Thursday, November 29, 2012

FATE Library: Spirit of the Century

"Pulp on Shaker Table" c. 2012 by John Everett Till

There is an internet meme*  in circulation right now in which people are showing off their game collections. That would be quite a project for me, and I like the variant of this meme (fadduole?) in which people show only the books that they actually USE when blogging  and/or at the gaming table. Well, I am going to go one further and do a series of posts featuring the individual FATE books in my library, and what I have done with them.

First up is Spirit of the Century, the first RPG powered by FATE.

First, my rating system:

  • Book Condition? Battle damaged, thoroughly page-flagged. Lulu FATE ladder bookmark (to the right of the book in the photo) in pristine condition
  • Actually Read? Numerous times
  • Ever Played? Held the first SOTC games in public venues in MN. GMed SOTC too many times to count, all one-shots. Never a player.
  • Science Fiction? We've gone to pulp Mars, Skull Island, and Multiversal Moorcockian Brooklyn!

As I am sure many people who follow this blog are aware, SOTC is a pulp RPG, both in terms of setting and mechanics. It has a default early 20th Century setting featuring the Century Club (a way to get PCs together in one organization and feed them adventures), but really a GM can either use the Century Club or discard it in favor of some other campaign narrative structure/organizational principle. This is especially the case since character generation in SOTC uses the traditional FATE approach (this FATE tradition started here!) of collaborative character generation.

I have heard many players who have been through this collaborative process state that this creates the most cohesive PC parties they have ever been part of. Many people are used to that play environment now, but I recall the nasty 90s when every Shadowrun and White Wolf game I was in had players withholding information from each other - just because.

It was so bad back then that I remember Sam Chupp explicitly telling the players in a WW II pulp convention scenario (with Mage 1st ed.) that there was no point in withholding information from each other: We were the heroes! 

At any rate, SOTC chargen works to create cohesive parties because players share power so evenly in character creation: players take turns helping each other create the most interesting and flavorful characters possible. I have seen players struggle to find the right way to write someone else's character into their own PCs story, and I have seen people struggle with choosing tasty Aspects for their character. But I have never seen a player "just phone it in" or "go through the motions" during collaborative character generation. Everyone is playing their "A-game"!

SOTC came out a bit after Bruce Baugh's Adventure! and like that White Wolf game introduced mechanics for players (as opposed to player characters) to reshape or re-channel the story narrative in new directions. SOTCs metagaming mechanics are much more robust and granular than those in Adventure! (which I have never run or had the chance to  play, unfortunately).

The system rewards players who are quick on their feet linguistically (as opposed to mathematically adept, or gifted rote-mechanically). I think the game also works best with a GM who is willing to handwave some mechanical details (rather than looking things up) and keep things moving. The Ladder is the GM's friend, and if you have it, The Ladder bookmark that came with the Lulu print run of the game should be Xeroxed onto the PCs character sheets for quick reference.

SOTC was expressly designed for pick-up play, but it is an incredibly crunchy game. For pick-up play, the GM will either need to handwave some Stunts' details (or perhaps let people play without Stunts entirely). It works best with players who trust each other and their GM and are at the table primarily to have some fun.

*I won't get into a long discussion here of why "meme" is an incoherent and idealist rather than materialist explanation of how information spreads.


  1. I'd be interested in that long discussion on 'meme'. If you don't already have a more general musings blog, I imagine there would be a wider audience for it. If you do, I need to know where!

  2. Hi Poeky: No general musings blog, unfortunately. While I don't find the concept of meme to be particularly strong, however, I do regard Dawkin's selfish gene/extended phenotype concept to be a very good (Freudian slip time - my first keystrokes were "god" rather than "good") framework for understanding evolution.