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Loot is a pretty fun part of some RPGs. Not the math-tuning loot that keeps characters’ weapons and armor at the required values, but the remarkable and empowering loot that lets them do new things they were not capable of before.

Fate… doesn’t really do loot, but I’d like to introduce this the experience of “getting stuff” somehow. I’ve got an idea of how I’d like items to work, but no particular notions about how best to handle this.

Here’s what I’m looking for in how items should work

  • Items power outward growth: they enable characters to do things they could not do before, rather than simply improving existing capabilities. Upward (usually bonus-based) growth is already supported by stunts and skills instead. Loot providing upward growth as well should be avoided, since it could lead to the zero-sum game warned about on Fate Core page 278.
  • Characters should be able to equip/use a reasonably limited number of magic items at any one time. This means they shouldn’t be able to pile on fifty Amulets of Power and effectively ascend to demigodhood.
  • Some of these items might provide an activated power, like a scepter shooting a fireball. Characters should be able to regularly take advantage of these, and if they can’t, the power had better be proportionately good!

How can I support loots in Fate?

A word on “getting stuff”

Loot acquisition would be through discovery, creation, exchanges with others, and other peaceful, non-murder means. In contrast to D&D, Fate happily disconnects character progression from boundless slaughter and goblin genocide, and I’m happy to keep it that way.

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Not sure how compatible it is but Legends of Anglerre is a fantasy setting with magic, items and uses FATE 3.0, could be worth a look –  Rob Aug 22 '13 at 8:26
Have you read the section on Extras? It discusses many things, including how to model powerful items. –  starwed Aug 22 '13 at 13:19
@starwed I have. In general, items seem appropriate as part of Aspects, Stunts or Extras - or as a mixture. Handling items one might pick up, drop, exchange and so on (and are not necessarily an integral part of one's character) is something I'm not so sure how to handle, though. –  Jonathan Hobbs Aug 22 '13 at 13:38
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4 Answers

When speaking of loot, it is good to look at what is expected of it.

The first thing that came to mind is what place the loot can take in Fate to increase the narrative. For this aspect of loot, I came up with a couple of goals.

  1. Loot should add to the narrative. At it's core Fate is a storytelling game. If the hero picks up a random sword, it doesn't add in an overall way to the narrative. However, the Bloody Blade of the Unstoppable Warlord Kharm tells a story, and over time can add to the narrative.

  2. Loot should adapt to the narrative. Over time, as the character changes and adapts because of the story, if the loot that he obtained in his first adventure never changes with the character, it makes one part of him static. Boring. As the character changes and grows more powerful, so should his loot.

The second part is the general player satisfaction. One part about seeing a chest after a long fight in a dungeon is what secrets does it hold, and how will it make me more powerful? If the player doesn't receive something crunchy from the loot obtained, it might fall short in satisfaction for a long road slogged to get it.

The third part goes hand in hand with player satisfaction- balance. If only one of the players is going to get the Bloody Blade of the Unstoppable Warlord Kharm, will he suddenly become out of balance with the other players? Will you start having to balance towards his character rather than the group?

So, taking these in mind, this is what I did for a fantasy game that I recently ran.

In the Extras chapter in the Fate Core book, the rules refer to Weapon and Armor ratingsFC277. In a game with loot, these are a necessity IMO. They differentiate the types of weapons, and give more mechanical heft to the items found, and their lack.

Once this is in place, I dug further into the extras (and the yet to be release Fate Toolkit), and looked at how I viewed the parts of the game as they related to things that were not a part of the character- namely Aspects, Skills/Stunts, and Fate points- and how they related to advancement.

The one concession that I first made was that the point was to balance in general, and not at any given point in time. After the person picks up the Bloody Blade of the Unstoppable Warlord Kharm, for a short time after he is able to use it, he will be more powerful. But by the time of the advancement, I want them to be on equal or near-equal footing. This also makes the placement of items within the story important.

The other thing I did was treat any weapon worthy of being loot as a Fractal. This was overkill for many cases, i.e. I only want to add an aspect to a weapon... is this necessarily a fractal? But what I found in the long run, looking at my goals, this actually increased player satisfaction with those special items, and over time gave them personalities of their own as they advanced alongside the player.

With that out of the way, the first thing to look at is Aspects. Aspects make a character more flexible within the narrative, and there is no explicit way in advancements to get another aspect- only to rename them or change them around. This either makes new aspects very powerful (in that you don't get more), or more of a narrative issue (in that you can switch them with narrative changes at any milestones excepting the high concept/trouble).

I chose to view aspects as not an issue other than with flexibility, and so associated no cost (other than having the item) with aspects on items. So if the Bloody Blade of the Warlord Kharm has the aspect Hungers for the Blood of Warriors, I wouldn't say that was anything other than a characteristic of the blade. You can invoke this (and it can be compelled against you) only while the blade is in on your person. But other than this limitation, you can use it just as you can any of your other aspects.

The next thing is Skills and Stunts. These definitely mechanically make the character not only more flexible, but also more powerful. The limiting factors to this are similar to stunts - the cost of Fate Points to activate. But just having the ability is an advantage also, even if you don't have the use of it- you have the option to do so.

With this in mind, I treated these similarly to stunts, one and all. I rated them for refresh cost, and if the character chose to keep the weapon, they had to pay for the cost in refresh- either out of their current refresh, or incur a refresh debt to be paid over time (see below for more on refresh debt)

The last thing is Fate points. This is a very powerful thing to put into an item. Adding Fate points to an item is to give it refresh. In the Dresden Files, it made it very clear that refresh was akin to how much free will a character had- so I looked at items that were in this category as items that had their own will, i.e. artifacts. The could use them for the character's benefit... but this is a two edged sword. Again, this is something that comes into play with the concept of a refresh debt)

With that out the way, the last thing I added was something of my own- what I call a Refresh Debt (countered by Refresh Investment).

The more refresh an item costs (either from Fate points or the cost of an ability), the more powerful the item is. It takes a very strong willed person to tame such items- they have to invest a part of themselves into the item to get it to obey their will. Until they have done so, that will is in the hands of the object, i.e. the user can find themselves in an escalating contest of wills with the object. Any Fate that is in the hands of the item is also always in question.

Take the example from above- the Bloody Blade of the Unstoppable Warlord Kharm. It has the aspect Hungers for the Blood of Warriors, it gives a +2 bonus to any Fight attack made in when fighting more than one opponent (1 refresh). It is a 1 refresh item, and costs 1 refresh to the character that will wield it. The character can pay 1 refresh immediately, and dominate the weapon. But what if he doesn't have the refresh?

In that case, the amount of Refresh Debt is utilized in contests of will, and when determining the frequency of them. It is basically used a Fate points that the item can use towards asserting its dominance. In the case that items have their own Fate points to use, this is always counted as refresh debt. The item has its own will at that point and is not just a character in mechanics, but a character in truth, with its own personality, and can be bargained with. In those cases, I also gave the item a mental stress track and applicable skills that could be used in these conflicts.

Refresh Investment is the counterpart- being how much refresh, i.e. how much if the character's free will is invested in the artifact. This takes care of the fact that the artifact is an item that can be lost/stolen. This refresh investment can be used as Fate points in actions to locate and recover the artifact.

The last part of the equation is Advancement. When the character reaches a milestone in which they have been utilizing the artifact to a great extent, the moderator can talk with the player and choose to apply a milestone to the artifact. This milestone can be something that the character and artifact strive towards (i.e. unlocking an additional effect that the artifact has), or something that the artifact itself strives towards (i.e. increasing its dominance and will). If the latter, it should have been something obvious in the narrative, and talked over with the player, and especially evident in the actions that the artifact has taken. At that point, the player can choose to spend the character's advancement re-asserting domination, or let it carry the character further into refresh debt.

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One way to make items/loot work in Fate could be to make each item a semi-permanent aspect ( you lose it if you lose the item or someone takes it from you). doing this will mean that you can control an item based on how powerful your group decides it is. If a particular item is very powerful, then whatever ability it gives can only be triggered with a Fate Point each time. this should be the most balancing an item should need, except under extreme circumstances. if the item is less powerful, you can give it a certain number of free invokes every session or so, or make it work like a stunt that just lets you do one small thing you normally can't.

as for limiting magic items in terms of how many someone can have, you may want to consider either limiting each characters magic items to (for example) 3, or saying that each person can have ONE set of magic boots, set of magic gloves, set of magic weapons/staffs, one magic chest-piece, and ect. Item slots seem like the way to go here, and if you make slots for items, you can also make these slots for the items Aspect. this would keep you from confusing yourself or others by wondering if items take up any of your 5 normal aspect slots. as normal character sheets probably don't have any/very-many places to put items, an easy fix would be to have a second sheet of paper of some kind to write items onto.

to use your example of magic items, if someone had a magic staff that could shoot fireballs, this could possibly let them make an attack against several enemies from 2 or 3 zones away, and might or might not ALSO let them use their full roll against each target, this second thing would be extremely powerful in combat though, and I would highly suggest that if this item did both of theses things that it cost Fate Points for every use.

If you want to, you could also make it so that a reasonable create advantage roll, with a skill the group agrees would work for said item, (if it's a magic sword, something like the "fight" skill would probably be what you use, if it is the aforementioned staff it might be Lore" or "Will" or some other knowledge/mental skill) will give some free invokes to this item/it's current wielder. again, the more powerful you consider this item, the higher they should need to roll to just barely reach the first free invoke. and as normal, if they completely ace it and get a much better roll than they need, then you can grant them more free invokes.

I think this should also be limited to one free invoke per single use of the item, but that is up to individual groups. an optional thing, which may not appeal to you, would be to give these free invokes to anyone who takes or steals this item from whoever made the rolls, obviously this is pretty mean and I don't expect you to do it, but it's an option. ( this could also be used ONLY to pass these free invokes to an ally, and this way it is a positive thing)

If I have missed anything feel free to mention it, and I will answer it too if I think I can. I will also elaborate or explain as needed, because it is a long answer, and I doubt you can read my thoughts.

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Confession- I have not yet finished reading through Fate-Core. My summer has been... busy. My answer is therefore based in pre-core FATE, though I believe that it will be of use.

Requirements: - Items power outward growth - Characters should be able to equip a limited number of magic items at any one time. - Some of these items might provide an activated power, and as a corollary some will be always on.

What is loot?

To accomplish this, think of loot as a special kind of stunt, one that, when gained in the course of adventures, does not cost any refresh to pick up and use, though is limited as mentioned in the Loot in the Party section. I suppose there's nothing wrong with a character starting with a few of these, acquired as normal stunts, but I would strongly recommend against that for a reason I'm about to get to.

See, at least for me, part of the cool parts of finding loot is that it's not designed by me. A character taking the Spiderwalk Shoes the player designed at the loot drop point will not feel the same as finding those shoes. There's also some fun to be had in having items that don't fit you exactly, like a fighter with a wand of invisibility. For those reasons, all loot should be designed by the DM, and dropped in to the gameworld at his whim or interest. This should ensure that all loot is outward, not upward- if you design an upward boosting item, and then give it to them, then you have clearly decided to allow this kind of thing. (Note- the ability to create items such as these should be reserved for NPCs only. Perhaps Pelor left some artifacts behind, or the epic wizard Moloch created a mighty amulet.)

Loot in the Party

I would strongly recommend that the party either find a bundle of magic items at the same time. A large chest stashed deep in the dungeon perhaps, or the king offering them a reward for negotiating peace between the lizardfolk and the dunlanders. Maybe the bandit king was wielding them all and they take it off his corpse, or maybe that's all the magic item shop had in stock, whatever fits. They find X items, where X is the number of players, and let them sort it out among themselves who gets what.

Alternatively, you could institute a rule that you can only use one magic item at a time. Metaphysical harmonic interference, doncha know. Thus, they find magic items one at a time, distributing them one by one to each member of the party. Additional magic items found now present additional options- perhaps a party member could swap out his current gear for another set back at base, or if they have none or it was stolen then they could pick up gear in the field, though it takes an action to switch/pickup/attune. Also possibly, at some future point (ahem- after everyone has at least one) the harmonics resonating with the experienced adventurous aura are such that now they can wield two such tools of might! (Warning- warrantee does not extend to magic-technobabble, players may give you 'the look' should they be of a certain mindset.)

Of course, the above two methods of loot distribution assume certain things about your game, namely that all players/characters are co-operating with each other, and that you intend them to always be at the same power level. I've never seen those assumptions not be valid for a FATE game, but yours may be the exception. Feel free to disregard as needed, but these is the main way I see for making sure a player only equips a reasonable number of items.

The Loot Itself!

Design loot like you would design a stunt. Some should have activated powers (probably once a session style) and some should be constant. Er, yeah, that's it I think. Examples:

Wand of Fireballs: Once per session, you may attack everyone in a zone for a 4 shift attack.

Spiderwalk Slippers: You may use Athletics to move, even on surfaces where this would otherwise be impossible, such as a vertical surface or the ceiling. The barrier value to do so is the same as for walking on even ground.

Smoke Bombs: You can use Stealth unhindered by lack of cover or concealment- simply drop a smoke bomb to disapear.

Mage Armor: While dressed in Mage Armor, use Will instead of Physique determine physical stress.

Nymph's Cloak: Many faux pas will be ignored simply because of one's beauty. The cloak can accept one minor social consequence on your behalf while you are wearing it.

Artisian's Blade: Swordplay is as much an art as the potter's wheel, and this blade makes this literal. While using the Artisian's Blade, you may use Fight in place of Crafts.

Endless Drought of Health: Once per session, you may take an action to drink the Drought of Health, clearing up a mild physical consequence.

Totally Awesome Loot

While coming up with examples, I came up with some things that are certainly not stunts, but would make for awesome loot ideas.

Greater Wand of Fireballs: Once per session, you may take an action to place the Aspect-Fractal "Blazing Flame" somewhere in the scene. "Blazing Flame" attacks everyone (including allies or yourself!) in the zone it's in with its Burning:3 skill. It has 2 stress, and a mild consequence slot.

The Crystal Ball: Once per session, you may use both Will and Notice in the same roll to observe something. You saw a glimpse of this future earlier in the crystal ball.

Bloodmage's Battle Armor: While dressed in the Bloodmage's Battle Armor, you may freely tag physical consequences that have been inflicted on yourself as though you had inflicted them. (Your opponent can still tag them normally.)


Dresden Files showed that Fate works just fine with a kind of "levelup" mechanic- that is, gaining in skills and refresh through milestones. Periodically, when the narrative warrants it, offer the player "loot" in the form of a custom stunt that you (the DM) have designed. They may take the stunt (acquiring the shiny) or refuse it, planning instead to sell it or somesuch. They can only use [arbitrary limit] number of such items at a time, though swapping from the stockpile between sessions or trading among party members should be allowed.

Bonus points for coming up with twenty or so of these, and rolling on the loot table when deciding what they find.

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I've got two major ideas. They can be used together or separately, I think, but are intended to flow together into a coherent concept. But first I need to talk a little about extras.

Items are Extras.

This seems pretty clear, and others have talked about it in depth already. Extras do exactly what we want items to do: provide abilities and options that the character wouldn't otherwise have access to. You might consider limiting other kinds of extras, in order for loot to be more important. Perhaps a wizard's spellcasting is actually directly tied to his spellbook, as a magic item extra which grants him spells.

If loot isn't awesome and game-breaking enough to be an extra, I don't think it needs to exist as a separate mechanical loot-thing.

Items Advance.

This is actually a feature of extras already! Fate Core 276 talks about how you can modify extras at milestones just like you can modify anything else: adjust an extra's aspect, spend Refresh to advance an extra's stunt, and so forth. In this way, you don't have to discard the awesome Goad of the Relevant Elephant because it's not as powerful as the Torc of Irrelephant Demon-Summoning. The Goad just keeps getting more awesome.

Item Slots

D&D has items slots, we can use them too. But instead of "one item per part of the body," let's just say "You can have X items at a time." Fate Core 274 suggests that games with lots of extras should consider giving PCs more aspect slots, or Refresh, or whatever it is that the extras will cost. I suggest codifying it something like this:

In addition to your regular aspects and Refresh, you have two Item Slots which are each considered to be "pre-paid" with 1 Refresh and 1 Aspect toward the cost of any magic item extra you acquire. If you want more extras, or more powerful extras, you'll have to use your base resources to improve them.

This does two things: First, it makes "getting stuff" actually increase your power, because you've got resources that can't be accessed without having "stuff." Second, it firmly limits stockpiling items.

Single-Use Items

The Item Slots idea also provides a solid mechanic for potions and other single-use items: You pick up a potion and it fills a slot. It has a single-use effect of the appropriate strength for the resources dedicated to that slot (plus a little bit of extra oomph, because it's only a one-shot deal), and then the slot empties. You could also have a number of lesser-power potions that are cumulatively appropriate for the slot's resources, or drinking a potion could give you an until-end-of-scene/session extra (flame-breathing potion, anyone?).

(A potion-brewer might take a stunt which lets him fill his slots in this way at the start of every session, and even pre-pay Fate to make them stronger for that session. Hey, look, I just re-invented DFRPG potions! This could be a D&D-style wizard's spell preparation mechanic, too.)

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