A Spark in Fate Core by Jason Pitre

One of the things that drew me to Fate was Diaspora‘s collaborative world building and character creation. I quickly picked up Dresden Files and Legends of Anglerre to see other takes on this collaborative world creation.

Then today, in the Fate Core Community of Google+Jason Pitre posted a link to his free A Spark in Fate Core (CC BY 3.0). It takes the previous iterations of Fate games, pulls the collaborative process up to the Genre level and then quite simply crushes it!

First, Jason enumerates what makes a good Fate game: Characters are Proactive, Competent, and lead Dramatic Lives. If that sounds like the type of characters you will be creating and playing, then A Spark in Fate Core is definitely for you.

Once he establishes the types of characters he moves on to the steps of collaborative world building.  It is simple straightforward advice with a focus on making sure everyone is on the same page regarding the game they are about to play.

When Creating Your Game

  1. You start by listing your favourite Media.
  2. Explain the Inspirations from your media.
  3. Use those inspirations to Describe the Genre.
  4. Decide how epic or personal in Scale your story will be.
  5. Establish Facts about the Setting.
  6. Create a Title to focus your vision.
  7. Create a list of Sparks (potential Issues) for the setting.
  8. Select the Issues, picking three of them from the list of Sparks.
  9. Create two Faces for each Issue.
  10. Create a Place for each unused Spark.

While the process need not be specific to Fate Core, it does highlight an advantage of Fate; You can rather easily mold the rules to reflect the style of game. The various questions for creating your game will ultimately determine the types of conflicts and the approaches to conflict resolution.

So say thank you to Jason by downloading a copy of A Spark in Fate Core and taking a look at Spark Roleplaying Game; a game about “examining your characters’ motivations, convictions, and perspectives.”

Keeping Aspects Interesting

For awhile, we were playing a regular Diaspora campaign, The Precious Few.  We have since set that campaign aside and are playing a couple of Burning Wheel campaigns: Bloodstone and the Butcher, Baker, and Candlestick Maker.

While we were playing the Precious Few campaign, there were several aspects that were constantly compelled or tagged:

  • Cheeky AI
  • “I’ve Got This Easy”
  • “I Love Sound of Gunfire”
  • “I loves my Precious (ship)”
  • “Hidden Resources”
  • “The best pilot you’ve never heard of”

If you ask any of the players, they will likely remember the above aspects; Or at a minimum, that these aspects strongly flavored the campaign.  And I can guarantee that everyone in the campaign will remember the Cheeky AI.

In this regard, aspects are successful.  Everyone from the campaign still bemoans the Precious’ damn cheeky AI.

However, in an aspect’s success was also it’s failing.  Namely, the table felt as though we leaned too heavily on those keystone aspects.  My character, Billy had the following aspects:

  • Father knows best
  • Always looking over my shoulder
  • In the Navy
  • I love the sound of gunfire
  • Former agent of New Florida
  • I have to clear my name
  • Poor judge of character
  • Jaded
  • I read the manual
  • Friends are for keeps

I know that I rarely, if ever, used “Father Knows Best” and “Friends are for Keeps.”

I suspect one of the intrinsic problems is that there are too many Aspects to track. Referencing Magic Number 7, Plus or Minus 2, then I would assert that a character should only have 5 Aspects.

By reducing the number of aspects the amount of “aspect querying” a player would need to do during the session would be reduced.

But, that may not be the desired goal.  A 10 aspect character is almost certainly more nuanced than a 5 aspect character — given a comparable skill at writing aspects. And not every aspect need show up with the same frequency.  If the goal is to instead ensure that you are not leaning to heavily on a given aspect then perhaps a different mechanic would make sense.

Let’s Look at Mouse Guard.  Mouse Guard has character traits, much like Aspects, which can be invoked once per session.  These traits can be refreshed if the character detrimentally invokes a character trait.

I don’t think Diaspora, or other Fate-based games need necessarily limit the amount of tagging or compelling of a given aspect.  For the first tag and compel of an Aspect is at it’s normal rate.  From that point forward tagging it costs 2 Fate points and it’s second compel yields 2 Fate points.  This proposed tweak might gently nudge players and the GM to cycle through a character’s different aspects.


Master of Bandwidth


Years ago, I religiously read Ray Winniger’s Dungeoncraft column.  It is a treasure trove of insights into GMing Dungeons and Dragons, with many relevant insights for other RPGs. In his Action and Reaction essay, Ray Winniger names the three responsibilities of GMing:

  • “Providing effective descriptions.”
  • “Determining how to resolve the outcomes of the characters’ actions.”
  • “Deciding when you should automatically reveal information and when you should force the players to specifically ask for information.”

There are likely other assumed responsibilities (i.e. keeping player attention), but the outlined responsibilities are at the core of an effectively run role-playing game.


This afternoon, my twitter feed had a very enticing tweet from Ryan Maklin concerning “The Fate Pot” and player-on-player compels. In it, he references the idea of the Fate Pot, a collection of Fate tokens that can be used by a player to compel another player.  Fate already allows players to compel other players, but they must expend their own precious currency to do so.  Ryan highlights a tremendous advantage of the Fate Pot:

[Wayne Coburn, the GM,] said that we were free to compel each other, taking coins from the [Fate pool] rather than using our own. I thought this was brilliant–the GM has to spend a lot of bandwidth keeping track of things to not notice every moment worthy of a compel.

Further democratizing how a character is pushed/pulled through the narrative in essence frees the GM for other tasks: describing the world and determining how to resolve action.  It frees up the GMs bandwidth.

Which ties into my academic understanding of Apocalypse World (I have yet to play this game).  In Apocalypse World the Master of Ceremonies has a very clearly defined method for resolving action.   The MC cannot throw a punch that does measurable damage until a player has acted.  Once the player has acted, the resolution is shared between the acting player and the acted upon player.  So the MC can focus on “barfing forth apocalyptica” and revealing information.

In addition, Apocalypse World is the first system I’ve encountered that keeps dice rolling strictly in the other players’ domain.  And the benefit of this?  Freeing bandwidth.  No need to worry about making opposed Stealth and Observation tests. The Master of Ceremonies can focus on framing the situation and reacting to the character’s action.


So here we are, investing energy in freeing up a GM’s bandwidth.  Dungeons and Dragons 4E has focused on making the Dungeon Mastering easier.  They have worked to reduce prep time, continually refining stat blocks, and encounter presentation.  Which illuminates a general understanding that it ain’t easy being the Game Master, Dungeon Master, Referee, Master of Ceremonies, or Games Orderly Director.

I wonder how a person’s mental agility changes overtime for those that run a role-playing game versus those that don’t.  A longitudinal study would be quite interesting.