Thursday, January 29, 2015

12 Game January: Fate (Week 4)

Final Thoughts:
So this is it.  The final week for me to talk about my experiences with learning, running, and playing FATE and with it the closest thing to a "review" any of the articles will be.  First and foremost I will say that after playing around with FATE I completely get why some people love this system.  I also get why other people don't care for it at all.

The Good:
To me it's always better to start on a positive note and that's what I'm doing here.  Individually every single piece of Fate is something I love.  Associating skills and their results to descriptive words is something I've always wanted to be able to do much more smoothly in my games.  I've never been a fan of "I got a 17 to pick the lock" and have always wanted to strive for "I did a fantastic job picking the lock".  In Fate that is exactly how the skills work as well as how what a characters base skill is, suck as "I'm great at picking locks".  The Aspect system is also something I'm a huge fan of.  Some players have issues coming up with aspects themselves, but that's as simple as asking what they are thinking, or to a lesser extent just giving them a list of options, and then writing them up for them.  The ability to have broad descriptors to a character that both inform everyone at the table what a character is about while also having a meaningful impact on the mechanics of the game is awesome and if I walk away from this month with anything it will be that.

The Bad:
Now for the issues.  First of all anyone reading should notice that I said I loved every individual piece of Fate and then only talked about two things.  That's because in a nut shell that is EVERYTHING in this system.  Bonuses are just one shot aspects and while they are great an entire system they do not make.  To me this is a role-playing system when I'm looking for a role-playing game.  The rules while light and easily flexible are also so ambiguous that without the GM writing his own set of house rules for each game or simply making them up as he goes along and doing his best to stick to what has already been established there isn't really a spine for the existing mechanics to hang on.  The entire system hangs on aspects which by their nature are written by the players and GM and thus could be anything.  For skills there are guides as to what of the four actions anyone can take are usable by what skill, but even that it then a list of suggested situations and with stunt (ok there is one feature I forgot) can be broken and reshaped.

Speaking of stunts I will say it's a mechanic that I didn't hate but didn't fall in love with either.  It gave little widgets and flairs to skills players could have and while that was nice it has it's own issues.  For example, there are no inset requirements for the sample stunts meaning a player that is Good are even Average at shooting could choose to have the ability to make called shots while the Amazing person at it unless they took the stun can't.  Sure the less skilled character also is less likely to make those called shots, but the more skilled character has to take the same stunt (and thus feel less special if the first character took the stun first) to be able to even try even though he's amazing at it.  There's also technically a feature to the system called Extras, but they are literally "write your own rules for something you want" so I don't count them as part of the system as they don't actually exist until I do all the work.

To My Commenters:
As I said last week, this is the week I will directly address comments I receive from my readers that have defended their system.  First I will point that as I said earlier I can see why some people enjoy Fate and that I'm not here to bash what you love.  It simply just doesn't fit with my gaming style as I'm sure many games don't fit with yours.  I will have to say I'm happy with a lot of the Fate players I came in contact with over the month that were actually understanding of this.  As gamers we need to remember that there isn't one master system for everyone and just because someone doesn't like what you love doesn't make it a personal insult or attack.

Secondly I would like to respond to everyone that tried to defend the system by saying I wasn't being focused enough starting my game or that I needed to decide things such as my setting before bringing players in.  My goal with this experiment is to try and then discus game systems as written and that is what I did.  I followed the direction the core book gave step by step when it came to making a game and these are the flaws I encountered.  I fully expect that most of those flaws would be remedied by following that advice, however, it is not the game as written and something I would put into the "house rules" section.  Personally I DO think with some house ruling I could make my own version of fate that does everything I want it to, but sadly that was not my intent here and as I only have a month to both learn and run a game I'm not looking to also build my own house rules in that time as well.

My Take Away:
So after a month with Fate I actually have a lot to take away from it.  First is something I learned about myself as a GM.  I've never been a big fan of rules heavy or "crunchy" systems and that's actually a big part of what made me think I would love Fate, but it turns out there is a limit of how much mechanical backbone I as a GM need.  Second will be Aspects.  Like I said I love the concepts behind them, I just don't feel that they are strong enough to hang an entire system on.  Instead I'm already working of how to harvest them from Fate and put them into other systems (namely Savage Worlds).  I still want to find a way to harvest the ideas from the skill system for other games, but I've yet to find a perfect way to do it.  In the end I would say this is a great game for more casual loose play.  I don't even see the need for a table, possibly having more fun as everyone lounges on couches and plush chairs while telling a story together.  I also feel like that's something I could do for a one shot or mini campaign of 3-5 sessions once I iron out my own personal kinks.

Next Month:
Star Wars D6 2E Revised and Expanded by West End Games

Past Weeks:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3


  1. Fate Core is admittedly quite a different kind of tabletop RPG. There is great power in defining things only verbally (some numbers and dice-rolling do go on however), as long as you tweak things to be REASONABLE Aspects (which ideally should present a tangible benefit AND drawback) and REASONABLE Skills (a +2 limited in a certain situation, or able to substitute one skill for another in a certain limited situation). This is a balancing art-form that takes some time to master, but then what you get is a kind of shifting, flowing, THE MATRIX-like code surrounding you where characters, terrain, and game-setting bring in a tapestry of modifiers, all +2, and during play the players (who are assumed to be playing CAPABLE characters) try to use or invoke whatever they can to succeed. You're not fussing so much with the strength of weapons or range or combat modifiers. It's beautiful when it works, and the game is always focussed on story and narrative rather than numbers.

    1. Oops, in the 4th line above when I said REASONABLE Skills I meant Stunts, which add to the roll for one of the broad-based Skills.