Review of FATE: Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment. Fudge Edition
FATE: Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment (Hereafter simply Fate) is a generic rpg using the Fudge system
, and available for free download as a PDF from the FATE rpg site
. As there are plenty of reviews of Fudge on rpg.net, I shall not go into the details of the Fudge system, but instead concentrate on what makes the implementation of Fudge in Fate unique.
The page layout of Fate is very clean and simple. Chapter headings and example sidebars are nicely set apart from regular text. A border of "+" and "-" symbols (representing the results on Fudge dice) runs vertically on one side of each page, but isn't visually distracting.
The cover is by "The Web Troll" (no, I'm not kidding), and nicely depicts characters from various genres. Whilst there is one busty babe, she is almost completely covered by a functional, sf-looking utility suit. The other two women have normal-to-smallish breasts. Whilst there is no beefcake, kudos to the artist for not going, say, the Avalanche route.
Interior illustrations are all from www.clipart.com, and all are used to accompany example characters.
Whilst not up to the production standards established by major game companies, Fate is easy on the eyes, and is laid out a lot better than most PDFs.
(NB: I printed Fate out on A4 paper, so I perhaps experienced a bit more vertical whitespace, and less on the sides, than if printed on 8 1/2 x 11.)
Character Creation involves a number of phases
, during which players select aspects
for their characters. The recommended number of phases is 5-8. A phase can represent any length of time, and is good for giving a sense of time and background. For example, in a Harry Potter-style game of students in a magical college, phases could represent early school years, leading up to their first year in college. In a game of immortal swordsmen, perhaps every phase would represent 50 years.
Each phase, you pick an aspect for your character. This could be anything from Strong, Proud, or Knight, to Greedy, Gypsy, or Still Standing. As can be seen, aspects need not be advantageous, they can be limitations, as well (q.v. Aspects, infra).
Aspects are rated on the standard Fudge scale (although slightly re-named, for some reason, making using Fudge dice programs I like a bit of a faff). A given aspect may be chosen as many times as the player wants, but the game recommends an upper limit of half the total number of phases. Use of aspects will be explained below in Aspects.
Once you have picked an aspect, you get to distribute four skill points to skills that the aspect might have given you. Spending a skill point brings the value to Average (+0). Distributing skill points contains the only tricky part of Fate: the "Skill Pyramid". Basically, you must have at least one more skill of the rank below. So if you wanted to purchase a Fair skill (or increase a skill from Average to Fair), you must have two average skills after the increase. To purchase a Good would require two Fair skills and three at Average, &c. Not only does this rein in power, but provides an opportunity for players to give their characters skills they should know anyway. For example, a character with Sword and Shield combat might pick skills such as Knowledge: Swordsmen, Evaluate Blades. It's a nice system, and balances well. Numerous examples and a table on pg. 70 help to explain the process.
At the end of character creation, each character is given a number of Fate Points (similar to Fudge Points), usually equal to half the total number of phases.
Playing the Game
Fate uses the standard Fudge method of determining success and failure. However, it adds a few wrinkles, in that major contests use a "Challenge Ladder". Put simply, the Challenge Ladder is a way to conduct extended contests, but making them into more than simply die-rolling contests. Using the Challenge Ladder, major challenges become a sort of character, measured by their required Measure of Success (which works like wounding a character), Fragility (how likely the test is to backfire on the character), Span (how long each roll takes), and Recovery (How often the task 'heals' itself, requiring more rolls and time to succeed). It's a fascinating system, obviously not required for a simple chase with some brigands, but examples are given for a chess match between masters, influencing a king at court, and acquiring news and rumours from the underground. What immediately came to my mind is the famous "funeral games of Patroklos" book of the Iliad
The use of Fate Points is similar to those of Fudge points in "standard" Fudge. A Fate Point may be spent to increase a roll by +1 (even going above the normal limit of +4 obtainable on Fudge dice), or to gain minor narrative control.
Fate does not use the traditional rpg idea of attributes or statistics. Instead, it uses what are called Aspects. At their core, Aspects are simple: in a situation that would be dramatically appropriate, use of an aspect allows a player to re-roll a bad roll, or to choose a single Fudge die and change its value to a "+". This can easily make the difference between a truly lousy roll and an average one. Once an Aspect is used, one "use" of it is marked off; an Aspect may be invoked as many times during a play session as the number of times it was chosen during creation. For example, Sybil is a Fair (chosen once) Guild Thief. Once per session, if being a Guild Thief would have something to do with the action, Sybil's player may choose to re-roll all four Fudge dice, or to change a single die to a "+".
As mentioned above in Character Creation, a player may choose Aspects with a negative connotation for the character. Negative Aspects can involve Aspect bidding. If the GM feels that your character would succumb to a certain situation, he can start offering you Fate Points, one by one, up to the limit of the aspect. The player can resist the temptation by sacrificing a number of Fate points equal to what the GM has put forward. An aspect is never marked off during aspect bidding.
For example, let's assume Sybil has taken the Aspect, Greedy, three times. If Sybil is in a situation where he/she feels Sybil's Greed would take over, he can offer her player a Fate Point. If the player takes it, then Sybil is greedy, and the GM and the player discuss the outcome. If the player doesn't want Sybil to act greedily, the player would have to give up a Fate Point. If the GM feels like really pushing Sybil, he can offer another one, and so on, until either the player takes the Fate Points offered by the GM (up to Sybil's aspect, or three), or the player decides she resists temptation, and gives up three Fate Points.
Another example of what is commonly considered a "limitation/disadvantage" in many other games: an enemy. Instead, not only does your character gain Fate Points when he/she shows up, but the character gets to invoke the Aspect against the enemy, as well!
The combination of Aspects and Fate Points really makes this game shine, and is a great take on the "drama point" system that has made its way into so many games.
This is a crucial part of the game, and is probably the most difficult to "get", other than the skill pyramid.
Along with being personality traits/disadvantages/representations of training, Aspects can also represent intrinsic, personal, and shared Extras. An Extra can be something such as a sailing ship, nightvision, a magic sword, a weakness in your arch-nemesis, or a patron. Extras can even be "shared", i.e., several players can combine aspects to create one big one (useful for owning something such as a large sailing ship and its crew).
Extras can also be purchased with Skills, which is a little confusing. The difference mainly lies in use: an Aspect Extra is much more powerful than one based only on skills. If the GM denies you a situation where you would normally use your Aspect Extra (you're captured and can't use your magic sword, or your ship has been blown up), you gain a number of Fate Points equal to the aspect value of the Extra. And Aspect Extras can be given skills, as well. It's a very solid and workable system, but a bit confusing on the first read.
Character Creation Options
Here advice is given on various ways to treat aspects, skills, and extras so as to give your campaign the flavour you want. In the magical college game, you might give everyone one free aspect in Magic, in a high-flying martial arts game a free Kung Fu or Whoopass aspect, &c. The advice on Destiny (a way of aspects "popping up" during play), Talented Novices ("But he's just a kid!"), and structured character creation are all worth reading.
Fate does not use the Fudge idea of a "damage capacity" attribute. Instead, all characters are assumed to have a standard number of wounds they can take. This is similar to the Storyteller wounding system, in that characters have, Clipped, Hurt, Injured, and Taken Out levels. After two Hurt levels have been taken, the next result that occurs is an Injured level, &c. (There is another 'level', Scratched, but that actually only occurs on an unsuccessful damage roll, so it is not a level, per se.) Three options are given for handling weapons and armour, Dramatic, Simple, and Advanced, which should be enough detail for anyone who likes Fudge. An interesting feature of the advanced system is that whilst it may take a high damage result to affect someone in heavy armour, a much lower "damage" result would be needed to do a maneuver such as a trip or disarm. Nifty.
Unfortunately, Fate does not include the Offensive/Defensive Tactics modifiers from Fudge (being able to take up to a +/-2 on either attack or defense). Whilst it does include a defensive option, this gains only +1 on defense, and renders the character unable to attack. However, since the combat system meshes perfectly with standard Fudge, there's no reason this rule can't be introduced, with no effect on play balance or ease of play.
Magic and Supernatural Powers
"There are few things less satisfying than a truly generic magic system."
Fate, pg. 45
How true! And nice to see a generic system admit it. To avoid this, Fate includes eight
different magic systems, from the Great Library (D&D-style), to the Path of a Thousand Steps, a magical martial art. Each is given enough detail for a GM to step right in and approach magic easily, though some (the Path and the Great Library, relying on 'spell lists', require more work). This is a great chapter, and all the magic systems work, and more importantly, feel
very different from each other. For a GM looking to create a unique magic system, each example provided shows the many ways that Fate can be adapted to fit a particular campaign.
Unfortunately, there are no examples of super- or psychic powers, though the magical martial art is close to a superpower. Whilst it would be easy enough to figure out, some examples would have been nice.
This chapter includes such things as sample Aspects, how to develop (or not!) skill lists, useful notes for how detailed you want combat skills to be (e.g., buccaneer-style, dagger), and a complete example of developing a skill list for a campaign, using several of the methods involved in the chapter. Good reading. It concludes with a nice example of character creation.
It's hard to review this game without gushing. Campaign ideas came to my head easily with every chapter. Whilst the lack of examples of superpowers is a bit disappointing, and a little more clarity in the Extras section would be welcome, this game is free
. Fate does everything its authors set out to do very, very well, and better than most game systems charging an arm and a leg. Kudos! It is, I think, the best implementation of the Fudge mechanics I have ever seen. And that's a very good thing in my book.
NB: With the new acquiring of the Fudge License by Grey Ghost Press, the developers of Fate have decided that a non-Fudge edition is no longer a pressing concern. So we may soon see Fate in a print copy.