Exponential Shifts in Fate

In Fate, your degree of success over a difficulty is measured in shifts. When you roll equal to the difficulty, you have zero shifts. Roll one over the difficulty, and you have one shift. Two over means two shifts, and so on.

As I am reading over Fate Core, I started thinking hard about that assumption. And how that needn’t always be the case.

Imagine it the shifts generated were exponential, like so:

  • Meeting the difficulty = 0 shifts
  • Beating by 1 = 1 shift
  • Beating by 2 = 2 shifts (so far, the same)
  • Beating by 3 = 4 shifts
  • Beating by 4 = 8 shifts
  • Beating by 5 = 16 shifts
  • etc, doubling each time.
Now, this could get a bit crazy, and for those who aren’t math-oriented, a pain to deal with. So…what if this was an option unlocked with a stunt? Off the hip, I’ll call this a Mastery Stunt. List the skill involve, the situation where it applies, and you gain this bonus.

Master Fencer: (Weapons) When you are fighting off a horde of mooks, your shifts are exponential.

Master Engineer: (Engineering) When you are building or fixing something, your shifts are exponential.

Master Against the Dark Arts: (Wizardry) When you are fighting against the dark arts (necromancy, curses, and other evil magics), your shifts are exponential.

If that seems too large, it could be unlocked by spending a Fate point. No idea if this works, but it came to mind, so I thought I would throw it out there.

(Incidentally, stuff like this won’t be in Core, because it’s not, well, core to Fate. But I am considering it for a Fate build I’m tinkering with.)

– Ryan

You may have noticed that this is a week where I’m throwing out half-ideas. I wrote about doing this quite a bit ago, but found myself not doing it as often as I feel I should.


15 Responses to Exponential Shifts in Fate

  1. Kit says:

    I love this. The why-and-how of my loving it is pretty long, so I wrote it up here: https://plus.google.com/109259097847092849006/posts/gNkAJGQwj4s

  2. TheLoneAmigo says:

    That’s not exponential, that’s geometric!


  3. Max Kaehn says:

    My players already like the “everyone work to build up a whole bunch of aspects so someone can tag them all and put the hurt on the enemy” strategy; this would create lots of incentive for that strategy.

  4. Fnorder says:

    Being an economist and all… This is madness! Unless of course you’d use it in high-powered superhero game, to represent transhuman technology levels, or really in epic fantasy. Without changing the way shifts work this would mean that not only do skilled characters do things in a ridiculously short time, but it will widen the already wide gap between skill levels.

    Since the average die result is somewhere between +2/-2 the difference between Good and Average or Superb is already almost impossible to beat in a conflict without extensive aspect use. Which is fine by me, it forces players to really get to thinking how to use any advantage available against a stronger opponent. It also gives them a sense of superiority against weaker ones, which is not appropriate for every genre, but still feels rewarding.

    I’m afraid that barring high-power games this idea might make conflicts to easy/too hard depending on where you’re standing.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      You do know that you can spend shifts on things other than conflicts, right?

      – Ryan

    • Fnorder says:

      Of course I do! The same principle still applies. One way looking at RPG mechanics is to see it as a model designed to represent the relative capabilities of characters, whether player controlled, NPCs, objects or other elements of gameplay. So if previously you had two doctors, one Good at Science, one Superb, the latter would at an average generate 2 shifts more if the difficulty was Good, and also 2 shifts more if it was Mediocre. Under these rules at a Good difficulty the Superb doc would generate again 2 shifts more, but 12 shifts more at Mediocre!

      So the direct effect of the change: The higher the difference between difficulty and skill, the more awesome the outcome, exponentially so. The indirect effect: more skilled characters become increasingly capable of performing whatever skill in question. If an archaeologist performs a Mediocre excavation that gives results after a couple of months, then a Good one will do it in a few days (as opposed to a week) and a Superb one in an instant (as opposed to a day).

      Game mechanics are there not only to tell us how difficult something is to perform, it also shows us how go we are in comparison to other specialists in our characters’ fields.

      For me this means that if you use solely this rule you will have to take into consideration the increasing power level with skill and be prepared that a very skilled character will perform easy tasks astoundingly. If you use it alongside of normal rolls, this will be even more visible.

      I’m not criticising! Just arguing that without changing the effects shifts give it might give a lot of power very quickly, and increase the gap between skills.

  5. HungryGamer says:

    Great idea. It would be especially useful in games like dresden where someone is trying to maintain a “Vanilla” character but still be able to stand out and not in the I just have more fate points than the other characters. This could also be managed by requiring that the Mastery stunt can only be applied to a skill that you have another stunt in.

  6. Adam Minnie says:

    I really like the idea of a stunt opening up Master ___ as a new way to treat shift-creation. The examples sold me on that idea, however the shift-creation varies, whether this way or another.

    Would it be terribly different or less out of hand if it was additional rather than multiplied? So each step increases by one more. It’s a bit trickier math, but not a problem with a reference chart.

    1 = 1
    2 = 2 (increase by 1)
    3 = 4 (increase by 2)
    4 = 7 (increase by 3)
    5 = 11 (increase by 4)
    6 = 16 (increase by 5)
    7 = 22 …

    Another idea might be that you just double the shifts. It’s a bit easier on the math, and may feel more immediately drawn from a result.
    1 = 2
    2 = 4
    3 = 6
    4 = 8
    5 = 10 etc.

    As a further alternative to this, perhaps Masters are constrained to use their extra free shifts on different things than the original shifts, usually spin: If the original shifts reduced time the free shifts can increase quality or subtlty, or perhaps the free shifts only count toward generating spin or setting up maneuvers or temporary aspects.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      As a designer, any time I subject players to math, I check with a few people to see if that math is friendly to non-math people. So even if the math is elegant, remember that the math will fuck you. So I wouldn’t use your formula outside of something automatically generated. Mine falls similar.

      I do like your first chart better, number-wise. I would probably just not state the math in showing the chart, and just show the chart made. People who are math-y will see how it was made, and people who aren’t can just focus on the end-result and not how it was derived.

      And I like it better than the linear progression of your second chart.

      – Ryan

    • Adam Minnie says:

      Sure. With a chart, math is irrelevant.

      For an even slower build, maybe with less crazy exponentiality, there’s always “Shifts = Surplus + (Surplus-1)”. Easy to remember without needing a chart.
      1 = 1
      2 = 3
      3 = 5
      4 = 7
      5 = 8
      6 = 11
      7 = 13…

    • Adam Minnie says:

      Whoops. That should be 5 = 9.

      Hmm. Looking at it again, you may not like that one either, since it’s just linearly up by 2 again.

  7. John Powell says:

    ‘Nother option would be to just square the shifts. Easier to remember to just multiply the number of shifts by itself:



    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I thought about that, but didn’t want to reward that high for 2.

      That said, it’s not been playtested, and could be something to fiddle with. Hell, maybe there are multiple tiers of this craziness. :)

      – Ryan

  8. Leonard Balsera says:

    There’s a Fibonacci sequence joke waiting to happen here.