Authors: Robert Donoghue and Fred Hicks
Editors: Fred Hicks, Lydia Leong
This document is Open Game Content, as described in section 1(d) of the Open Gaming License.
In Fate, when a character must overcome a particular obstacle, the dice start rolling. The GM needs to make a number of decisions regarding how this contest is going to be resolved and then make a check of some sort. The simplest and most common sort of check is the static test.
For a static test, the GM sets a fixed difficulty, then the player chooses an appropriate skill, rolls the dice, and compares the outcome to the difficulty ("Setting Difficulties"). For simple tasks, the player needs to meet or exceed the difficulty set by the GM.
While that is all that's needed in situations where all that matters is the success or failure of the action, sometimes the degree of success is very important. In those situations, the check is rolled in the same way as any other static test, but the GM looks at the difference between what the character rolled and what they needed. This difference is called the Margin of Success (if the character succeeded) or the Margin of Failure (if the character failed). Because a tie is a success, it is possible to have a margin of success of 0.
The simple rule of thumb is the larger the margin of success, the more significant the success. The exact effect varies from case to case, but to give a few examples:
|Information Gathering||Each point of MoS gives one additional fact.|
|Physical Activities||Greater MoS means the act was done with greater speed or grace.|
|Social Actions||Greater MoS allows a longer lasting or deeper impression.|
In general the MoS is broken down as follows:
While a test is a check which can be resolved in a single check, a challenge takes longer, usually requiring multiple rolls to ultimately achieve a specific (usually quite high) MoS. To accomplish this, successes are tracked on a challenge ladder, which looks something like this:
Each time the character makes a check, they mark off a box of the appropriate MoS. If all the boxes of a given level are marked off, they mark a box of the next level up. If those are all full, mark the next up and so on. In this manner, it is possible to accumulate enough small successes to complete a large project and achieve a MoS of 4 (or whatever is required).
While this system can be used to carve a model gun out of soap, it can also be used to carve faces in Mount Rushmore. Obviously, the requirements for different challenges can vary significantly. A challenge is made up of five parts: Difficulty, Complexity, Fragility, Span and Recovery.
Difficulty is the target difficulty the player is rolling to beat. It's important to note that while this may be quite high, it does not have to be. Some tasks are not so much hard, as simply time-consuming.
Complexity is the number and distribution of the boxes in the ladder. By default, the ladder will look a lot like the sample (above); a very simple task may have fewer boxes, while a very complicated task may have many more. Boxes need not be evenly distributed; for instance, the steps could be a pyramid or an inverted pyramid. Uneven distribution of boxes can be especially apt when there are outcomes from the intervening steps. For example, the GM creates a challenge ladder for finding the rumors in a given city. She puts a lot of boxes at the Solid and significant level, and ties each one to a rumor the player's will hear when they check it off.
Fragility is a measure of how well the task handles failure. Not all tasks are fragile, but most at least have some sort of problem that arises from a MoF of 3 or 4. Most often, fragility means that the MoF can be used to remove successes. By default, a MoF removes a success from an equivalent MoS (if there are no successes at that level, keep going up the ladder until one is found). For more fragile challenges, a failure may remove the highest success, remove all successes, or even completely destroy the project being worked on. Alternately, the effects of fragility may not directly affect the success but instead have some sort of triggered effect.
Span measures how long the task takes in terms of how often a check may be made.
Recovery tracks how quickly the challenge recovers boxes. Span and recovery are often tracked together for convenience.
The GM has a set of rumors for the streets of Alverado, and she builds them into a challenge. She sets the difficulty at Good, requiring the Streetwise or Contacting skills. She has 10 rumors, plus one secret, so she builds the ladder with a heavy concentration on solids and significant, so each one will be worth 1 rumor. She considers fragility - a failure is unlikely to disrupt the ladder - it's hardly going to take away information already gained. Instead, she decides on a special circumstance: On a MoF of 3 (which would be Poor result), the character will offend someone and get attacked by thugs. Lastly, she decides the span will be one day - this represents going out and spending a day beating the streets for news. However, news does get stale, so every week the player doesn't pursue this challenge, a box will become unchecked.
|2||||Gain Spurious Rumor|
|3||||Gain Useful Rumor|
|4||||Secret (Plot Hook)|
Fragility: On a MoF of 3, the character gets attacked
Span: Check 1/day
Recovery: 1 box per week
Challenges are most apt when they are required by the difficulty of the task rather than the sheer scope. They are generally designed to allow repeated effort to build up to a higher MoS, and thus an effect that could not normally be accomplished. However, they are not as useful for modeling tasks that are more about repetition and consistency, such as building a house. For such tasks, a series of Static Tests may be more apt, simply keeping a count of successes until a total is reached, possibly granting a bonus for a very high MoS on a given roll.
The problem with this method is that it can be staggeringly boring, especially if a lot of rolls are involved. The GM is strongly encouraged to make the span as long as can be reasonably justified to avoid massive die rolling extravaganzas.
While Static checks are appropriate when the character has no direct opposition, many conflicts will be directly with another character. In those situations, both sides roll dice and compare outcomes.
As with static checks, sometimes all the GM needs to resolve a situation is the outcome, but sometimes the margin of success or failure is important. In those situations, the player makes a dynamic test, and considers the result as follows:
Canny readers may notice that this table is very similar to the table for static tests, except that the numbers used to determine the MoS are different.
One interesting element of using Fudge dice is that because they are 0- centered, it doesn't matter whether the GM or the player is rolling the dice - it only matters how many dice are being rolled. When the player and GM roll four dice, they each generate an outcome from -4 to +4 This produces a total range from -8 to +8.
In practical terms, this means there's a much broader range of results if both sides are rolling dice. As the range is doubled, so is the MoS table. At least that's the theory. A perfect doubling would assign each step a 2 number value (0, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 etc.). However, we've expanded the "Solid" range because in play test we found it was much more satisfying - a solid outcome is much more the midpoint of success, so making it more likely paid off nicely. In fact, in all honesty, we came up with the dynamic ladder first, and divided it in half for the static chart rather than the reverse.
Like many things, this is an issue of taste - GMs with a fondness for symmetry are welcome to change the steps to 1-2, 3-4 and so on, it won't break anything.
Dynamic challenges are very similar to static challenges. The same considerations that go into making a static challenge (Difficulty, Complexity, Fragility and Span — see "Customizing Challenges") are used to create a dynamic challenge. The only difference are the new numbers for measuring MoS.
Example: The Chess Match (A Dynamic Challenge)
Two chess masters, Louis and Ferdinand, are in a tense match that will decide the fate of a nation due to a risky wager by the Queen.
The GM wants to crank up the tension for this, so decides that checkmating the other master is each character's goal. Thus, she writes down two identical challenge tracks for each character, representing the difficulty of overcoming their opponent, and the state of the opponent's board:
|1||||Knights and Bishops (-1 to the next roll)|
|2-4||||Rooks (-1 for rest of match)|
|5-6||||Queen (-2 for rest of match)|
Span: Each check constitutes a few minutes of play, spanning several moves.
Playing the Match
Each set of opposed skill checks does not represent a single pair of moves in the game, but rather each significant moment in the game, which may be comprised of multiple moves. Further, the GM rules that if the highest box checked off is a Moderate, the target is at -1 for the rest of the challenge; if Major, the target is at -2 for the rest of the challenge. A Minor loss should force a temporary shift in strategy, so that too gives a -1 --but only to the next roll by the victim.
The players begin to roll.
In the first exchange, Louis gets a moderate (MoS 2) success, which the GM narrates as having taken one of Ferdinand's rooks. It's a bad result for Ferdinand this early in the match, and he's at a -1 for the rest of the game. Ouch.
In the next exchange, Ferdinand beats Louis by all of 1, overcoming his early loss. The GM says Ferdinand has claimed one of Louis' knights, giving Louis a -1 to his next roll -- for the moment, Louis and Ferdinand will be on an equal footing.
Then, Ferdinand and Louis tie. The GM rules that they've traded pawns after some tense maneuvering, and checks off a box on the lowest rung for each of them.
Following this, Louis is no longer at a -1, while Ferdinand is. Louis ends up rolling extraordinarily well, while Ferdinand only hits the middle of his range -- Louis beats Ferdinand by 5, depriving him of his Queen, and knocking him down to a -2.
In the final exchange, Louis' luck and Ferdinand's penalties conspire to give Louis a MoS of 5 again -- but all Major boxes are filled up, and thus the result rolls into Overwhelming -- checkmate. Louis wins.
Dynamic challenges can be used to model almost any sort of contest, from a footrace to a debate to a fencing match (see "Combat").
Dynamic challenges are also appropriate when the character is performing an action where a number of random factors can come into play. In those situations, even if there is no direct opposition the GM may still roll dice - in this case the check is considered dynamic.
Any given check is going to be one of four types: static tests, static challenges, dynamic tests or dynamic challenges. Static checks involve only the player rolling, while both the player and GM roll for dynamic checks. Tests are resolved in a single check, while challenges are resolved over the course of several rolls.
|Test||Only player rolls, only one roll.||Player and GM roll, only one roll|
|Challenge||Only Player rolls, multiple rolls||Player and GM roll, multiple rolls.|
The following guidelines can be used for GMs looking to set difficulties for tasks. It's important to note that for many tasks, the difficulty is just the beginning. Most significant tasks will be challenges rather than tests, and will require multiple successes to accomplish their goal.
The baseline for these difficulties is based around the idea that a Superb skill represents the practical apex of human skill - transcending Superb is truly the stuff of epics and legends (funny, that). Not every game is going to hold that to be true, and if the ceiling moves up or down, move the difficulties up and down an equal amount
Negligible difficulty (Poor) - These are tasks that should not require a roll. These tasks are easily doable by anyone with the basic understanding of, and physical capability for, the task at hand. These should almost never require a roll.
Examples: Starting a car, turning on an appliance, climbing a ladder, getting into a swimming pool. reading the headlines, getting the punchline of a late-night monologue, popping microwave popcorn.
Simple Tasks (Mediocre) - This is the difficulty for most tasks that an ordinary person could encounter on a routine basis. They are the sorts of challenges that can be overcome without any real drama or struggle, provided the character is even faintly competent.
Examples: Driving a car in the rain, researching something with Google or an encyclopedia, writing a "Hello World" program, climbing a knotted rope, treating a first degree burn (such as a sunburn), juggling three balls, playing an instrument well enough not to scare the pets, catching a ball, writing a business letter, getting on a horse, jumping off a low diving board into water, cooking using a recipe, loading a gun, building a campfire.
Mundane Tasks (Average) - these are the sort of tasks that would challenge the average person, but are handled regularly by experts and professionals. Someone with basic skills might be able to perform this sort of task in a pinch, but not with any regularity.
Examples: Parallel parking with less than a foot of clearance, researching something obscure in a library, climbing a cracked stone wall, performing CPR, installing Linux, juggling four balls, playing an instrument in a marching band, rescuing a drowning swimmer in calm water, splinting a broken arm, digging a well, skinning an animal, sewing a dress, cooking from scratch.
Difficult Tasks (Fair) - These are tasks that are pretty much entirely out of the realm of a person with only basic training. These tasks are noteworthy enough that they are rarely approached without taking proper care to make preparations.
Examples: Performing simple surgery, rebuilding the engine of a car, climbing a cliff face, juggling knives, building a house, flying a small airplane.
Daunting Tasks (Good) - Even skilled professionals balk in the face of these tasks, and it's entirely possible for a person to go their whole life without ever facing a challenge of this scope. Capability with this sort of task is indicative of a great deal of training or natural talent (or both).
Examples: Flying a fighter jet, performing open-heart surgery, scaling the side of a building, cooking for a good restaurant, design an office building.
Staggering Tasks (Great) - Only the best of the best need apply - there are only a handful of people in the world at any given time who could do this sort of thing with any sort of consistency.
Examples: Multiple organ transplant, climbing Mount Everest, soloing for the NYC orchestra, developing an entirely new programming language, cooking for one of the world's finest restaurants or simply being Jackie Chan.
Nearly Impossible Tasks (Superb) - At this level, it is possible to start doing things that expand the very nature of the task at hand.
Examples - Researching a new branch of a science, composing a masterpiece.
|Mediocre||Climb a ladder|
|Average||Climb a knotted rope|
|Fair||Scale a stone wall with handholds|
|Good||Scale a stone wall with finger holds|
|Great||Climb a cliff bare handed|
|Superb||Climb a cliff in the rain, bare handed|
|Mediocre||Bandage a cut|
|Average||Apply a tourniquet|
|Fair||Stitch a deep cut|
|Good||Surgically repair a serious stab wound|
|Great||Surgically repair a punctured lung|
|Superb||Surgically re-attach a severed limb|
|Mediocre||Start a campfire|
|Average||Build a shelter from the rain|
|Fair||Find potable water in the forest|
|Good||Finding potable water in the desert|
|Great||Live in the desert for a week with no supplies|
|Superb||Live among the wolves like one of the pack|
|Mediocre||Drive a car|
|Average||Drive a car in the rain|
|Fair||Drive a car in a blizzard|
|Good||Drive a car in a blizzard at high speed|
|Great||Race a car in the Indianapolis 500|
|Superb||Stunt driving in an action movie|
When all is said and done, setting difficulties is more art than science. While it is possible to provide guidelines for what reasonable difficulties might be, the GM will eventually find herself in a situation where she is going to have nothing to go on but her best guess. The urge in those situations is often to take several minutes to dig through the rules, looking for some explicit ruling - RESIST THAT TEMPTATION! We've written the book, and we can assure you that rule is not in here, so trust yourself, and use your best guess. Or barring that, try one of these tricks.
When in doubt, using your player's skill levels is a great yardstick for the sort of difficulties to set for them. If you know what level the skill is at, you can set the difficulty to whatever level will provide the challenge you desire (so for a simple task, go a step or two below the best skill in the party, while something more serious might be a step or two above the best skill in the party).
One last trick, if you're not sure what the difficulty should be, is to just let the player roll. If they roll very well or very poorly then the problem is solved without you needing to worry about it.