Polyhedral Stress in Fate

This is an idea I’ve been kicking around for years, and solidified itself a bit in the shower. One of the things that is inherent to Fate conflicts is certainty — we know how many shifts we’re going to take once the attack and defense rolls come down, between and after invocations hit the table. This is something that many Fate fans love and some people who aren’t Fate fans see a problem, so it’s very much a feature/bug depending on your perspective.

But I’m always interested in uncertainty dials, so I keep wondering what happens when you decouple attack success and damage inflicted in Fate. Here’s one thought.

First, you turn stress from boxes into a pool akin to hit points. A small pool, maybe 10-ish points. When you attack and succeed, you do whatever damage the situation merits using polyhedral, like (as a totally out-of-my-ass example):

  • Baseline: 1d3
  • Particularly bruising: 1d3+1
  • Dangerous: 1d6 (or 2d3, mathematically more interesting but rather ugly)
  • Especially dangerous 1d6+2

(Maybe there are some 1d4 steps in there, depending on how granular a given dynamic needs. Hell, it’s almost ladder-able: Average danger vs Fair danger, etc.)

And whatever weapon you’re using versus whatever sense of protection the other person has merits these things. Maybe you’d have tags a la Dungeon World to better denote these things, I don’t know. This is a riff on the whole “a weapon is either lethal or not depending on narrative circumstance” that works better in Fate than saying “X type of weapon does Y damage.” Gotta respect that Fate isn’t a system of minutia. Hell, maybe something causes an attack that would normally be at one level to be harder. Narrative, baby.

Now, you keep the consequence system as ways of absorbing stress, and the rule of being taken out if damage goes past stress. So, really, none of the other conflict rules change. Just the stress component. (Which also means that a severe consequence can absorb an entire “dangerous” or most of an “especially dangerous” roll, when the results are at their highest.)

So, if the amount of stress you do is decoupled from the shifts of success you have, you can also mirror attacks in the same way that you do overcome and advantages: success or success with style. SWS maybe bumps up the lethality of it or grants an advantage — whatever works, but it’s in line with how SWS works elsewhere.

The reason this might work is that once you let an attack roll go, you don’t know how hard you’ll be hit. It adds some push-your-luck to the game, which sometimes I prefer. Which also means the decisions surrounding invoking to succeed on a defense (or, hell, on an attack)

I know there are Fate folks who will hate this because OMG POLYHEDRALS I FLED THAT NATION IN FEAR, but this came to mind so I wanted to note it down. Any thoughts that aren’t just immediate kneejerk rejections? :)

– Ryan


19 Responses to Polyhedral Stress in Fate

  1. blackcoat says:

    One interesting thing would be that you can succeed at an attack with cost, cost is always one step down on the damage ladder and they get a boost on you[1], or half damage or something. I was going to say a flat -2, but that means there’s a pretty good chance on anything not extremly dangerous that you’re gonna do zip. Half takes more off extremely dangerous, but makes the light weapons still hit.

    Also, it would allow for a little more granularity in the stress skills, ie, stress is 2+2*stress skill or something, as opposed to “why would you take a stress skill at 2 or 4?”. Cap it at ten instead of 4 with the extra consequences at 5+ like normal. Of course, this does weaken the consequences relative to the size of the stress box (mild can absorb anything, moderate can absorb damage equal to the burliest dude, severe can absorb that and half again more).

    Another thought, is leave the stress skills the way they are and have equipment (armor) add stress instead of having giant piles of personal stress (this is probably a game flavor thing, but if you’re gonna have weapons dealing out extra damage you’re probably gonna want…holy shit. Damage is a ladder. Weapon rating moves it up the ladder equal to rating, armor moves it down the ladder equal to rating, figure out what your rating is. I’m a genius!

    [1] Put in because I realised that just a flat half means there’s little to no cost at the lower end of the weapon damage.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I think the moment we put weapon and armor ratings on items rather than situations, we’ve probably gone too far and should play something that involves minuta in a better way. But if you’re talking situations, yeah, I’m effectively talking about a ladder — just trying to not get too ladder-y, because most of the time you tie something to the ladder, it can get confusing.

      – Ryan

  2. Judson says:

    If using polyhedrals would be an issue, couldn’t you just use N+NdF[+1] and use N as the “step” of the damage? Maybe I miss a subtle point, not being a big Fate player.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Mainly for UX reasons. Polyhedrals are easy to read, and I don’t want to make up something convoluted in order to deal with the minus — many of us, like you and me, would be able to parse that arithmetic, but not everyone would.

      That a single polyhedral dice has different distributions than a Fate curve is a mechanical hook to toy with.

      – Ryan

  3. Jim D says:

    This echoes pretty significantly with the combat system for a game I’m working on (yes, I know stress factors into more than just combat, but bear with me) — I went from a variable damage system based on magnitude of success on rolls to a static damage total, and getting a special effect on a strong hit (my “succeed with style”), which can include extra damage. (Damage isn’t variable, you roll to resist the incoming damage.) It’s worked wonders for me, and saves me from having to do a bunch of extra bullshit math.

    This jives better for me with the rest of the conflict system — that the specific number of shifts you roll doesn’t matter except just this once! does a lot to separate attacks from the rest of the system, in a bad way. Conflict is awesome, but there’s a lot more going on in Fate than fight modeling.

    As far as the polyhedrals specifically? Doesn’t really matter to me much one way or the other. Though I do secretly like the idea of making your stress a static figure and having the player roll to withstand it (to withstand “especially dangerous harm”, get a Great Endurance result or whatever).

  4. I think the players that frequent my table will be happy to throw around more dice. In fact, they severely dislike 4DF. If We were to use D6-D6, then include polyhedrals, they’d probably be ecstatic.

    Unfortunately, I’m only just getting them comfortable with the idea of Fate. I don’t believe adding some play testing for a new mechanic at the moment would be good with them. Otherwise, I’d totally take this out for a spin.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Just to be clear, this is different enough from stock Fate (regardless of what die rubric you use) to not be something I’d used to demo Fate, since you don’t know the full effect of the hit until it’s taken.

      Aside: I think people who hate some given die setup for irrational reasons are silly. It’s a different distribution, but maybe your peeps would like d6-d6.

      – Ryan

  5. Jay says:

    Only suggested change, to make it more fate-y and to stick with the use of fate fudge dice only

    1d3 = 1dF+2

    mathematically the same, but not polyhedral

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      While that uses a Fate dice, that’s not especially any more “fate-y.” This adds another element to resolution, which is more important to look at than what sort of dice to use.

      The moment there are other dice involved, like danger levels that are d6s or d4s or whatever, then having one that refers to a dF formula is introducing cognitive failure. (Plus, we can let people execute “1d3” however they want.)

      – Ryan

  6. John Powell says:

    For ease of use, I’d suggest the following ladder:

    Baseline: 1d4
    Particularly bruising: 1d6
    Dangerous: 1d6+1
    Especially dangerous 1d6+2

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Much as you can vary weapon and armor ratings in games, varying that ladder is also a dial. But I think start with your ladder, if only to make testing simpler. And, to stick with the idea that most people can take two small hits before things go bad, start people off with 4 or 5 stress.

      I might use this in a low fantasy setting idea I keep toying with.

      Of course, that’s where this does get divergent: you can score high enough on an attack (if you pump enough fate points into it comparatively speaking) to blow past stress on the first hit, and can’t necessarily here. But then maybe that’s the point. Will have to chew on this some more.

      – Ryan

  7. John Powell says:

    Here’s the minimum/average/maximum damage for the above ladder:


  8. John Powell says:

    Another idea, using Fate dice slightly differently:

    Roll a number of Fate dice equal to the shifts of the attack + weapon damage. Each die that comes up blank does zero hits, “-” dice do one hit each, and “+” dice do two hits each. (Just count the lines like you would pips on regular dice.)

    This makes a pretty array of curves where the average damage begins at 1 and increases by one for each additional die, while max damage increases by 2.

    [Edit note: fixed usage of “Fate” from incorrect “FATE”]

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      That’s too fiddly for my sensibilities. If it’s not quick to resolve, it’s not what I want, and I don’t care for the “blank = zero” bit.

      The post is about polyhedrals. Fucking with fate dice for this can be someone else’s post. :) Otherwise we’ll be here all day talking about dice probabilities rather than the core idea of decoupling attack success and damage.

      – Ryan

  9. John Powell says:

    I get you – polyhedral dice only.

    One more ladder because of my undying love of the d4:

    zero shifts = d4-1 damage
    1 shift = d4
    2 shifts = 2d4
    3+ shifts = 4d4



  10. Bill Garrett says:

    I’m interested in hearing more on how the determination for damage level happens. Example: Alice might shoot “Incendiary Rounds” at the bad guy who’s surrounded by “Boxes Full of Dynamite” and “Spilled Gasoline”, while Bob uses “Agarthic Kung-Fu” with “Counters For Every Style” and “You Killed My Father”. Does Alice do better than Bob because, y’know, explosions, does Bob do better because it’s personal and thus good story, or are they on par because it’s the final fight of the game and everything’s serious all around?

    Does this complicate characters who in-universe tend to soak damage instead of dodging or blocking? Do they have to invest more, or just differently, to support their preferred combat style?

    I’m personally okay that Attack is unusual in the way extra shifts matter. Those extra shifts had to come from somewhere. In my game, players have used Create Advantage to essentially set up combos or finishing moves, and Attacks to complete them. This feels decisive, and hence dramatic, and hence satisfactory to my one group at least. :)

    It’s an interesting idea! Uncertainty isn’t a bad thing. My only worry is that until fleshed out, a chunk of the uncertainty is replaced by GM fiat (how far up the damage ladder a given attack will go).

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      What you’re talking about is a game instance-dependent dial, and in that regard it’s as fleshed out as it needs to be as a tool for someone to skin. But it’s good that you called it out, because it’s worth talking about.

      Remember that Fate is still a GM-adjudicated game. People often forget that, and forget that due to how the engine pushes the social dynamic toward collaboration, said adjudication is up for debate. Anything I were to say to codify it would still be up to adjudication to verify — which isn’t just fair, it’s the nature of the beast. Still, it’s the skin around the mechanic, not the mechanic itself.

      Being able to use the “situational aspects as combo to finishing moves” is something I need to think about, with regards to this idea.

      – Ryan

  11. blackcoat says:

    Bah, the inability to reply in thread once again rears it’s ugly head.

    Yeah, I get wanting to maybe move to a system that does crunch better if you want to deal with equipment, but realy it’s more like “I have a big motherfucking handgun, it’s a weapon:2” as opposed to an extensive list of weapons tied to ratings.

    And then, “I’ve got a flak jacket on, that’s armour:1” vs extensive list

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      First, you can reply to your own initial message.

      And you’re really quoting my own rules to me? I know the Dresden weapon/armor rules, and I know you know that. :) So let’s assume that I’m not clueless here about how Fate builds work.

      “Narrative situation vs fictional positioning” is just taking “weapon vs armor” to its more complete conclusion.

      – Ryan