Published on January 22nd, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen3
The FATE of the World
Summary: If you have ever played or have ever thought of playing an RPG, you should pick this one up, it's superb and it's free to try!
Heraclitus said, “A man’s character is his fate.” Never have those words been more true in an RPG than when you begin to play the Fate Core family of role playing games by publisher Evil Hat. A far cry from your daddy’s dungeon crawling games, the Fate system puts an emphasis on making your character’s attributes aspects of your character instead of just descriptions of things that you can do or powers that you have. By breaking away from D&D style gameplay, Fate has distinguished itself among RPG enthusiasts and has become one of the most popular non-fantasy systems on the market today.
Fate Core is the most recent version of the Fate system to be released, but Spirit of the Century is really what put the game on role players’ radar. Originally published in 2006, Spirit of the Century got many RPG awards and quickly became a favorite on many websites and forums. Though Spirit of the Century used mechanics based on the FUDGE system, as the more popular version of the rules it got most of the gaming press. Fate Core is setting agnostic (as opposed to the Spirit of the Century book which has a default pulp setting) which makes the game much more useful to people who want to use the rules in more than one setting.
Fate Core launched its Kickstarter project in 2013, originally asking for $3000 to fund the writing of a new core book. By the end of the Kickstarter campaign they had received over $433,000 in purchases. In light of all this interest, the writing team decided to create additional works. Not only would there be a new core rule book, they would also write four additional supplements. The Fate System Toolkit gives alternate or additional rules to use for people running Fate, while the Fate Worlds books each present various settings that you could play Fate in, each with some new optional rules that the writers thought would add to that setting experience.
Responding to fan demand, Evil Hat also wrote a book that was a pared-down version of the Fate system: a small, pamphlet sized book called Fate Accelerated Edition that promised to take the basics of Fate and distill them into an easy-to-learn, easy-to-play version. The great stretch goals, combined with really open communication with fans was a key part of the success of the Kickstarter campaign.
The physical copies of the book are very well put together. The Fate Core and Fate System Toolkit books both come in hard cover, while the Worlds and Accelerated Edition both come in perfect bound softcover versions. The Fate Core and Accelerated Editions are also available in a “pay what you like” PDF format via the Evil Hat website, which is a stellar move on the part of Evil Hat to get more people to try their game out before they buy. The covers of all the books are amazing and the inside art is unique and evocative, even while being pretty low key in greyscale.
The PDFs are great, they are bookmarked (even the free ones) and have references laced throughout them that link you different parts of the book. While that’s a feature I expect from a book I paid to download, it’s unusual to see it in a free product and I was very pleasantly surprised to see that functionality there. In both digital and physical formats, Fate goes up and beyond to produce a good, useful product.
If your only exposure to role playing games up until now has been Dungeons & Dragons or the like, then Fate’s gameplay might sound a bit foreign. Whereas many popular fantasy RPGs and video games have popularized roleplaying games that include levels and classes, in Fate there is no system for either of these mechanics. A Fate character’s defining attributes are called Aspects, and they influence all areas of the game.
Unlike stats in other games, which tend to focus on things you can do or what you are, Aspects focus on who you are. Aspects tend to be framed as a short quote or as a punchy descriptor of your character, and they are meant to be interesting and plot-hook-worthy.
For example, if we were running a game that followed the plot of Lord of the Rings then Aragorn might have the Aspects “Heir of Elendil”, “Anduril, Flame of the West” and “Star Crossed Love: Arwen Undomiel”. These aspects would give Aragorn a tie to Gondor and his role as King, which the character wants to be important, it gives him an iconic weapon with somewhat vague magical properties and a strong emotional tie to another character in the game world.
Aspects can be used to get a bonus to actions where they are relevant, to declare something about the scene that wasn’t defined before, or to compel others to do things your way. Fate also has other stats, of the running, jumping, climbing trees variety but the Accelerated Edition and the Toolkit give options to change those as well if you’d like.
Some people think that Fate games are all rules light, fluffy story games without much in the way of mechanics. That is actually a false perception, and Fate Core can actually be quite crunchy. While the numbers you’re working with are all really small, and the addition/subtraction is simple, remembering which bonuses apply or if compelling or invoking aspects will work better for you… it can all be overwhelming.
The nice thing about this is that many of the systems in Fate are modular so you can add and drop parts of the game really easily without having to worry about things like balance, because the game is really not set up in a way that you could game the system even if you wanted to. In fact, the only way to do so is to make a character so interesting that their aspects are being compelled and invoked all over the place- something everyone wants to happen anyways. Fate can be surprisingly complex, but it shouldn’t overwhelm you.
I have an immense love for the Fate system, as I’ve used it to introduce people to RPGs who never would have tried them otherwise. The aspect mechanic is engaging and intuitive, and leads to characters with built-in plot hooks and story cues. At times I get a little annoyed with some of the mechanics of the Core system, and feel like it’s getting in my way. For this reason, my current group is using the Accelerated rules exclusively for our sessions. The decrease in complexity allows for much more fluid storytelling, and it’s been vital in getting those newer members of our group comfortable enough to run their own games.
I really feel like there is something in this game for everyone, and there are enough modifiable pieces to the game that everyone who has played or has thought of playing an RPG should at least go to the Evil Hat website and download the rules for free.
For future reference, for those getting into Fate for the first time here are some great lists of resources that you will definitely find useful to some capacity.