I'm GMing a long-running game in FATE core, and I've been running into a bit of a balance problem. A couple of my players have gotten (what feels to me like) too powerful. They don't really seem to struggle with any challenge I throw their way unless I crank the difficulty of the rolls way up, which kind of breaks the fiction if I do it all the time. They've usually got aspects that are relevant to the thing they are trying that they can add +6 on any roll that's important enough. Fate points don't tend to be a limiting factor for them because they have high refresh, our sessions play slowly so they rarely spend down to zero, and they usually manage to get a lot of compels to boot. And the few stunts they do have help them create advantages so that they always have scene aspects to spend those fate points on, even if the character aspects aren't relevant. The end result is that, in their own words "we basically only fail rolls when we choose to let it go".

I don't really want to take away what they call their "fate point rockets", because that's clearly one of their core aesthetics of play. And the game is supposed to be fun. I just want to make sure I can still tell a compelling story for myself and the other two players who are more traditional and invested in plot.

When I talked to the group about this, one of the two rocketeers suggested that maybe I could

  1. Make compels more consequential so they don't just feel like free fate points (not sure how to do this without throwing things off too badly, but they're definitely right that my compels are not disruptive enough).
  2. Make them do things that will bleed off their fate points more often so they are actually a scarce resource (difficult because of high refresh, not many scenes per session).

They're probably not really well matched with the rest of the group in terms of aesthetics of play, but this game is the core of how we keep up as friends now that we're all in different cities so "find a different group" isn't really a solution.

Any advice?


2 Answers 2


In Fate Core, you the GM wield two separate but equally important threats: numbers and the plot.

So, a small prelude: Fate Core PCs are proactive people, capable of taking dramatic action. On some level you kind of want your PCs to be getting into trouble with compels and hitting their aspects to get out of it, deciding to take failures to save Fate Points for later. A common antipattern some people find themselves in is burning Fate Points in order to avoid trivial consequences and not having them when it's time to make the real fireworks happen.

I get that things have gone a bit too far the other way - just be careful not to overcorrect.

Adventure Fractals, or: How Big Was My Number

A quick big number prelude - are you keeping up with your party? I imagine if their refresh has gone up they've also put quite a few points into their skills. Is anybody topping out at +5? +6? Have you gone through the 5/11/18 significant milestones it'd take to blow their cap but everybody's just chonking out at +4?

It may be time to consider elevating the baseline opposition from "based around +4" to "based around +5". Or even higher! Because, to hook the plot portion of things in, your PCs have already been through so much and they're moving on to bigger things.

When you have obtained a number of appropriate bigness, it's time to consider the adventure fractal. (While the concept is setting-agnostic, the SRD is its implementation in Fate of Agaptus -- just ignore that little line about what happens on a +9.) Basically, of the four adventure nucleuses of Combat, Exploration, Interaction, and Lore, pick one to be the adventure focus at +1 to big number, one to be backburner at -3 to big number, and the other two are at -1 to big number. When the appropriate thing comes up in the adventure, base it there; if "the appropriate thing" is a higher-test NPC bump them up as usual.

To hook the plot portion in again, if something is backburner to the adventure then it's actually backburner to the adventure; you can't solve the adventure that way. If you're doing an adventure where exploration takes the lead and interaction is on the backburner, like finding an ancient secret buried in a forgotten ruin, then you can't use interaction to get to that secret directly. It can still come up in the more preparatory phase of the adventure when you're securing resources, but the invokes from those advantages are going to get bled off in the harder exploration segments (with incidental combat and lore).

Plot Entanglements, or: As Compels Do

So, compels are different from adverse invokes in that invokes pump up numbers while compels work to shift the plot. The easiest way to make sure your compels have some teeth in them is to make sure you're always going from can to could, or from could to can't.

Or, as a longer form: there are things your character can do, no roll, like walk down the street; things your character can't do, no roll, like jump to the moon; and things your character could do if they put up a big enough number, like hurtle an oncoming motorcycle. When a compel happens, it's introducing doubt into something that seemed straightforward -- moving from can to could -- or closing off an avenue that seemed possible -- moving from could to can't. Compels are there to start a scene, a place where the PCs can make rolls to effect, or to end one in the GM's favor.

But again, if people are willingly taking compels early on to build up a stock of Fate Points to make use of when things get serious, to some extent that's just kind of how a story goes -- you get up the tree in Act 1, down in Act 3, and in between you get rocks thrown at you. Even when you're making compels mean something early on, don't feel the need to go too big - what's left for the finale then?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "you get up the tree in Act 1, down in Act 3, and in between you get rocks thrown at you" Nice! +1 for the answer, and I'd +1 again for the quote if I could. :) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 30, 2021 at 7:51

If things are too easy in Fate, the answers are really what you've laid out - increase the cost of Compels (they should not feel "free"), and increase the mechanical difficulties so that Fate Points are used more frequently.

I like to think of it as the Star Wars Rule. For every session, it should have one of three arcs:

  1. The PCs get a good amount of success, with some setbacks, and end up burning through the majority of their Fate Points (A New Hope)
  2. The PCs are on their heels the whole time and suffer setback after setback, but end up with a stockpile of Fate Points (Empire Strikes Back)
  3. The PCs start with a stockpile of Fate Points, and succeed against improbably odds, burning through their Fate Points to do so (Return of the Jedi)

If you're seeing the players get the results of Return of the Jedi, but without the previous stockpiling, then you are doing some combination of making Fate Points too easy or setting difficulties too low. If you are just seeing them lose and lose and lose and still end up out of Fate Points, then you're being too tight with them or making difficulties too high.

In general, I like to make Compels around significant plot complications, not minor inconveniences. Taking lots of Compels should result in a lot of additional tendrils of complication that last for a while, not just minor hiccups as they're going about things.


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