Gaming for Cheap Bastards Day
So here’s the deal: Role-playing games are EXPENSIVE. If you’ve been keeping a tally, so far I’ve reviewed Advanced Class Guide ($40), Inner Sea Gods ($40) Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (… ok, the Basic Rules are free but if you want the full Player’s Handbook that’s $50), and Fate Core ($25). So if you were to buy each of the books I’ve reviewed this week, you’d be out $155, plus tax. While arguably that’s not a whole ton of money compared to what you probably spend on entertainment in a month, it’s at least a week’s groceries for a family of three.
So what I’m going to do today is a handful of quick-hits reviews on games and game supplements that are under $20 each. I can’t guarantee that everything I review will be the best book of its kind… but it’s not going to hit you hard in the pocketbook if it’s not.
Gaming for Cheap Bastards was a 2007-08 segment of the venerable podcast All Games Considered, by the show’s co-host Chris Heim. It was terminated when Heim moved away from Louisville, KY, in 2008, and was particularly memorable for its rinky-tinky, minor-key introduction music and its advocacy of games that could be had for relatively cheap.
Fate Accelerated (Evil Hat Productions – $5.00 US)
Evil Hat’s Fate Accelerated (FAE for short) is the chopped-and-channeled, quick-play version of the award-winning Fate role playing game. It’s designed to ebb and flow with the speed and fluidity of a good bull session, with players taking actions quickly and spending (and receiving) Fate Points quickly as they build the story together. It’s beer-and-pretzels roleplaying with the literary subtext, party-building minigame and self-awareness of Fate Core.
Systematically, FAE builds on the same bones as Fate Core, but it puts very different flesh on those bones. Fate Core is an expansive system book that gives lots of play examples and different game mechanics that can be swapped in and out of the game at will; FAE is stripped down. Skills are gone (replaced by Approaches, which are different ways in which someone can perform an action – for example, in a fantasy game, a Dragoon might use their Forceful aspect to attack an enemy, representing a full-tilt field charge; while an Assassin would use their Sneaky aspect to dispatch the same foe with a backstab).
Approaches are something of a throwback to old-school gaming – rather than each character having a customized skill list, there’s a universal list of broad ways a character can do a thing, and it’s up to the player to determine which way is the right way. An Approach-based game also has a looser feel, with every character having the option to contribute in every scene. Conversely, players who are used to using Skills may feel left out because there’s not enough to differentiate their character from another character with the same Approaches, leaving role-playing and force of personality to fill the gap. There isn’t a really wrong answer to the question of “approaches or skills,” really – the former tends to be more useful in some circumstances, the latter in others.
From my experience running FAE at a convention (which is the absolute worst environment to run an RPG in: you’re playing games with half a dozen other people whom you will likely never see again, and you’re needing to form an instant comraderie with them in order to have a fun game), players get into their characters quickly, and the system really gets out of the way of running an RPG rapidly. GMs are encouraged even more than in Fate Core just to make things up on the fly and not spend too much time pre-prepping the session.
FAE uses the same gorgeous production values as Fate Core, in a much shorter paperback. There is no art recycled between the two, which is often a temptation for a game company making a cheaper version of their full-featured game.
Lastly, you may have noticed the price in the title line: Five dollars. This makes Fate Accelerated a hell of a good choice for the convention game planner – for the same price as a single copy of Fate Core, you can buy individual copies of Fate Accelerated for five players and let your players bring a game home with them.
Next: Pathfinder Player Companion: The Harrow Handbook by Paizo.