Friday, April 24, 2015

[Fateful Fridays] Review: The Secrets of Cats by Richard Bellingham

Overview
Continuing my review series on the Fate Worlds and Adventures line for Fate Core, this week I'm looking at The Secrets of Cats by Richard Bellingham. In this urban fantasy setting there are things that go bump in the night, and the ones that bump back are...cats? It turns out that all cats are secretly magical and have a sacred duty to protect their Burdens (that's us humans) from the evil supernatural forces which they are unaware of and which would do them harm.

Setting
In terms of setting detail, there's a bit more given here than was provided for Venture City Stories, and for good reason. Whereas Venture City Stories was set predominantly in the eponymous city, games of The Secrets Of Cats can take place anywhere in the world (you could even set it in your own neighbourhood or hometown if you felt so inclined). As such, the focus here is more on how cat society operates, the laws most cats follow, how they interact with other animals, what kind of threats they have to deal with and how those threats behave, as well as giving players advice on how to roleplay being cats.

An example of a specific town with its own issues, locations and NPCs is provided at the end of the book to help GMs get started more easily, as well as to offer working examples for groups who choose to create their own 'region'. This setting, Silver Ford, is also accompanied by a sample adventure and suggestions for expansion into longer campaign play. The sample adventure feels more detailed than the one from Venture City Stories, but that might just be because it is all compiled together in a chapter of its own, instead of being spread out piecemeal throughout the entire book.

Whether you decide to use the pre-written town and/or adventure, or make your own location and adventures from scratch, you'll find enough material in here to get you started. There's even a series of random tables provided at the back (the first random tables I've ever seen to use Fate Dice), allowing you to randomly roll for threats or locations if you're stuck for ideas. There's even a 'What Stupid Thing Did My Burden Do *Now*?' table for complications resulting from something your cat's human Burden did.

Mechanical Stuff
As mentioned, cats in this setting are magical, so The Secrets Of Cats comes with its own magic system. There are four schools of magic, each represented by a corresponding new skill: Naming (Mental/Physical Control), Seeking (Divination), Shaping (Shapeshifting) and Warding (Protection/Defence). Each school offers different uses for the four action types and players can buy magical stunts that give them further special abilities in those schools, though some of these are exclusive to cats who are masters of the school (indicated in their High Concept).

Names are very important in The Secret Of Cats, as knowing a being's True Name gives you power over them. Knowing something's true name gives you different benefits when using magic against them (often an automatic success), depending on which school of magic you're using. Cats also use animal sacrifice to power their magic, but it's commonly against cat law to use sapient animals for this purpose.

I really love the way the feline magic in this setting takes real-life cat behaviour and implies deeper motivations than mere animal instinct. If your cat left a dead rat lying around somewhere in the house, chances are he was using it to power a magical ward against a vampire that was trying to break in and feast on your blood. All that awful yowling from the neighbourhood cats? That was them singing to help your cat boost the ward's strength against the vamp.

Character creation is tweaked a little to add extra stunts for magic at the start of play, and the aspects are changed from the normal Fate Core creation rules. You still have a High Concept and Trouble, but your other three aspects represent your Burdens (the humans you protect), your True Name (often reflective of your persona) and one extra aspect which can be anything you choose. There are also extra examples of normal stunts for each skill, designed with cat protagonists in mind. Once again, if you're stuck for ideas, there are random tables at the back to help you determine True Names, Burdens and pick stunts from the examples given in the book.

Conclusion
The Secrets Of Cats is an intriguing and different kind of setting for Fate Core, with a well thought out magic system. It lays out solid groundwork for building adventures or campaigns within this world while, as always for Fate Worlds, leaving enough blanks for gaming groups to fill in on their own. Those who don't care about custom-designing their own locale are well-provided for in the example town and the adventure within is a good springboard for a campaign, with some useful suggestions for continued play added at the end. Personally, this setting has grabbed my interest more than Venture City Stories did - if only because of how different the idea of having cats as protagonists is from the games I usually run - and it's now a strong contender for my next one-shot if not a full campaign.

Undecim Rating: +5

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