Dinotopia for Fate, Part 1

When I started writing about Dinotopia I had some strong ideas about how I’d approach it with different gaming systems. I’ve been percolating the ideas ever since and I thought I’d share the first part of running Dinotopia in the Fate system.


To create your character’s aspects, follow the directions in Chapter 3 of the Fate Core System rulebook (pages 44) with a slight adjustment to the Phase Trio. An updated set of instructions, as well as ideas for aspects that emulate Dinotopia, can be found below.

High Concepts

Your character’s high concept (Fate Core System p. 32) is the big idea that sums up the character. An appropriate high concept for Arthur Denison might be Exploring Academic, while Will Denison might be Aspiring Skybax Rider. Of course, those characters could also be tweaked slightly by changing Arthur’s to Lost American and Will’s to Arthur’s Wide-Eyed Son for a version of the original book that’s a little more desperate. Directions you might take your own high concept include the following.

  • Make it literally your job: Apprentice Archivist, Skybax Courier, Safety Warden.
  • Add an adjective to make it more interesting: Scatterbrained Farmer, Fearless Guide, Lazy Caravan Escort.
  • Use a location to strongly tie your character to the landscape: Waterfall City Librarian, Treetown Entertainer, Sauropolis Guide.
  • Mash two jobs together for a complex role: Bibliophile Sculptor, Diplomatic Habitat Partner, Fighting Smith.
  • Form it around an important relationship to a person or organization: Moraine’s Best Friend, Chief Caregiver at the Hatchery, Champion at the Singer’s Club.

Trouble Aspects

Your trouble aspect (Fate Core System p. 34) is the complication that trips your character up. With the Dinotopia book, Arthur Denison could have a trouble aspect of Obsessed with His Current Project to show the sort of thing that trips him up in The World Beneath or a trouble aspect of Figuring All This Out for an earlier story when he’s still stumbling through the island’s culture. Likewise, Will’s trouble aspect through many of the books is something more like Headstrong and Willful. The two types of trouble aspects outlined in Fate Core are the following.

  • Personal struggles, or people’s faults and weaknesses: Desperate to Leave the Island, Obsessed with Poseidos, Constantly Forgetting Things, No Common Sense.
  • Problematic Relationships, or those ties that constantly prove to be liabilities: Overbearing Parents, Under Strict Orders from Chief Librarian, Banned from the Tentpole of the Sky, Watched by Dinosaur Minders.
Dinotopia - Forbidden Mountains
Image © James Gurney

Species Aspect

Your character’s species aspect is something particular to playing Fate in Dinotopia. Whether human or dinosaur, pterosaur or Pleistocene mammal your character will have an aspect that covers their species in some way. As detailed on pages 61-67 of Fate Core, making a good aspect involves making something double-edged, says more than one thing, and keeps the phrasing simple. This means your species aspect is more than just what species you are, but a description of what kind of that species you are.

You can see this in action with the Dinotopia books by considering all the different humans and what their aspects might be: Arthur Denison is a Learned Human, Oriana Nascava is a Human with Secrets, Lee Crabb is a Human Who Can’t Be Trusted, and so on. There are fewer examples of this with dinosaur characters (Gurney seems to pick a new dinosaur species whenever he needs a new major character) but you can imagine it extends to them as well.

Like high concepts and trouble aspects, there are a few different directions to take your species aspect. The final choice is up to you, but here are a few suggestions for make a fun, useful species aspect that will enrich your character in the game.

  • You could make the species aspect reflect your character being a strong exemplar of the species: Powerful Diplodocus, Small and Fast Comsognathus, Community-Minded Human.
  • You could instead make the aspect a twist on what someone might a expect from someone in your species. This is within reason, of course, since you could have a tiny brachiosaurus or a water-breathing human: Gentle Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus with Anger Issues, Human from the Jungle.
  • You could combine your species aspect with a connection to a location or group. This is great for developing your version of the cultures on Dinotopia and establish groups in your campaign that might develop the story a little more: Deinonychus from Raptortown, Skybax Bonded with a Rider, Human From Chandara.
  • If your high concept isn’t job-focused, you can include an occupation here. This works best when the job depends in some fashion on your character’s species: Diplodocus Transporter, Protoceratops Translator, Human Skybax Rider.

If you aren’t feeling inspired, remember that this is taking the place of the first aspect in the Phase Trio where you detail a character’s first adventure. Use this aspect to tell a story about the character and how they fit into the world of Dinotopia. What sets them apart from the other characters in the group? What sets them apart from other members of their species? This is your chance to make the character stand out so make it interesting.

Dinotopia - Chandara River
Image © James Gurney

Journey Aspects

Your character’s journey aspects are like Phases Two and Three of the Phase Trio (see Fate Core System p. 42-44), opportunities for you to connect with other characters in your party. Other aspects can connect your character with NPCs, this is the chance to connect with your fellow PCs. For each of the two journey aspects, do the following.

  • Write a summary of what happened during the journey, just a few sentences or so. Example: “When Arthur arrived on Dinotopia, he and his son Will encountered Bix on the beach. They didn’t know what was going on so he flung a rock at her and injured her. Soon he realized that she was an intelligent creature and he has carried the embarrassment of that initial encounter as a lesson learned.”
  • Write an aspect that reflects some part of the journey. It doesn’t have to include the player character you shared the journey with, but it’s good if it somehow connects to them. An example aspect for Arthur Denison from the summary above is Don’t Jump to Conclusions.


The following skills are used in the Dinotopia RPG.

  • Athletics
  • Contacts
  • Crafts
  • Deceive
  • Empathy
  • Fight
  • Investigate
  • Lore
  • Medicine
  • Notice
  • Physique
  • Provoke
  • Rapport
  • Stealth
  • Traditions
  • Travel
  • Will

The skills in bold above are new ones for Dinotopia, but there some others that need more elaboration as well. There are also a few skills missing from this list: Burglary doesn’t fit the tone of Dinotopia well and the lack of money removes the Resources skill as well.

  • Athletics or Stealth will be used for characters who have other means of movement besides walking like flying pterosaurs or swimming marine reptiles.
  • Medicine is, obviously, for healing and treatment of creatures of any sort. The most common use of Medicine will likely be to Create an Advantage which can be used to counteract a physical consequence (Splinted Arm as an aspect that can cancel out Broken Arm, for instance). You can also use it to Overcome dangers in an environment like applying salves to avoid taking sun damage or herbs to make your party more resistant against a disease. For some dangers, it might be more appropriate for Medicine to be used to Defend against it such as using it in place of Physique to counteract the attack rolls of poisons. Medicine is not used to Attack. Common stunts for Medicine include adding a new action (using Medicine for mental consequences, etc) and adding a bonus to something specific (+2 for treating disease, treating traumatic injuries, etc).
  • Physique is used to overcome environmental obstacles but in the jungles and environments of Dinotopia there are many poisonous plants and animals as well. When someone is exposed, the poison makes an “attack” adding its potency (0 for a mild poison, 5 for something truly deadly). Physique (or Medicine; see above) is used to defend against the effects of that poison taking stress (or an immediate consequence) if they fail.
Dinotopia - Treetown
Image © James Gurney
  • Rapport is used to communicate with other species. Most dinosaurs and humans can talk to each other but understanding can be hard. When the GM says that a character is speaking an unfamiliar dialect (or a newcomer is speaking some other human language) use Rapport to bridge the gap. Stunts can be taken to provide a +2 bonus to a particular group like hadrosaurs or pterosaurs (see Fate Core Rulebook p. 90). If you take a stunt for a specific species (Diplodocus or Plesiosaur) the bonus is +3.
  • Traditions is a skill like Lore that covers a number of different aspects. While Lore is learning through books or study, Traditions covers the cultural variations on Dinotopia. Knowing that communities in the Forbidden Mountains use steam vents to stay warm is a Lore test; knowing that they keep prayer flags up to protect the community and travelers in the area is a Traditions test. Traditions can be used to Overcome and Create an Advantage in similar ways to Lore. Stunts for Traditions can also be like Lore stunts (particularly “I’ve [Heard] About That!” to use Traditions in place of another skill) and specialist applications. A common stunt is to use Traditions in place of Rapport when making first impressions.
  • Travel is a catch-all skill used for traversing the great distances found in Dinotopia. The books are full of these journeys and Travel is used when Overcoming an Obstacle along the way or Creating an Advantage for the group. Stunts for Travel include Familiar Terrain (a +2 bonus on rolls for a particular ecosystem), Prepared (use Travel to defend against weather attacks), and Expert Traveler (using Travel in place of another skill during a challenge so that you can use it twice).

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