Mixed Success and No-Fail Rolls in Fate

Here’s another idea banging around in my head about Fate that I’m not sure is ready for FateRPG.com.

So to generalize, in Apocalypse World, players roll 2d6 for various things, which the results usually reading like:

2-6: Failure (you don’t get what you’re after, and things may well get worse)
7-9: Mixed/minimal success (success with complications)
10+: Solid success (you get what you’re after pretty comprehensively)

I dig this idea of mixed success — of a gradient between success and failure — and I think it’s going to be one of those “hot technologies” in gaming over the next few years. Success with complications is “yes, but” in action. Yes, you crack the safe, but not as fast as you wanted — the guards will be here any second. Yes, you sneak over the wall and make your escape, but you were caught on camera. It’s good stuff.

This idea is translated over into Fate pretty easily. First, frame this idea in your head: the target difficulty for a skill roll is the roll necessary to get a mixed success.  The target is Fair; you roll Good; you succeed, but….

To really blow the target out of the water, to succeed comprehensively, you gotta get spin on your success. Spin is an idea that’s shown up in Spirit of the Century as well as a few other builds of Fate, and it’s simple short-hand for getting 3 or more shifts on your roll — beating the target difficulty by 3 or more.  (Why 3? An aspect bump can get you a +2. Spin is a way to recognize a win that wasn’t built simply by one invocation. It’s a good roll, a multi-invoke, high-rated skill, a combo of all that, that sort of thing.)

So to rate the above using shifts, we’d say:

<0: Failure
0-2: Mixed success
3+: Solid success

Now you’ve got some flavor going in a simple, quick roll — that gradient between failure and success that I was talking about earlier. And because “yes, but” can produce a decent amount of story fun, fitting it in the middle, where the results are usually more likely to fall all things being equal, you’re going to see that a lot.

Now let’s talk GUMSHOE (as seen in Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu, etc).  One of the things in GUMSHOE is the idea that investigative abilities straight up can’t fail, because you never want to see an investigative path that prevents the story from moving forward. Now, that’s a principle that dovetails with a piece of advice we’ve given out in Fate before: if failure isn’t interesting, you shouldn’t roll. In essence, GUMSHOE is putting forward the idea that failure on investigative rolls is uninteresting.

I think investigation isn’t the only place where that concept has some traction, though: traversing terrain obstacles, for example (“climb over that wall, jump over that ravine”) also apply. Regardless, the point is that there are some situations that characters will encounter where they have skills that apply, but which aren’t particularly interesting to roll, because failing on them produces an outcome that’s unattractive for the story (fail to jump the ravine, you die; fail to crack the safe, the secret remains unavailable). So even if the player were to roll the dice on his skill, the result is no failure.

These sorts of no-fail rolls are where mixed success can come into the picture again. So let’s do this: ditch the “failure” tier on the result table, and slide the remaining ones into the gap. That leaves us with a new gap at 3+ that we need to fill, something beyond a solid success: an awesome success.

<0: Mixed success
0-2: Solid success
3+: Awesome success

If mixed success is “yes, but”, and solid success is simply “yes”, then an awesome success is “yes, and”, right? You could simply leave it at that and resolve the “yes, and” in the fiction if you like. “Yes, you leap over the chasm, AND you manage to do it while your sidekick clings screaming to your head.” But we know that Fate likes a good temporary aspect every once in a while, so consider the notion that an awesome success means you get to create a temporary aspect — like the result of a successful maneuver or declaration — to support how awesome you just were. “I leap over the chasm! That means I’ve got a Great Head Start. I’ll be tagging that one later…”

So that’s the core of the idea. Like it? Tweak it? Ditch it? Speak up.