FATEful Thoughts

FATE has, without a doubt, been one of the biggest games of the past year in part due to a massively successful Kickstarter. It’s taken a while to get in some decent time with it but I’m finally at the point where I feel like I’ve spent enough time with it to form some opinions. I’m going to preface this with the comment that while I’ve run enough sessions to get comfortable with the game I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it.

  1. It’s easy to learn but difficult to master. This is the biggest thing that I’ve learnt over the course of running Dresden Files, that while I came into the game with a technical understanding of how the system should work applying that knowledge was a completely different kettle of fish. Aspect, which are at the core of FATE, really do need to be constantly present for the system to work to its fullest. During the first few sessions of our campaign we simply didn’t introduce enough of them or use the ones that were present as frequently as the system expect. This in turn led to complications as compels weren’t introduced as frequently as expected for the game to really function. While we’ve upped the frequency with which we use the aspects I’m still not 100% sure we’re using them to the extent that is required.
  2. I’m not a fan of paying to invoke EVERY TIME an aspect is relevant. Generally if you want to get a bonus from an aspect you need to either pay a FATE point if you want to apply it to a situation, which I’m not sure I’m a massive fan of. Now sure there are ways of getting free invocations on aspects but generally they are used when the aspect is created. If you create an aspect such as “blinded with sand” you’ll probably get a free invocation to use it but after that it’ll cost you to invoke it. After that it’ll cost you FATE points to use, even if the character is narratively still wandering around with limited vision. I’m not quite sure how to alter the game without breaking the core mechanic but I’d prefer if mechanical bonuses / penalties didn’t require repeated invocations to use.
  3. The flat +2 bonus doesn’t sit well with me. This follows on from the above but the fact that aspects can only every provide a +2 or reroll intuitively bothers me. It means aspects of “everything is on fire” and “stubbed toe” mechanically always have the same effect even if they are massively different on the level of the narrative. I much prefer the Cortex Plus approach of dice sizes indicating the severity of the asset / complication with the description reworded as required. So that “everything is on fire” might be represented by a d12 but started as a d6 “burning table” etc.

Anyway that’s just a few thoughts on FATE, yes they’re mostly issues with the system but that’s note to say I’m not enjoying it, just that I’m finding it challenging to run. As always if you have any thoughts or ways to handle said issues please do let me know.

4 thoughts on “FATEful Thoughts

  1. Hi there. Thanks for blogging about Fate! A couple thoughts.

    Point #2: Don’t! Fate Core brings forward the statement “aspects are always true”, so it’s fine to just get out there and let the aspects guide and shape the fiction without picking up the dice or spending any fate points (or free invokes). Worth keeping in mind.

    Point #3: If you’re looking for gradated values there are a couple ways to go.

    First off, get all up in the fate fractal and start giving things skill ratings instead of or in supplement to aspects. Your Conflagration is particularly intense? Give it a Superb “Burn!” skill, and have it take action against characters.

    Second off, “Everything is on Fire” is maybe too much of a simplification. What if it’s three or four aspects all manifesting simultaneously? Sometimes you can reach for quantity if you want to convey something of magnitude.

  2. I think you’re missing the more subtle impacts of aspects (and, in fact, of all facts in play) that exist in Fate.

    Facts (to use my personal shorthand, oft repeated in Fate Core’s G+ community) Permit, Deny, and Justify, all the time and without invocation being required.

    They Permit actions that wouldn’t be possible if they weren’t there. If it’s “Dark Of Night”, you can make Stealth actions you otherwise couldn’t.

    They Deny actions that otherwise could be done. If it’s “Pitch Black”, you can’t read that note you’re holding.

    And they Justify modifications to the passive resistance of an action or the use of active resistance. So if the floor is “Covered In Grease”, it makes sense that some things are more difficult. And if I’m standing in the doorway (a fact, not necessarily an aspect at all), then I can actively resist someone trying to move thru it.

    These ideas are present in the rules, but (IMO) somewhat underemphasized and easy to miss beside the bigger (and more unique to Fate) invocation effects. Facts, being true, influence things. It’s a default assumption, which is perhaps why it goes unmentioned in the rules most of the time.

  3. I can help you with point 2 and point 3. Aspects are always true, and that means that they can, if you want, have an ‘always on’ mechanical effect.

    For a simple example, think of a ten-foot tall wall topped with broken glass. If a player wants to get over it do you only ask them to make an overcome roll if you invoke the wall, in which case the opposition is two times the number of invokes you spend on it? No. You assign the wall an obstacle rating based on how significant it is to the plot/your sense of reality, and the player has to beat that to get over it.

    The same can be true of ANY aspect. That sand in the eyes aspect is an obstacle to overcome if the player wants to notice something happening with his sense of sight, and you get to define what’s a fair number on that. A makeshift barrier assembled by the group might oppose the encroaching zombies with Fair (+2) while a wooden palisade made over the course of days offers Great (+4) opposition.

    The other element that gives aspects teeth is that they have significant narrative effects. “Everything on fire” means that the player can’t go certain directions without being caught on fire, there’s smoke filling the air so they can barely breathe. A stubbed toe on the other hand might slow the character down if he’s trying to run but otherwise has little effect–unless an opponent invokes it, in which case _in that moment_ the stubbed toe gains a chance to shine in the spotlight as he increases its significance to the tune of a +2 bonus to his roll.

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