“Tender Loving Care,” or, “Fate’s Awesome, But…”

So, within the next month or so, I aim to complete my first-ever campaign of Fate (well, the first season of my Mecha vs Kaiju story anyhow). Like every other campaign I’ve run so far, being a new GM and all, it’s been a learning experience. Especially- in this case- when it comes to understanding the Fate system overall.

I love the system, but not without caveats. I’ve come to the conclusion that Fate is what I refer to as a, “Rules Light, Maintenance Heavy,” system. Effectively, it’s a system that’s REALLY easy to pick up and run… but it’s got a lot of stuff going on in the foreground and background that you’ll need to sustain to keep it running.

1) “Two out of Three IS Bad,” or, “Why Meat Loaf can Suck it.”

Right off the bat in the core book, it tells you that a Fate Game requires three things to pull off: Proactivity, Competence, and Drama. They’re not kidding when they say these three things need to happen, because it’s just not Fate with one element missing.

If your game is merely Proactive and Competent, you have a Mary Sue/Gary Stu fanfiction. That’s not Fate.

If you’ve only got Competence and Drama, you have a bunch of yahoos who spend their time kicking the crap out of each other while the trouble comes to them. That’s not Fate.

If you’re only packing Proactivity and Drama, you have a bunch of poor schmucks that try and do things and get their backsides handed to them- still bleeding- on a silver platter. That’s DEFINITELY not fate.

The obvious solution, as GM, is to make sure these elements are coming to the fore whenever possible, introducing adventures that brings the different elements to light. Give ’em a chance to shine, give them hooks to explore, and throw in some monkey wrenches from time to time. If you’re not sure you can maintain all three parts… I’d encourage you to try something else.

2) “Keeping it Short, Sweet, and Spicy,” or, “The Speed at which the game peaks is TOO DAMN HIGH”

Now, you can run a Fate game using nothing more than the Skill and Stunts they provide in the main book. You can also live off of meat and potatoes, seasoned with nothing more than salt, pepper, and butter. If that’s how you and your crew rolls, then you do you. However, spicing things up with mechanical tweaks (skill list, stunts, etc) is not only encouraged by the book but, speaking from experience, it also helps bring the setting to life.

Just don’t go overboard and plan a whole lot of stuff for them to do.

This game has gone on for about 6-7 months, not including cancelled sessions. From what I’ve been told by other GMs… this is a fairly long time, and I haven’t even gone through HALF the material I originally planned. In part, because I’ve been prolonging mechanical character advancement and throwing in a sundry of minor misadventures for my party to get into to flesh out the time between Major Encounters.

Why would I do that? Quite simply, I find with narrative-based games, the PCs hit their mechanical peak far too quickly. Then, as the GM, you’re left stumped as to how to light a fire under their butts without them rightfully calling, “SHENANIGANS!!!”

There really isn’t a clear-cut solution here… Make sure you’ve popped the hood (Fate’s incredibly modular, which is another nice thing about it) and given it thematic tweaks, but also figure out whether your group is okay with a slow, drawn-out burn.

3) “The Power of Fate Compels Thee!” or, “I Shot Myself and/or Everyone else in the Foot, and all I got was this Lousy Fate Point?!”

Now, Aspects and Fate Points are some of the most awesome parts of Fate… but also it’s biggest hurdle when it comes to actually running the darned thing.

In Fate, Aspects- one sentence descriptions- are a part of EVERYTHING. From character traits, to relevant bits of scenery, to assorted perceptions of the world around them. What makes them interesting is that they’re double-edged. They can benefit you in some way (which typically costs a Fate Point and you get a mechanical bonus of sorts), or they can hinder you (in which case you get a Fate Point and bad things inevitably happen).
It’s awesome, because Aspects are feasibly easier to keep track of than, say, dozens of character sheets and notes. It also becomes a pain in the arse sometimes to figure out which Aspects to make relevant, especially when it comes to compelling your players (each PC has five Aspects, so having 4 players means there’s a total of 20 Aspects that you can Compel on the players). Long story short, Aspect Bloat will eventually become a problem.

The blatant solution, of course, is to have the players be proactive in self-compels to keep your GM burdens lighter. That’s easier said than done, because- and I’m speaking as someone who also Plays these games- shooting yourself and/or your fellow party members in the foot (figuratively or literally) goes against a lot of players’ mindsets. Let’s face it, taking a McGuffin Token to torpedo an entire infiltration mission because your character has an Aspect that says they’re a Famous Swordsman is guaranteed to piss off a lot of your fellow players (likewise, having to Pay a precious Fate point to avoid the Compel can also get some salt out of the aforementioned player).

Obviously, there’s a myriad of ways that this can be resolved. Reduce the number of Character Aspects so there’s less to keep track of (half the time, 2-3 of them wind up just being padding or left blank). Give a Fate point to all the players affected, not just the guy or gal getting compelled. Tweak the way compels work so that it merely provides higher difficulties or prohibit certain Outcomes for a relevant duration (not just a downright nose-dive into Failureville). Haggling is also a viable option as per the Book, but sometimes that can just descend into frustration.

4) “Tent-Peg Tactics,” or, “… That’s all it takes? Really?”

Now, this could be my inexperience with the system more than anything… but conflict resolution is stale. All you need to do to win (regardless of the type of conflict) is set up a whole whack of free invokes on assorted (relevant) Aspects and combined them all into one Mega-Roll. Sure, it’s pretty awesome in theory, and the narration can get badass… but there’s really no innate way to challenge players beyond doing the same for your conflicts (or giving your baddies a stunt that Hard Caps the number of shifts they can take. Good for Big-Bads, not really justifiable for mooks).

***

As it stands, those are my thoughts on Fate. See what I meant about Light on Rules, Heavy on Maintenance? As much I love the system, there’s a lot of stuff I need to process and work through before I think about picking it up again. In all honesty, I’m going to be using Savage Worlds for Season 2 of my Mecha vs Kaiju game, just because it’s something I’m far more familiar with.

Anyone else with Fate experience… Do you agree with my ramblings? Do you Disagree? Do you think my observations were written while on crack-laced paste?

Advertisements

Why I Prefer Fate Accelerated Edition for Supers

So, full disclosure: I like me some Superhero games. From Street-Level Pulp Fests to Earth-Shattering Cosmic Capers and everything in-between, there’s just something satisfying about it all. Most of my experience in the Table-Top area is with Mutants and Masterminds, but I’ve dabbled in ICONS as well. Marvel Heroic is one that I’ve wanted to try (those games are harder to find than hens’ teeth… and it doesn’t help the books aren’t in print anymore), and I’ve got a copy of the Savage Worlds Super Power Companion sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be taken for a spin.

Now, each of those systems has their ups and downs… but I’m not here to talk to you about those. Today? I’m here to talk to you about the system that’s become my preference for Running Supers games: Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE, for short).

Yeah, it seems like an odd choice, but hear me out.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Fate, check out the Link Here if you want detailed information. Fate and it’s variants are basically a Narrative System that uses Fudge Dice (6 Sides, 2 of which are Blank, 2 are ‘+’, 2 are ‘-‘), as well as Aspects (Descriptive Phrases), Skills/Approaches, and Stunts (‘Feats’ by Any Other Name). Yes, I realize that Venture City is a thing… but- while it’s a cool concept- I’m not wholly convinced their additions are entirely necessary to run a good Supers game.

There really is only one reason that I like using FAE: it’s a REALLY simple system to use, both as a player and a GM. In theory, you could use the System As-Is without any problems (5 Aspects/6 Approaches/3 Refresh/3 Stunts). You’ll probably have to give a brief list of powers that your character has (and justify them via your Aspects) and provide an Origin story, but that’s it. There’s very little need for GM oversight, unless someone wants to play an impossible concept… but that’s a problem that even more mechanically-inclined Supers games have.

If you want to add a little more meat or riff on a few things, go nuts. It’s darned easy to do…

-Want to write up a Team Charter with a couple Aspects and Consequences, all of which can be used by Team Members? Go right Ahead.
-Want to add some Collateral Consequences that PCs or NPCs alike can use to avoid getting Taken Out? I won’t stop you.
-Want to Change the Approaches? Make stunts stronger? Give players more Refresh, or just more Free Stunts? That’s up to you. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into because that can really change (but not break) the game.
-Want to add a Power-Buy system where you get, like, 10 Points to buy Powers and Power Ranks that you can roll in place of Approaches? Not my cup of tea, but if you want to put that in your Game, that’s your call.

Now, FAE isn’t perfect. There’s still the ever-present problem in Supers games of keeping the party together, as well as having players keeping their inner Loot-Happy Murder Hobo satiated. But that can be easily resolved by having a Patron (like a retired Super) or a similar Goal (taking down a local crime syndicate), as well as providing some tangible rewards. There’s also the innate issue of One-Approach Ponies, but that’s been touched on elsewhere by other folks so I’ll defer to their wisdom on the subject.

To finish things off, let me provide an example of what a character would look like… Say hello to The Ferrous Fists, a character I used for a 1930’s One Shot set in a universe we were using for a campaign. The “3×3” (Three By Three) was something I did voluntarily, just to help flesh out the character some in case he was used later.


Name: The Ferrous Fists
Played by: CanaDave
Refresh: 3

High Concept: Pugilistic Robot Vigilante
Trouble: What are these, “Laws of Robotics,” You Speak of?
Aspect 1: Experimental Technology
Aspect 2: Boxes like a Swarmer
Aspect 3: Always Learning from Humans, especially Quinn.

**Approaches** (+3, +2, +2, +1, +1, 0)
Careful +2
Clever +1
Flashy +1
Forceful +2
Quick +3
Sneaky +0

**Stunts**
Because I Box like a Swarmer, I gain +2 to Quickly Create an Advantage on a foe involving overwhelming them with punches.
Because I’m built with Experimental Technology, once per session I can Create an Advantage with Style based on my technological features.
Because I’m a Robot, Specifically of the Pugilistic Robot Vigilante type, I can take an extra Stress Level

**Powers/Abilities**
Robot: Because FF is a robot, he’s got perks that most organic life-forms do not, specifically…
-Enhanced Durability: His body is built from an experimental alloy that renders his body insanely sturdy.
-Immunity: He can’t be affected by diseases, and doesn’t need to eat or breathe.
-Enhanced Senses: His enhanced sensors can pick up things in the infrared spectrum, and has a Night-Vision feature
-Enhanced Mobility: FF has enhanced mobility, specifically jump-jets and a top running speed of 100 kph. In the Ring, however, these don’t get much use.
-Vulnerabilities: While he doesn’t need to eat or sleep, he still does need to, “Recharge,” from time to time to rest his Nuclear Reactor. He’s also susceptible to computer viruses (as well as occasionally having trouble reading innuendo and the like)

Boxer: FF is a Boxer who uses a Swarming style, resorting to overwhelming his foes with flurries of punches as he darts in and around.

**Origin**
FF was originally designed as a government experiment (dubbed, “The Scrimmage Affair”) to tinker with a line of Combat AIs. He was built to test out close-quarter combat, and his designer- Ulysses Quinn- had a soft spot for the Sweet Science.

The project was prematurely disbanded due to funding issues (officially, anyway. Unofficially, the big-wigs were concerned about the potential of foreign espionage and there were rumors of Rogue AIs), and Quinn wasn’t going to let his hard work go to waste (nor was FF willing to be deactivated). They both escaped, and eventually found an underground metahuman fight ring, and FF found himself putting his knowledge of Boxing to use as, “Kid Kilobyte.”

One night, one of the opponents got a little too upset over his loss and attacked Quinn and FF with the help of his buddies. He was nearly victorious, until a massive rainstorm hit and FF got the upper hand with his enhanced vision. He would have killed them all, had Quinn not been there to stop him.

Later on, they were approached by a mysterious individual with an offer… they were observed by a local street vigilante the night they were jumped, and said they had potential for a new project: a group of extraordinary individuals that desired to keep people safe and exact JUSTICE.

**Ferrous Fist’s 3×3**
*3 Friends*
“Ulysses Quinn” – The original Designer of FF back in the days of the Scrimmage Affair. He’s not only the chief repairman of Ferrous Fists, but he’s also the conscience of the mechanical man.
“Ol’ Willy” – Local mechanic that lets FF and Ulysses operate out of his basement. Despite being old-fashioned and leery of the concept, he’s grown fond of the robot that sticks around to help ward off goons and the like.
“Crazy Herm” – A wino that FF saved from a gang of punks at one point. Owes FF his life, so he’s been known to stick his neck out from time to time.

*3 Contacts*
“Smiley Kramer” – The owner of the underground fighting ring. He’s always willing to share some information with a former contender… for a price.
“Francis Fense” – A local fence that Quinn gets his parts and other gear from. Got all sorts of underworld connections, but always demands reciprocation.
“Officer Coolidge” – A beat Cop that’s aware of Quinn and Ferrous’s doings. As long as they make his turf easier to live in, he’s content to leave them be.

*3 Rivals*
“The Janitor” – A Black Ops agent with the sole directive to clean up the remains of any defunct government projects. Coincidentally, Ferrous Fists meets the qualifications of a defunct government project.
“Two-Ton Tommy” – A local mutant pit fighter that also happens to be a sore loser. He’s still got a beef with FF over that last match where he got his keister handed to him.
“Rogue AI” – Back when the Scrimmage Affair was shut down, there were rumors that one of the AIs in the project went rogue. Unfortunately, it’s a VERY well-grounded rumor.