Embrace Your FATE

 Posted by on February 3, 2011  Filed as: Better Gameplay?  Add comments  Topic(s): , ,
Feb 032011

Although the FATE system has been around for a few years now, 2010 really shaped up as the year of FATE.  Last year we saw the release of The Dresden Files (urban fantasy), Diaspora (hard sci-fi), Legends of Anglerre (fantasy), and Strands of FATE (universal).  All of these games have added to the critical acclaim of Spirit of the Century (pulp action) and Starblazer Adventures (space opera).   These games have been very well-received by the ever-expanding FATE fan base, and I’m among the converts.  We like FATE so much here at Stuffer Shack that we’ve even dedicated this new column to getting the most out of the system.

For me, my favorite version of FATE thus far is Strands of FATE (SoF).  As a universal set of rules, it is among the very best I’ve ever seen.  For the past few months, my gaming group and I have used these rules for fantasy adventures set in Eberron, pulp action set in the 30’s, and in a couple of days I’ll be starting a campaign based on the world presented in the Malifaux skirmish game (sort of a Rippers meets Deadlands meets Dark Matter).  Long story short, it’s been a long time since a rule-set has inspired me this much.

Since embracing FATE, my gaming experience has improved greatly.  It’s been years since I’ve felt this inspired and creative at the gaming table.  Usually, the mechanics of a game are the thing that I just have to sort of deal with and work my campaign around, hoping that the rules assist the telling of a good story,  instead of detracting from it.  With SoF, rules and story-telling come together into one element – you can’t really do one without the other.  The rules for FATE are very simple, some might even say “rules-light.”  However, many rules-light games tend to feel “rules-incomplete.”  I’ve found that you can’t really use terms like this with FATE.  In essence, the rules are very light – a simple note card can cover most of the basics.  In execution, however, the rules are extremely comprehensive and easily handle whatever you throw at it.

For those of you interested in what FATE has to offer, go for it.  You won’t regret it.  However, I do have to add a cautionary note to my praise.  The game represents a significant paradigm shift over most of the main-stream and indie RPG’s out there.  Additionally, the longer you’ve been gaming the more difficult this shift may be to overcome.  My advice: forget the things you’ve grown comfortable with.  Forget about tables, fixed modifiers, and move rates.  Stop thinking in terms of min/maxing numeric scores, optimizing abilities, and choosing the best equipment.  Forget about abstraction vs. realism.

FATE is a story-telling game engine, but it’s far from free-form.  The power behind the system is the Aspect.  In a nutshell, Aspects are descriptive phrases that speak to a quality of a thing.  For example:

A person might have Aspects like:

  • Fastest gun in the west.
  • Initiate in the Order of Seven Dragons.
  • “You killed my father, prepare to die!”

Vehicles and equipment have Aspects:

  • Fastest ship in the galaxy.
  • Slowest ship in the galaxy.
  • Unsinkable

Locations can have Aspects too:

  • Haunted by echoes of the past.
  • Floor covered in debris.
  • Deep shadows.

An Aspect’s primary purpose is as a game mechanic.  A player can Invoke one of his Aspects by spending a FATE point and gain a bonus, or have one of his Aspects Compelled against him for a penalty (but earning him a FATE point in the process).  This “FATE Point Economy” and Aspects are the real motivating force behind the game and replace most of the conventions we gamers are used to seeing.  Two things the aspiring FATE player must remember:

  1. Anything potentially relevant is probably an Aspect.
  2. If it is relevant right now, a FATE point is going to be involved.

Keeping these two things in mind allows you to know virtually all of the rules for the game.  In FATE, you don’t need to know the bonus for being in cover.  If cover is available it’s probably an Aspect (Crates and pallets everywhere.)  If you spend a FATE point to Invoke the Aspect, you get a bonus – if not, you don’t.  The FATE point is saying that this quality (the Aspect) is relevant right now.  If you don’t spend the FATE point, the crates and pallets aren’t a factor (at least not now).  Of course, next turn when you’re trying to spot someone in the room, the GM may Compel the very same Aspect – giving you a penalty (the crates and pallets make it difficult to see), and a FATE point for your trouble.

What makes FATE the story-telling powerhouse is that Invoking and Compelling take much more than simply tossing a FATE point and saying, “I’m invoking Crates and pallets everywhere.”  In order to Invoke and Compel you must provide narrative context as to how the Aspect is relevant to the situation.  “I dive over the rail and into the crates as he shoots at me!” Stating something along those lines and tossing out the FATE point not only answers the mechanical needs of the situation, but also gives great narrative roleplaying flavor.

Additionally, I love Aspects simply because they convey so much with so little.  When I look at a character sheet I can instantly tell about the character’s personality, history, and motivation without having to read a separate background page.  As a GM, this really saves me some time.  A few Aspects on an NPC sheet and I know everything I need to know – same goes for an encounter area, village, or evil organization.  In fact, the old bullet-point style notes I used to use have simply become Aspects without any additional work.

This is just a quick glimpse at the power of the Aspect.  Expect to see more in the coming weeks and months.  Stuffer Shack already has several articles ready and more on the way (as well as insight from Strands of Fate creator, Mike McConnell).  In the mean time, feel free to comment and ask questions – we’ll do what we can to help you embrace your FATE…

One last thing: Even though we’ll be talking about the FATE system, many of its concepts will apply to any game you’re playing. So stick around!

For more articles on Playing with Fate, go here.

More awesomeness...

John Lewis

John Lewis started roleplaying back in 1983 with the ‘old blue box’ edition of Dungeons & Dragons. He has played and/or gamemastered more games than he cares to admit, or can even remember! Currently he spends the vast majority of his game time running a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying campaign. John's next project is to convert the Warhammer 40,000 RPG's (Dark Heresy, Deathwatch, Rogue Trader) to Strands of FATE. He is also an avid miniatures painter and wargamer and enjoys a variety of different boardgames.

  10 Responses to “Embrace Your FATE”

  1. How many Fate Points do you get with Strands of Fate?

    Do they come and go easily?

  2. Something I forgot to mention; unlike other games featuring bennies, action points, fate points or something similar, in SoF the points fly across the table back and forth. They aren’t really something that is held in reserve awaiting that critical moment and only spent occasionally. In our game Aspects are Invoked and Compelled all the time, maybe most of the time.

    As far as the number you start out with it depends on the campaign power level, somewhere between 5 and 10. In our current Eberron campaign our Refresh rate is 8. In our last session I’m sure everyone earned at least 8 – 12 points and spent 10 – 20. I know I burnt through at least 15 points and still ended with 8 or so.

    Of course your individual experience may be different.

  3. Really liking where this article series is going.

    And as John says, the number of points you get each session (called Refresh) is determined by the Campaign Power Level set by the GM. That said, the CamPL chart is just a suggestion. If your GMing style dictates that you need more or less Fate Points in play, you might consider tweaking those numbers.

  4. I was even thinking the other day that if you were reproducing the “action movie” you could begin a scenario with 0 – 2 points. Then the start of the adventure, like the start of many action movies, would be all about a bunch of stuff going wrong for our heroes (a bunch of Compels earning the heroes a pile of FATE points for later).

    Just a thought; a cruel GM thought…

  5. @John Lewis: A Refresh 2 campaign would be great to run a campaign that feels like the Mel Gibson movie Payback. That would be so brutally fun.

    @Aspects: I don’t have tons of experience with Fate, but what I like about aspects is that, while it may take you a bit longer to come up with aspects than it would take to assign skill points, you have a much more clear picture of who your character is and what makes them tick before you even roll the dice.

  6. @John Lewis: The funny thing about that is, that’s pretty much M&M/DCA’s default setting. It’s all about the story arc: introduce hero, hero meets villain/situation, gets beaten badly, licks his wounds and figures out how to come back and save the day. I figured Fate would run well the same way… Heheh. The more complications you get/Aspects are compelled, the more resources you have to burn on the last boss fight. If I could just find a way to run D&D that way…

    It’s stuff like this that convinced me that Strands of Fate belongs on my shelf- I ordered the hardcover today. I can hardly wait for it to arrive! 😀

  7. I really like the architecture of FATE, but I’m just not sure if I’m going to get the chance to take it for a spin. I went to a convention this past weekend and there wasn’t even the faintest hint of FATE in play.

  8. @ Necronomitron

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    @ Dixon

    That’s too bad about not finding any Fate games. Next time!

  9. @ Dixon
    I’ll think you’ll be seeing FATE more and more over the next year. I’m headed to DunDraCon next week and there are several FATE games being played; 2 Dresdin Files games, Legends of Anglerre, Starblazer Adventures, Star Wars, Diaspora, and the Tales of the Gold Monkey game that I’m running.

  10. I read through SoF and really liked it, even though it has more crunch than I want in my games. I am reading through Diaspora and will get to Dresden Files later this year. I’ve never tried Spirit of the Century.

    To John Lewis: Why would you choose Sof over SofC to run Tales of the Golden Monkey?

    And I already am adapting something like SoF for my game, Dark Well.

    I think Aspects and the currency of rewarding and encouraging people to RP is fantastic.

    I used a derivative of FATE using a d10 for rolls, four traits (Mind, Body, Social, Force), and Backgrounds (Aspects) to run a Star Wars game. No skill or advantage lists. Two kinds of Backgrounds: Internal (things like race and professions, quirks) and External (gear and contacts). It went very well for people who “got it” in how to use the Backgrounds to leverage who and what their characters are and could do. However, it was a struggle for people who could not comprehend using something like Smuggler for positive and negative means, as well as for Mental, Physical, Social, and Force (will-related) actions. The system completely “broke” when a powergamer/ munchkin played it to his advantage, rather than for RP fun with friends in the game world. I’ve since been working to provide a kind of pyramid of Star Wars “skills” similar to how Diaspora does it to help ground the “doing” part into a more static structure and keep the Backgrounds/Aspects as more descriptive. Have not tested it yet though.


Leave a Reply to John Lewis Cancel reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>