So I had a number of posts in recent weeks on the two recently released versions of the FATE game system from Evil Hat Productions: the detailed FATE Core version and the FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) version.
As a recap if you are not familiar with FATE: it’s a role-playing game (RPG) system which has been around in various versions for about a decade; version 2.0 was available free and version 3.0 formed the backbone of two of Evil Hat’s popular games Spirit of the Century (2006) and The Dresden Files RPG (2010). In 2013, following an immensely successful Kickstarter campaign that ended around Christmas 2012, they have released a new comprehensive edition (FATE Core) and a streamlined quick-start edition (FAE).
Both are available as e-books (PDF, ePub and mobi formats) from the Evil Hat site under the pay-what-you-like model, and as gorgeous print books from Evil Hat or from your friendly local gaming store. For good reviews of the system, see here and here. For FAE reviews, see here and here.
First, what is the difference between this edition of FATE Core and the previous editions? A handy summary is provided in appendix to FATE Core (the “Veteran’s Guide”). In short: the types of actions have regrouped down to four and streamlined; rules for challenges, contests, and collaboration have been clarified; character creation has been simplified, including dropping the number of starting Aspects from ten to five; terminology has been clarified; and roll results have been changed from simple pass/fail to a range of four outcomes: fail or succeed at cost, tie (succeed at minor cost), succeed, and succeed with style.
These are very good changes. From my first encounter with Spirit of the Century, through later games and The Dresden Files, I’ve always thought this was “the most complicated simple system I’d ever played.”1 There were just a little too many things to keep track of and as a result, the more conventional parts of the system (e.g., skill system, attack and defend actions) tended to overshadow the more innovative ones (e.g., use of Aspects to shape the story and place narrative control in the players’ hands.)
Add to these improvements the excellent advice on setting, adventure, and campaign creation, and the systematic review of how different rules can be adjusted to support various styles (a bit like in Green Ronin’s excellent Mastermind’s Manual for the game Mutants & Masterminds), and you have a superb system guide in your hands.
Second, what is the difference between FATE Core and FAE? Christopher Ruthenbeck has posted a nice summary on his blog. In practical terms, the big difference between the books is that FATE Core provides a wealth of advice in 310 pages for creating and running campaigns, tweaking the system and creating new house rules; whereas in 50 pages, FAE gives your enough of the game engine to get you started in a quick game.
The big difference between the system versions, however, is that FAE ditches the 18 skills and replaces them with six approaches (Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, Sneaky) that describe how a character accomplishes tasks. You never have to worry about whether a certain skill can be used for a certain type of Action (overcome, set up an advantage, attack or defend). Otherwise, the two versions are completely compatible.
Why I like FAE so much
The stated goal of FATE is to enable you to tell stories about characters who are proactive, competent, and dramatic (FATE Core, p. 18). I contend that FAE meets this mandate even better than FATE Core.
In a nutshell: having both skills and Aspects means a lot of stuff to track for players and GMs who are new to the system. As a result, a lot of people (especially when coming from a “traditional” RPG background) tend to concentrate too much on “Do I have the right skill?” and neglect Aspects, which are really the crux and the innovation in Fate Core.
With FAE, the skills are replaced by six approaches that represent a character’s style (like in Memento Mori Theatricks’ post-apocalypse game octaNe). And just like that, we move one notch up on the “Competent, Proactive, Dramatic” track: the question a player asks is no longer “Can I do this?” but “How do I do this?”
Aspects tell you whether you can get it done (e.g., “Mage of the Fourth Circle,” “Brain surgeon extraordinaire”, “I once hacked the Pentagon main frame”) and why you do it (e.g., “Need to make my mother proud”, “Can’t get enough speed thrills”, “There can be Only One.”) Approaches tell you how you get it done.
With FAE, the focus of game play is now solidly on Aspects: character Aspects, temporary Aspects and Consequences created as a result of Actions, etc. — which, in my opinion, are the heart and soul of the FATE system.
FAE is excellent to play settings where the characters excel at what they do: high-action, pulp, superheroes, Olympic-level athletes, elite forces, heist games, and so forth. For a more gritty or lethal game — life on the streets, war in the trenches, horror, etc. — darker Aspects and Consequences need to be used, and perhaps some rules adjustments borrowed from the advice in FATE Core and the upcoming FATE Toolbox.
A New Champion is Born
Five years ago, I posted a review of another game system, Savage Worlds (Pinnacle Entertainment), and I said that the system was not in itself that exciting or innovative, but “second best at everything” yet this actually made it great for “GMs looking for a quick and easy system to turn their setting ideas into a campaign, or a painless conversion from other systems,” and “a great choice for quick adaptation of your crazy offbeat setting ideas.” (Since then, a new edition has been released and all the good things I said still apply.)
However, I feel that with the FAE system (plus all the wonderful building blocks and advice provided in FATE Core), we finally have an elegant, dynamic, innovative system that provides the same ease for painlessly creating new settings and campaigns. FAE is now going to be one of my go-to systems2 for high action, shared narrative control, and minimal GM headaches.
1 I’d like to take credit for being the first fan on the Kickstarter comments to suggest a streamlined, quick-start version of FATE. I’m certain the Evil Hat team had already discussed this possibility, duh, but hey — if I’m not mistaken, I was the first commenter! ^_^ Return
2 My other go-to systems remain PDQ (Atomic Sock Monkey Games, as implemented in Truth & Justice, The Zorcerer of Zo, Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, Jaws of the Six Serpents, Questers of the Middle Realms, etc.) and HeroQuest Core Rules 2nd ed. (Moon Design Productions).