Review: Fate System Toolkit

In a Nutshell: Supplement for the Fate system, expanding on and suggesting alternatives to the Fate Core rules. 186 page PDF from Evil Hat Productions.

CONTENTS

Introduction (4 pages): This explains whether, why and when you should use the toolkit. Moving on…

Aspects (10 pages): The Bronze Rule of Fate is that you can treat anything as a character – anything can have aspects, skills, stunts, or stress tracks, which work the same way as they do for characters, but can be different. The one that springs first to my mind is for a Sten gun – "Goes Off If Dropped".

This chapter offers some more options for how to invoke aspects, of which my favourite is detonation – invoking the aspect in such a way that nobody else can use it again. An example from video games would be "Inflammable Barrels", which you could detonate to generate a new situational aspect, perhaps "The Bridge is Out".

It also looks at tweaking aspects to better suit a genre – for example, using the Bronze Rule, the party’s current quest could have aspects. Gear can have aspects too, as noted above; these are effectively situational aspects the PC carries around with him.

Consequences, as you will know if you’ve been following this little review arc, are temporary aspects imposed by wounds. The chapter introduces Conditions, which are pre-defined consequences. I’d be tempted to expand them to cover actual wounds, rather than those things like Angry or Hungry  presented here.

Skills (12 pages): Fate Accelerated has 6 approaches, and Fate Core has 18 skills. This chapter is about adding, removing, and modifying skills to fit your game better. One of the things I don’t like about Fate is the skills pyramid, and this chapter gives the designer’s notes on that, together with a range of alternatives to it; columns instead of a pyramid, replacing skills with aspects (which is kind of what FAE does), bundling skills together into packages and so forth.

Stunts (6 pages): This short chapter is about other ways to run stunts. By default, in Fate Core stunts are each tied to a skill; but you could tie them to aspects, or to a piece of gear, or an aspect. (Actually, I had assumed that was how they worked anyway.) By default, a stunt lets you do one thing at +2 to the dice roll and is triggered when the players wants, but it could give you +1 to several things, or be triggered by an event in-game. Stunts could have pre-requisites that let you unlock a better effect if you take advanced versions of them. And so on.

The Big Game (12 pages): I thought this would be more campaign-building advice, but actually it’s about more significant rules changes, mostly for character generation; races and character classes (effectively a preselected set of aspects, skills and stunts), creating scenarios as a list of aspects which you tick off as play proceeds, different power levels for characters (as in Bulldogs!).

Special Circumstances (8 pages): Specific guidance on how to handle chases and social conflict.

Customised Tools (16 pages): This section got my attention, because I don’t like stress tracks and consequences the way Fate Core does them. This offers options for running those differently, including a couple of ways to make stress boxes more like the more common RPG approach of hit points; it also looks at group and collateral consequences, which allow you to shift damage to your minions or to innocent bystanders.

There’s also some advice on how to use zones more effectively during conflict, including expanding them to cover mental and social conflicts.

There’s an approach to campaign construction based on aspects; the GM builds a list of setting aspects which the PCs must overcome to complete the story arc. This is quite clever, and I like it.

Literal customised tools include a couple of ways to emulate 4dF with other dice rolls, and how to make your own 4dF using normal dice and a permanent marker.

There are also a range of other options which (frankly) I’m not motivated enough to list here. Suffice to say this chapter is full of small tweaks for the game system.

Magic (72 pages): Fate Accelerated and Fate Core don’t really have magic as such, the GM and players are expected to make up a magic system that suits the setting. That’s fair enough for those that like it, but this section gives you a number of magic systems you can plug and play. The chapter begins with several pages discussing how you might build your own magic system in detail, and what to watch out for; then it drives on into several optional magic systems, which can be used as they are but are really intended as worked examples; then back into more designer’s notes. The systems are:

  • Stormcallers tap into the elemental forces of the five Great Storms raging in the heart of creation, while Storm Summoners call elementals to do their bidding. Pick either or both of these if you like the Dresden Files.
  • Voidcallers are a bit like Storm Summoners, but instead of summoning elementals they call on eldritch, tentacled Things Man Was Not Meant To Know to achieve their goals. Pick this one if you like the Cthulhu Mythos. Honourable mention here for the creepy Wound-Eating Beetles.
  • The Six Viziers use birthmarks to enhance your skills. Pick this one if you like those groovy tattoos in D&D’s Eberron or Boost/Lower Trait in Savage Worlds.
  • The Subtle Art is very low-key and subtle, and operates by placing blessings and curses on targets; you guessed it, these are temporary aspects. Pick this one if you like Latin American Realism.

People with short attention spans, such as myself, will welcome the "30-Second Version" for each system, which gives you the bare minimum you need to know in half a dozen bullet points. Thank you, Evil Hat.

Subsystems (32 pages): This provides a number of bolt-on options for your Fate game; kung fu, cyberware, gadgets, monsters (and it was only at this point I realised Fate not only doesn’t have a shopping list, it doesn’t have a bestiary either), how to run the party as a team or squad (essentially the party as a whole has aspects, skills and stunts – there’s the Bronze Rule again), mass battles, swashbuckling duels, vehicles, supers, how to run a horror game with Fate (which isn’t really suited to gaming archetypical horror characters).

The book closes with an index and a character sheet.

FORMAT

For the PDF version, which I’m reviewing here, single-column black on white text inside colour covers, black and white or greyscale illustrations every few pages. It’s fine.

The download includes mobi and epub formats for your ereader as well. I think the Fate system is almost uniquely suited for ereaders, which by and large do not play well with tables or complex formatting – Fate doesn’t have those, nor does it need them.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

One for Fate Core itself rather than the System Toolkit; the latter does a much better job of explaining how gear operates in Fate, namely it is subsumed in your skills.

I would have liked to see something on psionics, but functionally that’s no different to magic, so I could reskin one of the systems in the book; probably the Six Viziers is the closest.

CONCLUSIONS

The Fate Core system was funded on Kickstarter, and the System Toolkit was a stretch goal for that – originally it was only intended to cover the magic system, which is probably why that section is the largest, but over time it collected other bits and pieces.

This was an interesting read, but not one I expect to come back to much, even if I start playing Fate, which is unlikely. Its main value for me was in giving me a deeper understanding of Fate Core mechanics, and now I have that, I probably won’t need it again.

In many ways, Fate is a throwback to the early days of RPGs; you have to build a lot of things yourself – setting, monsters, gear, and so on. If you like telling a shared story with simple rules and other experienced gamers, Fate would likely suit you. If you want long lists of spells, equipment and monsters, or a detailed setting you can just pick up and use, drive on. Neither approach is wrong, but I could see this as an explanation for the ENWorld hot RPGs list; the groups wanting detailed crunch drift towards Pathfinder, those wanting freeform creativity move towards Fate. If so, that suggests the vast majority of players want more structure than Fate offers.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5.

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