Friday, March 13, 2015

[Review] Fate Core System

Fate Core is a generic roleplaying system designed for use with a variety of different genres and built with story-driven roleplaying in mind. Used in Spirit Of The Century and The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game previously, this standalone release is an updated version of the rules used in those games and the first commercial release of Fate as a standalone system.

The Good
Everything that was good about previous versions of Fate is still here. Aspects (descriptive phrases attached to characters, objects or locations in the game) power the game, and can be used to either help or hinder PCs or significant NPCs with the expenditure of fate points. They can be invoked for a variety of mechanical benefits, including declaring story details to the character's benefit. Or they can be compelled, offering players fate points in exchange for accepting negative consequences in the fiction related to their aspect. This creates a resource economy which encourages players to accept dramatic losses in exchange for gaining the means for greater success further down the line.

Skill rolls can be used to overcome obstacles or attack and defend as in other roleplaying games, but they can also be used to create advantages (often in the form of aspects, but also in the form of adding new story details to the world) which can be used to your characters' advantage, or to others' disadvantage. You also get stunts which allow you to gain bonuses to certain skills under specific circumstances, use a skill in a way it is not normally intended to be used, substitute one skill for another, or otherwise create an exception to the normal rules.

The character creation system helps players design characters with both depth and connections to other player characters from the get-go by having them determine a high concept (a single phrase describing who the character is and what they do), a trouble (something which makes their life more complicated than it would be normally) and a three phase backstory encompassing their first adventure and 'guest appearances' in two other characters' first adventures.

On top of this, Fate Core pitches itself as an updated, streamlined and more clearly written version of the Fate system, and it delivers on that promise. The system has taken some of the better things about previous Fate games and integrated them into this version, namely the addition of game creation (which is a pared down version of city creation from the Dresden Files RPG) and having degrees of success instead of a simple pass-fail mechanism.

Character creation is simplified, reducing the number of aspects generated from previous versions, making them more manageable for both the players and GM.
It has also cut back on needless jargon and merged together parts of the task resolution system from previous games to make them easier for players to get the hang of.

Advancement is also now based on story milestones, with different award tiers depending on whether players completed a session or a full story arc. The new advancement system offers a greater feeling of character growth over time than the version in Spirit of the Century did.

Throughout the book, great use is made of examples to explain the rules, and the same characters and setting are used consistently for most of these. That's a good thing, because switching example characters and settings too often can have a jarring effect on the reader. We still get a few examples from different settings where necessary though, to show the multi-genre potential of the game system. The book is also packed with great artwork featuring all of the example characters, and also a few depicting different genres to add some variety.

The GM advice section here is one of the best I've seen. While quite a bit of the advice is focused on using character and game aspects as story hooks, there's still a lot of other advice that can be applied to any other game system, particularly the advice on when to roll dice, what to do when PCs fail, dealing with time in game, and the use of story questions.

Fate Core is also well-supported, both in terms of published content (with a variety of different setting books available on a pay-what-you-want basis) and fan-created material such as setting hacks and rules variations.

The Bad
Although the section on how to tailor the system to specific genres through the use of Extras is sufficient for GMs to begin with, it is still quite brief. This is perhaps intentional, as the book promises further advice on Extras in the Fate System Toolkit, which needs to be acquired seperately. The PDF is available on a pay-what-you-want basis, but that might not help if you're like me and prefer to read things in print (or at least e-book) format.

The Meh

The dice mechanic might be a turn off for some. Fate uses four specialised dice normally called fudge dice, but referred to as fate dice here. These are six sided dice with two blank sides, two sides with plus symbols and two with minus symbols. PCs have skills with ratings in both adjective and number form which correspond to a difficulty ladder. You might have Lore at Great (+4), for example. The four fudge dice are rolled and the results added together (e.g. a result of +-o+ = +1) and that total is then added to the skill rating for the final result, so my roll of +1 added to my Lore rating gives me a Superb (+5) outcome. Fate/fudge dice aren't a necessity, as the same results can be simulated by using standard D6s (interpreting 1-2 as minuses, 3-4 as blanks, and 5-6 as pluses), but they certainly make things easier.

Stress tracks are another element which may not be to everyone's liking. You have a certain number of mental and physical stress boxes as determined by linked skill ratings, and these are marked off when you take damage. However, the way they are marked off isn't very intuitive. If you take a damage of 2, then only your second stress box is marked off. If your second box is already marked, the damage rolls over to the next available box. If no other boxes are free, you must either take a consequence (an aspect reflecting the damage inflicted) to soak the hit (Mild consequences soak 2, moderate consequences soak 4 and severe consequences soak 6) or be taken out. Before they would be taken out, they may choose to concede, allowing them to lose on their own terms and earn fate points for it. There are things about this damage mechanic I personally like (consequences and consessions) and things I don't (namely the way stress is tracked), but your mileage may vary.

Everything that was good about the earlier iterations of Fate and only some of the bad. If you like game systems which put the emphasis on storytelling and characters with personality, and also empower the players, you should at least give this a look.

Undecim Rating: +4

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