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.
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:
- Anything potentially relevant is probably an Aspect.
- 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.