I'm a player in a D&D 5e group that play since about 1 year. I like it, but I find the d20 dice system and plethora of rules to be constraining and coming often in the way of good story telling. In my group it seems I am the only one bothered by this, my other mates being quite into the nitty-gritty of the system.

After a bit of research, I came across the Fate Core System (FCS) and fell in love with the philosophy of it, and how streamlined and cooperative the "rule system" is. I have now watched some 10 hours of gameplay online and read almost all of the FCS book, and my buddies are curious and willing to try it out as a one-off (for a starter, at least).

So, my goal in organising the event is really to give a sense of the difference between D&D and FCS on an experiential level (as in "rather than on a cognitive/rational one"). I'd like for them to immerse themselves in the story and the characters and feel the rhythm of the narration building up, and to experience the full ownership of the storyline.

Now my question is: what should I focus on the most to achieve that goal?

Specifically, I feel like two opposite tensions:

  • Focus on creating the story and the characters together. The theory here would be: the investment in creating the setting, the aspects, the troubles... will jump-start the level of investment in role-playing and storytelling. The downside would be: lot of time spent on "not really playing" + very short time for me to prepare the actual session (probably just a 30' break in the session).
  • Focus on actual playing by coming to the table with a draft of the session in my notebook, skipping the collective game creation proper and keeping character creation to the bare minimum. The theory here would be: the investment on the characters and universe by players is small (it's just a one-off) so it shouldn't be that hard for them to stay within certain limits I pre-determined, but players need time to getting familiar with the rules and "feel" of FCS.

What I can count on:

  • A supportive group of friends, used to play together.
  • Honest curiosity in trying FCS out.
  • The fact that - still being my first time GM'ing - I'm not the worse story teller to have ever walked this planet.
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Llamanerds Please don't use comments to bypass the Stack's mechanics. It teaches people not to improve questions, and it keeps your good answers from reaching anyone except the querent. Instead you can work to get the question re-opened. I've edited the question and voted to re-open; when it's opened again please give your experience-based answer in the proper place so it can get sorted and be found by others. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Jan 23, 2018 at 7:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Problems to look out for if you are a D&D group who play Fate for the first time? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Jan 23, 2018 at 8:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ This feels like a false dichotomy to me - is there no way for you to do character/story creation before the "real" session? Have a casual get together and work this out? I can blow this out into a real answer if this isn't a logistical problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – Airk
    Jan 23, 2018 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Airk - most of the players are co-workers, but not all of them. Lunch breaks could be a possibility, but they tend to be very short. \$\endgroup\$
    – mac
    Jan 23, 2018 at 21:29

4 Answers 4


Fate Core supports diving right in (focusing on actual playing), just as much as it supports collaborative story-building.

First off, it's important to remember that collaborative world-building doesn't really stop once you start actual play. You can always, as a GM, tap a player to answer a question about the world for you. "You head to the local coffee shop. Brenda, who do you know that works there?" (A good technique that takes some of that load off of the GM!)

Second, you might benefit from doing a "characters-on-the-fly" approach to running a game, where even character creation isn't fully done when you start play. Have a look at "Quick Character Creation" starting on page 52. It'll let you get right to playing very quickly, and puts all the worldbuilding stuff on a "fill it in as we go along" footing that's pretty similar to how settings get revealed in stories and visual media.

So on the balance I'd say a focus on actual playing is probably going to suit you best. If folks really get into it, you could always do your world building in session 2 or 3 or never, as suits the group.

You might also want to check out It's Not My Fault on DriveThruCards, a quick character and situation building engine for use with Fate (Accelerated, but that's still Core).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! I'll definitively look at "not my fault". I was actually under the impression fate accelerated had a different set of rules, not just a subset of them! :) \$\endgroup\$
    – mac
    Jan 23, 2018 at 15:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mac Fate Accelerated is a simplified implementation of Fate Core with more emphasis on being able to just pick it up and go. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2018 at 15:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mac "It's Not My Fault" is a great introduction to that critical element of the Fate system: Player input. You can't start playing without each player thinking about and explaining how "where are you now", "what brought you to this", and "how it's about to get worse" is not THEIR fault! Instant story. It's like Chapter 2 (and Chapter 3) of the Fate Core book in a five minute exercise at the beginning of a play session. \$\endgroup\$
    – Beanluc
    Jan 23, 2018 at 22:09

Don't do the same thing

One of the biggest failures I had doing something like this was that players came back and said "well we did the same thing in D&D, why do we change the system?" My bubble just burst in a sad raspberry...

By that I mean you want to run an adventure that is fun and exciting, but don't run the exact same thing you always do with them. If you usually run dungeon crawl adventures, use Fate to run and play a court scene. If you usually do wilderness, do urban.

Even if you run in the same world/ campaign/ timeline, by focusing on different locations and action, you create a bigger difference between the two and even may advance your overall plot by showcasing some different places.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thank JP. I see your point and I wholly agree. I would say we are safe from this particular pitfall though: ours DnD campaign is a forgotten realms one, but we plan to run our fate one-off in the Star Wars universe after the zombie apocalypse! :P \$\endgroup\$
    – mac
    Jan 24, 2018 at 23:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's... Different... \$\endgroup\$ Jan 25, 2018 at 13:34

Based on experience pulling Fate out at cons, you're going to want to do one of two things. But first let me tell you why you want to do one of those two things.

It Revolves On This (with apologies to Luke Crane)

So the thing about the Fate Point economy is that why Fate Points are spent matters a whole lot less than when Fate Points are spent. You have a budget, you use that budget, and I am told on good authority that you can't spend Fate Points you don't have.

But when you spend Fate Points, that means that your character is important to the story right now and this Aspect is the reason why all that bad luck with dice doesn't matter quite so much at the moment.

It's not intended to be hard to find a reason to spend Fate Points. It's not some puzzle you have to do alone and the GM judges you if you've got it right or not. Everyone at the table can help and make suggestions. Because, again, you can't spend Fate Points you don't have.

It's much more important to pick the right time. That's what your Aspects are for. They tell you what time in the story is the right time, and when you should back off and let other people put up the big numbers. Otherwise you'll just burn all your points in the first quarter of the game trying not to mark a box of stress and have no gas in the tank left for the final boss.

So what you want, in addition to a brief explanation that not getting hit is boring and you shouldn't spend fate points to do boring things (allowing, of course, that living is generally less boring than dying), is to create an Aspect setup that works like this, with elements of people's characters that point them toward or away from a variety of scenes.

You first time sitting down and making characters, everyone going their own way and exploring the system, this is not too likely to happen. And sitting down for character creation that doesn't even pay off is probably the worst introduction to the system.

Alternative 1: I Prepared This Earlier

Prepping character sheets is one way around this. You can even pick a skill and stunt loadout to give different characters emphases on different parts of the system.

But this is your first time doing Fate, too, so I'd recommend doing it in Fate Accelerated. Many fewer choices during character creation, and stunts which grow naturally out of the Aspects you're picking. The system will be simpler, but if you want to place focus on the way Fate uses Aspects to distinguish characters in the plot, this is your angle.

It may be a problem that Fate Accelerated only gives you approaches to roll, and as a result characters feel the same, but you can turn that into an opportunity to demonstrate something quite important to Fate:

Aspects are true.

A character whose aspects indicate that they're a genius inventor can Cleverly Create An Advantage to whip up a Hand-Held Gyrocopter. Could anybody else do that? Exactly that? Not unless they're some kind of inventor too and that's important enough to go in an aspect slot.

Other people can Cleverly Create An Advantage in other ways, not even necessarily dictated by Aspects, but those advantages are going to end up a little more situational.

And hey, since you're creating those characters, you can mention some things certain aspects give them permission to do. On the back of the character sheet or something.

If you wanted to migrate to Fate Core afterward you can pretty easily "grow out" Accelerated characters into Fate Core characters, with people picking out Skills and Aspects based on what did and didn't work, or even dropping their characters for acquaintances or rivals.

Alternative 2: Screw The Rules, I Have Money

Or if you want to play up the improvisational angle of things, the way Fate lets you improvise your way around obstacles and structures its actions to make resolution simple, and your entire play group has experienced video games at some point, you might want to consider Save Game, not far down the page here.

Save Game overcharges the Fate Point economy far beyond the point where it should have stopped and then keeps going to find out what happens. You're all video game characters with video game quirks as aspects in a video game world and pretty much everything is relevant all the time, and everything you stomp turns into Fate Points, which are called Coins, and a bag of pennies or some old arcade tokens are pretty good stand-ins here.

But your skills are constrained based around the four actions, and your stunts are pretty clearly categorized (one of the categories is to break one of those constraints), so character creation is a small speedbump at the start of the night and then you just hit the nitro.

It may be a problem that this overtuned economy makes it less important to look out for compels to power your character, but you can turn this into an opportunity to demonstrate something quite important to Fate:

The structure of compels (in controlled conditions).

Since you've got video game aspects you can have these super-obvious and often comedic trouble spots, like No Walking Animation or Multiple-Choice Personality. The comedy eases the feeling of being targeted that might come when somebody suggests a compel, and might be a motivator in and of itself to call a compel on themselves just to have something comedic happen.

They're going to have enough resources to get out of whatever predicament it lands them in, too.

Save Game is much less geared to campaign play, but as an introduction to how the mechanical guts of the system work in play and work around improv it's very solid.

It's all down to what you think your group would appreciate more: how the novel mechanics of the system work in action, or how the Fate Point economy helps drive the story.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you Glazius! Reading your post I came to the realisation that probably the trickiest part of transitioning my group to play Fate, would be the fate economy. Save Game already caught my eye before, so I should definitively look more into it. My only doubt being that from your description it does not seem to favour the trickiest aspect of it: having players spontaneously using compels. As for FAE: I have to read more on this, but the lack of character differentiation based on skills may actually be a further cognitive obstacle to overcome when coming from DnD... \$\endgroup\$
    – mac
    Jan 24, 2018 at 7:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hm. Good point. Let me edit some stuff into those sections. \$\endgroup\$
    – Glazius
    Jan 25, 2018 at 0:10

You can have your cake and eat it too.

Run yourself a "Session Zero" a week or two before you run the actual game, and use that time to prepare and build on the story stuff you previously established.

At "Session Zero" you should:

  • Arrive with a general feel for the type of game you are willing to run. This could be as vague as "Starfaring Sci-fi!" or as specific as "A fugitive fleet on the run from a merciless enemy that has destroyed their home and planted spies in their midst, where the real focus of the game is finding out who the traitors are!" Or anything, really. You just need to have some concept to "pitch" so people know what kind of ideas are on the table and which aren't.
  • Take everyone else's input on what sounds awesome. A lot of this is basically "shooting the breeze"; Talk about setting details, and incorporate as much of what people say while keeping it coherent.
  • Create characters; Or at least, the skeletons of them. In Fate, this definitely means aspects. How these characters fit into the world should flow from there. Other stuff can be finalized over email or day-of or whatever.
  • Remember that fundamentally this has to be a game YOU want to run, so if it's not inspiring or interesting to you, use your veto.

Once this stuff is done, you can take a little bit of time (Y'know, like a week, not 30 minutes) to roll this stuff around in your head and come up with a starting point and some pressures to get the action moving. And yeah, don't discount the other answers here with regard to stuff like "Don't forget you can keep worldbuilding as you go."

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you Airk. What you are describing is happening a bit organically already. For example: my mates threw the idea of "Zombies in Star Wars" (both themes I feel more prepared about than fantasy) and I find myself already fantasizing about possible locations and NPCs. It is really the character building that needs a proper "session" (mini one?), as if I go with the advice in the book, I need the players to interact with each-other story at building time. Will see how it goes! :) \$\endgroup\$
    – mac
    Jan 24, 2018 at 23:39

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