Sunday, August 21, 2011

FATE Basics

I intend to write a trio of reviews of FATE-based science fiction games* soon. As a reviewer, it has been my idiom to do a pretty thorough rundown of the nuts-and-bolts of a game. But I don't exactly want to repeat the same speel 3 times about the basic FATE mechanics. Instead of that, I'll post the skinny on the basic aspects of FATE here, and point the curious this direction.

* - Being Diaspora, Starblazer Adventures, and Bulldogs.

FATE Basics

FATE 3.0 is a roleplaying system created by Evil Hat Games, and used as the basis for their Spirit of the Century and Dresden Files RPGs. The FATE 3.0 system has been released under the Open Gaming License, allowing third party publishers to use the system for their own games. Third party games released using FATE include Diaspora, Starblazer Adventures, Legends of Anglerre, Bulldogs, Agents of Swing, ICONS (very modified), and Strands of Fate.

FATE features 3 major character building blocks: Skills, Stunts, and Aspects (though some small press offerings try to do away with stunts, in what I consider to be a baby/bathwater move.)

Skills are the basis of most actions, and include traits that in other games would be “stats” or “ability scores”. Skills include athletics, might, guns, academics, and pilot. Skills are rated on a “ladder” which includes descriptors and an associated number (like Good (+3) or Great (+4). Most tasks are resolved by identifying a skill appropriate to the task, roll a set of “FUDGE dice” (see below), and adding it to the skill number. The resulting number will also have a description on the ladder. For example, if the GM calls for your character with Good (+3) pilot to make a pilot roll, and roll the FUDGE dice and get a +2, this would give you a total of +5, or “Superb”. As long as the difficulty of the task is Superb (+5) or below, you succeed.

FUDGE dice were created for the FUDGE system, on which FATE is based. FUDGE dice consist of 4 six sided dice; the dice have “+” on 2 sides, a “-“ on two sides, and two blank sides. The “+” is read as +1, blanks as 0, and the “-“ as -1. As a result, rolling the FUDGE dice (or “4dF”) gives a number from -4 to +4. Some variants of the game (like Starblazer Adventures) simply have the player roll two different colored d6, treating one as positive and on as negative, and adding them together; this gives a results from -5 to +5, and is not as center-weighted as rolling 4dF (so you’ll get extreme results more often).

Stunts are special areas of expertise that modify particular actions for the character; these are approximately equivalent to feats, edges, or advantages from other popular RPGs. Example of a stunt would include shot on the run, wrestling, or universal gadget.

Aspects are perhaps the most distinctive element of FATE. An aspect is a descriptor describing beliefs or tendencies of the characters. Unlike skills and stunts, whose effects are succinctly defined, an aspect may apply in a variety of situations (as ruled by the GM), and can help the character or hinder them.

All player characters (and many NPCs) have a store of FATE points. When they wish to use an aspect to assist them, they spend a FATE point; this allows a bonus to a roll, a reroll, or sometimes a tangible in-game benefit. On the other hand, when an aspect hinders a character, they earn a FATE point; this may consist of a bonus for an enemy or a behavior or a situation causing a problem for the character.

Next Time?

There you have the basics of FATE. Next time around, I'll be relating some of my experiences using FATE as a gaming engine.


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