System Overview

The Basics of FATE ICONS

I’ll go over this in more detail if you don’t have a copy of the rules, or haven’t visited one of the free FATE SRD websites, but here are the basics of the system in case someone needs a refresher course.

FATE characters are composed of three main properties: Aspects, Specialties (Skills), and Attributes.

Aspects

are the hippie-indie part of the game are player-defined properties of the character. They come in two flavors, Qualities and Challenges.

Qualities are short positive descriptors, like witty comments, catchphrases, beliefs, motivations, backgrounds, names of the character’s gear, etc. Players can “invoke” their characters’ applicable Qualities by spending Determination, which provides an ingame advantage. (“Invoking” is just a fancy term for “a player points out a relevant Aspect and says that it’s helping him somehow in the situation.”) Of course, they have to be related somehow to the roll they’re being invoked for, so a character cannot invoke their Hidden and Dangerous Aspect to aid their bluffing attempt. (Usually.)

The dark mirror of Aspects are Challenges, which are used by the GM to “compel” a character to act in accordance with an Aspect, or fall victim to their base instincts, which rewards the player some Determination. These can include weaknesses (Kryptonite), codes of honor, rivals or nemesi, personal issues, social obligations (contacts or family members), a weird off-putting appearance, or even bad luck. Pretty much whatever you want. A Challenge can show up to challenge the character in some way, providing an obstacle that must be overcome, plus some Determination as incentive.

In short: FATE is less about challenging players and whatnot, and all about complicating the situation. If it’s at all possible to make things more entertaining, or interesting, or complicated, then an Aspect will be compelled; FATE is all about a push-pull economy between the GM and players with their Determination. Determination is what make characters super-charged action heroes, and the only way to get them back is by succumbing to the character’s own flaws.

Specialties

are better known as Skills, which is how I’ll refer to them as. These come in a number of flavors, and provide bonuses to a character’s Attributes when making tests (rolls) against related subjects—-e.g., the Law Enforcement specialty will give a bonus to rolls related to criminal justice, swaying a court, citing regulations, etc. Skills can provide bonuses from +1 to +3, which is actually a lot more than you’d think thanks to the FATE bell-curve.

Abilities

are much the same as Attributes in any other RPG, a gauge of your character’s abilities. Like with Skills, I’m calling them Attributes because that’s more recognizable. Whatever they’re called, there are six of them: Prowess (martial prowess), Coordination (hand-eye interaction, agility), Strength (raw physical power), Intellect (book learnin’), Awareness (sensory perception), and Willpower (mental fortitude and force of personality). A quick overview:

  • Prowess is related to your martial prowess; you use it to Bash and Slash, as well as Evade those same kinds of attacks.
  • Coordination is used for tests of dexterity, agility, hand-eye coordination, and the like. Ranged attacks such as shooting and throwing, making any kind of acrobatic/athletic action (climbing, swimming, dodging, etc.), catching, moving, … these all fall under the domain of Coordination.
  • Strength measures your raw physical might, and is used to lift mountains, wrestle, jump (of all things), bend bars and break gates. Strength also measures your stamina (you can move continuously for Strength x 10 “Pages” before nearing exhaustion), rushing opponents (essentially charging them), and Blocking, which allows you to push through various attacks and prevent them from damaging yourself (or your teammates). How cool is that?
  • Intellect is your book-learnin’, your smarts, your memory and reasoning. You use it to build things, learn things, and know things (so, “retain knowledge of things,” I guess).
  • Awareness is your perception, intuition, and cunning. You use it for noticing, searching, and tracking, so it’s more important than you think. Also, initiative.
  • Willpower is your strength of personality, your force of will, and your charisma. It’s used to intimidate and persuade others, retain your mental will (defense against mental attacks), and … for the performing arts.

These are rated numerically, with each Attribute getting a Power Level; see Power Levels chart below.

Powers

Much as you’d expect, these are the superhero powers. The exact number each character has is variable. Someone like Batman or Captain America might have really high Attributes instead of a ton of powers, with a few Powers representing their honed talents (super-perception, toughness); a character like Superman or Thor is going to be brimming with them. More information is found on the Powers page.

They, like your Attributes, are rated on the Power Levels chart below.

Power Levels

Level Description Power Level Examples Name
1 Small child, large dog Franklin Richards Feeble, Weak
2 Below-average human Jimmy Olsen, Jubilee, Bucky Inferior, Poor
3 Average human Robin, Tony Stark, anything Aquaman does not related to water Average, Typical
4 Above-average human Nightwing, Sgt. Rock, Luke Cage, Moon Knight Good, Competent
5 Exceptional human The Punisher, Hawkeye, Green Arrow Excellent, Great
6 Human maximum Batman, Captain America Remarkable, Superb
7 Low superhuman Daredevil, The average X-Man, the Fantastic Four Fantastic, Incredible
8 Superhuman Most of the Justice League, Spider-Man, the Iron Man suit, etc. Amazing, Legendary
9 High superhuman Most strong DC heroes, Thor, Hulk, Phoenix, Professor X’s mind powers Monumental, Colossal
10 Cosmic A weak Herald of Galactus, Doomsday, Apocalypse, Amazo Cosmic, Astonishing

Theoretically the scale continues past 10 to 11 (a decent Herald of Galactus) or even to 12 (Galactus, the New Gods, your average DC cosmic villain).

(It’s more of a general gauge than a specific example chart; if need be I can hash out a per-attribute sample chart like in the old Marvel supers game, so you know that Dazzler is ’tarded and can barely program her VCR. Colossus might have a 7 or 8 Strength, with his other attributes lower; Professor X would have a high Willpower and Intellect, and some powerful mental-based powers, with very weak physical attributes.)

Rolling Dice

FATE uses a number of different dice rolling systems. The first is to roll both a positive and negative d6 and add them together (1d6-1d6), creating a bell-curve centered on 0, with results between -5 and +5. This slightly increases the risk/reward potential, so you can feasibly make an impressive roll, but the actual results will be all over the map.

This result is compared with your Attribute or Power Levels; for example, if you’re making a Strength test, you’d add your dice result to your Strength level. Thus rolling a 0 isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s bad when you roll a zero on an Intellect test and have 2 Intellect, but if you have 8 Strength, even a -3 result is still an impressive success (8 + -3 = +5, for the mathematically challenged).

Success Rates

The target numbers and end results for your Efforts. Again, the formula is die roll (1d6-1d6) plus Power or Attribute Level, with a difficulty level of target’s Attribute; the number of successes over that difficulty are compared to the chart below (roughly) to determine the outcome.

Dice Total/Effort Result/Outcome
Less Than 0 Failure! The effort fails to produced the desired effect.
0-2 Moderate Success! The effect succeeds by a slim margin.
3-4 Major Success! The effect succeeds enough to be noticeably well-done.
5 or more Massive Success! The effect is successful beyond your wildest dreams, and produces secondary benefits.

So, what are the secondary benefits from attaining a Massive Success? Essentially, anything you want, within reason: as long as it’s plausible enough, and related to what you were doing, and something within the plausibility of your capabilities, then you can pull it off. Shifting the Earth out of orbit, causing time to flow backward, pretty much anything.

Determination

is what makes the world go ‘round. It’s a form of action/hero points that can be spent to get a number of in-game benefits:

  • Make a Determined Effort: When you really want/need to make a successful roll, you can call a specific target number and roll your dice. You then spend 1 point of Determination per two levels required to raise your rolled result to the target number you called.

For example, say you really need the knock-out punch against some giant alien monster or something. You decide you need an end result of +3, at least, so you say “I’m Making a Determined Effort, looking for three” or something. Rolling the dice, you end up with a flat 0—-not enough, but at least you didn’t roll in the negatives. To get the +3 result you made your target, you need to spend three points of Determination—-at two/1 point, that’s 1 point for the first two levels, 1 more to make three. On the bright side, you’ve made your goal, and attained the +5 result necessary.

Note that if you surpassed your goal—-say, by rolling a +5 in the example—-you’d still have to spend at least 1 point of Determination just for having declared a Determined Effort. It’s more a way to say “No matter what, I’m getting a success of at least X much,” so rolling higher is just a pleasant surprise.

  • Make a Focused Effort: By Invoking one of your character’s Qualities and spending Determination, you can change what Attribute you use for one specific test. For example, I call for an Intellect roll to disarm a self-destruct sequence. Since your character’s a hulking behemoth with miserable Intellect and high Strength, you can make a Focused Effort and invoke your character’s “When all else fails, smash things” to roll Strength instead of Intellect.
  • HOUSE-RULE: Flat Rate Bonus: By Invoking your of your character’s Qualities and spending Determination, you can add a +2 bonus to any roll. This can even be applied after the dice have been rolled, but before the GM has indicated the result succeed or failed.
  • Recharge/Recover: You can immediately regain Stamina equal to your Strength or Willpower, whichever is greater. This can be done once per scene.
  • Retcon: You can spend a point of Determination and invoke one of your character’s relevant Aspects to define or detail something not previously detailed in the campaign. This leans towards the small or simple side, and might be vetoed if it’s either too big or something someone already had plans for. For example, you could say that you had that flashlight someone needed in your back pocket, or that the contents of the beakers in the lab you’re in contain the precise materials needed to build a makeshift explosive, or that one of the people in that crowd happens to be your criminal defense lawyer. Things that are too much, not small and simple, would include saying that you happened to have a nuclear device in your back pocket, that you had nothing to do with the crime you just committed, or that Galactus was your college roommate and therefore wouldn’t ever try to devour a planet you were on.
  • Stunts: Pretty much like Focused Effort, but for Powers. Again, by invoking one of your Aspects, you can use one of your powers to do something out of the ordinary with a power you posess: using your force-field power to create a vacuum bubble over someone’s head, suffocating them; using your super-speed to run around and create whirlwinds; using your super-strength to create shockwaves.

There are a few ways to get Determination back. At the end of every session, each character’s Determination pool returns to normal, e.g. equal to the character’s Refresh Rate. Think of it as the down-time between episodes or comics or what have you. Good roleplaying, saying something funny/witty at the right time, etc. can net you a FATE point.

However, the standard way to regain Determination in the middle of a session is by being Compelled (see Aspects above). The GM prods you to do something in line with one of your Aspects, such as getting into things before backup arrives due to your First On The Scene Aspect. You have the choice of either accepting the compel and gaining Determination, or deciding to take the safe route and forego both. You may end up acting out you Aspects without being compelled, which will still net you Determination.

HOUSE-RULE: Determination Nominations

As an addition, each player will have one Determination that can only be given out to another player as a nomination, as a reward for doing something impressive, excellent roleplaying, humor, etc. It’s both a way to make up for players doing things that the GM didn’t notice or forgot to reward, and to get more Determination flowing in dramatic moments. Let’s face it, the GM has a lot to keep track of and doesn’t always catch everything in a fast-paced game, and there are some things you might find more reward-worthy that others might not. Here’s your chance to rectify that.

The nomination has to be rewarded around the time it occurs; you can’t give Bob a nomination for that hilarious moment he tricked a guard last session, or that time when he chose character-based choices over sensible ones an hour ago, just so he has a few extra determination at a critical moment now.

And as always, the GM has veto power over awards.

Making Checks

and rolling dice is relatively easy. You’ll be rolling for both your Attributes and your Powers; your Aspects provide potential bonuses and advantages to these. Your checks are tested against the opponents’ values; you roll your Prowess against their Prowess for a melee attack, for example. ICONS is unique in that the players make all (well, most) of the rolls, so you’ll also end up rolling your Prowess against the enemy’s prowess to dodge out of the way. Of course, there are always situations where the difficulty will be a static fixed number: jumping that pit may require a Good (+3) Strength check, for example. These difficulties, along with everything else, are rated by The Ladder.

The results from a check are known as your Effort. Say, Matt needs to jump that pit with a Good (+3) Strength check. Matt rolls; his d6-d6 result is +1, which is added to his Strength (a measly 2) and any Aspects he tagged or invoked (again, none). Matt’s Effort is 3, against a difficulty of 3. This is enough to jump the pit, though Matt may be hanging off the edge of the pit’s other side because his roll was only the slimmest of successes. The result is the bare minimal of success: workable, but not pretty. It would be a different story if Matt had generated some Shifts.

A Shift

is the difference between your Effort and the Difficulty; had Matt rolled a 6 against the difficulty 3, he would have generated three shifts. Each shift can reduce the time required by one step, increase the result’s quality by one step, or otherwise make the result that much better. Think of it as over-succeeding: if you roll really well, like, say, three times better than “bare minimal,” the result is three times better than bare minimal.

In combat, shifts deal additional damage to enemies. That’s the main reason you should be paying attention to this. While we’re on the subject, generating 3 or more Shifts in combat creates Spin, which can be used to give minor advantages in combat (or provide minor penalties to your enemies).

Conflict

is the meat of the game. For the most part, it’s as written above: roll Attribute checks, generate shifts, and damage the other party. Conflict exists in both physical and social forms. Physical is self-explanatory; hit someone until they fall down. Social is both abstract and variable, and represents everything from charming to intimidating to scaring the crap out of someone.

For the most part, Conflicts are run with Attribute checks, such as attacker rolling their Coordination (to shoot them) against a defender’s Coordination Skill. Besides attacking, characters may attempt to make Maneuvers. A Maneuver is a similar Skill contest; however, its end goal isn’t to inflict damage but to manipulate the environment or the setting. Throwing a lantern into a barn full of dry straw to generate an On Fire Aspect is an example of a Maneuver.

A character’s vitality is measured in terms of Stamina. This is a character’s general health, and represents how much abuse they can soak up. ICONS, unlike standard FATE, doesn’t have a separate form of health to represent stress/damage to your social-standing, sanity, fear level, etc., so that won’t be as much of a problem.

HOUSE-RULE: Consequences

are complications, temporary aspects representing long-term damage you’ve taken. Instead of taking Stamina damage, you can take a Consequence to represent the situational ailments (or what have you) that crop up during combat. A character may take a Consequence to soak some damage and label it “Fatigued” or “Flash Burns.” Higher-level Consequences require more extreme names (and ailments), such as “Broken Leg” or “Crippled.” You can have up to 3 Consequences at any time. They’re more interesting than checking off Stamina, they can be tagged as Aspects, and they prevent you from being Taken Out.

At any time you accept a Consequence, you may make Concessions, which ends the conflict immediately. The downside is that you’re immediately Taken Out; the bright side is that you decide how and why you’re Taken Out, and you don’t have to keep fighting an impossible battle.

Taken Out

is much as it sounds. You’re unconscious, dead, petrified with fear, so horribly disfigured and maimed that you can no longer keep fighting. Whoever takes someone else out determines how that someone else is Taken Out, and it isn’t always pretty. Don’t get Taken Out.

System Overview

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