Fate Cards - Rules and a Sample Deck

Copyright Steve Kellison © 2010

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Fate cards allow players a little more ability to influence random chance in their favor"

The inspiration for fate cards came from various card games and other GMs. All I did was apply a good idea to my Rolemaster campaign, and this article is what resulted. You might find that fate cards add an interesting dynamic to your game.

The purpose of fate cards is to give player characters a bit of an "edge" over NPCs. It is assumed that player characters are "heroic" types, and should not be so easily defeated by the vagaries of random chance. Fate cards function a bit like fate points (as described in the Channeling Companion) but allow for different applications. The cards can be at times both more powerful and more restrictive than fate points. Another function of the cards is to encourage role-playing, as many of the cards require that the player contribute to the story in order to gain the bonus.

The "deck" I present here only has one of each card. My thought is that you can easily make as many copies of each card as you want for your deck. Feel free to leave some out entirely, make ten copies of others, make up your own, or whatever else you feel might make your game better. I formatted the cards to fit on standard business card stock, which makes printing and separating the cards easy.

To use fate cards, the GM simply deals out one or more cards to each player at the beginning of each game session. The number of cards is determined mostly by the power level of the game, but I recommend starting with two cards each. The cards are dealt new at the beginning of each game session, and collected at the end (they cannot be saved for a future game session).

The players keep their cards secret from each other, and use them when appropriate. Some of the cards can be played any time. Others may only be played at specific times. Some have immediate effects, and others provide a lasting effect. Many of the cards provide a bonus to a specific skill or group of skills. For example, an "Inspired Attack" card gives a +15 to any melee, missile, or elemental attack roll.

My favorite part of this system is the requirement that the players role-play many of the cards. For example, a "Connection" card requires the player to come up with an NPC of some sort who is familiar to and friendly towards the character. It could be something as simple as the player handing over the card and saying, "My cousin Bernard lives near here. Maybe he can help us out?" Or the player could come up with something much more elaborate. Either way, the player has now made a larger contribution to the story, which can, of course, be exploited by a clever GM at a later time.

As an option, I recommend you allow any card—except those that specifically prohibit doing so—to be used to provide a +3 bonus to any roll, even another player's. This allows fate cards to provide a lesser influence across a wider range of situations. This mechanic also may cause players to run out of cards faster because it would normally take several cards to significantly influence most situations.

Another option I often use is to award players with extra cards for good role-playing or clever ideas. Basically anything that helps the GM move the game in the right direction can be rewarded.

And lastly, in the event I have a significant or powerful NPC whom I don't want the PCs to slaughter with a lucky roll, I can always award that NPC a card or two to even things out.

A Sample Deck

A sample fate card deck is provided in both Word format and pdf