The Long Game

Defining Arcs

When you sit down to play Fate, you might just play a single session. That’s a viable way to play the game, but let’s assume that you want it to go a bit longer. What you need, then, is an arc.

An arc is a complete storyline with its own themes, situations, antagonists, innocent bystanders, and endgame, told in the span of a few sessions (somewhere between two and five, usually). You don’t need to have everything planned out (in fact, you probably shouldn’t, given that no meticulously planned story ever survives contact with the players), but you need to have an idea of where things begin and end, and what might happen in the middle.

To make a fictional analogy, an arc is a lot like a single book. It tells its own story and ends when it’s done; you provide some form of closure and move on. Sometimes you move on to another story, and sometimes your book is just the first in a series of books. That’s when you have a campaign.

Defining Campaigns

When you have multiple arcs that are connected and told in a sequence, and that have an overarching story or theme that runs through all of them, you have a campaign. Campaigns are long, taking months or even years to complete (if you ever do).

Of course, that doesn’t need to be as scary as it might sound. Yes, a campaign is long and large and complex. You don’t, however, need to come up with the whole thing at once. As with an arc, you may have an idea where it begins and ends (and that can be helpful), but you really only need to plan an arc at a time.

See, the players are so prone to shaking things up and changing things on you that planning more than one arc at a time is often frustrating and futile. Planning the second arc of a campaign based on the events of the first arc, how it turned out, and what your players did, though...well, that can make for very satisfying play.

Building An Arc

The easiest way to build an arc is not to build one, we suggested that if you have a lot of story questions in one of your scenarios, you can reserve some of them for the next scenario. Then, in your next scenario, add some new questions to go with the unanswered ones. Lather, rinse, repeat, and you’ll have material for three or four scenarios without doing that much additional work. In addition, that lets you incorporate changes to the characters’ aspects organically, rather than making a plan and having it disrupted.

That said, we know some GMs want to have a greater sense of structure for the long run. We recommend using the same method for building scenarios in the previous chapter to build arcs, but changing the scope of the story questions you come up with. Instead of focusing on immediate problems for the PCs to solve, come up with a more general problem, where the PCs are going to have to solve smaller problems first in order to have a chance at resolving the larger one.

The best places to look for arc-sized problems are the current or impending issues of places or organizations that you came up with during game creation. If you haven’t made any up yet for a particular place or group, now might be a good time to do that, so you have material for the arc.

Amanda decides she wants to do one major arc for each PC.

For Zird, his Rivals in the Collegia Arcana makes it pretty easy—she decides that perhaps there’s something more sinister behind these rivalries, such as an attempt by a dark cult operating from within to take over the Collegia and turn it to nefarious purposes.

She needs to focus on story questions that are more general and will take some time to resolve. After thinking about it for a while, she chooses:

Can Zird uncover the identity of the cult’s leader before the takeover occurs? (This lets her do individual scenarios about the attempted takeover.) Will Zird’s rivals ally with the cult? (This lets her do individual scenarios about each of Zird’s key rivals.) Can Zird reconcile, at long last, with his rivals? Will the cult succeed and transform the Collegia forever? (Answering this question ends the arc.) Then go through the same process of picking opposing NPCs, keeping in mind that their influence is supposed to be more far-reaching in an arc than in a single scenario.

Building A Campaign

Again, the easiest way to do this is not to bother—just let your scenarios and arcs emergently create a story for the campaign. Human beings are pattern-making machines, and it’s very likely that you’ll naturally pick up on what the long-term plot devices of your campaign need to be by keying into unanswered questions from the arcs and scenarios.

However, if you want to do a little bit of focused planning, the advice is the same as for arcs, except you’re generalizing even more. Pick one story question to answer, which the PCs will spend their scenarios and arcs building to. Then, jot down some notes on what steps will lead to answering that question, so you have material for arcs and scenarios.

The very best aspects to look at for a campaign-level problem are your setting’s current or impending issues, because of their scope.

Amanda knows that her campaign will hinge on resolving The Doom that Is to Come. So the story question following from that is pretty obvious. “Can the PCs avert, prevent, or mitigate the prophesied doom?”

She knows that to do that, they’re first going to need to figure out which of the Cult of Tranquility’s factions is right about the prophecy (if either). They’ll also need to make sure that none of their personal enemies or The Scar Triad can interfere with whatever they need to do in order to stop the doom. That gives her a good idea of what arcs are going to make up the campaign.

Advancement And Change

Your characters aren’t going to remain static through the entire campaign. As their stories play out, they’ll have the chance to grow and change in response to the events that happen in play. The conflicts they face and the complications they overcome will alter your sense of who they are and push them toward new challenges.

In addition to your characters, the game world will change also. You’ll resolve threats as you play, or change the face of a location, or make such an impact on the world that one of the issues may need to change. We’ll get more into world advancement later.

Character advancement in Fate comes in one of two flavors: either you can change something on your sheet to something else that’s equivalent, or you can add new things to your sheet. The opportunities you get to do this are collectively called milestones.

Defining Milestones

A milestone is a moment during the game where you have the chance to change or advance your character. We call them milestones because they usually happen at significant “break points” in the action of a game—the end of a session, the end of a scenario, and the end of a story arc, respectively.

Usually, those break points immediately follow some significant event in the story that justifies your character changing in response to events. You might reveal a significant plot detail or have a cliffhanger at the end of a session. You might defeat a major villain or resolve a plotline at the end of a scenario. You might resolve a major storyline that shakes up the campaign world at the end of an arc.

Obviously, things won’t always line up that nicely, so GMs, you have some discretion in deciding when a certain level of milestone occurs. If it seems satisfying to give out a milestone in the middle of a session, go ahead, but stick to the guidelines here to keep from handing out too many advancement opportunities too often.

Milestones come in three levels of importance: minor, significant, and major.

Minor Milestones

Minor milestones usually occur at the end of a session of play, or when one piece of a story has been resolved. These kinds of milestones are more about changing your character rather than making him or her more powerful, about adjusting in response to whatever’s going on in the story if you need to. Sometimes it won’t really make sense to take advantage of a minor milestone, but you always have the opportunity if you should need to.

During a minor milestone, you can choose to do one (and only one) of the following:

  • Switch the rank values of any two skills, or replace one Average (+1) skill with one that isn’t on your sheet.
  • Change any single stunt for another stunt.
  • Purchase a new stunt, provided you have the refresh to do so. (Remember, you can’t go below 1 refresh.) Rename one character aspect that isn’t your high concept.
  • In addition, you can also rename any moderate consequences you have, so that you can start them on the road to recovery, presuming you have not already done so.

This is a good way to make slight character adjustments, if it seems like something on your character isn’t quite right—you don’t end up using that stunt as often as you thought, or you resolved the Blood Feud with Edmund that you had and thus it’s no longer appropriate, or any of those changes that keep your character consistent with the events of play.

In fact, you should almost always be able to justify the change you’re making in terms of the game’s story. You shouldn’t be able to change Hot Temper to Staunch Pacifist, for example, unless something happened in the story to inspire a serious change of heart—you met a holy man, or had a traumatic experience that made you want to give up the sword, or whatever. GMs, you’re the final arbiter on this, but don’t be so much of a stickler that you sacrifice a player’s fun for consistency.

Cynere gets a minor milestone. Lily looks over her character sheet, to see if there’s anything she wants to change. One thing that sticks out to her is that during the last session, Zird has been scheming behind her back a lot and putting her in a bad position.

She looks over at Ryan and says, “You know what? I have this aspect, I’ve Got Zird’s Back. I think I need to change that in light of current circumstances, and call it, I Know Zird is Up to Something.”

Ryan says, “Seriously? I mean, it’s not like he does it all the time.”

Lily grins. “Well, when he stops, I can change it back.”

Amanda approves the change, and Lily rewrites one of Cynere’s aspects.

Meanwhile, Landon also gets a minor milestone. Lenny looks over his sheet, and notices that he spends a lot more time lying to people than he does trying to make friends with them. He asks Amanda if he can swap the ranks of his Deceive and his Rapport skill, giving him Good (+3) Deceive and Fair (+2) Rapport. She agrees, and he notes the new skill totals on his character sheet.

Significant Milestones

Significant milestones usually occur at the end of a scenario or the conclusion of a big plot event (or, when in doubt, at the end of every two or three sessions). Unlike minor milestones, which are primarily about change, significant milestones are about learning new things—dealing with problems and challenges has made your character generally more capable at what they do.

In addition to the benefit of a minor milestone, you also gain both of the following:

  • One additional skill point, which you can spend to buy a new skill at Average (+1) or increase an existing skill by one rank.
  • If you have any severe consequences, you can rename them to begin the recovery process, if you haven’t already.
  • When you spend your skill point, it’s worth one step on the ladder. You can use it to buy a new skill at Average (+1), or you can use it to increase an existing skill by one step on the ladder—say, from Good (+3) to Great (+4).
Skill Columns

During character creation, you organized your skills into a pyramid. You don’t have to stick to that for character advancement.

However, there’s still a limitation you have to deal with, skill columns. This means you can’t have more skills at a certain rank than you have at the rank below it. So if you have three Good columns, you have at least three Average (+1) skills and at least three Fair (+2) skills to support your three Good (+3) skills.

The pyramid follows this rule already, but when you’re adding skills, you need to make sure you don’t violate that limit. It’s easy to forget that if you use a skill point to upgrade one of your own skills, you might suddenly not have enough skills to “support” it at the new rank.

So, let’s say you have one Good (+3), two Fair (+2), and three Average (+1) skills. Your skill distribution looks roughly like this:

[Your convenient visual example here] At a milestone, you want to upgrade a Fair (+2) skill to Good (+3). That’d give you two Good (+3), one Fair (+2), and three Average (+1):

[Your convenient visual example here] You see how that doesn’t work? You’re now missing the second Fair skill you’d need to be square with the rules.

When this happens, you have one of two options. You can buy a new skill at the lowest possible rank—in this case, Average (+1)—and then upgrade it in subsequent milestones until you’re in a position to bump the skill you want to the appropriate level. Or you can “bank” the skill point, not spend it now, and wait until you’ve accumulated enough to buy a skill at whatever rank you need to support the move.

So in the case above, you could buy an Average (+1) skill, promote one of your Average skills to a Fair (+2), then bump the original skill up to Good (+3). That would take three significant or major milestones to do. Or, you could wait, bank up three skill points, buy a new skill at Fair (+2), then bump the original skill up to Good (+3). It just depends on whether you want to put new stuff on your sheet or not in the interim.

Zird gets a significant milestone after the end of a scenario. He gains an additional skill point.

Ryan looks at his character sheet, and decides he wants to take his Notice up from Fair (+2) to Good (+3). He knows that’s going to screw him up with the rules, though, so instead, he decides to take Resources at Average (+1)—the PCs have been on a few lucrative adventures lately, and he figures that’s his opportunity to create a sense of stable wealth.

If he waits two more milestones, he’ll be able to put one of his Average skills at Fair (+2), and then bump his Notice up to Good (+3) like he originally wanted.

He also has the opportunity to take one of the benefits from a minor milestone. He has been in a lot of fights this game so far, and feels like his Not the Face! is getting old, considering the number of times his character has been hit in the face. He replaces it with Hit Me, and There Will Be Consequences, to reflect his changing attitude about the violence he encounters.

GMs, strictly enforcing how the skills work can be a pain in the ass sometimes. If you and the players really want to be able to upgrade a certain skill in a way that breaks the rules now, simply ask that the player spend the next few milestones “correcting” their skill spread, rather than making them wait. It’s okay. We won’t come after you.

You might notice that this means that the further you get up the ladder, the harder it is to quickly advance your skills. This is intentional—no one is going to be able to get to the point where they’re awesome at everything, all the time. That’s boring.

Major Milestones

A major milestone should only occur when something happens in the campaign that shakes it up a lot—the end of a story arc (or around three scenarios), the death of a main NPC villain, or any other large-scale change that reverberates around your game world.

These milestones are about gaining more power. The challenges of yesterday simply aren’t sufficient to threaten these characters anymore, and the threats of tomorrow will need to be more adept, organized, and determined to stand against them in the future.

Achieving a major milestone confers the benefits of a significant milestone and a minor milestone, and all of the following additional options:

  • If you have an extreme consequence, rename it to reflect that you’ve moved past its most debilitating effects. This allows you to take another extreme consequence in the future, if you desire.
  • Take an additional point of refresh, which allows you to immediately buy a new stunt or keep it in order to give yourself more fate points at the beginning of a session.
  • Advance a skill beyond the campaign’s current skill cap, if you’re able to, thus increasing the skill cap.
  • Rename your character’s high concept if you desire.

Reaching a major milestone is a pretty big deal. Characters with more stunts are going to have a diverse range of bonuses, making their skills much more effective by default. Characters with higher refresh will have a much larger fountain of fate points to work with when sessions begin, which means they’ll be less reliant on compels for a while.

GMs, when the player characters go past the skill cap, it will necessarily change the way you make opposition NPCs, because you’re going to need foes who can match the PCs in terms of base competence so as to provide a worthy challenge. It won’t happen all at once, which will give you the chance to introduce more powerful enemies gradually, but if you play long enough, eventually you’re going to have PCs who have Epic and Legendary skill ratings—that alone should give you a sense of what kind of villains you’ll need to bring to get in their way.

Most of all, a major milestone should signal that lots of things in the world of your game have changed. Some of that will probably be reflected in world advancement, but given the number of chances the PCs have had to revise their aspects in response to the story, you could be looking at a group with a much different set of priorities and concerns than they had when they started.

Cynere reaches the end of a long story arc and is awarded a major milestone. In the game, the PCs have just accomplished the overthrow of Barathar, Smuggler Queen of the Sindral Reach, which leaves an enormous power vacuum in the game world.

Lily looks at her character sheet. She took an extreme consequence in the past arc of scenarios, and allowed one of her aspects to get replaced with the aspect Soul-Burned by the Demon Arc’yeth. She now has the opportunity to rename that aspect again, and she decides to call it I Must Kill Arc’yeth’s Kind—she hasn’t quite escaped the scars of the experience, but it’s better than where she was, given that her aims are now proactive.

She also gets an additional point of refresh. She asks Amanda whether or not she can turn her experience with Arc’yeth into something that will allow her to fight demons in the future. Amanda sees no reason to object, and Lily decides to buy a stunt on the spot.

“Demon-Slayer: +2 to the use of the Warmaster stunt, when she chooses to use it against any demon or any demonic servitor.”

Lily records the new stunt on Cynere’s character sheet, and rewrites the appropriate aspect.

Zird the Arcane also gets a major milestone. Ryan looks over his character sheet, and realizes that he’s in a position to advance his peak skill, Lore, to Superb (+5). He does so, and Amanda makes a note that she needs to make any wizardly enemies Zird might encounter that much more powerful, just to get his attention.

Finally, Landon also reaches a major milestone. Recently in the plot, Landon discovered that the Ivory Shroud was much more than a martial arts society—they’ve been secret political movers and shakers for a long time, and recently supported Barathar in her efforts to control the Reach.

In response to this, Lenny decides to alter his high concept slightly to Former Ivory Shroud Disciple, indicating his desire to distance himself from the order. Amanda tells him that the Shroud isn’t going to take his defection well.

So we have Cynere with a new appetite for killing demons, Zird reaching a heretofore unseen level of power, and Landon questioning his loyalty to his only real source of discipline. Amanda makes a lot of notes about what this means for the next few scenarios.

Back To Character Creation

One way of looking at a major milestone is that it’s the equivalent of a season finale in a television show. Once you start the next session, a lot of things have the potential to be fundamentally different about your game—you might be focused on new problems, several characters will have aspects changed, there will be new threats in the setting, and so on.

When that happens, you might decide that it’s a worthwhile endeavor to take a session to sit down like you did at character creation and review all the PCs again, altering or adjusting anything that seems like it might need revision—new skill configurations, a new set of stunts, more changes to aspects, etc. You may also want to examine the issues in your game and make sure they’re still appropriate, revise location aspects, or anything else that seems necessary to move your game forward.

So long as you keep them at the same level of refresh and skill points they had, reconvening like this might be exactly what you need to make sure everyone’s still on the same page about the game. And GMs, remember—the more you give the players a chance to actively invest in the game world, the more it’ll pay off for you when you’re running the game.

World Advancement

The characters are not the only ones who change in response to events in the game. Player characters leave their mark on locations (and their faces) with their passing. Things that were crises and major issues at the start of a game get addressed, resolved, or changed. Things that weren’t major problems before suddenly blossom with new severity and life. Old adversaries fall to the wayside and new ones rise.

GMs, when the players are changing their characters through milestones, you should also be looking at whether or not the aspects you originally placed on the game during game creation need to change in response to what they’ve done, or simply because of lack of use.

Here are some guidelines regarding each milestone.

For Minor Milestones
  • Do you need to add a new location to the game, based on what the PCs have done? If so, come up with some NPCs to help give more personality to the location and add an issue to the place.
  • Have the PCs resolved an issue in a location? Get rid of the aspect, or maybe change it to represent how the issue was resolved (In the Shadow of the Necromancer becomes Memories of Tyranny, for example).

The group reaches a minor milestone because they rescued the Lord of Varendep’s son from some of the Smuggler Queen Barathar’s minions. It was a small victory that could pay some pretty nice dividends because they now have an ally in Lord Bornhold of Varendep.

Amanda thinks about what might change as a result of the group’s victory. She doesn’t need to add a new location, but she thinks that Barathar might have a grudge against Varendep for getting out from under her thumb now that their Lord’s son has been rescued. She decides to change Varendep’s issue of Secret Fealty to the Smuggler Queen to At War with Barathar to represent the shifting power dynamic, as well as Lord Bornhold’s willingness to stand up to her now.

For Significant Milestones
  • Did the PCs resolve an issue that was on the whole game world? If so, remove (or alter) the aspect.
  • Did the PCs create permanent change in a location? If so, create a new issue to reflect this, for better or for worse.

Later, the group drives Barathar’s lieutenant, Hollister, back out of the Sindral Reach. Barathar is still a threat, but her power is significantly diminished; this is a major victory for the party. Cynere skewered Hollister in single combat, so he’s no longer a threat at all; this resolves a world-wide issue, Everybody Fears Hollister, so Amanda crosses it off. She’s not quite sure what to replace it with yet, so she’ll think about it for a bit.

They also created permanent change in the Sindral Reach; that area of the world is no longer under Barathar’s sway. Most of the people are grateful, but a few of Barathar’s thugs remain to make trouble for the party. Amanda replaces the issue Seat of Barathar’s Power with a different one, Smiles in the Open, Knives in the Dark to represent how things have changed.

For Major Milestones
  • Did the PCs create permanent change in the game world? If so, give it a new issue to reflect this, for better or for worse.

Finally, the heroes confront and defeat Barathar in an epic confrontation. Barathar held a lot of power in the underground throughout the world and her defeat will cause ripples. Someone’s going to want to step in and take her place (probably a lot of someones), so Amanda creates the issue Underworld Power Vacuum to reflect this.

You don’t need to make these changes as precisely or as regularly as the players do—if anything, you should be as reactive as you can. In other words, focus on changing those aspects that the player characters have directly interacted with and caused the most change to.

If you have aspects you haven’t really explored yet, keep them around if you think they’re just waiting their turn. However, you can also change them in order to make them more relevant to what’s going on in the moment, or simply to give the PCs more of a sense of being in an evolving world.

Barathar wasn’t the only game in town. The Skull-King lurks in the north, and Lord Wynthrep is stirring up war in the east. Amanda likes the idea of the PCs facing down a powerful necromancer in the near future, so she decides to keep the issue Darkness Creeps from the North in place.

The other issue, Saber-Rattling in the East is also interesting, but she thinks that all this confrontation with the Smuggler Queen probably gave Lord Wynthrep the opportunity he needed to escalate things. She changes Saber-Rattling in the East to The East at War!. That should give the PCs an interesting decision to make.

Also, keep in mind that if the PCs remove an impending issue, another one must arise to take its place. Don’t worry about this immediately—you need to give your players a sense of enacting permanent change in the game world. But after a while, if you notice that you’re low on impending issues, it’s probably a good time to introduce a new one, whether on the game world as a whole or on a specific location.

Dealing With NPCs

Remember, GMs, when you add a new location to the game world, you want to add at least one new NPC to go with it. Sometimes, that might mean moving a person from a location you’re not going to use anymore.

Likewise, when there’s a significant change in an issue for a location or the game world, you need to evaluate if the current NPCs are sufficient to express that change. If not, you might need to add one, or alter an NPC you have in a significant way—add more aspects or revise existing aspects to keep that character relevant to the issue at hand.

Most of the time, it should be pretty obvious when you need a new face for a location—when the old one dies or is somehow permanently removed from the game, or is boring now, it’s probably time to change things up.

When the heroes rescued Lord Bornhold’s son, Carris, from the Smuggler Queen, Lord Bornhold became indebted to them. To reflect this, Amanda changed a few of his aspects to make him more friendly to the PCs and less subservient to Barathar.

When Barathar was defeated, Amanda figured she needed someone to step in and take over the underworld. Carris and Barathar had become lovers during Carris’s captivity, and he’s not happy about her death. He’s so unhappy, in fact, that he decides to take her place and become the Smuggler King of the Sindral Reach. Because he’s vowed to retake the underworld in Barathar’s name (and because Amanda didn’t have any stats prepared for Carris), Amanda writes up new NPC stats for Carris and turns him into a brand new villain for the PCs to confront. This one could get a bit sticky!

Recurring NPCs

There are essentially two ways to reuse NPCs. You can either use them to show how the PCs have grown since they started, or use them to show how the world is responding to their growth.

With the former, you don’t change the NPC, because that’s the point—the next time the PCs meet them, they’ve outclassed them, or they have new worries, or they’ve somehow grown past that NPC, who remains static. Maybe you even change the category they’re in—where they were once a main NPC, now they’re a supporting NPC because of how the PCs have grown.

With the latter, you allow the NPC to advance like the PCs have—you add new skills, change their aspects around, give them a stunt or two, and otherwise do whatever is necessary to keep them relevant to the PCs’ endeavors. This kind of NPC might be able to hang around as a nemesis for several story arcs, or at least provide some sense of continuity as the PCs become more powerful and influential.

Barathar advanced right along with the PCs. She was a main villain and Amanda wanted to keep her relevant and challenging right up until they defeated her, so every time the PCs got a milestone, she applied the same effects to Barathar. She also made minor tweaks here and there (changing aspects, swapping skills) to react to what the PCs did in the world throughout their adventures.

Sir Hanley, the knight who tried to prevent them from entering Varendep when they first got there, was pretty challenging when they first confronted him. He was a major NPC, and the fight was meant to be the culmination of an entire session. They got past him, convincing him to let them in, so he became less relevant after that. He was resentful and got in their way a few times, but he didn’t advance as they did so the PCs quickly outclassed him. The last time they had a run-in with Sir Hanley, they spanked him pretty hard and sent him running off to lick his wounds.

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