Friday, February 15, 2013


Have I talked about FATE yet? I don't think I have, but my memory is sometimes a little sketchy. FATE is an RPG I discovered kind of through Tony. So Tony and I both read a book series called The Dresden Files. A fantastic series with fantastic characters and fantastic humor. It is about a wizard named Harry Dresden and his freelance wizarding (not to be confused with vizarding, which involves dicks, I think) in Chicago and all the supernatural creatures, allies, and villains he meets during those excursion. The series starts small scale but escalates rapidly to Harry being a savior of the city and world and that sort of thing. It is hands down one of my favorite book series and Harry is one of my favorite characters. A few years ago a company came out with a Dresden Files RPG. Tony purchased it immediately and got a prerelease PDF copy of the two rulebooks for the game and he passed them along to me. I looked at them, said neat, and deleted them from my laptop. The rulebooks were very cool, the characters of the book series have lots of little notes and scraps of information scrawled in the margins of the books and the whole thing is played off as being an RPG based off of all their investigations and discoveries that they made with the intent to find a way to market knowledge of supernatural protection to the layman. It is pair of rulebooks chock full of wit and hilarity.

More recently I wandered onto Kickstarter looking for something RPG related to give my money to. I found something called The FATE Core Kickstarter. So, being in love with Kickstarter and RPGs, I backed it. Backing it gave you access to a slew of prerelease pdfs for some setting concepts and basically the final version of the rulebook minus artwork. So I downloaded it and threw it on my phone and ate it up like it was candy slathered in more candy.

I really really liked the rules. Like a lot. I'd put it somewhere between GURPS and Pathfinder in terms of affection, maybe a little closer to Pathfinder than GURPS. As you know, I am a very big fan of GURPS.

So FATE is a pen and paper RPG that uses FUDGE dice. These are special d6s with two + sides, two - sides, and two blank sides on them. The basic mechanic is to roll four dice and add the result (+, +, +, and - = +2, blank, blank, +, and - = +0) to your relevant skill. There are no hit points or gold or levels or experience, there are no classes or races (though I am sure you could create race templates and I am sure there are guidelines in one of the pdfs backing the Kickstarter gave me), and there are no weapons and armor or gear. There is a form of advancement and improvement, but it is all based on how long your campaign has been going on. So you can't really have your characters go from first to fifteenth level in nine or twelve months of in game time like we did in The Rebellion Arc.

Character creation is a beautiful kind of story based affair. You choose several aspects of your character. Something like Shadows In His Blood or Trained With The Black Souled Monks of The Necropolis or Grew Up In Port Brass. Something you envision as a defining feature of your character. Then you choose a few more, but you base them on your party members and your adventures together. Stuff like Kethranmeer Always Backs D'alton or Kethranmeer Knows Derf Is A Liar or We All Fought The Dragon Together. These aspects form the defining features of your character. Nestled in the character creation is a similar system for world/plot generation. You also choose a trouble, an aspect with something of a negative cast to it. Stuff like Obsessed With Guns To The Exclusion of Everything Else or Never Asks Questions or Nakmander Has Leverage On Me.

During character creation you come up with five or so aspects, depending on the campaign style and power level you want to simulate. One of those is your high concept, the main defining aspect of your character. These are things like Bat Shit Crazy Battle Sorcerer or Criminal Turned Alchemist Turned Entrepreneur or Second Story Man. Another is your trouble, a problem you have that is defined as an aspect. Three others are aspects you choose based on the group story. More on that a little later.

Now, you have skills as I said, and they are pretty standard. Hitting things, shooting things, talking to things, knowing ancient lore about things, etc. There is a resource one as well, which is how you "buy" stuff, even though there are no equipment tables or gp costs or anything like that. Skills are used to resolve actions, there are plenty right out of the box, but there are guidelines for creating others tailored to your campaign. Your skills are picked at character creation and arranged in a kind of pyramid, you get one at +4, two at +3, three at +2, and four at +1. They're not really points to distribute or purchase with, it's more like just assigning values to them. When you gain skill "points" from advancement, the pyramid becomes a series a columns and you can only improve a skill if there are the same number of skills on the level below it (so to have two skills at +4, you need to have two at +3, +2, and +1). There are also stunts, and they are a bonus you get when using a skill in a certain way. For instance, backstab allows you to use stealth to make an attack if the target is unaware of your presence.

There are no hit points, but there are stress boxes for physical and mental trauma. When you fail a roll to defend against a physical or mental attack, you fill in one or more of those boxes based on how strong the attack was. An attack could be a sword hit or a particularly savage verbal salvo from an opposing debater. Once you fill in all your stress boxes, you are done. I am still unclear as to whether or not this means character death, but I assume it does. These boxes clear based on the box's severity and how long it has been since you received the stress. This is measured by sessions of play, not in game time. In addition to stress boxes, you also have consequences. These are aspects you can add to your character to shrug off a hit or use as a last ditch effort to remain in the game. They are wholly negative aspects like Face Chewed Up By Dragon Acid or Eloise's Voice Distracts Me All The Time or My Body Is Rusted And Broken. Consequences degrade in severity over time as well, so eventually My Body Is Rusted And Broken becomes That Spring In My Right Knee Sticks Every So Often and eventually disappears from your character sheet completely. If your consequences and stresses become too severe, you can actually end up replacing one of your character aspects with a consequence.

Ok, so how does the game actually work? You use your skills to attack and defend and that sort of thing and you use your aspects to gain a bonus to your roll if you can. The GM uses your aspects to compel you to do something. He says for instance, "Derf, Eloise begins telling you to kill Gonigi." and Derf can choose to do so or pay a fate point. If he does so, he gains a fate point. Fate points are used to invoke your aspects for a bonus to a skill use or to create an advantage from the environment, and also to power some stunts. Each character gets a number of fate points at the start of each session and you accrue more by allowing compels against your aspects. Now the game is fairly simple. It is very similar to the roll a d20 add bonuses and match a DC mechanic we've been using for years, except the numbers tend to be lower and you use those four FUDGE dice instead of a d20. It is very slim and simple and understandable. This game is probably one of the most rules light games I have ever researched. No Vancian magic, no complex addition for bonuses from five different sources while trying to figure out what stacks and what overlaps, no saving throws, no point buys (aside from figuring out your skill levels), no THAC0.

Aspects, I was talking about aspects but I didn't explain what they do exactly. Using an aspect to gain a bonus from it on an action is a narrative kind of thing. You don't just use a fate point and gain a +2 to something on a list, your other option is to choose to reroll the FUDGE dice. Whichever of the two options you take, you have to justify it from a narrative standpoint. So, D'alton is attacking a reaver and decides he needs some extra umph and pays a fate point and invokes Shadows In His Blood and says, "D'alton has these shadow powers within him, so I'm going to have them leak out of him and kind of cloak my swordarm so the reaver can't quite track where my sword is coming from." I would tell him, "Excellent, you've got +2 to your fighting skill, roll please." Whether the attack hits depends on the reaver's fighting skill or whatever skill he uses to defend against the attack, D'alton's roll, and D'alton's own skill. If he wins by a lot, he might put the reaver down in one hit. Now, I said GM's can compel, but players can as well. It just costs a fate point. So at any time D'alton could pay a fate point and try to compel Xein's aspect But I'm A Good Guy! to get Xein to help him or someone in some way. If you have no fate points, obviously you cannot refuse a compel. The rules suggest a GM compel his players often so they have plenty of fate points to do cool stuff with.

There are four main actions to the game: attack, defend, overcome, and create advantage. Attack and defend are easily understood. You use a situationally appropriate skill to attack or defend. Overcome is something like using Craft to fix a wagon axle so you can keep traveling, you have an obstacle of some kind that is not actively trying to murder you and you are trying to overcome it. Create advantage is a situation where you are trying to create an advantage of some kind against an enemy or obstacle, but often uses the aspects of a scene (everything has an aspect that you can involve in a session, even the game world itself, the kingdoms in it, enemies, magic items, etc.). So the group is in their rowe'dhaus being attacked by Nakmander's thugs and D'alton wants to bust open a few of the electrical cables running across the ceiling to create some interference and give the group some breathing room. So he says, "Can I reach up and yank some wiring off the ceiling to mess with the thugs?" and I say "Yeah, sure, roll physique for me because you're yanking it off the ceiling with brute strength." If D'alton succeeds, the scene gains the aspect Dangling Wiring Sparking With Electricity and he can invoke it for free once and it is now an aspect of the scene others can invoke as well for the normal cost of a fate point. If he fails, it might still be created but he gets no free use of it, but at least it is there for others to use.

There are three types of...I dunno, scenes I guess. Contests, conflicts, and challenges. Challenges are tasks that take multiple skill uses to resolve, mostly complex tasks like disarming a bomb or finishing a ritual while defending against hordes of zombies. This mostly just involves succeeding at the tasks.  But they can easily become complicated by poor rolls, for instance, just barely succeeding at a craft roll to board up a building might give it the Rough and Hasty Construction aspect that the zombies can utilize to their advantage. Conflicts are when two characters have opposing goals, but aren't trying to harm each other, stuff like arm wrestling contests or duels or something. This may involve keeping a tally of successes to determine the winner. Conflicts are where people are trying to actively harm each other and they don't normally end until one side is dead or otherwise subdued. Each of these types of scenes allows the use of aspects and advantages. There are also rules for teamwork to succeed in a scene. For instance, two characters adding their physique skill together to overcome a locked door.

Now, I mentioned this game is kind of based on a mechanic similar to the roll and match a DC of d20 games. You are basically making a roll against an opposed roll with an appropriate skill (in the case of active opposition like an enemy you attack and you roll opposed fighting checks). Or you make a roll against a passive skill level against inactive opposition (like making a burglary check to open a locked door). It differs in a few ways. If you fail in the action, you obviously don't succeed and there is some sort of negative repercussion determined by the GM (the enemy gets to attack you, or the lock jams completely), or you get a lesser version of what you wanted. If you tie with the opposition, you succeed, but there is a cost (the enemy gains a free use of an advantage against you because he's picked up on your fighting style, the lock opens, but breaks loudly and wakes a sleeping guard you snuck past). You can beat the opposition, which is a success, you get what you wanted at no cost. There is also succeed with style, where you beat the opposition greatly and gain a bonus (you hit the enemy and now he has an aspect anyone can use against him, you open the lock silently and without alerting the guards on the other side of the door that you didn't know about). When you win a check, you calculate how much you win by, and that is call a shift. One shift is beating the opposition by one point, two shifts is beating them by two, and so on. Shifts are how you determine damage and which stress or consequence boxes you may need to check off during a fight. 

Alright, so I said there are no experience points or levels, but there is advancement. Advancement occurs at milestones, but to talk about milestones we need to talk about how time is measured. Scenes are the basic unit, scenes are where conflict happens. A session is when you all sit down to play and is made up of several scenes, a scenario is made up of one to four sessions, an arc is made up of several scenarios, and the campaign is made up of several arcs. All of it should be more or less connected in some way. So the Rebellion Arc lasted for fifteen sessions, broken up into about five scenarios, and about three arcs. This is just a general guestimate. The rules for FATE suggest having an arc or scenario end on a significant note rather than just stating every four sessions equals a scenario, regardless of the content.

Back to advancement. Minor milestones occur at the end of a session and they're more about changing your character and evolving him based on his experiences, rather than becoming more powerful. You can switch around two skills, exchange a stunt for another, buy a new stunt if you have refresh to do so (refresh is a number that determines how many fate points you get at the start of a session, you can reduce it by one to buy a stunt), or rename one of your aspects that isn't your high concept. This is more tweaking and adapting than anything else. Significant milestones occur at the end of a scenario and you gain the benefit of a minor milestone plus you can add a skill point. I described the column system earlier, so you have to do some planning as you improve to keep the columns appropriately organized. You can also save the skill point if you wish to wait instead of just buying something you don't necessarily need or want. Major milestones occur at the end of an arc and have all the benefits of minor and significant milestones and allow you to rename your character's high concept if you want and take an additional point of refresh. Milestones are also how you downgrade your consequences. There are also guidelines for world advancement to coincide with player actions and that sort of thing, but those are more the realm of the GM.

So that is kind of the basic gist of how FATE works. The actual rulebook is a lot more sensibly planned out and a bit easier to follow than my ramblings. I think I am going to end up posting another FATE related post next week to go over what I like about the system and some of the extras discussed in the rulebook. 

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