Dec 1 2008
“Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment” or FATE for short is a free roleplaying game by Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue. In many ways FATE is different from classic roleplaying games like D&D for example. In a way FATE is also more of a GM’s toolbox than a complete RPG much like FUDGE, the game FATE is based on. My review is based on the FATE 2.0 rules freely available on the FATE website. The creators of FATE are currently working on the “Dresden Files RPG” and have recently released “Spirit of the Century”. Both games use an updated version of the rules, which will be released as FATE 3.0 shortly after the “Dresden Files RPG” is out.
FATE uses FUGDE dice for task resolution. Fudge dice are six-sided dice with plus (+), minus (-) and blank sides. You usually roll four dice and add the results. You can generate results from -4 to +4 in that way.
FATE also allows you to use different dice as well, when you don’t want to buy a set of special dice, but the Fudge dice are recommended.
The biggest difference between FATE and classic roleplaying games is the lack of attributes. Usually RPGs have attributes like strength, charisma etc. to describe a character’s abilities. In FATE is it assumed that usually most characters have average attributes. To describe what makes characters special, aspects come into play. An aspect is always something what differentiates a character from his fellow men. And since FATE is story-oriented fancy aspects like “Strong like an ox” are preferrable to simply “Strong”. In situations where a character’s aspect could play a role in the game, the player make “invoke” his aspect, which allows him to reroll dice or change a roll’s result. An aspect like “Member of Thieves guild” for example might be used to influence botched pickpocketing tests or help the character find a branch of his guild in a city he just travelled to.
The GM may also invoke aspects to force players to act in certain ways. Take the example with the “Member of Thieves guild” again. The GM may use this to let a NPC call in a favor from the player character or ask the player to act upon his guild’s codex. If the player acts on that request he is rewarded FATE points, he can use to improve roll results or reduce wounds (“It’s just a flesh wound!”) or he can pay FATE points when he doesn’t want to act out his aspect.
Aspects can also be bought in ranks. A character with two ranks in the “Strange Luck” aspect may invoke this aspect twice before it resets. That can be daily, every session, after an extended rest or whatever suits the GM style of play.
Skills in FATE are pretty standard. The GM decides what skills he wants to use for his campaign. FATE gives several examples on skills and there are three levels of detail the GM may use for his campaign. The more detailed the different skills are (in contrast to broader skill groups) the more points the player may distribute among his skills. FATE also makes use of a “skill pyramid” that is meant to discourage unbalanced characters. Skill levels in FATE are described by adjectives instead of number values, so you can use everyday terms to describe your character’s abilities like in “My character is a Fair swordsman”.
FATE shows it’s toolbox character in every aspect of the rules. There is no fixed set of skills, the GM is entitled to make a list fitting his game, aspects are discussed between player and GM during character creation and there are three different combat rule systems and several magic systems available in the 84 pages of the rulebook. There is not even an implied setting like in D&D 4th Edition, so if you want to use FATE, you have to bring your own setting or convert an existing one.
FATE is a great roleplaying game for an experienced gaming group interested in story-heavy gaming. Although the rules can be quite “crunchy” at times, the focus of the rules is always the characters and the story and never number-crunching. Especially the aspect system sounds very interesting, although it can be quite hard to get your head around sometimes.
- It’s free. You can’t get a cheaper roleplaying game
- It’s a game designer’s toolbox. If you like designing your own world, game, etc., then FATE is perfect!
- It’s only 84 pages long, but filled with designer notes and examples. That’s a big plus in my book, since I don’t have so much time reading hundreds of pages. I want to play, dammit!
- It uses fudge dice! Although the fudge dice work great, it’s always a hurdle if you need to get non-standard dice.
- No setting. If you are looking for a game to pickup and play, FATE is not the right RPG for you.
Please note that this review is based on the 2nd edition of FATE (available here) and I haven’t been able to actually playtest the game. So please bear with me. As always comments are more than welcome!