This might be a case of a simple misunderstanding, but as it is, the player in question has effectively put my FATE session on hold while we try other systems (I can't GM systems I don't know, so basically another friend was sort of forced to GM the next session).

Now, I have nothing against another system, but I cannot for the love of me grasp that players arguments, so it feels a bit weird. Again - this might be a communication problem, or perhaps I'm the problematic one, unable to grasp some fundamental concept.

The player feels there's absolutely no character progression in our sessions. On one hand he'd rather get "XP or something", but when I asked him if all he's really into is an arbitrary number he said "no". Admittedly, I haven't really given the characters in my FATE game a chance to "level up" and gain new stuff, but than again the story is still in its infancy. I feel mechanical character changes should follow something happening in the story, not an arbitrary "you've killed 10 goblins, you're now a level 2 wizard" style of thinking. But, again, I feel I need to stress that when asked if it's experience points he's after, he said no.

The strangest bit is that his character seemed to have changed the most - during the first session, given his actions, he gained a "brutal" aspect. In the next session, he was beaten up a bit and got a "cut and bleeding forehead" aspect which later became a "bandaged forehead" aspect.

Any idea how to approach this situation?

We've had 3 sessions playing FATE thus far. We don't have much time, so these happen roughly once every two weeks on average (given that some weeks someone cannot make it), and we have roughly 3 hours per session.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What does the player define "character progression" as? Without knowing that, there's little you can do. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2013 at 10:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe the player is sincere. He doesn't really care about XP. He cares about planning a character beforehand and earning the rewards on the field. Consider this hypotesis when confronting him. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Oct 3, 2013 at 23:32

5 Answers 5


When I read this:

On one hand he'd rather get "XP or something", but when I asked him if all he's really into is an arbitrary number he said "no".

My immediate reaction is to think "Of course he doesn't want an arbitrary number! He wants a meaningful number. That's the whole point of a progression mechanic."

So, your misunderstanding may be based on asking an innocent question that had a detail that wasn't important to you, but made the difference between a "yes" and a "no" for this player. Psychologically, arbitrary numbers are not rewarding nor feel like advancement, as there is no connection between one's actions and the outcome.

If the player is looking for "XP or something", they are quite probably looking for meaningful numbers in response to their actions and accomplishments during the game.

I understand this, being a huge fan of both strongly-narrativist play and of XP- and loot-rewarded dungeoncrawling. They're distinct flavours that have their own motivations for playing them, and the motives for one can't substitute for the other. If your player has only ever played a game with a tight action-reward loop, they probably feel lost with the lack of the familiar feedback system. They may quite enjoy a story-centric game, but like a missing limb, the lack of a reward mechanic will itch and be distracting.

So, concrete steps to take:

  • Ask your player again, if "XP or something" means they want regular mechanical reward, i.e., "meaningful numbers" after play. If they do, then you've solved your understanding gap and can start figuring out solutions.
  • Speed up the pace of your milestone rewards. If you're three sessions in and haven't hit a significant milestone (which is the "levelling up" mechanic in Fate), get a milestone in there as soon as possible. This player needs that feedback and sense of development. Yeah, Fate characters tend to develop laterally rather than upward, but anything is better than nothing.
  • Focus more on the in-world effects of the players' actions overall. Are they gaining reputation? Adulation? Recognition? Players love to see the impact they have on NPCs, and if they're playing heroes, they should have hero-worshippers. This can go a long, long way to making a player feel like they're accomplishing something.

It it widely recognized that in game design there's two primary kinds of long-format games. The "beginner rises to expert quickly" D&D-type model, where characters start weak, gain experience, and grow in power rapidly, and the "already expert" model where characters are supposed to already be mostly formed, and there's either no or slow additional power/ability growth, like FATE. I would recommend the Role Playing Public Radio podcast episode "Bildungsroman" for a more detailed dissection of these two models and how they fit with various games and groups.

This player clearly prefers type 1 exclusively, and that's fine (well, not really, but in gaming a lot of people fetishistically stick to what they "like" without trying new things or appreciating multiple kinds of game, so it's at least not unexpected).

Your real problem is that this player is apparently able to force your entire group to do what he wants without even a decent explanation and clear discussion of everyone's wants/needs, which means there's significant social issues in your group. I feel like any discussion to solve your problem via game system or GM advice is going to come in contact with this core truth and fail. Now, it's also possible that everyone just agrees that the game you ran kinda sucks and don't want to continue on (that happened after one guy ran Dresden Files for us, it was part the game and part him but no one really wanted more). So do a group check. But taking your question at face value, it sounds like one guy is forcing you to not run your game, some other guy to run one, and the rest of the players to go along without much input. That's your problem, which you should probably ask as a separate question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, really, it is fine if that player prefers type 1 exclusively. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Oct 6, 2013 at 8:26

When he is talking about missing "character progression" he is likely talking about missing a reward mechanic.

Experience points and leveling up are such a reward mechanic. You complete challenges and are rewarded with new abilities and opportunities. Being rewarded for accomplishments is a pleasureable experience for every player and a great motivation. But a "bleeding forehead" does not really feel like a reward.

When the game system does not allow rewards in form of making the characters themself stronger, you could instead reward the players in more materialistic ways (money, equipment, social recognition, accomodations...)

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is good insight, but as the Fate system does provide significant "rewards in form of making the characters themself stronger" --they're just tied to story rather than conflict-- I'm not sure how useful this answer is for the given situation. A Fate-specific version of this answer would be really awesome and I would give it all the upvotes. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Oct 4, 2013 at 14:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BESW Just so: story rewards are not a reward mechanic. They are psychologically distinct things. I think this answer nails it, and doesn't need any Fate stuff added. Since the core problem is that the the GM doesn't understand the problem the player is having, and this illuminates the possible problem, it's a good answer. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 4, 2013 at 15:28

Here's a solution I found for my own Fate brew, it may help you put some character progression in the game. It is not exactly Fate Core or FAE as written, but I think it should be perfectly compatible.

I call it the Ghost List.

It's a list where you write character aspects that have been changed during milestones. Old aspects are never lost, they are just pushed to a secondary list. The player has the option to spend an extra fate point to access it. A seasoned character has a long list of aspects, and has more surprises in reserve, just like in real life.


Honestly, I feel that if a player is feeling like his character isn't progressing in a roleplaying system, that's more his own fault. The character's progression happens through his actions, the lessons he learns, and how he deals with situations.

I would talk to the player about this more. But if he/she is looking for a less "I kill one goblin, progress 45 xp" Sort of system with a greater roleplay feel, check out this free game called Risus. The system is literally a 3-6 page pamphlet, which sounds ridiculous I'm sure if you're a D&D guy, but you will learn it fast, and it absolutely pushes for things like character development over a level grind. It's just built to handle anything you toss at it.

It's free to check out / use at by the author at http://www222.pair.com/sjohn/downloads.htm#Risus

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is the weird part. I asked him if this is about experience points, and he said that it's not. Personally I feel like he's being a bit dishonest, in that he does indeed want experience points if only for the psychological effect these provide. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shaamaan
    Sep 27, 2013 at 10:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Trev, Recommending a different system doesn't feel like it solves this particular problem. Can you discuss how, in your first hand experience, this differs from FAE? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27, 2013 at 10:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I like RISUS, I don't think that simply recommending another system is a good answer. You haven't talked about FATE or FAE at all in your answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dakeyras
    Sep 27, 2013 at 11:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Risus sounds more like a "numerical progression" system than FAE, actually. Not sure how changing to Risus would help even if system change recommendations were being asked for--can you at least make that much clearer? \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Sep 27, 2013 at 12:03

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