Soon I will be hosting my first two games of Fate. One will be an intro-session with one GM and one player and the other will be a more serious gaming session with one GM and three players, which will probably contain multiple Fate sessions over the weekend.

The group has a lot of experience playing D&D (3e and 4e) and I've read the Fate rules to try and get a good understanding of how Fate is different. The first thing I will do in both of these occassions will be explaining the rules as good as I can to my fellow players and then we'll follow the Fate rules for creating a world and the characters in them.

However, we're all very used to D&D and its clichés, tropes and behaviours. There seem to be a lot of differences between playing D&D and Fate in terms of character, story and solutions to problems.

But are there any specific things that I (as GM) or the players need to look out for when making the switch from D&D to Fate? I'm specifically looking for traps that a D&D focussed group will fall into when trying Fate, not general problems you have the first time you play Fate.

Especially since the very first step of "create characters" seems to be vastly different between the two, if there's any pointers I can give the players at the start about how to think about their characters, that would be really helpful.


6 Answers 6


Here are pitfalls that I would watch out for:

  • Confusing Stress with Hit Points - Stress is not hit points. Stress is not damage. Stress is a measure of your ability to avoid lasting consequences from conflicts. Don't get hung up on the false equivalence of Stress and "damage".
  • Looking to the mechanics to drive the fiction - In Fate, the fiction drives, and the mechanics support it. Don't look for a menu of options on your character sheet, especially if you are coming from 4e. You can do whatever you want - the rules are there to support your story. The story does not come from the rules.
  • Expecting massive advancement - Fate, by default, is not a zero-to-hero experience. You start out pretty heroically competent and while you will change, you won't necessarily improve. A milestone might let you swap two skills - well, that's different, but could you really call it better? That's not what this game is about. Don't set yourself up for disappointment.
  • Worrying about character optimization - In Fate, it is usually better to make interesting choices in character creation than optimal ones. You may be coming from a very different game, where optimizing characters is almost the point of play. Fate is not like that. There is no reward for making an Aspect that cannot get compelled against you, in fact, the opposite is true - you'll be depriving yourself of Fate points in play.
  • Hoarding Fate points - Fate points are not a precious, rare commodity. You are supposed to spend them. If you get low, find opportunities to get them, usually via compels. They are supposed to flow - the Fate point economy drives a good chunk of the game.
  • Thinking failure means nothing happens - In d20 games, if your roll is high enough, you succeed, and if it's not, you fail. It's easy to interpret failure as meaning nothing happens as in: You failed to bash down the door. Nothing happens. Even in d20, this is probably not the right way to play it, but in Fate, it's explicitly wrong. Every roll of the dice means something happens, as in: You failed to bash down the door. But your pauldron is dented now, so here's a card with your "armor out of adjustment" aspect. Also, you made a ton of noise and hear from down the corridor the hissing sounds of suspicious serpent-folk.
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer, and I don't see any sense in me adding my own, but if you agree you might like to add about investing in failure - this was the biggest transition for me. See rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/56308/… \$\endgroup\$
    – harlandski
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 16:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, that's a great explanation. \$\endgroup\$
    – harlandski
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 10:40
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "Confusing Stress with hit points" I would argue that Stress IS Hit Points - but most people confuse Hit Points and damage. Hit Points also are "a measure of your ability to avoid lasting consequences from conflict"; when Luke is surrounded by blaster shots landing at his feet, or bullets are hitting the pole James Bond is hiding behind, they're losing HP - not just being missed, but getting closer from "real" trouble. Anyway, just a small pet peeve, great answer, +1 to you sir. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 10:50
  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ @Cristol.GdM Blame the cure blank wounds spells; If hit points aren't damage, these spells are poorly named; If those spells are aptly named, then hit points must include damage. The same is not true of stress boxes, which clear instantly the moment a stressful situation ends. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 4:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Yup, good point! \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 1, 2015 at 8:44

Gomad has a great list already. Here's a few more I've thought of. The first one, especially, is something I've both experienced, and heard of others experiencing:

  • Understanding how aspects differ from traditional bonuses - Aspects may be "always true," but that doesn't mean they provide a constant mechanical effect, the way that a "+2 sword" might. They only provide such a mechanical benefit when a Fate point or a free invoke is spent on them. This is because Fate is not simulating reality, but simulating a story, so things that might provide a bonus only become important when they are explicitly made important. See also: Explaining the need to use Fate Points for Aspects and Do advantages in Fate Core just "wear off?"

  • There are no penalties - Fate makes a very conscious design decision to avoid using penalties to dice roll. Instead, they favor giving a bonus to the opponent (or just upping the difficulty, if there's no opponent), with the view that penalties are, psychologically, not fun. See also: Does Fate have precedents for mechanical inabilities/weaknesses?

  • Forget about equipment - D&D can be very precise about how much money and equipment you do (or don't) have. Fate has no equipment lists, and abstracts everything into skills. You want to be rich? Don't bother looting everything in sight, just give your character a higher Resource skill (either at creation, or at the next milestone). Your character has a gun with a laser sight? Then his shooting skill must be pretty high. You have a good Drive skill? Then your character must have a pretty sweet ride, yes? Sometimes you'll see these kinds of things modeled as Stunts or Extras, and in some cases it might be appropriate, but it's not strictly necessary. The character's skill already includes any bonus that the equipment might provide. What if you're without your equipment? There are no explicit penalties (see above), but the difficulty of doing something might increase, and some actions may not be possible (e.g. shooting without a gun).

  • Tweak the dials - This may not be a good idea just starting out of the gate, but Fate is more of a toolkit that welcomes tailoring and tinkering to your game. Need piloting to be a skill in your Space Wars game? Make it so! Want a less gritty game where people can last longer in a combat without taking consequences? Give everyone an extra stress box. This can potentially be off-putting for rules-lawyering types who want to stick to the exact rules as written. You should probably be very careful about doing too much of this too soon, until you get a feel for how the game plays. It also has to be done with player buy-in, and not just mid-session at the whim of the GM.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ List-questions are off topic at RPG.se, so answers just adding "a few more ideas" will probably result in the question needing to be put on hold for rewriting, or possibly permanently closed. Could you please edit this so it answers the question independently and completely by including any necessary statements? (Referring to other answers to give due credit is fine.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 18:13

Transitioning from a D&D-style system to Fate can be tricky due to three major considerations: story creation versus consumption, the dice effect, and non-binary results.

What I mean by Creation versus Consumption is that most D&D-style games have a specific GM role who is responsible almost exclusively for Content and Story Creation, while the other participants are responsible, almost exclusively, for Content and Story Consumption. In a D&D game, the GM decides the story, the bad guys, the NPCs, their actions, their desires, and so on; the players simply react to these. In a Fate game, all participants are nearly equally responsible for both Creation and Consumption, with the GM having a final 'say' on what goes (and possibly some hidden knowledge). So in a Fate game, players can decide to create NPCs on the spot, or they can influence how an NPC would react to something, and that Story Creation can be (and often is) just as valid as if the GM had created it. This isn't just a feature of Fate, it's an expectation of how the system will work and how it will be used.

The dice effect is due to the difference in the distribution curves for a 1d20 roll versus a 4dF roll. A single d20 roll has equal odds of rolling any value: 5% chance per side. This results in a fairly even distribution of results, so the DC of a check can be set relative to the player's skill level. With 4dF, the distribution is a bell curve, with a much greater chance of rolling a neutral result than of rolling a positive or negative result. This can be very confusing for players and GMs alike when they're trying to get used to the system, so don't be overly concerned with making things too easy or too hard. Stick with difficulties that are 0-2 harder than the character's skill if you want them to succeed reasonably often, or 3-4 more than their skill if it should be significantly difficult to succeed.

Creation/Consumption responsibility and the Dice Effect leads directly into non-binary results, meaning that when I roll for a check or attack in D&D, I can either reach the DC and succeed, or not and fail, but in Fate I can reach the Difficulty and succeed, exceed it by a significant amount and "succeed with style", miss it by a little bit and succeed at a cost, or just completely fail. Each of these can still result in what I wanted to accomplish happening, but they might come with side effects or bonuses/penalties applied to myself, the party, or our enemies. This range of possibilities is much larger than anything D&D allows, so it's possible for a single roll (or "exchange", in Fate terms) to result in something that would have taken dozens of rounds to accomplish in D&D.

Overall I find it's not difficult for a group to transition from D&D-style games to Fate, but the participants should approach it as an entirely new game (not like they would approach transitioning from one version of D&D to another, or to something like RuneQuest). Most effects listed by other answers are actually common problems faced by any Fate group of any origin, but these three focuses will give you the greatest chance of a successful transition if they are considered, or will guarantee a frustrating experience if they are ignored.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point, thanks for the chance to update instead of a summary deletion. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 18:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! A small change, but it changes the tone of everything that follows. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 18:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for approaching it as an entirely new game. This is one of the biggest things I stress when introducing people to Fate. \$\endgroup\$
    – kyoryu
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 20:41

I have observed players coming from "crunchy" systems (d20, TriStat) fall into these mental traps.

  • Assuming that most contests will be combat or d20-like skill or saving checks. In Fate, a contest could just as easily be a chess game, a stare-down, a debate, or even fashion choices. And the outcomes of those contests can radically alter the course of your stories. To have a rich character, you don't necessarily need any aspects or skills in hand-to-hand combat, crossbows, and whatever else your d20 Barbarian Dwarf needs.
  • Not wanting to "weaken" characters with GM-invokable aspects. If players are creative with their negative aspects, it can make the game far more interesting than it would otherwise be. And GM invocations get you Fate points! Ideas might include:

  • Failing to take full advantage of the narrative system, especially passing up contest opportunities or when you win a contest. This comes back to thinking of contests as combats. If you really do have a combat, then the narrative outcome will be shaming the defeated enemy, breaking up his clan, breaking his heirloom sword, etc. But you could just as easily race the evil corporation CEO's secretary and take her favorite parking space, and make her have a bad day, which the GM interprets to mean that she forgets to remind the CEO of his important appointment with the banker who holds your mortgage in hock.

  • Not understanding the full potential of Fate points. Spending a point for minor narrative control is immensely useful if you do it right. This is something that d20 simply has no concept of, so it can take a while to learn.

To get over all this, you might try a one-shot. I hosted a one-shot of Paranoia using Fate and pre-gen characters. It worked splendidly with four players who had never played Fate before. In that setting, they were acclimated to the dynamics of Fate relatively quickly.


Going through the Fate learning curve coming from more traditional things, there's a few things that really had to sink in. I think I've been pretty successful at helping others get through it, so here's the top things that I've learned.

Fiction First

This is the biggest thing. By fiction I don't mean "the GM's pre-planned story." I mean the stuff we imagine in our brains. In Fate, the imagined world drives the game, not the rules. We use the rules to help us figure out what happens when it isn't immediately obvious from the situation.

About 80% of the questions that I've seen new GMs/players ask about Fate are resolved by this. Start with what's happening in the actual world, and then go from there. Does an aspect go away? Well, when the thing that it represents isn't true or doesn't make sense any more, it goes away.

For players and GMs, one of the things that this means is that you generally don't want to declare your action in terms of the rules. In Core and especially in FAE, you declare what you're doing in terms of the fiction of the world, and then figure out how to use the rules to figure out what happens. This has the side effect that nonsensical actions never make it to the dice rolling part - they get stopped before then as the GM or players or both say "uh, that doesn't make sense, no."

Even aspects follow this pattern - a room may have a Dark aspect because it's dark. The room isn't dark because it has a Dark aspect.

Fiction, not Physics

Another one of the cute Fate taglines that actually makes a lot of sense when you get it. Many games try to model the real world, or even "a" world. We have turns that take some number of seconds, and when we look at how rules work, the easiest way to think about them is how things work in real life.

Not so with Fate. Fate could care less about how things work in the real world. Fate is deliberately designed to work the way that fiction works. It models the way that writers write books, movies, and TV shows.

So, a turn in Fate? How long does it represent? Trying to think of it in terms of an actual length of time is basically incorrect. The best way to think of it is as a camera shot. How long does it take? As long as the camera needs to show the action. Making something an aspect is like Chekhov's gun, a camera shot pointing out the feature of the scene, and alerting the viewer that it will be important.

Even Create Advantage matches the very common fictional rhythm of establishing something, and then paying it off.

If you try to map Fate's mechanics to real life, you'll find yourself scratching your head. If you try to map Fate's mechanics to movies, or TV shows, or books, you'll find that it matches better than almost any system out there. A thing that people start doing once they're really internalized this is, when watching stuff, to start mapping the screen action to various mechanics. "Oh, those big geysers on the planet, those are definitely an aspect. And Star-Lord's ship got hit with one, that was definitely a compel."

The Purpose of Scenes

In many traditional games, an encounter or scene exists as a kind of a test (one the players usually win). "Can you beat this set of bad guys? If so, you get to keep going!"

That's really, really not how Fate does things. In Fate, the reason for just about any kind of scene is to figure out what happens. A scene is a fork in the road of the story, not a gated challenge that must be overcome.

This means that in a good Fate game, things don't go the way players want them to on a regular basis. And that's okay! Usually when I do intro scenarios, I'll even deliberately throw a near-impossible fight at players early on so that they can exercise the Concession mechanics, and see that losing a fight just means that the story progresses in a different way than what they had wanted.

Stress Isn't Damage

This is getting a bit more nitty gritty than the more high level, conceptual stuff above. But it's a common sticking point, and so is worth a mention.

Stress isn't damage. Arguably, Fate doesn't have a damage system (Consequences come close, but although most "damage" is best modeled as a Consequence, not all Consequences are damage). Stress is, mostly, about pacing - "how long does this fight scene last?" In a movie, think of a fight scene and all the back and forth that goes on. A character does a really harsh series of blows to someone, and they're on their heels, but then they turn around and kick them in the stomach. Or some such.

That's all Stress. That's exactly what Stress models. So that big Stress hit? Yeah, don't narrate that as the guy getting ripped over crotch to sternum. It doesn't make sense, because stress goes away at the end of the Conflict. Save the solid hits for taking Consequences, because that's really the best place for them.

Aspects Are True

A common misconception among new Fate players is that aspects only impact things when invoked or compelled.

First off, PC aspects can definitely have an impact beyond that. If you're a Princess of the Realm, you can get into the castle, unless something weird is happening. A typical peasant might not, but you're the freakin' Princess, so you get in.

Situational aspects can also do things beyond invoke/compel. If you're On the Ground, you can't run to the next room. Because you're on the ground. That makes sense. Remember fiction first? Well, the action doesn't even get to the rules because it doesn't make sense with the facts we know.

For things that make things harder but not impossible, the best way to handle them is typically passive opposition. That will increase the difficulty if there's no active opposition, and if there is active opposition, the passive opposition acts as a "floor" on their roll. So if your opponent is On the Ground and is trying to hit you, they might have a passive opposition of +2. Now, no matter how poorly you roll on your defense, the worst you can effectively get is a +2. This can do a good job of modeling the facts of the situation without getting into the situation of chasing down bonuses to add to your roll like you do in many games (which can make rolls that can never fail and other un-fun stuff).

It's a Different Game

Really, this is the big one. Fate isn't D20. It's not D&D 5e, or GURPS, or BRP, or any other system. It's Fate. A huge amount of the problems that I had in learning Fate were not recognizing that, and trying to use my decades of experience and apply it to Fate.

Bad idea. Just read the book, and do what it says. If you find yourself thinking "oh, they really mean this" or "that's like this other thing" or anything of that nature, strike that thought from your mind. If you think "well, in this other game, I'd do this here," banish that thought as well. Treat it like playing a different game entirely, and not just as a different version of your favorite game.


These are the key points to look for when you make the transition from D&D to fate, in my experience (D&D player, Fate GM and player):

Always make failure interesting

You shouldn't simply fail in what you are attempting (picklocking, observing, investigating, bartering, etc...) but you should, when possible, have a success with a cost. As an example, if you fail an investigation roll, you shouldn't say

you did not find the clue

but instead

you did find what you were looking for, but some evil minions have followed you through the city without you noticing, and relayed your position to their boss


Presume that the characters are always really competent

This mean that when your players fail a roll, it's not because they are not experienced enough in what they tried or the task was too hard for them to tackle: instead, some external factor caused them to fail. Also, it is even more awesome if you as GM ask the player WHY they did fail. An example that actually happened to me (I was the GM in this case):

GM: You feel like you're being observed from the dark bushes down there. Try to roll Notice to see if you can spot anything unusual. [The player was some sort of John Rambo character, well versed in jungle and other poor visibility combat zone]

P: (rolls) Oh no, -3!

GM: Oh, damn... It's quite strange for you to not spot somebody hiding in a bush, what did happen that caused you to fail?

P: Hmmm... Let's say that i DID spot the one guy hiding in the bush, but not his other 3 friends hiding within the ruins the other side of the road [which there were none in my scene idea, but the bad roll made them happen]

As you can see, a failure isn't caused by incompetence, but from an external cause (the hiding guy was simply a bait for an ambush).

Another example would be a missed shot: sometimes "you miss" is boring, and maybe the player's flaming arrow hit the hay near the barn, and now everything is on fire with a free invocation for the enemies, that they can use as advantage to try to flee... or burn the players.

The bottom line: always advance the story every dice roll.

What your players will remember one year from now is that awesome failure they had

While in D&D you will remember that time when you slain the Tarrasque while flying on top of a tamed Colossal Red Dragon, I've found that in Fate you're gonna remember that time when you complicated your own life the most. A personal example, this time I'm the player:

GM: The thief is running away with your planar key!

P: I shoot him with my bow, because I am on a vantage point and a clear field of view [the player is a ranger elf, think legolas from LoTR] (rolls)... -4

GM: You miss him (notice here, he is not an experience Fate GM so instead of this boring option i said:)

P: It's impossible I miss my target, so instead let's say that I've run out of arrows.

This "failure" caused our group to embark into a completely main quest to recover our planar key that took us 6 months of game time. We all still tease each other for this failure.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please make your answer complete and comprehensive. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 10:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BrianBallsun-Stanton can you please give me some pointers that can turn this answer into a complete and comprehensive one without repeating what others have already said? Thanks \$\endgroup\$
    – STT LCU
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 10:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/3326/… \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 10:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Specifically, amplifying with your personal experience is always useful, even if you're "repeating" what others have said. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 10:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BrianBallsun-Stanton I've added another personal experience, I hope that now it's ok \$\endgroup\$
    – STT LCU
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 10:25

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