Bringing the Damage Roll to Fate

So, this is a weird idea for a side-project of mine that might not see the light of day (or it might!). I’d post it over on if I was more certain about it, but for now, this goes over here on my blog as a “hack”.

So, I’ve been noodling around the notion of wanting to do a Fate damage variant that felt both gritty and dangerous, but also ran pretty fast, and set aside the whole stress thing. Oddly, this left me looking at something that’s usually tied to a more hit-pointy system, the “damage roll” — but without hit points per se, and still taking into account the effect of a well performed (high margin of success) attack roll. I’ve kicked this one back and forth with Rob Donoghue a bit, and we each came down on a different side on the question of “how many dice to roll?” — Rob thinks keeping things limited to 4 dice is grand, while I was thinking, hey, big damage, more dice, awesome!

Which lead me to bring up a question on Twitter and G+ last night — how many Fudge dice are too many at the table? Is a mechanic that asks folks to roll as many as 6, 8, or even 12 Fudge dice onerous?  The answers are mixed, which means I don’t really end up any more resolved on the split with Rob than before. Some folks are low-supply and have players who’d absolutely hate needing more dice. Many others have plenty and would be happy to see a reason to use more of them at the table.

So here’s an exploration of the idea, and a look at both ways (limit-4 and limit-12) to implement it. Apologies if this all comes off as fragmentary. It’s a work in progress.

Fred’s Damage Idea (High Cap)

Anyway: damage. This stuff can work in a psychic/magic sense too, but I’m talking physical for the moment. I like the idea of getting grittier and rougher, and having the concept of a “damage roll” show up on the field.

Weaponry can be rated in terms of the dice of damage that get rolled on a hit (this is a 3 die knife). An additional die gets rolled for each shift the hitter spends (basically margin of success = that many additional dice).

Damage comes in three classes: Bruising, Wounding, Killing. All three can kill or deeply screw up someone, it’s just harder. Various kinds of factors — intent, chosen weapon, magic, yadda — may change what class of damage is rolled. (So we might have a 3 wounding die [3W] knife, or a 1 killing die [1K] gun.)

Here’s where the multiple dF’s come into play within that. Depending on the class of damage that a die is rolling, it will be interpreted differently:

  • Bruising: Count each [-] that comes up as a hit (“count the negatives”)
  • Wounding: Count each [-] or [+] as a hit (“count the marks”)
  • Killing: Count each die thrown as a hit (“count the dice”)

Some protections will slide the class down — a kevlar vest might turn killing dice bullets into wounding or bruising dice. Others may limit the number of dice thrown. Still noodling there, though I lean towards the former (with the proviso that nothing gets shoved below bruising), because I like the idea that armor or whatever might limit the chances of severe damage, but it’s less likely to eliminate it. Folks wearing bulletproof vests can still get bruised when the bullet hits home, and armor always has its weaker areas.

Regardless, you count up the number of “hits” up to a maximum of 4. The number of hits scored determine what sort of disadvantage is inflicted. This might have a consequence-like “manifests as an aspect” thing, or we might be setting that concept aside here (which might have the interesting effect of making aspects placed by maneuvers more unusual and noteworthy, perhaps?).

Here, “disadvantage” might mean you face a -1 to a category of actions (injured leg means physical activities are impaired), but I’m thinking it certainly means that if you get hit again, your opponent gets another die (so there is a death spiral effect here) to add to the damage die rating.

The “hits” table would look something like this:

  • 0 hit – It’s still a hit, but there’s no mechanical disadvantage; narratively, though, you were forced to counter the blow in some way, which may change your options on the field. “He’s backed you away from the exit, so that’s off the table now” Whiff!
  • 1 hit – Momentary disadvantage (dirt in the eye; reeling; whatever; slips away after it affects at least one roll — that -1 as you try to run away, or that +1 to damage dice when the dude hits you again) Unhh!
  • 2 hit – Significant disadvantage (hangs around for the whole fight; you have to take a specific action afterwards to shake it off) Ow!
  • 3 hit – Long-term disadvantage (you need to do X things to recover from this — days of rest, therapy, whatever — over a period of time; X = total number of dice thrown including non-hits; At this level, the target has the option to set aside a long-term disadvantage for a KO-style removed from action, though it likely comes with a Significant disadvantage in the following scene.) Arrrgh!
  • 4 hit – Removed from the action (Bruising: KO; Wounding: Crippled; Killing: Crippled or Dead; includes long term disadvantage with doubled duration) …! *thud*

So getting hit sucks, and fast. There are no guarantees of protection here — PCs could go down fast if they choose the wrong fight and armament — and the class of damage getting rolled determines the scope of how the problems that arise might be described. “Removed from action” via bruising isn’t quite so bad as by wounding or crippling.

At least in the high-cap version, “removed from action” could be pushed up to a higher number, thanks to the ‘X’ factor at 3+. So you could just go 0, 1, 2, 3, 6 on the above, if you like, depending on how comfortable you are with how easily folks might be sent out of the fight.

But lethal weapons and such don’t need a lot of dice of baseline damage to be scary fast; they’re probably 2K or 3K weapons. The K(illing) is where that gets particularly scary, because each die represents a 100% chance of producing a hit. Someone gets 2 shifts on his attack roll with a 2K weapon, and he’s making 4 hits (2 dice from the weapon, 2 from the shifts), and likely deadly ones at that.

Area effect stuff would buy into the notion of “it’s about not being there when it happens”. Will tend to mandate X dice of effect to whoever’s in the zone. BIG effects will step down in damage class for each zone away you get from the zones targeted. When something (an explosive) lands near you, you need to a) notice it, b) take cover. Successfully taking cover will step down the damage class, too (and better to be Bruised by concussive force and falling debris than Killed by it, eh?).

Low Cap

So this is where Rob started talking about the idea of limiting the number of damage dice thrown to 4 dice. I get it! There’s something elegant about the idea being that whenever you throw dice, you’ll throw at most 4 of them.

For me, this would imply that as the damage number on an attack increases (say, you swing with 2 bruising brass knuckles, and you get 4 shifts, for a 6 bruising attack — but if you’re throwing at most 4 dice, what does that mean?) then you have the chance of some or all of your dice transitioning into the next higher damage class. This is pretty easy to work out, in fact. Each bruising die generates 1/3 hit on average, each wounding die generates 2/3 hit on average, and each killing die generates a hit. So you could say that 12 bruising dice equals 6 wounding dice equals 4 killing dice. That said, I’d prefer to fudge that math a little in the interests of making each break-point happen 4 apart. The transition of narrative context from bruising to wounding to killing has some weight beyond the strict dice behaviors, after all.

So with that in mind, I’d make things work like so:

  • 1B
  • 2B
  • 3B
  • 4B
  • 5B = 3B+1W
  • 6B = 2B+2W
  • 7B = 1B+3W
  • 8B = 4W
  • 9B = 5W = 3W+1K
  • 10B = 6W = 2W+2K
  • 11B = 7W = 1W+3K
  • 12B = 8W = 4K

So as we can see, our expert brass knuckle user (knucklist?) is going to roll 2 bruising dice (counting minuses as hits) and 2 wounding dice (counting non-blanks as hits). Since part of his attack has a wounding component, he’s hitting hard and nasty enough that the effects created should be described in the wounding context — not inappropriate for someone swinging hard metal at the end of his fists.

This method would require that folks keep separate which dice are being rolled of which type — but that’s as simple as a little bit of table separation, or two separate colors, and a left hand/right hand throwing method. The only real downside here, I think, is the chance that this table won’t internalize quickly for people (even though it does for me) and they would have to do a little bit of lookup whenever the damage tally added up to more than 4 dice of whatever the starting damage class was.