My love for the Fate system is well known, and indeed, widely documented. Somewhere in the British Museum, there’s a Babylonian clay tablet in cuneiform that I’m sure says, ‘Rui is really into Fate. It’s a thing.’ Why? I like strangeness. I like strange characters. I like strange situations, and mostly, I like a system that ALLOWS me to do both. I have a couple of favourite RPGs, but I keep coming back to Fate. I’m not going to go massively into the mechanics of the system (although I’m giving a quick run-through), I’m merely going to present the six ways you can use Fate for the genre you love.
1) Naming those Skills
This is the easiest and more straightforward way to tune Fate for use in your game. Change the name of the skill. Or, indeed, what it covers. So if you’re running a fantasy game, Archery sounds like a good thing to have. But will archery cover bows AND crossbows, or do you need Archery (Crossbows)? Also, will this cover ALL small-and-maybe-sharp/pointy-objects-propelled-at-speed, or would throwing a well-aimed stone fall under, say, Throwing? The system suggests not going insane on the number of skills, but with a big, well-balanced party, I don’t see a reason why you couldn’t go deep into the rabbit hole.
2) Freestyling it
A simple idea, that sounds positively barking insane. ‘Allow the players to come up with their own skills’. What usually happens is that you’ll find that most players describe skills that make sense (melee, ranged, lore, streetwise), but one needs to be careful that everyone is on the same page, otherwise, some people might be describing skills, some professions, etc. Also, be careful no one gets as a skill like ‘Omnipotence’. All joking aside, the same skill might sound different on every sheet, but the players will know their own character and they will better fit the narrative.
3) Weaving the Character Aspects
No part of Fate is more characteristic of the system than Aspects. Simple small sentences that describe your character, and if invoked (using both a pool of points and an elaborate narrative accepted by the GM), will give you a bonus to your dice rolls. This is where you can weave your characters into the meta-narrative. Use them to describe places, NPC’s, you name it. ‘Can hold her ale’ is fine, but ‘Once drunk all the ale at the Orc and Dagger’ will not only say she can hold her ale, but also that there’s an inn called the Orc and Dagger. Is the landlord an orc? Is the landlord a sentient magical dagger? I don’t know, but the players might!
4) No skills. Wait, what?
This is possibly one of the most powerful suggested hacks I’ve come across. No skills, just aspects. So this is how it works, you get a name and a role, what you’re actually there to do. Then you get a number of motivations (goals, desires), abilities (skills, talents) and gifts (contacts, gear, magic). ANY of these that you can persuade the GM are relevant at that moment in the narrative gives you a +1 bonus. Boom. Done.
5) Using Thing-based aspects
And here is where a lot of more traditional RPG players will go ‘Whaa?’. Everything in Fate can have Aspects. Every. Little. Thing. And all of these can be invoked (see above) during the narrative, by anyone. Say you’re running a Fate Ravencroft game. I’d say a pretty good Environmental Aspect would be ‘Gothic, Dark, and Misty As All Heck.’ So a character might invoke it to hide in a gloomy forest that just happened to be right over there, and the GM might invoke it to give a penalty to ranged attacks (cos it’s dark and misty, you see where I’m going). This becomes a consistent back and forth storytelling exercise, which builds, deepens, and intensifies immersion.
6) Cool Stunts
Stunts help tell your character apart from others. If you had 10 characters, all with the same skills, they would play totally differently, because of stunts. Stunts allow for bonuses if certain conditions are achieved. Say, you’re an elf, and your Stunt is ‘What do your Elven eyes show you?’ which will give +1 to perception, if you’re perching on a high, unobstructed place. Once again, with little effort, these can be fine-tuned to your particular setting. (And allow you to steal a much abused Tolkien reference)
I came across Fate when it was suggested to me, when I wanted to play the most ridiculous character ever devised. Gell (Gell A’Tinn) is a sentient Gelatinous Cube, that consumed too many wizards and became self-aware. I couldn’t find a system that allowed me to play it, so I looked around, and lo, Fate popped up. I ran him No-Skills, and it worked beautifully. One of its abilities was ‘Made of Jelly’. So that was where my shape-shifting bonuses came from!
Have you used Fate (or another agnostic rule system) to fine tune a background? Let us know!
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, two years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.