Fate: the Discover Action

Part of the reason that Leonard Balsera and I move to the Four Actions model in Fate Core is years and years of explaining Fate at cons and examining the common questions people asked about prior iterations of Fate. We kept explaining around maneuvers not just being physical, which turned into “creating advantages.” That allows us to collapse declarations there, which pulled assessments into it as the “make an aspect invocable” action. We made overcoming obstacles and situations more concretely defined, and dropped the blocking mechanics more or less from the core experience.

Now we have four verbs that map to most contestable actions: overcome, create, attack, and defend. These verbs aren’t just mechanical choices, they’re linguistic choices. All RPGs are rooted in language, so our choices for common terms needs to feel natural and intentional.

But there’s a hitch. Just as we looked at common questions people asked and confusion stated about older versions of Fate, there’s one that seems to come up about Fate Core: the action appropriate for discovering things. I’ve watched many of those threads devolve into debates about when something is an overcome action versus when it’s about creating an advantage. Every single time, I kick myself for not recognizing that in paring down to four verbs that encapsulated all of the rules needed for Fate actions, we left out a really using fifth verb: discover.

So I propose the Discover action. In general, Discover covers revealing information, either with passive or active opposition. Depending on the nature of what’s revealed, you may uncover facts and information or you may uncover an actual aspect. Success gives you the information or aspect, and success with style gives you a boost or a free invocation. Unlike with creating an advantage, the aspect doesn’t inherently come with a free invocation, because you’re observing rather than applying change.

This dovetails well with the passive discovery rules in Fate Codex Volume 1, Issue 2.

There’s nothing this adds to the Core ruleset, except that I replace a free invocation with increased awareness, which makes it so that finding information that doesn’t fit well as an aspect and finding an aspect are the same level of reward. However—and this is critical to my philosophy of game design—it adds to Core’s functional language. With a Discover action, you no longer have to split hairs and say “You’re looking for clues? That sounds like an overcome action, unless you’re trying to get an aspect…” or any other way of dancing around our verbiage, just as we had to dance around “assessment versus declaration,”  “maneuvers aren’t just physical maneuvers,” etc. in the pre-Core era.

This would solve usability concerns, which I hope also shows how if you make your mechanics to tightly packed, you can create usability issues just as if you have them spread out like Spirit of the Century was.

If I could go back in time, I would add this to the ruleset. It would make a bunch of things I’ve written since—for Achtung! Cthulhu, for the in-progress Eclipse Phase Fate conversion, and for other things—much simpler, because in those settings discovering is a Big Deal.

Perhaps I’ll follow up this post at some point with the Discover text I would write for the 18 Fate Core skills, as an exercise. That would probably necessitate revising some of the Overcome and Create an Advantage entries, but would also clarify how to look at action-oriented skills as discover skills without burying that use in a large Overcome/Create paragraph.



12 Responses to Fate: the Discover Action

  1. Lenny Balsera says:

    Heheheheheh… you might be interested in Unwritten, the official Myst RPG using Fate, when it comes out.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      It’s almost like we’ve talked for the past couple years about things we’ve grown less happy about with Fate Core since watching the fans interact with it. :D


  2. Yes! I’ve basically been telling people “It’s Create or Discover an Advantage” when I’m actually sitting down to play the game.

    Ya know… a full Discover action might be a nice piece in The Fate Codex. I’m just sayin’….

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Heh. That would be easier than writing that Other Thing we’ve been talking about. Or, at least it’s more straightforward because I’ve been thinking about it for a long time now.

      Also, would be a cool way to get it into the CC space.

      Hmm… :)


  3. Mick Bradley says:

    Thank you for this. And I’ll Patronize the bejeesus out of anybody who writes/publishes that Discover text for the Core skills.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      If it ends up not fitting in the Codex because of space or time or whatever, I’ll probably make it a Fateful Concepts. Either way, it gets an editor and some peer review, and becomes part of the CC design space.


  4. The Bane says:


    I SO get it now! Really!
    Just coming back to Fate from Fate v2 and trying to change my way of thinking to facilitate running Fate Core or FAE has been… interesting.

    I got into the Overcome vs Create issue internally before reading anything on it. When I searched for it, other debates made it even more confusing for me. I wanted to “Overcome” the fact that the opposition had a hidden Aspect, then “Create an Advantage” on that existing Aspect that was ‘Discovered’ with the Overcome action.

    Oh boy, I think I may have confused myself writing the above though. So you are suggesting you can either Discover an existing aspect on an NPC or Create an Advantage on the NPC, which would be a new aspect for them? Something not identified before, as a narrative truth, from the perspective of the character Creating the Advantage?

    I’m gonna get this! It’s just too cool not to!

  5. Ryan Macklin says:

    There’s some good talk about where this intersects or gets muddy with creating advantages on the G+ thread:

    In fact, we’re (at this moment) nearly 75 comments in, and it’s been refined into something leaner. I really should update this post once that thread cools down and the rules is in a steady state. What started as noodling on an idea apparently struck a chord.

  6. Ywen says:

    I would have a question then about the separation between game & meta-game when using the Discover action:
    It’s clear it limits a PC’s action to observation, but then do it allows the PC’s player to _declare_ facts about the world?

    I’m gonna take an old example I used on FC G+ community: a PC is persued by a dangerous murderer, and they reach an old cabin in the woods. The player wants it to be a abandoned lumberjack’s cabin, so he may find an axe or a chainsaw in it.
    I, as a GM, didn’t plan neither who owned the cabin nor what could be found in it. So the player is not exactly trying to discover but to assess a game aspect.
    Is it Discover, Create an Advantage, or none of both?

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Hah! I just answered this on the really long G+ thread. We’re nearly 75 comments into beating this idea up and making it stronger.

      Hmm. In fact, if we shift for a moment to the player-perspective, if your intent is to create an aspect in the scene, then even if the character is looking around for Cover, that’s Create, not Discover. If your intent is to uncover more information, then it’s Discover. Which then putting back into the character-perspective:

      • If you’re looking for something primarily to answers questions, that’s Discover.
      • If you’re looking for something primarily to use or exploit, that’s Create.

      For the talk about game versus meta-game, I don’t have a strong opinion on who answers the question. My baseline assumption is that Discover is used when you as the character and player have questions, so it’s probably not a great idea to assume the player’s going to answer the questions often. It’s in one sense a way to flag “GM, give me something to work with” as much as it is anything else.

      – Ryan

  7. Marcus says:

    I love this. I’ve been dancing around how this sort of thing works best in Fate for some time (as when you offered other good advice about the information economy back here: https://plus.google.com/109944743210261576876/posts/XuWVuFzV4GY). I sort of converged on something like this in play but I think codifying it would be very helpful at many tables. I’ve mostly been playing Accelerated so this idea is essentially ready to hit the table for my purposes. Now we just need a nifty icon! Keep up the good work.