Ring Side Report-FATE

I recently stole then bought the Fate Core system, let’s give it the run down…


Let me start with a story…The scene is Gen Con 2011.  I was but a young lad, and even back then I was an ass.  I walked from retailer to retailer asking what con specials they had.  I approached the Evil Hat booth and saw the then new(er) Dresden Files RPG using the Fate system.  I asked about con specials and they replied “If you buy the book today, you will get a FREE pdf of the game!”  They acted like this was the most amazing idea ever, to which I quickly replied “I’ve already STOLEN the PDF, what are you going to give me today!”  As you might guess, negotiations quickly drifted south from there.  Later I walked to the Transhuman booth and asked about con specials and they gave me a slip of paper.  I stared at them blankly and they explained that that paper showed a torrent address.  I could get the COMPLETE Eclipse Phase RPG for the low, low price of FREE!  All I needed was an internet connection.  I’ve since bought both the Dresden and Eclipse Phase books, but I felt like I got more from Transhuman than Evil Hat so I bought Eclipse Phase first.  Why did I tell you this story? Well….


Evil Hat’s BOLD strategy-In the days of the bit torrent, your intellectual property isn’t really all that secure….in fact as I showed above, it’s as secure as I am lazy.  Paizo may try to keep their property off the torrents, but any book they put out is on the internet as soon as it’s released.  Evil Hat has decided to stop wasting time on the fight.  The latest version of Fate is completely free.  Here.  Go to the website, and get the stuff free.  Their idea is simple-“pay us what it’s worth”  You can pay from $0 to all the money for the PDF.  Evil Hat has taken the stand and sends the message that “If the product is quality, you will pay for it.  You can take all you want, but if the product isn’t supported then we won’t make more.  If you want this game to still happen, then you have to pay for it like anything else.  At the same time, we will EARN your money!”  To me, the men and women at Evil Hat have done a stare down with the 1337 h4z0rs out there (kids like me with the Pirate Bay and time) and said “Look, if you don’t give us money, we will stop.  You will get all the current stuff free, but there can’t be a future if you don’t help!  But give us a chance to EARN your money” And for that, I gave them money.  I decided that even before I would download it, I gave them $10 bucks.  Now, that’s before I read the thing.  I think novel strategies need to be rewarded (The book’s great, don’t worry, but I thought they earned this from me at least).  Based on what I’ve seen on the internet, this is where things need to go for at least the base book of a system.  The free idea of 3.5 DnD and the open gaming license is fantastic, and it serves to make the game that much more available (and profitable) for everybody.  I am much more likely to play a game if I get a free trial and I will watch a movie if get a preview.  The idea of paying over $100 for a monster manual, DM guide, and players guide sight and game unseen is crazy.  Evil Hat is planning on releasing source books or splat books for their worlds later and these will be behind a pay wall, but if I love the game and settings I’m much more likely to buy instead of steal.  This is where Evil Hat has planted their beach head and for that they will get my money.  If you want our hobby as a whole to still be a hobby in a few years, you should throw your support behind this too.  We CAN’T keep stealing and expecting things to still happen.


With that, let’s look at FATE…


The base mechanics-Like all RPGs you are telling a collaborative story.  Let’s look a little closer at  how you do it with Fate.

Dice and Numbers-if you play many board games you see two general categories: games with a high degree of randomness (Yahtzee), and games with a low degree of randomness (Puerto Rico).  You can kind of see this same split in RPGs.  Dungeons and Dragons is a great game, but it’s very random.  You can have the BEST plan to fight the dragon, but if you roll ten 1s in a row, you will die.  Fate is an almost dice-less system.  When you do something that needs dice (sometimes you don’t need to roll) you roll four six sided dice.  The dice have 0, -, or + icons on them.  0 is neutral, – is a negative, and + is additive.  This gives you a positive, negative, or neutral result ranging from -4 to +4, and you add to your skill total.  Done.  Since the most you can get is a four point swing (a 1 out of 81 chance), the game is not very random.  And that’s ok.  If you’re the world’s greatest swordsman, odds are even when you fail, you’re still MUCH better than the average loser henchmen.

Aspects-Here is the real meat and potatoes of the game.  EVERYTHING has aspects.  Think of aspects as descriptions of things.  They describe locations, pieces of locations, your character in general, your character in specifics, your special abilities, etc.  You gain and lose these as needed for the story and some of the mechanics.  When you take damage you can gain these to represent the fact you got hurt like a Black Eye or really severe ones such as run through with a sword.  You use these to describe your person as well as when you use FATE.

Fate-Fate is the name of the game (literally) and the currency of the game.  Each game you get so many fate chips.  You can use fate to add to a roll, reroll, add aspects of things, or take narrative control of the game.  Those last two are really huge.  Unlike in DnD or Pathfinder where the GM’s word is almost law, in this game everybody can take a small part as the GM.  You can also add aspects to things like places and people.  This can be something as simple as doing an action to add the aspect partially blinded an enemy by throwing sand in the face.  Fate is also how the GM uses aspects of your character to motivate you to role play the character you built.  If you have an aspect such as country boy and the GM says “you’re in a large city you get lost and end up in an ally where a gang is gathered around a young person” while holding up a fate chip, you can take the chip and say that’s exactly what happened.  At the same time, you could look a the GM and say “Well I see a fight is brewing, but since I’m a country boy I know how to throw a punch since I’ve been in a few bar brawls so I should get a +2 bonus to my first attack.” And the GM will give it to you. These chips form an economy of the story where you spend them to add aspects to the story and change it as you all see fit.    

The Book Itself-The book/PDF is a good value.  If you get the book for free, it’s even better.  However, if you give the $5-$10 price that’s suggested for a PDF it’s not that bad.  Honestly, when I see a Kickstarter and the price for a PDF is $10 bucks, I give it without even hearing the pitch.  And thats to a random 3rd party who I don’t know from Adam.  Evil Hat’s proven themselves to me!  As I’ve played FATE before (The Dresden Files), $10 bucks was well worth the book.  Go give them some money, it’s worth it.

System Description in the Book-The system is well laid out.  They book does an excellent example explaining the system.  It’s not a hard system as shown above, but it’s pretty foreign when compared to D20 based systems.  I like it, but the only problem I had was the base book didn’t really give much advice on how to make enemies.  Now I know the plan is to release setting specific books so more enemies will show up in these, but I almost felt like the exclusion of example bad guys was intentional to set up the sale of these books.  Odds are I’ll buy a few because the game is fun, and it will prep me for my own fate game ideas.

What’s Good and Bad– The good and the bad of FATE is really the same two sided coin and it has to do with narrative control.  Let’s use DnD/Pathfinder as the neutral ground of a game needing one person to run the game (GM) and ~four people to play the game (players).  Games like Kobolds Ate My Baby! (ALL HAIL KING TORG!) are almost built for no GMs as the person with the lowest roll has to GM (sucks to be that person!), while FATE almost seems like a game where everybody has to want to be the GM.  In a DnD game, you cannot be completely engrossed at all times, but in a FATE game you have to be much more attentive.  To get the most out of this system, you have to want to wrestle the story away from the GM from time to time and really make it your own.  Now, that is an EXCELLENT thing, but you need the right group for that.  That group can be hard to find when you have a group of people who really only want to play their own PC and leave it at that.  Also, some people may not like the use of Fate chips to direct the characters.  As a cardinal rule in DnD even if you say your character is a crazy psychopath who is chaotic evil, the DM has no real way of making you act out those impulses.  This game focuses on story over mechanics, and that’s great. BUT, you need to make sure that’s the kind of game you say you want to play.  Don’t let this scare you; this kind of back and forth narrative control is amazing!  When you completely change the flow of the story by playing your character well and using aspects you created you feel like a writer of grade A fiction, not just a guy rolling dice.

System Neutrality– This system does not feature a default world.  That may be daunting to some players and GMs.  Extra books are coming to help you, but right now the world is your oyster.  This is good and bad as the freedom is great, but may paralyze some groups before they even start by too many blank pages for them to fill.  If you want to try this game and need a place to start, the Dresden Files RPG has two books and can really get you jumping into the books right away.


Final thoughts-Great game for which I’m looking forward to expansions.  I like it, but the flow of story may prove daunting to some RPG groups set in the traditional GM to PC information flow.  Honestly, go get this for $5 bucks and support something new!  8.5 out of 10

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