely, a double shield fighter decides to take Momentum in the Defend Action.
Players need two sets of Fate Dice, in two different colors, to use the Momentum mechanic. One set of dice represents the base dice, and the second set of dice, the Momentum dice (hereafter called m-dice), represent the Momentum pool. When a player rolls for a Momentum Action, they assemble a roll of 4dF using a combination of base dice and m-dice. The number of m-dice a character can roll on a given Momentum Action is based on the skill being used. The base is one m-die, with an additional m-die added if the skill is ranked Fair (+2), and another m-die gained at Great (+4). The remaining dice in the 4dF are base dice.
The Sword Master has a Fighting of Great (+4). When he makes an Attack action with Fighting, he uses three m-dice and one base die.
The player rolls 4dF and resolves the roll as per the Fate Core rules. Regardless of the outcome of the roll, the player checks the facing of the Momentum dice. If any of the m-dice are a +, the player receives one Momentum. A handy way to track this is to take that m-die and place it off to the side, banking the die. This creates a Momentum bank.
The player has Fate Dice (the Core Dice set) and uses the blue dice for her normal set, and one of the green dice for her Momentum die. When rolling for a Momentum Action, a + on the green die earns a point of Momentum.
A character’s Momentum bank may never hold more than 4 Momentum. For each Momentum die in the Momentum bank, the number of available m-dice for Momentum Action rolls decreases by one. It is possible to be able to roll more m-dice than you have available in your Momentum pool. In this case, roll as many dice as are available in the Momentum pool. A character that does not spend Momentum (see below) eventually depletes the Momentum pool and has all four Momentum dice banked.
The Sword Master with a Fighting of Great (+4) rolls three m-dice on a Momentum Action. On his first Attack, he rolls three m-dice and one base die, and is able to bank an m-die, reducing his Momentum pool from four to three. On his second attack, he rolls three m-dice and one base die, and again banks an m-die, reducing his Momentum pool from three to two. On the third turn, he attacks again but only has two m-dice remaining, giving him two m-dice and two base dice to roll.
A second method for generating Momentum is by forgoing a Boost created through the use of the Character’s Momentum Action. The player forgoes the Boost and banks another m-die. This allows both Ties and Success with Style to generate Momentum.
Momentum is lost when there is a break in the action (e.g., after combat). When a character would have a chance to clear stress, she also clears Momentum.
Momentum is spent to create different types of results. There are three general categories on which Momentum can be spent:
Effects (One Momentum)
Boost Conversion (Two Momentum)
Game Changer (Four Momentum)
Players can spend Momentum to gain an Effect or Boost Conversion on their turn as appropriate within the fiction. Game Changers have more sweeping effects and may be activated outside of the players’ turn, depending on how they are designed.
Effects reflect small mechanical changes in a challenge that can help turn the tide. Below are some sample Effects, but GMs are free to expand this list.
Move an Enemy. You can move an enemy one zone if you’re using zones, or narrative distance if you’re not.
Move. You can move an extra zone or narrative distance, still following the rules for overcoming obstacles.
Get a Clue. Acquire a piece of information to point you in the right direction. You still have to do something to acquire the clue within the fiction.
Reduce Armor/Weapon Rating. When making an exchange with an opponent, you can reduce the Armor or Weapon rating of the opponent’s gear as long as the fiction can support the action.
Inspire Allies. You can inspire all allies in your zone or within a distance that adheres to the narrative, granting them +1 to their next check.
Cause Despair. You can intimidate all enemies in your zone or within a distance that adheres to the narrative, inducing -1 to their next check.
Cause Damage When Defending. When using the Defend action, you can inflict a 1-stress hit against your attacker.
The Sword Master faces off against an opponent in a tavern and makes an Attack action with Fighting. She scores a success, dealing three stress, and also chooses to spend one Momentum to move the opponent to an adjacent zone, explaining that after the sword strike she kicked her opponent into the nearby bar.
For two Momentum, the player can convert a Boost which was generated by the character’s Momentum Action into an aspect with a single Invocation. This represents the hero capitalizing on an opening (Boost) and making it count.
The Sword Master makes an Attack action with Fighting against an opponent and ties, gaining a Boost. The character inflicts Rang His Bell and describes a pommel strike to the side of the head. The player then spends two Momentum to increase that effect to an aspect with a single invocation, denoting the severity of the strike to the head.
With this mechanic, every character gets a four-point Momentum ability known as the Game Changer. The Game Changer’s effect is potent and should have a huge impact on the conflict. When a character uses their Game Changer, they exhaust their Momentum bank and are unable to generate or spend any more Momentum for the remainder of the conflict and scene.
Game Changers should feel like very potent stunts, in the flavor of creating rules exceptions. When building them, use these guidelines:
Tie Game Changers into a character’s High Concept or an Aspect of the character.
Game Changers can have a wide variety of potent effects which bypass or circumvent some rule of the game.
Game Changers should not end a challenge, contest, or conflict, but they can set them up to be ended.
Determine how and when Game Changers are activated (e.g., on successful Momentum action, any time, etc.).
The effect of a Game Changer should be transient, lasting for no longer than a single exchange.
Following are some examples of Game Changers to illustrate the mechanics:
The game is in a World War II pulp action setting, and the character’s High Concept is Former Nazi Occult Scientist. The character’s Game Changer is: I Know the Answer. When dealing with occult foes and forces, you know the answer to the problem or the weakness of the foe. You can immediately create an aspect on the scene, or reveal an aspect of an occult threat, with two free invocations on it.
The game is in a medieval fantasy setting, and the character’s High Concept is Murderous Assassin. The character’s Game Changer is: Killing Blow. Make an Attack. If successful, this damage cannot be absorbed by stress boxes; it can only be handled through one or more consequences. If the target does not have enough consequences to absorb the attack, they are Taken Out.
The game is in a street-level superheroes setting, and the character’s High Concept is I’m the Toughest Guy in Town. The character’s Game Changer is: Can’t Keep Me Down. At any time, you may clear all your Physical and Mental Stress, or remove one Consequence.
Momentum and Advancement
For the sake of simplicity and mechanical balance, a character should have only one Momentum Action. If a character wishes to change their Momentum Action, it should be done as part of a Major Milestone.
Momentum and NPCs
This system is designed for player characters and not intended for NPCs. Momentum is a characteristic of the major characters within a story and not appropriate for nameless or supporting NPCs. If a GM did want to give Momentum to an NPC, the best NPCs would be the main NPCs: major characters within the story.
Turn the Tide
The Momentum mechanic adds an additional layer of narrative complexity and mechanical choices to a typical Fate Conflict. It represents both the small effects, as well as the heroic surges, that turn the tide of combat. If you are looking for some additional complexity in your combats, this optional rule may be a ... Game Changer.
Special thanks to the rest of Encoded Designs team, Shawn Merwin and Robert M. Everson, for their assistance on this article.