I'm introducing a few of my friends to the Fate system, and we're using Fate Accelerated for a quick start. Reading answers for some questions on this site I found an interesting paragraph:

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, where player first tries to find Fate mechanic he wants to use and only after that frames it into narrative. Many Fate horror stories (blind sniper, overly long combat, non-stop compels) are consequences of this.

Could someone elaborate on how to prevent the problems mentioned in the quote? I'm especially interested in the "pick from menu problem." Some of the players tend to look for narrative solutions in the rules they have, instead of looking for rules supporting their narrative.

For example, one of my players declared that he is making a disguise and I made him roll for it. The roll was pretty bad, so he wanted to improve it, but he couldn't find an aspect to invoke, while I saw several. I had to suggest to him, "Hey, so you're an anti-establishment reporter? You must have taken part in many political provocations, pretending to be someone else! I bet you know how to change your appearance!" He didn't have an aspect or stunt saying "I'm good at disguising myself", so he had trouble finding and narrating a connection between the task at hand and his aspects.

I love Fate for the "story comes first, rules are there just for the tension and excitement of rolling" attitude, but I'm feeling that some of the DnD-style players have a problem with it. On the other hand, I've read that FATE-proficient players can abuse the rules to create the "horror story" problems, like the blind sniper or non-stop compels. How can I deal with this? What are the horror stories and how to avoid them while solving my group's problem with the mechanics?


2 Answers 2


Fate has a much more narrative approach, less GM authority, and player-based plot control mechanisms. This can make for trouble transitioning from a more adversarial GMing environment.

Fate Core (and other recent Fate games such as Dresden) actually do a pretty good job of providing a suggested "menu" of powers and stunts for players to take; show them to your players and let those inform other stunt ideas through play, rather than trying to get the characters completely nailed down in advance the way you would have to in D&D.

To address the specific problems you mentioned:

  • The "blind sniper" problem is that in Fate, it's very easy for a cooperative party to stack multiple temporary aspect bonuses on a situation, then tag them all for a single super-successful roll regardless of innate skill.

    Consider a sniper with a base skill of +0 - "has no idea what he's doing". First he hides on high ground (creating aspect "On a Grassy Knoll"). One of the other players - a tech - has made, and gives him some "Precision Armour Piercing Ammo", with suitable aspect. Then another player jumps into the road to stall the target into "Standing Still for a minute", so the sniper can create advantage by taking an acting to put him "Centred In My Sights".

    Then the sniper free-tags all of those, for a base roll of +8 and a near-certain hit - with fate points to spare if he needs them.

    Stacking enough of this sort of this can greatly reduce plausibility, but it's obvious behaviour for a group of D&D players where it's an expected part of the system to need to stack every combat advantage you can generate. I don't, however, feel it's as much of a problem as some Fate players do - this is behaves-as-designed. Fate characters are supposed to be able to beat pretty much any single obstacle if they can generate a convincing narrative. "He's not that good a shot, but it worked because an entire team was helping him take it" is a pretty good narrative to me, and gives the plot and characters room to develop further.

  • The "constant compels" problem arises when GM and players get caught in a Fate-point loop of constantly compelling aspects to force behaviour or non-actions from each other.

    Remind your players, and remember as GM, that the point of compels is to implement narrative development. The Fate point economy will naturally limit how far players can push this, so it's not a problem unless the GM gets sucked into constantly offering Fate for compels. So don't. Compel when it's a narrative or character development to do so, not just because it's possible.

  • Long combats occur because groups have trouble actually taking out opponents of similar skill levels. This is particularly likely if your group is used to D&D, and trying to "wear them out" by all attacking individually. In Fate it's much more effective to set up a narrative about a couple of major attacks, taking multiple actions to support each other and make those go off well.

The best counter to most of these issues is threefold:

  1. Let them have their moment. Players being able to tear through obstacles like this is not a problem in Fate the way it would be in D&D; it's expected behaviour of the system. Don't make it impossible, but ask what happens next and generate new obstacles. The problem can come more from a D&D-oriented GM feeling he has to make tasks "possible to fail" than from actual issues.

  2. Your enemies are not idle. Don't GM in direct opposition to the player's actions, but instead change the game. Fate uses the same mechanics for social and combat conflicts, and it does so for good reason, expecting them to intermingle. Use it. Enemies will attack on social fronts, run away if they're in trouble, consult allies, adjust schemes, and all the other narrative options that are not often available to an orc in a dungeon.

  3. Remember that in Fate, the player is always an informed participant, even when the character isn't. The gap between player and character knowledge is much bigger in Fate.

    Situation: A hostage is tied to a chair. There is a trap which incinerates the room if anyone touches the hostage.

    D&D answer: Tell the players nothing. Make hidden Perception checks. If anyone explicitly searches, make Search checks. Lie unless the players succeed at these checks.

    Fate answer: Tell the players immediately that there's a trap. Let them make rolls and use aspects freely to see if the characters spot it. If one of the players has a "reckless" or "rescuer" aspect, compel it - offering a fate point if their character runs in carelessly and sets the trap off. Make the players partners in decisions that hurt their characters.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I really love this answer, especially the "horror stories" explanation! There is just one more angle I can see with DnD players and I think Im seeing it with my players, to some extent. Ill try to clarify that editing the question in a minute or two, so you can add that to your already good aswer \$\endgroup\$
    – K.L.
    Jun 21, 2013 at 11:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @K.L. maybe a different question on this new topic could be better. Let other people answer to your first question here and move elsewhere (maybe linking this question as related). \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Jun 21, 2013 at 11:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for: "He's not that good a shot, but it worked because an entire team was helping him take it" is a pretty good narrative to me, and gives the plot and characters room to develop further." Tynam, I wish I could +1 this all day. \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Jun 21, 2013 at 14:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Flamma: The question is specifically about transitions from D&D, where the GM is extremely adversarial compared to Fate. In a D&D game it's hardly unusual for figuring out how the NPCs are trying to kill the party to be most of the GM's job for a session. In Fate it's 5% of the job, or less. (D&D also has a more hostile world than most Fate games; there's little Fate equivalent to "dungeon crawl".) \$\endgroup\$
    – Tynam
    Jun 21, 2013 at 22:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ My tip for injecting more "realism" into the "blind sniper" scenario would be "Act surprised!" Sure, you've establish all these details that make the outcome almost a foregone conclusion mechanically, but those are narrative mechanics. From the character's in-world perspective, it could still be a super-lucky break, if that's how you want to act it out. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Jun 24, 2013 at 17:05

Their Sample Problems

Blind Sniper exists due to not putting scope limits and/or not saying No; some versions have a scope limit on aspects, as in, "No more than one scene aspect, no more than one personal aspect, no more than one gear aspect, and no more than one campaign aspect per roll." This makes it a bit harder for players to use aspects creatively, but also pulls the limits tighter. In most Fate games, the final authority (whether table or GM) can veto any aspect play; being too generous about aspects makes scope more important, but a strong guiding hand can make scope unneeded.

Overly long combat comes from a variety of issues, but again, scope limits help. Two things make combat run long - excessive defense and poor offense. The combination might be due to aspects or skills or stunts. When it's aspects, it's the Blind Sniper problem again... except on defense. Don't allow overlapping defensive aspects. If it's skills, the solution often is easy: run them out of Fate and compel them out; see below. Sometimes it's unwillingness to conceed; I can't help from experience there, but have seen that the solution in those cases is (1) talk to the player and (2) set stakes so that a time limit applies to the combat.

Non-stop combat comes from poorly set stakes and lack of real threats - it's a story problem as much as a mechanical one. A couple really brutal but non-lethal take-outs and the "There's always a bigger badass somewhere" encounters can usually solve that. On the other hand, some people see RPG's as nothing more than a boardless wargame, and play to win, with winning being "Kill as many monsters as possible"... mostly this is from D&D or Palladium players. with them, the issue is differing expectations of what an RPG is. Discussion with them is essential.

Run Them Out Of Fate

There are times when you need to force a compel or prevent aspect play. In such times, offer unacceptable to the player compels. Make them work from the aspects, but make them just barely too harsh. the player then has to decide - take this unpleasantness, or run out of fate.

You also don't have to tag their aspects.

Fate works best when there is a steady exchange of Fate points, but sometimes, you just have to nerf them in order to get on with the story. Remember to give a chance to refresh after the needed nastiness if the players have been run out completely.

On Prep

Fate requires less prep, and breaks prep more easily, than many other games.

You should not have a "Kewl Story" firmly in mind when prepping - Fate is a system where the players generate the story by interacting with the GM's NPC's, not by riding the GM's story-rails.

So, when players throw wrenches in the monkeyworks, without totally trashing the existing narrative flow, recycle the NPC's for later. Don't say "no" unless it's either unreasonable or everyone else groaned at the narration. Remember Vincent's admonition: At every moment of play, either say "yes" or roll the dice. (Sure, it wasn't written for Fate, being from Dogs in the Vinyard, but it works equally well in Houses of the Blooded, Fate, and Burning Wheel.) The times to say "No" are few, and far between...

Saying "No" - When, Why?

Say "no" when a player's narration:

  • is cutting another player out of play
  • doesn't make sense in the story
  • offends the rest of the group
  • isn't justified by their abilities

Saying no is essentially only for when they break the social contract of Fate Play - everyone is there to tell nifty stories together, as a group, about the characters that were written up by the group, and those stories need to remain about the group.

Say no only to protect the social contract.

Boundary Issues - The Unmentioned Common Horror Story

If you have some players with boundary issues, it's best to delineate them in writing at the outset, and eject any player who can't/won't stay within them.

Some Examples

Zoey is a fundamentalist christian. She is uncomfortable playing Dresden Files because her character might be forced into a demonic pact or forced to work for a demon. So, as part of campaign setup, it's a good idea to make it explicit that PC's will not be entering such pacts, and compels can't be used to make PC's work for or with demons. One might even go so far as to ban demons completely.

Fred, the combat veteran, is still working on his PTSD. He asks that the group not make sudden noisy sound effects, because that tends to set him off.

Hank is a rape survivor. He asks the group to simply avoid rape scenes and sexual compels.

In all these cases, putting the restriction in writing and having everyone agree to it helps make people comfortable. And once agreed to, violations are grounds for the GM to say "No" outright.

Can't See The Forest For The Trees

The player who can't see his aspects' relevance has a big problem in Fate. My solution to this bottleneck is to suggest every other player offers a suggestion on an aspect to solve the issue.

As in, Fred, Hank, and Zoey are playing in my game. Hank gets stuck, during a heist, and can't figure out what aspect to use. I ask Fred and Zoey to each suggest one use, and I'll suggest one, and let Hank pick. Hank not that bright, so he struggles; he's really there for the social life, not the story itself, but he will eventually get better at it.

The second solution is to have the stumped player simply pick an aspect, and let someone else narrate it for him.

The third potential solution is more drastic: don't let them take vague or broad aspects.

EG: Hank, playing a combat grunt, wants to take "hundred yard stare"... because it sounds and is cool... but in play, chokes on how to use it. We rewrite it for him, into a much longer version, "I've seen so much, that almost nothing ever phases me anymore, and that also makes people nervous when they see my hundred yard stare." This longer version gives Hank the cues he needs to play "hundred yard stare".


Hank is a real person, with real issues, including being a survivor of a violent rape. Hank isn't his real name. And as far as I know, Hank's not actually played Fate... Hank was a social gamer, and had brain damage from his ordeals in life. He tried. He Tried HARD. And just couldn't function in a D&D group with anything other than the fighter. He often misunderstood the descriptions.

Players like Hank need a lot of help in Fate and similar player driven games. Sometimes they'll open up, and blossom. Other times, they'll try and botch badly. It's a group decision whether or not to support Hank in play.

It's perfectly fine to suggest Hank play NPC's instead of a character of his own; that way the GM can support him as needed. Let him make most decisions, but when he's stuck, the GM can step in. (This worked rather well with Hank in D&D... he had a reason to be there, had a role, but wasn't in every scene, and wasn't on the spot near as much.) There's even a term for this role in a group: Harlequin.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "Say no only to protect the social contract." Also, another answer recently put it this way, "when you say no, also give a fate point- basically to say I'm taking narrative control in exchange for you getting narrative freedom at a later time." I really like that approach. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Jun 21, 2013 at 18:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for amazing. I feel like the back half of this answer is a full and important answer in its own right to a much more general question about social contracts and avoiding triggers, and I'd love to see it widely read. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tynam
    Jun 21, 2013 at 22:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 - saying no to protect the social contract of a group should NEVER be accompanied with a fate award. If anything, it should be accompanied by a copy of the written agreement... \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Jun 23, 2013 at 2:27

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