I'm tweaking and testing the Fate Core system to fit the Torg RPG setting, and after much deliberation I came to the conclusion that a third stress track would be needed for "Reality Stress." Basically a measure of how rooted a character is in their own reality.

This type of stress couldn't fall under Physical or Mental, as the character's grip on their Reality is more of a spiritual connection, nothing relating to physical or mental fortitude. So it seemed pretty easy; attacks are made with the Reality skill, and damage is done to Reality Stress.

The issue, for me, is the number of stress boxes. Naturally, I want the base to be 2, as with Physical and Mental Stress. However, it seems unfair to have the Reality skill grant additional boxes (as Physique or Will), because it's also used as the attack skill. If Reality were used to attack, defend, and grant additional stress/consequences, there'd be a bigger power gap between people of varying Reality ratings. Adding a second skill just for Reality Defense would add skill bloat and seem needlessly specialized; the complete opposite of why I switched to Fate to begin with!

Is there any way additional stress tracks are balanced, perhaps from another Fate-based game I could use as an example?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm unfamiliar with Torg; would everyone have the Reality stress/skill, or is it limited in some way (IE, you have to have a certain kind of stunt or aspect in order to interact with Reality this way)? \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Nov 30, 2013 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW: Ah, good question! To clarify; only "Possibility Rated" characters would have the Reality skill. Anybody who isn't "Possibility Rated" is called an "Ord" and wouldn't have a Reality track at all; if they'd take Reality stress, they'd just explode in a ball of flame. For the purposes of the players, though; every PC and most of the major NPCs they face will be "Possibility Rated." \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2013 at 13:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ProfessorLokiCaprion: Hello, and welcome to the site. This is a great first question, and as a FATE fan and old-hand Torg GM I'm glad to see it. Once you've earned the minimum 20 rep, please feel free to join us in chat for further discussion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tynam
    Nov 30, 2013 at 13:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Tynam: Thank you for the welcome! I do greatly look forward to joining in the chat, especially if it's about Torg! I just fell in love with the Fate system, being much more of a "narrative GM" than a "crunchy GM". \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2013 at 13:24

3 Answers 3


This is an interesting mechanical problem. I'll begin by discussing the basic rule idea. I was about to quote the FATE rules on extras, but BESW's answer does it for me, and the basic idea is spot-on. All stormers (which in FATE is everyone with Fate points) should have the "Possibility-rated" extra, for free, granting a two-box Reality stress track and the ability to learn Reality.

(Make sure to use a variant in which FATE points belong to individual opponents, not to "GM-controlled NPCs" as a whole - Torg needs that.)

Now we can answer your question. The approach depends in part on your design goal:

Mechanical Balance: matching Torg

To reproduce the mechanical effect of the original Torg rules as closely as possible, then go ahead and let the Reality skill grant additional stress boxes.

This does make the Reality skill significantly more effective than intended for combat skills by the FATE designers, but that's consistent with Torg. The truth is that this imbalance will matter most in combat between stormers and ords. Since ords tend to transform or... well... explode when attacked with Reality, combat will inevitably stack in favour of stormers whether you grant them additional stress boxes or not. Especially since ords, in keeping with the design goals of both systems, shouldn't have Fate points.

This choice also creates a stronger difference in Reality skill level between stormers. But that's no bad thing if you're trying to reproduce the mechanical effect of the Torg rules. Reality was a distinguishing skill in Torg.

(A reality-focussed character in Torg rules can mop the floor with just about any other character, unless they're from the same reality to start with. Assuming they don't mind blowing the neighbourhood apart with a giant storm every time they fight.)

I'd even suggest that ords also have zero Reality stress, but instead move straight to consequences. (Seems harsh? It is, but in Torg, ords don't resist Possibility energy well. That's what makes them ords. How long do you want them to sit there taking damage in a fight they're bound to lose?) If you don't want this, give everyone a Reality stress track, and limit the Possibility-rated extra to granting the Reality skill.

But in Torg, Reality didn't attack your health so much as your Possibilities. The direct way to move that to FATE would be to let Reality stress either depend on total Refresh or steal Fate points... both of which are very bad ideas* that will break the FATE dynamic.

On the other hand... Torg is the first step on the path that lead to FATE. Player control of narrative and introduction of subplots, plot manipulation points, multiple interweaving realities on a common skill-based mechanic... I've argued before that Torg is FATE's founding father.

So what if your design goal is:

Narrative Intent

If we use FATE to match the story function of Reality duels in Torg, then we need a more nuanced approach. Because there is a key difference, important to the setting of Torg, between Reality-based consequences and standard FATE combat consequences.

Reality duels tend to mess up the surrounding environment.

So here's a full pass at FATE-based reality, with some sub-options:

  • All characters have (as an aspect) a "Home Reality".

    (Depending on your aspect handling, this may be an additional Aspect in itself, or part of everyone's Concept aspect. I actually recommend the former, but the latter has more flavour.)

  • Everyone gets the standard two Reality stress boxes.

  • Characters with positive Refresh (and hence Fate points) are stormers; others are ords.

    (Take a look at the way Dresden Files handles gaining monstrous powers and being a PC/NPC for a good look at how to handle the dichotomy.)

  • Only stormers can learn Reality.

  • Beginning a Reality duel costs a Fate point. Once spent, Reality attacks may be made against the target for the rest of the scene.

    (The character is consciously invoking a reality storm here, for Heketon's sake.)

  • Reality attacks are made directly against Reality stress, and cannot be made against people who have the same Home Reality aspect that you do.

  • Use the Collateral Consequences rules (FATE System Toolkit, p61.) To quote the most relevant part...

The players can also make use of three communal consequences, one of each degree of severity... Players can effectively use them to offload harm from themselves onto the world around them.

Now we're talking. It's in keeping with Torg to allow Collateral Consequences for Reality track damage alone. (These consequences will normally take the form of "storm damage", of course.) In a Reality duel, both combatants will feed the building storm... until one of them has nowhere to offload the energy and gets Taken Out.

  • Being Taken Out on the Reality track represents transforming.

    The character's Home Reality aspect is replaced with "Transformed: (attacker's reality)". (If they're an ord and were already transformed, this is the point where they get Taken Out in the form of a big fireball instead.)

    This is, of course, a wonderful character opportunity to declare changes to other aspects suitable to the character's new reality... and lasting injuries should consist of being ill-adapted to their new mindset until the player's had a chance to move skill points to match.

  • \$\begingroup\$ For the record, I am playtesting this variant today; thanks to BESM and yourself for the answers. After the game, and if no other answers are chosen, I'll close the question! \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2013 at 15:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I realize I'm 6 years late to the party, but I'd be interested to know what came out of the playtest :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Yoric
    Sep 30, 2019 at 19:59

Make it an Extra.

You've got three basic elements: a new stress track, a new skill that governs it and uses it to defend, and a bonus "trapping" on the skill that lets it also attack.

Extra: Possibility Rated

Permission: Must have an aspect which justifies taking this extra.

Cost: Free for PCs at character creation as part of the setting's conceit. (If not every PC is expected to have this, then I'd make it "Two Refresh, and skill ranks as desired.")

Benefit: (first option) You have a third stress track, "Reality Stress." Like any other stress track, you start with two stress boxes and can increase it by putting ranks in its relevant skill. That skill is "Possibility," which only people with this extra can use. "Possibility" can be used to attack the Reality stress track of others, and can be used to defend against such attacks targeting yourself. [If the Torg setting would allow non-attack/defense trappings of the skill, describe them here --and/or require separate stunts to unlock them, customizing each person's use of Possibility.]

This option piles a lot of power into the Possibility skill, which may be appropriate if it's the primary focus of the campaign. Remember, you've already got precedent in the example stunts to let a single skill attack, defend, and determine stress track size if you're willing to spend the Refresh on the feats to make it happen--and it'd probably cost about two Refresh to do it.

However, if you aren't comfortable with that (and you don't want to add two new skills to the system), the solution is to spread the work out to at least one existing skill. Perhaps the Possibility Rated extra grants an additional trapping to Will, letting it be the defensive stat against Possibility attacks.

Another option (which you could combine with either of the above ones) is to reduce the amount of work being done by any skill, leveling the playing field by limiting how much variance is possible between characters with this extra: make it impossible for any skill to add to the number of stress boxes or consequences for the Reality stress track. This which would make Reality battles swift and brutal. If you go this route, consider a) making the Reality stress track default to three boxes instead of two, or b) creating additional stunts which allow Possibility or Will to affect stress boxes/consequences normally, or c) creating additional stunts which directly increase those stats: one stunt for one mild consequence slot or two extra stress boxes.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Though I really like this particular approach to Reality (I hadn't even considered the "Possibility Rated" aspect as an Extra), it still seems to leave a disparity of power level between two Possibility Rated PCs with different Reality skills. Someone with a +3 Reality will attack with +3, defend with +3 and have an additional stress box. A characters with +2 Reality would attack and defend at +2 with only 2 boxes, a signifigant disadvantage. Unless, of course, that sort of scale of magnitude is what you were suggesting for the Reality rating? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2013 at 13:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ProfessorLokiCaprion Ah, okay. Being unfamiliar with the setting I'm not sure what precedents I am or am not following... will edit in another suggestion. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Nov 30, 2013 at 13:55

Disclaimer: I know nothing about Torg

If you look at it as a simple game balance issue, the answer should be simple. Reduce the base number of stress boxes to one or even zero, so that the effectiveness of having the skill is somewhat nerfed to be on par with other skills. It is quite okay to have zero boxes on a stress track, that's what consequences are there for. Maybe the untrained show the related symptoms immediately when they begin to lose their grip on reality.

However, inferring from the question and Tynam's answer, I can see the setting is much more invested in the concept of "reality". Maybe you should reflect that on a wider scope in your hack, rather than giving the concept a skill or two.

First of all, have you considered adding less? Maybe there is no need for a separate skill and characters manipulate others' reality by getting creative with their regular skills. Maybe an existing skill like Notice is good enough for granting extra stress boxes for the Reality stress track.

Next, consider if the power gap that comes with the single Reality skill is actually justified within the setting. Maybe your original setup recreates the setting's stories well enough.

Finally, you can consider writing stunts that allow characters add extra reality-related trappings to existing skills. This may make more sense in a setting where reality-fondling is the domain of a select few.


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