Running The Game

What You Do

If you’re the gamemaster, then your job is a little different from everyone else’s. This chapter is going to give you a bunch of tools to make that job easier during play.

We already talked a little bit about the GM’s job in The Basics, but let’s take a more detailed look at your unique responsibilities.

Start And End Scenes

One of your primary responsibilities during the game is to decide definitively when a scene begins and ends. This might not seem like that big a deal, but it is, because it means that you’re the person primarily responsible for the pacing of each session. If you start scenes too early, it takes a long time to get to the main action. If you don’t end them soon enough, then they drag on and it takes you a long time to get anything significant done.

The players will sometimes help you with this, if they’re keen on getting to the next bit of action, but sometimes they’ll naturally be inclined to spend too much time bantering in character or focusing on minutiae. When that happens, it’s your job to step in like a good movie editor and say, “I think we’ve pretty much milked this scene for all it’s worth. What do we want to do next?”

We have more advice on starting and ending scenes in the next chapter, Scenes, Sessions, and Scenarios.

Drama Is Better Than Realism

In Fate, don’t get too bogged down trying to maintain absolute consistency in the world or adhere to a draconian sense of realism. The game operates by the rules of drama and fiction; use that to your advantage. There should be very few moments in the game where the PCs are free of conflicts or problems to deal with, even if it’d be more “realistic” for them to get a long breather.

When you’re trying to decide what happens, and the answer that makes the most sense is also kind of boring, go with something that’s more exciting than sensible! You can always find a way later on to justify something that doesn’t make immediate sense.

Play The World And The NPCs

As the gamemaster, it’s your job to decide how everyone and everything else in the world responds to what the PCs do, as well as what the PCs’ environment is like. If a PC botches a roll, you’re the one who gets to decide the consequences. When an NPC attempts to assassinate a PC’s friend, you’re the one who gets to decide how they go about it. When the PCs stroll up to a food vendor in a market, you get to decide what kind of day the vendor is having, what kind of personality he or she has, what’s on sale that day. You determine the weather when the PCs pull up to that dark cave.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do this in a vacuum—you have a lot of tools to help you decide what would be appropriate. The process we outline in Game Creation should provide you with a lot of context about the game you’re running, whether that’s in the form of aspects like current and impending issues, specific locations that you might visit, or NPCs with strong agendas that you can use.

The PCs’ aspects also help you decide how to make the world respond to them. As stated in the Aspects and Fate Points chapter, the best aspects have a double edge to them. You have a lot of power to exploit that double edge by using event-based compels. That way, you kill two birds with one stone—you add detail and surprise to your game world, but you also keep the PCs at the center of the story you’re telling.

This facet of your job also means that when you have NPCs in a scene, you speak for and make decisions for them like the players do for their PCs—you decide when they’re taking an action that requires dice, and you follow the same rules the players do for determining how that turns out. Your NPCs are going to be a little different than the PCs, however, depending on how important they are to the story.

Let The Players Help You

You don’t have to shoulder the whole burden of making up world details yourself. Remember, the more collaborative you get, the more emotional investment the players are going to have in the result, because they shared in its creation.

If a character has an aspect that connects them to someone or something in the world, make that player your resident “expert” on whatever the aspect refers to. So if someone has Scars from the Great War, poll that player for information whenever the Great War comes up in conversation. “You notice that this sergeant is wearing a veteran’s mark, which is a rare decoration from the War. What hardcore crap do you have to do to get one of those? Do you have one?” Some players will defer back to you, and that’s fine, but it’s important that you keep making the offer so as to foster a collaborative atmosphere.

Also, one of the main uses of the create an advantage action is precisely to give players a way to add details to the world through their characters. Use that to your advantage when you draw a blank or simply want to delegate more control. One good way to do this during play is to answer the player’s question with a question, if they ask for information.

Ryan: “Is there a way to disrupt this magical construct without killing the subjects trapped in it?”

Amanda: “Well, you know that it’s using their life force to power itself. If there were a way to do that, what do you think it’d look like? I mean, you’re the expert wizard, you tell me.”

Ryan: “Hm... I think there’d be some kind of counter-incantation, like a failsafe mechanism in case things go horribly wrong.”

Amanda: "Yeah, that sounds good. Roll Lore to see if that's there."

Judge the Use of the Rules It’s also your job to make most of the moment-to-moment decisions about what’s legit and what’s not regarding the rules. Most often, you’re going to decide when something in the game deserves a roll, what type of action that is (overcome, attack, etc.) and how difficult that roll is. In conflicts, this can get a little more complicated, like determining if a situation aspect should force someone to make an overcome action, or deciding whether or not a player can justify a particular advantage they’re trying to create.

You also judge the appropriateness of any invocations or compels that come up during play, like we talked about in the Aspects and Fate Points chapter, and make sure that everyone at the table is clear on what’s going on. With invocations, this is pretty easy—as long as the player can explain why the aspect is relevant, you’re good to go. With compels, it can get a little more complicated, because you need to articulate precisely what complication the player is agreeing to.

We provide some more tips on judging the use of rules below.

You're The Chairman Not God

Approach your position as arbiter of the rules by thinking of yourself as “first among equals” in a committee, rather than as an absolute authority. If there’s a disagreement on the use of the rules, try encouraging a brief discussion and let everyone talk freely, rather than making a unilateral decision. A lot of times, you’ll find that the group is self-policing—if someone tries to throw out a compel that’s a real stretch, it’s just as likely that another player will bring it up before you do.

Your job is really to have the “last word” on any rules-related subject, rather than to dictate from your chair. Keep that in mind.

Create Scenarios And Nearly Everything Else

Finally, you’re responsible for making all of the stuff that the PCs encounter and react to in the game. That not only includes NPCs with skills and aspects, but it also includes the aspects on scenes, environments, and objects, as well as the dilemmas and challenges that make up a scenario of Fate. You provide the prompts that give your group a reason to play this game to begin with—what problems they face, what issues they have to resolve, whom they’re opposing, and what they’ll have to go through in order to win the day.

This job gets a whole chapter all on its own. See Scenes, Sessions, and Scenarios.

What To Do During Game Creation

As outlined in Game Creation, inventing or deciding on a setting is often a collaborative effort between you and your players. In that sense, the best thing you can do as GM during the game-creation process is to be open to new ideas and be generous with your own, just like everyone else. Play off of and expand upon the suggestions that the others offer up. Your players will be more invested in the game if they feel like they’ve had a hand in building it.

Of course, if everyone’s amenable, there’s nothing stopping you from showing up with a clear vision of exactly what you want to run. “Okay, this is going to be a game about the Cold War in the ‘60s, except it’s all steampunk and mechs. Go!” Just make sure everyone’s on board if you go that route. Even one player who isn’t into it, and doesn’t really feel inclined to get into it, can really affect the game.

Out There VS Down Here

Speaking of steampunk mechs in a ‘60s-era Soviet Union, it’s a good idea to consider just how “out there” you want to get. High-concept ideas are a lot of fun, but if they’re too difficult to relate to then your players may have trouble wrapping their heads around the game you’re proposing. Where that line is exactly will vary from group to group (and player to player), so there’s no definitive answer here. Just be aware that every departure from the familiar—whether that’s the real world or well-established genre conventions—has the potential to be a conceptual hurdle for your players. Get everyone on the same page and make sure to go over any questions in advance.

The opposite approach is to set the game down here, in the real world, with perhaps only one or two notable departures with greater ramifications that you can explore as you go. The easiest way to communicate a setting like this is to name a time and place you’re all familiar with, then tack on the exception. For example, “It’s like modern-day London, but robots are commonplace” or “It’s post-World War II Los Angeles, but some returning veterans have supernatural powers.”

Top Down VS Bottom Up

There’s also the matter of how broad the scope of the game will be. Some like to start with the big picture first and drill down to the details, while others prefer to start with the here and now and develop the big picture as they go. These are often called “top down” and “bottom up,” respectively. Neither one’s better than the other, but each has its pros and cons.

With the top-down approach, you’ll determine most of the setting in advance—stuff like who the movers and shakers are, the locations of important cities, the nature of important organizations, and so on. This has the advantage of providing a clear sense of how the world fits together. For example, if you’ve decided that the Kingdom of Talua is in a perpetual state of conflict between five powerful Houses vying for control, then you know right away that anyone of note in the kingdom is likely to come from one of those Houses—and if they aren’t, it’ll have to be for a very good reason.

The downside, of course, is that unless you’re working from a pre-existing setting from a movie, TV show, book, video game, or whatever, it’s usually a lot of work on the front end. It also requires the players to show up with a pretty thorough understanding of it all, which can be daunting. But if everyone’s up to speed, it can make for a very enjoyable and rewarding game.

If you’re going bottom-up, though, you’ll start with whatever’s immediately important to the PCs. That might be anything from a few notable NPCs in their hometown to the name of the guy who works in the next cubicle over. Then the group figures out the details as the story goes along. There’s no need to have an idea of how things fit into the world, because everyone will make that up as you go. The world just spirals out from whatever you start with.

The potential downside here is that it requires quite a bit of improvisation and thinking on your feet. That goes for everyone at the table, GM and players alike. For you, the GM, that might not be such a big deal—running a game almost always involves a degree of flying by the seat of one’s pants—but not all players are going to be ready for that sort of responsibility. In addition, if your players like to immerse themselves in their characters and see the game world through their eyes, they may find it jarring to occasionally break from that perspective to, say, invent a name on the spot for the enchanted axe they just found or tell you what happened to the last Shadow Director of the CIA.

Fate can handle either, but the system’s support for player-driven contributions to the narrative in the form of aspects and story details really makes the bottom-up method sing. If that’s the way you like to play anyway, great! If not, no pressure—but give it a try sometime.

Small Scale VS Large Scale

There’s already been some discussion of game scale in Game Creation, but it’s worth a little more discussion.

As laid out in that chapter, small-scale stories concern events closely connected to the PCs, and probably within a very limited geographical area. Large-scale games are the opposite: epic tales spanning nations, planets, or galaxies with world(s)-shaking consequences. Both types of stories can be a lot of fun—winning the title of Grand Emperor of the Galactic Reach can be just as rewarding as winning the hand of the prettiest girl in the village.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking the two are mutually exclusive. Here are a couple ways to combine them.

  • Start Small and Grow: This is the classic zero-to-hero story in which an unassuming individual with no pretensions to glory is suddenly swept up in events beyond the scope of his experience. Consider Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: A New Hope. He starts off a nobody moisture farmer, racing T-16s and getting up to the odd bit of mischief at Tosche Station. Then a pair of droids come into his life and inject a little mystery: Who’s this Obi-Wan Kenobi? Before he knows it, he’s consorting with smugglers, rescuing a princess, and striking a blow for the Rebellion. It’s a classic case of starting small-scale and expanding into a large-scale story.
  • Peaks and Valleys: Here, you’re alternating the large-scale with the small, using the latter almost as something of a breather. Typically, the large-scale storylines will deal with matters of state, the conquering of planets, the banishing of unthinkable Beings From Beyond, and the like, while the small-scale storylines will be of a more personal nature, with few if any connections to the earth-shaking events transpiring in the characters’ lives. For example, you might spend a session or two tussling with that Grand Emperor, then change focus to a character reconnecting with her father or coming to the aid of a friend in need. The small-scale sessions serve as something of a breather between all that epic action, and give the players a chance to delve into some unexplored corners of their characters. Plus, if you want to connect the small- and large-scale stories down the line, you can—and the payoff will be all the more satisfying for the players.

Extras Do You Need Them

Does your setting require things like superpowers, magic, high-tech gadgetry, or something else that falls outside the confines of the mundane? Either way, you’re going to want to figure that out now, before play begins. See the Extras chapter for more on what extras are and how you can make use of them in your game.

What To Do During Play

Now that you’ve gone through the process of game creation with the players, let’s take a detailed look at how to approach your various jobs during a session of play.

The Golden Rule

Before we go into specifics, here’s our general Golden Rule of Fate:

Decide what you’re trying to accomplish first, then consult the rules to help you do it. This might seem like common sense, but we call it out because the order is important. In other words, don’t look at the rules as a straitjacket or a hard limit on an action. Instead, use them as a variety of potential tools to model whatever you’re trying to do. Your intent, whatever it is, always takes precedence over the mechanics.

Most of the time, the very definition of an action makes this easy—any time your intent is to harm someone, you know that’s an attack. Any time you’re trying to avoid harm, you know that’s a defense.

But sometimes, you’re going to get into situations where it’s not immediately clear what type of action is the most appropriate. As a GM, don’t respond to these situations by forbidding the action. Instead, try to nail down a specific intent, in order to point more clearly to one (or more) of the basic game actions.

The Silver Rule

The corollary to the Golden Rule is as follows: Never let the rules get in the way of what makes narrative sense. If you or the players narrate something in the game and it makes sense to apply a certain rule outside of the normal circumstances where you would do so, go ahead and do it.

The most common example of this has to do with consequences. The rules say that by default, a consequence is something a player chooses to take after getting hit by an attack in a conflict.

But say you’re in a scene where a player decides that, as part of trying to intimidate his way past someone, his PC is going to punch through a glass-top table with a bare fist.

Everyone likes the idea and thinks it’s cool, so no one’s interested in what happens if the PC fails the roll. However, everyone agrees that it also makes sense that the PC would injure his hand in the process (which is part of what makes it intimidating).

It’s totally fine to assign a mild consequence of Glass in My Hand in that case, because it fits with the narration, even though there’s no conflict and nothing technically attacked the PC.

As with the Golden Rule, make sure everyone’s on the same page before you do stuff like this.

Due to a failure on a previous roll, Cynere has accidentally set off a deadly magical trap while in pursuit of the Idol of Karlon-Kar, an ancient god of destruction. Amanda describes the hall as continually filled with fiery bolts of death, seemingly in a random configuration, with the pedestal holding the idol located on the far end of the hall from where Cynere’s currently standing.

Lily says, “Well, there’s nothing for it. I’m going after the idol. I take off down the hall, keeping my eye out for fiery death bolts.”

Amanda thinks, because she knows that dice are going to have to come out on this. If Cynere is moving through the hall, it looks most like an overcome action to do the movement. But with the fiery death bolts in the room, it seems more like Lily would need to defend herself. There are also two ways she could handle the trap—it’s technically just passive opposition against Lily to prevent her passing through the room safely, but because it can do damage, it seems more like an attack.

So Amanda asks, “Lily, we need to go to dice, but what exactly do you want to accomplish here? Are you mainly trying to make sure you don’t get hit, or are you blasting through the hall to get to the idol?”

Lily doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, the idol, for sure.”

Amanda asks, “So you’re willing to take damage in the process?”

Lily says, “Yeah. Throwing myself into danger as usual.”

Amanda says, “Okay, so we can do it in one roll. Here’s how we’ll handle it. You roll Athletics against Fantastic (+6) opposition. If you make it, you’re through the trap and don’t take any harm. If you don’t make it, you’re stuck in the hallway and will have to try again to make it all the way through. We’re also going to treat that failure like a failed defense roll, so you’re going to take a hit as well. Because of all the fiery death and whatnot.”

Lily winces, but nods and gathers up her dice.

In this example, Amanda combined effects from overcome and defend to determine what happens to Cynere. This is totally okay, because it fits their intent and it makes sense given the situation they described. She might have decided to do both rolls separately, and that would have been fine too—she just wanted to get it all into one roll.

If you’re ever in doubt during play, come back to the Golden Rule and remember that you have the flexibility to do the same kind of thing as you need to. Just make sure that when you do this, you and the players are on the same page.

When To Roll Dice

Roll the dice when succeeding or failing at the action could each contribute something interesting to the game.

This is pretty easy to figure out in regards to success, most of the time—the PCs overcome a significant obstacle, win a conflict, or succeed at a goal, which creates fodder for the next thing. With failure, however, it’s a little more difficult, because it’s easy to look at failure in strictly negative terms—you fail, you lose, you don’t get what you want. If there’s nothing to build on after that failure, play can grind to a halt in a hurry.

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.

If you can’t imagine an interesting outcome from both results, then don’t call for that roll. If failure is the uninteresting option, just give the PCs what they want and call for a roll later, when you can think of an interesting failure. If success is the boring option, then see if you can turn your idea for failure into a compel instead, using that moment as an opportunity to funnel fate points to the players.

Situation Aspects Are Your Friend

When you’re trying to figure out if there’s a good reason to ask the PCs to make an overcome roll, look at the aspects on your scene. If the existence of the aspect suggests some trouble or problem for the PC, call for an overcome roll. If not, and you can’t think of an interesting consequence for failure, don’t bother.

For example, if a character is trying to sprint quickly across a room, and you have a situation aspect like Cluttered Floors, it makes sense to ask for a roll before they can move. If there is no such aspect, just let them make the move and get on to something more interesting.

Making Failure Awesome

If the PCs fail a roll in the game and you’re not sure how to make that interesting, try one of the following ideas.

Blame The Circumstances

The PCs are extremely competent people (remember, that’s one of the things Fate is about). They aren’t supposed to look like fools on a regular or even semi-regular basis. Sometimes, all it takes is the right description to make failure into something dynamic—instead of narrating that the PC just borked things up, blame the failure on something that the PC couldn’t have prevented. There’s a secondary mechanism on that lock that initially looked simple (Burglary), or the contact broke his promise to show up on time (Contacts), or the ancient tome is too withered to read (Lore), or a sudden seismic shift throws off your run (Athletics).

That way, the PCs still look competent and awesome, even though they don’t get what they want. More importantly, shifting the blame to the circumstances gives you an opportunity to suggest a new course of action, which allows the failure to create forward momentum in your story. The contact didn’t make his appointment? Where is he? Who was following him to the rendezvous? The ancient tome is withered? Maybe someone can restore it. That way, you don’t spend time dwelling on the failure and can move on to something new.

Succeed At A Cost

You can also offer to give the PCs what they want, but at a price—in this case, the failed roll means they weren’t able to achieve their goals without consequence.

A minor cost should complicate the PC’s life. Like the above suggestion, this focuses on using failure as a means to change up the situation a bit, rather than just negating whatever the PC wanted. Some suggestions:

  • Foreshadow some imminent peril. “The lock opens with a soft click, but the same can’t be said for the vault door. If they didn’t know you were here before, they sure do now.”
  • Introduce a new wrinkle. “Yes, the Guildmaster is able to put you in touch with a mage who can translate the withered tome—a guy named Berthold. You know him, actually, but the last time you saw him was years ago, when he caught you with his wife.”
  • Present the player with a tough choice. “You brace the collapsing ceiling long enough for two of the others to get through safely, but not the rest. Who’s it going to be?”
  • Place an aspect on the PC or the scene. “Somehow you manage to land on your feet, but with a Twisted Ankle as a souvenir.”
  • Give an NPC a boost. “Nikolai surprises you a bit by agreeing to your offer, but he does so with a wry smile that makes you uneasy. Clearly, Nikolai Has A Plan.” Check one of the PC’s stress boxes. Careful with this one—it’s only a real cost if the PC’s likely to take more hits in the same scene. If you don’t think that’s going to happen, go with another choice.

A serious cost does more than complicate the PC’s life or promise something worse to come—it takes a serious and possibly irrevocable toll, right now.

One way you can do this is by taking a minor cost to the next level. Instead of suspecting that a guard heard them open the vault, a few guards burst in the room, weapons drawn. Instead of being merely cut off from their allies by a collapsing ceiling, one or more of those allies ends up buried in the debris. Instead of merely having to face an awkward situation with Berthold, he’s still angry and out for their blood.

Other options could include:

  • Reinforce the opposition. You might clear one of an NPC’s stress boxes, improve one of their skills by one step for the scene, or give them a new aspect with a free invocation.
  • Bring in new opposition or a new obstacle, such as additional enemies or a situation aspect that worsens the situation.
  • Delay success. The task at hand will take much longer than expected.
  • Give the PC a consequence that follows logically from the circumstances—mild if they have one available, moderate if they don’t.

If you’re stuck for just how serious a serious cost should be, you may want to use the margin of failure as a gauge. For instance, in the vault-opening example, above—the one where the guards hear the PC and burst in the room—if the player failed their Burglary roll by 1 or 2, the PCs outnumber the guards. Not a tough fight, but a fight nonetheless. If they failed it by 3 to 5, it’s an even match, one that’s likely to use up resources like fate points or consequences. But if they failed by 6 or more, they’re outnumbered and in real danger.

Let The Player Do The Work

You can also kick the question back to the players, and let them decide what the context of their own failure is. This is a great move to foster a collaborative spirit, and some players will be surprisingly eager to hose their own characters in order to further the story, especially if it means they can keep control of their own portrayal.

It’s also a great thing to do if you just plain can’t think of anything. “Okay, so, you failed that Burglary roll by 2. So you’re working the lock, and something goes wrong. What is it?” “You missed that Alertness roll. What don’t you notice as you’re sneaking up to the queen’s chambers?” It’s better if the question is specific, like those examples—just saying, “Okay, tell me how you fail!” can easily stall things by putting a player on the spot unnecessarily. You want to let the player do the work, not make them.

Setting Difficulties

When you’re setting passive opposition for an action, keep in mind the difficulty “break points” that we mentioned in Actions and Outcomes—anything that’s two or more steps above the PC’s skill is probably going to cost them fate points, and anything that’s two or more below the PC’s skill will be a breeze.

Rather than “modeling the world” or going for “realism,” try setting difficulties according to dramatic necessity—things should generally be more challenging when the stakes are high and less challenging when they aren’t.

(Functionally, this is the same as setting a consistent difficulty and assessing a circumstantial penalty to the roll to reflect rushing the task or some other unfavorable condition. But psychologically, the difference between a high difficulty and a lower difficulty with a penalty is vast and shouldn’t be underestimated. A player facing a higher difficulty will often feel like they’re being properly challenged, while that same player facing a large penalty, likely chosen at the GM’s discretion, will often feel discouraged by it.)

Setting a difficulty low is mainly about showcasing a PC’s awesomeness, letting them shine in a particular moment and reminding us why this character is in the spotlight. You can also set lower difficulties during periods when you know the PCs are low on fate points, giving them the chance to take compels in order to get more. You should also set lower difficulties on anything that’s in the way of the PC’s getting to the main action of a scene—you don’t want them to get stalled at the evil overlord’s drawbridge if the point of the scene is confronting the evil overlord!

Finally, some actions should take lower difficulties by default, especially if no one’s contesting or resisting them. Unopposed efforts to create advantages in a conflict should never be harder than Average (+1) or Fair (+2), and neither should attempts to put an aspect on an object or location. Remember that opposition doesn’t have to always take the form of an NPC getting in the way—if the evil mastermind has hidden the evidence in his office away from prying eyes, you might consider that a form of opposition, even though the mastermind might not be physically present.

If the PCs are overflowing in fate points, or it’s a crucial moment in the story when someone’s life is on the line, or the fate of many is at stake, or they’re finally going against foes that they’ve been building up to for a scenario or two, feel free to raise difficulties across the board. You should also raise difficulties to indicate when a particular opponent is extremely prepared for the PCs, or to reflect situations that aren’t ideal—if the PC’s are not prepared, or don’t have the right tools for the job, or are in a time crunch, etc.

Setting the difficulty right at the PC’s skill level is, as you might imagine, sort of a middle ground between these two extremes. Do this when you want some tension without turning things up to 11, or when the odds are slightly in the PC’s favor but you want a tangible element of risk.

Important Justify Your Choices

Your only other constraint in setting difficulties goes back to the Silver Rule above—you need to make sure that your choices make sense in the context of the narrative you’re creating. While we don’t want you to get crazy with trying to model the world too much and thus box yourself into a useless set of constraints (“Locks in the village of Glenwood are generally of Good quality, due to their proximity to a rich iron mine.”), don’t look at this purely as a numbers game either. If the only reason for setting a difficulty at Superb (+5) is because it’s two higher than the PC’s skill level and you want to bleed his fate points off, you strain credibility.

In that sense, you can look at setting difficulties as being a lot like invoking aspects—there needs to be a good reason that backs up your choice in the story. It’s totally okay if that justification is something you’re about to make up, rather than something you know beforehand. Situation aspects are a great tool for this—if the players already know that the cave they’re in is Pitch Black and Cramped as Hell, it’s easy to justify why it’s so hard to stay quiet as they Stealth through the tunnels. No one will bat an eye at you looking at the relevant situation aspects and giving a +2 to the opposition for each one, because it mirrors the invoke bonus they get.

Either way, don’t skip the justification part—either let the players know what it is immediately when you tell them the difficulty, or shrug mysteriously and then let them find out soon thereafter (as in, the time it takes to think it up).

You might also try using “out of place” difficulties to indicate the presence of unanswered questions during the game—for some odd reason, the stable you’re trying to break into has an Epic (+7) lock on the door. What could be so important in there that you don’t know about?

Or maybe you’re trying to finish the famed initiation test of the scholastic Amethyst Order, and the test is only a Fair (+2) Lore roll—what’s the deal? Are they going easy on you? Is your appointment a political necessity? Who pulled the strings on that? Or is it just that the reputation of the Order’s scholars is a fabrication?

Dealing With Extraordinary Success

Sometimes, a PC is going to roll far in excess of the difficulty, getting a lot of shifts on the roll. Some of the basic actions already have a built-in effect for rolling really well, like hitting harder on a good attack roll.

For others, it’s not so clear. What’s happens when you get a lot of shifts on a Crafts roll or an Investigate roll? You want to make sure those results have some kind of meaning and reflect how competent the PC’s are.

Here are a few choice options.

  • Go Gonzo with the Narration: It might seem superfluous, but it’s important to celebrate a great roll with a suitable narration of over the top success. This is a great time to take the suggestions above for Making Failure Awesome and applying them here. Let the success affect something else, in addition to what the PC was going for, and bring the player into the process of selling it by prompting them to make up cool details. “Three extra shifts on that Burglary roll—tell me, is anyone ever going to be able to lock that crypt again?” “So you got five shifts on that Contacts roll—tell me, where does Nicky the Fink usually go when he’s running out on his wife, and what do you say when you find him there?”
  • Add an Aspect: You can express additional effects of a good roll by placing an aspect on the PC or on the scene, essentially letting them create an advantage for free. “So your Resources roll to bribe the guard succeeded with four shifts. She’ll let you through the gate all right, and she’ll also act as Available Backup if you should need some help later.”
  • Reducing Time: If it’s important to get something done fast, then you can use extra shifts to decrease the time that it takes to do an action.

Dealing With Time

We recognize two kinds of time in Fate: game time and story time.

Game Time

Game time is how we organize play in terms of the real players sitting at the table. Each unit of game time corresponds to a certain amount of real time. They are:

  • Exchange: The amount of time it takes all participants in a conflict to take a turn, which includes doing an action and responding to any action taken against them. This usually doesn’t take longer than a few minutes.
  • Scene: The amount of time it takes to resolve a conflict, deal with a single prominent situation, or accomplish a goal. Scenes vary in length, from a minute or two if it’s just a quick description and some dialogue, to a half hour or more in the case of a major setpiece battle against a main NPC.
  • Session: The sum total of all the scenes you run through in a single sitting. A session ends when you and your friends pack it up for the night and go home. For most people, a session is about 2 to 4 hours, but there is no theoretical limit—if you have few obligations, then you’re only really limited by the need for food and sleep. A minor milestone usually occurs after a session.
  • Scenario: One or more sessions of play, but usually no more than four. Most of the time, the sessions that make up a scenario will definitively resolve some kind of problem or dilemma presented by the GM, or wrap up a storyline (see Scenes, Sessions, and Scenarios for more on scenarios). A significant milestone usually occurs at the end of a scenario. You can look at this like an episode of a television show—the number of sessions it takes to tell one story.
  • Arc: Several scenarios, usually between two and four. An arc typically culminates in an event that brings great change to the game world, building up from the resolution of the scenarios. You can look at an arc like a season of a television show, where individual episodes lead to a tumultuous climax. You’re not always guaranteed to have a recognizable arc, just like not all TV shows have a plotline that carries through the whole season—it’s possible to bounce from situation to situation without having a defined plot structure. Major milestones usually happen at the end of an arc.
  • Campaign: The sum of all the time you’ve sat at a table playing this particular game of Fate—every session, every scenario, every arc. Technically, there’s no upper limit to how long a campaign can be. Some groups go for years; others get to the end of an arc and then stop. We presume that a typical group will go for a few arcs (or about ten scenarios) before having a grand finale and moving on to another game (hopefully another Fate game!). You might set up your campaign as a kind of “super-arc,” where there’s one massive conflict that everything else is a smaller part of, or it might simply consist of the smaller individual stories that you tell in your scenarios.

Story Time

Story time is what we call the time as the characters perceive it, from the perspective of being “in the story”—the amount of time it takes for them to accomplish any of the stuff you and the players say that they do during play. Most of the time, you’ll do this as an afterthought, mentioning it in passing (“Okay, so it takes you an hour to get to the airport by cab”) or mentioning it as part of a skill roll (“Cool, so after 20 minutes of sweeping the room, you find the following…”).

Under most circumstances, story time has no actual relation to real time.For example, a combat exchange might take a few minutes to play out in real time, but it only covers what happens in the first few seconds of a conflict. Likewise, you can cover long swaths of time simply by saying that it happens (“The contact takes two weeks to get back to you—are you doing anything while you wait, or can we just skip to the meeting?”). When used this way, it’s really just a convenience, a narrative device in order to add verisimilitude and some consistency to your story.

Sometimes, though, you can use story time in creative ways to create tension and surprise during the game. Here’s how.

Deadline Pressure

Nothing creates tension like a good deadline. The heroes only have a certain number of minutes to disable the death trap, or a certain amount of time to get across the city before something blows up, or a certain amount of time to deliver the ransom before loved ones get aced by the bad guys, and so on.

Some of the game’s default actions are made to take advantage of deadline pressure, such as challenges or contests—they each limit the number of rolls that a player can make before something happens, for better or for worse.

You don’t have to limit yourself to using just those two, though. If you set a hard deadline for something bad in one of your scenarios, you can start keeping track of the amount of time everything takes, and use it as a way to keep the pressure on. (“Oh, so you want to browse all the town’s historical archives? Well, you have three days until the ritual—I can give you a Lore roll, but just the attempt is probably going to eat up one of those days.”) Remember, nearly everything takes time. Even a basic attempt to create an advantage using Empathy requires you to sit with the target for a little while, and if every action the PCs are taking is chipping away at a clock, it may be time they don’t have.

Of course, it’d be no fun if there was nothing they could do to improve a deadline situation, and it’d be no fun if the crawl toward the deadline was predictable.

Using Story Time In Success And Failure

Therefore, when you’re using story time to create deadline pressure, feel free to incorporate unpredictable jumps in time when the PCs do really well or really badly on a roll.

Taking extra time is a great way to make failure awesome as per the guidelines above, especially using the “Success at a Cost” option—give the players exactly what they want, but at the cost of taking more time than they were trying to spend, thus risking that their efforts will come too late. Or it could be the thing that pushes a deadline over the edge—maybe things aren’t completely hopeless, but now there are extra problems to deal with.

Likewise, reward extreme success by reducing the amount of time it takes to do something while the PCs are under deadline. That historical research (Lore) that was going to take a day gets wrapped up in a few hours. While looking for a good merchant (Contacts) to get your supplies, you manage to find another one who can fulfill your order that same day rather than in a week.

If time is a factor, you should also be able to use invocations and compels to manipulate time, to make things easier or more complicated respectively. (“Hey, I’m a Garage Bunny, so fixing this car shouldn’t take me that long, right?” “Oh, you know what? Your sheet says I Can’t Get Enough of the Fun and Games… doesn’t it make sense that if you’re looking for a guy in a casino, it’d be easy to get caught up in distractions? All those machines and stuff…”)

How Much Time Is A Shift Worth

Just like with any other roll, the number of shifts you get (or the amount you fail by) should serve as a barometer for just how severe the time jump is. So, how do you decide just how much to award or penalize?

It really depends on how much time you decide the initial action is going to take. We usually express time in two parts: a specific or abstract measure of quantity, then a unit of time, such as “a few days,” “twenty seconds,” “three weeks,” and so on.

We recommend you measure in the abstract and express all the game actions as half, one, a few, or several of a given unit of time. So if you imagine something taking six hours, think of it as “several hours.” If you imagine something taking twenty minutes, you can either call that “several minutes” or round up to “half an hour”, whichever feels closest.

This gives you a starting point for moving up and down. Each shift is worth one jump from wherever your starting point is. So if your starting point is “several hours,” and it benefits the PCs to speed things up, then it works like this: one shift jumps the time down to “a few hours,” two shifts down to “one hour,” and three shifts down to “a half hour.”

Going past either end of the spectrum moves you down to several increments of the next unit of time or up to half the next unit of time, depending on which direction you’re going. So four shifts on the aforementioned roll might jump you from “several hours” to “several minutes.” Failing by one, conversely, might jump you from “several hours” to “half a day.”

This allows you to quickly deal with time jumps no matter where you’re starting from, whether the actions you have in mind are going to take moments or generations

Story Time And The Scope Of An Action

It’s easy to think of most actions that a PC takes being limited to anything that the character can directly affect, and working on a “person-to-person” scope. And most of the time, that’s going to be precisely the case—after all, Fate is a game about individual competence shining in the face of dramatic adversity.

However, consider for a moment what a PC might do with that competence and all the time in the world to accomplish a particular action. Imagine a month-long Rapport roll for a negotiation, where the PC gets to talk with every delegate in detail, rather than just focusing on a single conference. Imagine a weeks-long Investigate, charting out every detail of a target’s personal routine.

By allowing each roll to represent a long period of time, you can “zoom out” to handle events that reach far beyond the individual player character making the roll, and affect the setting in a big way. That month-long Rapport roll might result in charting a new political course for the country the PC is negotiating for. That Investigate roll might be the start of bringing in one of the most notorious criminals in the setting, one that’s been hounding the PCs for a whole campaign.

This is a great way to make long breaks in story time more interactive, rather than bogging the game down with long narration or trying to retroactively come up with what happened during that time. If the PCs have long-term goals they want to accomplish, see if you can find a way to turn that into a contest, challenge, or conflict that covers the whole break, or just have them make a single skill roll to see if something unexpected happens. If they happen to fail the roll, whatever you invent as a consequence will make good material for the game going forward.

Remember that if you do this with a conflict or a contest, that you scale each exchange appropriately—if a conflict is taking place over the course of a year, then each exchange might be a month or two, and everyone should describe their actions and the results of their actions in that context.

During a major milestone in the campaign, Landon shifted his high concept to Former Ivory Shroud Disciple, as a result of discovering a plot from within their ranks to take over a small kingdom as their own.

Amanda wants to jump the campaign six months forward, and she suggests that if Landon goes on the run, they’re going to try to hunt him down. She sees an opportunity to create material for the next part of the game, so she says, “I think we should find out if Landon starts the next scenario in their clutches or not.”

They decide to do it as a conflict, with each exchange representing one confrontation between Landon and the Shroud’s trackers. It goes badly for him and he concedes, taking a moderate consequence into the next session. Amanda suggests that they want to bring Landon back into the fold rather than hurt or kill him, so Lenny decides to take I Don’t Know What’s Right Anymore, reflecting the seeds of doubt they’re planting in his mind.

When we see Landon again, he’ll be in the clutches of the Ivory Shroud, struggling with his loyalties.

Zoom In Zoom Out

There’s no rule that says you’re required to keep your rolls consistent in terms of story time. One cool trick you can do is use the result of one roll to segue into another roll that takes place over a much smaller period in time, or vice versa. This is a great way to open a new scene, contest, or conflict, or just introduce a change of pace.

During the aforementioned six-month break, Cynere has been researching the demon compatriots of the horrific Arc’yeth, who soul-burned her in the last arc of the campaign. She decides to go it alone, even though Zird offered to help, and ends up rolling her newly acquired Average (+1) Lore to succeed at an overcome roll.

She ends up doing really well, and Amanda describes Cynere getting lost in research for a few months. Then Amanda says, “Awesome. You return home with the dirt of the trail on you, weary to the bone, hands stained with ink, but your search has uncovered the hiding place of Arc’yeth’s right hand in the Circle of Thirteen, a minor demon named Tan’shael (all these apostrophes!). You fall into bed, ready to start the search in the morning... and are wakened in the middle of the night by a crashing sound coming from your study.”

Lily says, “Well, hell, I get up and rush in there, grabbing my sword as I go!”

Amanda says, “Great—you notice that your research notes are gone, and that the window is broken open. You hear footsteps rushing away into the night.”

Lily says, “Oh, hell no. I’m going after him. Her, it, them, whatever.”

Amanda says, “Great! That’s using Athletics, and let’s do a contest and see if you can catch the culprit.” (Notice, GMs, that this is now happening in immediately consecutive time—we went right from rolling for months-long stuff, to rolling for the seconds it takes for Cynere to give chase.)

The contest goes badly for Cynere, and the person gets away. Lily immediately says, “Screw that. Someone in town has to know something, or he left some clue behind, or something. I’m going to roll Investigate.”

Lily rolls and succeeds with style, and Amanda says, “A week later, you’re in the village of Sunloft, outside the Shoeless Horse tavern, where she (it’s a she, by the way) is rumored to be staying. Oh, and you got some shifts, so I’ll just go ahead and tell you her name is Corathia—she dropped it to someone in your hometown while trying to find your place. That’s worth an aspect, I Know Your Name, which you might use to undermine her confidence.”

(GMs, see what happened? One roll jumped a week, but Amanda and Lily are playing it at the table in continuous time.)

Lily says, “I bust the door down and scream her name.”

Amanda says, “Everyone backs away from a lithe woman at the bar, who sneers at them and goes for her sword, bounding off the stool and aiming a whistling cut at your face.”

“It’s on!” Lily says, and goes for dice to defend. (Now it’s a conflict and happening in super zoomed-in time.)

Judging The Use Of Skills And Stunts

By now, you pretty much have all the advice you need to deal with skill and stunt use—the individual descriptions in Skills and Stunts, the action descriptions and examples in Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts, and the advice immediately above about setting difficulties and how to handle success and failure.

The only other major problem you’ll have to worry about is when you run into an “edge case” with a skill—a player wants to use it for an action that seems like a bit of a stretch, or a situation comes up in your game where it makes sense to use a skill for something that’s not normally a part of its description.

When you run into this, talk it over with the group and see what everyone thinks. It’s going to end up one of three ways:

  • It’s too much of a stretch. Consider creating a new skill.
  • It’s not a stretch, and anyone can use the skill that way from now on under the same conditions.
  • It wouldn’t be a stretch if the character had a stunt that allowed it.

A lot of the criteria you’re going to rely on for these conversations will come from the work you and the players did with the skill list at game creation. See Skills and Stunts for advice on figuring out what the limits are for a skill and what the dividing line between a skill and a stunt is.

If you decide that a certain use of a skill needs a stunt, allow the player in question the chance to spend a fate point to temporarily “borrow” that stunt for the current roll if he or she wants. Then, if they want to keep the bonus, they have to spend a point of refresh to buy it (presuming they have any available), or wait for a major milestone to pick it up.

Aspects And Details Discovery Vs Creation

From the player’s point of view, there’s almost no way to know what you’ve made up beforehand and what you’re inventing in the moment, especially if you’re the kind of GM who doesn’t display or consult any notes at the table. Thus, when a player tries to discover something you haven’t made up yet, you can treat it as if they were making a new aspect or story detail. If they succeed, they find what they’re looking for. If they fail, you can use what they were looking for as inspiration to help you come up with the real information.

If you’re really comfortable with improvising, this means that you can come to the table with very little prepared beforehand, and let the players’ reactions and questions build everything for you. You may need to ask some prompting questions first, to narrow down the scope of what information the player’s looking for, but after that, the sky’s the limit.

Zird the Arcane is scouting an ancient ritual site, looking for a good place to work on banishing the curse that’s been placed on the nearby village of Belwitch, the mayor of which is paying him good money for the effort.

Ryan says, “I’m going to spend some time in a local library, researching some history about the site. I’d like to use Lore to create an advantage.”

Amanda thinks for a moment. She didn’t really have anything special planned for the site, because all her energy was focused on detailing the nature of the curse and what would be required to get rid of it, because it’s being maintained by a force more powerful than the PCs currently realize.

“What kind of info are you looking for?” Amanda asks. “Just book report-type details, or...?”

Ryan says, “Well, what I really want to know is if anyone’s used the site for dark or nefarious magic... if this village has a local boogeyman or spook story centered around that site.”

Amanda says, “Oh, cool. Yeah, roll your Lore, opposition is Fair (+2).” Unexpectedly, Ryan rolls a –4 and ends up with a Mediocre (+0), meaning that he failed. Ryan decides not to spend any fate points on the roll.

Wanting to turn the failure into something awesome, she says, “Well, you don’t get an aspect for it, but what you find out is actually the opposite of what you’re looking for—the site has an impeccable reputation as a place of blessed power, and the records you find all talk about healing and harvest rituals that brought great plenty and good fortune to the area.”

Ryan says, “If the site is so powerful, how did the village become cursed?”

Amanda shrugs. “Guess you’ll have to investigate further if you want to find out.”

In her notes, she jots something briefly about the fact that the site is now magically defiled and that the town’s priest is keeping that a secret, changing Ryan’s suggestion a little bit and adding some material for him if he decides to ask around.

Skills And Specific Measurements

Looking over the skill descriptions, you might notice that there are a few places where we give an abstraction for something that in real life depends on precise measurement. Physique and Resources are strong examples—many people who are into strength training have some idea of how much weight they can dead lift, and people spend specific amounts of money from a finite pool when they buy things.

So how much can a character with Great (+4) Physique bench press? How much can a character with Fair (+2) Resources spend before going broke?

The truth is, we have no idea, and we’re reluctant to pursue a specific answer.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, we find that creating minutiae like that detracts from the verisimilitude of the game in play. As soon as you establish a detail like, “Great Physique can dead lift a car for five seconds,” then you’re cutting out a lot of the variability that real life allows. Adrenaline and other factors allow people to reach beyond their normal physical limits or fall short of them—you can’t factor every one of those things in without having it take up a large amount of focus at the table. It becomes a thing for people to discuss and even argue about, rather than participating in the scene.

It’s also boring. If you decide that a Fair (+2) Resources can buy anything that’s 200 gold pieces or less, then you’ve removed a great deal of potential for tension and drama. Suddenly, every time you have a Resources-based problem, it’s going to hinge on the question of whether or not the cost is 200 gold pieces, rather than whatever the point of the scene is. It also turns everything into a simple pass/fail situation, which means you don’t really have a good reason to roll the skill at all. And again, this is not realistic—when people spend money, it’s not about the raw dollar amount as much as it is a question of what someone can presently afford.

Remember, a skill roll is a narrative tool, meant to answer the following question: “Can I solve X problem using Y means, right now?” When you get an unexpected result, use your sense of realism and drama to explain and justify it, using our guidelines above. “Oh, you failed that Resources roll to bribe the guard? Guess you spent just a bit more at the tavern last night than you thought... wait, why is your belt pouch gone? And who’s that shady character walking a little too quickly just past the line of guards? Did he just wink at you? That bastard... now what do you do?”

Dealing With Conflicts And Other Weird Stuff

The most complicated situations you’re going to encounter as a GM will be conflicts, hands down. Conflicts use the most rules in the game and pack them into a small amount of time compared to everything else in the system. They require you to keep track of a lot of things at once—everyone’s relative position, who’s acting against whom, how much stress and what consequences your NPCs have taken, and so on.

They’re also where your movie-watching brain will come to the fore, especially if your game features a lot of high-octane physical conflict. Action sequences you see in media don’t always conform to the structured order of turns that Fate has, so it can be hard to see how they correspond when you’re trying to visualize what happens. Sometimes, people will also want to do crazy actions that you hadn’t thought of when you were conceiving the conflict, leaving you at a loss for how to handle them.

Here are some tools to help you handle things with grace and speed.

Affecting Multiple Targets

Invariably, if you play Fate long enough, someone’s going to try to affect multiple people at once in a conflict. Explosions are a staple of physical conflict, but are by no means the only example—consider tear gas or some kind of high-tech stunner. You can extend this to mental conflict also. For example, you might use Provoke to establish dominance in a room with your presence, or Rapport to make an inspirational speech that affects everyone listening.

The easiest way to do this is to create an advantage on the scene, rather than on a specific target. A Gas-Filled Room has the potential to affect everyone in it, and it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that the Inspirational Mood in a room could be contagious. In this context, the aspect presents an excuse to call for a skill roll (using the overcome action) from anyone in the scene who attempts to get past it. Generally speaking, it won’t cause damage, but it will make things more difficult for those affected.

Landon stalks the battlefield in search of a worthy opponent.

“Who’s the biggest, toughest-looking guy around here?” Lenny asks Amanda.

“That’s easy,” Amanda answers. “You immediately spot a towering 7-foot-tall warrior, clearly not entirely human, armed with an unnecessarily flanged axe and flanked by three underlings. They call him Gorlok the Demon-Blooded.”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Lenny says. “I’m gonna kill him.”

“I like it. His three henchmen move to intercept. They’re not exactly 7-foot-tall half-demons, but they seem to know what they’re doing.”

Lenny sighs. “I don’t have time for these mooks. I want to make it clear to them that they’re not up to this. You know, wave my sword around menacingly and look like even more of a bad-ass. I want these guys to know that this fight is between me and Gorlok.”

“Sounds like you want to put an aspect on the zone. Give me a Provoke roll.”

Lenny rolls a –3, and adds his Fair (+2) Provoke for a total of Poor (–1). He needed a Mediocre (+0), so he’s failed. But Amanda likes the idea of Landon and Gorlok facing off here without anyone else getting in the way, so she decides to give it to him, but at a cost.

“All right,” she says, “what’s it going to be?”

Lenny doesn’t hesitate. He writes down a mild mental consequence: This Guy is Bigger Than I Thought....

“Cool. They look at you, then back to Gorlok. He waves a hand dismissively. ‘Go, find another to kill,’ he growls. ‘This one’s mine.’”

Things get more complicated when you want to filter specific targets, rather than just affect a whole zone or scene. When that happens, divide your resulting total up against every target, who all get to defend as per normal. Anyone who fails to defend either takes stress or gains an aspect, depending on what you were trying to do. (Note: If you create an advantage to put an aspect on multiple targets, you do get a free invocation for each one.)

Zird the Arcane is unleashing fiery death upon his foes in a magical fashion, as is his wont. He has three such foes, charging at him across a battlefield. Zird figures it’s probably Landon’s fault he’s found himself in this circumstance.

Zird’s magic uses his Lore skill, and he does extremely well, getting an Epic (+7) result.

He knows he wants to get one of them pretty good, so he opts to divide his spread up as Superb (+5), Average (+1), and Average (+1). That adds up to +7, which was his roll, so he’s all good. Now Amanda has to defend for all three of them.

The first defender rolls a Mediocre (+0) and takes 5 stress. This is a nameless NPC (see below), so Amanda decides he’s out of the fight, and describes him screaming and batting at flames.

The second defender gets a Fair (+2), beating the attack roll. He charges forward undaunted.

The third defender gets a Mediocre (+0) as well, taking a single point of stress. Amanda checks his lone stress box and describes him sacrificing his shield to deflect the blast.

Attacking a whole zone or everyone in a scene is something you’re going to have to judge by circumstance, like any other stretch use of a skill. Depending on the circumstances of your setting, this might be a totally normal thing to do (for example, because everyone uses grenades and explosives), it might be impossible, or it might require a stunt. As long as you can justify it, you don’t need to apply any special rules—you roll for the attack, and everyone in the zone defends as normal. Depending on the circumstances, you may even have to defend against your own roll, if you’re in the same zone as the attack!

Compels And Multiple Targets

Just a quick note: players who want to compel their way out of a conflict don’t get a free lunch on affecting multiple targets, whether it’s one aspect or several that justify the compel. A player must spend one fate point for each target they wish to compel. One fate point compels one individual, period.

Environmental Hazards

Not every participant in a conflict is another PC or NPC. Plenty of things without self-awareness can potentially threaten PCs or keep them from their goals, whether it’s a natural disaster, a cunning mechanical trap, or high-tech automated security.

So, what do you do when the PCs go up against something that isn’t a character?

Simple: treat it as a character. (This is the Bronze Rule of Fate: You can treat everything like a character. We’re going to get into a lot of different ways to work with that in the Extras chapter, but let’s stay on topic for now.)

Is the hazard something that can harm a PC? Give it a skill and let it make attacks just like an opponent. Is it more of a distraction or harassment than a direct threat? Let it create aspects. Does it have sensors it can use to discover a PC’s aspects? Give it a skill for that. And in return, let the PCs use their skills against the threat just like they would an opponent. An automated security system might be vulnerable to “attacks” from a PC’s Burglary skill, or they might escape a trap by winning an Athletics contest. If it makes sense for the hazard in question to take a good deal of effort to surpass, give it a stress track and let it take a mild consequence or two. In other words, cleave to whatever makes narrative sense—if a fire is too big for a PC to put out, the scene should focus on avoidance or escape, and work like a challenge.

Cynere, Landon, and Zird are exploring the Caverns of Kazak-Thorn, in pursuit of one of the demonic opponents that Cynere’s been so interested in lately. Of course, the demon princess in question doesn’t appreciate being hunted by pesky adventurers and has summoned the powers of darkness to stand between our heroes and herself. So it goes.

They come to the bottom floor of the cave system, only to find it full of wisps of inky darkness, writhing around snakelike and cutting off the light where they whip about. Zird rolls Lore, and Amanda tells him that they are magical hunger spirits—not individual entities so much as pure expressions of hunger, ready to devour anything they touch. He throws a stone into the corridor and watches the tendrils turn it to ash.

“I think I speak for us all when I say ‘Yikes,’” Ryan says.

He asks about banishing the monsters. Amanda shakes her head a touch. “You’re in Asahandra’s place of power, and the whole place is just flooded with those things—it’d take days to dismantle an enchantment this strong. You might, however, be able to use your magic to keep them at bay as you look for Asahandra herself.”

Lily says, “I’m willing to go for it. Let’s do this.”

Amanda decides that even though she could put them into a straight-up conflict, it’d be easier and quicker to deal with it as a challenge. She tells them that to get past the shadow summoning, each of them needs Will to resist the shadows’ potent magical aura and Stealth to move past. Zird can roll Lore to try and thin the herd with magic. In addition, she says that the spirits can provide active opposition against each attempt, and that failing the Will roll will be treated like an attack. The three grit their teeth and start to make their way through the cave....

Dealing With Aspects

As with skills and stunts, the entire Aspects and Fate Points chapter is designed to help you judge the use of aspects in the game. As the GM, you have a very important job in managing the flow of fate points to and from the players, giving them opportunities to spend freely in order to succeed and look awesome, and bringing in potential complications to help keep them stocked up on points.


Because of that, we recommend that you don’t apply extremely exacting standards when the PC wants to invoke an aspect—you want them to spend in order to keep the flow going, and if you’re too stringent on your requirements, it’s going to discourage them from that free spending.

On the other hand, feel free to ask for more clarification if you don’t get what a player is implying, in terms of how the aspect relates to what’s happening in play. Sometimes, what seems obvious to one person isn’t to another, and you shouldn’t let the desire to toss fate points lead to overlooking the narration. If a player is having a hard time justifying the invocation, ask them to elaborate on their action more or unpack their thoughts.

You might also have the problem of players who get lost in the open-ended nature of aspects—they don’t invoke because they aren’t sure if it’s too much of a stretch to apply an aspect in a certain way. The more work you do beforehand making sure that everyone’s clear on what an aspect means, the less you’ll run into this. To get the player talking about invoking aspects, always ask them whether or not they’re satisfied with a skill roll result (“So, that’s a Great. You want to leave it at that? Or do you want to be even more awesome?”). Make it clear that invoking an aspect is almost always an option on any roll, in order to try and get them talking about the possibilities. Eventually, once you get a consistent dialogue going, things should smooth out.


During the game, you should look for opportunities to compel the PCs’ aspects at the following times:

Whenever simply succeeding at a skill roll would be bland Whenever any player has one or no fate points Whenever someone tries to do something, and you immediately think of some aspect-related way it could go wrong Remember that there are essentially two types of compels in the game: decision-based, where something complicated occurs as a result of something a character does; and event-based, where something complicated occurs simply as a result of the character being in the wrong situation at the wrong time.

Of the two, you’re going to get the most mileage out of event-based compels—it’s already your job to decide how the world responds to the PCs, so you have a lot of leeway to bring unfortunate coincidence into their lives. Most of the time, players are just going to accept you doing this without any problems or minimal negotiation.

Decision-based compels are a little trickier. Try to refrain from suggesting decisions to the players, and focus on responding to their decisions with potential complications. It’s important that the players retain their sense of autonomy over what their PCs say and do, so you don’t want to dictate that to them. If the players are roleplaying their characters according to their aspects, it shouldn’t be hard to connect the complications you propose to one of them.

During play, you’ll also need to make clear when a particular compel is “set”, meaning that there’s no backing out without paying a fate point. When players propose their own compels, this won’t come up, because they’re fishing for the point to begin with. When you propose them, you need to give the players room to negotiate with you over what the complication is, before you make a final decision. Be transparent about this—let them know when the negotiation phase has ended.

Weaksauce Compels

In order for the compel mechanic to be effective, you have to take care that you’re proposing complications of sufficient dramatic weight. Stay away from superficial consequences that don’t really affect the character except to provide color for the scene. If you can’t think of an immediate, tangible way that the complication changes what’s going on in the game, you probably need to turn up the heat. If someone doesn’t go “oh crap” or give a similar visceral reaction, you probably need to turn up the heat. It’s not good enough for someone to be angry at the PC—they get angry and they’re willing to do something about it in front of everyone. It’s not good enough for a business partner to cut them off—he cuts them off and tells the rest of his associates to blacklist them.

Also, keep in mind that some players may tend to offer weak compels when they’re fishing for fate points, because they don’t really want to hose their character that badly. Feel free to push for something harder if their initial proposal doesn’t actually make the situation that much more dramatic.

Encouraging The Players To Compel

With five aspects per PC, it’s prohibitively difficult for you to take the sole responsibility for compels at the table, because that’s a lot of stuff to remember and keep track of. You need the players to be invested in looking for moments to compel their own characters.

Open-ended prompting can go a long way to create this habit in your players. If you see an opportunity for a potential compel, instead of proposing it directly, ask a leading question instead. “So, you’re at the royal ball and you have The Manners of a Goat. Lenny, do you think this is going to go smoothly for your character?” Let the player do the work of coming up with the complication and then pass the fate point along.

Also remind the players that they can compel your NPCs, if they happen to know one of that NPC’s aspects. Do the same open-ended prompting when you’re about to have an NPC make a decision, and ask the players to fill in the blanks. “So, you know that Duke Orsin is Woefully Overconfident....You think he’s going to get out of the jousting tournament unscathed? How might that go wrong? You willing to pay a fate point to say it does?”

Your main goal should be to enlist the players as partners in bringing the drama, rather than being the sole provider.

Creating The Opposition

One of your most important jobs as a GM is creating the NPCs who will oppose the PCs and try to keep them from their goals during your scenarios. The real story comes from what the PCs do when worthy adversaries stand between them and their objectives—how far they’re willing to go, what price they’re willing to pay, and how they change as a result of the experience.

As a GM, you want to shoot for a balancing act with the opposing NPCs—you want the players to experience tension and uncertainty, but you don’t want their defeat to be a foregone conclusion. You want them to work for it, but you don’t want them to lose hope.

Here’s how.

Take Only What You Need to Survive First of all, keep in mind that you’re never obligated to give any NPC a full sheet like the ones the PCs have. Most of the time, you’re not going to need to know that much information, because the NPCs aren’t going to be the center of attention like the PCs are. It’s better to focus on writing down exactly what you need for that NPC’s encounter with the PCs, and then fill in the blanks on the fly (just like PCs can) if that NPC ends up becoming more important in the campaign.

The Npc Types

NPCs come in three different flavors: nameless NPCs, supporting NPCs, and main NPCs.

Nameless NPCs

The majority of the NPCs in your campaign world are nameless—people who are so insignificant to the story that the PCs interactions with them don’t even require them to learn a name. The random shopkeeper they pass on the street, the archivist at the library, the third patron from the left at the bar, the guards at the gate. Their role in the story is temporary and fleeting—the PCs will probably encounter them once and never see them again. In fact, most of the time, you’ll create them simply out of reflex when you describe an environment. “The plaza is beautiful at midday, and full of shoppers milling about. There’s a town crier with an extremely shrill, high-pitched voice barking out the local news.”

On their own, nameless NPCs usually aren’t meant to provide much of a challenge to the PCs. You use them like you use a low-difficulty skill roll, mainly as an opportunity to showcase the PCs’ competence. In conflicts, they serve as a distraction or a delay, forcing the PCs to work a little harder to get what they want. Action-adventure stories often feature master villains with an army of mooks. These are the mooks.

For a nameless NPC, all you really need is two or three skills based on their role in the scene. Your average security guard might have Fight and Shoot, while your average clerk might only have Lore. They never get more than one or two aspects, because they just aren’t important enough. They only have one or two stress boxes, if any, to absorb both physical and mental hits. In other words, they’re no match for a typical PC.

Nameless NPCs come in three varieties: Average, Fair, and Good.


Competence: Rank-and-file order-takers, local conscripts, and the like. When in doubt, a nameless NPC is Average. Purpose: Mostly there to make the PCs look more awesome. Aspects: One or two. Skills: One or two Average (+1). Stress: No stress boxes—a one shift hit is enough to take them out.


Competence: Trained professionals, like soldiers and elite guards, or others whose role in the scene speaks to their experience, such as a sharp-tongued courtier or talented thief. Purpose: Drain a few of the players’ resources (one or two fate points, stress boxes, possibly a mild consequence). Aspects: One or two. Skills: One Fair (+2), and one or two Average (+1). Stress: One stress box—a two shift hit is enough to take them out.


Competence: Tough opposition, especially in numbers. Purpose: Drain the players’ resources—as Fair, but more so. Provide a decent stumbling block (in numbers) on the way to a more significant encounter. Aspects: One or two. Skills: One Good (+3), one Fair (+2), and one or two Average (+1). Stress: Two stress boxes—a three shift hit is enough to take them out.


Whenever possible, identical nameless NPCs like to form groups, or mobs. Not only does this better ensure their survival, it reduces the workload on the GM. For all intents and purposes, you can treat a mob as a single unit—instead of rolling dice individually for each of three thugs, just roll once for the whole mob.

See the Teamwork section in the previous chapter to see how mobs can concentrate their efforts to be more effective.

Hits and Overflow

When a mob takes a hit, shifts in excess of what’s needed to take out one NPC are applied to the next NPCs in the mob, one at a time. In this way, it’s entirely possible for a PC to take out a mob of four or five nameless NPCs (or more!) in a single exchange.

When a mob takes enough stress to reduce it to a single NPC, try to have that orphaned NPC join up with another mob in the scene, if it makes sense. (If it doesn’t, just have them flee. Nameless NPCs are good at that.)

Landon and Cynere are set upon by a half-dozen ill-informed street-gang toughs just for walking down the wrong alleyway.

These thugs are nameless NPCs with Notice and Fight skills of Average (+1).

Normally Cynere’s Good (+3) Notice would allow her to act first, but Amanda reasons that the thugs’ ability to surround the PCs gives them the drop. In a big group of six, their Average (+1) Notice is increased by +5 to a Fantastic (+6).

As they make their assault, Amanda splits them into two mobs of three: one for Landon and one for Cynere. Both attack with Good (+3) ratings (Average Fight skill with +2 for the helpers), but neither mob hits.

Cynere goes next. Lily says, “In a flash, Cynere’s sword is in hand and slicing through these punks!” She gets a Great (+4) result with her Fight. Amanda’s first thug mob defends with a Good (+3) (+0 on the dice, Average skill, with +2 for the helpers), so Cynere deals one shift to the mob—enough to take one of them out. There are still two in the mob, though, so they only get +1 for the helper when they attack next.

On Lenny’s turn, Landon deals two shifts to the mob he’s facing, enough to take out two thugs and reducing it from a mob of three to a single nameless NPC.

Nameless NPCs as Obstacles:

An even easier way to handle nameless NPCs is simply to treat them as obstacles: Give a difficulty for the PC to overcome whatever threat the NPC presents, and just do it in one roll. You don’t even have to write anything down, just set a difficulty according to the guidelines in this chapter and Actions and Outcomes, and assume that the PC gets past on a successful roll.

If the situation is more complicated than that, make it a challenge instead. This trick is useful when you want a group of nameless NPCs more as a feature of the scene than as individuals.

Zird wants to convince a group of mages that continuing their research into the Dark Void will doom them all, and possibly the world. Amanda doesn’t want to deal with him needing to convince each mage individually, so she makes a challenge out of them.

The steps of the challenge are: establish your bona fides (Lore), turn them against each other (Deceive), and cow them into submission by preaching doom and gloom (Provoke). She chooses a passive opposition of Great (+4) for the challenge.

NPC First, Name Later

Nameless NPCs don’t have to remain nameless. If the players decide to get to know that barkeep or town crier or security chief or whatever, go ahead and make a real person out of them—but that doesn’t mean that you need to make them any more mechanically complex. If you want to, of course, go ahead and promote them to a supporting NPC. But otherwise, simply giving that courtier a name and a motivation doesn’t mean he can’t go down in one punch.

Tavern-Keeper (Average) Aspects: I Don’t Want No Trouble in My Place Skills: Average (+1) Contacts

Trained Thug (Fair) Aspects: The Ways of the Streets, Violent Criminal Skills: Fair (+2) Fight, Average (+1) Athletics and Physique

Collegia Arcana Court Mage (Good) Aspects: Haughty Demeanor, Devoted to the Arcane Arts Skills: Good (+3) Lore, Fair (+2) Deceive, Average (+1) Will and Empathy

Supporting NPCs

Supporting NPCs have proper names and are a little more detailed than nameless NPCs, playing a supporting role in your scenarios (hence the name). They often display some kind of strong distinguishing trait that sets them apart from the crowd, because of their relationship to a PC or NPC, a particular competence or unique ability, or simply the fact that they tend to appear in the game a great deal. Many action-adventure stories feature a “lieutenant” character who is the right-hand man of the lead villain; that’s a supporting NPC in game terms. The faces that you assign to the locations you make during game creation are supporting NPCs, as are any characters who are named in one of the PCs’ aspects.

Supporting NPCs are a great source of interpersonal drama, because they’re usually the people that the PCs have a relationship with, such as friends, sidekicks, family, contacts, and noteworthy opponents. While they may never be central to resolving the main dilemma of a scenario, they’re a significant part of the journey, either because they provide aid, present a problem, or figure into a subplot.

Supporting NPCs are made much like nameless NPCs, except they get to have a few more of the standard character elements. These include a high concept, a trouble, one or more additional aspects, one stunt, and the standard two stress tracks with two boxes each. They should have a handful of skills (say four or five). If they have a skill that entitles them to bonus stress boxes, award those as well. They have one mild consequence and, if you want them to be especially tough, one moderate consequence.

Skills for a supporting NPC should follow a column distribution. Because you’re only going to define four or five skills, just treat it as one column. If your NPC has a skill at Great, fill in one skill at each positive step below it—so one Good, one Fair, and one Average skill.

Skill Levels: A supporting NPC’s top skill can exceed your best PC’s by one or two levels, but only if their role in the game is to provide serious opposition—supporting NPCs who are allied with the PCs should be their rough peers in skill level. (Another action-adventure trope is to make the “lieutenant” character better than the main villain at combat, contrasting brawn to the villain’s brain.)

Concessions: Supporting NPCs should not fight to the bitter end, given the option. Instead, have them concede conflicts often, especially early in a story, and especially if the concession is something like “They get away.” Conceding like this serves a few purposes. For one, it foreshadows a future, more significant encounter with the NPC. Because conceding comes with a reward of one or more fate points, it also makes them more of a threat the next time they show up. What’s more, it’s virtually guaranteed to pay off for the players in a satisfying way the next time the NPC makes an appearance. “So, Landon, we meet again! But this time it shall not go so easily for you.” Finally, it implicitly demonstrates to the players that, when things are desperate, conceding a conflict is a viable course of action. A PC concession here and there can raise the stakes and introduce new complications organically, both of which make for a more dramatic, engaging story.

Old Finn, Landon’s mentor Aspects: Retired Vinfeld Militia Captain, Too Old For This Shit, Landon’s Mentor Skills: Great (+4) Shoot, Good (+3) Fight, Fair (+2) Will, Average (+1) Athletics Stunts: Battlefield Expert. Can use Fight to create advantages in large-scale tactical situations.

Teran the Swift, Thief Extraordinaire Aspects: Cutpurse and Scoundrel, I Just Can’t Help Myself Skills: Superb (+5) Burglary, Great (+4) Stealth, Good (+3) Lore, Fair (+2) Fight, Average (+1) Physique [Note: 3 physical stress boxes] Stunts: Inside Man. +2 to Stealth in an indoor, urban environment.

Og the Strong Aspects: Og Smash!, Og Not Terribly Bright Skills: Fantastic (+6) Fight, Superb (+5) Physique [Note: 4 physical stress boxes, 1 extra mild consequence for physical conflicts], Great (+4) Athletics Stunts: none

Main NPCs

Main NPCs are the closest you’re ever going to get to playing a PC yourself. They have full character sheets just like a PC does, with five aspects, a full distribution of skills, and a selection of stunts. They are the most significant characters in your PCs’ lives, because they represent pivotal forces of opposition or allies of crucial importance. Because they have a full spread of aspects, they also offer the most nuanced options for interaction, and they have the most options to invoke and be compelled. Your primary “bad guys” in a scenario or arc should always be main NPCs, as should any NPCs who are the most vital pieces of your stories.

Because they have all the same things on their sheet as PCs do, main NPCs will require a lot more of your time and attention than other characters. How you create one really depends on how much time you have—if you want, you can go through the whole character creation process and work out their whole backstory through phases, leaving only those slots for “guest starring” open.

Of course, if you want, you can also upgrade one of your current supporting NPCs to a main using this method. This is great for when a supporting NPC has suddenly or gradually become—usually because of the players—a major fixture in the story, despite your original plans for them.

You could also do things more on the fly if you need to, creating a partial sheet of the aspects you know for sure, those skills you definitely need them to have, and any stunts you want. Then fill in the rest as you go. This is almost like making a supporting NPC, except you can add to the sheet during play.

Main NPCs will fight to the bitter end if need be, making the PCs work for every step.

Regarding skill levels, your main NPCs will come in one of two flavors—exact peers of the PCs who grow with them as the campaign progresses, or superiors to the PCs who remain static while the PCs grow to sufficient strength to oppose them. If it’s the former, just give them the exact same skill distribution the PCs currently have. If it’s the latter, give them enough skills to go at least two higher than whatever the current skill cap is for the game.

So, if the PCs are currently capped at Great (+4), your main NPC badass should be able to afford a couple of Fantastic (+6) columns or a pyramid that peaks at Fantastic.

Likewise, a particularly significant NPC might have more than five aspects to highlight their importance to the story.

Barathar, Smuggler Queen of the Sindral Reach Aspects:

Smuggler Queen of the Sindral Reach A Mostly Loyal Crew Remorse is For the Weak “Zird, Why Won’t You Die?” My Ship, The Death Dealer A Harem of Thugs I’ve Got the Law in My Pocket

Skills: Fantastic (+6) Deceive and Fight Superb (+5) Shoot and Burglary Great (+4) Resources and Will Good (+3) Contacts and Notice Fair (+2) Crafts and Stealth Average (+1) Lore and Physique

Stress: 3 physical boxes, 4 mental boxes Stunts: Takes One to Know One. Use Deceive instead of Empathy to create an advantage in social situations. Feint Master. +2 to use Deceive to create an advantage in a physical conflict. Riposte. If you succeed with style on a Fight defense, you can choose to inflict a 2-shift hit rather than take a boost.

Playing The Opposition

Here are some tips for using the opposition characters you create in play.

Right-sizing Remember, you want a balancing act between obliterating the PCs and letting them walk all over your opposition (unless it’s a mook horde, in which case that’s pretty much what they’re there for). It’s important to keep in mind not just the skill levels of the NPCs in your scenes, but their number and importance.

Right-sizing the opposition is more of an art than a science, but here are some strategies to help.

  • Don’t outnumber the PCs unless your NPCs have comparatively lower skills.
  • If they’re going to team up against one big opponent, make sure that opponent has a peak skill two levels higher than whatever the best PC can bring in that conflict.
  • Limit yourself to one main NPC per scene, unless it’s a big climactic conflict at the end of an arc. Remember, supporting NPCs can have skills as high as you want.
  • Most of the opposition the PCs encounter in a session should be nameless NPCs, with one or two supporting NPCs and main NPCs along the way.
  • Nameless and supporting NPCs means shorter conflicts because they give up or lose sooner; main NPCs mean longer conflicts.

Creating Advantages For NPCs

It’s easy to fall into the default mode of using the opposition as a direct means to get in the PCs’ way, drawing them into a series of conflict scenes until someone is defeated.

However, keep in mind that the NPCs can create advantages just like the PCs can. Feel free to use opposition characters to create scenes that aren’t necessarily about stopping the PCs from achieving a goal, but scouting out information about them and stacking up free invocations. Let your bad guys and the PCs have tea together and then bring out the Empathy rolls. Or instead of having that fight scene take place in the dark alley, let your NPCs show up, gauge the PCs’ abilities, and then flee.

Likewise, keep in mind that your NPCs have a home turf advantage in conflicts if the PCs go to them in order to resolve something. So, when you’re setting up situation aspects, you can pre-load the NPC with some free invocations if it’s reasonable that they’ve had time to place those aspects. Use this trick in good faith, though—two or three such aspects is probably pushing the limit.

Change Venues Of Conflict

Your opposition will be way more interesting if they try to get at the PCs in multiple venues of conflict, rather than just going for the most direct route. Remember that there are a lot of ways to get at someone, and that mental conflict is just as valid as physical conflict as a means of doing so. If the opposition has a vastly different skill set than one or more of your PCs, leverage their strengths and choose a conflict strategy that gives them the best advantage.

For example, someone going after Landon probably doesn’t want to confront him physically, because Fight and Athletics are his highest skills. He’s not as well equipped to see through a clever deception, however, or handle a magical assault on his mind. Zird, on the other hand, is best threatened by the biggest, nastiest bruiser possible, someone who can strike at him before he has a chance to bring his magic to bear.

Scenes Sessions And Scenarios

So Now What

By now, you and your group have created the PCs, established the world they inhabit, and set all the basic assumptions for the game you’re going to play. Now you have a pile of aspects and NPCs, brimming with dramatic potential and waiting to come to life.

What do you do with them?

It’s time to get into the real meat of the game: creating and playing through scenarios.

Defining Scenarios

As mentioned in Running the Game, a scenario is a unit of game time usually lasting from one to four sessions, and made up of a number of discrete scenes. The end of a scenario should trigger a significant milestone, allowing your PCs to get better at what they do.

In a scenario, the PCs are going to face and try to resolve some kind of big, urgent, open-ended problem (or problems). The GM will typically open a scenario by presenting this problem to the players, with subsequent scenes revolving around what the PCs do to deal with it, whether that’s researching information, gathering resources, or striking directly at the problem’s source.

Along the way, you’ll also have some NPCs who are opposed to the PCs’ goals interfere with their attempts to solve the problem. These could be your Raymond Chandler-esque “two guys with guns” bursting through the door to kill them, or simply someone with different interests who wants to negotiate with the PCs in order to get them to deal with the problem in a different way.

The best scenarios don’t have one particular “right” ending. Maybe the PCs don’t resolve the problem, or resolve it in such a way that it has bad repercussions. Maybe they succeed with flying colors. Maybe they circumvent the problem, or change the situation in order to minimize the impact of the problem. You won’t know until you play.

Once the problem is resolved (or it can no longer be resolved), the scenario is over. The following session, you’ll start a new scenario, which can either relate directly to the previous scenario or present a whole new problem.

Creating A Scenario Step By Step

  • Find Problems
  • Ask Story Questions
  • Establish the Opposition
  • Set the First Scene
Find Problems

Creating a scenario begins with finding a problem for the PCs to deal with. A good problem is relevant to the PCs, cannot be resolved without their involvement, and cannot be ignored without dire consequences.

That may seem like a tall order. Fortunately, you have a great storytelling tool to help you figure out appropriate problems for your game: aspects.

Your PCs’ aspects have a lot of story built into them—they’re an indication of what’s important about (and to) each character, they indicate what things in the game world the PCs are connected to, and they describe the unique facets of each character’s identity.

You also have the aspects that are attached to your game—all your current and impending issues, location aspects, and any aspects you’ve put on any of your campaign’s faces. Riffing off of those helps to reinforce the sense of a consistent, dynamic world, and keep your game’s central premise in the forefront of play.

Because of all these aspects, you already have a ton of story potential sitting right in front of you—now, you just have to unlock it.

You can look at an aspect-related problem as a very large-scale kind of event compel. The setup is a little more work, but the structure is similar—having an aspect suggests or implies something problematic for the PC or multiple PCs, but unlike a compel, it’s something they can’t easily resolve or deal with in the moment.

You Don't Always Have To Destroy The World

As you will see from the examples, not all of our urgent, consequential problems necessarily involve the fate of the world or even a large portion of the setting. Interpersonal problems can have just as much of an impact on a group of PCs as stopping this week’s bad guy—winning someone’s respect or resolving an ongoing dispute between two characters can just as easily take the focus for a scenario as whatever grand scheme your badass villain is cooking up.

If you want a classic action-adventure story setup, see if you can come up with two main problems for your scenario—one that focuses on something external to the characters (like the villain’s scheme), and one that deals with interpersonal issues. The latter will serve as a subplot in your scenario and give the characters some development time while they’re in the midst of dealing with other problems.

Problems And Character Aspects

When you’re trying to get a problem from a character aspect, try fitting it into this sentence:

You have __ aspect, which implies __ (and this may be a list of things, by the way). Because of that, ____ would probably be a big problem for you. The second blank is what makes this a little harder than an event compel—you have to think about all the different potential implications of an aspect. Here are some questions to help with that.

  • Who might have a problem with the character because of this aspect?
  • Does the aspect point to a potential threat to that character?
  • Does the aspect describe a connection or relationship that could cause trouble for the character?
  • Does the aspect speak to a backstory element that could come back to haunt the character?
  • Does the aspect describe something or someone important to the character that you can threaten?

As long as whatever you put in the third blank fits the criteria at the beginning of this section, you’re good to go.

Cynere has Infamous Girl With Sword, which implies that her reputation precedes her across the countryside. Because of that, a copycat committing crimes in her name and getting the inhabitants of the next city she visits angry and murderous would probably be a big problem for her.

Landon has an aspect of I Owe Old Finn Everything, which implies that he’d feel obligated to help Finn out with any personal problems. Because of that, having to bail Finn’s son out of a gambling debt he owes to some very nasty people would probably be a big problem for him.

Zird has Rivals in the Collegia Arcana, which implies that some or many of them are scheming against him constantly. Because of that, a series of concentrated assassination attempts from someone or several people who know how to get past all his magical defenses would probably be a big problem for him.

Problems And Game Aspects

Problems you get from a game’s current and impending issues will be a little wider in scope than character-driven problems, affecting all your PCs and possibly a significant number of NPCs as well. They’re less personal, but that doesn’t mean they have to be less compelling (pardon the pun).

Because __ is an issue, it implies __. Therefore, ____ would probably create a big problem for the PCs. Ask yourself:

  • What threats does the issue present to the PCs?
  • Who are the driving forces behind the issue, and what messed up thing might they be willing to do to advance their agenda?
  • Who else cares about dealing with the issue, and how might their “solution” be bad for the PCs?
  • What’s a good next step for resolving the issue, and what makes accomplishing that step hard?
Put A Face On It

While not all of your scenario problems have to be directly caused by an NPC who serves as a “master villain” for the PCs to take down, it’s often easier if they are. At the very least, you should be able to point directly to an NPC who benefits a great deal from the scenario problem not going the way the PCs want it to go.

Because The Scar Triad is an issue, it implies that the Triad is making a serious power play across the land. Therefore, a complete government takeover by Triad members in the city they’re sent to on their next job would probably create a big problem for the PCs.

Because The Doom that Is to Come is an issue, it implies that agents of the Cult of Tranquility are constantly trying to fulfill parts of the ancient prophecies that foretell the doom. Therefore, a series of ritual murders in the next town meant to awaken an ancient demon that sleeps under the town would probably create a big problem for the PCs.

Because the Cult of Tranquility’s Two Conflicting Prophecies is an issue, it implies that there’s an internal Cult struggle to validate one prophecy as being definitive. Therefore, an all-out war between rival factions in the next town that brings innocents into the crossfire would probably create a big problem for the PCs.

Problems And Aspect Pairs

This is where you really start cooking with gas. You can also create problems from the relationship between two aspects instead of relying on just one. That lets you keep things personal, but broaden the scope of your problem to impact multiple characters, or thread a particular PC’s story into the story of the game.

There are two main forms of aspect pairing: connecting two character aspects, and connecting a character aspect to an issue.

Two Character Aspects

Because has aspect and has aspect, it implies that . Therefore, would probably be a big problem for them.

Ask yourself:

  • Do the two aspects put those characters at odds or suggest a point of tension between them?
  • Is there a particular kind of problem or trouble that both would be likely to get into because of the aspects?
  • Does one character have a relationship or a connection that could become problematic for the other?
  • Do the aspects point to backstory elements that can intersect in the present?
  • Is there a way for one PC’s fortune to become another’s misfortune, because of the aspects?

Because Landon is a Disciple of the Ivory Shroud, and Zird has Rivals in the Collegia Arcana, it implies that both factions could occasionally cross paths and have incompatible agendas. Therefore, a mandate from the monks of a local Shroud monastery to capture or kill the members of a local Collegia chapterhouse for an unknown slight would probably be a big problem for them.

Because Cynere is Tempted by Shiny Things, and Landon has The Manners of a Goat, it implies that they’re probably the worst partners for any kind of undercover heist. Therefore, a contract to infiltrate the Royal Ball of Ictherya with no backup and walk out with the Crown Jewels on behalf of a neighboring kingdom would probably be a big problem for them.

Because Zird has If I Haven’t Been There, I’ve Read About It, and Cynere is the Secret Sister of Barathar, it implies that proof of Cynere’s true heritage could one day fall into Zird’s hands. Therefore, the unexpected arrival of a genealogical document in code that Barathar and her henchies seek to recover at all costs would probably be a big problem for them.

Character Aspect And Issue

Because you have aspect and is an issue, it implies that . Therefore, would probably be a big problem for you.

Ask yourself:

  • Does the issue suggest a threat to any of the PC’s relationships?
  • Is the next step to dealing with the issue something that impacts a particular character personally because of their aspects?
  • Does someone connected to the issue have a particular reason to target the PC because of an aspect?
How Many Problems Do I Need

For a single scenario, one or two is sufficient, trust us. You’ll see below that even one problem can create enough material for two or three sessions. Don’t feel like you have to engage every PC with every scenario—rotate the spotlight around a little so that they each get some spotlight time, and then throw in an issue-related scenario when you want to concentrate on the larger “plot” of the game.

Because Cynere is the Secret Sister of Barathar and The Scar Triad is an issue, it implies that the Triad could have leverage over Cynere for blackmail. Therefore, the Triad hiring her for an extremely dangerous and morally reprehensible job on the threat of revealing her secret to the world and making her a public enemy across the land would probably be a big problem for her.

Because Zird has If I Haven’t Been There, I’ve Read About It, and the Cult of Tranquility’s Two Conflicting Prophecies are an issue, it implies that Zird could be the key to figuring out which of the prophecies is legitimate. Therefore, getting approached by the Primarch to learn the Rites of Tranquility and figure out the truth of the prophecy, and thus becoming a target for manipulation from both major factions, would probably be a big problem for him.

Because Landon has An Eye for an Eye, and The Doom that Is to Come is an issue, it implies that anything the Cult does to Landon’s loved ones would be met with a desire for vengeance. Therefore, an attack on his hometown by Cult agents on the prowl for more indoctrinated servants as preparation for the End Times would probably be a big problem for him.

Ask Story Questions

Now that you have a really grabby problem, you can flesh the situation out a little and figure out precisely what your scenario is intended to resolve—in other words, what are the really grabby questions at the heart of this problem?

That’s what you’ll do in this step: create a series of questions that you want your scenario to answer. We call these story questions, because the story will emerge naturally from the process of answering them.

The more story questions you have, the longer your scenario’s going to be. One to three story questions will probably wrap up in a session. Four to eight might take you two or even three sessions. More than eight or nine, and you might have to save some of those questions for the next scenario, but that’s not a bad thing at all.

We recommend asking story questions as yes/no questions, in the general format of, “Can/Will (character) accomplish (goal)?” You don’t have to follow that phrasing exactly, and you can embellish on the basic question format in a number of ways, which we’ll show you in a moment.

Every problem you come up with is going to have one very obvious story question: “Can the PC(s) resolve the problem?” You do need to know that eventually, but you don’t want to skip straight to that—it’s your finale for the scenario, after all. Put other questions before that one to add nuance and complexity to the scenario and build up to that final question. Figure out what makes the problem difficult to solve.

To come up with story questions, you’re probably going to have to embellish on the problem that you came up with just a bit, and figure out some of the W-How (who, what, when, where, why, how) details. That’s also fine, and part of what the process is for.

An Arcane Conspiracy: Problem and Story Questions

Cynere is Tempted by Shiny Things, and Zird has Rivals in the Collegia Arcana, which implies that the Collegia’s wealth might end up on Cynere’s radar at an inconvenient time for Zird. Therefore, Cynere getting a lucrative contract to steal one of the Collegia’s sacred treasures at the same time that Zird’s rivals try to put him on trial for crimes against creation would probably be a big problem for both of them.

Two obvious story questions spring to mind already: Will Cynere get the treasure? Will Zird win his trial? But Amanda wants to save those answers for the end, so she brainstorms some other questions.

First of all, she doesn’t know if they’re even going to go willingly into this situation, so she starts there: Will Cynere take the contract? Will Zird allow the Collegia to arrest him, or will he resist?

Then, she needs to figure out why they can’t just go straight to the problem. She decides Cynere has an anonymous rival for the treasure (let’s call it the Jewel of Aetheria, that sounds nice), and her mysterious employer would be most displeased if the rival beat her to the punch.

Zird, in the meantime, has to secure a legal defense that isn’t a part of the conspiracy against him, and will probably want to find out precisely who has it in for him this time.

So, that gives her three more questions: Can Cynere sniff out her competitor before her competitor does the same to her? Can Zird find an ally to defend him among the Collegia’s ranks? Can Zird discover the architects of the conspiracy without suffering further consequences?

Then, because she wants some tension between these two, one that relates to their relationship: Will Cynere turn her back on Zird for the sake of her own goals?

Notice that each of these questions has the potential to significantly shape the scenario’s plot. Right off the bat, if Zird decides not to go quietly, you have a very different situation than if he chooses to submit to custody. If Zird’s investigations get him arrested, then the trial might end up being a moot point. If Cynere decides to help Zird rather than pursuing the Jewel, then they’re going to have another source of trouble in the form of Cynere’s employer.

Also notice that a few of the story questions have something else that modifies the basic “Can X accomplish Y?” format. The reason why you want to do this is the same reason you want to avoid rolling dice sometimes—black and white success/failure isn’t always interesting, especially on the failure side.

Look at one of the questions for Cynere: “Will Cynere discover the identity of her chief competitor for the Jewel before the competitor discovers hers?” Without the emphasized part, it’d be kind of boring—if she fails to discover her opponent’s identity, then we’ve pretty much dropped that plot thread, and part of the game stalls out. No good.

The way we’ve phrased it, though, we have somewhere to go if she doesn’t do well in this part of the scenario—she may not know who her rival is, but her rival knows her now. Whatever happens with the Jewel, that rival can come back to haunt her in a future scenario. Or, we take it as a given that we’re going to reveal the rival’s identity to Cynere eventually, but we can still have a tense set of conflicts or contests leading up to that reveal as they suss out each other’s abilities.

There’s also some room to extend material from this scenario into the future. Maybe the identity of Cynere’s opponent doesn’t get answered this session at all—that’s okay, because it’s a detail Amanda can always bring back in a later session.

If you end up with a really large number of story questions (like eight or more), keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to answer them all in one scenario—you can bring up the questions you don’t answer, either as foreshadowing or to set up stuff you’re going to do in the following scenario. In fact, that’s exactly how you make strong arcs—you have a pile of related story questions, and you take two or three scenarios to answer them all.

Establish The Opposition

You might have already come up with an NPC or group of NPCs who is/are responsible for what’s going on when you made up your problem, but if you haven’t, you need to start putting together the cast of characters who are the key to answering your story questions. You also need to nail down their motivations and goals, why they’re standing in opposition to the PCs’ goals, and what they’re after.

At the very least, you should be able to answer the following questions for each named NPC in your scenario:

  • What does that NPC need? How can the PCs help her get that, or how are the PCs in the way?
  • Why can’t the NPC get what she needs through legitimate means? (In other words, why is this need contributing to a problem?)
  • Why can’t she be ignored?

Wherever you can, try and consolidate NPCs so that you don’t have too many characters to keep track of. If one of your opposition NPCs is serving only one purpose in your scenario, consider getting rid of him and folding his role together with another NPC. This not only reduces your workload, but it also allows you to develop each NPC’s personality a bit more, making him more multi-dimensional as you reconcile his whole set of motives.

For each NPC that you have, decide whether you need to make them a supporting or main. Stat them up according to the guidelines given in Running the Game.

An Arcane Conspiracy: Opposition

Amanda looks over the story questions and thinks of NPCs she’ll need in order to answer them. She makes a list of the obvious suspects.

Cynere’s mysterious employer (not appearing) The chief arbiter for the Collegia Arcana (supporting) Cynere’s competitor for the Jewel (supporting) A barrister who isn’t part of the conspiracy (supporting) A corrupt barrister, and the one that Zird’s rivals want to set him up with (supporting) The Collegia wizard who engineered the conspiracy to bring Zird down (main) That’s six NPCs, four supporting, one main, and one that isn’t going to be in the scenario—she really doesn’t want to drop any details on who’s hiring Cynere yet. She also doesn’t really want to keep track of five NPCs, so she starts looking for opportunities to consolidate.

One pairing that immediately strikes her is making Cynere’s competitor and the neutral barrister into the same person, whom she names Anna. Anna might not be involved in this conspiracy, but clearly, there’s a more complicated motive at work. What’s going on with her? Amanda ultimately decides that Anna’s motives are beneficent; she’s secreting the Jewel away to keep it out of the hands of more corrupt elements in the Collegia’s infrastructure. She doesn’t know anything about Cynere and will mistake her for an agent of those corrupt elements until they clear the air.

Then she decides that the chief arbiter and the architect of the conspiracy are the same—he didn’t trust anyone else to stick the final nail in Zird’s coffin, so he made sure he’d be appointed arbiter over the trial. Amanda likes this because his political power makes him a formidable opponent to investigate and gives him a powerful lackey in the form of the corrupt barrister. But why does he have it in for Zird in the first place?

She further decides that his motives aren’t personal, but he’s getting ready to do some stuff that will rock the foundations of the Collegia, and he knows that as a misfit in that organization, Zird is one of the most likely candidates to resist him. So it’s basically a preemptive strike.

As for the corrupt barrister, the first thing that comes to mind is a pathetic, sniveling toady who is totally in the arbiter’s pocket. But she wants to add a measure of depth to him, so she also decides that the arbiter has blackmail material on him, which helps to ensure his loyalty. She doesn’t know what that info is yet, but she’s hoping that nosy PCs will help her figure it out through a story detail later.

She names the arbiter Lanthus, and the corrupt barrister Pight. Now she has her NPCs, and she goes about making their sheets.

Advantages Can Save You Work

When you’re establishing your NPCs for your scenario, you don’t have to have everything set in stone when you get to the table—whatever you don’t know, you can always establish by letting the advantages the players create become the NPCs’ aspects. Also see below, for advice about winging it during play.

Set Up The First Scene

Start things off by being as unsubtle as possible—take one of your story questions, come up with something that will bring the question into sharp relief, and hit your players over the head with it as hard as you can. You don’t have to answer it right off the bat (though there’s nothing wrong with that, either), but you should show the players that the question demands an answer.

That way, you’re setting an example for the rest of the session and getting the momentum going, ensuring the players won’t dither around. Remember, they’re supposed to be proactive, competent people—give them something to be proactive and competent about right from the get-go.

If you’re in an ongoing campaign, you might need the first scenes of a session to resolve loose ends that were left hanging from a previous session. It’s okay to spend time on that, because it helps keep the sense of continuity going from session to session. As soon as there’s a lull in momentum, though, hit them with your opening scene fast and hard.

An Arcane Conspiracy: The Opening Scene

Amanda mulls over her questions and thinks about what she wants as her opening scene. A couple of obvious suggestions come to mind:

Enforcers from the Collegia show up at Zird’s door and serve him papers, demanding he come with them. Cynere receives the contract and job details from a mysterious employer, and must decide whether or not to sign. She decides to go with the latter scene, because she figures that if Cynere rebuffs the contract and then finds out that Zird’s going to the Collegia anyway, it might create a fun scene where she tries to get the mysterious employer to reconsider. And even if she sticks to her guns, it’ll establish whether or not they’ll have to deal with any drama on the way there, as the mysterious employer’s lackeys harass them on the way.

That doesn’t mean she’s going to just toss the scene with Zird aside—she’s just going to save it for a follow-up to the first scene.

Powerful Session Starting Ninja Gm Trick

Asking the players to contribute something to the beginning of your first scene is a great way to help get them invested in what’s going on right off the bat. If there’s anything that’s flexible about your opening prompt, ask your players to fill in the blanks for you when you start the scene. Clever players may try to use it as an opportunity to push for a compel and get extra fate points right off the bat—we like to call this sort of play “awesome.”

Let’s look at our example scenes above. The prompts don’t specify where the PCs are when they get confronted with their first choices. So, Amanda might start the session by asking Ryan, “Where exactly isZird when the brute squad from the Collegia comes looking for him?”

Now, even if Ryan just replies with “in his sanctuary,” you’ve solicited his participation and helped him set the scene. But Ryan is awesome, so what he says instead is, “Oh, probably at the public baths, soaking after a long day of research.”

“Perfect!” says Amanda, and holds out a fate point. “So, it’d make sense that your Rivals in the Collegia Arcana would have divined precisely the right time to catch you away from all your magical implements and gear, right?”

Ryan grins and takes the fate point. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Of course, you can also just have your opening scenario hooks count as “pre-loaded” compels, and hand out some fate points at the start of a session to start the PCs off with a spot of trouble they have to deal with immediately. This helps low-refresh players out and can kickstart the spending of fate points right off the bat. Make sure your group is okay with giving you carte blanche authority to narrate them into a situation, though—some players find the loss of control problematic.

Amanda wants to start the players off with a number of fate points off the bat, so at the beginning of the session, she says to the players:

“Zird, it’s bad enough when your Rivals in the Collegia Arcana give you trouble, but when they pretend to be peasants in the local watering hole, get you drunk, and start a bar fight so they can haul you somewhere secluded, it’s even worse. You wake up with a five-alarm hangover and a black eye—someone punched you in the face!” (2 fate points, for Rivals and Not the Face!)

“Landon, I know Smashing is Always an Option, but how are you going to explain what happened when you tried to fix the wagon while everyone else was away?” (1 fate point for Smashing.)

“Cynere, whoever decided to make you this contract offer knows you pretty well. They’ve included several large gems along with the contract. Problem is, you also know what noble house they were stolen from, and there’s no doubt you’ll be a wanted woman if you don’t sign—and you’re infamous enough that you know no one’s going to believe how you came by them.” (2 fate points for Infamous Girl with Sword and Tempted by Shiny Things.)

Defining Scenes

A scene is a unit of game time lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour or more, during which the players try to achieve a goal or otherwise accomplish something significant in a scenario. Taken together, the collection of scenes you play through make up a whole session of play, and by extension, also make up your scenarios, arcs, and campaigns.

So you can look at it as the foundational unit of game time, and you probably already have a good idea of what one looks like. It’s not all that different from a scene in a movie, a television show, or a novel—the main characters are doing stuff in continuous time, usually all in the same space. Once the action shifts to a new goal, moves to a new place related to that goal, or jumps in time, you’re in the next scene.

As a GM, one of your most important jobs is to manage the starting and ending of scenes. The best way to control the pacing of what happens in your session is to keep a tight rein on when scenes start and end—let things continue as long as the players are all invested and enjoying themselves, but as soon as the momentum starts to flag, move on to the next thing. In that sense, you can look at it as being similar to what a good film editor does—you “cut” a scene and start a new one to make sure the story continues to flow smoothly.

Starting Scenes

When you’re starting a scene, establish the following two things as clearly as you can:

  • What’s the purpose of the scene?
  • What interesting thing is just about to happen?

Answering the first question is super-important, because the more specific your scene’s purpose, the easier it is to know when the scene’s over. A good scene revolves around resolving a specific conflict or achieving a specific goal—once the PCs have succeeded or failed at doing whatever they are trying to do, the scene’s over. If your scene doesn’t have a clear purpose, you run the risk of letting it drag on longer than you intended and slow the pace of your session down.

Most of the time, the players are going to tell you what the purpose of the scene is, because they’re always going to be telling you what they want to do next as a matter of course. So if they say, “Well, we’re going to the thief’s safehouse to see if we can get some dirt on him,” then you know the purpose of the scene—it’s over when the PCs either get the dirt, or get into a situation where it’s impossible to get the dirt.

Sometimes, though, they’re going to be pretty vague about it. If you don’t have an intuitive understanding of their goals in context, ask questions until they state things directly. So if a player says, “Okay, I’m going to the tavern to meet with my contact,” that might be a little vague—you know there’s a meeting, but you don’t know what it’s for. You might ask, “What are you interested in finding out? Have you negotiated a price for the information yet?” or another question that’ll help get the player to nail down what he’s after.

Also, sometimes you’ll have to come up with a scene’s purpose all on your own, such as the beginning of a new scenario, or the next scene following a cliffhanger. Whenever you have to do that, try going back to the story questions you came up with earlier and introducing a situation that’s going to directly contribute to answering them. That way, whenever it’s your job to start a scene, you’re always moving the story along.

Amanda ended the previous session of the group’s story with a cliffhanger: the revelation that Cynere’s mysterious employer is an agent of the Cult of Tranquility, and that the Jewel is an important component in a mysterious ritual. On top of that, Zird’s in the middle of the most important trial of his life, and the Collegia’s discovered that the Jewel is missing

Now Amanda’s thinking about how to start things off next time. The whole situation seems to have really freaked the players out, so she definitely wants to capitalize on that. She figures Anna should return, initially confused about Cynere’s role in the theft and ready to fight. The scene will be about coming to an accord with Anna and realizing that they’re both on the same side, as it were.

The second question is just as important—you want to start a scene just before something interesting is going to take place. TV and movies are especially good at this—usually, you’re not watching a particular scene for more than thirty seconds before something happens to change the situation or shake things up.

“Cutting in” just before some new action starts helps keep the pace of your session brisk and helps hold the players’ attention. You don’t want to chronicle every moment of the PCs leaving their room at the inn to take a twenty-minute walk across town to the thief’s safehouse—that’s a lot of play time where nothing interesting happens. Instead, you want to start the scene when they’re at the safehouse and staring at the horrifically intricate series of locks he’s set up on his door, cursing their luck.

If you get stumped by this question, just think of something that might complicate whatever the purpose is or make it problematic. You can also use the ninja trick mentioned earlier and ask the players leading questions to help you figure out the interesting thing that’s about to happen.

Amanda starts the scene with Cynere and Landon walking back to their lodgings late at night, engrossed in conversation about recent events. Lenny suggests they’re not staying at an inn anymore—not after the theft. He figures everyone from the Collegia wizards to the Cult of Tranquility will be looking for Cynere, so they’re holed up somewhere safe.

So they’re understandably surprised by the three armed strangers who ambush them as soon as they walk in the door.

“Whoa!” Lily says. “How’d they know we were going to be here?”

“Tough to say,” Amanda counters, and tosses her and Lenny each a fate point. “But this is a Hub of Trade, Hive of Villainy.”

“Fair enough,” Lenny says, and they both accept the compel.

“Cynere, no sooner have you entered your safehouse than a hooded figure has a sword at your throat. The hood comes off—it’s Anna! And she’s pissed. ‘Where’s the Jewel, you cultist scum?’”

If you have a clear purpose going into every scene and you start just before some significant piece of action, it’s hard to go wrong.

Ending Scenes

You can end scenes the way you start them, but in reverse: as soon as you’ve wrapped up whatever your scene’s purpose was, move on, and shoot for ending the scene immediately after the interesting action concludes.

This is an effective approach mainly because it helps you sustain interest for the next scene. Again, you see this all the time in good movies—a scene will usually end with a certain piece of action resolved, but also with a lingering bit of business that’s left unresolved, and that’s where they cut to next.

A lot of your scenes are going to end up the same way. The PCs might win a conflict or achieve a goal, but there’s likely something else they’re going to want to do after—talk about the outcome, figure out what they’re going to do next, etc.

Instead of lingering at that scene, though, suggest that they move on to a new one, which helps answer one of the unresolved questions from the current scene. Try to get them to state what they want to do next, and then go back to the two questions for starting scenes above—what’s the purpose of the next scene, and what’s the next bit of interesting action to come? Then dive right into that.

The one time you should exhibit restraint is if it’s clear that the players are really, really enjoying their interactions. Sometimes people just want to yammer and jaw in character, and that’s okay as long as they’re really into it. If you see interest starting to flag, though, take that opportunity to insert yourself and ask about the next scene.

Using the Pillars (Competence, Proactivity, Drama) Whenever you’re trying to come up with ideas for what should happen in a scene, you should think about the basic ideas of Fate that we talked about in The Basics—competence, proactivity, and drama.

In other words, ask yourself if your scene is doing at least one of the following things:

  • Giving your PCs the chance to show off what they’re good at, whether by going up against people who don’t hold a candle to them or by holding their own against worthy opponents.
  • Giving your PCs the chance to do something you can describe with a simple action verb. “Trying to find out information” is too muddy, for example. “Breaking into the mayor’s office” is actionable and specific.
  • Not that it has to be physical—“convince the snitch to talk” is also a clear action.
  • Creating some kind of difficult choice or complication for the PCs. Your best tool to do this with is a compel, but if the situation is problematic enough, you might not need one.

Cynere’s first impulse is to find out what Anna’s talking about—but Amanda knows Landon’s impulses are... a little more violent.

“Enough talk!” Lenny shouts.

“But... we just started talking,” Lily says.

“Even still! Why talk when Smashing Is Always an Option?” Lenny holds out his hand, and Amanda hands him a fate point for the compel.

Hit Their Aspects

Another good way to figure out the interesting action for a scene is to turn to the PCs’ aspects, and create a complication or an event-based compel based on them. This is especially good to do for those PCs whose aspects did not come into play when you made up your scenario problem, because it allows them to have some of the spotlight despite the fact that the overall story does not focus on them as much.

The scene opens on the big trial. Zird stands before a panel of wizards in the Great Hall of the Collegia Arcana. While they pepper him with questions, every now and then a wizard in the gallery throws out a follow-up, an insult, or a word of discouragement. The whole thing’s like a lively session of the British Parliament. Cynere and Landon stand in the gallery, following the proceedings as best they can.

Amanda turns to Lily. “You going to let them get away with treating your friend that?”

“You’re right! I can’t take it anymore!” Lily says. “I’ve Got Zird’s Back!”

Cynere stands up and shouts at the Arbiter, “Hey, you want to put someone on trial for crimes against creation? How about we start with your mom, ugly!”

Amanda tosses Lily a fate point. “Nice.”

The Scenario In Play

So, now you should be ready to begin: you have a problem that can’t be ignored, a variety of story questions that will lead to resolving that problem one way or another, a core group of NPCs and their motivations, and a really dynamic first scene that will get things cooking.

Everything should be smooth sailing from here, right? You present the questions, the players gradually answer them, and your story rolls into a nice, neat conclusion.

Yeah... trust us, it’ll never happen that way.

The most important thing to remember when you actually get the scenario off the ground is this: whatever happens will always be different from what you expect. The PCs will hate an NPC you intended them to befriend, have wild successes that give away a bad guy’s secrets very early, suffer unexpected setbacks that change the course of their actions, or any one of another hundred different things that just don’t end up the way you think they should.

Notice that we don’t recommend predetermining what scenes and locations are going to be involved in your scenario—that’s because we find that most of the time, you’re going to throw out most of that material anyway, in the face of a dynamic group of players and their choices.

Not all is lost, however—the stuff you have prepared should help you tremendously when players do something unexpected. Your story questions are vague enough that there are going to be multiple ways to answer each one, and you can very quickly axe one that isn’t going to be relevant and replace it with something else on the fly without having to toss the rest of your work.

Amanda had expected that the scene with Landon, Cynere, and Anna would result in a briefly violent reaction, thanks to Landon, followed by the PCs explaining that they’re not with the Cult of Tranquility and everyone realizing that they’re all on the same side.

Right? No.

The first swing of Landon’s sword fells Anna where she stands, killing what would’ve been their first contact with the Sun and Moon Society, an important secret organization opposing the cult. Plus, Anna’s companions are now convinced that he and Cynere are indeed cultists.

So...slight detour. Amanda sees a few ways to go from here:

The warriors throw caution to the wind, cry “Revenge!” and fight to the death. One of the warriors assumes Anna’s role in the scene and continues the conversation. The warriors flee (making a concession) and report the killing to their superiors in the secret society, leaving Anna’s body behind. She decides to go with the third option. These two may be good guys, but they’re not heroes, and neither one of them is up for taking on Landon after that opener. And the odds of them wanting to have a little chat with Anna’s corpse at their feet are, at best, slim.

Plus, Amanda figures Lily and Lenny will want to search the body, which would present a good opportunity to feed them information about the Sun and Moon Society. It’s also a way to bring Zird in on the action—maybe he knows something about the Sun and Moon Society already, and can make contact with them.

Also, knowing your NPCs’ motivations and goals allows you to adjust their behavior more easily than if you’d just placed them in a static scene waiting for the PCs to show up. When the players throw you a curveball, make the NPCs as dynamic and reactive as they are, by having them take sudden, surprising action in pursuit of their goals.

Amanda’s still stuck on Anna’s unexpected demise. She’d planned on making her an entry point for a whole story arc—maybe not a powerful NPC, but a pretty important one nonetheless. So if Anna’s not going to be around anymore, Amanda at least wants to make something out of her death.

She decides that, while the death of a member of the Sun and Moon Society would go unnoticed by most of Riverton, a guy like Hugo the Charitable would certainly hear about it. He’d already taken notice of Landon after he fought off a few Scar Triad goons. And now this. This newcomer is clearly dangerous, potentially a threat. Worst, he doesn’t seem to be working for anyone.

Given Hugo’s high concept aspect of Everyone in Riverton Fears Me, he sees Landon as a potential asset for the Scar Triad. If you can’t beat ‘em, recruit ‘em.

Resolving The Scenario

A scenario ends when you’ve run enough scenes to definitively answer most of the story questions you came up with when you were preparing your scenario. Sometimes you’ll be able to do that in a single session if you have a lot of time or only a few questions. If you have a lot of questions, it’ll probably take you two or three sessions to get through them all.

Don’t feel the need to answer every story question if you’ve brought things to a satisfying conclusion—you can either use unresolved story questions for future scenarios or let them lie if they didn’t get a whole lot of traction with the players.

The end of a scenario usually triggers a significant milestone. When this happens, you should also see if the game world needs advancing too.

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