Friday, August 2, 2013

10 Things I FATE About You

Or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the fudge dice.

Fate Core was a huge Kickstarter success and has now been fully released to the public through Evil Hat's website and DriveThruRPG. It is a pay-what-you-like model, which I can't give enough love to as a starting point for getting a game line's core rules out. However, as a reviewer and general gaming aficionado, a straight review of a game which is free and exists in tons of forms over years of game development seems passe. I have an interesting relationship with FATE in general, in that I started out hating it. Now I've grown to love it. I want to share with you ten reasons why FATE Core fixed the system for me, and why you should take another look if you hated FATE like I used to.
A bit of background on my personal experience. Time travel back to 2007. Spirit of the Century had just come out and was starting its glory as an darling. I heard nothing but praise, so I tore the PDF off its digital shelf with abandon. Then I read it. Special dice? Non-numerical resolution? Piles of notes everywhere? At the time it was my personal gaming nightmare. I had a few misconceptions, sure, but mostly I couldn't get past these caveats. It was a tragedy, because I loved the pulpy feel and missed all the best parts. I never really brought it to the table. Dresden Files made huge strides toward correcting some of these issues, but I still had a hard time teaching it and found it a lot of work to run.

So what has changed with the new releases? Here are ten reasons I was able to convert myself to FATE Core:

#10 - Clearer FATE points

Five-ish uses of FATE points (FP) was a little convoluted in the past. While many of these old uses reveal themselves other places, the real point of FP has been highlighted. FATE points are for Aspects, you get better when using FP to power actions based on drawing on a character's back-story and gain FP when that same backstory gives you a karmic backlash. Extensive workups of FP uses have fallen away in favor of a clear indication of the design goal of this system.

#9 - Extras and the System Toolkit
The downside of greatly simplifying an existing system is that you throw the a great rules baby out with the unnecessary complication bathwater. The flavorless generic RPG is why there are so few that persist. Sure setting splat books with optional rules can solve this problem, but many first-time players will be unwilling to invest any further than a core book. FATE Core provides a DIY process by which you can add flavor to match a setting, and there is a whole system toolkit planned if you need more help.

#8 - Original FATE settings
Most of the stretch goals in the Kickstarter campaign were to unlock custom settings built for the game by other great designers. When these are compiled it will vastly increase the value of the core book. Sometimes the biggest trick of a game which can be customized is a suffusion of choices, our old friend analysis paralysis can make it hard to pitch a game with a new flavor. Fortunately FATE Core has a slew of pick up and play settings, which are also great tools for crafting a new game with just parts you like.

#7 - The Accelerated edition
There is an even simpler version of FATE Core, FATE Accelerated Edition. This is a love letter toward super-light gaming systems and the GM that is trying to recruit new players or change the minds of crusty gamers. Basically the core of Aspects and Actions remains the same, but skills and some rule intricacies are hulled out of FATE Core to create this sleek little beauty. It enables FATE to be truly pick up and play. I could teach this version of FATE in five minutes.

#6 - Stunt Formulas
Stunts can be a lot of fun, but many players slam up rapidly into the aforementioned analysis paralysis. There is no list and you not only have to come up with a snappy phrase like aspects, you also have to make up the mechanics. This adds a ton of time to character generation. Taking a page from the stunts in the Dresden Files RPG, we are given an even clearer framework of how to build stunts (especially in the Accelerated edition). Unless I really want to do something out there, I need only pick an action or a rule to bend and an applicable circumstance and I'm done.

#5 - Simple skill descriptions
Gone are the days of the massive examples for every permutation of a skill, a la Spirit of the Century. These were great examples, don't get me wrong, but they made it difficult to consult a skill and promoted dwelling on how exactly to use which skill to accomplish your goal. The FATE Core version, by contrast, fits into about 10-15 lines at most with nice reference icons. Even this need not be referenced in play, it just shapes actions and provides suggestions.

#4 - Simple Success (a.k.a. Skip the Spin)
Spirit of the Century's system of spin and other momentary advantages in practice worked decently well, but it really defied explanation to new players. While boost takes a touch of explanation, it is one word to represent a lot of jargon phrases. It is also really easy, if someone baffles easily, to say temporary aspect instead of boost. An elegant solution to keeping a mechanic that should be there but that can edge toward fiddly.

#3 - Graded NPC Categories
This is another area where all of the mechanics and layout were there in past FATE outings, but is far more clearly explained. We've had rules for the lesser henchman and baddies for some time now, and Dresden Files nicely detailed tuning the power of a foe. However, FATE Core brings it all together, and gives much neater rules for various kinds of thugs and lieutenants in a simple and easy to understand manner.

#2 - High Concept and Trouble
Another great incorporation learned from the Dresden Files RPG and hinted in previous products. By shaping the selection of two aspects toward things players will benefit from in play is nice. There is nothing worse than a player coming from a different gaming system making a perfect character and being depressed at how little they can do without compels. Trouble helps with this goal, and along with High Concept, ensure that every character has a tie-in to the economy of Fate points that drives this system.

#1 - Four Actions, Same Mechanic
*Drum Roll* The number one addition that makes me a true convert is this tweak. All of the little specific skills text I felt I had to reference in Spirit of the Century (which in retrospect I shouldn't have worried about) are rendered simple and direct with this one change. Four actions are amazingly easy to teach to new players, which in practice will be most people encountering FATE in your friendly local game stores. Skills will still give you tips for how they can be used, but they are clearly advice and solidly prescriptive rather than proscriptive. Finally, as a GM running a game, it gives me easy ways to categorize an unspecified player action, instead of deciding whether reading a musty tome is a declaration or spouting lore or somesuch action, it is just Create and Advantage. The dice come out, then the little gaps are filled in.

So these are the things which finally converted me to FATE. Any inaccuracies that were clearly present in past incarnations of FATE have my apologies, but should also reflect how much clearer they were in this latest edition. Go check FATE Core and FATE Accelerated editions out. If you love them, be sure to up your pay what you like so these folks can keep up the good work.


  1. How would you feel about SotC being released for FATE Core? I would really like to see that...

  2. I'd feel pretty positive about it, though I think it might even be easy enough to convert it over on your own. The stunts are very portable, so you could just nab the skill list. My qualms with Spirit of the Century, in retrospect, had to do with the organization and different names for similar mechanics.

    That said, there is good news on this front. As part of the Kickstarter they had a stretch goals to release Shadow of the Century, which is spirit jumped forward to the eighties, and Young Centurions, which is FATE Accelerated Spirit of the Century. Between these I think you'll be in great shape to scratch the Spirit Itch. Look for these a year or two down the road, I'd imagine, maybe sooner!

  3. “an unspecified player action, instead of deciding whether reading a musty tome is a declaration or spouting lore or somesuch action, it is just Create and Advantage.”

    Re-reading the actions part of the book, it could also be “Overcome”. I think “Overcome” is unfortunately named but it’s the fall-back action.
    The other three actions are very specific what they want to do.

    It depends on why you’re reading the musty tome. If it’s to place (or use) an aspect on the scene, such as “Droning Voice” or “Arcane Mists”, that you can use for other things, it’s definitely Create an Advantage.
    If you’re trying to accomplish a more direct story goal by reading the musty tome, such as finding the path to a dread city, I’d say it’s Overcome.

    What’s your take on this?

  4. So, I definitely agree that you could re-frame a given action as an Overcome instead of Create an Advantage, or really any of the four actions depending on the goal. It's really about the end goal that is trying to be accomplished. By unspecified in that sentence, I mean not that if you're not sure of an action its Create an Advantage, more that its easy to categorize an action in FATE Core.

    That said, I do have some thoughts on the relationship of Create an Advantage with the other three actions.

    I feel that, with some exception, Overcome is the opposite force to Create an Advantage as Defend is the opposite force to Attack. They really only differ in the length of application. Attack and Defend (1 turn) are the short game, while Create an Advantage and Overcome (2+ turns) are the long game. I think this is one of those things which makes FATE conflicts stay exciting. Otherwise with only Attack and Defend the norming effect of a normal-ish curve makes every fight obvious. Overcome may be the subtler of the skills, but it makes the whole thing possible.

    The exception, of course, is that Overcome is used for almost all tests to beat an obstacle, and is more or less what is used for all contests. Create an Advantage comes up too, but how often depends a lot on how much time the GM allows players to build themselves up.