As a lead up to my FATE Sci-Fi RPG roundup, I though I would delve into my experiences with FATE to date, for the benefit of those who may have questions about how the system actually plays out, and for a bit of perspective of where I am coming from when I write the reviews.
My first major foray into FATE was using Spirit of the Century with my “home group”. The game was generally well received, acknowledged for its fast pacing. I did learn that the PCs were a bit too difficult to challenge and fights took a bit too long for my taste using the rules-as-written in the book, but I soon learned of the variant FATE rules that had been posted by Evil Hat that made it a bit easier to threaten PCs. I also thought that players of the less combatant PCs had some difficulty embracing the idea of doing maneuvers with non-combat skills instead of trying to get by with their meager combat skills.
I first ran a Spirit of the Century game at a DC Gameday. I did bring pregens, but made the mistake of letting one of the players make their own character from scratch. Stunt selection took way too long for a 4 hour gameday slot. But I considered the interactive nature of SotC chargen to be a shining feature, so I resolved that in subsequent runs of the game, I would have pregens complete up to the third step of the backstory generation, and let players pick the last two steps (four aspects) at the table.
After I had a disappointing experience running a Mars game using a D20 Modern-based engine at GenCon, I considered that FATE may make a better engine for this sort of action. I decided to take the Iron Lords of Jupiter setting for D20 Modern (in issue #101 and 102 of Dungeon magazine) and adapt it to the FATE system. To add my own spin on things and make it more pulpy, I made the background of the “stranger” (Earth) characters be that of a retro-future World War II; this channeled a bit of the Flash Gordon inspiration for the Iron Lords setting.
My hack used SotC as a basis, with some minor changes. I used a shorter damage track, added bonus stress damage of at least +1 to all weapons (to emphasize the threat of weapons), and split the academics skill into “Earth lore” and “Jupiter lore”.
I ran this setting at subsequent GenCons and Gamedays. For the most part, these sessions were very well received. They delivered a very wide-eyed seat-of-your-pants sort of gaming experience, which was just what you want for a Con/Gameday game. The biggest plus to me was the way that it got player buy-in and allowed them to add things to the setting that they were interested in seeing in play, such as certain villains or situations. Many players also really dug the chance to personalize the characters via the last two phases.
On the down side, some players just did not seem comfortable with the concept of aspects. Also, in earlier games, few players caught on to using maneuvers to stack aspects and take down a big target, with the result that combat seemed to drag. Happily, my most recent game at GenCon 11 seems to have broken from this pattern.