As a GM, although I don’t mind creating a setting for a rule system, I much prefer to build both side-by-side. The rules become the universe and vice-versa. As you can imagine, agnostic systems which are designed for any and all backgrounds, are of special interest to me. Today, I’d like to introduce my 8 favourite things about FATE.
In FATE, you’re expected to make your own skill list. You don’t have to, mind, however, the core-book provides a pretty extensive list. If you’re playing a futuristic setting, ‘archery’ might not be the most useful of skills. So, change it. Stick ‘Plasma weapons’ in there, or make it more generic, ‘Ballistic’ or ‘Ranged’ would do nicely. I find that this adaptability really colours the universe you’re playing in, as you can develop both (Skills and Universe) simultaneously.
When it comes to skills, you can build a FATE character in less than 4 minutes. You have a pyramid skill (one skill at max modifier, 2 one level down, etc), and you fill it with the skills you think your character is best at. #Boom. Sorted.
This aspect is really attractive. FATE’s books are – the core ones at least – unusually cheap for RPG’s. In fact, one of them (see next point) is free as a PDF. Other FATE-based core books are more expensive, but you could in theory start playing at cost zero.
There are two variants of FATE: the ‘normal’ one (the one I’ve been referencing so far) and FATE Accelerated Edition. FATE is a stripped down, streamlined version of FATE. It is less detailed, and it perhaps loses a bit of its flavour, but you can make a character, and play with virtually zero preparation. Even for new players to the system, FATE would get them playing in seconds. For newcomers to the RPG world FATE would be the perfect gateway.
This is where I think FATE shines. Beyond the skills and the stats and the mods, FATE asks that your characters have descriptors, called Aspects, which define your character. For example, keeping with the futuristic genre, a character might be ‘Expert Tracker’. Now, in game, if you ever need to track something, you expend one Fate Point (more on that in a moment) and invoke that Aspect. If the GM agrees (She should), you get a bonus to your roll to track. Fate points are the economy of the game and as you use them to invoke Aspects to make your life simpler. When you need more you get them from the GM, when she invokes one of your negative aspects. All characters need a Trouble, a negative aspect. For example: ‘Explosive temper’ or ‘Addicted to chewing wood’. These are something bad that the GM can invoke at the worse possible moment, to make your life more interesting, and they provide you a FATE point for your troubles.
After you roll your FATE dice, you add your mods from your skills and any Aspect you invoke. Then you check your number of a simple scale. This scale runs from zero (meh….), to +8 (Legendary win), to -4 (Epic loss), and everything in between. This makes it totally clear and accessible to both GM and players to determine what roll means what.
The main advantage of FATE is its almost infinite adaptability. You can make your own rules, skills, make your characters weaker or tougher…. It’s almost unending. FATE takes this adaptability to heart. You’re given examples of what to do, but ultimately it’s about you and your game. This is perhaps better illustrated by the second of the FATE core-books, FATE System Toolkit, a ‘lets dissect all of the so-called rules, and see how much you can alter them and go nuts with them’. I’m not joking. You can make any character and play it on any Universe you want, using any rules you want.
At the moment there are two aspects of FATE that I am exploring, both are pretty unusual: Free Form Skills and No Skills. Free Form Skills are when you let your players decide what skills they want from scratch. I’m serious. You’ll need guidelines and limits of course, but let them have a go. They usually pick from a narrow range (Attack, Defence, Magic), and they will make their skills much more colourful. So for example, someone that wants to be good at melee picks Fists of Fury as a skill. It makes no mechanical difference, but I find it makes the characters more colourful and personal to the players. No Skills is a total departure from most RPG. Your characters no longer have numerical skills and mods, they just have Aspects. They are described by descriptors (if you pardon the redundance), and it is up to the player and the GM to discuss and get into a conversation to decide if your aspect ‘Flunked out of the Space Academy’ will be relevant to the firing of a blaster rifle. Probably, I just need you to explain it to me.
So FATE is really effective. I recommend it. Have you tried it? What do you think?
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after a decade doing odd things in labs, became a teacher. Then, 18 months ago, RPG’ing came into his life and he is now happily juggling the two. He is currently working on a Cypher system space/superhero adventure and a Fate-based Cyberpunk one (with a dark, secret twist). He lives in England with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants and at least 3 to 4 Adventures across as many rule systems, at different levels of completion. He can be reached at @atomic_rpg
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