by Delos

Turn Those Dials! Fate’s Dials and Their Effects Pt 4: Stunts and Refresh

This is the fourth and final installment of my Turn Those Dials! series. It has been brought to my attention that some people who read these articles are completely lost, since they don’t know how to play the game. That’s fine with me, since these are technically ‘advanced’ topics on how to alter the game to suit your group. If you want to learn how to play the game, the rulebooks are free to download (legally; the company that created Fate made their core books pay-what-you-want) at RPG Now. It lists a price, but when you click on the individual item, you can choose to pay nothing (or something, if you deem it worthy, which you should). The book you’re looking for is the Fate Core rulebook (or Fate Accelerated Edition, but since that is streamlined, it presents slightly different rules than my articles refer to).

On Topic

You may have noticed that I have, again, combined two things into one article. The reason here is that they’re so intricately connected that separating them would be ridiculous. Unfortunately, they’re not like Stress and Consequences where they’re connected because they’re practically the same thing. Nope, the only thing they have in common is… well… they both provide bonuses in-game. It took me a long time to come up with that commonality, by the way.

Starting Refresh and Free Stunts

While starting Refresh (the amount of Refresh you have before you spend any on Stunts) and the number of free Stunts are separate, they form a connected balancing mechanism. They form sort of a minimum and maximum number of Stunts that each player can have. In an earlier draft of Fate Core, they only gave you 1 free Stunt and 3 refresh, which gives between 1 and 3 Stunts (you have to have at least 1 refresh left). They upped the number of free stunts in the final release to 3, so the number of Stunts characters can have is between 3 and 5.

Not only do the two separate numbers form a sort of balance for the range of Stunts, they also combine to form an overall power level. Alongside skill bonuses, this total number is the greatest measure of overall power level in your game. The more Stunts you have, the more chances you have to add bonuses to rolls (this is the usual use of Stunts, anyway); the more refresh you have, the fewer compels you have to accept in order to have Fate Points, which also provide nice bonuses as well as rerolls. This is the same reasoning they used in the Dresden Files game to differentiate power levels; it was even used to determine how difficult an enemy would be in conflict (though, I think the math was a little off in that respect).

That’s all there is concerning Refresh, but there’s still two more things for Stunts, so let’s keep moving.

Stunt Potency

The default potency of a stunt is supposed to be equivalent to a +2 a couple times per session. But it doesn’t have to be. This is not a dial, per say, but it IS brought up in the System Toolkit (Those who weren’t part of the kickstarter, you guys should be really excited for when this bad boy is finally released).

There’s not much to say here other than you’re allowed to make Stunts more or less powerful. BUT, this should be done alongside the next dial:

Stunt Cost

Each stunt doesn’t NEED to cost 1 refresh. You can adjust the cost all you want, but it should still line up with Stunt Potency. If potency is doubled, so should the cost be. In general, I wouldn’t bother with adjusting potency or cost, since there’s always the ability to do Stunt trees in order to have more powerful Stunt effects. Again, this is not a proper dial so much as something mentioned in the System Toolkit.


The main dial you’ll want to look at is the Starting Refresh & Free Stunts combo. Just remember that this has some of the greatest influence on the overall power level of characters.

You can also adjust Stunt Potency and Cost (generally alongside each other), but there’s very little point in doing so.


There was something I forgot to mention in the previous article about Stress and Consequences: You can add or remove different stress tracks. This is mostly for genre and setting usefulness, such as adding a stress track to make certain you’re not straining yourself too much during casting. Or you can remove the mental stress track if you plan to do all social and mental situations as contests or challenges instead. Or you can decide to do separate tracks for different body parts – totally up to you and your group’s style.

But this doesn’t just directly apply to Stress; you can assign certain Consequence slots to specific Stress tracks if you’d like. This already happens with the +5 in Toughness and Will, which only apply the bonus Consequence slot to their respective Stress track.

Thank you for reading this series on Fate Dials. Next, I’ll be talking about Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: