I love the Fate system, both Core and FAE. However, I have been having a really hard time making combat fun for my players.

It is hard to explain the combat in Fate to my players in a non-abstract way. On paper, the "Roll 2d6 for Attack and Subtract the 2d6 Defense Roll (accounting for situational modifiers) for Stress Damage" seems simplistic, but factoring in trying to explain the shifts and stress track makes it a bit cumbersome.

Is there a way to make Fate combat more appealing to my players? Or am I just not understanding the combat correctly? I have only run the game a few times, but combat has always been a sore point everytime we have to resolve it.

Can anyone help?


6 Answers 6


Concentrate on the story

Combat should not be the PCs and bad guys hitting each other until someone has to lose all his stress and concede the fight. Combat should be solved with the narrative, just like most of Fate gameplay is based on narrative.

For example, the GM could propose to a player:

  • "Since you're Swift as a Snail, why don't we say that Dr. Evil catches up with you and blocks you from running off with the Item of Doom?"
  • "Since you're Bent on Revenge, why don't you try to engage the dangerous monster in close combat?"

Now the player gets a fate point and has to Overcome this problem before he can fight back.

The players should also be Creating Advantages, not just Attacking.

  • "Let me use my handy bag of spikes to create the aspect Prickly Floor. Now the bad guy will have trouble getting close to us."

  • "Since I'm a Seasoned Planar Traveler, let me step into the Ethereal plane for a moment to sneak up on him from behind without him noticing."

Now you can attack with a +2 boost and see if you manage to take the opponent out of the fight.

If the enemy is still in the fight, repeat the process, using story elements to describe what's happening.

However, if this isn't the kind of combat you're looking for, you can always try to design an Extra to make combat more fun, or using a different system entirely just for combat.


Just Attacking Is Boring

You are 100% correct. The key to fixing this is to make the stakes interesting, and to do things besides attack.

Stakes, Stakes, Stakes

No, not the kind you use on vampires. A good Fate conflict should be about something. There should be something you gain if you win, and something you lose if you, well, lose. And the other party should be in the same boat.

Or, to put it another way, why isn't at least one side fleeing?

This article explains it a lot better than I can:


Don't Just Attack

Just attacking is boring. It's also ineffective. Create Advantage is your friend!

Create Advantage has a few, well, advantages to Attack - mathematically, it's got slightly better return on most rolls, and it also lets you choose the skill matchup to a certain extent. Going against the combat beast with +6 Fight? Not a great idea. But if he won't Notice you Sneaking behind him, you can use that to advantage yourself.

Beyond that, the narrative truth of aspects is your best friend! If someone is Trapped In A Web, that's going to make it impossible for them to do lots of things, and will make other things much harder to do as well (modeled as Passive Opposition).

Once you and your players grasp this, Fate combats will switch from a bunch of boring attack rolls (which will tend to have little or no effect between the top combatants, anyway), and become a constantly shifting battlefield of one-upmanship and trying to get the upper hand. And that can be pretty interesting.

Fate is heavily influenced by Amber Diceless. And in Amber, the character with the higher skill wins. Flat out. Which is even more boring than just rolling Attack!

So the game in Amber is to manipulate the situation so that you're either comparing different skills, or so that the situation is so lopsided that the difference in skill is irrelevant... and that's what, in Fate, Create Advantage does.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This is the correct answer, if only for the section on Stakes. b a's answer is basically just a better band-aid. "Make your combat more interesting by sprinkling in references to your Aspects and using actions other than Attack" ...that might be better than just a dice-rolling slugfest, but it doesn't address the real issue, which is that scenes in Fate are about answering dramatic questions, and "who will win this fight?" is a boring question. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 22, 2018 at 18:46

In order to make combat quicker and more fun. I would suggest 4 things.

  1. Put stakes on the table. The opposition wants [x] and will do [y] to get it. This doesn't always mean kill. It could mean the opposition wants [your treasure map] and will risk their [key to the lower level dungeon] to get it. This makes it clearer when the objective of the conflict has been met. If every fight is to the death, then they will all take forever and it kinda makes it boring too.
  2. In my experience playing Fate, Stress and Consequences actually make the game slow down a lot. We've played a couple of games now where we removed all but one Stress box. It significantly sped things up, and made them more real.
  3. Create Advantage is your friend. If all you do is attack and defend you are missing a big part of the game. Create advantage is +2 every time, and they stack. Swinging and missing repeatedly is missing the point. Picture five players at the table who are creative and have all kinds of ideas and stunts creating a stack of +2s for one player to take a swing. That adds up.
  4. Narrative. Decide what you want to do first then roll dice. If what you want to do doesn't require dice, don't roll them. When you're narratively thinking about what you want to do it puts you into a better place than attack or defend. Often players creatively find ways to not fight, or to create advantage for situations based on what they think of.

Always hard diagnosing comprehension by proxy, so here are some tips.

If possible, use Fate Dice.

I understand if you play IRL and it's too much of an imposition, but they do give you smaller numbers to work with and subtracting one-digit numbers is always easier than subtracting two-digit numbers. (If you play online, four Fate Dice are exactly 4d3 - 8, which most die rollers should be able to accomplish.)

Roll your attacks and defenses first.

It's a little easier to center yourself around having to beat, say, 5, and then working out by how much, than it is to calculate the differences between two die results that just came up. Try and burn any of your Fate Points you want on defense rerolls before the players' dice hit the table.

Unlearn what you have learned (about shifts).

Shifts are a game term that seldom actually come up outside of combat, and in combat the only thing they affect is how much stress you do. So while, yes, the technical term is "shifts of stress", there's no reason not to just say "stress" because shifts and stress are always going to be in a 1-to-1 correspondence.

Leave stress for your players to manage.

Most of the time you can pit players against mooks, enemies with a stress track one box long or even with no stress tracks at all. Other times, when they're confronting important adversaries, you won't really need to do the stress math out loud where they can hear. Just mention the amount of damage they did and any consequences they inflict, since they're entitled to a free hit on those.


In addition to the excellent answers that have already been submitted, I'd like to encourage use of the so-called "Fate Fractal" that says anything can be a character.

Create dynamic environments for your fight where fires grow and spread, dust is churned up into the atmosphere and occludes visibility or chokes people without breathing apparatus, fragile wooden walkways start to buckle and break, windmill sails rotate in and out of zones, and so on.

Also, pay careful attention to the way you construct your map of zones that make up the field of conflict. Changing the number of zones and the barriers that exist between them has a significant effect on the tactical experience of a conflict.


Myself would suggest you to try and see if you really need the conflict system to work.

For example, if you are doing the All-Valley Karate Championship Finals, maybe you should not go for a Conflict. Instead, describe the combat, but uses the Contest system, as they are not trying to (at least directly) provoke prejudice. Both wants to be the champion, but they maybe are not trying provoke prejudice, like breaking the other guy leg.


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