Friday, November 29, 2013

The FATE Library: Fate Core

This is the fourth post in our FATE Library series, in which I am looking at the FATE RPGs that I own, have read, and have used. The first post in the series was a review of Spirit of the Century. The second was a review of Diaspora. The third was a review of the inimitable Starblazer Adventures.

Today, we are taking a look at Fate Core, an updated, generic, universal implementation of the Fate system published in 2013.

First, my rating system:
  • Book Condition? My copy is in excellent shape. It has been in my possession since it was shipped mid-year, and I have used it to run games as well as play in other people's games. The book is a solidly built small hardcover of 291+ pages. The binding is very much intact, and that has to be intentional in these days in which the bindings of so many RPGs often deteriorate within a few days of purchase (when they aren't actually delivered to game stores already damaged). This core book is built to last. The only thing I don't like about the core book is the glossy paper. It reflects enough light that it can be difficult for these old eyes to read at times.
  • Actually Read? Twice, sort of. I read Fate Core straight through in early 2013 when it was still in pre-publication, and just completed a thorough read through over the last two weeks, as preparation for running a Fate Tekumel game at U-Con in Michigan.
  • Ever Played? YES! Many times in fact. That's at least 4 games as a GM, and at least two as a player.
  • Science Fiction? YES!, especially if you consider Tekumel to be SF (I do; it is part of the sword and planet or planetary romance subgenres). I have GMed three Fate Core Tekumel games this year, and played in another run by +George Harnish. I have also played in a wonderful prohibition era Crimeworld Fate Core game GMed by +B Cook. Finally, I have GMed a Dawning Star scenario for the forthcoming Fate Core edition of the game.  
This review will be a bit briefer than the last few. Well, maybe. There have been many reviews of Fate Core.  What I can say is that the system works, and most of the changes - which have focused on simplifying the system and codifying certain player choices (such as actions) - have been very beneficial. I have run Fate Core games for both veteran Fate players and newbies (including Grognards) and have found that folks who are new to the system grasp it quickly and use it fairly intuitively.

The Skill list has been greatly simplified, which makes it much easier to generate characters quickly, as well as adjudicate which Skills are appropriate for which situations in play. Depending on the SF setting you plan to run, you may need to rename some skills to something more SFnal (e.g., "Crafts" is a perfectly misleading name as the skill for mechanisms and machinery). The book has some useful advice for GMs about modifying the Skills list.

A little earlier today, I was struggling a bit with creating the Bituin Commonwealth (an interstellar polity) using the out-of-the-box Fate Core list of Skills because some of them feel so terrestrial and lowtech. Nevertheless, I always try to use the game as it was written before modding it out, and I think it translated OK from my vision to the Fate Core mechanics. Sure, I could have done it better with Starblazer Adventures, but it's good enough, which what I really want (and need) from a generic, universal system.

I really appreciate that the Stunts list in Fate Core is very free form. When Diaspora came out with its more free-form model for Stunts (free-form creation really supports character customization in that game), it was a real breath of fresh air, since the existing Fate-based RPGs had very crunchy and often arborescent Stunt systems.

Finally, this book has some of the best GM and player advice out there. The entire book is written in the tone of a coach - one who wants to get the best out of both the players and the GM. Fate Core not only enables collaborative character creation, but also collaborative setting/campaign creation through its "Current Issues/Impending Issues" model for setting and campaign creation. 

And that's not all. The advice for GMs on how to build scenarios, arcs, and campaigns is both practical and outstanding, and rooted in what the system does best: character, campaign, setting, and situation Aspects.  A good GM could eventually figure out a lot of this on their own (but maybe not most or  ALL of it - at least not for a while). But with Fate Core, they won't have to do all this learning on their own. The book guides the GM with practical tools that help him or her to discover what will interest the players and motivate their characters, integrating all the scenario, arc, and campaign mechanics with the experience system, also known as Milestones. 

There are no Experience Points in Fate Core, but there IS character advancement. I rarely give out experience in Fate games, so I think this is going to be the biggest growth area for me going forward with Fate Core: tying character advancement to the progression of a campaign in the elegant and natural ways that the new Fate Core enables.

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