Define Your Setting
Any game of Fate starts with defining your setting. This might be a concept your GM is bringing to the table, a popular media property the players are familiar with, or a collaborative world-building exercise involving everyone at the table. The setting discussion may be quick and light on detail, or may involve a detailed full session with the whole group, or anything in between.
Your choice of setting forms the basis of the table’s consensus about what is true, and what is acceptable in play and in character concepts. If your setting doesn’t have flying people in it, then a player deciding to make a flying-person character doesn’t pass muster. If your world involves shadowy organizations and deep conspiracies, players may expect story-lines free of clear-cut good-and-evil conflicts and devoid of farcical murder-clowns. It’s up to you!
Create Your Characters
Who Are You?
Once you’ve decided on a setting, it’s time for the players to make characters—also called PCs. Each player takes on the role of one of the heroes of your story, controlling all their actions. You get to build the character you want to see in the world. Keep in mind that Fate characters are competent, dramatic, and willing to engage with the adventures ahead.
Your PC is made up of several elements:
- Aspects: phrases describing who your hero is
- Skills: your hero’s areas of relative expertise
- Stunts: remarkable things your hero does
- Stress: your hero’s ability to keep calm and carry on
- Consequences: the wounds, physical and mental, your hero can endure
- Refresh: a measure of your hero’s narrative agency
- Finishing Touches: your hero’s personal details
Aspects are short phrases that describe who your character is or what is important to them. They can relate to your character’s physical or mental qualities, history, beliefs, training, relationships, or even particularly important equipment.
The first thing to know about them is: Aspects are true (see page XX for a discussion of this). In other words, how you define your character is real and true in the story you’re telling. If you write down that your character is a Precog Sniper, then they are a precog sniper. You’ve told everyone that your character sees the future and is a crack shot with a rifle.
You’ll also use aspects in play to change the story. They give you permission to improve your dice rolls and establish facts about the world. Lastly, aspects can earn you fate points if they create complications for your character—so to make the most versatile aspects, you should aim for ones that are double-edged, working both for you and against you.
To learn more about aspects and what makes a good one, consider reading some of Aspects and Fate Points (page XX).
To begin, you’ll give your character five aspects: a high concept, a trouble, a relationship, and two free aspects. Start with the high concept and go from there.
Your high concept is a broad description of the character, covering the vital bits. It’s how you would open your pitch for the character when telling a friend about them.
Next is your character’s trouble—something that makes your character’s life more complicated. It could be a personal weakness, family entanglements, or other obligations. Pick something you’ll enjoy roleplaying!
Your relationship describes a connection with another PC. They may already know one another, or have just met.
Good relationship aspects should introduce or hint at conflict, or at least an imbalance that gives the relationship a little momentum. This doesn’t mean they are openly antagonistic, but they shouldn’t be all roses either.
If you wish, you can wait to write down relationship aspects until everyone has more or less completed their characters.
You can make your character’s last two aspects anything you want—there are no restrictions beyond the obligation to fit the setting. Choose anything which you think will make your character more interesting, more fun to play, or better connected to the world they occupy.
While aspects define who your character is, skills show what they can do. Each skill describes a broad activity your character might have learned through study and practice or simply have an innate talent for. A character with Burglary is capable, to some degree, at all manner of crime relating to the fine art of burgling—casing a joint, bypassing security, pick-pocketing, and lock-picking.
Each skill has a rating. The higher the rating, the better the character is at the skill. As a whole, your character’s skills will show you what actions they are built for, which ones they’ll get by on, and which aren’t their forte.
You’ll choose your character’s skill ratings, arranged in a pyramid with the highest-rated skill at Great (+4), as follows:
- One Great (+4) skill
- Two Good (+3) skills
- Three Fair (+2) skills
- Four Average (+1) skills
- All other skills at Mediocre (+0)
In Fate Condensed, and Fate in general, all ratings are organized into a ladder of adjectives, shown here.
Descriptions for these skills are found below.
Academics: Mundane, everyday human knowledge and education, including history, sciences, and medicine. Academics stunts often refer to specialized areas of knowledge and medical skills.
Athletics: A measurement of physical potential. Athletics stunts focus on movement—running, jumping, parkour—and dodging attacks.
Burglary: Knowledge of and ability to bypass security systems, pick pockets, and generally commit crimes. Burglary stunts give bonuses to the various stages of committing a crime, from the planning to the execution and escape.
Contacts: Knowledge of the right people and connections that can help you. Contacts stunts give you ready allies and an information network wherever you go in the world.
Crafts: Ability to make or break machinery, build contraptions, and pull off MacGyver-esque feats of ingenuity. Crafts stunts let you have the gizmo on hand, give bonuses to building and breaking things, and provide justification for using Crafts in place of skills like Burglary or Academics under certain circumstances.
Deceive: Ability to lie and cheat convincingly and with aplomb. Deceive stunts might improve your ability to tell a particular breed of lie or help invent false identities.
Drive: Controlling vehicles under the most grueling circumstances, pulling wicked maneuvers, and simply getting the most out of your ride. Drive stunts can be signature maneuvers, a special vehicle of your own, or the ability to use Drive in place of a skill like Burglary or Academics under certain circumstances.
Empathy: Ability to accurately judge someone’s mood and intentions. Empathy stunts can be about judging a crowd, picking up on lies, or helping others recover from mental consequences.
Fight: Ability to excel at hand-to-hand combat, whether with weapons or fists. Fight stunts include signature weapons and special techniques.
Investigate: Deliberate, careful study and puzzling out mysteries. Use this to piece together clues or reconstruct a crime scene. Investigate stunts help you form brilliant deductions or piece together information more quickly.
Lore: Specialized, arcane knowledge that falls outside of the scope of Academics, including supernatural topics of one sort or another. This is where the weird stuff happens. Lore stunts often support practical applications of your arcane knowledge, such as casting spells. Some settings may remove Lore, replace it with a different skill, or combine it with Academics.
Notice: Ability to pick up details in the moment, spot trouble before it happens, and generally be perceptive. It contrasts Investigate, which is for slow, deliberate observation. Notice stunts sharpen your senses, improve your reaction time, or make you harder to sneak up on.
Physique: Raw power and durability. Physique stunts let you perform superhuman feats of strength, throw your weight around while wrestling, and shrug off physical consequences. In addition, a high Physique rating gives you more physical stress or consequence slots (page XX).
Provoke: Ability to push people to act the way you want them to. It’s coarse and manipulative, not a positive interaction. Provoke stunts let you push opponents into foolhardy action, draw aggression toward you, or scare enemies (assuming they can feel fear).
Rapport: Building connections with others and working together. Where Provoke is manipulation, Rapport is sincerity, trust, and goodwill. Rapport stunts let you sway the crowd, improve relationships, or build contacts.
Resources: Access to material things, not just money or direct ownership. It might reflect your ability to borrow from friends or dip into an organization’s armory. Resources stunts let you use Resources in place of Rapport or Contacts or give you extra free invokes when you pay for the best.
Shoot: All forms of ranged combat, whether guns, throwing knives, or bow and arrow. Shoot stunts let you make called shots, quick-draw, or always have a gun handy.
Stealth: Staying unseen or unheard and escaping when you need to hide. Stealth stunts let you vanish in plain sight, blend into crowds, or advance through shadows unseen.
Will: Mental fortitude, the ability to overcome temptation and to withstand trauma. Will stunts let you ignore mental consequences, withstand the mental agony of strange powers, and hold steady against enemies who provoke you. In addition, a high Will rating gives you more mental stress or consequence slots (page XX).
Alternative Skill Lists
When building your own implementation of Fate, the first thing to think about is whether or not you’ll keep the same skill list. Often you can work with the one given, combining, changing, or splitting apart a few of the skills given. But it’s possible that the granularity of the default example skill list we’ve given above isn’t to your liking. Here are some things to think about.
- The default skill list has 19 skills in it, and players rate their characters above the Mediocre (+0) default in 10 of them. If you change the number of skills, you may want to change how the ratings are allocated.
- Our default skills are focused on answering the question “what can you do?”—but your list doesn’t need to follow in line with that. You might want a list focused on “What do you believe?”, the question “How do you do things?” (as with approaches in Fate Accelerated), job-roles in a crew of grifters and thieves, and so on.
- Skill ratings in Fate are structured to support character niches. That’s why, in the default, players start with a “pyramid” shape. Make sure niche protection is possible in whatever new list you create.
- The best starting skill should come in around Great (+4). You can alter this up or down as you see fit, but make sure to keep an eye on what that means for the difficulty and opposing skill ratings your PCs will face.
Fred decides he wants to do a space-faring Fate game with a shorter skill list that’s focused on action-words. He settles on this 9-item skill list: Fight, Know, Move, Notice, Pilot, Sneak, Speak, Tinker, and Will. He also likes the idea of a “diamond” shape for skill ratings rather than a pyramid, so he has players rate their starting skills as follows: 1 at Great (+4), 2 at Good (+3), 3 at Fair (+2), 2 at Average (+1), and 1 at Mediocre (+0). His PCs will have a lot of overlap and core competencies due to the fat middle of his diamond, while still enjoying some niche protections at the top of the diamond’s “point.”
If you’re considering making your own skill list for your game and are looking for some ideas to kick-start your imagination, see page XX.
Your refresh is the minimum number of fate points (page XX) your character begins with at the start of each session. Your character begins with a refresh of 3.
Each session, you start with fate points at least equal to your refresh. Be sure to keep track of the fate points you have left at the end of each session of play—if you have more fate points than your refresh, you’ll start the next session with the fate points you ended this session with.
Charles earned a lot of fate points during today’s session, ending it with 5 fate points. His refresh is 2, so Charles will start the next session with 5 fate points. But Ethan ends the same session with just one fate point. His refresh is 3, so he’ll begin the next session with 3 fate points, not just the one he had left over.
While every character has access to all the skills—even if they are Mediocre (+0) at most of them—your character has some unique stunts. Stunts are the cool techniques, tricks, or bits of equipment that make your character unique and interesting. Where skills are about a character’s broad competencies, stunts are about specific areas of excellence; most of them give you a bonus in particular circumstances or let you do something that other characters simply can’t.
Your character begins with three free stunt slots. You don’t have to define them all right away, and may fill them in as you play. You may purchase more stunts by spending 1 refresh each, to a minimum of 1 refresh.
You write your own stunts when building a character. Broadly, there are two types of stunts.
Bonus-granting stunts: The first type of stunt gives you a +2 bonus when you use a named skill within certain parameters, usually limited to a specific type of action (page XX) and type of narrative circumstance.
Write this type of stunt as follows:
Because I [describe how you are amazing or have a cool bit of gear], I get a +2 when I use [pick a skill] to [pick one: overcome, create an advantage, attack, defend] when [describe a circumstance].
Example Bonus-Granting Stunt: Because I am a military-trained sniper, I get a +2 when I use Shoot to attack when I have a target In My Sights.
Rule-changing stunts: The second type of stunt changes the rules of the game. This is a broad category that includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Swapping which skills are used in a given situation. For instance, a researcher might use Academics to perform a ritual, while anyone else would use Lore.
- Using an action with a skill that isn’t normally used with it. For instance, allowing a character to use Stealth to backstab an opponent from the shadows (which would typically be a use of Fight).
- Giving a character a different kind of bonus to skills that’s roughly equivalent to a +2. For instance, when a skilled orator creates an advantage with Rapport, it gets an extra free invoke.
- Allowing a character to declare a minor fact is always true. For instance, a survivalist always has survival items like matches on their person, even under unlikely circumstances. This type of stunt establishes that you do not need to invoke for story details (page XX) for the given fact.
- Allowing a character to make a specific rules exception. For instance, a character might have two more stress boxes or another mild consequence slot.
Write this type of stunt as follows:
Because I [describe how you are amazing or have a cool bit of gear], I can [describe your amazing feat], but only [describe a circumstance or limitation].
Example Rule-Changing Stunt: Because I don’t believe in magic, I can ignore the effects of a supernatural ability, but only once per game session.
Stress and Consequences
Stress and consequences are how your character withstands the mental and physical toll of their adventures. Characters have at least three one-point boxes for physical stress and at least three one-point boxes for mental stress. They also get one slot each for mild, moderate, and severe consequences.
Your rating in Physique affects how many total physical stress boxes you have. Will does the same for your mental stress. Refer to the following table:
|Average (+1) or Fair (+2)|| |
|Good (+3) or Great (+4)|| |
|Superb (+5) and higher||  and a second mild consequence slot specifically for physical or mental hits|
You’ll learn how stress and consequences work during play in “Taking Harm” (page XX).
Hang on, that’s not what I remember!
In Fate Condensed, we’re using only one-point stress boxes. Fate Core System and Fate Accelerated both use a series of escalating-value boxes (one 1-point box, one 2-point box, etc). You can use that style of stress box if you like; for this version we decided to stick with one-point boxes because it’s simple—with the other method, folks can get confused just a little more easily.
There are a few other angles on this style that you’ll want to keep in mind.
- As you’ll see on page XX, with 1-point boxes you may mark as many of them as you want when you get hit (the escalating-value style of Fate Core, meanwhile, has a “you can only mark one box per hit” proviso).
- This style goes with the Fate Core notion of separate Physical and Mental stress tracks, instead of a single unified track as with Fate Accelerated. If you’re inclined towards a unified track, add three more boxes to make up for it, and use the higher of Physique or Will to lengthen it as indicated.
- Three points of stress absorption on one track is not a lot! If characters end up feeling a little fragile in play, you may want to add one or two boxes to the default quantity. It’s all about how fast the consequences hit. (With the older style, a  track absorbs 2 to 3 stress,  = 3 to 6,  = 4 to 10.)
Give your character a name and description, and discuss their history with the other players. If you haven’t written down a relationship aspect yet, do so now.