Monday, March 31, 2014

Unraveling Fate

Now that we've broken down a nice “crunchy” system like D&D 4th Edition, I thought we could take a look at a system that is more free-form.  Fate Core is an RPG system from Evil Hat and has a relatively small number of rules focusing on more narrative play. Players get to take an active part in creating the story and environment, which is not generally seen in more traditional RPGs.  That doesn't mean, though, that it lacks elements that can be useful in any game you play.  As we did with 4th Edition, I want to look at 3 pieces of Fate to use in other systems.  We'll take an in depth look at the first one today and handle the other two in two weeks.  The 3 pieces are:

  • Character/Scene Aspects
  • Group Character and City Creation
  • Narrative Based Timing
Aspects is the obvious place to start when discussing Fate. Aspects are an element as front and center in Fate as the d20 is in Dungeons and Dragons.  In their simplest form Aspects are phrases which describe something interesting and unique about what they are applied to.  On a character they can be a simple as Mighty Barbarian or as specific as The Only Wizard Detective in the Phone Book.  Scenes similarly may be Dark and Stormy or in A Rat Infested Warehouse.  

When Aspects are Invoked they can provide a bonus to a die roll or a penalty to an action against a character.  When Compelled, they will limit a character’s choices or prevent the character from succeeding in the action which triggered the Aspect. Whenever an Invoke or Compel occurs Fate Chips are exchanged, keeping a dynamic economy of narrative control shifting between the players and the game master.

Aspects as a rules module are beautiful in their simplicity and the effect they can have on play is dramatic.  Any game that uses dice can incorporate them to give players a chance to further distinguish their characters from the flock.  As an example, I wanted to look at a newer game by Monte Cook.  Numenera, as a game, focuses on exploration and oddity making it a perfect fit for open-ended descriptions.  

In Numenara, I would recommend keeping the number of Aspects low. Too many will begin to bog down players with options.  Three Aspects gives the player options, without getting in the way of creativity.  A character's first two Aspects are easy - simply use the adjective and verb taken during character creation.  For example, a Graceful Glaive who Fights with Panache would treat Graceful and Fights with Panache as Aspects.  The final should be chosen by the character and should describe something truly unique to them.  This could be the description of a unique item they favor, their homeland, or the goal that drives them through the 9th World.  

To use the Aspects, Numenera already has a guide through the rule of GM Intrusions.  GM Intrusions are opportunities to make the story more difficult or exciting for the players.  The reward the players receive is experience, so they work very similarly to Aspects already.  Aspects, in this case, primarily provide the GM with more information about how the player wants their character to be challenged.  If your character Fights with Panache then the GM knows that it may be in their nature to toy with an opponent rather than go in for the kill.  Using this information, the GM can Compel that Aspect to force the character to fail an attack, choosing instead to embarrass their opponent.

There are a few options for Invoking Aspects in Numenera, but I personally prefer the simple ones.  Allowing a character to spend an XP to treat an Aspect as an asset in Numenera will keep the option in their mind when they have a difficult task.  While this effect is similar to the option players already have (re-rolling a dice for 1 XP), this option can allow a character to in difficulty 4+ tasks to truly shine. It gives them some certainty when their other abilities bring a difficulty to 1. 

Next week I'll share with you a recipe for some Asian lettuce wraps my wife and I love, and that I will be serving at my next game.  Talk to you then.


  1. As someone who has participated in several fate-based (specifically "Dresden Files") games that failed to launch, I am familiar with the theory of aspects, but still fuzzy on how they are used in practice. Could you write out an at-the-table scenario to show how they could be used by either the player or the GM (a Galileo-style "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Gaming Systems")? Just a thought.

  2. Aspects can take a while to get a handle on of you're not used to them, but they've been streamlined a bit in Fate Core. I'll throw up an extra post next week taking a closer look at the system and giving some examples of it in use.