Flip Fate

There’s a rules variant I use for Fate Points when running It’s Not My Fault which a friend asked me for the writeup on today and I said “Sure, i wrote that up somewhere, one sec.”

Yeah, well, it turns out, I had written it, but had lefts it in my ‘to be posted” file for a very long time. Oops. So, having found it, I how share this very belated post. Credit where it’s due – the original idea for this came from the really cool way that FFG’s Star Wars game handled force tokens.

Flip Fate

A variant rule for using Fate Points

  1. Grab some double sided tokens. Exactly what doesn’t matter much, but the sided need to be EASILY distinguishable at a glance. Othello/reversi tokens work very well for this. Coins can work in a pinch, but the lack of color difference is sub-optimal. For purposes of conversation, I’m going to assume tokens with a black and white sides.
  2. At the start of play, take a number of tokens equal to the number of players +3. If that’s an even number, add one more. Then, drop them on the table (to randomize) which side is up, then set them up in a line, grouped with like colors.
  3. From this point forward, whenever someone (GM or Player) would spend a fate point, they flip one of the tokens. Players flip from white to black, the GM flips from black to white.
  4. If a player earns a fate point in some way, such as through a compel, the GM makes a flip from back to white.

Optional Rule: Dramatic Reset

One thing that can happen in this system is that the chips can go all black or all white, meaning that one “side” can no longer use Fate points. This is an intentional outcome, since it gives each side incentive to keep the Fate Points moving, but also makes it clear when it’s safe to do so. Getting a “lock” is an invitation for one side or the other to push very hard to leverage their advantage.
However, that may be a bit too dry for some tables. A dramatic reset happens when the chips are all one color, though it should wait until whatever action triggered it is resolved. Once that happen, there is a dramatic change in the situation, narrated by the “winning” side – the players if the chips are all white, the GM if they’re all black.
This is a moment of strong authority, and can resolve or drastically change the game. For players, it’s an opportunity to take full GM authority for a moment. For the GM, it’s kind of a chance to make an unkind move without feeling bad about it. Usual suggestions about “don’t break the game” remain in play, but I trust you.
Once the reset is resolved, the tokens are randomized (AKA “dropped on the table”) again and play continues. If they come up all one color? Honestly, go ahead and do another dramatic reset. The odds are so far against that you might also want to go buy a lottery ticket or something.

Variant: Fate Dice

Rather than tokens, you can do the same thing with a number of Fate Dice equal to the number of players. A “flip” increases or decreases the face value of one of the dice, with the GM moving towards – and the players moving towards +. Dramatic reset happens when the dice show all plusses or all minuses.

13 thoughts on “Flip Fate

  1. Mike Olson

    The Othello option is interesting.

    The Fate dice variant, however, is where it’s at. For me, anyway. It makes the dramatic reset more dramatic, and feels like it gives the players and GM more opportunities to spend fate points. It may end up in a netherworld of seven blank dice or whatever, but I think that can be dealt with.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      I have a few metagame thoughts bubbling around in my head that could build on the dice too, but they need some work. But suppose you made it 4 dice and did something like saying that if it ever tilts (goes all blank or one value) then that “side” can do a reset-light by forcing that value to be used for a roll. Or maybe do literal dice swapping with the pool.

      Lots of possibilities.
      That said? Flipping chips is really satisfying on a pure tactile level.

  2. Hans J Messersmith

    Rob, I feel like I am missing something here. So, I’ll provide an alternative that seems identical to me, and then maybe you tell me where I am wrong.

    Fixed Communal Fate Pools
    At the start of a session, players+3 fate points (+1 if odd number) are randomly distributed to either the player pool or the GM pool. Players no longer have separate pools, but share one pool communally.

    Whenever someone spends a fate point, that point is placed into the pool of the other side (e.g. the GM spends a point, it goes into the player pool).

    That seems functionally identical to what you describe. Is it? Am I missing a subtle point, or is the “flipping” aspect of this an aesthetic choice.

    1. Hans J Messersmith

      Wait! Never mind, I think I see the difference. The flipping tokens are NOT themselves the fate points, they are just a limit on spending fate points per side. Players still have their own pools of fate points and the GM has their own pool. The flipping track is a limit on the difference in the number of times the two sides have spent points in the game before something major has to happen.

      In my own experience of running fate, the GM often simply runs out of fate points in a scene. What would that mean in this system? I guess (unless you are using the Dramatic Reset) the players would have to compel the GM some to get more fate points into the GM’s hands?

      1. Rob Donoghue Post author

        No, you had it! This is ABSOLUTELY a closed system (unlike the usual approach), which technically constrains the GM a little, but in practice it’s never been a problem in It’s Not My Fault because that’s pretty fast and loose.

        In other games, it’s a bit of sleight of hand to introduce some implicit rising and falling tension. Offering a compel carries more weight when the GM is flush with points.

    2. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Functionally, having 2 pools and swapping between them would work the same way in broad strokes. The reasons I do coins are almost all external to the mechanic. First and foremost, they packed into a smaller kit for me. :). Beyond that, they are very clear on the table without requiring the kind of physical space that separating two piles would require. Plus, I like the flipping action. 🙂

      Those are all pretty ignorable reasons, but there is ONE benefit they offer – because they double as randomizers, the simplify some tasks (like establishing the initial spread) and allow for tricks (like letting each player flip a coin and take the result as an Oracle on their starting condition).

      1. Hans J Messersmith

        Got it, I understand now. Thanks for the clarification!

        I admit that in SW: Edge of the Empire this idea fell flat for me, because the track rarely if ever reached the far end in our games, so in essence all it ended up doing was providing a consistent bonus to either side; players use on their turn, GM uses on their turn, back and forth, nothing really changes. The only times it mattered were when the GM would decide to take their lumps for a period of time and let the track swing almost all the way to the players. At that point the players actually had to think about using it and it started to matter mechanically.

        But if memory serves the system in SW is not tied to anything like aspects, so its all meta-game and strategy with no fictional connection.

  3. Mark

    One of the underappreciated aspects of Force points is that little moment between when the GM tells you to “flip a dark side point” and finding out what fresh hell awaits you. It’s a nice little moment of table drama you don’t appreciate until you start milking it a little


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