Jan 182011

A few years ago, I was sitting at work in the jail as a new-hire.  I was talking with a couple of guys about gaming and they brought up that the next edition of game XYZ was coming out.  The game was taking an entirely new direction, offering all these new, cool options, mechanics, and support.

“Radical!  I can’t wait to try it out!  Tell me more about it.” I said.

And they did.

And then I said, “Well, what does it do to encourage roleplaying?”

The response I got was, “It completely leaves the role-playing responsibility in the hands of the individual player.  It’s up to the player to role-play as much or as little as he likes or is comfortable with.”

…Not really what I was looking for.

That was my moment.  That was the moment I realized that I was looking for something different, something that simply fit me better.  Sure, role-playing ultimately falls on my shoulders, but I was looking for a game that helped me with that.

I can make any character out there, play anything, and be anyone, but when I sit down to make my character, roll stats and assign build points, all I’m doing is building numbers, abilities, and powers.  The rest – the history, values, quirks, aspirations, contacts, motivations, enemies, relatives, and so on, I have to fill in myself (as an option).  I know, cry me a river.  My point is that I could make my character and skip all that fluff stuff, and still have a PC to roll dice for (some cookie-cutter character that everyone has seen a million times over).

The problem with that, is that when I actually do take the time to write up my character, with all the idiosyncrasies that come with him, I lose much of those character hooks during play.  No matter how much effort I put into my character, I’ll just end up playing

  • the elven warrior with a chip on his shoulder.

When I sit down to play a character, I want this character’s character to come alive.  I want to take on the role of

  • the resurrected Valenar warrior of legend, upset that his resurrection has stripped him of his immortal achievements.
  • The warrior who loathes the direction of the Undying Court because they might hold the secrets to his destiny, and are stringing him along for their benefit.
  • The warrior who, when under pressure, even questions his loyalty to his own morals.

I want to see that character at the table.  Sure, I could probably pull it off at times, but I’m not a strong role-player to begin with.  I’d simply like a game that helps immerse me into my character, which in turn enhances the story.

Well, I found a way, and it’s called FATE.  Specifically, Strands of Fate.

Were I to see this book on the shelf, I’d probably pass it by.  It doesn’t have the crunch that I normally like.  It doesn’t have the tactical combat that I normally like.  And it doesn’t have the feel of the traditional RPG that I normally like.

But I like it.

Basically, all those character quirks, values, history hooks, personality traits, and so on, are called Aspects.  In any other game they usually get pushed aside or mostly forgotten;  in FATE, they are the driving force of your character.  They ARE the mechanic.  Aspects drive your PC’s actions, affect your dice rolls, and influence his decisions.   Not only will you never forget who your character really is, but you’ll make a much more rich and full character to begin with.

So, after a few playtests and one-shots, I sneakily worked on my GM to get him to convert our 4E Eberron game to Strands of Fate.  Never mind that in the beginning, it was I who pushed for us to use 4E for our game.  That doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I had found a game where I thought I could finally pull off the character that I wanted.

So, we made our characters last week, and it’s one of those things that you should do as a group.  Sure, you come up with the general idea of him on your own, but you really get the most out of it when you’re bouncing ideas off of everyone at the table.  I can’t tell you how many times one of us was thinking of some concept, some aspect, but couldn’t get all the way there.  And then someone else offered up some ideas and you just… the light pops on, and it fits, you know?

One of our players has been playing Malik – kind of a sailor, bard, adventurer, fighter, arcane mix.  In the first few levels of 4E, this character had gone through some mechanical changes simply because the player could never really pin him down.  Well, to end the night of our characters being generated with FATE, this player sort of mused to himself that he was absolutely positive that he had finally “found” the Malik he wanted to play.  He and I could have been the same player, because I felt the exact same way.

I realized then that if I ever rewrite my RPG (we all have one, right?), I’m going to steal shamelessly from FATE.  Hell, I might use the entire damn system – I think it works that well.  In terms of helping you make and play a character that comes alive in-game, there’s just no better RPG.

And that is why, for me, FATE is the only real role-playing game.

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Chris Stevens

In Chris's opinion, the very best vices are dirt bikes, rock music, and gaming, while the very best medicine is fatherhood. If he could just learn to balance them all, he'd live forever. He's much more creative than intelligent, often wakes up belligerent, and ponders many things insignificant. Lastly, in an effort to transform his well-fed body, P90X, Roller Blades, and Food are all laughing at him. And the pain continues.

  25 Responses to “FATE: My only real role-playing game.”

  1. I am intrigued. This is a system I’ve heard about before (I think Dresden uses it, right?), but I haven’t gotten to play it yet. I love the idea of mechanics encouraging roleplay, since I often need a reminder to avoid playing my typical excellent self. In games, I tend to be cautious, accommodating, and generous, even when I’m supposed to be reckless, cruel, and selfish. I’m going to have to figure out a way to actually play and see if it’s as fun as it sounds.

  2. Ignoring things like Starblazers, any thoughts on how Strands of Fate differs from other versions of Fate? Dresden, Spirit of the Century, Legends of Anglerre, FreeFate, etc?

  3. I know that problem only too well – the part of my biggest D&D horror story that doesn’t get as much press is that I had sat down at the table with the intention of playing a witty sorcerer who was just a little half-baked and crazy (he thought he was a Favored Soul and that his powers came from Pelor); unfortunately that got shot down in the first ten minutes when I realized that EVERYONE ELSE at the table was already playing someone half-baked and crazy, and that if we were ever actually going to accomplish the goal of the plot someone had to play the straight man. So much for my character…

    Eventually I found Mutants and Masterminds, and it offers Complications that fill a very similar place in the system to Fate’s Aspects – I’m constantly thinking that THIS is the missing feature in 4th Edition, the one thing that would upgrade everyone from character sheets to actual characters.

    Glad you’re liking Fate – please, do keep us posted on the Eberron game. 🙂

  4. I hear you. I LOVE the FATE system. Dresden Files RPG is awesome (a bit to read and absorb) and it (and FATE) really encourage Role-playing.

    I love Aspects so much that I am incorporating them into pretty much every RPG I do, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, and Dragon Age.

    I like that you touched on the communication of Aspects, because it is such an amazing part of the game.

    I actually did a post on it the other day:


  5. Hey Tourq, nice to hear some other “crunchy” gamer who likes FATE – although I’ve never played it, I do really like the idea of the Aspects and the way they work.

    I have to agree with WrathOfZombie’s post (linked above) as I’ve been amazed at the depth of the collaborative world / character generation process in The Dresden Files RPG. So much so that I’d recommend the Your Story book to anyone who DMs, regardless of the system they run – it’s already being adapted to generate and populate the cities of the Pathfinder world I’m building, and I know it won’t stop there.

    I’m not too sure about introducing my players to FATE – the Aspects thing popped up in PDQ, and might bring back negative connotations – but as they really liked the depth of character generation in Mouse Guard I may just give it a try now…

    So… yeah – how does Strands differ?

  6. @ Everyone – If you have never played it, I recommend you try it with someone who has. If you can get to a convention, that would be the perfect place.

    @ Dixon – The cool thing is, if your character is supposed to be reckless, he basically gets bonuses for being reckless. AND, the GM can compel your character to BE reckless (perhaps when you didn’t want to be).

    @ Darktouch – Unfortunately, I’ve only played Legends of Anglerre once, so I can’t really compare Strands of Fate to anything. From what I understand, Strands of Fate is a very streamlined/easier to implement version of FATE.

    @ Jonathan – Mutants & Masters is definitely on my radar, hopefully at DunDraCon. And, between me, Colin, and John, we’re going to have plenty of FATE articles coming, including how it interacts with our Eberron game.

    @ Wrath of Zombie – I actually remember reading your article, and I agree 100%.

    @ Tom – You need to try it out. Also, using the Aspects as part of any other game would be awesome. Just remember that an Aspect, to be most effective and useful, should be both positive and negative.

  7. Hi guys, I’m the designer and developer of Strands of Fate. Glad to hear you like it! For those of you who are wondering about how it differs from the version of FATE originally found in Spirit of the Century and Starblazer Adventures (and later modified further for Dresden and Legends of Anglerre), you can find a detailed comparison here:
    If you have any other questions, be sure to swing by our home page and/or stop by our messageboards.


    Mike McConnell
    Void Star Games

  8. Couldn’t agree more! I like the various iterations of FATE but Strands is by far my favorite. I’m already using it to run a convention game at DunDraCon based on the old Tales of the Gold Monkey TV series (pulp 30’s), and I’m getting ready to kick off a regular campaign based of the miniatures game, Malifaux. It’s a great blend of Victorian steampunk, old west, and unrelenting horror. Should be interesting…

  9. Sounds interesting! I’ve always loved the role-play aspect of gaming. If I wanted to be me at the table, I wouldn’t need a game. It’s fun testing out the extent of how far in can get into character before the session ends.
    We’ve been playing a lot of Savage Worlds lately, and it seems to inspire role-play as well. It has a Hindrance and Edge system, like flaws and feats, but many of them are very personality-based. If you haven’t already, I recommend you give it a chance too.

  10. I’m a big fan of Savage Worlds too, but I still gotta give it to Strands of FATE. One of the things I noticed, even in our first couple of sessions, was that the players were allowing, no wanting, bad things to happen to their characters. Granted these “Compels” are what earn Fate Points, but overcoming adversity is what makes heroes heroic.

    The very nature of the game mechanic requires player narrative and creative explaination. 95% of the game mechanic revolves around spending/earning Fate Points in order to Invoke/Compel Aspects, and Invoking/Compelling requires narrative explaination to bring the Aspect “into play”. This dynamic rewards and encourages roleplaying much more than any system I’ve seen. It works much better than simply rewarding roleplaying with xp or other things. In Strands of FATE you absolutely have to roleplay in order to earn and spend Fate Points, without them you’ll find it tough to do anything at all.

  11. John, I’ll take that one step further – you could even try to play the game without role-playing, just taking the bonuses/penalties by mentally (quietly) figuring out which aspects you’re using. However, in doing so, you are immediately reminded and drawn into your character’s character because of those aspects. All of his character hooks and traits will simply ALWAYS be a part of the game, ALWAYS keeping you in-character. I love it.

  12. John and I spent a full-year putting Savage Worlds through its paces in various campaigns. I think that Fate has a higher potential for roleplaying with our group simply because of Tourq’s comment. The aspect concept is the fuel for storytelling, much like powers in 4E. However, aspects are more often about who the character is, not necessarily what they can do. The things the character does are often made better or worse by who the character is, much like any good fiction hero.

  13. I just read this on the Strands of Fate homepage, and I thought I’d share it. It’s one of the reasons that Strands does not need a whole lot of rules – and I think it is just genius.

    “Strands of Fate features a far more in depth look at equipment, weapons and armor than SotC provides. In addition to modifying relevant dice rolls, equipment may also grant Aspects that your character has as long as he has the item. For example, a dagger has the “Small” Aspect, which might be invoked as a bonus to hit while grappling or hide the weapon on your body, but your enemies may compel that Aspect if you are using it to defend against heavier weapons like a war hammer.”

  14. During development for Strands I blogged a bit about what you guys are talking about. One of my playtesters set out to intentionally make the most boring and “generic” type of character he could think of, only to realize he simply couldn’t. By their very nature, Aspects drive you toward creating interesting characters.
    More here: http://voidstar.squarespace.com/home/2010/3/30/rip-generic-fighter.html

    I also did a post relating to Tourq’s comment about the Aspects placed on weapons. That was one of those “Eureka!” moments that happened during design that forced me to go back and reevaluate a lot of other things.
    That particular entry can be found here: http://voidstar.squarespace.com/home/2010/3/11/why-aspects-are-awesome.html

  15. Our group converted both of our 4E D&D games to a hybrid of Strands of Fate and the Dresden Files (our magic system and advancement are based on The DF rules) with a few other tweaks thrown in and it was a breath of fresh air for the group. Combat is now dynamic & exciting (rather than 4E’s tendency to produce “mash the button repeatedly”) and the characters are more than just the sum of their combat stats. Most importantly for us was that the mechanics are unified and non-combat conflicts (e.g., social conflicts) and challenges are much more meaningful. We’re still using the maps and minis, but now they’re visual enhancements rather than necessary tracking accessories. Oh, and there’s no more need for the bullshit DDI subscription, rules errata, or hours of prep. I talked quite a bit about the switch on my blog for the last couple months and in 2011 will have a lot more coverage about Fate based games including AP posts.

    I’m currently in the process of putting together a “monster guide” that converts some of the more iconic monsters of D&D over to Fate to further speed up my prep. If you’d like to collaborate, drop me an email.

  16. As a writer here at the Shack I can tell you that you are going to be seeing a lot more FATE in 2011. Currently I’m playing in an Eberron FATE campaign, Running a pulp 30’s series of games at the conventions I attend, and I’m getting ready to start running a campaign based on the world of Malifaux (from the skirmish game of the same name).

    In the coming weeks you will start seeing articles on Aspects, Advantages, NPC’s and Creatures.

  17. I don’t know about this Fate game of which you speak, but I’m going to steal your Valenar Warrior character!

  18. @Mike – thanks for the info, I’ll get to checking it out… I’ve always been intrigued by FATE, and it would be nice to find a way to get my players into some more narrative driven than stat driven gaming. Sigh.

    Thanks for the heads-up on that one Tourq!

  19. I have to say, this is one of the most well-written, honest articles I’ve read in a while.

  20. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this tempted to buy ANOTHER RPG 😀

    Now if I can just find a way to justify the expense… Hmmmm.

  21. @ Jonathan: You won’t regret it!

  22. 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.


  23. @ David M-K

    I picked SoF over SotC for a couple of reasons. First off because I think SoF is more “refined” and complete and I prefer it over Diaspora, Dresden, LoA, and SotC (personal choice).
    I also like the the fact that SoF doesn’t have numerically-represented skill lists. Just 12 Abilities that cover everything you need with skills really falling in the category of Aspects. I also prefer SoF’s Advantages to SotC’s Stunts (they’re just a little too over the top for the game I’m running).

    Several other facets of SoF also really appeal to me:
    PC’s tend to have more Aspects then other FATE games.
    I like the inclusion of Persistent (P) Aspects.
    I prefer the multi-line Stress system.
    And I also really like the way SoF is presented by the author. Things like the elimination of rating adjectives (+3 Great) and unnecessary terms like “tagged”. I think of all the FATE games I own, SoF is the most streamline, but complete FATE system out there.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  24. IDK, my group just didn’t care for it, they found the SoF just too complicated and really hated the entire Aspect and Fate system of compelling things, they told me to just chuck the thing and not to bring it out again, it was that bad to them and we went back to Savage Worlds and True 20.

    Sorry to be a downer, but my group really did not like it guys.

  25. It tends to be one way or the other; FATE either works for your group or it just kills the game. I think it’s simply a matter of whether or not the FATE paradigm meshes well with your approach to roleplaying. For me it’s the simplest, most intuitive RPG I’ve played. But I’ve met several others who think the game is just too complicated. Personally I think it’s easier to learn (and GM) than Savage Worlds or any other game I’ve played.

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