This is part of a series of posts discussing the design objectives of the authors of WFRP first edition. The first post in the series can be found here.
After the first few playtests showed how deadly combat was, Jervis [Johnson] came up with the idea of Fate Points.
– Graeme Davis, Realm of Chaos 80s
WFRP wasn’t the first role-playing game to adopt this sort of mechanic. That honour goes to TSR’s espionage game, Top Secret (1980). Top Secret, in fact, had two such systems: Fame Points and Fortune Points, though the distinction between them isn’t meaningful here. Both allowed characters to avoid death or unconsciousness.
The mechanism was taken up by a number of subsequent games: Hero Points in James Bond (1983), Karma Points in Marvel Superheroes (1984) and Hero Points again in DC Heroes (1985). Their scope expanded from a narrow ability to cheat death to a broader range of dei ex machinae.
However, until 1986 the system had been confined to niche games where implausible twists of fate were a key feature of the genre. WFRP was the first game to use it in a mainstream setting. The mechanism was certainly considered unusual enough to require an explanatory article in White Dwarf 88.
WFRP‘s Fate Points were narrower in scope than some of the other games mentioned. They were essentially an extension of the damage mechanism. They could almost be considered analogues of video game lives.
The quotation above suggests their presence in the game was little more than a fudge, to fix problems in the combat system. Perhaps amended damage rules would have eliminated the need for them and led to a better system. However, I doubt it. There was something dramatic in spending Fate Points. It was another mechanic that encouraged a storytelling approach to the game, and I think the game would have been poorer without them.
This is touched on in another comment by one of the authors:
The function of Fate Points in WFRP is threefold:
First, they allow Our Heroes to make miraculous escapes, as in all the best adventure stories.
Second, Fate Points reflect the idea that Our Heroes have a destiny which sets them above the rest of the world.
Lastly, combat in WFRP is more dangerous than in other RPGs. Fate Points can give the rash player a second chance and the unlucky player an even break.
– Graeme Davis, White Dwarf 88
It is interesting that these ideas embody an idea of heroic destiny. Often WFRP characters are portrayed as the puppets of an insouciant universe. Here, though, they are like John Wayne, James Bond or Indiana Jones. There was plenty of derring-do in the grim world of perilous adventure.
The next post in the series will cover magic.