I want to design and write a professional quality setting book for FATE 3.0, with the possibility of adding custom mechanics later and turning it into a full on game of it's own. I have the outline of a strong setting in mind, and I know what kind of themes a group playing in this setting would explore. Where do I go from here?

I plan to release this thing for free via PDF. I'm not concerned with publishing for profit (though on the off-chance it's vastly successful, I might try to release supplemental books at a low cost).

What I'm concerned with is high level setting issues:

  • How do I ensure my setting is unique enough to be interesting?
  • How do I ensure it sticks to one or a few main themes?
  • Is the universe coherent and makes sense under it's own rules?
  • What makes a gaming troupe want to play a particular setting, and how do I make sure my setting has that?
  • It's a science fiction setting, so how do I avoid stepping on the toes of other settings like Disapora?

My ultimate goal is to bring it up to the level of quality that, were I to release it over the Internet, people I had never met and who lived halfway across the world would play in my setting, simply because they thought it was cool.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately many of the answers to this question are off topic (not always their fault, as clarity was late in coming to the question), and the question is still trying to ask a bunch of questions in one, which is always a bad sign. If the community puts some votes to close on this I'll mod-close, I don't think this Q&A as it stands helps the OP or anyone in the future either. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Nov 2, 2012 at 16:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a shame that the questioner isn't actually after the design aspects. Aramis' answer has lots of important points for creating a good book. \$\endgroup\$
    – Simon Gill
    Nov 2, 2012 at 16:58

5 Answers 5


Professional Look

For the layout, learn and use a page layout program. Word is NOT a page layout program; it's a word processor with delusions of page layout capability. Word is excellent for doing the original files, tho'; generate the RTF files using the styles system in word or another styles-using wordprocessor (I use Pages; I used to use Appleworks and Word Perfect)

True page layout programs are more powerful at graphics handling and text manipulation than Word... but generally have limited text editing capabilities.

The precise control and handling features of true page layout programs allow far better control of look and feel, underlayed and overlayed graphics, more powerful style options.

There are several pay-ware options; Indesign is pretty standard. Scribus is the free opensource answer; it's very similar to Pagemaker in scope and features.... since I used to use Pagemaker (at work, back in 1996-98), it's very familiar.


If using electronic art, try to get it in vector versions (like SVG), rather than raster images (like jpeg, tiff, gif, or bmp). The vector images scale nicely, and you can use them at any size; rasters need conversions and should be either 300dpi or 150dpi when used, and should be scaled in integer divisions downward only.

Pick One Style

Don't mix-n-match art styles. If using paintings, use only paintings. If using line art, use nothing but line art. If using Poser models, make certain that the renders are consistent and very high quality.

If using multiple styles, at least be consistent. Digital Paintings for title and chapter title pages, with line art for tech drawings, or Comic Book art for characters and digital art for tech. Plan your art, don't just find your art.

Using Raster

300 DPI means large files. It's also moderately good for printing professionally; most people won't be able to see the differences between 300 and 600 DPI print jobs, so unless going for high end work with lots of details, it's not worth the extra for a print based product.

150 DPI is standard "Web Resolution" for PDF. It's visibly grainy on screen when viewed at more than 200% (most screens run about 75-100 DPI, with some rare monitors as much as 200dpi). It prints fairly well, tho', and except for maps, is usually sufficient.

I any case, you want your art oversized. if asking for a scanned page piece, you want it scanned at 300 DPI or more; if you can handle the drive space, go for 1200dpi scans. Then, having locked the source file, you make reduced DPI versions from the original scan (never from each other; successive conversion errors creep in and can make it anti-alias wrong). If at all possible, make your size choices an integer division. And never scale up a raster image. Always resample from the original and only to make it smaller.

Professional Quality Content

For the game design elements, playtest. Then playtest some more. Revise and rework, then playtest again.

Realize that, using FATE, you have more to do than just a few changes to the SRD; make certain that examples and commentary are kept to current rules. Not much more annoying than examples that are in violation of the published rules.

TOC and Index

Your Table of Contents (TOC) is vital as it is the first place people will look for where to find things. But even a comprehensive TOC is no substitute for an index. Any game past about 15 pages should be provided a TOC.

The TOC should have every chapter, and each major division of a chapter. Each specially named rule should also be listed.

The index is far harder to get right, but more important. Every game term should be in the index. So should any named rules, common situations, and generic gaming terms which may be alternate names for chapter titles (Like Combat leading to the chapter Violence, Character Generation leading to Creating Characters).

PDF Specific niceness

Link up your TOC and Index. It's a pain, but it makes it SO much more useful.

As SevenSidedDie notes, Make certain your metadata is correct. If need be, manually edit the metadata. There are free and paid options in all price ranges for editing metadata; the better ones also can do other editing on the PDFs. The metadata is what various ebook readers use to categorize the PDFs.

Other Electronic Formats

Generally, 3 other electronic formats are popular - Kindle, ePub, and mobi. These do not preserve layout, and have limited formatting. If you decide to do a version for these, you need to test it at multiple sizes, and check the reflow to not do violence to the contents.

Microsoft RTF and Word Doc are poor choices for electronic distribution. While there are multiple readers for almost every currently sold computing platform (including Windows, MacOS, Linux, Unix, iOS, Android, ChromiumOS, and Blackberry; only online choices for ChromeOS), rendering on any given one can be flaky. If you do distribute a Doc or RTF, use no hard page breaks except at end of chapters. Don't bother numbering. Use only whole number point sizes. Use only the PDF-standard's default fonts - they're pretty much supported on everything.

Don't use non-breaking spaces nor tabs - while they're standards, they often do unkind things with ereaders, and exactly what is unpredictable.

Metadata is even more important with all of these types. Word Doc and RTF both include provisions for metadata, but many people are unaware of this.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ When making your PDF, also make sure your PDF metadata is correct. E-readers use the PDF metadata to figure out the title, author, publisher, publishing date, etc., and having incorrect or incomplete metadata limits the usability of your PDF. I've seen several PDFs where "author" appear to be automatically filled-in from a Windows login name, often unrelated to the RPG author. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 28, 2010 at 18:36
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Also, please don't illustrate it with Poser art. For the love of God, don't do this. And if you're going to use photos, just let them be photos. Don't hit them with a bunch of Photoshop filters in an attempt to make them look like paintings or something. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 29, 2010 at 15:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, I've seen the photoshop filters done for good effect... but the photographer had a decent props and costumes budget. And, going back a good ways, Twilight 2000 was pencil tracings of photos; the exact same look can be achieved in Photoshop with 30 minutes instead of 4 hours. Tho' that reminds me... \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Oct 29, 2010 at 17:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Apocalypse World did the "hand-traced photos" thing to get an interesting dichromatic effect. There's a nice short tutorial on how to achieve the style, and I've used it effectively. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 29, 2010 at 17:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MattSheridan: What's wrong with Poser art? I might be biased, knowing people who sell their Poser work for a living in the Daz3D store, but in the end it's just a tool, and can be used both for good effect and to produce absolutely horrible generic results. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 2, 2012 at 12:09

For the FATE part, contact Evil Hat Productions. They will put you on the right track.

For the professional quality part, you'll need to find out about layout, printing and so on. You'll get lots of guidance on The Forge and you could explore its archives, too.

On a more general note: playtest it. It's the most important thing. Find people to play it, again and again, and iron out the kinks.

I really encourage you to do all this. It's a fun process to go through and people will be supportive.


Try reading some system, that uses Fate. I believe Dresden Files from aforementioned Evil Hat Productions is a great example of what can be achieved (I am about to start playing a campaign in Dresdenverse and it looks very promising). Then you will have a good example of what you can achieve. Working on examples works great in programming, so maybe here it will be some kind of solution for you either ;-)

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ For a FATE author, [ Diaspora ](vsca.ca/Diaspora) is a must-read. It is a ruthlessly streamlined (not simpler) version of FATE that Fred Hicks himself has said showed him things FATE can do that he hadn't imagined. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 28, 2010 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's also worth looking at Strands of Fate for a very different approach to the system. Houses of the Blooded and ICONS go even further afield, being Fate-influenced-but-not-really-Fate-anymore systems. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 29, 2010 at 15:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Houses isn't Fate influenced - the similarities are because they both draw aspects from the origin point of Clinton Nixon's The Shadow of Yesterday \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Nov 2, 2012 at 5:33

Between Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures, the Fate system already has options for Traveller-esque hard(-ish) sci-fi and "rock and roll space opera" available. Your setting should distinguish itself by more than just its place along the wahoo spectrum.

Neither game really has any detailed default setting, but there is a separate Starblazer setting book called Mindjammer from which you'll want to distinguish your own setting. As far as I'm aware, Mindjammer's defining elements are a quasi-psychic Internet, some alien species, and possibly a little transhumanism.

It's hard to offer concrete advice without knowing anything more specific about your setting.


I've heard that Bulldogs! is the very best presentation of the FATE 3.0 rules yet. Might want to take a look at that book.


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