Sunday, February 23, 2020

Fate Condensed

I have never played Fate, but I know something about it's DNA (here's a post about FUDGE). This post is mostly about Fate Condensed.

If Fate Core was too damn crunchy...
FUDGE was a toolkit RPG. You really couldn't just open the book and start playing. You first had to understand its structure and then make some key decisions about what kind of game you were going to play. Because FUDGE was a freeform, universal, do-it-yourself gaming engine. It was a tool you used to build your own RPG.

A lot of minds went into the development of this game. Fate has a rabid following. I really had no idea other than hearing it mentioned on podcasts here-and-there, especially when I started listening to gaming podcasts not laser-focused on the OSR (hey... people play other games!).

(As an aside, I see that Leonard Balsera was a co-creator of the game. In my many investigations of ways to handle initiative, I have heard the term "Balsera initiative" or "popcorn initiative", which I am a huge fan of. It's the initiative style where each player decides who goes next. Like, I go then I say you get to go, etc. Here's a write-up of a version of it.)

The book starts off telling us what we need and telling us what's been changed from Fate Core. Then it goes into the first order of business with any Fate or FUDGE game: what's your setting? Because, remember, these are generic games. I'll talk more about that shortly.

Special Insert: Holy shit... I  just remembered vaguely that maybe I did play in at least one session of Fate several years ago. I have this crude memory of a tank and a revolution... no wait... that's not MY memory! It's a memory of a podcast where they played Fate? Holy shit I'm getting old.

Next it goes into describing characters. These are the main elements of a character:

I can see the DNA of FUDGE here because there is no straight list of attributes. You have to define your character by their Aspects and Skills and stuff. Now, in FUDGE, from what I remember, you're asked to come up with your own list of attributes. So maybe you're going to do western action and you decide that all characters will have Grit, Smarts, Shootin', and Ridin' as their main attributes. In Fate it seems to be less centralized. Each character has their own individual list of attributes.

This appears to be a very player-facing, player-friendly game.

I remember some podcast or another in which the host expressed a little confusion about how to use Aspects vs. Skills. The text says that Aspects are who you are while Skills are what you can do. That seems like a reasonable distinction but I can also see where it would be confusing in play. If my Aspect is that I'm The World's Deadliest Assassin and I have a Skill called Stab a Bastard... actually as I type this it kinda makes sense, doesn't it? The Aspect is broad and the Skill is narrow.

In fact, that is exactly the descendant of the FUDGE structure. You'd select an attribute, such as Dexterity, and then you'd have your skill, such as dancing. Dex is broad, dance is narrow.

Fate Ladder
Things are rated in +/- with an adjective to describe them. This is straight FUDGE, but they've added 2 additional levels at the top and bottom of the ladder. What I remember about this ratings table is that it doesn't satisfy the desire for granularity. People who love percentile systems where they can get +1% incremental improvements will not love the adjective ladder. However, this is very efficient and clear. It should be intuitive that the person who is a Good shot is a better shot than the person who is Fair. And that's what Steffan O'Sullivan was going for when he created FUDGE. Bravo.

There's a list of 19 standard Skills, such as Athletics, Lore, and Stealth. This list is similar to what you'd see in modern D&D and it seems like it would cover most of the bases for a generic game.

Skills are ranked per the adjective ladder. All PCs begin with 1 Great, 2 Good, 3 Fair, 4 Average, and the rest Mediocre. Seems legit and simple. No fiddly bits here.

Then the text tells you that when you're building your setting you'll want to consider do you want to keep this list or do you want to change it? This list seems custom-made for the most bog standard kind of RPG experience: exploring, fighting, getting treasure. So if you're thinking of using Fate to do a teenage angst drama club melodrama then maybe you'll get rid of Shoot in favor of Freestyle Rap.

I like the FUDGE dice roller.
Stunts are cool and unique things your PC can do that others cannot. Like... Smack Talk Smack Frenzy.

As we get into the details of how to play I spy a really nice, important bit of advice: fiction first. That is, describe what you want to do then figure out how it works in the system. This seems intuitive but I think we all get caught up in what's on our character sheet and forget that this is how RP works.

I played in some D&D 4e games (I think about 10 sessions in total) and this was a really big problem. Let me be clear: the game was fun. I enjoyed the hell out of playing it and would gleefully play again. But I was not doing much roleplaying. It was mostly battle mat combat with minis. I did spend most of my time analyzing my character sheet and deciding which powers to use next. This is the opposite of roleplaying. Fun, but not RP.

No, this is not a sourcebook.
There's a "bogus rule". This seems to be there as a mitigating factor for handling players that will milk the shit out of a system. These are the players who are hardcore gamers. If it is possible to get +10 instead of +9 they will velociraptor the fuck out of that fence until they get +10. So... "I bring down my axe into the wizard's skull. I'm using my... Raised by Frogs Asepct... because... when I leap up I'm looking frog-legged."

Other players: "BOGUS. Denied."

There's a nice bit about creating aspects (small "a") during conflicts. If I'm reading this correctly, it's just a way to formalize the use of terrain, environment, conditions, etc. So if you knock a bookcase over in front of a door maybe that becomes an aspect of the battle: BOOKCASE BLOCKADE. So when your villain tries to escape you can invoke BOOKCASE BLOCKADE and get some mods. Or something like that.

I dig that idea. Not sure how it works in play as I've never tried it. It does feel like the traditional turf of the GM to keep tabs on how that stuff affects a scene. You can do this in any RPG, narratively. But Fate gives you a crunchy rule for it.

There's a lot more to this book. It's 58 pages and what I've talked about so far is through page 28 or something. There is a lot of advice about playing and running the game, NPCs, character development Fate Points, etc. I feel like this book contains a lot of useful tips that are widely applicable to RP in general, not just this game.

And this fucker is free. So, no reason not to check it out. Will I play it? I dunno. Definitely not on my hit list to run and I'll most likely never run it. But I'd happily play in a game being ran by someone else.


  1. The only part about Fate I disliked over time was the Fate Point economy. Talking about them, offering them, declining them, spending them, rerolling, all of that just takes me out of the game. I even wrote a blog post about it.'t_like_Bennies
    Perhaps if you could start each session with just one Fate Point and you could never have more than one, it would work better for me. All the games I ever tried (and the one I wrote) all had more than that, though.

    1. I think I might have read your blog post on this before. I sounded familiar.

      Back in the day, back when everyone claims D&D was hard-ass and mean, we fudged the hell out of dice rolls ALL THE TIME. You didn't need bennies because the DM would hand wave bad results if it interfered with great drama. I would argue that my original AD&D group was playing a highly narrative version of the game. We never cracked those fucking books.

      Anyway, I like bennies and I use them in my LabLord games. I do it because these days I don't fudge dice rolls. I typically roll open and go with the result, no matter what. When I PLAY in the game, I am often flummoxed because, as you mentioned, all I get to do in a battle is wait for my turn to roll 1d20. And maybe in my head it seems like this is a moment where a success would be KILLER. A lot of tension there. I feel your pain and I probably agree with you more than I don't.

      But I like the idea that I have this little bit of narrative control, this little power to re-roll a die. Players seem to really dig it too.

      In Dead Wizards, I am seriously screwing with this mechanic to make it more like a gamble. There's tension in the use of your Sand (the luck, fate, drama mechanic) because of a big risk you're taking.

    2. "Perhaps if you could start each session with just one Fate Point and you could never have more than one, it would work better for me."
      Interestingly enough, 5e does something like this with inspiration, which worked well enough in my table - even though I'm not he greatest fan of the "fate point economy" myself.

  2. I've considered giving this a read. I tried to run FATE Core a couple of years ago and I just didn't jam with it... it always felt like I was missing something as a GM and basically just talking out of my ass the entire time.

  3. Yes, Inspiration is why I now say one point instead of arguing that we should simply get rid of it. And in my old school D&D games the house rule allowing each player to use the d30 instead of a d20 once per night offers a similar once per session bonus.