2014-12-08 FATE for classic D&D players

Today I posted a comment to a question by Andy Bartlett on Google+ trying to give a concise explanation of Fate for old school D&D players.

“From a classic D&D perspective, skills are just that. Aspects are what grant you a reroll or a +2 if you already rolled well. You need to spend a fate point to do that, and to gain them, you need to get your character into trouble after a while (the ideal number of free fate points varies with number of players and hours per session). Stunts are even more extra stuff you can do with your skills. What’s not D&D about it is 1. Rerolls for fate points and 2. You can make changes mechanically relevant without the GM having to think too much using aspects (creating them, taking advantage of them). If you like a deadly D&D game, this is a bad fit because players will be rerolling a lot. The trade off which you need to appreciate is players enjoying the adding of aspects, the tagging of aspects (of the scene, the location, maneuvers, each other) and the getting into trouble in order to get more fate points.”

Wow, the conversation just kept on flowing. Remember my this older post of mine explaining why I don't like Bennies. Also, if you have never played Fate before, I strongly recommend you start with a different version of Fate. Right now I only know of some German variants. My own Mesopotamian rules are just six pages! A bit of googling led me to this shorter version of the rules. Back in the days I felt that Diaspora was the best variant. These days I’m not sure. Perhaps Fate Core? Check out the Fate Core download section. It’s much too long, but perhaps less confusing compared to Spirit of the Century. I got started with Spirit of the Century, so it’s not impossible, but I remember being totally confused after a first reading!

Diaspora is serious, but the rules are well explained. I would definitely use Spirit of the Century for a family game! I remember running my first Fate game, a 3h one shot, that ended with the characters discovering the Imperial AT AT Walker in possession of the Nazis. You know the famous image

As for offering complications: I usually made this very personal. The party succeeds in freeing the prisoner, no problem. I’m not going to intervene and complicate a success. But if Princess Mei is challenged by one of the sleazy guards who notices her and says “Hey sveet hart, luking foar som kompany!?” I’m definitely aiming for an aspect on the character sheet that says I hate those foreigners! And if the player doesn’t react as I expect them to react, I’ll hold up a token and say “This token here says you can’t pass this fist of opportunity. Take it and fight!” And then the table pauses as the player looks at the token, looks at their stack, considers their options…

As for declarations: I guess it depends on what the game is about. Using the example of a broken ballista on a ship being chased by pirates: Is the game about “resource management” and being ill equipped and on the run from pirates? In that case, I might declare that we’re going to do a race to a safe haven using opposed Sailing checks and the first party to reach five successes wins. If the players win, the safe haven is reached. If the pirates win, it’s going to be mano-a-mano on deck and there’s more of them than there’s of you! Now the players know that they need to have five successes and hopefully they are already low on FATE points. I’d argue that I want to see all the player characters make a test and when it comes to the character with low Sailing but high Fighting skill, the player might say: “I’m going to use the ballista instead and use my Fighting skill to tear a large hole into their sail!” Hm… this is not what we agreed to do, but OK – “The ballista is broken. Gimme a FATE point and you’ll find the necessary equipment to fix it. If you make it, any player character will be able to make a Fighting check instead of a Sailing check.”

Also, I’m laughing at myself, telling people how I run Fate games, even though I don’t like it anymore! Haha. :)

One of things that turned me off in the long run must have been the issue I already mentioned, Fate points resulting in rerolls, cheapening the rolls. Another thing was that no matter what happened, it all came down to the same old rolls, the same old aspects. If you’re going to run for a few sessions, I’d make the following recommendations (without having tested them myself):

  1. let players change skills and aspects after every session (important if your sessions are short and an adventure takes multiple sessions)
  2. think of some mini-games to change conflict structures (Diaspora has mini-games and they are well explained)
  3. know when to skill rolling and use your old-school DM instincts :)



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