Running Fate content with Messerspiel

I have a lot of Fate games. The Fate Core Kickstarter campaign was famously generous with stretch goals, delivered over the course of years. I went on to back the Fate Worlds Patreon for a bunch more “Worlds of Adventure,” and I’ve bought plenty of Fate toolkits and third-party games. There’s so much in there that you can use no matter what system you’re running—which is good for me, since the system itself isn’t really the way I like to play anymore. It’s good! But I prefer a less mechanized approach to engaging with fictional positioning in an RPG. And that brings me to Oz Browning’s Messerspiel, my answer to running Fate with minimal adaptation.

Messerspiel (German for “knife game”) is a tiny, CC-BY-licensed game inspired by Blades in the Dark dice resolution (roll a bunch of d6’s, highest determines degree of success) and “free kriegsspiel revolution” style play (sparse rules with on-the-fly rulings, as opposed to more detailed rules explicitly covering a wider range of situations). Messerspiel has some huge gaps, but quite intentionally. (“Character creation” is literally just the clauses, “Create a character” and “Discuss the characters as a group.”) This makes it pretty easy to adapt for use with other games, tweaking very little to match their settings and play styles.

So, here is how I plan to run Fate content in the future, using Messerspiel.

Characters

Come up with 3 aspects that describe your character. They could be simple one-word descriptors, like Strong, Charismatic, or Wizard, or they could be more specific and flavorful, like Apprentice Wizard of the Order of Keys. Discuss as a group what makes sense for your game.

Discuss as a group how many special abilities it makes sense for characters to start with, if any at all, depending on your setting. In most Fate games, 3 “stunts” is standard to start with. (We’ll get back to this under “Special Abilities,” below.)

Take a pool of 6 six-sided dice in one color, plus an additional die of another color to be your stress die.

Rolling

To resolve a risky action, roll 1 die for each relevant aspect you have, 1 die if you are unhindered by injury or other conditions, and 1 die if you have assistance. Also include the stress die if under stress—basically, anything that could cause you to loss stress or take conditions in Fate. Read the highest die’s result. (If you have no dice in your pool, roll 2 and use the lower result instead.) If I may borrow Fate’s terms….

  • 1–3 = failure
  • 4–5 = partial success, or success at a cost
  • 6+ = success
  • Multiple 6’s = success with style

If your stress die rolls on or over the number of dice currently in your pool, lose a die from your pool.

Recovery

Any player can compel an aspect on themselves or another character, suggesting a way to complicate that character’s situation somehow. (A Proud Warrior, for instance, might be compelled to unwisely accept a challenge to a duel.) If a player accepts a compel, they regain 1 die to their pool. You can refuse to be compelled without penalty. You can also declare compels retroactively whenever somebody realizes a player effectively complicated their situation by playing to their character’s aspects.

If you don’t like compels, but still want to have the option to regain dice during play, agree as a group what counts as a “refreshing.” (A meal? “Carousing”? Hitting a “key,” à la Lady Blackbird? Sitting and bonding with another character?) When you do that, you regain 1 die.

Regain all lost dice when you sleep through the night.

Special abilities

If you decide to use special abilities in your game, you have a few options.

Convert “roll bonus” stunts: Any Fate stunt that is phrased like “because [I have this aspect], I get +2 to [do an action] [in a situation]” becomes “get 2 dice from [aspect] [in a situation].” (Personally I find this terrifically boring and hate Fate stunts like this, but this is what most Fate stunts look like.)

Use system-agnostic abilities: Favor Fate stunts that actually change the fiction in meaningful ways that don’t require twisting mechanical knobs. These are few and far between in most Fate games, so you may have better luck plundering other games with interesting special abilities, oddities, mutations, or spells that don’t rely on mechanical bonuses (e.g., many Electric Bastionland failed career starting options, some playbook moves in Powered by the Apocalypse games, and talents and powers from 2400 games like Eos and Project Ikaros).

In either case, if you need to limit special ability use because the game would get boring otherwise, designate those abilities as “exhausting.” You can each exhausting ability once per in-game day for free; each additional use that day costs a die from your pool.

(Some special abilities or spells might be so tempting to use repetitively, or so potentially disruptive to any sense of a believable game world, that they need to cost more than 1 die to reuse. If adapting D&D spells, go for ⅓ spell level, round up. If adapting Cypher System special abilities, go by ½ tier, round up.)

Advancement

Agree as a group what counts as a “milestone” for your game. (A session? Two sessions? Completing a mission or quest?) When you hit a milestone, your character gains a new special ability and may opt to reword their aspects.

Conclusion

I plan on using this to run a variety of Fate games I’ve enjoyed before and a few I’ve had an eye on for some time, including Nest, Masters of Umdaar, Burn Shift from Fate Worlds: Worlds on Fire, and Everyday Magic, a game I made inspired by two different magic systems in the Fate System Toolkit. If you use this post to inform your own sessions or hacks, I’d love to hear about it.

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