Fate’s Fifth Action: Discover

I’ve recently started seriously looking at Fate Core for my little game project.  I started converting my skill list over, but decided I needed to take a closer look at Fate’s basic actions first.  In addition to the four basic actions covered in the rulebook, many in the community value the utility of adding a discover action to the game.  This includes Ryan Macklin, one of the creators of Fate Core.  Feel free to check out his post, Fate: the Discover Action.

For my game, the discover action seems to be a good fit, so I’m definitely going to include it.  I’m also a firm believer that the use of Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts to zoom in on the action should never be compulsory.  You should be able to handle any attempted action with a single opposed roll if that’s what works best for your game.  Zooming in should largely be a concern of importance to the story, pacing, and how detailed you want to get with the results.  Read Robert Hanz’s post on this idea and how this can allow for zooming in and out to any level of detail.  This happens to hold great potential for my idea for a game that lets you shift between roleplaying and a more strategic tabletop game.

All this means that I’ll need to rewrite or expand on the descriptions of Fate’s basic actions to better clarify what action is used in different situations and at different levels of detail.  So I decided to start with taking a crack at a write-up of the discover action.  I also decided to create an icon for discover similar to those used for the other actions – it’s going to need one eventually.

This may need to be changed as I work through everything, but it’s a start.  Feedback is welcome.  So here it is: the discover action.


Use the discover action to reveal or establish information.

The discover action covers learning information that does not provide an immediate tangible benefit – though it may still be critical to advancing the plot of the story. It also allows a player to introduce new information into the game in a manner similar to spending a fate point to declare a story detail.

The discover action is about information; it is not about gaining anything tangible. You could use discover to look up historical events in a library, learn about building methods likely used in a structure, identify locations a criminal is known to frequent, find out the name and location of the best armorer in the city, ascertain that the creatures terrorizing the town are vulnerable to silver, recognize an opponent’s fighting style, and even detect a weak point in a stone wall – but discover will not provide anything which conveys an immediate advantage. Using the knowledge gained to your benefit requires an overcome or create an advantage action. Discover can be used to locate items, materials, and people, but it cannot remove a significant source of opposition. If acquiring the item or tracking down the thief is a source of opposition, use the overcome action.

The discover action can reveal aspects as well as more generalized facts, but success does not automatically award a free invocation on that aspect. If you want to use that aspect to your advantage, you will need to spend a fate point or use a create an advantage action. If your game includes hidden aspects, the discover action should be the primary means of revealing them.

Note that the GM is always free to provide the players with information and reveal aspects whenever it makes sense to do so. The discover action is merely intended to provide a means by which trying to gather information or learn the truth can be a source of dramatic tension. It also enables players to contribute story details without the use of fate points – much as the create an advantage action allows aspects to be invoked for free – but with the added risk that the facts they introduce into the story may turn out to be somewhat less than entirely true.

Oppose Opposing Discover

A discover action is typically rolled against passive opposition, with the GM setting opposition based on the level of detail and obscurity of the information, as well as any other factors that may make it more difficult to acquire. Certain circumstances may warrant rolling active opposition, such as trying to extract information from the subject of an interrogation. Just be sure that the character providing the opposition is only trying to avoid revealing the information, otherwise you might be dealing with an attack action.

Discover Using Discover

When you roll to discover information, you should describe what you are trying to find out (this can be fairly broad or very specific) and what you are doing to acquire the information. It’s normally assumed that you’re trying to reveal information already known to the GM, but if nothing’s established the GM can and should encourage you to introduce new details to the story. When introducing new information, you should clearly detail what you are attempting to establish prior to the roll so that the GM can determine appropriate opposition. You should also justify how or why you would have this information based on your aspects and skills. As with declaring a story detail using a fate point, the GM has the right to veto any suggestions that seem out of scope or ask the player to revise them.

Discover may be used to reveal aspects, but should not normally be used to create new aspects – that’s creating an advantage. Of course, information introduced through a discover action could later be turned into an aspect using the appropriate action or when it makes sense within the fiction. The GM can also decide to create a new aspect if it helps take things in a new direction or otherwise enhances the fiction, but you still shouldn’t get a free invocation unless you succeed with style.

If you’re using discover to reveal existing information…

  • When you fail, you either simply fail to gain any useful information or you succeed at a serious cost. What you learn is actually false, or perhaps part is true while the rest is complete poppycock; there could also be a serious complication. Maybe silver does affect the creature, but it makes them stronger somehow instead of weakening them. The armorer you were looking for turns out to actually be a long-time enemy of your family. The historical documents you reference turn out to have been written by a cult who twisted the facts. If success means revealing an aspect, then that aspect is changed to make the situation worse, or perhaps a new aspect is also created. It may also be appropriate to grant a free invocation to an opponent. Sure, you reveal Silver Gives Them Power, but the characters also gain the aspect Believes Silver is their Weakness. Perhaps you learn the magistrate’s dark secret, but now The Authorities Are After You, and the GM gets to invoke it for free. This tends to create lots of opportunities for compels.
  • When you tie, you gain the information or you reveal the aspect, but at a minor cost. What you learned is not as reliable or clear as you’d hoped, or there’s a complication. The information might be incomplete or misleading, it may need to be decrypted to be understood, or perhaps you inadvertently revealed the information to someone else as well. This could provide someone else with a boost, reveal the opposition of a later action is higher than expected, or introduce a minor problem. An aspect revealed on a tie remains true as always, but someone opposing you gets a free invocation or a boost. Maybe you tipped someone off while you were poking around.
  • When you succeed, you gain the information or you reveal the aspect.
  • When you succeed with style, you gain the information and get a boost or you reveal the aspect and get a free invocation.

If you’re using discover to establish new information…

  • When you fail, you either fail to establish the information or you succeed at a serious cost. Maybe you simply realize that you must have been thinking about a fort in a different valley, or you just do not recognize the fighting style being used by your opponent. On the other hand, you might remember the fort was abandoned due to a plague, or perhaps you mistakenly conclude that your opponent was trained by Si-Juk – when he was actually trained by Si-Juk’s arch rival. Normally, establishing new information doesn’t result in creating new aspects, but failing could mean a new aspect is created that creates serious problems. You may have been able to learn what part of town the thief calls home, but now The Thieves Guild Has Taken Out a Contract on You. Truly abysmal failures might also warrant giving a free invocation to an opponent. Again, lots of fertile ground for compels can come from a failed discover roll.
  • When you tie, you confirm what you wanted to know, but at a minor cost. What you learned is not as reliable or clear as you’d hoped, or there’s a complication. The information might be incomplete or misleading, you might remember that the only way to reach the fort is to fjord a river, or maybe you mistake the girl who used to live around here for her sister. This could provide someone else with a boost, reveal the opposition of a later action is higher than expected, or introduce a minor problem.
  • When you succeed, you establish the information as true within the game world.
  • When you succeed with style, the information is established as true and you get a boost, or the information becomes an aspect and you get a free invocation.

Discover in Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts

Discover is often used in challenges to gather information or supplies necessary to later actions in the challenge. Since the results of the challenge are determined after all rolls are made, a failure on a discover action often means that some of the information was wrong or the supplies were of poor quality, resulting in diminished or unintended results.

The discover action is rarely used to generate victories (unless the goal of the contest is to gather information in a limited amount of time), so discover sees little use in most contests. Similarly, the discover action is not used to accomplish many of the tasks commonly attempted during conflicts. However, discover can still play a key role in these situations by revealing aspects, which can then be invoked with a fate point or by creating an advantage.

Examples of Discover (In progress)

  • hw5
    From Bride of Re-Animator

    Studying a creature’s corpse to learn it is vulnerable to silver, followed by a create an advantage action to acquire silver weapons. Success with style on the discover roll could allow the character to remember the location of a nearby silver mine, or perhaps silver has declined sharply in value recently, making such weapons far less expensive.

  • Remembering that an old fort lies not far ahead while trudging through a blizzard, followed by an overcome action to successfully locate the fort. Unfortunately, the character fails the discover roll. They remember the approximate location of the fort, and manage to make their way there with an overcome roll. Little did they know that the fort has since become Home to a Pack of Wolves.
  • 7abd99f57de479f12c8c06b252607d10
    From Trail of Cthulhu: Bookhounds of London

    Searching through a library for information on a lost artifact and finding excerpts from an explorer’s journal describing where it was found, but the explorer moved the artifact and the journal itself is not located in the library. Notes in the library do mention the name of the last known owner of the journal. Succeeding with style might even reveal that the owner of the journal is currently in deep debt and in desperate need of money. In this case, acquiring the journal was intended as a source of opposition.


12 thoughts on “Fate’s Fifth Action: Discover”

    1. I read that article a couple of days after I came up with my approach to discover. Honestly, while I really like Mark’s explanation of everything leading up to the actual action mechanics, I prefer the set of mechanics I presented here – for a couple of reasons.

      First, my version doesn’t preclude using the discover action to ask the GM questions – so what is described in the codex can still happen. However, the codex versions seems to put a lot of the pressure on the player to ask the right questions, which in my experience can occasionally lead to some problems. In investigation games it’s also quite possible for a GM to be calling for a discover roll to determine what information the characters get, which doesn’t necessarily align with the you get X questions mechanic. I’m also not sure how I feel about suggesting a game-enforced limit on conversations between players and GMs.

      Second, I think the version I presented here provides more options and flexibility for succeeding at a cost. It may just be that this is a little more fleshed out (or maybe just longer!), but how costs interact with discover just doesn’t seem to be explained much in the codex version.

      Finally, I really wanted to the discover action to enable players to have a mechanical way to introduce details into the game world. This is already permitted in Fate by using a fate point to declare a detail, but using discover allows for 2 important possibilities:
      1) It allows the player to introduce story details without the use of fate points, just as the create an advantage action allows aspects to be invoked without using fate points.
      2) It creates some interesting possibilities on a success at cost, because some of the details can turn out to be false. This can be very useful to a GM – particularly if the players have taken the story in an unexpected direction.

      If you’re curious, in addition to Ryan Macklin’s post on the discover action, some elements of this were inspired by Wises from Burning Wheel.


  1. “Discover may be used to reveal aspects, but should not normally be used to create new aspects – that’s creating an advantage. Of course, information introduced through a discover action could later be turned into an aspect using the appropriate action or when it makes sense within the fiction. The GM can also decide to create a new aspect if it helps take things in a new direction or otherwise enhances the fiction, but you still shouldn’t get a free invocation unless you succeed with style.” — Natai

    “Using Create Advantage and Discover
    If you include discover as an action, players can’t use create advantage to learn new information. All of those actions now fall under discover. Players can use create advantage to capitalize on the information they’ve gained, such as using Provoke to place the aspect Hot Tempered on an NPC after discovering the NPC’s weakness using Empathy.” — Mark Truman

    Natai, do you agree with Mark Truman that Create Advantage should no longer be used to “discover” Character Aspects? This would change the example that is demonstrated on page 139 of Fate Core. You say that Opposing Discover should almost always be passive opposition, but consider the example.

    Wouldn’t this example then consist of two actions, an Empathy:Discover roll to find out that he was a “Sucker for a Pretty Man,” and then a second Rapport:CreateAdvantage roll to create a new aspect — with free invoke — perhaps, “I Caught his Eye,” or maybe just put a free invoke on the “Sucker for a Pretty Man” aspect? If so, shouldn’t they **both** be **actively** opposed, Deceit for the first roll, and Will for the second roll?


    1. Good question. Generally, I agree with Mark that Create an Advantage shouldn’t be used to reveal character aspects when the Discover action is used in your game.

      As far as opposition to a discover action, it all depends on the circumstances. There could easily be circumstances in which active opposition would be appropriate.

      The example on page 139 could easily be two actions, but could still be one depending on how the character approached the situation. As described, the character immediately jumps into trying to use Rapport to get the merchant to open up. He’s not really trying to learn anything – he’s just taking a stab in the dark that he can sweet talk the merchant. This is creating an advantage. He is successful, and as a result he gets a free invoke on one of the merchant’s aspects. The fact that he wasn’t explicitly aware of the aspect beforehand is immaterial.

      On the other hand, if the PC decided to observe the merchant from across the street to determine the best way to approach him, he might notice that the merchant seems to respond more favorably to his male clients. This reveal the character’s aspect, but doesn’t award any free invokes. The PC can then follow this up with a create an advantage action. However, in this case the PC knows that some approaches are more likely to be successful. Or he could just burn a fate point to invoke the aspect.

      Sometimes it could be more beneficial to discover and then create an advantage, while at others it could be better to just jump to creating an advantage.

      It would make sense that create an advantage could reveal a character’s aspect – usually if the action was successful to create an advantage related to that aspect- but that will often mean stabbing in the dark. It’s also possible an advantage could be created that has nothing to do with the pre-established character aspect, so it might not be revealed.

      Seems like there was something else your question made me think of… but it’s gone now…


      1. I’ve been thinking about this sweet-talking example some more.

        I like that you can approach it either as one actively opposed Create-Advantage/Rapport vs. Deceive to discover and receive a free invoke in one step — or a two step process of actively opposed Discover/Notice vs. Deceive to discover his aspect, followed by a Create-Advantage/Empathy or Invoke.

        The one thing I don’t get is why anyone would use the two step process? It’s more prone to failure than the one step process (given equal skill values for the involved skills). There must be some way of rewarding the PC for finding out the NPC’s weakness during the second step of the process. Otherwise the first step of the process is immaterial to the success of the endeavor.

        Should the first step’s Discovery normal success always create a free invoke on existing aspect that can be invoked for the second step’s Create Advantage? Maybe a normal success creates a free invoke on an existing aspect and only establishes an aspect without a free invoke on a new, non-existing one. Now it seems we may be infringing even more on Create Advantage.

        What do you think?


      2. I think I may have found the answer to my one-step vs. two-step dilemma…

        The reward of a successful first step in the two-step process is that in the second step you know that the aspect exists.

        This changes a Create Advantage’s “tie” effect from being only a boost — you are trying to make a new aspect (Fate Core p136) — to a “tie” effect being a free invoke on the existing aspect (Fate Core p138). In other words a tie in the one-step process results in a boost (and no permanent aspect), but a tie in the second step of the two-step process results in a free invoke on a permanent aspect.

        Is that enough of an advantage for the two-step process?


      3. You’re right about the mechanical differences for creating an advantage if you already know the aspect exists. Also, discovering an aspect makes it available to invoke with a Fate Point, so you don’t always have to follow it up with creating an advantage. It also comes down to knowing what approach to take. Trying to create an advantage on the merchant could be problematic if you go in trying to intimidate him – or if you send in a woman.

        Some of this comes down to the style of play at your table and in your scenario. In most situations when aspects are all known by the players, discover will probably see more action in introducing new story details or helping reveal information if the players get stuck for idea. In games with hidden aspects – especially scenarios that involve lots of investigation – discover will be used more to reveal aspects and uncover other information.

        In the end, remember that the narrative always dictates the mechanics. If the PCs are scoping out the merchant and his shop try to see what they can learn, they’re probably using discover. If they stage a fake shoplifting, which they then foil to get into the merchant’s good graces, they’re trying to create an advantage. Heading in and aggressively haggling over the price of goods? Probably creating an advantage before a Resources roll.


    2. It’s back now – active vs. passive opposition. It all comes down to how you want to focus the action of the scene.

      In the example of the sweet-talking the merchant, the opposition might be active or passive. First, the players could jump straight to creating an advantage against the merchant – sidestepping any discover action – which will always be against active opposition.

      Maybe the PC is observing the merchant from across the street. Say the merchant treats all his customers the same to their face, but there are a lot of sly glances at attractive male customers when their back are turned. If the PC is trying to recognize this (probably Notice or Empathy) then it could easily be against active opposition using Deceive.

      On the other hand, perhaps the focus of the opposition is not on if the PCs can pickup on signals the merchant is trying to conceal. Maybe the problem is trying to notice anything as a crowd of people pours between them, in which case the opposition could easily be passive. Taking things in another direction, maybe the PCs recognizing the merchant’s behavior isn’t the issue at all. Maybe it’s that the merchant might notice the PCs surveilling him. This could be the PCs rolling Empathy against the merchant’s Notice.

      Lot’s of possibilities – depending on how you want to focus the narrative.


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