Fate Points

Variant Rules for Rolemaster Standard System

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell 1998

Destiny and the Player Characters
"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them". Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare

    In some campaigns, the player-characters will be pivotal figures in the epic events unfolding in the world, in others the story will concentrate on their efforts to survive in an uncaring and harsh world. In either case, it is their actions which will supply the details of the story.

    When one considers the whole gamut of imaginative fiction, including historical, fantasy, and science fiction, many fictional characters seem to live a life of constant danger. They leap from the proverbial frying pan into the fire, a hair's breadth from death each time and yet they survive to complete their story. In spite this, every Rolemaster player knows that for even the mightiest hero, an unlucky die roll can spell an ignominious death, thus ending the story.

    For players, a high mortality rate can lead to disenchantment with an otherwise enjoyable campaign or a reluctance to form any attachment to a character. Either way inhibiting the proper development of a character >from a set of numbers on a sheet of paper into a three dimensional persona. Nevertheless a game without risk, without the possibility of death for the character, is a game without challenge and ultimately without interest. Thus risk and death must be possible within the story. The requirement is to find a mechanism by which the player characters, the principal protagonists in the story, can be shielded a little from unfortunate outcomes in the execution of the game mechanics. There are essentially two means to this end, the first is to control the story, the second is to control the luck.

    The former requires the gamemaster to be aware of the possible outcomes of any situation in which the player-characters may find themselves. He must ensure that in routine situations not relevant to the story death is impossible, whereas in situations key to the story, death is a very real danger. Unless the gamemaster is experienced and skillful, this method can lead to the story being contrived rather than controlled. In extreme cases it can lead to accusations of bias due to an injudicious tweaking of fortune, or a realisation by the players or their characters that only certain sorts of situations pose any actual threat to them. Gamemaster Law provides a wealth of advice on how to construct and implement good stories, and the reader is referred to that work.

    Controlling the luck on the other hand does not mean using weighted dice! Instead it involves giving each player character a reservoir of fate points, each of which can be used to change the outcome of certain dice rolls. A delicate balance must be maintained between the number of fate points available and the magnitude of the changes in fortune they can produce. A scheme which provides few but powerful fate points is to be preferred to a scheme which provides many weak fate points as the latter will invariably lead to an unwelcome complete removal of risk from the game. In terms of their influence, fate points which have set effects such as converting any critical strike result into an "instant death" result will render the ending of every story a dull anti-climax as the heroes summarily execute the villains with hoarded fate points. Fate points which when expended cause a re-roll of the dice are also unhelpful --- one bad roll often follows another, and exchanging a "66" result for a "00" on a received critical dooms the affected character. It is far better to use a system which guarantees the final outcome is improved, but not necessarily to the extent of being the best possible outcome.

 Number of Fate Points

    Characters entering a campaign at 1st level should receive 2 fate points.

    Option: Allow the purchase of additional fate points at a cost of one background option or 10 Talent Points per fate point. However fate points cannot be converted into extra background options or Talent Points.

    In a Heroic game, where player characters are engaged in epic events, one fate point should be awarded whenever a character gains an experience level. In addition, the gamemaster may occasionally reward truly great role-playing or the single-handed accomplishment of a character's lifetime ambition or major party goal with an extra fate point. These awards should be rare events.

    In an Austere game, where player characters are only attempting to survive, additional fate points should only be awarded for truly great role-playing or the single-handed accomplishment of a character's lifetime ambition. These awards should again be rare events.

    When a character enters a campaign at a level other than first level, the number of starting fate points will vary dependent on the nature of the campaign. In an Austere game, the starting number should still be two fate points. In a Heroic game, a new character may enter with a background which to survive would probably have required fate's blessing. The GM should assign a Danger Rating to his campaign (say 40%) which is the probability that a fate point received in level advancement would have been expended. At the discretion of the gamemaster, the Danger Rating may be modified if the player submits a background involving extreme danger. Characters should always receive a minimum of two fate points. Thus a 5th level starting character could enter the game with a minimum of two fate points and a maximum of six fate points, assuming no additional fate points were purchased with either background options or Talent Points.

 Using Fate Points

    A single fate point can be used to modify any one percentile (1-100) dice roll made by the player on behalf of an action performed by his character (e.g. an attack roll, a critical strike roll, a static maneuver, a moving maneuver or a resistance roll) or to modify any one percentile dice roll made by another player or the GM on behalf of another character which directly affects the first character (e.g. an attack roll or a critical strike roll).

    A single fate point can be used to modify any one such roll by either +50 or -50, with the direction of influence chosen by the player.

    Option: A single fate point can be used to modify any one such roll by up to + or - 25, with the sign and magnitude of the influence chosen by the player. (This allows a finer granularity of control, but potentially leads to more book-keeping. The variability is necessary to avoid the "91" problem, where a constant -25 would change a probably crippling, if not fatal, critical result into a certain death "66" result.)

    Only one fate point may be expended on a given roll, and the player must declare his wish to use a fate point before the next dice roll is made.

    Due to the nature of the RMSS game mechanics, there are a few boundary cases which require a little more explanation:

  1. In the event of a maneuver or an attack being fumbled, the player may elect to immediately expend a fate point, e.g. thus changing a 01 result to a 51 result and modifying that result by the relevant skill bonus or OB if appropriate. If the player does not elect to immediately expend a fate point, then the normal procedures for fumbles should be followed. The result of the succeeding roll may then be "fate pointed".
  2. Conversely when a fate point is used to increase a result and this converts the outcome into one lying in the appropriate high open-ended region, this does not entitle the player to a second roll on that basis. For example, in making an attack roll for his character, the player rolls 50 but uses a fate point to modify this to 100. He then adds his character's OB to 100 and subtracts the enemy's DB to obtain the final result. Had the player rolled a natural 100, he would have been entitled to a further open-ended high roll, which could similarly be "fate pointed".
  3. On the normal critical strike tables, the expenditure of a fate point cannot lower any result to below 01 or raise any result above 100, e.g. "fate pointing" a 49 or lower result downwards gives a final outcome of 01 not -1, and similarly "fate pointing" a 51 or higher result upwards gives a 100 final result.
  4. On the Large and Super-Large critical strike tables, a fate point can be used to raise the outcome above 100 but will not trigger secondary open-ended high rolls as described in point 2.
  5. On the Static Maneuver Tables, natural "66" and "100" rolls may at GM discretion give rise to exceptional results. It is recommended that if a fate point is used to reach these outcomes that the exceptional results be ignored, and that the appropriate skill be simply added to the modified outcome of the dice roll.
  6. It may chance that a player elects to expend a fate point to the direct detriment of another character who also possesses fate points. The player or GM in charge of the other character may elect to block that fate point by expending one of their own fate points. In such an event, both fate points are expended and the natural outcome of the dice roll in question is unchanged.
The Source of Fate Points

    In any given campaign world, the source of fate points should be determined by the gamemaster as appropriate for his setting. In some Austere campaigns, they might simply be a higher degree of good luck than the average populace singling the player characters out from the common herd. In some Heroic settings, fate points may be the gentle touch of Destiny which may smooth a little the rugged road to an epic goal. In some settings where religion plays a strong part in the story, fate points could represent the blessing of a deity on his followers, a blessing easily lost if characters fail to adhere to the tenets of their faith.

    Depending on the source of fate points, a decision must be made as to whom, other than the player characters, will receive fate points. If fate points come from Destiny, then only powerful NPCs with parallel or competing destinies to the player characters should deserve one or two fate points. If fate points come from a deity, then potentially any true follower of a faith could possess one or more fate points. Gamemasters should only expend fate points belonging to NPCs to defensively protect those NPCs from the actions of the player characters.

 Conclusions

    When used wisely, fate points can support the story by providing the players with the means to occasionally improve the lot of their characters in the face of the slings and arrows of uncaring fortune, whilst retaining the elements of danger and excitement. No one has an infinite reservoir of good luck ...