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?