Fate System Toolkit
What follows are a number of incomplete magic system components. Some are ways to generate power, others are potential effects and outcomes. Strip them for parts, add them together, or take them apart to see about building your own systems.
For skill-based magic, add a “Channeling” skill. When you want to do something magical, you use the channeling skill to summon up the power and—hopefully—release it. To do this, use a create an advantage action. In this case, the advantage you’re looking to create is a Summoned Power aspect. When it comes time to cast the spell—presumably on your next action—make a roll with a skill of Mediocre (+0), but use whatever bonuses you accrued in the advantage creation step—so, generally, you’ll get a +2, +4, or +6 through stacked free invocations and potentially paying a fate point. So far, so good—generate mana, generate an effect. Now to get a little bit more fiddly.
- If you want to cast the spell in one action, then you need to use an aspect—either for free, or by spending a fate point—without gaining the +2 bonus. This makes fast casting pretty shaky business. There may be a stunt that allows you to fast cast for free.
- Difficulty for channeling is Mediocre (+0), difficulty of actually casting depends on the spell. In either case, a result less than Average means the power has gotten out of control. The character takes mental stress equal to the difference between the roll and 0.
- Optional rule (Burnout): Casters may opt to pre-emptively take a consequence as part of the roll. In this case, the consequence box is checked, and the spellcasting roll gains a bonus equal to the amount of stress that consequence would usually prevent.
- Another optional rule: If you want the risk to be on the channeling side rather than the spellcasting side, then do the following. Have the channeler’s player declare a level of success, anywhere from Fair (+2) to Epic (+7), then roll an overcome against that declaration as a difficulty. If his roll falls short, he takes stress equal to the difference between his roll and his declared level of success. If the roll succeeds, then he uses that level of success for his actual spellcasting roll. The rule about needing an aspect or a stunt for fast casting is still in effect, so he’ll want to generate a boost, buy a stunt, or have a fate point handy for that.
Fated Mana Points
For a system that requires the expenditure of a fate point to do something magical, change the way refresh rules work. Each time refresh reduces by one, offset it by granting the character one mana point (MP). MPs refresh the same way that fate points do, and can be used to fuel spells or enhance magical skills, but cannot otherwise be used as FP.
“Magical” aspects can generate MP rather than FP when used as ritual limitations. Exactly what those limitations are depend on the nature of the magic, but they might include things like saying daily prayer or forgoing armor.
If the magic system uses more mana points, it’s easy change the refresh conversion rate—so a single drop in refresh might pay out 2 or 3 MP.
Every point of physical stress a character takes generates one MP. Each physical consequence taken increases MP by its shift value—so a mild consequence generates two MP—as long as the consequence is a suitably bloody injury. MP remain until used for magic or until the stress or consequence is recovered.
Humans have the ability to manipulate magic, but not the ability to generate it. Power must come from other things, such as items, places, or beings of power, but each has its own unique prices and requirements. In this model, the term “magi” is used generically to represent those who use power, but it could just as easily be priests, sacred warriors, mystics, druids, or whomever else is appropriate for the setting.
In all the cases below, pairing the source of power with an aspect makes it more robust. Non-aspected power sources are far more subject to disconnection at a GM’s whim.
Items of Power can contain a small amount of mana, but must be kept on hand and used in conjunction with spellcasting. The vast majority of these are expendable trinkets or components, which provide their charge and then are useless. The creation of such trinkets takes a day’s effort in an appropriate environment—such as a lab for an alchemist, a forest for a druid and so on—a moderate cost, and a roll at Great (+4) difficulty. Success fills the item with one MP, and success with style fills it with 2 MP. A character can only maintain a number of such items equal to the numeric value of their magic skill. And yes, this means that stealing rival magic foci and locking them away is a great way to steal a rival’s power. It is also possible to create a more powerful item, one that replenishes itself daily. Doing so requires a month’s effort at great cost, and a similar difficulty. A magi may only have one such item, which makes it even worse if it is stolen.
Places of Power grant mana to those who are attuned to them according to the specific rules of the place. Most often, they grant a single MP at sunrise each day, which must be used that day or lost at the next sunrise. However, certain places of power have unique benefits (such as granting extra MP, allowing the mage to keep a reservoir of 3MP, or allowing the attuned mage to breath underwater) or limitations (MP only usable for fire magic, all MP lost if you kill a seagull, etc.).
Once the character has attuned to a location, the benefit remains in effect indefinitely, though many locations grant extra benefits if the character is actually present, most often with accelerated mana gain. However, getting and keeping attunement is rather tricky.
Places of power are hotly sought after by magi and other magical beings, so there is usually a current owner with a vested interest in the place, especially since most places of power have a limit on the number of people who can attune to it. But even without worrying about such guardians, it is not always obvious how to attune to a particular place, so knowledge and research may be required.
You will lose your attunement to a place of power if someone else attunes and kicks you out, either by taking your slot—if the place is at capacity—or by actively removing your connection. Details will depend on the location.
As such, places of power are greatly valued by mages, but are also drivers of much magical politicking and bargaining. No one wants to spend all their time protecting their places of power, but everyone wants as many attunements as they can manage to get, and that balance is the linchpin of many a magical cabal.
Beings of Power offer many of the benefits and qualifiers of places of power, but they skip the middleman. The mage cuts a deal with a being of power, agrees to abide by its rules, and gets a certain amount of power—and possibly other benefits—in return for the being getting constant insight into that power’s use, and allowing the being a constant connection to the mage—a connection that may well see use in further bargaining.
The exact nature of beings of power can vary—gods, spirits, totem beasts, fae lords, axiomatic universal constructs, or nearly anything else might be a being of power. The trick with such beings is figuring out how to get in touch with them. For some, it’s easy, but for others, it may involve uncovering some deep secrets.
There is nothing that keeps a magi from forming pacts with multiple beings, at least until those pacts come into conflict with one another. At that point, the player may discover that breaking these pacts also has a price.
A lot of these make reference to rolling a magic skill, but take that with a grain of salt—it doesn’t mean that there must be a magic skill. Rather it means that whatever skill you determined to control magic should be used here.
What’s in the Hat?
Whether it’s because the hat is magical or because its wearer has talent is unimportant—the key is that the wearer reaches into the hat and pulls out something. The rules for it are straightforward:
Effect 1: At no cost, the character can pull out useless, color items. If the character spends an action pulling out useless things, they get a +1 bonus on any roll related to practical conjuration on their next action.
Effect 2: At a cost of 1 MP, the character can produce something useful but unexceptional, such as a weapon or the right tool for the job at hand. There’s no skill roll associated with this, it’s just an enabler for subsequent skill rolls.
Effect 3: At a cost of 2MP, the character may pull out something large, dangerous, or strange, which allows him to use his magic skill in lieu of another skill so long as he can physically describe how the object allows for the specific roll. For example, a giant hammer might make an attack, a spring might allow a jump, a cloud of smoke might allow for stealth, and so on. If you’ve used a particular trick before, take a –2 to the roll.
Effect 4: At a cost of 3MP or more the character can draw out a creature or automaton capable of independent action. This is a skill-based extra—the caster selects the form of the creature and its primary skill, and the GM fills in any secondary skills as needed. At 3MP, this creature will have a Fair (+2) apex skill, which can be increased on a one-for-one basis by spending extra MP. Once the level is settled on, the caster makes a magic roll with a difficulty equal to the level of the creature. If the caster fails, the creature is still summoned, but it has a number of unexpected complications equal to the margin of failure. One or two complications might be inconvenient, but three or more is likely to produce an out-of-control threat or other big problem.
Effect 5: A character may also spend all remaining MP (minimum 1) and make a “blind grab.” This pulls out something big, dramatic, and one way or another, it ends the current scene, but the GM determines the exact details. When this happens, the GM secretly rolls a single dF. On a +, the resolution works out in the player’s favor—a whirlwind carries them to safety, her enemies are turned to frogs, and so on. On a -, it works out against the player in some way—she ends up capturing herself, or making the situation worse. On a 0, the situation changes dramatically, though not necessarily for the better or worse—enemies are turned into different kinds of enemies, the landscape turns into candy, and so on.
While this is traditionally a hat, there’s no reason it can’t be a cloak, a pouch, or something similar.
It’s also possible to use this model to represent large, glowing energy constructs of the sort favored by comic books. In this case you remove effect 5, the bonus from effect 1, and make a failure of effect 4 require more MP (on a one-for-one basis).
To cosmic it up, you could reduce the cost of effects 2 and 3 by one step. This is very close to sorcery as an all-purpose skill, but for certain genres—like supers—that may be apt.
With a change in color, this also becomes an excellent system to handle certain sci-fi gadgets, especially ill-defined, all-purpose tools, even those with a bit of sonic to them. In this case, the physical manifestation is replaced with technobabble and interaction with technology. Effect 0 is an array of accidental electronic effects, effect 1 is largely unchanged, but effect 3 basically allows for “magic” to be used as super-hacking, doing anything that the local equipment is capable of. Effect 4 only applies when there’s an existing unit to take over—like a robot or cargo loader—and Effect 5 is pretty much off the table, unless the GM really likes “what happens if I push all the buttons?” scenarios.
The Six Profanities
Contrary to the crude suggestion, the six profanities are actually the names of six of the greatest devils of hell. Their names cannot be sufficiently encompassed by tongue or pen, but each has a distinct icon that can grant a fraction of their dark power. The power is easy to use—it need only be permanently inscribed onto living skin via tattoo, branding, or scarification to grant the power—but the knowledge of such marks is wrapped in secrecy. It is rumored that only the devils themselves know the secret, and they take the form of mortals to share it, in the hopes of snaring souls. The profanities have many names, most unprintable—we’ll use the more common names here, though that does not guarantee that everyone will call them that.
Arrow allows the user to perform line-of-light teleportation to a maximum range of about 100 feet (3 or 4 zones). The character’s body needs to be able to traverse the distance, so the teleportation may go up, or over a pit, but it cannot go through a wall or grating, and will stop short of hitting an obstacle. This process only requires one to take a step, so a character may actually cover great distance by “skipping” along multiple jumps in sequence. Each jump costs one MP.
Ironskin provides protection from physical harm. When the character takes physical damage, he may retroactively spend MP to gain armor equal to the number of MP spent. Additionally, if the character knows a blow is coming with more than a moment’s notice, he may spend 3 MP to steel himself against it and ignore all damage. While this is of no use in a fight, it can be useful for hard landings or staying the executioner’s blow, but beware that the protection only lasts for a heartbeat. He may survive the impact of an oncoming train, but that doesn’t guarantee he’ll survive the landing as it knocks him off the tracks, or worse, drags him under the train.
Pomp grants the power, for 1MP, to converse with any dead body that is still in good enough physical shape to speak. Convincing the corpse to do anything other than scream is a different problem entirely.
Rider allows a character to spend 1 MP to “jump” into the mind of any mammal in her line of sight. While in its mind, she has no access to its thoughts nor control of its actions, but she has access to its senses, and may ride along for about two minutes. The player may opt to spend an additional MP to perform another “jump” to another target within her line of sight. This also extends the ride for another 2 minutes. Additional 2-minute periods cost 1 MP each. While this is happening, the character’s body stands helplessly, staring into space, making her easy prey.
Sight grants awareness of supernatural phenomena, though it’s erratic. When magic is afoot, the character gets a tingle, and may spend 1 MP to get details regarding what is going on. The sight can also carry prophetic visions or dreams, though those are usually more disturbing than useful.
Terror generates an aura of terror around the character for 1 MP. The aura lasts for the duration of the scene, and the character’s attacks may inflict physical or mental stress, as desired. Animals with any level of self-preservation will not enter the same zone, and will do whatever they can to leave it. For an additional MP, the character may look a thinking target in the eye and use intimidation to create a Fear of [Character] aspect on them. If successful, he may freely invoke that aspect for the remainder of the scene.
If a character doesn’t have enough MP to use a power, they can still do so, but at risk to their soul. Pick an aspect and underline it—the character gets the MP they need, but that aspect is now tainted. In the fiction, this means it twists in dark ways when it comes up, and mechanically it no longer produces fate points when compelled, instead granting one MP. Such tainted aspects offer up dark compulsions at times, so the power that comes with the taint comes at a great risk.
There may be more powerful versions of each mark, though what is required to get them is best not discussed.
Arrow: For 2 MP, range can be increased as far as can be clearly seen.
Ironskin: Unarmed blows now strike like a metal weapon, and the character may add +2 per MP spent to any feat of pure strength.
Pomp: For 3 MP the character may animate any body in physically good enough shape to move for a scene. It will follow basic instruction, and while it’s not much in a fight, it’s pretty freaking creepy.
Rider: At a cost of 3 MP per jump, the character’s physical body disappears. It reappears behind the last subject.
Sight: For 1 MP, a character may discover something hidden about a person or thing. There is no guarantee it’s what she wants to know, and it’s only one use per target.
Terror: By spending an additional 1 MP (2 MP total), the character can increase the intensity of his aura of fear. He now inflicts mental damage equal to any physical damage he inflicts when he attacks.