I've seen lots of praise about the Fate system, especially it's Fate Core implementation. Because of that I was thinking about which of my past campaigns could have been played in Fate instead of their native system for the benefit of the whole gaming group, smoother play and lower bookkeeping burden. My rough answer was: nearly all of them.

Surely this can't be right.

I would ask for answers from RPG.SE members who are familiar with practical aspects of fate (pun not intended) and particularly its shortcomings. Are there particular genres that it's bad at? Are there situations or scenes which it struggles to model and what are they in general? Are there certain moods that it fails to support? I'm asking specifically about Fate Core.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wanting accounts from experience is why it's too broad. That's asking for a list or discussion, which we aren't suited to, unfortunately. That doesn't make it a bad question, but it might be better suited to a chat room or a traditional forum, as you'll get more helpful feedback on a site intended for open-ended discussion. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27, 2015 at 0:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this question is on the edge of "good subjective". The the two answers so far seem to be helpful. Let's keep it open for a while and see what sort of answers it attracts. \$\endgroup\$
    – edgerunner
    Jun 27, 2015 at 14:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed with @edgerunner. I think the existence of a good answer indicates that some form of this should be a good question. If we can just ensure that the question asked is the question already answered, I think this should be a workable question. (That said, I also agree with the initial closing and think this should be watched closely to make sure the editing has worked out correctly.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jun 27, 2015 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Note that there hasn't been any substantial editing changes. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27, 2015 at 20:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not sure if this is enough content for an answer, but I am strongly reminded of this post by Fate Core co-creator Ryan Macklin, especially the first section. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 3, 2015 at 0:22

3 Answers 3


Fate characters are proactive, competent and dramatic

It may seem like that's a given for just about any game: who wouldn't want competent, proactive, dramatic characters in their games? But some genres don't work that way.

Horror is a notable example. Most horror games turn on characters feeling powerless, which is not what Fate does - horror in Fate needs to work on different levels. Likewise dramatic characters are not really welcome in traditional dungeon crawls - their drama adds nothing to the process of killing goblins, so dungeon crawls in Fate have to operate on different levels than they normally do in other games.

Fate is collaborative

It's a dialogue between players and the GM. In a game heavily based on pre-established setting and plot where players merely discover it, Fate will not play to its strengths.

Fate struggles with immersion

Players are regularly asked to take up the position of a storyteller, to consider what they'd like to happen to their characters - that's how compels work. For those who don't want to get out of their character's head during the game, this is a detriment.

Fate lacks tactical crunch

What's a blessing to some is a weakness for others. There is no optimization, no clever combos, no interesting mechanical tactics. It's all about the story, with numbers kept deliberately simple. Characters can be more or less mechanically complex, but there's no system-mastery minigame.

Fate is flexible

A large part of Fate Core is the Toolbox which offers guidance on how to fiddle with it. Some degree of crunch can be added, horror can be attempted, etc. It's a bit of a cop-out for this question, but some of these "weaknesses" can be shored up.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree up to "Fate lacks crunch". Fate can get just as crunchy as you want it to. Add in a few extras or subsystems for whatever exotic mechanic you want in your game (Mecha building, effect-based spellcasting...) and you'll see just how crunchy it can get. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nigralbus
    Jun 26, 2015 at 12:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with e idea that Fate can't do horror. There's a section in the Toolkit (fate-srd.com/fate-system-toolkit/horror-paradox) that deals with horror. In brief: lots of compels, no good options, and high difficulty to make use of success at a cost. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2015 at 13:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would add only one other detail: Fate does not do well with hidden information. Due to the collaborative element, there's almost an expectation that the players will share knowledge that their characters do not possess, so it can be very difficult to function in a setting where there will be massive amounts of hidden information. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 1, 2015 at 1:39

The main thing I think that would be hard to do in FATE is GM-designed-mystery-solving. Due to how it's expected that the GM shares with the players all the relevant information, including things the characters would not know (and then bribe them into their character not acting on that information with compulsions) it gets really hard for the GM to set up a genuine predefined mystery adventure, where the players (not the characters) are expected to crack the situation.

Examples might include murder-mystery games, but also dungeon-crawl games where deadly traps can only be avoided by careful player reasoning about the situation.

Essentially; it boils down to games where the players are expected to solve the problem for their characters, instead of the players narrating how their characters will solve the problem.

As mentioned by BESW in the comments, it is possible to run a mystery-game if the GM also doesn't know what happened, but that's a different kind of game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ See: fate-srd.com/fate-core/… It's certainly possible to have hidden aspects, but it's not common. Games that rely heavily on them won't work as well as they do in other systems. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Jun 26, 2015 at 12:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's useful to note that this is not the only kind of mystery-telling technique available to GMs. I've run some great mysteries in Fate by the simple expedient of not knowing the solution either, and we all play to find out together. Ditto for traps, puzzles, etc. atomic-robo codifies this notion into the "Brainstorming" mechanic. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Jun 26, 2015 at 12:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've run mysteries several times in my DFRPG game (which, since the main character in the base source is a detective, I'd hope it would support). I've made some stumbles in setting things up sometimes, but for the most part, the tools have already been there in order to create enjoyable mysteries with the mystery still in the game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Jun 26, 2015 at 13:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 DFRPG != Fate Core \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27, 2015 at 19:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer - It's close enough for the purposes of this argument. There were very minimal changes made between Fate 3.0 and Fate Core. And in fact, my DFRPG game in the end is played with Fate Core and those few changes for veterans, so not really an applicable dismissal. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Jun 28, 2015 at 13:42

Fate 2.0 is hands down my group's favorite system. When Fate Core came out we immediately took it up with enthusiasm but ended up going back to 2.0 because of Fate Core's relative shortcomings. We now use it more or less exclusively for a homebrewed JSR (John's Scion Resources) inspired Scions remake. Here's why:

Fate Core is Unmitigatedly Narrative

Our play group is diverse and we do not find the same things fun in RPGs, nor do we like to play the same way. We don't have a shared playstyle, except in that most of us (the ones we regularly let have GM powers anyways) work to accommodate our diversity of playstyles. Fate 2.0 is the only published system we have played so far that actively supports this kind of group, by providing multiple different ways to purchase effects in the Game.

Aspects in Fate 2.0 are character-focused and provide a method for players to establish sweeping character-based control in a game. Aspects establish who a character is and allow that to shape play in a meaningful way independent of narrative, simulationist, or other influences. Relying primarily on your aspects allows you to build a character based around a certain 'feel' and have that feel fairly represented in the actualization of your character within the play-space.

In Fate Core, aspects require fate-point invocations to exist, and act more like labels than character traits; they are only carried out within the play-structure when it is narratively convenient. This is different than only being carried out when it is useful to the character-- Fate Core certainly encourages the use of 'compels'-- but compels are encouraged only when they would be narratively interesting.

Skill selections in Fate 2.0 are also somewhat character-focused, but appeal more to those who employ a detailed, simulationist approach to play. The ability to approach a small set of player-chosen activities with extreme detail and have that attention to detail rewarded within the play structure, while permitting with penalty abstraction of unimportant areas, is engaging and rewarding for this kind of player, without being an obstruction to others' enjoyment.

In Fate Core, skills are narrative tools. Rather than being able to use a blacksmithing skill to blacksmith, you use a blacksmithing skill to progress the narrative in a certain limited set of ways (you can pay with stunts to let you evolve the narrative in more ways), based on the possible action types. Furthermore, rather than player-generated skills, the skills are by default GM-generated in a skill list (this was merely one of several optional approaches in 2.0). This change to the skill system effectively renders simulationist play in Fate Core completely infeasible.

Balancing Extra-pyramid skill-point subsytems, unusual skill configurations, and explicit levels of specificity in 2.0 appeals to the gamist player, who has space and a framework in which to weigh mechanical options against each other within the context of a single character. Gamist play in 2.0 is entirely possible and does not disrupt the game if done well.

In Fate Core gamist play is explicitly shunned and looked down upon as some kind of lesser playstyle by the community at large and to a lesser extent the actual system. A common mantra is that trying to apply and interact with the mechanics outside of a narrative is the wrong way to play Fate Core, which I would agree with; the mechanics are exclusively narrative so outside a narrative there's nothing to really grapple with.

The interactions in FATE 2.0 allow players to approach play in a plethora of fundamentally different ways within the spectrum of playstyles the game's play-space conceptualizes. Furthermore, the system's backbone is extremely unstable in playstyle and can easily be resolved to allow additional, different spectrums of play approaches and/or to bias itself towards certain approaches in a given campaign. Fate Core is very much like a well-built and fundamentally better exclusively narrative campaign of FATE 2.0. In FATE 2.0, you can't really remove the multi-playstyle nature of the system entirely, even as a single player, and so all the players have to engage on at least in minor level with most of the ways the group is approaching the game in a given campaign. Fate Core helps focus the game on a single kind of play, which makes the system worse for situations where you want to have a different kind of play.

So Fate Core is generally less good than FATE 2.0 for:

  • Simulationist players
  • Equipment-focused Survival Campaigns and other detail-oriented simulationist games
  • Character-focused players
  • Slice-of-Life Campaigns and other Literary-Realism-like character-based games
  • Gamist players
  • Narrative-less Arena Fighting and other classic player-competition-based games.
  • ...And any other player or game, who or which is not, broadly speaking, narrative.

Fate Core Tells Only a Particular Family of Narratives

Fate characters are proactive, competent, and dramatic

Furthermore, though this is unstated in the above quote, Fate Core characters are narratively dramatic and work as a party, and Fate Players can change, ignore, or add fundamental aspects of the narrative in-game via fate points and Create an Advantage actions.

This further eliminates:

  • Most Administratively and Logistically focused players and games (you can do logistic narratives, but a narratively dramatic character makes this harder than it needs to be and shoehorns it out of most of the common tropes for the genre)
  • Many political games
  • Psychological Horror
  • Much Gothic Horror
  • Multilayered Longform Literature-like campaigns, and other games that require heavy handed railroading
  • Philosophical Investigations

There is some overlap here with the previous list, in that both factors often contribute and it's hard to say which one specifically is the one that does the kind of play in the most.

Fate Core caters to a particular subset of narrative play. If you and your group want to play that way exclusively, then there's little reason not to use the system exclusively. If you want to play with a different kind of narrative, you can probably use the system with modification to accomplish that, though you may be better off with a different system that does the thing better. If you want to let players who have non-narrative playstyles participate and have fun, minorly altering the base system of Fate Core will not be be a good approach and you will want to use a different system.

Please note that while this answer is critical of Fate Core, the system does have many merits, and does what it does quite well. Superhero fiction, mythology-inspired heroics, narrative-focused adventure-y Medieval Fantasy, etc. all work very well in it. Superhero fiction in particular it does much better than FATE 2.0.

And that's just Fate Core v.s. Fate 2.0

There are just so many really, really good RPG systems and subsystems out there. Even for things Fate Core is good at, what we really have to be considering isn't if it works well but if it works the best. Even when it's good, there might be something better, and if it's not too much trouble for your group to find and learn the better system that's an excellent reason to not use Fate Core. Maybe you even like learning new systems. That isn't to say only the best system for a thing is any good, or that not trying new systems when you've found one that works is bad, per se, just that having an even better system is a good reason not to use Fate Core.

I mean, that's the whole idea behind FAE, right? To be even better for a subset of the people who would like Fate Core.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that answers my question at all. Maybe if it was only the last section, but instead of explaining why it doesn't support what you say it doesn't, you give a primer on what Fate 2.0 is, which I believe was unnecessary. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Jun 27, 2015 at 20:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @eimyr I think it is necessary to support my case as to how Fate Core does this less well. I need the contrast to explain what it seemed to be lacking. Furthermore, I'm speaking from experience and this is the experience we had. I can't explain our reasoning without referencing Fate 2.0 heavily because we came into it from the previous edition and then went back to that edition; the entire answer except the recent addendum is an explanantion from that experience in line with GS/BS. If I didn't discuss 2.0 I wouldn't feel like I was meeting that GS/BS guideline. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27, 2015 at 21:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Basically, according to site policy I can't talk about how Fate Core is less good at X than Y system without real play experience comparing the two. I have that real play experience and this answer is about communicating the results of that. I don't have real play experience comparing it to e.g. Paranoia so if I were to say "Paranoia does X better" I'd be relying on just having played both of them, which I think is qualitatively less good support than what I've given here. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27, 2015 at 21:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ This would be better received if you didn't bury the lede: start with answering the question by talking about Fate Core, and then follow-up with support from your experience comparing it to Fate 2.0. Right now it's easy to think you've mis-read the question as asking for systems that work better in Core's weak areas: it reads as a recommendation of Fate 2.0 rather than an analysis of Fate Core. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Jun 27, 2015 at 23:59

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