Taking Action, Rolling the Dice
In a game of Fate Condensed, you will control the actions of the character you created, contributing to the story you are all telling together. In general, the GM will narrate the world and the actions of non-player characters (NPCs), and the other players will narrate their individual PCs’ actions.
To act, follow the principle of fiction first: say what your character is trying to do, then figure out how you’ll do that in the system. Your character’s aspects inform what they can attempt and help set the context for interpreting the results. Most people couldn’t even try to perform emergency surgery on a disemboweled ally, but with an aspect establishing a medical background, you can try. Without that aspect you might at best buy a few moments for some last words. When in doubt, check with your GM and the table.
How do you know if you’re successful? Often, your character will simply succeed, because the action isn’t hard and nobody’s trying to stop you. But in difficult or unpredictable situations, you’ll break out the dice to find out what happens.
When a character wants to take an action, the group should think about these questions:
- What’s stopping this from happening?
- What could go wrong?
- How is it interesting when it does go wrong?
If no one has good answers to all of these questions, it simply happens. Driving to the airport doesn’t require a roll of the dice. Racing down the highway to a waiting plane while being pursued by cybernetically enhanced beasts from another world, on the other hand, is a perfect time to roll the dice.
Whenever you take action, follow these steps:
- Fiction first: Describe what you’re trying to do, then choose the skill and action that fits.
- Roll four dice.
- Add up the symbols on the dice: a + is +1, - is -1, and 0 is 0. This will give you a dice result of -4 to 4.
- Add the dice result to your skill rating.
- Modify the dice by invoking aspects and using stunts.
- Declare your total result, called your effort.
Difficulty and Opposition
If the character’s action faces a fixed obstacle or otherwise tries to alter the world rather than a character or creature, their action faces a static difficulty rating. These actions include picking locks, barring doors, and tactically assessing an enemy camp. The GM may decide that the presence of certain aspects (on the character, the scene, or something else) justifies changing the difficulty.
At other times, an enemy will provide opposition against the character’s action by using a defend action. In these cases, the GM will also roll the dice and follow the same rules as in the previous section, using any skills, stunts, or aspects the enemy has. Any time you roll to attack an enemy or to create an advantage directly against them, the enemy will roll to defend against it.
Opposition can take many forms. Struggling with a cultist over the ritual dagger has a clear opponent. Or you might be opposed by the power of an ancient ritual that must be overcome to save the world. Cracking the safe in the First Metropolitan Bank to access the safe deposit boxes is a challenge with risk of discovery, but it’s up to the GM if you’re rolling against opposition from the patrolling guards or the difficulty presented by the safe itself.
Modifying the Dice
You may modify your dice by invoking aspects to get +2 to your roll or reroll the dice. Some stunts also give you a bonus. You may also invoke aspects to support an ally or to increase the difficulty an enemy faces.
When you take action but the dice come up short, you don’t have to sit back and accept failure. (Though you totally can. That’s fun too.) The aspects in play give you options and opportunity to succeed.
When an aspect could justifiably help your efforts, describe how it helps and spend a fate point to invoke it (or use a free invoke). What is and isn’t justifiable is subject to the bogus rule—anyone can say “that’s bogus!” to invoking an aspect. Simply put, the bogus rule is a calibration tool that anyone at the table may use to help the group make sure the game stays true to its vision and concept. You can use safety tools in a similar fashion.
You have two options when your invoke looks bogus. First, you can retract your invoke and try something else, maybe a different aspect. Second, you can have a quick discussion about why you think the aspect fits. If the person still isn’t convinced, retract the invoke and move on. If they come around to your perspective, go ahead with the invoke as usual. The bogus rule is in here to help everyone at the table have a good time. Use it when something doesn’t sound right, make sense, or fit the tone. Someone invoking Great at First Impressions to throw a car is likely bogus. But maybe that character has a supernatural stunt that makes them incredibly strong, strong enough to plausibly throw a car, and this is their opening gambit in a fight with a horrible monster. In that case, maybe Great at First Impressions is plausible.
When you invoke an aspect, you can either gain a +2 bonus to your roll or reroll all four dice, or you can add 2 to the difficulty of someone else’s roll, if justifiable. You can invoke multiple aspects on the same roll, but you can’t invoke the same aspect multiple times on the same roll. There is one exception: you can spend as many free invokes on an aspect as you like on the same roll.
Stunts may give you a bonus to your roll, provided you meet the criteria written in the stunt, such as the circumstances, action, or skill used. You may wish to use create advantage to introduce aspects that line up with those circumstances. Keep your stunts’ circumstances in mind when you describe your actions too, and set yourself up for success.
Normally, stunts give you a +2 bonus in a narrow circumstance with no cost; you may use them anytime they apply. Some rare and exceptionally powerful stunts may require you to spend a fate point to use them.
Whenever you roll dice, the difference between your effort and the target difficulty or opposition is measured in shifts. A shift has a value of 1. There are four possible outcomes:
- If your effort is less than the target difficulty or opposition, you fail.
- If your effort is equal to the target, you tie.
- If your effort is one or two shifts more than the target, you succeed.
- If your effort is three or more shifts more than the target, you succeed with style.
Some outcomes are obviously better for you than others, but all of them should advance the story in interesting ways. You started with fiction first; make sure you end with it too, to maintain focus on the story, and to ensure you interpret the results in a way that fits the fiction.
Ethan isn’t an adept safe-cracker (though he has the tools), and yet he’s in a sinister cult’s guarded secret headquarters, with a steel door between him and the ritual book he desperately needs. Can he get in?
If your effort is less than the target difficulty or opposition, you fail.
This can play out in a few ways: simple failure, success at a major cost, or taking a hit.
The first is the easiest to understand—simple failure. You don’t accomplish your goal, don’t make any progress, and are left wanting. Ensure this keeps the story moving—simply failing to crack the safe is stagnant and boring.
Ethan pulls the handle triumphantly, but the safe remains resolutely closed while the alarms begin to blare. Failure has changed the situation and driven the story forward—now there are guards on the way. Ethan is faced with a new choice—try another way of opening the safe, now that subtlety is out the window, or cut his losses and run?
Success at a major cost
Second is success at a major cost. You do what you set out to do, but there’s a significant price to be paid—the situation gets worse or more complicated. GM, you can either declare this is the result or can offer it in place of failure. Both options are good and useful in different situations.
Ethan fails his roll and the GM says, “You hear the click of the last tumbler falling into place. It’s echoed by the click of the hammer on a revolver as the guard tells you to put your hands in the air.” The major cost here is the confrontation with a guard he’d hoped to avoid.
Take a Hit
Lastly, you may take a hit, which you’ll need to absorb with stress or consequences, or suffer some other drawback. This sort of failure is most common when defending against attacks or overcoming dangerous obstacles. This is different from a simple failure because the character alone, not necessarily the whole group, is affected. It’s also different from success at a major cost, in that success isn’t necessarily on the table.
Ethan is able to get the safe door open, but as he grasps the handle, he feels a jab in the back of his hand. He couldn’t disable the trap! He writes down the mild consequence Poisoned.
You can mix these options together: Harmful failure can be harsh but appropriate in the moment. Success at the cost of harm is certainly an option.
If your effort is equal to the target difficulty or opposition, you tie.
Just like failure, ties should move the story forward, never stymie the action. Something interesting should happen. Similar to failure, this can play out a couple ways: success at a minor cost, or partial success.
Success at a minor cost
The first is success at a minor cost—a few points of stress, story details about difficulty or complication but aren’t hindrances themselves, and a boost to the enemy are all minor costs.
Ethan’s first few attempts all fail. By the time he actually gets the door open, dawn has broken, and escape under cover of darkness is impossible. He got what he needed, but his situation is worse now.
The other way to handle a tie is partial success—you succeeded but only got some of what you wanted.
Ethan can only open the safe door a crack—if the door opens more than an inch, the alarm will sound, and he can’t figure out how to disengage that. He manages to pull a couple pages of the ritual out through the narrow gap, but he’ll have to guess at the final steps.
If your effort is one or two more than the target, you succeed.
You get what you want with no additional cost.
Opened! Ethan grabs the ritual and leaves before the guards notice him.
Applying “Fiction First” to Success
The fiction defines what success looks like. What if Ethan didn’t have the tools or experience needed to break into the safe? Perhaps that success is more like our “minor cost” example above. Similarly, if Ethan was on the team because he built the safe, that success might look more like our “with style” example.
Success with Style
If your effort is three or more than the target, you succeed with style.
You get what you want, and you get a bit more on top of that.
Ethan is beyond lucky; the safe door opens almost instantly. Not only does he get the ritual, but he has enough time to poke through the other papers in the back of the safe. Amidst various ledgers and financial documents, he finds a map of the old Akeley mansion.
- Overcome to surmount obstacles with your skills.
- Create an advantage to change a situation to your benefit.
- Attack to harm the enemy.
- Defend to survive an attack, stop a foe from creating an advantage, or oppose an effort to overcome an obstacle.
Overcome to surmount obstacles with your skills.
A character good at Athletics can climb over walls and race through crowded streets. A detective with high Investigate can piece together clues others have missed. Someone skilled in Rapport will find it easier to avoid a fight in a hostile bar.
Your outcomes when overcoming are:
If you fail, discuss with the GM (and the defending player, if any) whether it’s a failure or success at a major cost.
If you succeed, you meet your goal and the story moves on without hiccups.
If you succeed with style, it’s a success and you also get a boost.
Charles has made his way to an Antarctic research facility. The buildings have been wrecked, and the occupants are missing. He wants to search the wreckage for clues. The GM tells him to roll Investigate against Fair (+2) difficulty. Charles gets 00++ on the dice, plus his Average (+1) Investigate, for a Good (+3) effort. A success! The GM describes the clue he finds: footprints in the snow, made by creatures walking on many thin, inhuman legs.
Overcome actions are often used to determine whether a character can access or notice a particular fact or clue. Keep a close eye on those success-at-a-cost options when that’s the case. If missing a detail would cause your story to stall, take failure off the table, and focus on the cost instead.
Create an Advantage
Create A situation aspect or gain a benefit from an existing aspect.
You can use the create an advantage action to change the course of the story. By using your skills to introduce new aspects or add invokes to existing aspects, you can stack the deck for yourself and your teammates. You might change the circumstances (barring a door or creating a plan), discover new information (learning a monster’s weakness through research), or take advantage of something already known (such as a CEO’s taste for scotch).
An aspect created (or discovered) by creating an advantage works like any other: It defines the narrative circumstances and can allow, prevent, or impede actions—for instance, you cannot read a spell if the room has been made Pitch Black. It can also be invoked or compelled. In addition, creating an advantage gives you one or more free invokes of the created aspect. A free invoke, as the name suggests, lets you invoke an aspect without spending a fate point. You can even let your allies use free invokes you have created.
When you roll to create an advantage, specify whether you’re creating a new aspect or taking advantage of an existing one. If the former, are you attaching the aspect to an ally, opponent, or the environment? If you’re attaching it to an opponent, they can take the defend action to oppose you. Otherwise you’ll usually face a difficulty, but the GM can decide if something or someone opposes your efforts with a defend roll instead.
Your outcomes when creating a new aspect are:
If you fail, you either don’t create the aspect (failure) or you create it but the enemy gets the free invoke (success at a cost). If you succeed at a cost, the final aspect may need to be rewritten to benefit the enemy. This may still be worth it because aspects are true.
If you tie, you don’t create an aspect, but you do get a boost.
If you succeed, you create a situation aspect with one free invoke on it.
If you succeed with style, you create a situation aspect with two free invokes on it.
With an existing known or unknown aspect the outcomes are:
If you fail, and the aspect was known, the enemy gets a free invoke. If it was unknown, they may choose to reveal it to get a free invoke.
If you tie, you gain a boost if the aspect was unknown; it stays unknown. If the aspect is known, you get a free invoke on it instead.
If you succeed, gain a free invoke on the aspect, revealing it if unknown.
If you succeed with style, gain two free invokes, revealing it if unknown.
Ethan is face-to-something with a shoggoth, a massive and tireless fleshy beast. He knows it’s too powerful to attack directly, so he decides his best bet is to distract it: “I’d like to make a Molotov cocktail and set this thing on fire!” he announces.
The GM decides that actually hitting the shoggoth is trivial, so this is a Crafts roll—how quickly can he find and weaponize something flammable? The difficulty is set at Good (+3). Ethan has Average (+1) Crafts but rolls 0+++, giving a Great (+4) effort.
Ethan cobbles together the Molotov and tosses it at the beast. The shoggoth is now On Fire, and Ethan has one free invoke on that aspect. The shoggoth is definitely distracted, and if it does try to chase him, Ethan can use that invoke to help himself get away.
Attack to harm the enemy.
The attack action is how you try to take out an opponent—whether you’re looking to kill a loathsome monster, or knock out an innocent guard who doesn’t know the truth about what he’s guarding. An attack can be unloading with a machine gun, throwing a solid punch, or casting a baleful spell.
Keep in mind whether or not harming your target is even possible. Not every attack is equal. You can’t just punch a kaiju and hope to hurt it. Determine whether the attack even has a chance of being successful before you start rolling the dice. A number of powerful beings may have specific weaknesses that need to be exploited, or some means of defense you must get through before you can even begin to hurt them.
Your outcomes when attacking are:
If you fail, you fail to connect—the attack is parried, dodged, or maybe just absorbed by armor.
If you tie, maybe you barely connect, maybe you cause the defender to flinch. Either way, you get a boost.
If you succeed, you deal a hit equal to the difference between your attack’s total and the defense’s effort. The defender must absorb this hit with stress or consequences, or else be taken out.
If you succeed with style, you deal a hit just like a success, but you may reduce the shifts of the hit by one to get a boost.
Ruth has stumbled across a corpse raised by arcane powers to fulfill some dark purpose. She decides to punch it. She has Great (+4) Fight but rolls [-][-], giving a Fair (+2) effort.
Defend to survive an attack or interfere with a foe’s action.
Is a monster trying to eat your face? Is a foe pushing you out of the way as they flee your wrath? What about when that cultist tries to stab you in both kidneys? Defend, defend, defend.
Defend is the only reactive action in Fate Condensed. You use it to stop something from happening outside your turn, so you’re often facing an opposing roll rather than a set difficulty. Your enemy rolls, and you immediately roll to defend, so long as you’re the target or can justify your opposition (which often makes you the target). Aspects or stunts may provide justification.
Your outcomes when defending are:
If you tie, proceed according to the tie result for the opposed action.
If you succeed, you don’t take a hit or you deny the enemy’s action.
If you succeed with style, you don’t take a hit, you deny the enemy’s action, and you even get a boost as you gain the upper hand for a moment.
Continuing from the previous example, the corpse gets to defend itself against Ruth. The GM rolls -00+, which doesn’t change the creature’s Mediocre (+0) Athletics.
Because Ruth’s effort was higher, her attack succeeds by two shifts, and the corpse is a little closer to being down for good. Had the corpse rolled better, then its defense would have succeeded, and the undead monstrosity would have avoided taking a hit.
Which skills can be used to attack and defend?
The default list of skills follows these guidelines:
- Fight and Shoot can be used to make physical attacks.
- Athletics can be used to defend against any physical attack.
- Fight can be used to defend against melee physical attacks.
- Provoke can be used to make a mental attack.
- Will can be used to defend against mental attacks.
Other skills may gain permission to attack or defend under special circumstances, as determined by the GM or table consensus. Some stunts may grant broader, guaranteed permission when circumstances might otherwise not do so. When a skill can’t be used to attack or defend but might help with it, prepare for it by using that skill with the create an advantage action, and use the free invokes generated on your next attack or defend roll.