I’m a bit slow…
It’s taken me some time to get around to this follow-up to my previous post about gaming with your kids. I have wanted to do this for a while, but kept getting distracted. I was reminded of it recently, however, when Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: the Next Generation fame posted a video of Fate Core gameplay. I’ve also been re-reading the book myself, so it seemed like good timing.
Fate Core is a setting-neutral system. Unlike, say, Vampire the Masquerade, which is expressly about Vampires in a modern setting, or Dungeons and Dragons which assumes a typical high-fantasy setting, Fate Core can be virtually anything that your gaming group desires.
Do you want to be Space Marines exploring an alien craft? Are you a cyborg from the future coming to prevent the world you know from coming to be? Are you a cowboy in an alternate old west, where magic is as common as guns? Maybe a giant, transforming robot protecting humanity from your enemies while staying in disguise?
You can play all of those and more. In the video below, watch as Wil, Felicia Day, John Rogers and Ryan Macklin play a session of Fate set in the modern day, but tinged with supernatural elements. The video is a bit long, as it includes character creation in addition to gameplay, so you may also jump over it and meet me again on the other side.
The basic gameplay of Fate Core is very simple. There are only four actions that cover everything that the players might want to do. They are:
- Overcome The player rolls to overcome some sort of obstacle. This can be rolling to sneak past some guards, seduce someone, break/ repair something, climb a tree, or almost anything else.
- Create an Advantage Unlike some other games that include lists of maneuvers that a character can learn and attempt, Fate Core allows the players to simply Create an Advantage. If you disarm an opponent, that is an Advantage. If you trip them or blind them with a flash of light, it is also an advantage. Pouring oil on the floor to make it slippery is another example. It can be pretty much anything you can imagine can be made into an Advantage, which you (or another player) can then use for a bonus of +2 on another action.
- Attack Pretty self-explanatory. If your Attack roll is higher than your opponent’s defend, you may injure him.
- Defend Pretty self-explanatory. If your Defend roll is higher than your opponent’s Attack, you defend successfully.
In order to take an action, the player will roll four Fate Dice, which are 6-sided dice, but with two plus (+) signs, two minus (-) signs and two sides that are blank. Each + adds one to whatever skill the character is using, while each – subtracts one. For example, a character trying to use Investigate to find clues at a crime scene would roll the four dice (gaining + + – and a blank die) would add +1 to his skill and compare it to an assigned difficulty.
Unique to Fate is the use of Aspects. Each player has multiple Aspects, which serve as a way to both describe the character and further define what he is capable of. The character above may be a detective with an Aspect of Nothing Escapes My Notice. This may give the character a further +2 on his roll if he chooses to Invoke it, which is done by spending a Fate Point– a finite pool of points that allows the player to assume some degree of narrative control.
Aspects may also be Compelled in a way that is detrimental to the character, but which will earn a Fate Point for later use. In this way, the player’s pool of points is constantly fluctuating as they spend points for bonuses, but accept complications to their lives to earn more.
Superheroes and FAE
Fate Core is an awesome game that can handle almost anything you can throw at it, but when it comes to Superheroes, as great as Fate is, I find that FAE is perhaps a bit better.
FAE stands for Fate Accelerated Edition, and as the name suggests, it is Fate, but simplified. Whereas Fate uses Skills to determine what a character is capable of, FAE uses Approaches. While Skills determine what a character can do, Approaches represent how a character does things. The six standard approaches are:
I find this to be perfect for younger kids, to introduce them to the concept of role-playing. In most RPGs, the player wanting to climb up the side of a castle wall to sneak inside and steal some jewels, might be asked to roll Climb, Athletics, or whatever appropriate skill is available. If they lack the skill, they might even be refused the opportunity to try, being simply told that they have no chance of success.
In FAE, however, the player can declare how they accomplish this. Do they find an area of the wall that is obfuscated from the view of the castle guards? They are being Sneaky. Do they climb up using their incredible natural agility? Maybe they are climbing Quickly or being Flashy (which would probably not be the best way to sneak in…) Do they go slowly, taking their time to search out each toe-hold on the way up. They are being Careful.
Some might find this unappealing, as they prefer the relatively more realistic use of skills, rather than assuming characters can take virtually any action, but Fate in general and FAE in particular, is about characters who are very capable and proactive. This is great for kids, because noting ruins their fun more than continually being th=old their character “can’t do that.” With Approaches, they simply have to be able to narrate the manner in which they do something and roll the matching Approach.
When it comes to superheroes, that is where FAE really shines, in my opinion. In most games, if you wanted to play the Avengers or the Justice League, it would be incredibly difficult to balance the characters. After all, having Superman and Batman on the same team represents a massive range in power levels. In many games, Superman would overshadow Batman by quite a bit. If characters were made with a point-buy systems, where they could assign points to their abilities, a character like Batman would likely have half as many (or fewer) points as Superman, but in FAE, both characters would be able to shine.
Each Approach is rated between zero (0) and three (+3). Both Batman and Superman would have one Approach at +3, two at +2, two at +1 and one at 0. Superman, for all his powers, wouldn’t have any higher ratings than Batman. One might assume that Superman would be +3 to Forceful and Batman +3 to Sneaky, or Clever (depending on your interpretation). They can thus be of equal effectiveness mechanically. Where they differ is in Aspects.
Aspects, as mentioned earlier, are ways to define the character with a simple phrase. Superman’s Aspects might be Last Son of Krypton, Man of Steel, Mild-Mannered Reporter Clark Kent, or something similar. Batman might have Dark Knight Detective, Trained to the Peak of Physical Perfection, Criminals are a Superstitious and Cowardly Lot and others.
Within FAE, Aspects are always considered true. so they can be a great shorthand way to describe a character. For example, Last Son of Krypton would mean just that. He is Kryptonian, with all that implies: super strength, speed, invulnerability and more. What this does is give permission to do certain things. Having this aspect, for example, would allow Superman to lift a car, or fly, or even allow him to ignore gunfire from street-level thugs. Batman wouldn’t have those same permissions, so while it allows Superman to do some things that Batman can’t he is still limited to a maximum of +3 on his rolls, the same as Batman.
This can be used a variety of ways.
Let’s say that the duo are facing off against Doomsday, one of Superman’s most powerful enemies. Superman, by virtue of his Last Son of Krypton Aspect, has the ability to harm Doomsday physically. Batman, being a normal man, cannot simply walk up to the monster and punch him. There wouldn’t even be a need to roll; he simply cannot affect him. What Batman can do is make use of other systems in the game, such as Create an Advantage.
In this case, knowing he cannot physically match Doomsday, Batman Cleverly uses one of his gadgets (maybe a smoke bomb) to temporarily blind Doomday. On his next action, Batman Sneakily gets in close and plants a device on Doomsday that emits high frequency sonics that throw him off balance. At this point, Superman can take advantage of the two Advantages to give himself a bonus to his attack, which as a result does enough damage to put Doomsday down for the count.
Both characters have contributed to the battle in ways that are consistent with their abilities and portrayal in the comics. It’s entirely possible that without Batman’s help, Superman wouldn’t have been able to harm Doomsday enough to stop him. Mechanically, each character was able to roll his highest score (Batman’s Sneaky maneuver and Superman’s Forceful punch), which was +3 for each of them. It wasn’t a matter of Superman rolling 20 dice versus Batman rolling 3 as might happen in other systems.
I love both Fate and FAE and consider them both to be excellent games. If you are interested in introducing your child to RPGs, either one is a good place to begin, with FAE having a slight advantage for the younger crowd and certain genres. Pick up one (or both!) and have some fun with your kids, or even your adult friends.
Let me know what kind of games you are running!
Fate and FAE are available as pay-what-you-want PDFs at Drive-Thru RPG