Many RPGs are known for their tomes and tomes of rules. The recent Pathfinder Player’s Handbook runs 600 pages (and I can’t wait to dive into my copy!) This allows the game designers to craft and simulate a detailed and fascinating world, and provide lots of meat for players to strategize with. There is a downside though – combat in these games, while nuanced, can run long. It can be intimidating to introduce a player to a large ruleset. Furthermore, these games tend to be genre-specific. Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder are meant to run heroic-fantasy games. While a little creativity can allow you to genre bend, if you want to do something too far out of the intended genre, you may find these games aren’t what you are looking for.
Enter Fate Core by Evil Hat Productions, an RPG system that can handle any genre, is super easy to learn, and in its Fate Condensed form is less than 50 pages. Furthermore, it is Creative Commons licensed, so you can make your own spinoff games or supplements from it!
It Fate your character is defined by five “aspects” – phrases that describe your character. An aspect can be any phrase that fits your intended genre and type of story you and the players want to play. If you wanted to make the Batman into a Fate Core character, the first aspect you would give him would probably be “Billionaire Vigilante of Gotham City.”
This first aspect is called a “High Concept,” and it summarizes your character in one phrase. Recently I ran a game that had a “robotics expert who believes machines are more friendly than people.” Another option could be “a ghost-skeptic who loves pulling pranks on people.” Any character concept, as long as it fits the players’ agreed upon genre parameters is fair game!
For additional aspects you pick a “Trouble” (to go back to the Batman example, perhaps “Still mourning the death of my parents”) and a “Relationship” (a connection your character has to another player’s character). The remaining two aspects are “free” – can reveal any nuance about your character.
As the game unfolds if you believe an aspect would help a situation, you can pay the GM “Fate Points” to get a bonus on your dice rolls. If the GM believes your aspect would hinder a situation, the GM can pay you “Fate Points” if you accept a troublesome plot-twist.
There is much more to be said about Fate Core, such as its ingenious dice system that allows for a bell-curve of probability, its simple and elegant stunt system or the fun twists associated games like Fate of Cthulhu put on it. However, the simple genius of its aspect system, is what allows the players the freedom to make any character they want and roleplay them at the table. I highly recommend you explore the rules (for free!) here.
Tips for Gms
- Fiction First! The Evil Hat books really emphasize this – in Fate the story is said first “my character leaps . . . ” and then you decide what systems are needed to arbitrate success or failure. Let the rules serve the story, not vice-versa.
- Be sure to use compels! That is how players get Fate Points, which they need for there epic successes and that is how you get to add trouble to the character’s lives. A good story has ups and downs – be sure to find ways that those aspects may cut against the players!
- Be sure to have challenging dice rolls. The players have access to fate points and stunts, which will give them strong bonuses. Make sure the heroes of your fate core adventure are doing a challenge.
- Do something really off the wall! The beauty of fate core is that if you have an idea for a scenario that litteraly no one has made an RPG fore, you can run a game for it! I ran a game session called Extra-Terrestrial Today that was all about reporters seeking the truth of aliens and another game about Goblins helping to rescue King Arthur’s Kingdom. Make it zany and make it fun.
- Need to go digital? This blog post has some tips.
- Need Fate dice? I have coded a Fate Accelerated dice roller and there are other options as well, including a Discord Bot.
Also if you are in the East Bay Area, and are looking for a tabletop RPG game, feel free to join the East Bay Martian Society!