My history is rather linear, and mostly relies on traditional d20 systems (D&D Original, AD&D, 3.5 and Rolemaster, Champions) and I am interested in learning some of the other systems that are a bit less regimented.

I have had the Fate system briefly explained to me, and I am interested in learning more about the mechanics of it and how it primarily differs from a strict d20 based character gen system.

If you have any suggestions, concept differences or easy comparisons that would help me make the transition, I would appreciate it.


3 Answers 3


Well, the systems are really in different paradigms, but I'll boil some of the differences down for you.

First the concepts you have to throw away.

Attributes. There aren't any. There is no way to say that character a has a strength of 18 and character b has a strength of 15.

Levels. Again, there aren't any. There is a way to judge power level, but it is not so rigid as a d20 game.

GM Fiat. Fate is a collaborative game more than d20. The GM is not always right; the players of the game (including the GM) come together to make an interesting narrative. That's a good segue to the last bit.

d20 is in most cases rules first. You can play it other ways, but as written, it's bent towards the rules being the arbiter, with the GM as the final arbiter. Fate is narrative driven. Your use of the rules is driven by the narrative, rather than the other way around.

Direct equivalencies do (sort of) exist

Skills. Skills are one of the members of a trifecta that describe a character. They tell what a character is good at- pretty similarly to d20. Even in that, they help define your character in a way... your skills are defined in a pyramid, with one skill being your peak skill. So your warrior with mighty thews isn't likely to have Lore as his peak skill unless there's a good reason behind it.

Feats = Stunts. Well, as I said, sort of. Stunts are special traits that change the way that a skill works for you. Normally, you couldn't use your fight skill to dodge an arrow... but maybe you trained specifically for that in your background, and have a stunt to reflect that. Or maybe you're better with one type of weapon over others... stunts do that, and a whole lot more. They form the second part of that trifecta that I was talking about.

Now to what you get in place of your d20 basics

Aspects. Remember where we talked about there really aren't attributes? That might be mind blowing. But look at it this way. If you're talking about a strength 20 fighter, another way to describe him might be A Hardy Fighter with Thick Thews. That's an aspect. And in cases where strength comes into play, that aspect gives you a leg up. (More on that later) They can also be used against you. The best aspects let you do both, which is why that example above about the thews wouldn't necessarily be a good aspect. This is the third part of the trifecta.

Levels, Advancement, and Playing the Game

The trifecta that I noted is powered by an economy of Fate points. You gain them by actually letting your aspect being used in a bad way against you. You use them to make use of your aspects for your good. Some stunts are also powered by them.

Of course there is the obvious in dice... instead of your polyhedral array, you use fate dice- that is d6s with a + on two sides, a - on two sides, and two blanks. You roll four of these, and get a number from -4 to +4. To this you add your skill, any modifiers from stunts, and a bonus of +2 for each aspect you use (invoke). You can also invoke your aspects to re-roll the dice.

You start out with a pool of Fate points equal to your refresh; your refresh also pretty much determines how powerful you are, as that's what you purchase your stunts from also!

When making an action, there are 4 basic choices - you can Overcome (achieve a goal with a skill), Attack (pretty self-explanatory), Defend (also self-explanatory), or Create an advantage. Creating an advantage means that you create an aspect that you can tag later in order to make yourself more likely to succeed. The thief might assess the lock to determine the type of lock, so that it's easier to pick. The fighter might assess his opponents style and determine a weakness he can exploit.

Combat is also a bit different in that your margin of success matters in your damage, and you have stress tracks (which are marked off according to the damage taken) and consequences (which are temporary aspects that reflect the wounds taken, and reduce the stress taken- they can be used as with any other aspect, except because the slant on it is so negative, it’s far more likely to be used to your character’s detriment.)


In the end, I think the biggest thing to get over is the change in paradigm. The fact that that game becomes more declarative, i.e. you say what you do, then use your character and surroundings to model it, than rules based, i.e. you look at your character to see your options, then describe the effect. It's really freeing once you get past that, and can model a wide variety of things without needed specific effects or rules for them.


Well, assuming you've read the rules, here are the snags you'd better keep in mind.

One of the biggest, IMO, difficulties for traditional players is the proactive creativity that Fate bolsters up. So called menu-driven vs improvisational approach. After years choosing from feat menus without actually understanding how feats are built and balanced, filling your charsheet with custom stunts and aspects might require some extra effort.
Also this menu-driven approach may result in prescriptive play, when player first selects what Fate mechanic he wants to use and frames it into narrative after. Many Fate horror stories (blind sniper, overly long combat, non-stop compels) are direct consequences of this behaviour. Try to teach yourself (and others) to do it other way: describe what you're doing in the narrative first, and look for appropriate game mechanic last.
So first thing I would recommend is to play small, improvisation-driven, games like Microscope, Fiasco or InSpectres.

Secondly, Fate is hard on GM in that it requires him to keep track of aspects & stunts in play, frame scenes and keep pace & spotlight under control -- all that without slipping into oversimplified mechanistical descriptions. It is not harder than managing D&D or GURPS game, but usually people come thinking Fate is a piece of cake -- that is not true.
FAE is a good game to introduce basic Fate concepts to new players and GMs alike.

And lastly, issue I've encountered with some Fate adepts is that, after initial shock wears off, they decide that everything is permitted. They stack aspects like crazy, fight with Intimidation and weave planet-shattering spells. While Fate was designed to be about bigger-than-life heroes and mentioned examples might be appropriate in some games or scenes, it still has some internal logic and lot is left for a common sense.
Don't be afraid to question actions you believe do not fit your game.


Major Character Generation differences

  • Group input, rather than solo generation
  • no random at all
  • use of aspects
  • No attributes (Skills, stunts and aspects only)


Aspects are descriptive phrases that are both advantage and disadvantage. They can be invoked for a bonus when they apply; they can be tagged by opponents for a bonus (to them) when they would work against you. They can be compelled, to force you to take some action or inaction.

Group Input

Most Fate games use group character generation. You pick your skills, and part of your background, but other parts of the background are written by the others, tying their character to yours and to specific backstory events; for each event, an aspect or two is chosen.

Likewise, prior to starting the process, the group usually develops some subsetting as a group in which the characters will be played.

No Attributes

  • skills - numerically rated abilities (or labeled, but the labels are effectively numbered)
  • stunts - special abilities that are tied to specific skills and enhance them.
  • aspects - as previously mentioned.

Major play differences

  • Use of aspects
  • Stress and Consequences instead of hit points
  • ability to add narrative declarations
  • loss of agency - Compels.
  • Fate Point Economy

Stress and Consequences

Taking stress is almost like hit-points... except that they have a different role to play. You can reduce stress by taking an injury consequence in physical conflicts, a debt in financial ones (in Diaspora), mental trauma or other item.

You pick it, and its severity, and write it down. It's then a special kind of aspect... one that can't be used to your benefit.

Loss of Control

A compel is a proposed action or inaction, grounded in one of your aspects. You can accept it, and a fate point, or reject it and pay a fate point.

Narrative Declarations

Need an escape route? Declare one - costs a fate point.

Need an ally to show up? Same.

Keep them reasonable, and link them to your aspects, and the GM is supposed to accept them. If unlinked, but reasonable and cool, again, the GM should accept them.

Fate Point Economy

The game uses fate points as a currency. You earn them for accepting compels, cool play, and some other conditions which vary by Fate game.

You spend them to invoke aspects, to compel others' aspects, to make narrative declarations, to reject compels.

Ideally, they flow and ebb over each session.


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