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Introducing: Fate Combat with Dresden Files RPG


Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, allow me to introduce to you, directly from Evil Hat Productions, something you will never see anywhere else. There are no hit points, no multi-sided dice, and no automatic bonuses for flanking. That’s right! We have here for you today the one, the only, Fate Combat rules!

And boy oh boy, are they different!

Introducing someone to Fate Core, or any branch of Fate, is considerably easier than getting them into some other RPGs out there. Especially people that have never played a tabletop RPG before. But times are changing. RPGs are getting more popular <insert happy dance>. And people that are coming to learn Fate are rarely blank slates. These are people that have learned to game with D&D, Pathfinder, Dragon AGE, and World of Darkness.

happy dance

Happy dance successfully inserted

The Fate system is a mechanical balance of dice rolls and storytelling. A lot of those mechanics are very different than other game systems. That is great when you are playing the game, but it does make it hard to learn how to play when you expect something similar to the last RPG you learns. So today we are going to look at those comparative differences and hopefully make the switch a little easier.

We are actually using the Dresden Files for today’s example because it is still a very popular Fate system and because it covers a lot of things that Fate Core considers ‘extras’ but are still showing up in printed content. If you want to get into the Dresden Files RPG, it is a great setting for modern fantasy fun!

What Looks the Same

First of all, let’s talk about what most people from other games will recognize on their character sheets: player name, character name, description, and especially skills. Skills are the go-to for an RPG game, and these skills work for the most part like other skills in other RPGs. You roll your dice and add the modifier of the appropriate skill.

Some of the actions are also easy to understand based on previous game experience. Initiative (using the Alertness skill) is rolled to determine turn order. Use the Weapons skill to attack with Melee weapons. Use the Fists skill to punch and kick attack. Use the Shoot skill to use ranged weapons, such as guns. If you are more familiar with a game that has AC to hit, that is not how the game works. Instead, you defend against most attacks by rolling your Athletics.

Other skill checks may also make sense for someone coming from a D20 game. You could use Lore to figure out the nature (and possible weaknesses) of the monster attacking you. Stealth lets you hide. Empathy lets you figure out what the monsters are after. And Rapport is for those diplomacy checks that should let you talk your way out of combat in theory but never actually seem to work.

As we all expect from most skill checks, rolling higher is better. And when the monsters attacking you roll low, that is good too! Too many hits, and you die. Or worse. But now we are straying a bit too much from what is obviously the same, so let’s take a closer look at the actions you can take on your turn.

The Attack Action

So your party wizard has turned the monster into a flea. A harmless little flea. Your party cop puts the flee in the box. Your party minor talent postal worker puts that box into another box and mails it to you. Now, when it arrives (Ah-ha-ha-HA), you want to SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER! Or shoot it. Or step on it.

Attack actions seem strait forward at first, but they do take a little getting used to. First, you roll your attack with an appropriate skill and get a number. Whatever you are attacking rolls a defense with an appropriate skill to get another number. You then subtract the defense from the attack. If the result is less than zero, you miss. If it is zero or higher (tie goes to attacker), then you hit!

You may want to look at your character sheet and see what dice you roll for damage, but that will not work. Damage, or really Stress, is dealt based on how high above the defense you rolled. So if you rolled 5 and the defense rolled a 3, you inflict 2 points of stress. If you rolled 3 and the defense rolled 5, you inflict no stress because you missed.

There are some modifiers to this that are determined after you hit based on weapons and armor. Weapons like claws, knives, shotguns, and explosives all add extra stress when you hit, depending on which weapon. If you have a baseball bat (Weapon:2) and you roll a 3 against a defense of 4, you still miss. But if you roll a 3 versus a defense of 3, that is a hit. You inflict 0 stress from the attack (3-3=0), but because you used a bat you now add the 2 points of damage so you inflict 2 stress.

Armor acts as damage reduction rather than a defense modifier. So if you have armor of 2 and your defense roll ties the attack roll, you still get hit but the damage is reduced by 2. Other effects from the attack, if any, also still take place.

The Block Action

Speaking of defense, another action you can take on your turn is a block action. A Block creates a barrier that increases the difficulty of a certain action. This can be a preemptive damage reduction, increasing the difficulty of attacks. It can also make maneuvering, sprinting, spell casting, and even defending more difficult.

For physical combat, you can use a number of skills to set up blocks. Shoot can provide cover fire to hinder any movement in an area. Intimidation can prevent an attack against a specific target. Might can be used to pin a specific individual, making it harder for them to take any action. Stealth can block someone from seeing, and thus targeting, an individual. Athletics can be used to defend a target (person or item) from someone else.

When you take a Block Action, declare what action you are limiting and for whom. Then roll your skill check and write the results down as the blocks strength. So if you rolled a 5, the block now has a strength of 5. Someone will need to roll a 5 or higher to destroy that block to get rid of it, or wait for the start of your next turn for the block to go away. If you use your action to renew the block, you simply roll again for the block’s new strength. Maybe you roll higher, or maybe you roll lower.

Removing a block is an attempt to take the very action that is being blocked. If you get lower than the block, your attempt fails. If you tie or get higher, the block is destroyed and your action succeeds. For example, if you want to attack but have a block of 3 on you, you can roll Athletics to overcome and get away for a 3 or higher. Or you can attack anyway and if you roll a 4, you succeed and hit them with one point of stress (4-3=1).

Remember that defending is a reaction to an attack action, not an action in and of its self. Therefore you cannot Block someone to hinder their defense. Also, blocks do not stack with other blocks or defense rolls. The person that created the block chooses, after all rolls, if they want the block to apply or not.

So if, for example, you are blocking an attack with a 4 block and someone tries to overcome that and shoot you with a 4, you still roll Athletics to defend. If you get a 5, you definitely want to dodge rather than let them shatter your block. But if you only dodge with a 3, then you have to decide if you want to let your block be destroyed and take the hit, reduced by 4 for the block. If you want to still dodge, you take 1 more point of stress (in this example) but your block is still there until the start of your turn.

The Sprint Action

Dresden Files RPG, and other Fate Games, do not use 5ft. spaces and 30ft. speeds to determine movement. Instead, the conflict location is divided into areas. Defining areas is more of an art than a science, really. An entire room may be just one area, for example. But if there is a portion of that room that is behind significant cover (such as a bar in a tavern), then there would be two areas.

In order to move between areas, you can either move to the next zone for a -1 penalty to your action. Or you can instead roll Athletics to take a Sprint action. The number you roll is the number of zones you can move, taking barrier reduction into account.

Barriers are things on the scene that make movement difficult, usually predetermined by the GM when making the map of the area. A closed door might be a barrier of 1, while a locked door would be a barrier of 3. But a window could be just a barrier of 2. Blocks can also be barriers if they are created to block movement, and sometimes actions that create debris or holes in the ground can generate barriers as a side effect.

When sprinting, you subtract the strength of the barrier you cross from your Sprint (Athletics) check in order to move to another area. So if the bad guy locks a door behind him for a barrier of 3 and you only roll a 3, you unlock the door but it takes all your time as you have no movement left to go to the next area beyond that door.

The Maneuver Action

This is where we tend to lose people in Fate. The most open-ended action you can use is this one. You are rolling to create an aspect, and that can look like anything. Grapple with a red court vampire. Pole dance to distract the cops in the car. Get a recipe from your talking skull friend. Adjust your uniform when you stand up out of your chair. Charge up a defibrillator you stole from a hospital. If you can describe it in story, but it isn’t an obvious attack/defend/move action, then it is probably a Maneuver.

The mechanical goal of a maneuver is to create an aspect that can be invoked for later, and success gives you a free invoke. This can do a couple of things that make sense to gamers of other games. Creating an aspect on a target gives you a free +2 (flanking bonus) or a free reroll (D&D 5e advantage) on your attack against that target. Some special attacks and abilities, like grapple, also require you to have an aspect on the target in order to use their effects.

A tactical advantage to creating an advantage is that they can be used by anyone that the creator sees as an ally. They can give that free invoke (for a +2 or a reroll) to anyone else on their team if it has not been used yet. And it can be invoked again for a fate point. So you could, for example, grab a warlock and hold them for your teammates to pummel. Your wizard friend that goes next uses your Fistful of Warlock aspect to add a +2 to their water blast attack. Then your crooked cop teammate spends a fate point to also take advantage of the warlocks inability to move and adds a +2 to their attack as well.

Aspects created this way go away when they are overcome (like with a block) or when the scene ends. Overcoming an aspect usually requires a check of 3 or more, and is normally a maneuver or sprint action. Success means you still get to do whatever it was that you were doing.

Stress and Consequences

There are no Hit Point in Fate, even though it sort of looks like there are. Stress boxes work very differently. If you take a stress hit of 2, for example, you do not mark off the first 2 check boxes. You only mark off stress box number 2. Then a hit for 1 stress only checks off the one. You can have all of your stress boxes checked off and still be ok, so long as you do not get hit again.

If you take a hit for 2 stress and your 2 is already checked off, then you go higher and mark off a stress box 3 (so long as it is available). This means that you really could take out an enemy by just hitting them with 1 stress over and over. But higher attacks are usually better because if it is too high for the target to mark off a stress box, they are taken out.

Taken out means that the person who rolled the successful attack gets control of the target’s fate for the end of that scene. Normally in combat, you are trying to kill the monster. So you can just choose to have it die. Or, if it is a possessed friend, you can choose to knock them out or pushed into a cage instead. Making them your eternal slave is probably outside the scope of the end of a scene, but you can always ask your GM if that works. Some bad guys are willing to switch sides after the scene is over.

PCs and NPCs can choose, on their turn, to take themselves out as an action. If you do, it means you get to choose how you leave the scene (escaping, hiding, or falling unconscious yourself). Once a target is out of the scene, they cannot be targeted for attacks or maneuvers. But it also means that they cannot come back into the scene.

If you do not have enough stress blocks to take a hit, you can reduce that hit with a Consequence. A Consequence is a special type of aspect that you give to yourself but acts as if the person inflicting stress on you created it. They also do not go away at the end of the scene, staying longer and complicating your life. A broken nose, a severely burned hand, or a lingering obsession with the Summer Queen after looking at her with the Sight are all consequences that stick around.

How long a consequence lasts depends on the type of consequence. A Mild consequence, for example, only lasts until the end of the next scene. An Extreme consequence permanently changes you and never goes away. The best you can do is slowly change it until it seems better, but that takes place outside of combat. The longer a consequence lasts, the bigger of a discount you get. Mild reduces an attack by 2, while Extreme reduces it by 8.

Note that this reduction takes place after a hit, so if you roll a defense of 4 against and attack of 5, taking a mild consequence does not mean you are not hit. It just means that you take no stress (1-2=0 minimum). Other effects of the attack still happen, so if you were hit with a Weapon:2 attack, you still take 1 stress (1-2+2=1) and the mild consequence. Which may seem harsh, but if you can’t take 3 stress then at least it still keeps you in the scene.

Final Thoughts

There is a LOT more going on in combat, as far as advanced options and spell casting, for a Dresden Files game. Clearly we do not have enough room in one article to cover everything, so we will have to write more about those topics later!

If you are just starting a game, I highly recommend making good use of the reference sheet in the back of the Your Story book. You can also print off a copy from the Evil Hat downloads page: http://www.evilhat.com/home/dresden-files-rpg-downloads/ for your convenience.

Since we are committing ourselves to more articles, feel free to throw any questions our way. It always helps to know what the questions are when you want to give answers.




Author: Burn Everything Gaming

Website that mostly produces Actual Play Podcast as well as game reviews and other musings on the topic. Hope you enjoy.

2 thoughts on “Introducing: Fate Combat with Dresden Files RPG

  1. Common mistake: only magical blocks are broken when overcome. A non-magical block remains even after being overcome — compensating nicely for the fact that a magical block tends to be much, much stronger.


    • We purposefully left off discussion on magic in combat because, while it can be a lot of fun, it is over complicated for an introduction. Some blocks fade with one hit (evocation), some can be extended, and some stay but get weaker as you breach them (wards). Normal blocks are covered on 210YS and magical blocks are on 255YS.

      Evocation-created Magic Blocks are automatically broken whenever they are overcome. Other blocks naturally last until the start of your next turn unless someone specifically designates their action to oppose them. You if you have the vampire in a headlock to prevent him from moving and he rolls a higher Athletics than your block, he runs with you holding on to another area based on the difference. But if he is specifically trying to break free of your block and he rolls higher, he can move based off of the spin. Casting a spell like Hold Person on a vampire will automatically be shattered by anything requiring movement so long as it is overcome.

      If you want to make it a rule in your game where non-magical blocks are impossible to remove, that is certainly something that you can do. It would work great if you were leaning more towards a horror-driven game than a supernatural mystery solving game.


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