I sit around the table with the other players. I begin, “In this game, we can basically make up what kind of genre we want to play and what kind of world we want to play in. So, what elements do you want to be in our game?”
“Ninjas,” Rick says immediately.
“Supernatural!” says Ben.
“Russians!” says Rick.
I stare for a moment. “So…Magical Russian ninjas.”
“In the 1920s,” Noah says.
“…in the 1920s,” I confirm. “This is going to be weird as hell game.”
Welcome to the world of Fate Core. Fate Core is the newest edition of the Fate System, published by Evil Hat Productions. There was recent Kickstarter for the system that concluded at the end of this January, raising a whopping 14,446% of its initial $3,000 goal (that’s $433,365!). The book itself went out shortly after that, in March.
So, it was successful, but what is it? Well, Fate Core is more than a game; it’s an entire roleplaying system. That is, it gives you the framework and lets you build your own game within that framework. You can play in a gritty sci-fi world with lots of explosions and gunfire, a political court drama, an exploration game set on a new planet (or in the New World)…or it can be about magical Russian ninjas in the 1920s. The possibilities are nigh-endless.
There are a few things that herald the system. The first is the skill pyramid. Instead of a baseline of stats like Strength and Charisma that everything is derived from, characters assign values to a handful of skills, like Shooting or Lore. So, instead of having a Fighter and saying this Fighter has a high strength which means he can punch things and lift things at the cost of having low Intelligence, you can say that your character has high Physique and Lore, because those are just the things he’s good at. There are no classes in the traditional sense. Rather, you assign your character skills, aspects, and stunts that effect your skills, and you’re good to go.
Aspects are another system of Fate. They are the main things that define your character. For instance, your character might be defined as a “Bookish Space Marine.” In situations where your aspect might come into play, you can invoke it by spending a Fate Point to get a bonus on your roll for that action, or to get a reroll. The main thing that ties your character is their “High Concept,” like the Space Marine that likes to read above. You can think of that as a loose class description for your character. They also get a Trouble, which is their main flaw. In addition to invoking your aspects, others, especially the GM, can compel those aspects. You get a Fate Point, but a negative side of your aspect complicates things for your character. These only have implications for the story, not for gameplay, so don’t worry about hobbling your character because of poor aspect choices.
Your character gets five aspects, and the last three are the most exciting to me. The first of these is your adventure, which is an aspect you received from an important part of your life. Think of it as the prologue or opening chapter to your character’s story. Then, you pass your character sheet to someone else, and they tell a new story about how their character interacted with yours, either helping or harming the situation at hand. You make an aspect from that. Then, you pass your sheet to someone else, and it happens again. Now you have five aspects, two of which immediately provide you with previous relationships with two of the other characters at the table. This is a great way to quickly draw a group of characters together. Nothing is more awkward than the first D&D session where you’re trying to figure out how all these adventurers meet each other without falling into the old “we’re all hanging out in the tavern” cliché.
Next are your stunts. Stunts are freeform ways to enhance or change your existing skills in certain circumstances. For instance, you could translate a Rogue’s backstab skill into a stunt that says the character can use their Stealth skill to attack someone, as long as the target is unaware of them. Stunts are another great way to make your character unique. It also gets you to put yourself in specific circumstance to get the most use out of your stunts.
The last thing that makes Fate stand out are the dice. Called Fate or Fudge Dice, these dice are six-sided, but instead of numbers, they have two blank faces, two with pluses, and two with minuses. You roll four dice together whenever you make a skill check, and add the pluses and minuses to your relevant skill to get a result. This is another great system that makes sure that if you are using a skill that you are great in, you are pretty much going to do well…with some variance.
This system is also laudable for how modular it is. There are tons of games that have been built and are being built using Fate Core as a base (including a game based around the adventure series Myst, several sci-fi games, a game inspired by Wuxia movies, and a game based on Native American mythology). There is bound to be something for your taste.
So, how about those Russian ninjas? I sat down twice with my players, once to build the world and characters, then again to play. Playing with me was Joe, Noah, and Rick (Ben couldn’t make it to the session where we played, unfortunately). The setting, we decided, was just after the Russian Revolution. The characters worked for the proto-KGB, working to take down supernatural threats to the budding nation. Their newest mission (given to them by Rasputin, of course) was to head to a remote village, where rumors of occult activities going on abounded. We weren’t able to play for long, but the characters did some investigative work, invoked some aspects, and beat up some thugs in the time we had.
Unfortunately, we had to end rather abruptly and I wasn’t able to do the post-game interview like normal. The quick and dirty, however, was that everyone had a lot of fun and really want to play again and dig into the system. I certainly agree, and I am chomping at the bit to dive right back in again. If you’re interested, might I suggest picking up a copy from Evil Hat’s website? A fantastic thing is that a .PDF version of the rules are based on a pay what you want basis! Now go out there and make some worlds!