Sep 092011

As a generic rule-set, Strands of FATE is a fully functioning game system lacking only two ingredients: (1) a creative gaming group, and (2) a setting in which to play. I can’t help much with the former ingredient, that’s up to you, but I can assist with the latter.

Many of you out there who’ve picked up Strands of FATE (or any of the other FATE-based games) have already discovered how flexible, complete, and stream-lined the system is. Hopefully you’ve had a chance to see the system in action and thought to yourself that this may help you get the RPG experience you’re looking for (at least that’s what it did for my group!). So really there is just one thing remaining, either creating your own setting for SoF, or converting your favorite game and setting. For those of you looking to convert your favorite game, setting, or campaign to Strands of FATE, this article is for you.

My gaming group has already done a couple of conversions to FATE, and over the years I’ve converted several other settings and systems (Savage Worlds, Modern d20, and Cortex to name a few). With each of these projects, I’ve learned a lot about how to execute a good conversion. The most important thing I’ve discovered is that we GM’s tend to make conversion projects infinitely more complex then they need to be. Like my high school English teacher always said, “Unless your name starts with Shake and ends with Spear, keep it simple!” On that note, here’s my advice for pain-free conversions:

Define the “Feel” of the Source Material

Before undertaking a conversion, sit back and really think about what elements of the source material are the key components for the “feel” of the setting. Ask yourself what makes this setting exciting: is it genre, theme, scale, or the nature of the heroes or villains? What makes this setting conversion-worthy? Make a list of these elements.

For example: our list for a recent Eberron (D&D 4E) conversion looked something like this:

  • Swashbuckling high adventure in a fantasy setting.
  • Numerous power-brokers (governments, noble families, guilds, Dragonmarked houses, religions, secret societies, etc.) all
    vying for increased power.
  • “Interesting” heroes (more so than “powerful” ones) with a “pulp” feel. More Indiana Jones than Drizzt do’Urden. Larger-than-life maybe, but not epic “super-heroes”.

Take a good look at your finished list. If you notice that your list focuses on “hard” gaming elements, such as rules or mechanics, I’d suggest not doing the conversion. Maybe you need to tweak the source material a bit for the game you want, but in my experience you’ll only get frustrated trying to make all of the mechanics “fit” into a different rule-paradigm, so you’re probably better off just using the existing materials as written for your game.

However, if your list tends to focus on “soft” gaming elements, such as genre, theme, style, and other non-mechanical elements, then a FATE conversion may be exactly what your game needs.

Separate Rules from Setting

With a few exceptions, most rules don’t necessarily do anything to convey the feel of the setting, they simply provide a working framework for the game. As you look through your source material, note if there are any rules that specifically address elements that are important to experiencing the setting. These are usually genre-specific and fulfill a specific function within the context of the setting. Here are some examples:

  • Call of Cthulhu: Rules for fear and insanity
  • Star Wars: Dark side and light side Force powers
  • Shadowrun: Hacking, AR, and VR.

If your source material has rules like these, take a look at how SoF handles the issue and go with it. Stands of FATE is an amazingly complete set of rules, and nearly anything you need can be found within. Other rules, such as for two-weapon fighting, reloading, or lockpicking, really don’t do anything for the setting so don’t worry about converting them. SoF has rules covering these things already so avoid the temptation to convert mechanical minutia just because it exists in the source material. It doesn’t add anything to your game, and just tends to overly “complexify” your FATE game.

Understand the FATE Paradigm and Embrace It Fully

I can’t stress this enough: let FATE work the way it is designed. Don’t try to make FATE fit your source material; make your source material fit FATE. This is the most critical element of a conversion, and once you understand it, the process will be pain-free and virtually effortless.

My current conversion project is the Warhammer 40K RPGs from Fantasy Flight Games (Black Crusade, Dark Heresy Deathwatch, and Rogue Trader). The setting is incredible, but the rules have a great deal more complexity than I want to deal with. The most important thing for me and my players is to truly capture the dark, bleak, hopeless feel of the 41st millennia.

When I first began the conversion I was quickly overwhelmed by all of the elements I “had” to convert. But after a while I realized that 90% of the rules were only relevant in context with other rules and didn’t really do anything to bring the setting to life. Once I had that realization, the conversion was a breeze. For each game, I selected one or two elements and then converted them. The rest is pretty much just “standard” Strands of FATE.

In Conclusion

Hopefully this will help you on your path to that FATE game you really want to run. I’ve been extremely impressed at how well this system works and how easy conversions are. Just remember the most important thing: don’t over think it, it’s easier than you think.

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John Lewis

John Lewis started roleplaying back in 1983 with the ‘old blue box’ edition of Dungeons & Dragons. He has played and/or gamemastered more games than he cares to admit, or can even remember! Currently he spends the vast majority of his game time running a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying campaign. John's next project is to convert the Warhammer 40,000 RPG's (Dark Heresy, Deathwatch, Rogue Trader) to Strands of FATE. He is also an avid miniatures painter and wargamer and enjoys a variety of different boardgames.

  18 Responses to “Playing with FATE: Conversions”

  1. Excellent article! I keep struggling with FATE and I think it’s because I think it’s more complex than it is.

    Would love a peek at the finished conversion. The setting is so rich, but the current products are just too much.

    – Neil.

  2. Thanks for the comment, I hope the article helps. I’ll be posting additional articles on conversions in the coming weeks.

  3. Congratulations! Great article! Actually, I wait a few tips specific to the conversion of Dark Heresy … I await hopeful

  4. Feel free to ask questions here also.

  5. Sorry, one question: in your conversion, have you transposed feats in advantages, 1:1? And how have you managed the feat’s prerequisites?

    If I’m not wrong, in Strands of Fate system, advantages are divided only in three “power categories”: Expert, Heroic and Power. Considering only the first two (Powers have a different conversion: psichic powers / occult powers etc.), the only difference in terms of cost is that the Expert Advantages cost 1 AP, the Heroic 2 AP.

    The Player, according to the story, can buy whatever advantage if has the requested AP without having to fulfill any other prerequisites.

    Do you use prerequisites in your conversion?

    Thank you

  6. Sorry for my poor english

  7. In general here’s how I handled converting Talents (and Traits) to Advantages. I basically just used Advantages straight from SoF but changed their names to something more 40K sounding (usually using the name of an existing 40K Talent). Then I went through the 40K Talents, Career Abilities, Chapter Abilities etc. and converted a few into either Expert or Heroic Advantages, depending on how powerful they are. I quickly discovered that there wasn’t any need to convert many of the abilities because they addressed things that are not relevant to SoF, like two-weapon fighting.

    As far as prerequisites go; if I felt the Advantage needed a prerequisite I usually required a lesser Advantage (like an specific Expert before taking a specific Heroic) or I required an appropriate Aspect. I avoided using Ability scores as prerequisites because they tend to be on the low side and rarely change. Aspects are a good way to go because that’s how I handle Career and Home World choices.

    Ultimately though you really can’t go wrong with the way Strands of FATE handles it. So long as a player can narratively justify the Advantage (or Aspect) they should be able to get it.

    Player: “During my character’s time as an Imperial Guardsman he learned how to drive walkers.”
    GM: “Sounds good. Tell us all about one of your missions and I’ll give you an extra Fate point or two.”

  8. Another question: how do you convert Insanity (someone use social conflicts, but I dont like this way) and Corruption (maybe using mental conflicts)?

  9. For Insanity I use the Mental Stress Track, not the Social. Fear and Terror are simply Mental Attacks resisted by Willpower (usually). Mental Consequences of Severe (P), Extreme (P), and Defeated (P), are worded as Insanities. Since Consequences can be Invoked and Compelled like an Aspect you don’t need any specific mechanics for the condition, you only need to have an idea of the symptoms of the Insanity/Consequence in order to roleplay it. Minor and Major Consequences are more “temporary” in nature.

    As for Corruption I handle it like this:
    Each character has a Non-Renewable Custom Stress Track called “Corruption”. (no AP cost)
    The track is based on [Willpower + Endurance + Modifiers].
    When appropriate the character has to defend against a Corruption “attack”, usually with Willpower or sometines even Endurance. I handle this like any “attack”.
    Damage is handled per normal damage rules.
    Consequences I handle like this:
    Minor and Major: I use things from the Malignacies table.
    Severe (P): I use Minor Mutations.
    Extreme (P) and Defeated (P): I use Major Mutations.

    Hope this helps; keep the questions coming!

  10. All I ever wanted for Christmas was a Shadowrun conversion… FYI John, my birthday is in November too…

  11. Check out Interface Zero; I’ve already done the conversion!

  12. OK, now I am downright intrigued.
    I came across FUDGE years ago, but it didn’t grab me. I liked FATE, but the skill pyramid and such still felt off, mostly because I had discovered HeroQuest by then. I like HQ a lot, but I find it runs cold in terms of extended contests and some tactical aspects. There’s a lack of the ebb and flow and bringing new elements in that a good dramatic moment needs. (I can hack it, but it always feels like a hack.)

    Strands of Fate looks DAMN interesting. So, as someone who likes the player driven approach, who likes the idea of making up your own abilities and defining traits, who likes having anything from a dance competition to an insult contest to a fight being the same basic rule structure and equally dramatic, and who wants to have the players be able to decide how much to invest into a conflict… am I going to start reading this and then download it like heroin? (Or is there a known “if you like one, you will hate the other” factor?)

    Because I’ve been having the itch to run something again, and fell across you all by accident.

  13. @ LC;

    Couple of points for your consideration:

    SoF doesn’t have any sort of Skill Pyramid; You have 12 Abilities, 4 Physical (Agility, Endurance, Perception, Strength), 4 Mental (Craft, Knowledge, Reasoning, Willpower) and 4 Social (Empathy, Deception, Persuasion, Resources). For me these 12 cover anything players might do (especially once you consider how easy it is to ‘combine’ abilities if needed). Your various Aspects will further define what you’re good (and bad) at. Some people however like a more traditional approach to having ‘skills’.

    Combat is great. It tends to be easy for the GM to make a combat as long or short as you need. In my games combat tends to be fast and deadly, without the ‘grind’ common in many games. (As a note I like the Single Set Stress Track optional rule on page 250.)

    Although I’ve always felt comfortable making ‘rules calls’ on the fly in my game, SoF really makes this easy. If that has never been a strong ability for you as a GM SoF is going to help. No matter what a player comes up with or a situation warrants, just think in terms of Aspects. If a player wants to know if those crates provide cover or what the cover bonus is for wooden crates, just ask yourself if the crates are relevant enough to POTENTIALLY impact te game. If they’re just “window dressing” say so, if not they are an Aspect ‘Wooden Storage Crates’. Now, everyone at the table knows the “rules” for the crates; if they can narratively describe how the crates are providing cover, AND they spend a FATE point, BAM! +2 on their defensive roll. You don’t even have to worry about issues like ‘game balance’ because Aspects always have the same mechanical function when used and players have a limited number of FATE points to spend; the system completely self-regulates.

    The only other thing I can say is buy Strands of FATE. It will take a little adjustment for you and your gaming group but if you really like story-driven roleplaying with strong group narrative then you may have found the ultimate game!

  14. John, thanks for the answer.

    As much as skill lists make me itch, the idea of a certain generic set then entirely tweaked by aspects may work for me.

    I suspect I will buy and try.

    Thanks again for responding.

  15. Is there any way you could post/send your Warhammer 40K Dark Heresy conversion?

  16. I have been a fan of FATE since FATE 2.0. When I first came across it, I immediately scrapped a game I was making with BESM and started again with FATE. It was a great eye-opener for me and it worked great with new players. I don’t think much of Spirit of the Century. The characters seem overpowered for my taste and I personally don’t like pulp. Stunts added what I thought was an unnecesary level of complexity and record-keeping to the rules. I have not read the Dresden files and the setting is not my cup of tea either, so I may never check it out.

    Diaspora is another story. The way they abstracted space combat and reduced everything to it’s minimalistic mechanics while still keeping the tactical play was very creative and inspiring. I like their short skill list, which in my opinion is very much like Strands “attributes” (which with all due respect, are still nothing more than skills with a diferent name (and there is nothing wrong with that).

    This brings me to Strands of Fate. At the beginning, it seemed to me as an attempt to take the FATE out of FATE to make it more pallatable to traditional players of the D&D and GURPS vein, but I have come to realize that it has more elements that make it a worthy alternative. The Aspect Alphabet, I think it’s a great way to introduce new players into creating their first few aspects.

    Chronica Feudalis also has a limited skill list that works fine and I enjoyed very much the system of mentors to gain skills. What I didn’t like that much is that they went back to polyhedral dice pools for resolution mechanics.

    I have not checked Starblazer Adventures (the $ize of the book has been a $tumbling block for me) or Legend of Anglerre, which I really need to check out.

    Right now, I’m waiting for FATE 3.0, but I don’t think my implementation will be as “pure” as I once thought, because Strands, Diapora and Chronica Feudalis have given me too many goodies to ignore.

    Thank you for this enlightening series of articles.

  17. John –

    I like the articles! Have you posted your WH 40K conversions anywhere? I’d really like to see how you went about the full conversion.


  18. I would very much like to see the WH 40K conversion as well! Pretty Please? For the Emprah?

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