On Fate, everything can be turned into an action, a roll of the dice.

That means that when trying to convince a character or any other interaction, mechanically it becomes a roll of the dice. And after such a roll, you already know either you'll succeed or not.

Our group's experience is that this makes us roleplay a lot less. We describe what we want to achieve, roll, and briefly describe the outcome. We skip the real discussion there. And since Fate incentivizes only acting on interesting scenes, we find ourselves almost never really roleplaying.

We miss actual acting: speaking as the character would do; trying to build a lie or an argument. How can we do so while not losing the essence of Fate?

(Maybe we misunderstood the rules or are following them incorrectly?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you describe what you mean by "really role playing" ... I think you have something very useful in this question, however, a working definition (for the purposes of this question) of what you see as "really role playing" would be helpful in clarifying the problem you want to address. Your last paragraph is a partial description; can you flesh it out a bit? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 10, 2018 at 11:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I answered assuming it was "speaking in character, trying to feel what they feel" (but I agree it's not a very good term, choosing tactical options or framing a scene sounds like roleplaying to me as well) \$\endgroup\$
    – Boulash
    Oct 10, 2018 at 13:17

4 Answers 4


Nothing Happens Outside A Scene

Which is to say, if you're rolling to convince someone, you are somewhere with that someone and you are saying convincing things. If you're rolling to soup up the Mephit's engines, you are somewhere with the Mephit, and parts and tools and possibly assistants.

I mean, you don't let your players say

I roll Resources to buy the sun!


I roll Athletics to jump to the moon!


I roll Provoke to glare at gravity so it lets me down gently!

because those things can't happen*.

But when you let your players roll for something, you're saying that it can happen, somewhen, somehow, somewhere.

When? How? Where? These things are called fictional positioning.

*At this point some wag will say "but what if we're playing Fate Toon?" Well, in that case, Sunny Jim, those things can happen, so they'll happen in a scene where you e.g. haul a giant bag with a dollar-sign on it into Sun-Mart past the gleep-glop alien offering free samples of Oort Cloud.

Coming Onscreen: A Scene From A Roll

I've spoken elsewhere about the idea of "offscreen" and "onscreen" in Fate, the difference between table talk and player conversation and the drama of moments, risks, and failure.

When that offscreen talk leads to the need to make a roll, that's when you set that roll in a scene.

So: who are you talking to? How and where are you talking to them? (Or, if you're talking remotely, how and two wheres, yours and theirs.) Who else is in that where? What else is there? And what are you saying that's so convincing?

Let's be clear here: this is not you putting an essay test in front of your player and demanding they fill it out to be able to actually make the roll. They are playing Fate characters. They are powerful and capable of dramatic things. It is possible for them to do this or you wouldn't have let them.

This is a brainstorm about how it's going to happen and everyone at the table is welcome to the party.

Because, let's face it, at some point they're going to roll

[-] [-] [ ] [ ] (reroll) [-] [-] [-] [+] (reroll) [-] [-] [-] [-]

and guess who's picking up the tab on describing what happens after that? Also, if you don't start out by describing the terms of the challenge you're not really going to have much idea how to describe what success looks like, either, or what Aspects look like as those come into play.

After the Roll: What Success Looks Like

And of course, the scene doesn't stop when the dice hit the table and people stop flicking Fate Points at them to change how they landed. That success could happen. And it did happen! Great!

But you still have to find out how it happened! So keep going until you're sure. What did they respond to? Your passion? Your rationale? What are they doing for you now that you've convinced them? If you aced the roll enough to get a boost off it, what is it and what does it represent? Is the GM going to bank a Fate Point off Imperial Intelligence Is Always Watching and into your hands, cackling evilly?

Once that's all answered to everyone's satisfaction, then you can cut the scene, or at least pan over to someone else getting ready to do something else dramatic.

A Final Note: Scene Means Something And I'm Sorry

So, I'm talking about this in terms of scenes in a movie, but the term "scene" in Fate actually has a kind of specific meaning, in that it designates when you as a GM get to refresh an antagonist pool of fate points and a delimiter for certain player abilities and recoveries.

In general, when your players are about to embark on a series of connected events, such as might be contained in a challenge, contest, or conflict, the entire series should be considered a capital-S-for-game-mechanics Scene, even though if it happened in a movie it could contain multiple small-s scenes in different places and times.


You are touching a very deep and interesting question about RPGs and game design.

I'm not a specialist, but what I know is that Fate is a lot more streamlined than most traditional games, which you expressed by "everything can be translated into a dice roll" - but that also means that there is only one game to play; all situations rely on the same mechanics.

One theoretical question is why would we want to "roleplay" a conversation when we are not ready to roleplay hanging with one hand from a rope bridge over a lava pit.

Fate doesn't really push for "roleplaying" social interaction because it doesn't push "roleplaying" elsewhere; it's all about allowing creative input from the players through aspects and such, while making sure this input can be used in the fiction. It's more about collaboratively making a story than taking part in it (Fate specialists, please don't hate me, I know this is oversimplified...).

What could maybe be more satisfying for your group would be to focus on describing the conversation without necessarily reproducing the spoken words. Talk about the body language, the apparent reactions, what's happening inside the characters' minds, the way the information is delivered - knowing that all these can be used by the game system.


A method of adding incentive to Fate is to offer 'freebies' - in this type of situation I have used both free discoveries of Aspects and Boosts. Consider a house rule that when a social conflict occurs, if the player gets in-character to narrate and discuss, they are rewarded with a Boost or get to add an Aspect related to the conversation to the NPC involved with a free invocation to the Player. I've used similar rules to encourage players in a sci-fi game to engage in techno-babble (free Aspect for awesome psudeo-science narration - quick, flex the Quantum Defibrillator before the Negathonium Diode Array reaches the Hamilton Threshold!).

As a word of caution, I have noticed that some players still won't engage with these types of mechanical extras - maybe they aren't socially built as Players to handle conflicts like that, or in the above case weren't 'science-y' enough to generate waffle on the fly. Do consider if you're going to be excluding some people at the table - there might be other elements of the game you can encourage for them. I also tried offering Fate Points in exchange for behaviors I was trying to encourage - that seemed to futz with the FP economy too much, so I can't advise that route, but YMMV.

There is nothing in the rules that makes the process of in-character conversation mixed with mechanical interaction any different to the process of just deciding to make a series of mechanical checks to Overcome, Create an Advantage, etc - as far as Fate rules are concerned the 'chatty' bits are simply fluff.


A very wide variety of games allows you to resolve the final outcomes of social interactions with a die roll, so this is not a situation unique to Fate.

What you have here is an issue with your zoom level. In Fate, anything CAN be resolved as a single overcome action, but doing this--as you have pointed out--leads to situations being resolved quickly, meaning that it works very well for downtime actions or anything else that needs to be resolved and moved on from quickly to get back to the meat of the game.

Fate's zoom levels look like this:

  • Roll: A scene or situation is resolved as a single overcome, attack, or create advantage roll. This is the most zoomed out level because it can resolve a scene taking a lot of time in character with a single roll. (e.g. talking your way past a bouncer to get into a popular night club when you don't meet the required dress code)

  • Challenge: A scene or situation is resolved as a Challenge, in which either one person rolls multiple times with different skills or multiple members of the group roll once. Because it involves multiple rolls but not too much time at the table, this is a slightly more zoomed-in setting than using an overcome roll, but it's still handled pretty quickly. (e.g. making a treaty with a foreign power by coming up with suitable terms and conditions to allow both parties to be satisfied with the result)

  • Contest: Once we're at the level of a contest, the scene is resolved in a series of back-and forth exchanges in which each participant can both create an advantage and roll to further their goals in each exchange. We use contests when the people involved have mutually contradictory goals, but aren't actively trying to harm each other. A contest can take much longer than either of the two previous zoom levels because it's a blow-by-blow description of negotiations, manoeuvres and so forth, much like a conflict. However, the duration of a contest is more controllable than a conflict because you can set the number of victories required at the beginning of the contest and there is a much clearer end-state as a result. (e.g. tense diplomatic negotiations between two organisations where they both want to achieve a deal where their organisation comes out slightly on top)

  • Conflict: Conflicts exist at about the same zoom level as contests but have a less predictable duration due to the way they work. Furthermore, it's only appropriate to use a conflict in a social situation when the parties involved have the necessary closeness to their opponent to cause them long-lasting social or mental harm as a result of the conflict. (e.g. a couple involved in an acrimonious row trying to score points off each other while also persuading the other person to do something they don't want to do)

  • Roll: Yep, the single roll exists right down at the bottom of the zoom level too. You can break a single scene or task down into an almost infinite number of rolls if you choose to do so. When you're playing a scene in 'real time' and calling for reactive rolls as the characters engage with the environment or pursue their agendas, this is what you're doing. You aren't operating at the challenge, contest, or conflict levels because you aren't using the specific mechanics or breaking it into exchanges, but you also aren't resolving it as a single roll. (e.g. a detailed scene in which an advisor argues back and forth with her king to try and persuade them of a point of policy before making a final roll to see how the monarch is swayed by her arguments)

If you find that you aren't roleplaying, zoom in! Don't resolve a social situation as a single roll, use one of the other zoom levels.

My preferred technique is to use a series of rolls unless the situation clearly falls into the contest or conflict frameworks.

When I do this, the players talk, banter, and roleplay and if they score a particularly good point in the conversation, that's a great place for them to either get an aspect with a free invoke for free, or to roll to see if they create an aspect if they want to risk failure to get two free invokes.

Then, I can either review what the players have said and consider the NPC's likely responses and resolve how the NPC acts without actually using the dice to resolve the conversation or have them roll one final time to actually sway the NPC. Both sides get to invoke any aspects created during the conversation to aid them on this roll, meaning that the preceding roleplay has a mechanical effect on the final outcome of the roll.

Edited to add: You can also take a more abstract approach to a strong disagreement. If you do this, it can turn even an academic debate into a conflict. Rather than attacking each other, you would have the participants in the debate construct their academic position with stress boxes, consequences, aspects, and defensive skills. The people in the debate would then attack using appropriate skills to try and take out their opponent's argument, using its aspects as weak points.

A sufficiently involved debater could leap to the defence of their academic position rather than letting it stand on its own merits, but by doing so would open themselves to psychological or professional harm.

Example: Creationism vs Evolution

Each has 3 stress boxes, a mild consequence and a moderate consequence.


Biblically Supported; A Matter of Faith; Irreducible Complexity

Skills: Appeal to Emotion at Good (+3), Scientific Consensus at Mediocre (+0)


Mounds of Genetic Evidence; Supported by Observation; Emergent Complexity

Skills: Scientific Consensus at Great (+4); Appeal to Emotion at Poor (-1)


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