Summer comes to an end, and I find myself back in the college swing. Which means I’m taking a small break at the moment from REWIRED after hammering on it the last few months. I’ve been trying to catch back up and see what’s been going on in the RPG communities, and checking out the current big titles these days. Dungeon World and 13th Age pop up a lot in my feeds, and they look real whiz but I can’t justify investing into more fantasy/dungeon crawl games, especially d20 variants. Shadowrun 5th Edition is shiny, but I haven’t had any love since third edition.
But one system that has been holding my attention is Fate Core by Evil Hat Productions. I’ll admit the first thing that caught my eye about it was when it launched as a Pay What You Want title. I confess to being one of the “free” downloaders, but I’m sold to the point now that it’s been established the next gaming purchase is going to be hard copies of both Fate Core, Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) and hopefully some dice.
I know Fate has been around for a while, being the system that drives games like Spirit of the Century and the official Dresden Files Roleplaying Game. In the past I couldn’t initially get into the Fate system: I’d see the simplistic character sheets with very narrative things jotted down on them, along with the + and – painted six sided dice, and said “no thanks, that’s a bit too lite for my tastes.”
And I still felt that a bit upon my initial reading of FAE, starting there since it’s the condensed, essential rules for the system. But then, I dove into Fate Core and really got a good look at the nuts and bolts of the engine…and I was very impressed. Yes, it is very simple in the mechanics…with all rolls essentially emphasizing “keep your rolls positive, avoid negatives.” Score higher positives, you not only succeed but succeed with style. Score lots of negatives, and that failure becomes even more costly. I should note that one cool feature of the core mechanic is that it’s also possible to either simply fail or succeed at a cost…I love that kind of flexibility in a mechanic!
But the beauty here is that once you grok the core mechanic, you know all the gamey stuff you need to. Those “narrative things” I mentioned? They’re called “Aspects,” and they carry the game very, very well. Everything has Aspects in this game: The characters, the special items they carry, the environment and even the entire campaign world can have Aspects. These are the narrative descriptors that also define the laws of the game: A player character whose High Concept is something like “Savage Ork Barbarian” establishes a lot about his or her character in terms of abilities. “Crowded Marketplace” when used for an environmental aspect entails a lot of things: People get in the way, it’s noisy, lots of things going on. The rules are setup to where both the players and the GM can take advantage of these things: While the GM may naturally use the “Crowded Marketplace” as an obstacle to the players, the PC’s may take advantage of the crowd in or to sneak around, ambush or hide from any antagonists here. The Player may beat the snot out of said antagonists using abilities and stunts they have on the grounds of being a “Savage Ork Barbarian,” but the GM may compel the player into receiving a penalty with it as well. OK, your Ork sneaks up and smashes on the guy looking for him…but being a savage brute, he may very well accidentally destroy a few vendors in the process, attracting more negative attention to himself!
The Simple Approach…
While I dug in and consumed a lot from the Fate Core, in the end I ended up coming full circle and returning to FAE. The biggest difference between FAE and Core is that where the big game uses Skills (like Shooting, Investigation, Driving etc.) FAE comes in at a different angle with Approaches: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick and Sneaky. It’s not what your character does, it’s how they do it. At first I thought that was quaint for, say, a one-shot game at a con but surely not for a longer term game. Wrong. It dawned on me the Aspects themselves already help establish what a character may or may not know. Our Savage Ork Barbarian friend here definitely knows how to get the hurt on, but most likely won’t know how to cast spells or act as a diplomat in the king’s court.
In my initial gaming session, I was running my girlfriend and a buddy in an adventure in the Buffy/Angel universe. My bud put down Aspects like “Veteran Vampire Hunter” and “Special Forces Training.” My girlfriend had Aspects like “Watcher of All Trades,” “The Damn Diplomat” and “Novice Spellcaster.” Already it’s apparent my buddy has more combat training, survival skills and probably knows a thing or two about seeking out targets. My girlfriend’s character, meanwhile, obviously packs more knowledge and social skills, plus has an element of supernatural abilities to her.
Check It Out
If you haven’t checked out Fate, there’s really nothing holding you back. You can download the full PDF of both Fate Core and FAE for free from the publisher’s websites (and if you like it, toss them a few bucks.) To get more of a full fledged review and understanding of how the system works, I recommend the following links: