Fate Core

Fate (also capitalized as FATE) is a generic RPG system originally designed by Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue (based on Steffan O'Sullivan's 1995 non-commercial release Fudge) and released for free in 2003 by their imprint Evil Hat Productions. When Grey Ghost Press acquired the Fudge copyright from O'Sullivan and published a version of the game under the Open Gaming License in 2005, this enabled Hicks and Donoghue to publish the third edition of Fate (as the pulp action game Spirit of the Century) under the same license in 2006. Fate Core, finally, is the fourth and current edition of the game, published by Evil Hat under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution and the Open Gaming Licenses in 2013, which will be referenced henceforth.

Free resources: Complete Rulebook.

Core Mechanic

Like Fudge, Fate Core uses four specialized dice (denoted as "4dF") for its core mechanic, which, for the purposes of this survey, produce the same bell curve distribution as 4d3–8, ranging from –4 to +4. The simplified procedure (referred simply as an "action", pp. 8-11, 130-143) is as follows:

  1. The player declares their character's objective and how they attempt to achieve it.
  2. The player and the GM negotiate which primary stat ("skill", ranging from 0 to 4) applies to this action.
  3. The GM chooses the "difficulty" of the action, typically ranging from 0 ("Mediocre") to 8 ("Legendary").
  4. The player rolls 4dF and adds their character's relevant skill score to the result.
  5. The gradient of success is based on the extent to which the player's roll result exceeds the difficulty set by the GM (p. 132): if the result is lower than the difficulty, the action fails (No or No-And, at the GM's discretion); otherwise, the difference between the two is converted into "shifts". Zero shifts means the character achieves their objective, but only barely or at a cost (Yes-But); with 1 or 2 shifts, they simply succeed (Yes); and with 3 or more shifts, they "succeed with style" (Yes-And).
  6. The GM describes the outcome of the action.

When two characters act in direct opposition to each other, step 3 is skipped, and they both roll dice, adding the skill scores they used to their respective results. The character with the higher total wins the contest, and the difference between their roll and their opponent's is converted into their shifts.

Social Skills

As a generic system, Fate Core doesn't have a fixed list of character skills, but it does come with a "Default Skill List" (pp. 96-127), while encouraging players to tweak it to better fit their campaign's setting and genre. Of these default skills, following are most relevant to social and persuasive interactions:

  • Deceive: The agent attempts to make the patient believe a specific lie, to gain their cooperation by feeding them false information, or to trick them into believing the agent is someone else (disguise).
  • Provoke: The agent attempts to manipulate the patient's emotions, such as taunting them into doing something they don't want to or intimidating them into submission. Provoke is also the only skill on the default list that can be used to deal "mental attacks" in conflicts (see below).
  • Rapport: The agent attempts to charm or to inspire the patient to do something for them, or to establish a beneficial relationship with them.
  • Contacts represents both the agent's skill at making useful connections and finding the right people, and the size of their personal social network. As such, it can be used for a wide variety of social purposes.
  • Empathy is used to oppose Deceive actions, as well as for reconnoitering actions to gain insight into the patient's emotional state and ulterior motives. It also determines the turn order in "mental conflicts" and is used to help others recover from mental "consequences" afterwards.
  • Will is used in social interactions mainly to oppose Provoke actions. It also determines how much "mental stress" the character can take in conflicts.

While the game is primarily concerned with the "PC agent, NPC patient" configuration, in the "Social Skills and Other Characters" side bar on p. 105, it also addresses the issue of PC patients. Whenever a PC's emotional state or current beliefs are successfully influenced by another character, it must create a ludic advantage (an "aspect") the agent can exploit later on, but the specific in-fiction nature of said advantage must be agreed upon by both players involved. This goes one step beyond merely reasserting the patient player's agency over their own character and also explicitly gives them a say in how they are shaped by external influence.

Mental Conflicts

Conflicts in Fate Core (pp. 154-173) are a type of formalized ludic interactions that occur when two or more characters actively try to harm each other in pursuit of their previously established objectives. While the game does differentiate between physical and mental (social) conflicts, they play out by almost identical rules. Like in SIFRP, both combat and social confrontations play out in turns ("exchanges"), with the initiative ("turn order") determined by comparing the participants' stats (i.e. it is deterministic): in mental conflicts specifically, the skills determining the initiative are, in order, Empathy, Rapport, and Will.

On their turn in a mental conflict, the agent can take a mental "attack" action against the patient, typically with the Provoke skill against by their Will skill, with the intent of "taking them out". With any successful attack action, the number of shifts it produces is how much "damage" (physical or emotional) it deals. When the patient takes "damage", their player decides must take that much "stress", or else be taken out. Stress, subdivided into physical (based on the Physique skill) and mental (based on Will), is a form of hit points that regenerate almost immediately after a conflict ends. The patient player may reduce the damage they take as stress by also taking a lasting "consequence", which takes much longer to recover from and functions as an "aspect" their opponents can use against them later.

If the patient cannot take any more damage as stress when it is inflicted upon them, they are "taken out". A character who has been taken out in a conflict is at the mercy of the winner(s), who may do anything to them (within the scope of the established conflict, of course). Alternatively, the patient may interrupt any action targeting them – but before the dice are rolled – to "concede the conflict", either letting their opponent(s) reach their objective or simply removing oneself as an obstacle in their path. Yielding this way has a ludic benefit of rewarding the patient player with "fate points" (whose function falls outside the scope of this survey) and a narrative one of allowing them to negotiate the fate of their character with the winner of the conflict (as opposed to having to accept their decisions when they are taken out). A conflict typically ends when all opponents have conceded or been taken out.