I have experienced such an issue with a previous run of our Fate RPG campaign. The setting is somewhat influenced by the Dresden Files, which means the campaign involved lots of investigation (sometimes railroaded in) as our heroic band of vigilantes and rogue government agents uncovered the sinister plot of the villain.

One of the players did not like that direction and preferred to see more combat. Our GM argued that he is not putting us in combat often because he believes that since character growth comes from milestones rather than smashing mooks over the head, getting into fights often will only use up our Consequences and be a punishment instead of reward. In addition, he pointed out that beating/shooting/fireballing random thugs is likely to complicate the plot as more and more attention being put on the gang of (anti)heroes.

Is there a way to retain the interest of players who want more physical confrontation in an investigation-heavy campaign? None of us are really experienced at DMing a FATE based RPG and I would like some advice before I attempt a campaign with a revised version of the old setting. Do I need to make combat rewarding? Or should I just count on people treating the act of turning a sicario into tomato paste via fireball its own reward? Or is what I am trying to do pointless and it is best for that player to find another game?

  • \$\begingroup\$ "character growth comes from milestones rather than smashing mooks over the head" I guess that's one GM's opinion. Growth comes from enduring life, of which combat is a huge part in other GMs' games. Fate doesn't say that Milestones can only be measured by "other" kinds of events. \$\endgroup\$
    – Beanluc
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 18:18

6 Answers 6


"When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand."

That's something out of Raymond Chandler, one of the early pulp writers, but it might as well be Fate GMing advice. (I think it is, somewhere, but I went looking for it in Spirit of the Century and found only ninjas.)

Putting aside any issues of what happens when you use magic to murder someone (which as I understand in the Dresden Files universe is a Very Bad Thing) the deal is that your previous GM played an investigation where you tracked down a supervillain without starting any fights.

What a convenient universe that must be, where fights only start because the PCs decide to start them.

On Combat and Character Development

Combat is not a mysterious place, not of this world, that you access through a screen transition. It's happening in the same place everything else is happening, and people there are the same people they are outside it. All your Aspects are still present, all actions still exist (though you don't have time and care to, like, do research or painstakingly craft something).

So if you want to use Empathy to deliver a heartfelt friendship speech that stacks a couple invokes on somebody else's Aspect, knock yourself out. If the bad guys have some horrendous secrets they want to lever to deliver a psychological blow, they can hurl them in lieu of bullets.

It is true that combat doesn't really lean into character expression the way more free-action events do. If you're in combat you don't really need to talk about how you learned to punch someone or where you learned to aim, Fight and Shoot will work at their listed numbers without, in most cases, any justification. And it's really easy to just get drawn into smacking numbers against other numbers and forget that there are actually people doing the shooting and getting shot.

So... don't forget that? You're still narrating the results after all, every punch, every shot. It doesn't hurt to ask people for a little more description than "I use Shoot on the army of vine-men" so you have something to bounce off of.

On Player Desires

Not getting in fights isn't the same as not starting fights, of course. There are good reasons not to start a fight and leave some other human being who hugged their kids and petted dogs and said "please" and "thank you" to bleed out in some forgotten corner of the world.

Fate pretty explicitly tells you to sit down with your players and talk them through what they expect of the campaign. Places, themes, their own characters. So while you're doing this it's important to talk to people about what kinds of action they expect out of the game.

Does your combat player want to be strong? To like, be the guy who catches a falling rollup door or desperately holds the rope while everybody else is dangling on a helicopter? The guy who cracks his knuckles in a hidden corner and drops the guy who was waving a gun at everybody else with one punch? Or do they want you to tell them what happens when they murder other human beings?

It's probably a little more of the former than the latter. But at the same time, it's important to listen to what everybody else expects from the campaign. And to raise your own ideas, about how this time around, every now and again, a man's going to come through the door with a gun in his hand.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "What a convenient universe that must be, where fights only start because the PCs decide to start them." alone :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Silverclaw
    Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 12:53

My answer as a GM is: Don't.

If only one player from the group wants it, and everyone else, including the GM, doesn't want more combat, then don't include more combat in the game.

Since this is a campaign, I assume that everyone was briefed in advance about the theme and setting, and knew that it would be investigation-oriented with little combat.

I believe it is best for that player to find another game, one with more combat that would be more suited to his tastes.


First of all, the players should have a contract before playing to make sure that they know what kind of game to expect and agree to play that type of game. Was this done? Did he know it wouldn't be combat heavy and is changing his opinion on this midstream? If he is, then remind him of what he agreed to, and don't sacrifice the other players' entertainment for his mercurial nature.

That said, if this was not specified, there are ways that I have used to juxtapose combat and investigations into games.

Split the Party

Though not ideal, if the other players are enjoying themselves, you can take the narrative in directions where the players have to investigate different areas. One area can lead to combat, and the other to a full-fledged investigation.

In my Dresden Files campaign, we had more cerebral players and players that wanted to put more into the non-combat areas. Originally, I had problems with this, until I realized that there were players that wanted more action and others that wanted things interspersed with the investigation and social development. To cover more ground they split up, and I helped to maneuver the narrative with by invoking aspects so that they split up in the way that I wanted them. One group handled the more investigative aspects and the other the more action-oriented tasks.

Introduce an element of pressure to the investigation

Another way to do it is to introduce a common trope, where the there is something to be investigated, but some other factor that causes that to be threatened. The action-oriented characters deal with the threat from the investigators while they obtain the clues needed, or approach in a less direct manner.

Again, in my Dresden Files campaign, I had several instances where someone had to do research or investigate, but outside factors (enemies, traps, and other obstacles) threatened their ability to get the information needed.

A few tools that I used to simulate this were extended tests, adding an extra element in some cases as the fighting characters' successes or failure affected the pressure element in the others' tests, or Fate fractals, in order to model the opponent of the non-combat problem into a semi-combat related situation, in order to better pace the two interactions.


Underground Fight Club

Typical of large cities with a criminal underworld, the city has an illegal fighting ring as a spectator sport and heavy gambling. This is an opportunity for some of your players to get in some combat while still investigating the criminal underworld that surrounds it.

There are typically safety measures in place to reduce the risk of the combatants loosing their lives, but nothing is perfect! Think of a criminal run UFC that sometimes has fights with "blunted" weapons and maybe some armor.


Session Zero

This is where a "Session Zero" is key. Held before the first actual session, it is basically just an informational session, perhaps character creation, maybe even light role play to start fleshing out characters.

It sets the tone of the campaign, allows the GM to tell the players what sort of campaign it will be (combat-heavy, RP-heavy, etc) and also allows the GM to hear what sort of game their players are looking to have. If all players are looking for a heavy dose of combat, perhaps the GM should rethink their layout. Or possibly the players would be willing to expect less combat if they knew about it up front.

Essentially, it sets expectations for the campaign. Both the players and the GM should be up front about what they are looking for, and be open minded to find a compromise because in the end everyone just wants to play and have fun.


Look to the source material

Goodness, take a look at any of the Dresden novels! I can't quote title and page because the books are not beside me but you could pick:

  • Your investigations lead to a Frenemy crime kingpin being kidnapped and you have to save him to advance the plot.
  • Your nemesis makes you look bad to a powerful Fae so you are attacked, but you can't use deadly force without confirming their suspicions.
  • Your investigations into a mysterious set of deaths sets a magical killer stalking you for a one-off battle that could lead to more clues.
  • You need to get that special McGuffin that the secret society won't let you borrow so you need to break into their vault without killing anyone.
  • You're in a Magnificent Seven plot where your group is asked to defend poor innocents on one fateful night of dire omens.

Harry Dresden gets into character-developing fights that generally follow from him pulling on the loose threads of a case he is investigating. There are character driven consequences associated with the use or non-use of deadly force, the obligation to defend enemies from even worse foes, the consequences of decisions to involve mortals in magical conflicts. Investigation can aid combat by deducing an opponents hidden weakness, their true goal in the fight, or best way to intimidate them.

Set up a dramatic cycle

Investigations and roleplaying are part of how your characters learn to frustrate the antagonists in the story. This will lead to action, either on the part of the players (to stop the Big Bad) or the antagonist (who is getting annoyed at the players). The resolution of this will lead to more investigation and role-play (Who was the muscle she hired? Why do they all have the same tattoo? What was that portal they used to escape?) That investigation will lead to more action so....


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