The Fate Deck/Deck of Fate

Every now and then, I take a break to think about other games. Shocking, I know. Tonight I’m mulling over a mechanics mash-up between Fate and TSR’s SAGA system, as presented in the Marvel Superheroes Adventure Game.

Evil Hat's Fate Accelerated and TSR's Marvel Superheroes Adventure Game

Two different RPG games, 15 years apart. I’mma mix them like chocolate and peanut butter.

Card Descriptions

Evil Hat’s Deck of Fate is a great substitute for Fate or Fudge dice in your fate game. It has several features that help it serve as more than a random result generator. On the long edge of the cards you have every possible combination of results from rolling 4dF, as well as short, descriptive phrases that can help frame the results. On the short edge, you also find any combination of 1-3 suns and/or moons. (Three cards instead have a single eclipse.) The card backs can double as Fate Points.

The front and back of a card from  Evil Hat's Deck of Fate.

TSR’s Fate Deck from the Marvel SAGA game has similar features. These also act as a random number generator. They have an aura that is positive, neutral or negative. There is a “special guest” on each card and an ideal that generally matches them. The card also suggest an event that may occur within the game. Each card belongs to one of 5 suits, which ties back to the four attributes of the heroes and the fifth suit belonging to Villains.

The front of a card from TSR's Fate Deck.

Dr Stephen Strange. No relation.

Curiously, both decks are 96 cards, though the Deck of Fate has 15 cards that don’t correspond to 4dF results. I expect that these are removed from the deck before play, unless the group has agreed to some special meaning for when they are drawn.

SAGA Procedure

In Marvel Saga, each player has a hand of cards ranging from 2 to 7. When the player’s character takes an action, they play a card from their hand and add their ability modifier (intensity) to match or exceed the target difficulty. This allows the player some flexibility to bank their good cards for when it really matters and blow their bad cards on actions that matter less. Sometimes, fate isn’t kind and you are stuck playing a card that you don’t want to.

There are modifiers, of course. If you have Edge, you can play any number of additional cards whose value is equal to or less than your Edge, adding their value to your check result. If the suit of the final card played from your hand matches the ability keyed to your action, you flip a random card of the top of the deck and add it to your result. When that random card matches your ability (trump), you get another bonus card.. and so on (like exploding dice!).

At the end of your turn, you normally draw to replace the cards that you have played. There are times when you do not draw up to full. You can push (play one additional card on an action) and you have to discard if you take damage. Cards discard for these reasons are not replenished until you can rest.

The Mash-Up

The similarities of the card features between the two decks suggest that we can simulate the Marvel SAGA experience in Fate. Some things don’t translate, but much of it does. I haven’t tested this mash-up in the least but it may serve as a jumping off point for your own experiments.

  • Each player has a hand size equal to their character’s refresh. Each card represents both a potential die result AND a Fate Point.
  • When the player takes an action that requires a roll, they play a card from their hand which is replaced after the action is resolved. If they have no cards, they draw one from the top of the deck and play it instead.
  • A player may play a card from their hand as a Fate Point. You can’t spend the Fate Point to re-roll (play a different card) but you can spend it for anything else that you would spend a Fate Point for. If you play a card as a Fate Point, you do not draw to replace it after the action is resolved.
  • Whenever the player would be offered a compel, that card is dealt face-down from the top of the deck. They don’t get to consider the value of the card when deciding to accept the compel or not. If they accept, they add that card to their hand. If they refuse, discard the card.
  • Whenever a player takes stress, they can discard one or more cards to reduce the stress by the value of the card. This only works for cards with a positive value. Cards with a negative value or a value of 0 can’t be pitched to reduce stress.

The issue that I see here is that, unlike Marvel SAGA, Fate tends towards a 0 result on the dice and in the cards. This can take some of the fun and strategy out of choosing a card to play from hand when all the choices are the same. You can dump those low and mediocre results as Fate Points and savvy players to self-compel more often in order to improve their hand.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as having too many Fate Points but, if you find that this is the case, you can establish a maximum hand size and allow the player to pitch a card in exchange for a new one-off the top of the deck if their hand is already full.

Regarding the rule on damage reduction, I count 31 cards in the deck with a positive value and 16 of those are “+1”. If the player is lucky enough to have a +2 or better in hand, I imagine that it would be a hard choice unless discarding is the difference between staying in the fight and being taken out. Reducing a player’s hand size for both damage and for playing cards as Fate Points may be an unsustainable double-whammy, so watch that Fate Point economy closely,

GM’s hand work mostly the same as players with the following modifications:

  • The GM has a hand size equal to the number of players.
  • When the GM would gain a Fate Point, deal a card face-down from the deck. Do not add this to the GM’s hand—her Fate points are tracked separately. Playing a Fate Point does not reduce the GM’s hand.

Apart from all that, you can flip a card from top of the deck and perform a “reading”. Your game may suggest meanings for the sun, moon, eclipse, +, -, and neutral icons. Since my first game of Fate was Star Wars, the first thing that comes to my mind is Light/Dark Side influences, but they might also a variable duration or even the weather! If you define a use for these symbols, you may also consider modifying them when a check succeeds with style.

That’s it for a first draft. I don’t know when or if I’ll come back to it, but it feels ready to test and I’m looking forward to trying it out.

BONUS IDEA: I recently played a delightful “party game” called Channel A. It’s like Apples to Apples, except that you are pitching a new show to an anime network and all the players vote on who wins the round. I think it’s a great pitch game for preceding a FAE session based upon the winner. If I can pick up a copy of Channel A, I’m going to add a tiny composition notebook to fill with the best pitches for just that reason.


~ by Hunter Rose on October 2, 2014.

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