The Expanse: Ariadne’s Spindle

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently, I have put in a lot of work in creating modules for Evil Hat Productions on the Roll20 virtual tabletop (VTT). Of the 36 modules I have worked on, 29 have been Fate modules, 21 of which have been released on Roll20 already. And this really drove home the point that circumstances have driven me to a Fate-less gaming schedule right now: none of the games I have played this year are powered by Fate. This is unacceptable and there was only one thing to do: start a Fate game.

Setting-wise, I have been itching for a long while to play hard science fiction. Rather than going for a ready-statted Fate setting, I decided to adapt The Expanse. It’s funny, of course, because the book series and later television series have their origin in a role-playing campaign led by one of the authors (GURPS, I believe). A couple of years ago Green Ronin Publishing picked up the license and published The Expanse Roleplaying Game based on their AGE system, which I had played in Dragon Age and run in Blue Rose 2nd edition.

I feel that Fate is a great system to run and play exciting adventures in this setting, and it certainly makes preparation easy for me as GM. On the other hand, The Expanse RPG is crammed full of information and I want to get as much of this goodness as I can, not reinvent the wheel. This led me to hew as close as possible to the original character stat profiles.

Player Character Creation

Here is how I paralleled the AGE character creation in my Fate version. The steps listed are those from The Expanse RPG and the notes describe how I adapted them.

Step 1: Concept

This was an easy one, this maps directly to a PC’s first Fate aspect, their High Concept. (PCs will have four more aspects: Trouble, Origin, Drive, and a free aspect.)

EDIT: In play we decided to add a sixth aspect for a relationship.

Step 2: Abilities

The Expanse RPG characters are defined by nine abilities: Accuracy, Communication, Constitution, Dexterity, Fighting, Intelligence, Perception, Strength, and Willpower. We’re going to steal them outright and make them our Fate skills. They’re scored on a numeric scale from –2 (quite poor) to 4 (truly outstanding), which also maps very well to Fate ability ratings.

By default The Expanse RPG uses a random-roll method for determining ability scores but offers a couple of alternatives: a rolled-but-freely-assigned option, and a point-buy option. It also grants some ability bonuses through additional random rolls. I prefer a point-buy option so I adopted theirs but raised the point budget by two (from 12 points to 14, freely divided among the nine abilities) to compensate for the fact that there would be no random bonuses.

This value matches the six sample characters provided in the GM Kit and the Quickstart adventure, which have 14 or 15 points of ability each. It also provides a reasonable range for Fate; compared to the Fate Core budget of 20 points to spread among 18 skills it’s a little more generous, but Fate Accelerated spreads nine points among six approaches, so we’re somewhere in the ballpark.

Step 3: Origin

PCs can be from Earth, Mars, or the Belt and Outer Planets, at the player’s discretion. We’ll use this information in one of the five character aspects.

Step 4: Background and Step 5: Profession

In The Expanse RPG, characters’ social class and background are randomly determined, while profession can be selected or randomized. I just ask my players to choose from the list and keep the information in mind as they formulate their character aspects.

Stunts and Refresh

At this point, in the original AGE System version the PCs would have collected a certain number of ability focuses granting +2 in a specific range, such as Communication (Disguise); and a few Talents, areas of natural aptitude and special training that let a character do some unique things. In Fate these are perfectly modeled, respectively, by bonus-granting stunts of the following form:

Because I [describe how you are amazing or have a cool bit of gear], I get a +2 when I use [pick a skill] to [pick one: overcome, create an advantage, attack, defend] when [describe a circumstance].

and by rule-changing stunts of the following form:

Because I [describe how you are amazing or have a cool bit of gear], I can [describe your amazing feat], but only [describe a circumstance or limitation].

Player characters start with the fairly standard allotment of three stunts and a Refresh of 3, which can be used to buy up to two additional stunts.

Step 6: Drive

The Expanse RPG provides a choice of a dozen ready-made drives, which can be useful for us in formulating the Drive and Trouble character aspects.

Step 7: Income and Equipment

This step is not useful in my implementation. I told the players that if it’s important to their character, they should take an aspect and/or stunt to reflect their PC’s wealth or lack thereof. Otherwise, they are assumed to have the personal equipment and standard of living that fall under the penumbra of their character’s aspects.

It’s not that money and resource scarcity won’t be important elements in the game, but I feel that an accounting approach to the issues would suck the drama out of them for me.

Step 8: Stress and Conditions

Replaces: Secondary Abilities and Fortune. We don’t have any derived abilities to figure out in Fate, but we do have to look at how damage of all types will be absorbed. Fate has three main tools for this: stress, which represents temporary harm that will be recovered at the end of the scene; consequences, which are temporary aspects representing longer-lasting damage; and conditions, which is kind of a mid-point with pre-determined mini-aspects. Since The Expanse RPG already made use of conditions, I decided to use them as the basis for similar conditions, like the ones used in Dresden Files Accelerated. To be honest, I think there are too many and we will likely want to trim the list a bit after we have played a few episodes.

Step 9: Finish Your Aspects

Replaces: Goals and Ties. At this stage, The Expanse RPG asks players to establish their characters’ goals and ties but in Fate, this is covered by the character aspects.

Step 10: Name and Description

No changes needed!


I used these character creation rules to re-create the six sample characters provided in the GM Kit and the Quickstart adventure. It was super-easy and quick, and the characters looked reasonable. Here is an example (forgive the format, Roll20 does not allow HTML export so I had to do a screen capture.)

Next post: Creating NPCs and ships!

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