Random Damage in Fate

I have a hypothesis: People like rolling for damage. Not necessarily everyone, certainly, but for a certain category of player, there is something neat and appropriate that damage output is not merely varied by success, but also by means. They want the difference between a dagger and a rocket launcher that is no mere number, but rather something meaty and gamey, like a d4 vs 3d12.

I have no idea if there’s any real instinct for this, or if it’s just a behavior that’s been wired in by exposure to D&D, but for a lot of players (myself included) there is something compelling about damage with a degree of variability.

Now, it would be EASY to add this kind of damage to Fate. Multiply the stress pool times 5. Consequences ablate 10 points per tick. Damage is by weapon, tool or situation and is ranked in die tie, ascending as d1, d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20[1]. The die sized rolled is based on the type of attack (bigger equaling more dangerous) and the number of dice rolled equals the margin of success.

Bam, done. Tweak the exact numbers to taste[2].

There is absolutely a kind of player who would DELIGHT in their pistol being d6, their rifle d8 and their grenade a d12. It would introduce all kinds of fun options (Stunt: Anything’s a weapon – if you hold it in your hands, your damage die can’t be smaller than a d6) and even other upgrades. Whose to say you can’t have a +1 sword which does d8+1 per margin of success. Lots you can do.

I admit, while I dig the sentiment, I’d balk at this. I think I’d hesitate to being in all the other dice. Not that I dislike them – I love them in other games – but I like the simplicity of the fate kit as it stands, and I would hate to bulk it up more than necessary.

If really pressed, I suppose I could add a d6 based damage system. Could simplify the previous damage system so it’s all d6’s, where weapons add extra dice (rather than flat modifiers). Easy peasy, but maybe a little dull.

If I were feeling fiddly, I’d do this: every weapon rolls a certain number of d6s (let’s say, 1–20). That is how many dice you roll for damage, and your margin of success is the number of dice you keep. This has a curiously limiting effect on the rocket launchers of the world – they’ll roll lots of dice, but unless it’s a solid hit, that only helps so much. Of course, from a cinematic perspective, that’s probably just about right.[3]

Of course, that still requires going outside the fate kit, if only a little.

The real temptation is to use Tally Dice. Tally dice are an idea born from the fact that fate dice are, effectively, d3s, but they’re hard to read that way unless you want to do some quick math (and slow rolling is bad rolling). It just involves looking at Fate dice a little bit differently, and if you do it, it becomes easy to read it as follows:tallydice

Some of you may have already seen the pattern, but this trick is this: don’t think of the lines as plusses and minuses, think of them as tally marks. A minus is one mark, a plus is two marks (think of it as an X), a blank is none. No math required, just a slightly different perspective.

Now, here’s the fun thing – since it’s got an average result of 1, it can be seamlessly inserted into vanilla fate if you want. Simply roll a number of tally dice (dT) equal to the margin of success. On average, the outcome will be the same, but there’s a bit more swinginess. For example, if I beat a goblin by 2, I roll 2dT and roll -+, for 3 damage!. Of course, it does not get you the other part of damage systems (reflection off weapon size), but it would not take a lot to combine this idea with the previous one and come up with swords that are more dangerous than daggers.

If that’s your thing.

  1. Yes, it’s a bad numerical jump, but this is the preposterous die. Cannonballs, falling buildings, death rays and so on.  ↩
  2. Ok, tiny bit of math. You can’t get true equivalency with this system because the lack of equivalency is the point. What you can do is decide what “average” damage looks like (probably a d6 or a d8), take the average roll of that and figure that’s about one “box” of stress. I’d also round it up a little (which I did to get 5x) because a little more durability is a better outcome than too much fragility.  ↩
  3. If you invert the model (so weapons have a fixed number of kept dice, and the number of d6’s rolled is based on the margin of success) then that gets a little bit weirder to predict. I’m not sure I’d mess with it.  ↩

19 thoughts on “Random Damage in Fate

  1. Douglas Cole

    Not only do I think that people like rolling damage dice, my experience doing some effect-roll based tweaks in GURPS is that people like rolling for effects in general. I introduced an effect roll into what had previously been “just add a constant value” for a long time, and my players, as well as those of two other GMs I dragooned into testing it for me, loved it. (I’m being coy because that article is in to Pyramid for consideration for publication; don’t want to spoil it).

    But I like your tally dice method for introducing numerical variability. What’s interesting is that it seems you have a situtation where your “net successes” and “tally score” can be different enough on the same (say) four dice that if you need to roll both you can do so.

    Mrph. 10,000 simulations later, that’s probably a bad idea. There are only 15 outcomes, and they’re not always sensible. Four failures (-,-,-,-) will always result in a tally score of 4. All scucesses will alway be 8 (not a bad result). Breaking even (zero successes) can be 0, 3, or 6 for effect, while 1 success will either be 2 or 5.

    Now, on the average, if you only look at zero using +,-,0 versus the tally score, it does work. Your expected value goes up, and variability decreases.

    Anyway, neat post.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      I’d also considered the prospects of multi-axis rolls but, as you note, there are some problems with that. Not going to give up on it thought. I’m sure there’s some kind of situation where the weird correspondance will be appropriate.

  2. Fred Hicks

    I kinda want to do something more interesting, tho, like Dragon Age interesting. Suppose:

    + = 2 points of damage
    – = 1 point of damage
    0 = Your side-effect/SFX pool

  3. Richard Bellingham

    My experience from the annoyance of rolling 0 damage despite having a huge pool of dice to roll means I’m not keen on this as written. Wouldn’t it suck if you had 6 shifts of success, but due to the dice being badly behaved you rolled six blanks and got no damage?

    I fixed that in the World of Darkness by having minimum damage rules, converting a third of the damage dice into automatic successes as a minimum. Roll a pool of 9 dice and you’re guaranteed to do pre-soak damage of at least 3.

    Perhaps the way to use your idea with the tally dice is a bit similar? The shifts of damage are automatic and can’t be lost on an unlucky roll of the dice, and instead you roll a number of dT depending on the weapon. A dagger is 1dT and a broadsword is 3 dT for instance. That allows the weapon to have an impact on the damage without the potential frustration that would be engendered by awful rolls.

    The other drawback of course is that this introduces a third rolling step into the resolution of every attack (attack, defend, damage). It’s not quite pre nWoD’s four (attack, defend, damage, soak) but it’s getting there!

    Interesting food for thought though. I like the concept of the tally dice for generating numbers between 0 and 2 per die, I’m sure I could find some uses for that.

      1. Richard Bellingham

        It’s a one in 81 chance if you rolled four shifts on your attack. If you rolled one shift then the odds of getting no damage are 1/3 and if you got two shifts the odds are 1/9… Unless I’m misunderstanding and you don’t do one tally die per shift rolled.

        1. Fred Hicks

          Ah, no, right. Yeah. Well, that’s part of why I was suggesting the blanks = some (positive to you, but non-damage) side-effect. Like, suppose you’re in a superhero game with this, and blanks = knockback. 🙂

  4. Sandra

    My old house rule (that I quickly abandoned) for Fudge I called “shootin’ blanks”.
    You rolled your roll as usual.
    For weak weapons (such as fists), you counted up the blanks and that was the damage dealt.
    For strong weapons (such as guns), you counted the blanks and the minuses, and that was the damage dealt.

    So if you still hit even though you got a lot of blanks and minuses, you must’ve had a good base stat and thus you dealt a lot of damage.
    But in the end I didn’t like it.
    When I’m a player in D&D, I roll the damage dice along with the to-hit die and when I DM I dig the new static damages.

    1. Jason Pitre

      To build off this idea…

      Weak weapons: Add +1 stress per minus sign on the to hit roll.
      Normal weapons: Add +1 stress per blank sign on the to hit roll.
      Strong weapons: Add +1 stress per plus sign on the to hit roll.

      Since you are unlikely to hit and with lots of minuses, it’s inherently less effective but it gives a strange reward for winning despite your bad luck.

      Normal weapons turn blanks into something useful.

      Strong weapons let you get double the benefit for each plus.

  5. Craig Maloney

    I have a horrible idea which Im abandoning as soon as I type it but it needs to come out.


    So + and – work the same way they did before but negative damage is still damage (-1 through -4 is 1 through 4)

    1. Daniel Chapman

      How about standard Fate dice but add a constant equal to the number of dice rolled? 4dF+4 for instance. Same range but you maintain the same method if reading the dice. Surprisingly, I needed to go over how to read the dice with new players now and then, mixing in two ways of doing it is generally annoying.

      I say this with non-fond memories of trying to explain stress vs quality rolls for Ars Magica. (Or the fact that a 0 is bad initially, but if you roll a 1 the die explodes and a 0 counts as a ten on future rolls.) Just that sort of sometimes it works one way and others another discourages some if my more casual players.

      1. Rob Donoghue Post author

        Totally doable – XdF + X has the same functional endpoint, but it has math in there. And if you’re comfortable with math, it’s a trivial amount, but you’d me amazed how many people would rather just skip it if they can.

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  7. Killer Shrike

    Great post. However, I feel compelled to say that I personally like the “Red” dice concept on page 72 of the Fate Toolkit for semi-random damage.

    As you are a co-author of the Toolkit, I’m curious as to your thought’s on the benefits / drawbacks of using that method compared to the methods you describe here to kind of put it all into context.

    Thanks! And please keep blogging; I always enjoy reading your posts.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      I love dice color tricks, but I am historically leery of leaning on them because I don’t like to assume that people have enough dice for them. This is probably an outdated instinct now that we’ve started selling the cool Fate dice, but habits die hard.


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