Newbie GM here preparing for my first ever Fate GM session. My group consists of 4-5 players with varying levels of experience in RPG games. We have previoulsy played a long Pathfinder campaing and several Cthulhu-like one shots.

I know the emphasis about collaborative character, villains and overall game world creation in FAE/Core. I keep believeing my players may find themselves thinking I am a lazy GM because I put many of the tasks that are supposed to be the DM's responsibility at their hands. How do you cope with this situation? Do you feel this is an essential part of Fate? Or have you GMed while "fully in control" of the story?


4 Answers 4


Sharing some responsibility over the world is an essential part of Fate. The players have far more agency over the nature of the world than in other games, and part of that comes with a more 60/40 distribution of responsibility over the game compared to many others. That leads to what can feel like a lighter workload for the GM, and might be pretty alarming for GMs used to controlling everything, but that's how Fate's meant to roll and everything's fine. (In fact, lighter workload for me before/during playing, and increased ability to let the players show me what they want the world to be like, is a solid chunk of why Fate is one of my favoured go-to systems.)

You say:

I put many of the tasks that are supposed to be the DM's responsibility at their hands.

Which isn't wrong, since those might be the responsibility of a Dungeon Master — but you're not a DM, and you're not running D&D. You're a Fate GM. The many thousands of tabletop RPGs all have varying rules for what the players and GMs are meant to do, so what one of them (D&D) says doesn't relate to this game.

A GM in Fate isn't meant to be fully in control of the whole story. This is a game where players have a mechanic (Fate points) that is explicitly for declaring story details and proposing factual events and decisions that complicate someone's life. You are meant to share control; the players, by design, are enabled to make big changes to the world you give them. If that feels like the players are providing a lot of input and sharing control over the world and story, good, that's within how Fate's intended to feel. Largely, what they do and change will tell you a lot about what they care about, and often generates further plot to capitalize on later, helping you craft the story.

You don't say what details you're sharing with your players, but I find Fate comes with a lighter GM workload during play than D&D does. You do benefit from having a well-established dramatic setup for the session to bring to your players, and I've found in my experience that the game runs best when you have a well-established commonly-understood story that has player buy-in. I both play and GM Fate sessions with various groups, and I enjoy being able to suggest world details as a player (and have my GM run with them, because the group enjoys them too) and I enjoy it when my players share world details with me.

However, there's situations where narration generally doesn't come for free:

  • When it's directly to the player's benefit: If the players are narrating a change in the world that's to their advantage, they should probably be making a create an advantage or overcome roll, or spending a fate point to declare a story detail (either option's open, and sometimes one will make more sense than the other).

  • When it's a decision or event complicating someone's life: If the players are narrating an event that'll complicate someone's life, or a decision that'll complicate the life of the person who made it, that's a compel. (If it's their own character in question, that's a self-compel.) Check if they'd seriously like to make that compel, and if they do want to make that compel, Fate points should change hands accordingly.

    Compels are for serious stuff though — if it doesn't have much bite, it's a weaksauce compel and it's either not really a compel or the bite should be turned up until it's felt.

Go ahead and let the players narrate and assist you with making the world tick, and enjoy the game with them.


It's not really "lazy" so much as it is taking many of the things that a GM normally does ahead of time - setting up the milieu, putting a plot together, even creating neat NPCs and adversaries - as it is allowing the rest of the players to contribute to this process. As a player I always hated that the DM got to have all of this fun. I realize that it's a lot of work, too, but it's fun work and you should be able to engage in it not just as a co-GM but as a straight-up player. I will say that it requires a bit more out of the players:

Everyone has to have a sense of agency

I guess you could get away with a person or two who is "along for the ride" but by and large you don't want to set up big plots ahead of time. That isn't to say that those kinds of things don't emerge over the course of gameplay, but any crafting of plot has to bear in mind that at the end of the day the players get to dictate what they're doing.

Everyone also has to be on board with role playing

That means, no min-maxing allowed (FATE is kind of too simple to allow much of that, but the pyramid rule of skill advancement does help too), players must play their characters, and above all else the players should understand dramatic irony. That is, there will be lots and lots of times when everyone knows that Dr. Feelgood is a vampire, for example, but their characters don't know and cannot know this. I feel like a good FATE game becomes something very much like a running improvisational drama: losing is an OK thing to do because you should be having fun in ways that don't really have much to do with winning and losing per se.

Those Session 0s are important

Not only is a good Session Zero a great way to kick off a campaign (this is not just where you "roll up" characters but where you all decide on what kind of game you want to play, what tropes you'd like to embrace and which you'd like to avoid, and even maybe sketching out a few of the factions that everyone would like to see in the game), it's good to go back to this every few months to update things, to see where everyone's head is, to review the direction, and so on and so forth. Sometimes those sessions mean temporarily or permanently retiring a character or a party, sometimes they don't, but be prepared for anything.

Understand your role as a GM

It's more to facilitate than anything else. I haven't had a great deal of success using adversaries as players, but there are ways that this can be done for sure, and it does have the advantage that your villains are going to be played by people who want to see their character survive and thrive. At the very least, though, you're probably going to be voicing the more minor NPCs, introducing props, being the final arbiter as to what can and can't be a part of the game, so there is still plenty of work to be done.

Don't be afraid to let people experiment

My immediate thought here is that you can go too far with this, but as with improv I think the ideal you ought to shoot for is when your players ask if they can do X or if Y is an aspect of the game, you try to avoid "no" and find some way to say "yes". I mean, if you're doing a 1980s Diehard type of campaign and one of your players wants to become a Mole Person, that may be something that breaks verisimilitude, but even there, maybe get at what exactly they want to do... do they want to play some kind of underclass in the game whose existence is denied by many? Maybe that can be arranged. For the Y part of things, FATE even has a mechanic wherein a player can spend a FATE point to add said aspect. I would go so far as to not require the spending of these if an aspect doesn't directly aid the party - for instance, if a player just one day has the idea that elves exist in your world but pass for humans, and the party goes along with it, you ought to just allow it rather than make them use up a FATE point.

Lead by example

A lot of players more used to classic RPGs may take some time to get used to the free-wheeling bits of FATE. Try and encourage them if you can. If you don't have a setpiece ready to go for a battle, just straight up ask the party where the battle is taking place and what kinds of things they might encounter there, and build aspects based on that. If your players don't get the "chain aspects together to beat something up", have a big bad do that to them or give them a seemingly insurmountable challenge that requires this. When you do or a player does invoke an aspect, don't just allow them to invoke it, narrate how they're using it (in fact, what I do is I don't allow my players to invoke an aspect, physical or otherwise, unless they can justify it somehow). Make weird characters with weird personal aspects that you then invoke during play to give them more flavor than your average mook. Always have a physical aspect or two on the table whenever there's a fight or a pursuit or practically any kind of die roll. When a player invokes an aspect to win something, invoke one right back on them and narrate how this is happening ("Oh, so you invoked the Burning Oil and you toss Dr. Deepwater into it... but at the last second his Lightning Reflexes kick in and he does a backflip over the water!"). FATE does this thing where some seriously awesome stories just seem to come out of nowhere.

Mostly though, have fun!

The single biggest thing I like about FATE is that it's very rules-light. There are a couple of mechanics that players may take a little while to "get" (chaining aspects seems to be a big one) but mostly there is very, very little room for rules-lawyering. If a player starts to overuse a skill, the way you combat this as a GM is by sometimes throwing obstacles to make it tougher for that player to use it (if he's really good at hand to hand combat, maybe he gets a reputation as such and so every now and then a tough guy chooses to shoot him instead) but at the same time high rolls that result in crazy crap are fun, so bear that in mind. When you go into every session with a general idea of what might happen but no specific "the party must go to X" in mind, it allows for a great amount of free-wheeling fun.


Fate's rules demand collaboration. If you do find yourself feeling like someone really thinks you're coming up short by putting responsibilities on them to contribute, that's your defense. Show it to them. It's in the book.

Fate, on its own, attracts the kind of player and GM who believe strongly in player agency and absence of railroadtracks. If you're presenting it to players who didn't choose the system for those reasons, or who didn't choose the system at all, you can use Session Zero to reinforce for them the reasons why collaboration is in the rules.

You can also reward them for contributing details, by making sure that the details which they contribute are given lots of screen time and in-game importance.

Just make sure they're having fun - they won't think you're "lazy".


Other answers have addressed the social issues around getting players to work with Fate's collaborative approach, so let me just add this about the extent to which it is mandatory:

Collaborative storytelling is an essential element of Fate, and if you don't want players contributing to the narrative, you don't want to use the system. The basic mechanics of creating and invoking Aspects are all about player control of the narrative.

However, collaborative worldbuilding, while a very cool thing (IMHO), is absolutely optional. It is entirely workable to to use the Fate system with a GM-defined world and plot.

A demonstrative anecdote: I currently run a Fate Core campaign. For it, I have come up with (or borrowed from source material) most of the details of the setting and the major NPCs. I also sketched out the general course of the plot, including PC goals, places to go, and NPCs/combats to encounter for each adventure, entirely without player input. The plot is, deliberately, concealed from the players initially, so that they can enjoy discovering it. I don't know that this quite qualifies as 'fully in control of the story' - the players still regularly introduce narrative elements, either simply by making suggestions, or via their skills, but in so doing they follow the general plotline that I've worked out in advance. I can't promise that this would work for any group of players, but it seems to work well for mine.


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