I keep not quite understanding Fate, but thinking that there is something there worth understanding, so I decided to check out the latest version, starting with Fate Accelerated Edition, which is intended as a gateway to the system for new players such as myself.
In a Nutshell: A condensed version of the Fate system in 50 pages, from Evil Hat Productions.
Get Started (1 page): This covers what an RPG is (in the most concise and punchy way I can remember seeing) and what you need to play, including Fate dice and 3-5 people.
Telling Stories Together (2 pages): This expands on the how-to-play-an-RPG explanation, and underlines one of the key concepts of Fate in all the incarnations I’ve seen; the GM and players share responsibility for telling an interesting story, and are expected to support each other in doing so.
Who Do You Want to Be (4 pages): Character generation in Fate begins with aspects, phrases which describe a key facet of the character. FAE recommends 3-5 aspects, of which one should be the high concept and one should cause trouble. The high concept should both help and hinder the character, depending on circumstances. The trouble aspect is a weakness, obligation, or opponent that complicates the character’s life.
Again stressing the communal aspect of the game, it’s suggested that aspects include relationships with other characters (if I review Fate Core later, you’ll see that emphasised even more in the full rules). By their nature, aspects define the setting as well as the PCs; for example, the innocent-sounding aspect of "I am a Warrior of the Sevateem and I know the sounds of death!" (bonus points for identifying the character) not only tells you something about that PC, it also establishes that there is a group called the Sevateem, that it has warriors, and that the sounds of death are important to them.
Aspects done, we move on to Approaches, which replace the more complex skill system in Fate proper. Rather than selecting from a range of skills, the FAE character has six approaches: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick and Sneaky, and rates one at Good/+3, two each at Fair/+2 and Average/+1, and one at Mediocre/+0. This is where the Fate ladder is introduced, which is used to rate things from Terrible (-2) to Legendary (+8) and allows you to refer to things by a simple word or a number as you prefer; initially we see it used to rate Approaches, but it will come back later.
Optionally, a character may begin with a Stunt. Stunts usually grant +2 to a specific approach under certain circumstances.
Everyone also has a Refresh, which is the default number of fate points they begin each game session with. Fate points are the main resource traded during play in Fate, and you’ll see more of that later, too.
How to Do Stuff: Outcomes, Actions and Approaches (7 pages): Here’s the task system for the game. In FAE, you describe what you want your character to do, and decided on whether that means you’re creating an advantage, overcoming an obstacle, attacking, or defending. Then you decide which approach you’ll use, roll 4dF, and add the bonus for your approach.
Depending on the difference between your score and the opposition’s – which could be another roll or a flat difficulty – you might want to modify the roll by invoking an aspect, which costs you a Fate point. All that done, the GM now decides what just happened.
Fate dice ("dF") are six-sided dice with two blank sides, two + signs and two – signs, and I blame them for the horror that is WFRP3. But I digress. Each plus counts as +1, each minus as -1, and you add them up. Four outcomes are possible: Failure (your score is less than the opposition), a tie (both scores are the same), success (you beat the opposition) or success with style (you beat the opposition by at least three, somewhat like a raise in Savage Worlds).
A little more on the four types of actions here:
- Creating an advantage lets you create a new aspect, discover an existing one you were ignorant of, or take advantage of an existing aspect you know about. Depending on your margin of success, you might be able to invoke the aspect one or more times, or it might be used against you. In this way, players can take narrative control of a scene, for example: "That guard must have been on duty all night, I bet he’s Half Asleep From Boredom and wouldn’t notice me sneaking past." This is the part of Fate action resolution which is different from most games; notice again the emphasis on the group jointly telling the story.
- Overcome is the typical non-combat skill roll which most games have. Picking a lock, landing a plane in rough weather, and so on. Unlike most games, ties or failures don’t necessarily mean failure at the task; the player can choose to succeed anyway, but at some cost – dropping a key item, for example, or only being able to rescue one of the hostages.
- Attack and defend are what you use in combat; attack to hit people, and defend to stop them hitting you. Note that attacks are thus opposed rolls, and defending is an action you take during someone else’s turn, usually that of the person attacking you. You can use defend to oppose non-combat rolls or defend someone other than yourself, if you can invoke an aspect to justify it, for example "Since ‘I Would Die For Beth’ (aspect), I leap forward and parry the guard’s attack on her."
Allies can help by giving up their action that turn to to grant you a +1 on your roll.
In case you’re as confused as I was, here’s a simple example. The character is trying to climb a wall, which the GM rules is an Overcome with a flat difficulty of Good (+3). The character has the aspect High Drains Pilferer and Careful Fair (+2) which he opts to use for this. He rolls a plus, a minus, and two blanks; the dice cancel out, leaving him with just the +2 for his Careful – not enough to beat the wall’s challenge. However, the player now pays a Fate point to invoke his aspect, claiming that an experienced second-storey man like himself gets a +2 on rolls like this; that boosts him to a +4, a success. (Notice that the player decides whether to invoke the aspect once he knows what the dice roll is.)
Challenges, Contests and Conflicts (3 pages): Challenges and contests are basically tasks which need multiple actions to resolve, like dramatic tasks in SW or skill challenges in D&D 4th Edition. Conflicts are the combat mechanism of the game, and a little more complex.
Rather than a battlemat, the FAE conflict is played out in a series of zones, which typically have aspects such as "Barrels of Flammable Stuff Everywhere" which you can invoke to help you or hinder your foes. You can interact with other characters in the same zone, or in nearby zones if you have (say) a ranged weapon. Moving into an adjacent zone is free, moving further is an action. Characters act in descending order of Quick approach, with NPCs acting on the best Quick in their group. As mentioned above, attacking and defending are actions.
Ouch! Damage, Stress and Consequences (3 pages): When a character is hit, the "damage" inflicted is the difference between the attack and defence rolls – so, if the attacker beats the defender by two (called in Fate "two shifts"), he has in a sense inflicted two damage on the target. I say in a sense because Fate doesn’t use damage in the usual way.
Characters have three stress boxes, box 1, box 2 and box 3. You cross out one box for each incoming hit, but the number of the box crossed out must be the number of incoming shifts. So, if the attacker beats your defence by two, you can cross off box 2, but not box 1 or box 3. If you don’t have the box you need, you can cross off the next higher one instead; if box 2 were already used up in this example, you could cross off box 3 instead.
Alternatively, you can take a consequence; mild consequences can absorb two shifts, moderate ones 4, and severe ones 6. A consequence is a temporary tag like "Broken Leg" which your opponent can invoke against you. You can only cross off one stress box per attack, but you can take a consequence as well. You can only take one of each type of consequence, though.
If you’re unable or unwilling to deal with the incoming hit, you are Taken Out; you lose the fight and your opponent decides what happens.
If you don’t fancy any of those, you can give up before the attack dice are rolled; you still lose the fight, but you decide how and what happens. (You get a Fate point for doing this, by the way.)
Healing is straightforward; stress grows back at the end of each scene, mild consquences are healed when you next rest, moderate ones last until the end of the next session, and severe ones at the end of the scenario.
Aspects and Fate Points (6 pages): These are the heart of Fate. Everything can have aspects; a character, a place, an item, a situation. Your character’s aspects are generally permanent, although you can change them during character advancement, and consequences are temporary aspects which disappear as you lick your wounds. Aspects of situations last as long as the relevant part of the situation does, and can be created or discovered by creating an advantage with an action.
You invoke an aspect by persuading the GM that you can; usually this costs you a Fate point, and allows you to add +2 to your roll (or a friend’s), reroll the dice, or add +2 to your opponent’s difficulty level – which I would understand more readily if it were expressed as deducting 2 from his dice roll.
Aspects can also be compelled; while invoking an aspect helps you and costs a Fate point, compelling it hinders you and gives you a Fate point; you can decline the compel, but that costs you a Fate point. (Note that when you’re out of Fate points, you can’t refuse a compel, and you can’t invoke any aspects.)
PCs enter a session with however many Fate points they had at the end of the last one, or their Refresh, whichever is more; GMs start each scene ("encounter" for you D&D types) with one Fate point per PC to invoke or compel aspects, and an infinite number to award PCs for accepting compels.
Stunts (2 pages): Stunts are special aspects of your character which change how an Approach works in particular circumstances. The easiest way to explain is by examples:
- Because I am a World-Class Duellist (the stunt), I get +2 to Flashy attacks in a one-on-one swordfight (the effect).
- Because I am Well-Connected (the stunt), once per game session I can find a helpful ally (the effect).
Getting Better at Doing Stuff: Character Advancement (2 pages): In Fate, this happens at milestones. I find it helpful to think of a Fate campaign as like a TV series.
At the end of each episode (typically the end of a session), a minor milestone is reached. You can do any one of the following: Switch the ratings of two approaches, rename one aspect (but not your high concept), swap a stunt for another stunt, or choose a new stunt (which may reduce your Refresh).
At the end of each significant subplot (every 2-3 sessions), a significant milestone is reached. You can do anything allowed for a minor milestone, and also raise one of your approaches by one point (to a maximum of +5).
Major milestones are like the season finale; the end of a major plot arc. You can do anything you could do for a significant or minor milestone, and also get an extra point of Refresh, and rename your high concept if you like.
Being the GM (5 pages): Unlike many RPGs, in Fate the players and GM together decide on the setting, rather than the GM alone. However, the GM retains responsibility for creating scenarios and running game sessions. This section of FAE gives advice on how to do both; it’s good advice, but stuff that a seasoned GM would already know – bear in mind this is a gateway product. In particular it suggests how to allocate difficulty levels for actions, and how to stat up bad guys – this last is extremely simple and easy, and uses a technique growing more common in RPGs generally, namely treating a mob of mooks as a single, bigger monster.
Example Characters (5 pages): Four sample PCs to use as-is, for inspiration, or to help you understand the rules better.
Quick Reference (2 pages): One of the interesting things about FAE is because of the way aspects and stunts work, you really can get the entire game on two pages of quick reference sheets. This alone endears it to me.
…and we close with the index and character sheet.
(Did you notice there is no Equipment chapter? I didn’t until I’d read it twice. In FAE, the only obvious way to have gear is as a Stunt: "Because I have a sniper rifle, I get +2 when I Carefully attack a single target more than one zone away." Personally, I like this approach, but at least two of my players will want a gear list, which I’d have to stat up or steal from another game somehow. Also, at least two will expect a setting writeup. So for my group, it’s not quite as plug-and-play as I’d like.)
The download includes three formats; PDF, and .epub and .mobi files for ereaders.
The PDF version has full-colour front and back covers, and single-column black and white text with greyscale illustrations every few pages. Printer-friendly and easy to read.
SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT
The thing I struggle with the most in Fate is consequences. Some examples or advice on how to select them would help me understand the differences between (say) mild and severe consequences.
It’s not immediately clear to me whether defending against an attack uses up my next action. My inference is that it does, so defending prevents you from doing anything else that turn, putting a high premium on going first and thus on the Quickness approach.
FAE succeeds at what it sets out to do, namely produce a tempting and condensed introduction to Fate. In the same way that I think of Savage Worlds as being an engine for emulating action-adventure movies, I now think of FAE as a game system for emulating anime TV shows – that impression comes more from the sample characters and artwork than anything else, but I presume they were chosen with malice aforethought.
I prefer FAE to the other incarnations of Fate I’ve read, partly because the approaches are better for me than the skill pyramid of full-fat Fate, and partly because the condensed rules are easier for me to understand.
If I wasn’t already so heavily invested in Savage Worlds, I might switch to Fate, because of its immense flexibility and simplicity; as things are, I can’t see it replacing any of our existing stable of games, but I could definitely see it as a holiday or travel game, when we don’t have all the rulebooks and accessories to hand.
Meanwhile, FAE intrigued me enough to get Fate Core, which you might see reviewed on this blog later.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.