August RPG Review Week continues with Fate: Core System by Evil Hat Productions!
The Fate of Heroes
Fate: Core System (2013) is the fourth iteration of the Fate RPG system – originally an acronym for FUDGE Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment but no longer an acronym at all after Fate 3rd Edition. If Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder represent roleplaying games as an elaborate symphony orchestra, where every part works as part of a disciplined whole, Fate represents roleplaying games as a jam band: Messy, improvisational, and by far the most fun when everyone – including the frontwoman – is scrambling to stay (barely) on top of the collaborative work.
Fate is barely controlled chaos and it works the best when every player embraces the madness.
The three core ideas of Fate is that characters are proactive, they are competent, and that situations should create drama. These three are designed to both short-circuit many of the hang-ups that derail promising RPG sessions (players are failing consistently at rolls? Difficulty’s too high! Situation is stalling due to too much caution? Throw ninjas at them! They beat the ninjas but are still standing around? MORE NINJAS!) and to promote the idea that the player characters ARE in fact the heroes of their own story.
The (Fate) Die is Cast
Fate, as you can probably gather from my introduction, operates on a system that is entirely different from Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. Fate is a modification of the FUDGE system first developed in the late 1990s, turning the previously-diceless FUDGE into a fully randomized RPG system with unique “Fate Dice” (a six-sided die printed with two + symbols, two – symbols, and two blank sides; the system was then back-ported into core FUDGE). Fate also differs from most roleplaying games on the market in that it has no ability scores.
Yes, we have no ability scores. Instead, Fate is a truly skill-based RPG, where everything that matters is what you know how to do.
Well… not quite everything.
The Aspect of the Situation
The other unique aspect of Fate is the system of Aspects that govern the characters. Aspects, rather than being a simple numerical advantage/disadvantage system (as used in World of Darkness) is a system of roleplaying ideas that define your character. These can be high-concept ideas like “Infamous Girl with a Sword” or specific roleplaying complications like “Manners of a Goat.” These can be invoked at the cost of a Fate Point to control part of a scene, or they can be compelled by the GM to give out Fate Points at the cost of giving up control over part of a scene (an Aspect that has been compelled, however, cannot be used to wrest control over a character from that character’s player).
Additionally, situational aspects – advantages and disadvantages based on the environment and on other actors in the scene – can make the player characters’ lives more difficult or easier.
Four Actions at the Edge of Fate
All skills in Fate can be used for four actions – to Overcome an obstacle, Create an Advantage, Attack, and Defend. If an activity cannot be described using one of those four verbs, it is not an action, and does not have to be rolled. This creates a system with a great deal of flexibility.
The Genres of Fate
It’s hard to say anything story-wise about Fate Core System because it’s inherently a system, not a specific game. In order to create a Fate game, you start by deciding on a setting and themes for the game, and then build the game outward from those and from the characters. This makes Fate highly flexible, but also means that GMs have more work to do than with a game like Dungeons & Dragons, which has a fairly well-regulated milieu and several well-established settings. There are two books available, Worlds on Fire and Worlds in Shadow, which detail settings for the Fate Core RPG, and the system has been adapted to games with as diverse genres as pulp movie adventure (Spirit of the Century), modern fantasy (The Dresden Files) and far-future science fiction (Mindjammer).
The Fate Core System book is a blue hardcover with matte finish covers and grayscale interior art and graphics. Compared to the glossy, colorful look of Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, this gives it a bit of a more subdued aspect. The book is also better-indexed than D&D or Pathfinder, with gray tabs at the edge of the pages making it easier to find the section you want.
Fate Core System is a highly playable RPG with a very simple core mechanic – all dice are additive, and difficulty numbers are within plus or minus eight points of 0 (actually within plus eight or minus four – if a test cannot be failed even with a roll of [ – ] [ – ] [ – ] [ – ], it doesn’t even need to be rolled).
The Fate System is one of the most versatile and interesting roleplaying games in the 21st Century. It’s a strongly narrative system, but narrative without falling into the trap of performing all actions by fiat. Fate is one of the narrativist-centered RPGs that remembers that after the words “role-playing” comes the word “game.” If you and your players have a strong literary bent, Fate Core can be an excellent addition to your collection.