Fate for d20 Dummies & Being a Better GM

Michael recently wrote about his experience jumping into a Fate game. I love D&D and I really can’t see myself running a full campaign in anything else right now. Over the last year, I’ve run a little bit of Fate here and there and it is a much different game from D&D/Pathfinder. This week for my Campaign Trail column I thought I would look at what is Fate and how can it help make you a better GM (and player).

About Fate

The first thing we need to figure out is what exactly is Fate. Evil Hat’s Fate is a family of RPGs with a surprisingly complex history and includes Core and Accelerated rules and also popular games such as Atomic Robo, Spirit of the Century and The Dresden Files.

Fate is:

  • a generic rpg based on the FUDGE gaming system that is highly flexible and can be used to run nearly any game scenario/setting
  • award winning and highly supported
  • collaborative and narrative game that allows the GM and players to tell an interactive story together piecing together scenes with obstacles
  • available rules are Fate Core (4th edition) and lighter Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE)

Fate Accelerated is a great place to start and it is free!

Quick Rules Overview


  • Overcome. Use the overcome action to achieve assorted goals appropriate to your skill.
  • Create an Advantage. Use the create an advantage action to make a situation aspect that gives you a benefit, or to claim a benefit from any aspect you have access to.
  • Attack. Use the attack action to harm someone in a conflict or take them out of a scene.
  • Defend. Use the defend action to avoid an attack or prevent someone from creating an advantage against you.

You roll 4 Fate (or fudge) dice to determine a roll value from -4 to +4 (or cards can be used) and then add a modifier to determine if an action is successful or not and what the outcome is.


  • Fail. If you roll lower than your opposition, you fail.
  • Tie. If you roll the same as your opposition, you tie.
  • Succeed. If you roll higher than your opposition, you succeed.
  • Success with Style. If you roll way higher than your opposition, you succeed with style.


Fate is not…

A game with set races, classes and attributes.

  • With Fate Core, you don’t create a Drow Ranger with a dexterity of 20. Fate uses aspects, skills and stunts to figure out what your character is specifically good at… many of which are developed as the game progresses. So Drizz’t is now An Exiled Ranger from the Underdark.
  • Fate Accelerated does have 6 Approaches (Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick and Sneaky) that you rank to determine if your character is swashbuckling, brutish, tricky, etc.

A game with levels.

  • Fate does not have a structured level progression system to advance through a class, but characters are not static throughout a campaign.
  • Characters progress by changing or adding something to their character sheet during milestones. Character progress is unique and specific to the character and story driven.

A game where the GM is god.
In a Fate game the GM is a final decision maker, but it is a more collaborative game than d20. Everyone at the table (the players and the GM) come together to make an interesting narrative, working together to figure out what the outcome of actions should be.

A rules first game.
As written, Fate is a narrative driven tabletop RPG. The flexible rules are used to support the narrative versus directing it.

How can Fate make me a better d20 GM?

Some of these ideas are obvious and require no exposure to Fate, but I’ve found that Fate has pushed me to try the following in my D&D game:

  • Let the Players Build the World Too
    • I’ve been asking my players to send me location ideas for the next town we are sailing to or to name a tavern, ship or NPC. The players have come up with some great stuff and it becomes their world.
    • I asked some of my players to help write the history and culture for the races they chose for their PCs.
    • I always try to have a name ready as a backup to make sure we don’t end up with a world full of Bob the Barkeep.
  • Focus on the Narrative

    • Try to create obstacles that drive the story versus fighting random things that would make a cool encounter.
    • Create open scenarios with problems that need to be resolved however the players want, instead of linking encounters together using a railway track.
    • Try setting story based milestones for level progression versus counting up XP for each encounter.
    • Listen to your players and to determine where they’d like to see the story go. Give players real choices or even ask them where they think the story is going (or even where they want it to go).
  • Ignore the Rules
    • If a player wants to reflavor a spell, weapon or item… let them. As long as it does not break the game what is the difference what something is called or what a blast of energy is made of.
    • If a player has a great backstory and a race or class is not available to support it, work on a homebrew together.
    • If a player asks if something is possible and the rule does not work or does not exist… figure it out together and set a difficulty.
  • Push or Reward Roleplaying and Creative Play
    • There are lots of ways of rewarding creative play, and D&D 5e’s inspiration mechanic is just one of them.
    • For my D&D weekly game I like to reward swashbuckling play along with good backstory driven roleplay, so I’ll give out advantage rolls pretty much anytime a player wants to do something crazy like jumping over a chasm or swinging from a chandelier on top of inspiration points.
    • An alternative to inspiration is to give out tokens such as Action Points (D&D 4e) or Hero Points (Eberron) that need to be spent each day or level to do cool stuff like Fate’s stunts.
    • Handing out physical tokens might be a way of really emphasizing this reward system.

You can get FATE RPG at the Evilhat website, or through DriveThruRPG website in PDF, ePub, and Kindle formats. Here are the links:



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Shawn Ellsworth

Shawn is an author and co-founder of Tribality.com. He first got into tabletop RPGs through ninjas and then by playing a Kender in Dragonlance. Years later, he can be found running games in the Nentir Vale and his own Seas of Vodari campaign setting.