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Minireview: Fate Core & Fate System Toolkit

Fate Core is the long-awaited “generic” incarnation of the FATE roleplaying ruleset, having previously been seen in various game-specific incarnations in lots of games (“Spirit of the Century”, “Dresden Files”, “Diaspora”, etc). It’s a “state of the art” version of the system, combining various good ideas and dumping some other baggage which hasn’t worked out so well. The result is quite stunning, frankly; this is the version of FATE I would use for pretty much anything. The book, in digest format, is very clearly laid out and organized with lots of examples, and the art ranges from “ok” to very good. The system is generic, but the book contains hints on how to fine-tune it for various different genres.

FATE itself is somewhere between low- and medium complexity. It uses special dice (so-called “fudge dice”), with minus (-) and plus (+) symbols on d6 dice instead of numbers. It’s easy enough to use normal d6 dice if fudge dice aren’t available, so it’s not a big deal. The game is very abstract, and instead of hard numbers and “stats” instead focuses on “aspects”, which are… pretty much any sort of condition, aspect or property you could attach to something. A good aspect should have potential for both good and bad as far as the character is concerned; for example, a character aspect of “Afghanistan war veteran” could be used by the player to justify various feats related to previous army experience, but the GM could also use it to provoke flashbacks to nasty situations are inopportune times (provided the player agrees). All this works on a “Fate Point” economy, characters have “fate points” which can be used for bonus, and which can be regained when the GM tags an aspect as an obstacle for the players (among other means). This gives players to create aspects which are interesting and which aren’t purely positive for the character. and all this helps move the game along and build the plot.

The combat is similarly abstract. It, too, runs on aspects, and tends to avoid hard numbers. Distances are abstracted into “zones”, and there is absolutely no need for miniatures, measuring tape or any of that tactical wargame stuff. Damage also avoids any sort of “hit points”, and instead has a separate “stress track” for mental and physical “damage”, and three “consequences”. The stress represents small stuff you can easily shrug off with some bit of rest, while consequences represent the serious stuff: broken bones, severe mental trauma, etc.

Fate System Toolkit is an expansion book to the system, and while fun it’s by no means essential. It’s a “hacking guide” to the FATE ruleset, with lots of guides and examples of how to modify the system, and what the effects and drawbacks of each approach is. If the core game doesn’t quite fit your needs, this book is worth checking out for various hacks, but otherwise it can easily be skipped. Since the core engine has been fine-tuned quite a bit, modifying it blindly is not a good idea.

The System Toolkit also provides hints on how to go about creating new races and character types (and how to balance them), and how to add various different types of magic systems to the game. Again, useful if you are tweaking the system to fit your game world or idea, not so useful otherwise.

I would recommend Fate Core to anyone who has played & liked a Fate system game, and to anyone looking for a fun, semi-lightweight “generic” game system to run their game with. As long as you are fine with abstractions (this game is not for simulationists!), it’s a very smooth game engine. There is a small learning curve, though, especially for groups more used to “traditional” game systems and unused to “indie” game concepts. Figuring out how aspects work and how the fate point economy works can feel a bit weird in the beginning.

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