What System Are You Really Running?

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It’s been a while (too long) since I’ve found the time to post in my usual Thursday morning spot. What made me carve out some time today was an odd thought that occurred to me recently. I’ve been putting in a lot of work on my multi-system campaign setting, Sand & Steam. Due to a promise made to a friend, I’ve been concentrating most of my recent work on Fate. You see, I have a Fate Sand & Steam adventure to run at DC Gameday in a little over a week. I have only little experience with Fate, but since it is one of the systems I’m going to use for Sand & Steam, I figured that things would work out.

Things are, indeed, working out. My odd thought happened as I was exploring the Fate mechanics in more detail. It occurred to me that I have been running Fate for quite a long time without having even known it. And I’ve never run a game of Fate before in my life.

Let me explain.

One of the hallmarks of the Fate system is the collaboration between the players and the GM. In fact, there is a nearly 50/50 split between the players and the GM when it comes to who has narrative control. Through the use of Aspects, players can define things about the game world, or the narrative, that were not true before they made their declaration. I think this is awesome, and it is something that I have been doing with my Pathfinder group for as long as we have been together. I’ve told them numerous times, “If you make something up in the world, I’ll use it and run with it. This is as much your game as it is mine.” That’s an idea that is codified and built right into Fate.

My use of skills is also very Fate-like. Ever since I played D&D 4e, I have liked skill challenges. However, I do not like the rigid structure that has there being key skills that can only be used so many times, and higher DCs for skills that may not apply. What I like to do with skill challenges is have the players pick whatever skills they want to, and justify to me how that skill is applicable. Some are obvious, others are not, depending on the situation, and the results are often awesome. I ran a skill challenge in a Pathfinder Sand & Steam game at GenCon which involved the PCs avoiding a beating by some thugs during a theatrical production in a fancy opera house. It was great. We had PCs swinging from chandeliers, we had PCs bluffing with their combat skill, and generally playing to the crowd for support in the fight. It was one of the best skill challenges I have ever run.

All this is to say: be aware of what system you are really running. Not that you need to stick to the rules as written explicity (gods know I don’t), but if you take the time to examine other rules systems, you might find actual, codified rules that support the way you already run your game. Now that I have firm examples from reading and working with Fate, I have a better idea of how to keep doing what I’ve been doing with players having narrative control, or malleable options in skill challenges. Every GM tweaks the rules to suit their style, but that tweaking shouldn’t be done in a vacuum. Do some reading and see what else is out there. You might find that the game you run is not the game you think it is. And that’s a good thing.

2 thoughts on “What System Are You Really Running?

Add yours

  1. A good write-up!

    It seems to me that one thing FATE does very well is codify the consensus building at the table. The system is very interesting and the abstraction a tab mind-bending at first. Table consensus in many ways is the key to a good role-playing experience. I find that nearly always trouble in games comes from a failure to be willing to work with the other folks at the table. There are a number of seemly unspoken social conventions in play. While clearly players need to be free from unreasonable constraints, there is a need to work to make sure everyone has an enjoyable time even if the plot puts them at cross purposes for a time!

    Good Gaming!

    – Andre


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