In this year’s You Pick It roundup, one of the games you asked us to review was Fate Core. I have been playing Fate Core for the past few months, and happily agreed to cover this game. I will be upfront that I love this game, and so I am going to share with you the reasons why, as a GM, you are going to love this game as well. Here’s a Fate Point, let me compel you to read on…
Is This A Review?
No. There have been a number of straight up reviews on Fate Core that detail the book, mechanics, etc. My favorite is by my good friend Chris Sniezak, from the Misdirected Mark podcast, who does a great job at giving a Primer and Review. If you are unfamiliar with Fate Core, start there and give it a read.
Why You Will Love This Game
Gnome Stew is a GMing blog, and I want talk about Fate Core from the GM’s perspective. A good RPG rulebook needs to do a lot of things: teach you the game, be a reference while playing, show you how to run a game and how to run a campaign, etc. That is a lot to ask of any rulebook. That said, Fate Core is easily one of the most GM friendly games I have ever run.
Reason 1: Easy To Learn
The first thing a rulebook needs to do is to teach the GM (and players) how to play the game. Fate Core does this extremely well, so much so that after one read of this book you will be ready to run a session. Yet, upon re-reading the book you will find a subtle depth to the rules that allows for further mastery.
Fate Core is accessible in several ways: First, the writing is sharp and clear with wonderful examples, making the comprehension of the system easy. Second, layout is clean and unobtrusive. There are no watermarks, no fancy page textures, or complex artwork. These have been traded off for a pleasant font and an efficient layout, that makes it easy for your eyes to move across the page. Third, the side column of each page contains links to relevant concepts, making the book an excellent reference book. You will not have any problem finding a rule, and when you do, you can find any supporting rules with easy.
Reason 2: Compel Is Your Best Friend
Fate is most often credited with the birth of the Aspect, which is a brilliant element of design. It is a great tool for players to use to gain some control of the game, in terms of being able to invoke them for a bonus to a roll or a re-roll. The true power of the Aspect though, as a GM, lies in the Compel; the ability to reward the player with a Fate Point for either acting on or having something happen in line with their Aspect.
The Compel is a versatile tool for the GM. First, you can use it to encourage the player to play in fashion that is consistent with their character (decisions), which can be used to move the plot in a certain direction, or complicate a scene. Second, you can Compel a player to have something happen in game (events) that falls in line with their Aspect, to introduce a complication into a scene, keeping the players on their toes. Third, the Compel – Fate Point economy is positive reinforcement, by encouraging players to play in character, which overall improves the quality of play at the table.
Reason 3: Conceding and Taken Out
Combat in Fate can be deadly, but only when death is the most interesting option. Fate provides two ways to lose a combat: Conceding and being Take Out. When an opponent Concedes, they are out of the conflict, but on their terms. When a character is Taken Out, the victor gets to decide what happens to that character.
These are incredible tools for keeping a campaign intact. As a GM, you can Concede a fight and keep your NPC alive to fight another day, and possibly even get away. No more having your major NPC killed prematurely from a critical hit from the players. If a PC is Taken Out, you are not forced to kill them, rather you can capture them, leave them in the wastelands with no possessions, etc. Their outcome is put in your hands and you can choose what outcome will work best for your story.
Reason 4: Making Failure Interesting
I have a pet peeve with regards to game mechanics: boring skill checks. There is nothing that annoys me more than a pass/fail skill check when both outcomes are not interesting. Rather than just using pass/fail, Fate has built into their mechanics a third option: Succeed with a Cost. So rather than being forced to fail a check at a dramatic moment, the player can instead opt to succeed, but the GM can add a minor or major compilation to the scene.
This mechanic does two things during a session. First, it places failure directly in the hands of the player. A player only has to fail at something when they chose, so that a session is not marred by a bad night of rolling. Second, it is another way that a GM can add tension to a scene. That simple disarming of the alarm just got a whole lot more interesting now that the power in the building just went out, because the character failed their roll.
Reason 5: Session Creation
Fate Core does a wonderful job of providing information on how to create scenarios for your games. There is a whole chapter dedicated on how to build exciting scenarios. The chapter goes beyond general advice on plot types or helpful hints. Fate Core shows you how the mechanics of the system tie directly into session creation.
The crux of session creation revolves around Aspects (and Compels!). By leveraging the Aspects of the campaign and the character, sessions are created with a direct connection to the characters (and to the players). There is no worry about how to hook the players into the adventure, because your character’s Aspects already provided you the hook. From there, the chapter discusses how to set up the opposition, frame scenes, and how to bring everything to a conclusion.
While this advice is specific to Fate Core, there is plenty of useful advice regardless of the system you play.
Reason 6: Campaign Management
If the session creation chapter was not enough, the very next chapter is dedicated to building Campaigns. As a guy who thinks a lot about campaigns, there is solid advice on Story, Setting, and Character Management. This chapter covers how to build story arcs, and how to tie character advancement to those arcs. There is also advice on advancing the campaign world and the NPC’s who live within the world.
Once again, this is done by leveraging Aspects and how Aspects can change during the duration of a campaign. The ability for characters to have their aspects change during the course of a campaign is a powerful tool not only for the players, but of course for the GM for its use at the table, and in both session and campaign planning.
Reason 7: Hackable
Fate does not come with a setting. Rather, the group needs to create the setting in which they wish to play, or convert an existing setting. I can speak from experience (here and here) that the ability to create what you need for either a new setting or converting a setting can be found in Fate Core. There are rules that cover the creation of new skills and stunts, and the Extra’s chapter covers creating additional rules for things that are not part of the core rules like Magic, Super Powers, etc.
To make this more potent, the Fate System Toolkit is a book that is the Fate hacker’s guide for creating any Extra you might need. That book goes into depth on how to tinker with the Fate system, how to add onto it, and how to use the rules to emulate different styles.
A ++++ Book
Fate Core is easy to read, easy to understand, and has information for building a campaign, creating sessions, and advancing campaigns. This is the Fate system weaponized; designed to be put in the hands of a GM to create awesome games the moment they read the book. I promise you that you won’t finish your first read of this book before you have thought of a setting you want to create or convert into Fate.
As if that was not enough, the Fate Core PDF is Pay What You Want on DriveThruRPG, so there is no barrier for entry into this system. Also, if you want to hear me talk more about Fate with the players from my group, take a listen to this episode of the Misdirected Mark podcast.
If you have played Fate Core, what parts of it do you find most helpful as a GM? If you have not yet played Fate Core, what parts of the game have you intrigued?