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Fate Core Star Wars, Redux

The other day, I wrote a post about how I decided not to use Edge of the Empire as the ruleset for the Star Wars game I’m going to be running soon. While I think I cover everything about why I made that decision, upon reviewing the post, I see that I haven’t really talked about why I think Fate Core is a good fit for a Star Wars game.

With this post, I hope to correct that.

Easily Adaptable

I’ve mentioned before that Fate Core is not really a generic system – it’s more accurate to call it settingless. Because one of the main goals of the system is to be useful in a wide range of settings, it is easy to adapt the mechanics for pretty much any setting. This is especially important for a setting like Star Wars, which is so big and encompasses so much that trying to stat it all up is a fool’s errand.

The structure of the Fate Core rules – specifically aspects and the Fate fractal ((The Fate fractal basically says that anything in the game – anything – can be constructed like a character, with aspects, skills, and stunts. It’s an elegant and simple way to attach mechanics to problematic elements.)) – means that I can take care of most adaptations by thinking up a couple of aspects, and maybe a skill or two. Examples? Sure!

  • There are hundreds of different alien species ((Wikipedia lists 249. There may be more I don’t know about.)) in the Star Wars galaxy. Rather than having to stat up all the various species to make them available to the players as characters, I can just tell them to include the species in their high concept, use other aspects as desired to reinforce ((Or not.)) the stereotypes of that species ((A trick I ripped right out of Bulldogs!)), and build any special powers using stunts.
  • Droids are always a problem to adapt well to a game. But I can just use the same guidelines as for aliens above, and done. Easy-peasey ((Lemon squeezey.)).
  • Spaceships can be tricky to simulate well in games, and most games have a host of special systems and rules for them. In Fate Core, I can just build a spaceship like a character, using the idea of the Fate fractal – give it a high concept aspect, a trouble aspect, maybe another one or two aspects, and a stunt or two to make it extra-special. Easy to build anything from a droid fighter to a star destroyer like this ((I can even steal some ideas from CAMELOT Trigger for making extra big starships that have multiple zones.)).

The ease with which Fate Core adapts to the the various settings means that I don’t need to set anything in the Star Wars setting off-limits for the characters ((Though my personal preferences, and those of the players, will probably wind up doing so.)).

Which leads me to…

Game Creation

Saying that you’re going to run a Star Wars game doesn’t necessarily tell you much about what kind of game you’re going to run. Between the movies, the books, the video games, the comic books, the RPGs, and the various other tie-ins to the setting, there’s a vast number of time periods, locations, themes, group structures, etc. to choose from.

Typically, it’s the GM’s job to pick a specific setting and campaign set-up within the Star Wars galaxy, which can be problematic if the GM and the players have different ideas about what kind of game they want to play ((Mystery-solving cantina band members traveling around in a psychedelic spaceship with a wookiee called Scooby? Please.)). Alternately, the GM can throw it open to player suggestion, but that can lead to decision paralysis.

The Fate Core game creation system provides a structured framework for collaborative setting creation. It guides the entire group – GM and players alike – through a process of deciding on the big parts of the game, and then fleshing out the details. I’ve run the collaborative setting creation for two different DFRPG campaigns ((I’ve also tried to incorporate it into a lot of the other games I run.)), and both times I was surprised and delighted at the setting that emerged.

These two points lead me to:

Player Choice

The ease of adapting anything in the Star Wars setting to Fate Core, and the collaborative setting building leads to a great deal of freedom for players to play exactly what they want to play. Most published Star Wars RPGs limit what you can play ((The old WEG d6 game was the most open in this regard.)), both in terms of characters and settings, simply because there was just too much stuff to stat up according to their systems.

Now, because it’s a collaborative effort to create the setting and the characters, some people may not get exactly 100% what they want, but they’re going to be able to come a lot closer than in other games. And seeing as they’ll be the ones imposing the restrictions, it’s pretty much guaranteed that they will be restrictions they can live with.

Cinematic Action

There are very few games geared as perfectly for cinematic action as Fate Core ((Certain iterations of Cortex Plus match it, I think, but that’s not surprising as they are at least close cousins in design philosophy, modeling the fiction of the game world rather than the physics.)). It allows – nay, encourages – crazy, over-the-top, movie-style fights. Characters can run, jump, trick their opponents, swing on chandeliers ((Or chandelier-equivalents.)), slide down banisters, battle atop burning buildings, hit people with chairs, leap through windows, dive for cover, bully, intimidate, taunt, and anything else they may care to try.

A large part of this is that most brilliant piece of game mechanics technology, Create Advantage ((In previous Fate iterations, this was the Maneuver. Same idea, different name.)). The ability to create advantage means that sometimes ((I would argue – and I havemost of the time.)), just trying to hit your opponent is not your best action in a fight. Instead, it’s more important to set your target up so that a single hit will take him/her/it out, and that means creating advantages. So, it makes sense that, instead of standing toe-to-toe and slugging it out with your opponent, you throw sand in his eyes to distract him, kick his legs out from under him, drop a barrel on him, and then finish him off with a well-placed kick to the chin.

The other thing that makes for great cinematic battles is the idea of scene aspects. Aspects can mean that you’re fighting in a burning building, trying to escape a crashing starship, prying open the doors of a closing trash compactor, being chased through a dangerous droid factory, and anything else you care to come up with. And because it’s just aspects, it all uses the same simple mechanic, rather than a raft of various situational modifiers and special rules.

Easy to Prepare

All of the above points make game prep pretty easy, even for first-time Fate GMs ((And I am not one of those.)). Putting together even complex stat blocks for adversaries, planets, ships, or whatever is a matter of minutes, not hours. That means more time to spend on story, and the characters’ aspects work very well to generate plotlines that will grab them and keep them interested.

Easy to Improvise

The first Fate game I ever read was Spirit of the Century. That billed itself as a pick-up game, and it worked quite well in that respect. The Fate Core system is clarified and streamlined, leading to a system that’s even easier for improvisation, with the ideas of aspects and the Fate fractal, as mentioned above.

Add to the basic simplicity the fact that I have a fair bit of experience running and improvising in Fate, and it makes me very confident that I can wing it when necessary. Building a dangerous threat on the fly is a matter of deciding on a couple of aspects, an attack skill and defense skill, and stress track. If I want to get fancy, I can throw in a simple stunt to give it some colour.

Same thing with planets and spaceships. All very easy to throw together quickly, if necessary. And reskinning something you’ve prepared to appear different is trivially easy.

And So…

And so Fate Core is an ideal system for running Star Wars. At least, I think it’s going to be. I have every confidence, and have read a number of success stories of people using it thus.

I guess we’ll find out if I’m right soon enough.

The Dolorous Stroke

The brave Knights of CAMELOT Trigger face off against MerGN-A and her army of Emergents. Illustration by Brett Barkley. Used with Evil Hat's permission.

The brave Knights of CAMELOT Trigger face off against MerGN-A and her army of Emergents. Illustration by Brett Barkley. Used with Evil Hat’s permission.

So, yesterday, I did a post about the Fate Worlds books. One of the settings in Worlds in Shadow is called CAMELOT Trigger ((I got the capitalization wrong throughout the entire post. Also, whenever I referred to it on Twitter or Facebook yesterday. This is the correct capitalization.)), by Rob Wieland, and a couple of folks in my gaming group got really excited about the idea of Arthurian giant robots in space ((Really, who can blame them?)). They’re hinting rather strongly that I should run a game.

Now, I don’t have time in my game schedule right now, but we are moving into the endgame for my Apocalypse World campaign, and are about the enter the last act of my Civil War campaign. That means I’m starting to think about what to replace them with, and so I’ve been considering CAMELOT Trigger.

One of the things I like about CT is that it gives enough detail to give you a good idea about the feel of the setting, and the broad strokes of the current situation. All the elements, moreover, are poised to provide interesting, dynamic conflicts for the characters to resolve, no matter where you want to slot them in. There’s the standard fighty bits one would expect playing giant space knights, but there’s also opportunity for intrigue, diplomacy, mystery, reconstruction, and quests.

What this really means to me is that, to run a game in the CT, you need to decide what the game is going to be. And, because I’ve been talking about it with a couple of my players, I’ve been thinking about that.

First, a caveat: if/when I actually run this game, I’m going to involve the players in designing the campaign, using the campaign creation rules in Fate Core. That just gives you more player investment. What follows is just a thought exercise, me testing to see if I can come up with a decent campaign idea that I like within the framework of the setting ((The answer, for those who haven’t guessed, is, “Yes.”)).

And thus, we have…

The Dolorous Stroke

Some say that the problems arose when Sir Balin, an Edge Knight, struck down one of the Petty Titans, bringing all the careful political balancing that Arthur had done crashing down. But Balin – and his Dai-5H0 armour – has vanished. The disaster brought all the simmering resentments and hidden secrets to the fore. Now, the entire solar system is starting to collapse into warring human states.

After the Betrayal ((Note that I probably want to but a twist on the whole love triangle thing in play, but will be looking to the players to help define that.)), the alliance between the Inner Worlds is in disarray. Queen Valerie has returned to Venus, L4-NC3-L07 has abandoned his rulership of Mars to hunt Emergents in the Wreck. Rumours of a cunning nano-viral attack on Avaluna Base that has incapacitated both the King and MerLN are fed by the fact that John Arthur has sealed himself up in Avaluna Base. And MerLN, once so chatty during transit through the Breach, mutters and laughs to himself, uttering gnomic – and terrifying – prophecies to those Knights he bothers to address.

The Emergents are taking advantage of this collapse to mount new offensives against the humans. News of falling enclaves of humanity arrives weekly, and everyone is pulling back to defend their own borders.

Almost everyone.

A small group of Knights, Arthur’s most trusted warriors, have sworn that the light of Earth shall not be so easily extinguished. Something may be wrong with the King, but something is definitely wrong with MerLN. Fix MerLN, and they will have a powerful tool restored to help them fix the rest of the solar system.

And to fix MerLN, they will need the help of a dead woman. They need Dr. Vyvyan Locke.

So? Whattaya think? I think it’s definitely a gamable little campaign idea.

Worlds Enough, and Time

The other day, Rob Wieland ((Who is a pretty awesome guy; he ran a Firefly RPG game session at GenCon last year that I was lucky enough to play in.)) let me know that he had hacked together a Fate iteration of 7th Sea, a swashbuckling adventure game set in a fantasy version of 17th-century Europe. It was always a cool setting, but I was never a big fan of the system, so seeing something like this made me very happy.

Actually, Rob did something even cooler than write up a Fate version of 7th Sea. He wrote up two versions: one for Fate Core, and one for Fate Accelerated. Now, using the hacks requires knowledge of the 7th Sea setting ((No, it doesn’t, really. You can use the hacks and make up what the setting-specific stuff means. And they’re easily adaptable to other swashbuckling settings. But if you want to play in the 7th Sea setting, you’ll need info about the setting.)), but even if you don’t have that knowledge, the constructions and choices made for the game are a great example of how the Fate system can be hacked to support a setting. And the fact that there are both Core and Accelerated versions for your perusal means that you can see two different ways to implement a setting.

And, of course, Rob’s posts got me thinking about the Fate Worlds books: Worlds on Fire and Worlds in Shadow.

These books are presented as volumes of settings for Fate Core. Each one presents six different game settings, complete with NPCs, specialized mechanics, and other story elements. Some of the settings are effectively one-shots or short campaign frames that you can use to extrapolate out to full campaigns, while others are much broader. All are eminently lootable for your own settings. Here’s what you get:

Worlds on Fire

  • Tower of the Serpents is essentially a swords-and-sorcery one-shot adventure. The setting is is more implied by the adventure than explicitly discussed, but it meshes with a lot of the examples in Fate Core to give you a solid foundation to start playing a low-fantasy campaign.
  • White Picket Witches embraces all the tropes and tangles of modern supernatural soap operas as you play inhabitants of a small town where witchcraft allow the five families to effectively run the town. There are some great rules for dramatic face-offs, social conflicts that deal with status and dominance. There’s enough stuff here to kick off a whole campaign, and the drama and relationship interactions will just keep generating stories as long as you want it to.
  • Fight Fire is a campaign frame about fire fighters. It splits its focus between the dramas of the fire fighters’ personal lives and some wonderfully detailed rules on how fires work and how they are fought. Even if the whole setting doesn’t grab you, looting the fire rules for another setting can make the idea of a building catching fire far more terrifying ((And thus more fun.)).
  • Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie lets you play a famous WWI fighter pilot of your choice as you hunt down the titular airship to end the Kaiser’s threat once and for all. It’s effectively a single adventure, though one that will probably take a few sessions to play, and it can easily be used as a springboard into a pulp 1920s game.
  • Burn Shift is a kind of post-post-apocalyptic setting. The apocalypse has happened, the terrifying struggle to survive has happened, and now things are settling into a new status quo, and you get to play the folks deciding what that status quo is. You get all the wonderful mutant character options you’d expect in a whacky Gamma World game, coupled with a situation where you can choose the directions society is going to move. The resolution of the default starting situation will probably take several sessions, and will generate more follow-on goals and problems for the characters, building the campaign nicely.
  • Wild Blue is… okay. Follow me here. Wild Blue is a western with superheroes and faeries. It’s got some of the feel of the ancient Celtic superhero ((Oh, come on! The Fenian Cycle, with Fionn mac Cumhaill, has all the tropes of superhero comics, including the fan culture surrounding the heroes! It would work!)) campaign that I keep toying with in my mind, moved up in time to the old west. If that doesn’t grab you, the super power rules are quite lootable for other games. But this is a complete campaign frame with lots of potential.

Worlds in Shadow

  • CrimeWorld is less a setting than it is a setting overlay. It’s written by John Rogers ((Yes, that John Rogers.)), and it gives you advice for bringing cons and heists into any setting you might like. It’s a good primer for anyone wanting to run any sort of caper game in any setting and any system ((I’ll also point you towards the Leverage RPG at this time.)).
  • Timeworks is, as you might guess from the title, a time travel setting. The twist is that Timeworks Incorporated is a small company of time travelers ((Mainly ex- or not-so-ex-criminals.)) employed by corporations to adjust history to favour their clients. The corporate set-up is clever, and the time travel mechanics are solid and flavourful without becoming too arcane.
  • The Ellis Affair takes historical fact – the mysterious death of Earl H. Ellis, a Marine Corps spy in South East Asia in 1923 – and uses it to launch a pulp spy/mystery story. This is a single adventure, though one that will take a few sessions to play through, I expect ((Though I can also see it being scaled down and sped up to get through is a single session for a convention or similar.)), and provides a lot of good advice for running mystery adventures in Fate.
  • No Exit is a single scenario, probably playable in a single session. The idea is that the characters are tenants in a housing complex where they can’t leave. The exact nature of the complex is left up to the GM to determine, and play revolves around figuring out what’s going on and, possibly, escaping. There are lots of nice, atmospheric bits to help play up the isolation, claustrophobia, and paranoia of the setting, and some advice on expanding the idea for longer play.
  • Court/Ship is set in Versailles in 1754. Lots of fancy food, court politics, intrigue, some duels… and aliens. Aliens who are invading in secret. They kill and eat humans, then wear their skins to pass among them. So, into the debauched court of Louis XV comes another scheming faction to mess with folks. The setting has hints for running it as a short, medium, or long game, and plenty of information on the time period – complete with relevant aspects.
  • Camelot Trigger was written by Rob Wieland ((Remember him? Told you he was awesome.)), and takes the Arthurian Round Table and puts them in giant robot armour to battle the robotic armies of MerGN-A out among the planets of the solar system. There are special rules for giant robot armour that can be ported to other giant robot armour games, and the skills get a nice tweak to reflect the space chivalry of the setting. Lots of solid stuff for a lengthy campaign, or for a pleasant session or two of diversion.

So, there it is. If you’re a fan of Fate Core or Fate Accelerated, but are wondering what to do with it, these two books should go a long way towards helping you out. I recommend you pick them up, even if you’re just looking for inspiration.