I've just finished reading the Fate Core book, and I'm really surprised how well this system presents itself. But inevitably, I've started thinking about what-ifs - and one of them is playing with competitive players.

I'm under an impression that Fate is way more collaborative experience compared to other RPGs I've played so far. The example play snippets in the book had a lot of situations where GM would step back and ask either one player or entire group how would they like their steak. Now, having played with some incredibly competitive players, I'm kind of worried how this would turn out with them in the team. I mean the kind of player that would read the entire manual, learn a lot of facts, then try to abuse mechanics and factoids they remember to their advantage. Inviting them to play Fate would be (IMO) akin to inviting them to run wild with scissors.

The best way to solve this problem is of course avoid playing with such people. But I'm curious - all of you Fate veterans, how do you solve such problems? Have you worked out any Fate-specific mechanisms that you'd use here?

  • \$\begingroup\$ This might be of use for helping your powergamers create less optimised characters. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dakeyras
    Sep 9, 2013 at 21:10
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Dakeyras, character optimization is already a futile endeavor in Fate. It's in how you play, not how you make them. \$\endgroup\$
    – edgerunner
    Sep 9, 2013 at 22:10
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @edgerunner In my experience, the players prone to optimising still do what looks like optimising to them despite the objective futility, and then simply don't understand why the experience sucks. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 10, 2013 at 4:10
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie, the ones I have understand that something is wrong when I don't reject any of their optimizations :) \$\endgroup\$
    – edgerunner
    Sep 13, 2013 at 15:25

3 Answers 3


Now there are two sides to that coin.

The good part is that Fate is an awesome system when it comes to player-vs-player games. Sometimes the narrative leads to a situation when two player characters find themselves in the opposite sides of the fence. The typical fate mechanisms like invoking and compelling, coupled with the fate point economy, lends itself to a self balancing game where the players take the lead in creating a story and doing the usual GM job of creating the conflict all by themselves. In a game where the players have internalized how Fate works, all you have to do as a GM is sit back and enjoy the show, and occasionally throw in a wrench by playing the rest of the world just as a player plays his character.

The bad part is that because the Fate system is a narration system as opposed to a simulation system, in which some points are deliberately left open to discussion and consensus on purpose, it is easily exploitable by powergamers who see freely bendable opportunities everywhere.

I have played a lot of games that turned PvP using Fate, and whenever there was a powergamer in the group that attempted to dominate the game, I used this three level approach to get things going smoothly.

  1. Indulge the powergamer's desires by letting him become the antagonist, letting the story flow into that state in a regulated pace.
  2. If the powergamer is pushing too hard, question him, ask him how he does what he does without trying to shoehorn it into the game mechanics. Call BS on him unless he comes up with an awesome story that everybody enjoys even if it is to their characters' detriment.
  3. If the powergamer becomes abusive, create a situation in which he cannot accept failure, and push hard to drain his Fate point hoard. He will effectively be neutered for a while and hopefully find some time to reflect.

And of course, if he insists on ruining the fun by other means, kick him out as usual. Fortunately, I never had to come to that with Fate. My regular powergamer had a taste of the third level for a couple of times, getting brutally killed by another player's character in one of them. He has now learned to enjoy the game at the first level and provides formidable opposition for other players.


Although in-game solutions can be used in combination with out-of-game chats, trying to use the game system to fix a misunderstanding of the game system isn't likely to be very effective on its own.

So talk to him!

It's important to give any player new to Fate a heads-up on how and why it's different from more "traditional" (D&D-like) systems. If after that someone is still having trouble moving into the non-op paradigm, you'll have some schema to build on. (And if he's read the whole manual--especially if he's reading the Fate Core System book--he'll probably have picked up on some cognitive dissonance.) It's crucial that he understands why this behavior isn't working the way it did in other games. Don't expect him to "get it" all on his own if he's got a lot of habits built up from other games, but be kind about helping him understand.

So find some non-game time to talk with him about it. Don't be confrontational, though. He's your friend and your groupmate, and you want him to have fun just as much as anyone else. So talk to him about how he can have fun within the Fate system. Often this is a matter of figuring out why he likes optimization.

Examples from my group.

One of my players loves "crunch." He's the only guy in our group who knew his damage-per-round stats in 4e, and enjoyed creating optimized characters of any sort, but it's not actually about being effective; it's about having a lot of fiddly bits that work together elegantly. In Fate, we translated this into a love of stunts and extras that synergize well with each other and with the other party members.

Another player loved to be able to say "Hey guys, watch this!" In D&D that meant highly optimized builds that could produce game-breaking effects. He also liked playing unusual and quirky characters with non-typical reactions to situations, but often what would have been fun for him to role-play turned out to get in the way of "Hey, watch this!" and he usually prioritized the mechanical. Sadly he moved away before we got Fate up and running, but I am confident that on realizing Fate is designed to make everything you do cool, he would have been able to focus on quirkiness without being constrained by also needing to make mechanically optimal choices in order to do cool things.

A word about inter-session minigames ("solitary play")

In games like D&D, character design is a minigame that doesn't have to happen at the table. This encourages optimizing builds because you can spend a lot of time between sessions searching through magic items, planning feat trees, finding amusing spells to learn, looking for the perfect prestige class, and designing your next character. It's fun, it lets you engage with the game when all your friends aren't able to be there, and it has a noticeable impact on your at-table experiences.

Fate doesn't do solitary play minigames. Character creation/advancement is an integral part of the table's activities, and there's not much to do on your own between sessions. If you've got a solitary-play-centric player (the guy who always has another character or six in the wings, helps others design their characters, and is brimming with information about builds and items), he may have an especially hard time adjusting to a game where that just... doesn't exist.


Edit: I am not advocating "don't use Fate" here, but rather, see if there's anything from House of the Blooded that can be implemented as house rules for more competitive players.

You may want to check out House of the Blooded (HoB)- it is not 100% strictly Fate, but it does have Aspects and all its various usage - invoke, tag and compel, and it is designed with antagonistic play as an option. You may be able to take some ideas from how Aspects is implemented there and add it to your game.

Aspects are Strictly Defined

Each Aspect has a defined effect when tagged, invoked or compelled. For instance, if you have the Aspect "Seeker of Secrets", you have to define what it does when it is compel. Your opponent will always cause that effect to happen when compel or tagged.

The author of HoB mentioned the reason for this:

My experience with player-vs-player roleplaying games -- and I've played in a lot of them -- made me realize that Aspects are were too open-ended for that kind of environment. In a PvP game, every player is looking for any advantage, looking to exploit any weakness, exploiting every loophole, interpreting vague or unclear rules to far extreme to protect their own characters and crush those who they didn't like...

...snipped... We need hard and fast rules or those tense moments when characters face off for the last time. And so I took those multi-dimensional Aspects and turned them down a notch.

That said, the author did say if the GM is prepared for it, Aspects can be used as per in Fate.

Aspects are kept secret.

Aspects, in both HoB and Fate, are powerful tools that can be exploited. For a competitive game, that is even more so. A player may gain the 'right' to use an Aspect against you if you use it in play and it is observed by his character. He then needs to spend a Fate Point, and make a contested roll for his character to learn the Aspect.

Note that this is a roll for "in-character knowledge". You may see the Aspects written on your competitor's sheet, but you can't use it until your character goes through the process. As in Fate, players tend to know each other Aspects, there is a need to separate player's knowledge from character's knowledge, in a more PvP/competitive setting.

Winner of the roll narrates what happens.

There are also additional rules for how much you can narrate - usually by taking on additional risk. In a contested rolls between players, the winning player has the privilege of narration. If the losing player took additional risk before the roll, he can narrate one detail.

This allows players to narrate the outcome in a way that is desirable to them (and whatever nefarious plots they have for other players), without having to letting the GM knows their plan. Players may narrate in a way such that they can force their competitors into a more vulnerable position (due to their Aspects).

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think there are two questions being begged here, and if they're addressed this could be a great answer: First, why do you feel that Fate is so bad at supporting competitive players that you have to suggest an alternate Fate-like system? If your answer is "Don't use Fate," you should say why not. Second, in addition to just telling us things about the system it'd be good to explain why you think these things are a good solution to the problem the question presents. Please don't expect us to figure it out on our own. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Sep 10, 2013 at 9:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, to clarify - my answer is not "don't use Fate", rather check out "House of the Blooded" and see what can be lifted over. I'll update the answer to fill in the gaps. \$\endgroup\$
    – Extrakun
    Sep 10, 2013 at 9:49

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