My group and I work on the assumption that a game system's default assumptions are its manifesto, and that by choosing a system we are choosing to let its assumptions stand except where we institute explicit house rules to the contrary (which we feel free to do as necessary).

I'm talking about fundamental policies like "how easy is it to die?" that define the nature of the game experience. Knowing these policies up front tells the group what they're getting into, and helps avoid terribly hurt feelings later on.

Moving into the Dresden Files RPG (DFRPG) from more structured systems [I know DFRPG is still crunchier than many FATE products, and I'm working on the assumption that's a) intentional on the part of the developers and b) desirable for my group because of our background], I noticed that many assumptions another system would take on itself to set --like how easy it is to die-- are explicitly left as collaborative decisions made by the group in DFRPG.

Two examples that stood out in Your Story are,

This [who decides if a character has broken a Law] is something that a gaming group should decide on as a policy for their specific game. (YS234)


This [character death as a result of being taken out] is something you’re going to want to talk about as a group out-of-game, to see where everyone is on the subject... (YS206)

I love this collaborative philosophy, and the agency it gives the entire group. These sound like foundational, game-defining policy decisions that I wouldn't necessarily have thought of putting explicitly to the group --and in some cases wouldn't have recognized as decisions to be consciously made at all-- because we're used to the system making them for us.

What are the table-level game policy decisions, that will define the experience of the group and determine if it’s the kind of game the group wants to play, the group should consult on before or during city creation? Your Story lists a few (I gave examples above) but they’re sprinkled around; I’m sure I’ve missed some of them, and the SE Voice of Experience probably has ideas too.

(Obviously some rules decisions are better left for the heat of the moment when context is king, but that’s not what I’m asking about. Leaving the choice of who gets to decide if your wizard just turned into an NPC until it’s actually happening? Is a recipe for bad feelings all around. That's why I added the [social-contract] tag and not the [rules] tag.)

If an answer seems like it's turning into a list, then these points might help (otherwise feel free to ignore them if you think they prohibit a good answer):

1) This is tagged [dresden-files] for a reason; I suspect the setting defines the policy issues to a great extent, and I cited the Laws quote as an example of how.

2) Experience is probably key. If you can say what your group has done, how it turned out, and what you'd do differently or the same next time, that'd be most excellent.

To clarify my position: I have no problem with the idea of FATE as a game founded on group collaboration, and I love the idea of shedding the "GM mystique"; in fact, both of these ideas excite me unduly. I am trying to identify a specific subset of topics that should be addressed in the appropriate FATE fashion at the beginning of a campaign in a specific setting in order to make sure everyone is on the same page. My question is about learning how to facilitate the FATE philosophy, as someone who has not yet gained the skills and experience to do this organically.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: Every question about setting up a social contract before a game. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 0:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: What is a session 0? \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeQ
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 4:05

4 Answers 4


I can't give you a full list of the occurrences, because they are sprinkled throughout, so I'll focus a bit on why those two examples are expressly called out as deciding them before play.

The reason these are called out is because they have the potential to hurt feelings and cause heated discussions at the table.

Lawbreaker example

First example being the lawbreaker rules. If you break a law of magic, you immediately gain a stunt that costs 1 refresh: Lawbreaker [law number]. Many wizards are probably skirting the line with only 1 refresh remaining, so if they break a law, they are immediately in NPC territory. Thus it's a really really good idea to hash out in your game what precisely constitutes a law violation.

For example, if you burn a building to the ground that might have humans in it, and some of them perhaps died in the crossfire, does that constitute a violation of the 1st law of magic?

Now, you can probably get away doing this during play, so long as you warn the player that he/she is about to become a lawbreaker, and that no further warnings will be issued, yadda yadda. However, I feel that everything goes more smoothly if you hammer this one out before play. Even if you do this, though, you will need to make sure the group is okay with a single player being the final arbiter as well.

Death as a result of being taken out

This is less important, I think, as you generally as a courtesy should inform the players that a given conflict could wind up being lethal before the dice are rolled. That gives them the chance to offer a concession before they, you know, die. You might want to lay out some ground rules with your players first like: "I'll let you know if you think you're likely to die in a combat." Or "I will not inform you if you are going to die as a result of combat, so please keep your wits about you." That way you don't run into any issues when some of Johnny Marcone's thugs come to beat their heads in with baseball bats.

Some other examples

  • City and Story themes: These are explicitly defined by the players in the first session, and thus have to be done before play begins.
  • How nasty a sponsor for sponsored magic is likely to be: That way the player knows what they're getting into...or that they really have no idea what they're getting into.
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer! It helped me figure out what my question actually is, and that's no mean feat. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 0:29

I've only recently encountered game policy (group contract) ideas and ideals for games but I've whole-heartily embraced them and can see how retrospectively how it could have helped a lot of games I've played and run.


What are the table-level game policy decisions, that will define the experience of the group and determine if it’s the kind of game the group wants to play, the group should consult on before or during city creation?


First amongst these considerations is the game Content, Style and Setting. "Policy" should be made clear about what sort of game they'll be playing.

Players that come to a game of Paranoia expecting a serious depiction of a utopian society are (usually) going to be sorely disappointed so it's well worth spending time with players explaining the source material, providing them with examples or at least explaining a rough outline if they're lazy.

So the players should be made clear about what sort of game it is as "stock" (is diplomacy a heavy aspect of it, combat, are they all just playing chess pieces?) but before things get rolling negotiations should be there to adjust aspects of it if they're flexible and the players would rather avoid such things.

For example, typically 3.5/PF games use battlemats for combats and so on, maneuvering and flanking are very precise things. I however tend to use rough scribbles on paper to describe situations and verbalise the description of the situation. I haven't used miniatures for eons. The players are happy with this as this is what they've come to expect and avoid feats and so on that play to this. New players for such games have this explained so they don't start building a 15 foot reach half ogre or whatever.

It can be very beneficial to run through an example stock short encounter/investigation with pregens so that the players get an idea of the flavour of the game before they generate their characters and before you make the city/world. This stops people trying to make combat wombats in Cthulhu and pacifists in Palladium.

Disaster Management

Not only social contract stuff, but reboots. Players won't always be able to make it, do they get experience still (or half?) can they make up for not turning up with an out of game write up of something else? Make sure they're clear on this and agree, something to be negotiated. What if a character dies, what then? How a character is rebooted and what they can expect for that character should be made clear so such things are consistent.

Out of game write ups

Speaking of which, what is the table policy on extra RP via stories, write ups and so on? Extra experience, background options, a benny? Make sure they're clear. Some players may create reams of story, others nothing at all. Make sure a group decision is cool with what's decided here.

Time Commitment

Before you start a game you need to make sure that people know when, where and how often you'll be playing, miscommunication of this has broken several games I've played and it's something that needs to be negotiated and made clear. It's more an off-table thing, but important enough that I thought I'd mention it.

House Rules

State them. Make sure they're 100% clear and that the group OK's them, save yourself a lot of pain.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Any reason for the -1? \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 10:05

The short answer is, "Everything."

Now for the long answer.

This is mentioned throughout the book because it's the default position of the game on how the group relates to the rules. The GM is not the arbitrator in a Fate game so much as they're a facilitating fellow player, and DFRPG is a typical Fate game in this regard.

There are a lot of these in the book, probably too many to easily compile. However, I wouldn't personally attempt to compile them anyway – it would actually be counter-productive and accidentally deceptive to try to list them, since they aren't the totality of exceptions to the norm, they're just explicit reminders of what the rules always assume is the norm. Listing them all would make it seem like these are the only places where group consensus is the arbitrator, when in reality group consensus is always the arbitrator (inasmuch as the rules-as-written are being followed).

DFRPG is a radically collaborative game among games that still have a GM position. It takes some time and practice to ease into this coming from experience with games where the GM is sole arbitrator, but it is well worth trying to embrace. At the very least, it will make the game make more sense, and you'll find that places in the rules that were unclear become much more obvious, requiring fewer "how does this work?" puzzling during play.

As for when to bring them up, as they occur to you is fine. If this is during campaign setup, that's great. You might need to revisit them when they come up in play anyway though, to remind everyone and yourself – existing habits for how to handle these things will likely keep asserting themselves despite a quick conversation during setup anyway.

Most of the time you'll think of it during play, though. That's fine! Bringing things up during play might seem like it would interrupt, and you're right, but that's ok. It's actually beneficial to break the expectation that you as GM have the game perfectly under control, as this will help your players get comfortable with the idea that they can have input into how it's running at any time. In a more traditional game it can feel like interruptions and meta-discussions shatter the "GM mystique" of perfect competence, but that's desirable in Fate generally and DFRPG particularly. Embrace fallibility! It's much less stressful. :)

This has a few other benefits. Interrupting play to discuss how to proceed is explicitly giving them permission to have shared ownership over how the game goes. It also prevents them from seeing their characters as their only conduit for control over what happens and trying to protect their control method, leaving them freer to let bad things happen to their characters.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I think BESW is looking for those things that should be talked about up-front ie. what key questions should get answered at the end of a "What kind of game do we want?" discussion. Attitudes to consequences like death and lawbreaking are one thing, how faerie glamours work is quite another. \$\endgroup\$
    – Simon Gill
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 18:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Simon And my answer is still "when you think of it." If that's in the middle of a fight, that's ok. If the result of the discussion invalidates GM tactics or plans, that's still ok. DFRPG plays well like that, and runs best when the GM is willing to follow the players at the expense of their plot. The city setup ensures that they're never short on material to fall back on. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 18:54

I think a big one that's not explicitly called out in the rule book and hasn't been mentioned in the existing answers is intra-party conflict. That is, you should work out in advance with your players the extent to which their PCs should work at cross-purposes, and how they should deal with it.

Some games, the PCs are all in it together and will always help each other - every conflict will be one or more PCs against one or more NPCs, period. Others will have PCs opposing each other, or at least working toward different ends, in the big picture, social interaction senses, but never literally making physical attacks on each other. And some games will be 'every PC for herself', and if one of them decides another needs a eat a sword, so be it.

Whichever you end up with, it's something you'll want to work out in advance with everyone involved. Players often have preconceived ideas about this, and mixing differing preconceptions without talking it over is a great way to make a game that is not fun for one (or more) of the participants. I think this is true in every game, but in my experience, it's especially applicable to Fate because of its focus on player agency and collaboration, and the nature of the Fate Point economy. As the GM, you'll often be in the position of compelling a character to act against either their own interests or those of the group, and you'll want to have the answer to this question to guide that.

The biggest, longest-running DFRPG game I'm playing in floats somewhere between the first two options, which means that when a new PC comes along, I don't have to spend as much time being suspicious of their motives, and will know that if they end up causing trouble for me, it will be because they got a delicious pile of Fate points out of it, which they'll use to help solve the problems. Personally, I find that this makes the game slightly less realistic, but also much more fun.


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