There's one passage of the Fate Core book / SRD that I'm having trouble getting my head around.

The worst, worst thing you can do is have a failed roll that means nothing happens—no new knowledge, no new course of action to take, and no change in the situation. That is totally boring, and it discourages players from investing in failure—something you absolutely want them to do, given how important compels and the concession mechanic are. Do not do this.

The first part of this I understand. It's a new concept to me, coming from an old-school D&D background with some Savage Worlds thrown in, but I really like the idea of failure having to have some narrative effect rather than just drawing a blank. The idea of "making failure awesome" is new to me, but it is explained very clearly and helpfully in the following paragraphs (Blame the Circumstances, Succeed at a Cost, Let the Players do the Work).

I've come across the idea of "investing in failure" elsewhere, for example in this D&D related discussion of "making losing awesome", but I don't really understand what it means. And I really don't understand the connection how "investing in failure" links to compels and the concession mechanic. As I understand it, compels are either situational or decisional modifications to the narrative based on PCs /NPCs aspects (often their Trouble), and concession is where a PC or NPC decides to back out of combat before a particular attack and so make a getaway. But how on earth are these linked to failing a dice roll?

Short version:

  • What does "investing in failure" mean here, and in general?
  • How is this linked to "compels and the concession mechanic"?

I'd be grateful for answers which can illustrate the principles with examples from real play. I'm only 3 sessions into my first FAE game as a GM, and about to start playing a Fate Core game soon.


2 Answers 2


When one is invested in failure, one takes the position that the goals of the player and the goals of the character are not always the same. Your character wants to succeed at everything they try, while you as a player want them to fail now and again -- not just because it makes things more interesting, but because doing so earns you Fate Points to guarantee success at other, possibly more important things.

In this way, accepting compels and making concessions are "investments"; you control the circumstances under which bad things happen--although not the details of how--and they pay dividends later.

However, the other payoff from failure is, as @SevenSidedDie observes, that the story does become more intricate, more involved, and more engaging. (As a Fate fan, I would also say "more fun," but that's subjective.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's great, now I think I understand the "investing" thing and how they link up with the compel and concession mechanics. I'm still looking forward to illustrations from actual play. As I understand it, such illustrations would be an example of 'good subjective'. \$\endgroup\$
    – harlandski
    Feb 5, 2015 at 1:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @harlandski I wish I had a good worked example to present to you. Hopefully someone else will deliver on that score. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jadasc
    Feb 5, 2015 at 1:44

"Investing in failure," used in this passage, is not about the rolls discussed earlier in the passage. It's about how failing to invest in failure has a negative impact on other parts of the game's rules. The passage is warning that, if failed rolls aren't a positive play experience, players will not invest in failure as a story-telling feature and will resist other parts of the game that rely on everyone being invested in failure as a story-telling feature. Basically, paraphrased:

Don't make failing at rolls boring. That just teaches players to resist failure in all ways, which will break other failure-related mechanics.

As for what investing in failure means, I implied it a bit above: Investing in failure means valuing failure as a part of how stories work and unfold.

In most games, failure isn't the job of the players so they don't need to invest in failure in those games. But in Fate, failure is part of the players' jobs and they have to not only accept that failure happens, but also invest in making it happen, in order for the game to work.

  • \$\begingroup\$ With rules like that, i can understand how a regular high-fantasy players can get confused "don't just miss the goblin, make your character have a roleplay reason to get completely mangled" \$\endgroup\$
    – Mouhgouda
    Feb 4, 2015 at 18:46
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Mouhgouda It's not missing a roll that leads to that kind of thing though. Choosing to allow a roll to fail can earn you points that you can spend on later things, like guaranteed success or creating something convenient. It's not "oh I miss, now I'm missing a leg." That kind of thing only happens when you completely lose a conflict — instead of a TPK, you offer to be defeated in an interesting way before actually dying; and then you might offer "I get left for dead, my leg is broken, and I crawl through blood and mud all night and collapse on the step of a farmhouse" instead of "I die." \$\endgroup\$ Feb 4, 2015 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer - you've certainly cleared up a misunderstanding of mine about how exactly the ideas of the paragraph in question are interlinked. Is there any chance you could say some more about how compels and concessions are examples of "investing in failure" - I'm still having trouble with the concept - and could you add illustrations from actual play? \$\endgroup\$
    – harlandski
    Feb 5, 2015 at 0:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've not played Fate enough to answer properly, so maybe d7 can extend this: with compels and concessions you can gain (mechanically) from your failure, in the form of Fate Points, etc. So you can break the mechanics if your failures are meaningless: players can gain by failing without consequence. Is that right, or am I way off track? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 5, 2015 at 2:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ That sounds really interesting in its own right, i'll give it a look if i get a chance... \$\endgroup\$
    – Mouhgouda
    Feb 6, 2015 at 13:09

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