Two-Phase Fate Combat Rounds

One of my fears while running a play-by-chat game of Fate is that things might slow to a crawl, or worse, a stop. Combat, in particular, could be the worst part.

A typical attacking turn in normal Fate goes like this. You say you want to attack a certain enemy. You choose your skill or approach and roll. I then choose how to defend and make my own roll. Each of us then decides whether to invoke any aspects or use relevant stunts. After seeing the other’s changes, we might decide to up the stakes several times until we’re both satisfied. Once the result is settled, I decide whether to take stress, a consequence, or just get taken out.

This is ONE person’s turn! That is probably fine if we’re sitting here talking, but imagine that every time you respond it takes a couple of hours for me to get back to you. I work 12 hour shifts and sleep a normal amount, so that’s fairly likely. The player who’s fifth in the turn order might not be able to act for several days at that rate. That’s just not acceptable to me.

Therefore, I’m taking a page from “cinematic initiative,” a concept that… I don’t remember where I read about it, actually. My bad. Anyway, the idea of cinematic initiative is that everyone decides their actions first, and then the GM resolves them in the order that makes the most sense or is most interesting. In this case, I wanted to expand it to get into the specifics of Fate rules.

In the Action phase, all the players declare what they want to do and make the rolls. They may make invokes at this stage, as I’m not worried about having to referee them. However, once this phase is over, invokes for actions are locked in. At the end, I reveal what enemies and NPC’s did and their rolls and invokes.

Then comes the Results phase. Nobody rolls to defend; instead their static skill or approach is considered. If a relevant one, usually Careful or Quick, is higher than the attack roll, then that player doesn’t need to do anything at all. A player can specify a different approach if they like, and this is also the time for defensive invokes. Otherwise, they’ll have to decide whether to take stress, consequences, or get taken out.

Once everyone has made a decision, I narrate everything in the most interesting order. If an enemy gets taken out before acting, their action is of course voided, and players may get their defensive Fate points refunded.

In total, this requires me to respond only twice per combat round unless someone has a question. Besides strategy discussion, players only have to respond twice as well, and the order doesn’t matter at all. There is a little bit of finesse lost this way, but I think the return in speed is definitely worth it.

I haven’t tested this just yet. If anyone has any suggestions or optimizations, let me know.

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Author: Phil N. Schipper

22-year-old creative writing student at Western Michigan University. After self-publishing my first book in April of 2013, I turned to game design. Also contributing at OpRainfall.

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