Fate Core Star Wars

As folks who follow this blog probably know already, a long-running, beer-and-pretzels D&D game – the Storm Point campaign – is about to wrap up. The group wants to keep playing something, but we’ve had enough D&D for a while ((We’ve been playing D&D, first 3E and then 4E, for eight and a half years. We’d like a change.)). As we started getting ready to wrap the campaign up, I told them to start thinking about what they wanted to play next.

When they saw my copy of Edge of the Empire, they decided they wanted to play Star Wars.

I thought this was an awesome idea. I’d run the Edge of the Empire Beginner Game for some friends, and thought it worked really nicely ((That’s kind of damning it with faint praise – I thought the structure and form of the Beginner Game was pure genius for teaching the basics of the system and getting people into the game. Probably the best introductory gaming package I’ve ever seen.)). I had a lot of fun with it.

Now, I can’t stress enough that I think that Edge of the Empire is a good game. It is. The dice mechanic, the production values, the way FFG is sectioning the game into three books, the sheer volume of material – all of it is top notch. The writing is good and clear, and it gives you plenty of options, even if it is a little limited in scope compared to previous SW games ((FFG has decided to split their SW game into three books – one dealing with the scum and villainy of the remote areas of the galaxy, one dealing with the ongoing Rebellion, and one dealing with Jedi and Sith. EotE is the scum and villainy one, with limited involvement with the Rebellion and limited details on the Force.)).

But, as I read through the rulebook, I became more and more convinced that EotE was not the right game for what I wanted to do. Here are the things that made me concerned:

  1. The funky dice. Now, I understand why the game uses these dice, and the benefit they provide, and think that what FFG is doing with them is great. And, from the Beginner Game session I ran, I think that they are cool and worthwhile. But it’s also learning a completely new dice language, if you will. While I’m fine with doing that, I think that only about half the total group is going to read the rules, and so the learning curve on the dice for the group as a whole is going to be pretty steep.
  2. Limited choices for the characters. Now, the choices aren’t all that limited – in fact, there are eighteen career/specialization combinations, not counting adding the Force specialization or multiple specializations. But no Jedi, no brave rebel soldiers, limited alien species choices ((Although you can play a droid, which is awesome.)).
  3. Limited campaign choices. As noted, EotE focuses on the people and locations on the fringe of the SW galaxy. It doesn’t provide any support for running any other types of games. My players came up with some interesting ideas about what kind of campaign they wanted to play ((One idea was a cantina band that traveled around and solved mysteries. Now, I think that idea is both ridiculous and awesome.)), but a lot of their ideas would have had me scrambling to fill in the gaps on EotE.
  4. Prep time. After eight and a half years of running D&D, I’m really ready to run something less prep-intensive. EotE doesn’t look too bad, but the learning curve in the early part of the game would require a fair bit of work for me to get ready for each session.
  5. Seating arrangements. Yeah, this is kind of a weird one, but with the funky dice, and the learning curve building and interpreting dice pools, and the destiny point mechanic, EotE would pretty much require us to play seated around my dining table. We prefer to sprawl out in the living room, using the couch and coffee table and various comfy chairs.

I went back and forth on this for a couple of weeks, then I broached the subject with my players. I proposed that, instead of EotE, we use Fate Core to power our SW game. We discussed it and, with their blessing ((Or at least lack of protest. Silence gives consent, am I right?)), I decided to go with Fate Core.

There are some of the same problems with Fate Core: notably, it’s a new system that the players ((Some of them, anyway. Two of them were in my Feints & Gambits DFRPG game, and at least one or two others have played Spirit of the Century.)), and there isn’t a lot of support for running a SW game. But the system is one I know very well, and I’m pretty good and improvising in it. And converting stuff to Fate Core is trivially simple.

The main advantages I see, beyond the fact that it will be far easier for me to run ((Which is, of course, a big consideration.)), is that it will offer the players much more of a chance to shape the kind of game they want to play, and to make the characters they want.

One thing I did have to do up front is figure out how the Force is going to work in the game. There are a number of takes on SW for Fate Core here, and they handle the Force in a variety of ways. I finally settled on making it an extra requiring both your high concept aspect and your trouble aspect to point towards it, and left the various Force powers to be stunts.

When I finally settled on that, I put together a bit of a primer for my players. Because the system is going to be new ground for some of them, and there’s a very different mentality behind Fate Core than D&D, I spelled out some basics about the setting creation and character creation, along with explaining how the Force is going to work. If you’re curious, you can download the primer here ((Just a word of warning, however: this was written for my friends, who are all adults, no matter how they behave. I use some language in the document that I don’t normally use on my blog. Not much, but still.)).

We’ve got one more Storm Point session, scheduled for this Sunday. That should wrap the campaign. Then, we start moving on our Star Wars game.

I’m looking forward to it.


The Demolished Ones


So, a while back, Steven D. Russell at Rite Publishing asked if I’d be willing to review their first Fate product, The Demolished Ones, by Brian Engard. I sent him an e-mail talking about my review policy ((Spelled out on my About… page.)), and he said he could live with those conditions, and sent me a free .pdf copy of the game. This was back at the end of July, and I’ve finally got around to reading it.

Here’s the blurb for the game, from the back cover:

You wake in a room.

You don’t where you are, where you came from, what’s happening. You don’t know who you are. Your identity has been taken from you. It will come back with time, but can you trust it? This world is not what it seems. Are you?

And then there’s the murder. 

Who killed the dead man? Was it you? Was it one of the people who woke in the room with you? Are you all being blamed for a crime you didn’t commit? If you want to keep your freedom, you’ll need to solve the mystery of Jack Smith’s murder while you solve the riddle of your own identity. But is freedom even possible, or is it just another lie?

This is a game.

The Demolished Ones is a game about identity, amnesia, and the power – and danger – that comes with knowledge. This game uses Fate, a rules system that helps you build characters with personalities, histories, and baggage. If you’re not familiar with Fate, don’t worry: this game teaches you everything you need to know.

This is a story.

This book also includes a full story for you to play through. It contains all of the characters, locations, and events that you’ll need to tell a story of mystery, intrigue, identity, and horror.

The Demolished Ones is written as a limited-duration campaign. Looking at it, I estimate it could be wrapped up in as little as four to five sessions, or stretched out to double that, depending on how you ran and paced things. There’s also a section near the end that gives you a bunch of options for continuing play after the main storyline is completed.

I’m not going to talk too much about the plot, because a lot of the great bits about the game depend on revelation and discovery. The whole idea of starting as blank slates of characters, slowly adding abilities and memories throughout the game, is interesting, and Fate is a great system for doing something like this, as it already has a default build-as-you-play character generation option. The strangeness and mystery of the setting unfolds as the story proceeds, and the characters learn about the setting at the same time they learn about the world.

And it’s a world worth learning about. The background story is deep and interesting, with wonderful secrets to uncover and explore. The weirdness is compelling and engaging, and the options it offers for characters are just cool.

But the game has one potential flaw. It seems ((I say, “seems,” because the movie is never directly mentioned in the book.)) to be based on a particular movie ((The back of the book hints at what that movie might be, but for those who wish to know, I’ve hidden the movie name here: [spoilers]Dark City[/spoiler] )). And based very firmly on the movie, in both setting, structure, and terminology, so much so that, if I were playing, I’d be hard-pressed to keep from anticipating things from the movie in the game.

It’s not like the game slavishly follows the movie, though. There are plenty of tweaks to the plot and the setting. But if the connection is made early in the game, it will give away some of the cool secrets of the world, and may undermine the enjoyment of the players. In other words, knowing the movie constitutes spoilers for the game.

That said, I think this would be a very cool game to run for a group that were unfamiliar with the movie. And, if I were not familiar with the movie, I would love to play it. Brian Engard has done a great job of creating a claustrophobic, twisted, paranoid world where identity and reality are fluid and unreliable. It’s a great mini-campaign for the right group – one that enjoys mystery, horror, adventure, and isn’t afraid of something off the beaten track.

Beyond that, it really shows off a lot of the strengths of the Fate system. The implementation of the Fate rules fit into about 20 pages, including all the special character stuff the game requires. The in-game weirdness works very well with the structure of aspects and skills. And the cinematic, free-form mechanics make for some potentially fantastic sequences.

Yeah, so if any of that sounds interesting, I’d recommend you check out The Demolished Ones.

Fast Fate

In case you missed it, I wrote a moderately long post about Fate Core. To be totally honest, I hadn’t intended to write that post, but as I was writing this post, I realized that it would make a whole lot more sense if I gave folks a look at Fate Core before tackling Fate Accelerated Edition.

So, what’s Fate Accelerated Edition? Here’s how they pitched it during the Fate Core Kickstarter. Basically, it’s the quick-start rules for Fate Core, pared down to a 32-page ((Though I should note here that the .pdf pre-release candidate I received as a Kickstarter backer is currently 48 pages. Some of that is index, cheat sheets, and art.)) book. Describing it that way doesn’t really do justice to what Clark Valentine and the rest of the Evil Hat team has accomplished here.

FAE is not just an introductory game, or a set of quick-start rules. It is a fully functional implementation of Fate, tweaked for getting people playing fast even if they’ve never gamed before. It’s not just the kids’ version of Fate ((Though it slants towards that sort of feel with the wonderful, cartoony art that Fred has been previewing.)) – it’s certainly as welcoming to younger gamers as it is to beginners, but there is an elegance and refinement to the system that will, I think, appeal a lot to older, more experienced players looking for something light and flexible.

I haven’t played FAE yet, but it may be my favourite implementation of the Fate rules yet.

Now, that statement is not intended to denigrate any of the other Fate games I love. I’ve just found that, as I’ve gotten older, I look for different things in game systems. There was a time I was deeply enamoured of complex, simulationist games and of rich, detailed rulesets, and elaborate sub-systems, but that time has passed. Now, I look for simple systems that will make it easy for the GM to improvise and supports player creativity without imposing too many mechanical constraints on their choices. Fate games fit that requirement, but FAE fits it best of all.

FAE runs on the Fate Core engine, but they’ve made a number of changes to simplify things, and to focus the play style in certain ways. If I don’t comment on something below, you can assume that it works just like in Fate Core.

No Skills

One of the biggest differences in the game is that there are no skills. The things your character can do are decided by the type of game you’re playing and the aspects your character has. So, in a game about mystical martial artists with control over the elements ((Just for instance.)), it’s reasonable to expect characters to be able to do fun, cinematic wuxia moves, like leaping up on to an enemy’s sword and kicking him in the face. And, if you have the aspect Wizardly Honour Student, you should be able to cast some basic spells ((Hell, even some advanced spells; you’re an honour student, after all!)) and tell people all about the history of your magical school.

This covers the kinds of things you can do, but it doesn’t cover how well you can do it. That part is covered by approaches.


Approaches replace skill ranks in determining how good your character is at any given thing. They don’t talk about what you’re doing, but about how you’re doing it. There are six different approaches: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, and Sneaky ((Shadows of Esteren uses something kind of like this, but the how is paired with a skill in a more traditional way.)). Characters get one at Good (+3), two at Fair (+2), two at Average (+1), and one at Mediocre (+0). So, when you’re trying to do something that you may or may not be able to do, you decide what approach you’re using, and make your roll using that.

I love this approach ((Though I can certainly see why others might not; I’ll be talking about that, too.)) because of the way it makes you think about your character’s actions in play. If my highest approach is Careful, I’m probably going to be doing things in the game that reflect that – planning, finding things out, fighting defensively rather than charging blithely in, etc. On the other hand, if my highest approach is Forceful, not only am I going to be front and centre in any fight, I’m going to resort to intimidation or stubbornness before persuasion and compromise.

Example? Sure! Let’s say we’re playing a pirate game, and three characters are fighting off some boarders. Anna has Forceful as her highest approach, Beaumonde has Clever, and Clement has Flashy. Anna’s best bet is to dive in, pressing the enemy hard, and trying to drive them back. Beaumonde is probably going to look around for ways to trick his opponents without actually engaging them – gaining advantage rather than attacking. And Clement is probably going to be swinging from ropes, rallying the defenders, and maybe dueling the enemy captain one-on-one. Three different characters, three different styles – all supported and reinforced by the mechanics of the game.

Quick Game and Character Creation

The process outlined in Fate Core for creating the game setting and characters is streamlined in FAE, with the goal of getting people up and playing in half an hour. Game creation especially is pared down – basically, it comes down to having a quick conversation to decide some very basic parameters of the game world. Things like, “We’re playing kids attending a school for wizards,” or, “This is a game set in a 19th-century steampunk world with zombies.” Just enough to give everyone a starting point for thinking about the game world.

The biggest change to character creation ((Other than use of approaches rather than skills.)) is the removal of the story phases . Players pick a High Concept aspect, a Trouble aspect, and between one and three other aspects, depending on how many good ideas they have for aspects at this stage. If you leave an aspect blank, you can fill it in during play. Character aspects in FAE take on even more of the duty of filling in details of the world, thanks to the pared-down version of game creation, which helps put the characters even more solidly at the centre of the game.

After the aspects are chosen, everyone gets to pick their approaches, as described above. One of the nice touches is that the book provides six archetypal distributions of the approaches, so you can quickly grab the approaches for, say, the Brute or the Trickster or the Swashbuckler. Then everyone picks between zero and three stunts – again, stunts you don’t choose can be filled in during play.

Simple Stunts

Stunt creation is simplified in FAE, boiling it down to a very clean way of coming up with your stunts. It uses the fill-in-the-blank approach that clarified compels in Fate Core, and I think it’s just brilliant. There are two categories of stunt, the first using the following sentence:

Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], I get a +2 when I [pick one: Carefully, Cleverly, Flashily, Forcefully, Quickly, Sneakily][pick one: attack, defend, create advantages, overcome] when [describe circumstance].

Now, this leads to stunts like:

Swashbuckling Swordswoman: Because I am a swashbuckling swordswoman, I gain a +2 to Flashy attacks when crossing blades with a single opponent.

The other stunt type uses the following template:

Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], once per game session I can [describe something cool you can do].

This gives you stunts like:

Gadgeteer: Because I am a gadgeteer, once per session I may declare that I have an especially useful device that lets me eliminate one situation aspect.

You can have up to three stunts for free. Each stunt after that costs a point of refresh.

No Extras

In Fate Core, extras are the special powers, magical gear, and other things that make your character different from the rest of the world. There are no extras in FAE – that role is filled by character aspects. So, if you have an aspect like Weather Witch, you don’t need an extra like Meteorological Magic to be able to whistle up the wind. You have the Weather Witch aspect, so you can try to do that. The GM will ask you how you do that – i.e., what approach you use – and tells you to roll.

Potential Issues

Okay, I really love this iteration of Fate, but I can see some things that might be problematic for some people, so I’m going to call them out here. These are not problems with FAE ((Really, I see most of them as features rather than bugs.)), but they are points to consider as you try and decide if this game is for you. You need to think about these things.

  • It may not provide the level of mechanical detail you want. Using approaches instead of skills means that carving out a niche for your character based on what he or she is good at doing ((Rather than how he or she is good at doing things.)) doesn’t work too well. You can use aspects for this, but for some people, that may not be satisfying. And you may find approaches just too broad in what they cover.
  • Unless you’re trying to emulate a specific world – The Legend of Korra, or Harry Potter, for example – you may find yourselves having to do a lot of improvisation to fill in details of the world you decide to play in. If you’re good at that sort of thing, that’s not a problem, but if you’re not, it may demand a bit more prep time to create those details between game sessions.
  • The removal of the story phases from character creation means you lose that handy tool for tying the characters together from the outset. Maybe they’ll do it anyway, but you may have to spend the first part of play getting the characters together and pointed in the same direction.
  • The lack of extras, and the reliance on aspects, makes it very easy to play like a munchkin. As with all rules-light systems ((I don’t think Fate in general is rules-light, but FAE certainly is.)), communication and trust between GM and players is vitally necessary to prevent one character stealing the spotlight from everyone else by taking advantage of the openness of the rule set and ignoring the implied understanding of co-operative play between the players.

So, think about those points when you’re deciding about this game. I think FAE is a great game, but it is not the perfect tool for every game or every group. Understand what it does well, and what it doesn’t do well, and you’ll have a better chance of getting a good play experience out of using it ((This advice, of course, applies to every game system. I want to mention it explicitly here because of how much I’m gushing. Gotta be balanced.)).

Mix and Match

I’ve been talking about FAE and Fate Core as if they’re two different games, and they’re not, really. One of the things that make me so excited by FAE is the way it shows how you can hack Fate Core, to tweak the play experience in very specific ways ((The Fate Toolkit and Fate Worlds books coming from the Kickstarter will help with that, too.)).

It also gives you a number of modular pieces that you can pull out and add to Fate Core, or vice-versa. Want an FAE game that has more developed original setting? Use the game creation rules from Fate Core. Folks in your Fate Core game having trouble coming up with stunts? Give them the two-page stunts section from FAE. Tack the extras system onto FAE to standardize weird powers. Use the approaches in Fate Core to simplify the skill system. Mix and match and blend until you have the mixture you like best.


I think that FAE is my favourite implementation of Fate. I like Fate Core hugely, but the simplification of FAE appeals to my aesthetic sense a little bit more. It is a beautiful, elegant, clean system that makes it easy for folks to get into Fate games, and has me wanting to launch a new campaign – any new campaign – with a group of players to try it out.

Oh, and it’s only gonna cost you five bucks when it comes out. Did I mention that? Thus you have no excuse not to buy it and try it. But don’t do it just because it’s cheap.

Do it because it’s awesome.

Changing Fate

This post is kind of long, so I’m starting it off with:


Fate Core is smoother, clearer, and better put together than any previous iteration of the Fate systems, including my beloved DFRPG. Important clarifications and simplifications have made it more accessible to newcomers and easier to understand and run for veterans.

So, the folks at Evil Hat have recently ((Well, kinda recently. It wrapped up a few months ago.)) completed a Kickstarter to publish the latest version of their Fate game system: Fate Core. As part of the Kickstarter, Evil Hat has shared preview .pdfs of the new book with backers – that’s what I’m using for this little article.

Fate has gone through several iterations since its inception, but these have mainly been subsumed in specific game systems, such as Spirit of the Century and Dresden Files Roleplaying Game. This is, as I understand things ((Which is imperfectly at the best of times.)), the first setting-free publication of Fate since Fate 2.0, about 10 years ago.

I say “setting-free” rather than “generic,” because the game makes it pretty clear that it is not really a generic game ((An argument can be made that there are no really generic game systems; most promote a pretty specific play style and experience.)). A quote from the book to illustrate:

Fate doesn’t come with a default setting, but it works best with any premise where the characters are proactive, capable people leading dramatic lives. We give more advice on how to bring that flavor to your games in the next chapter.

The upshot of this is that, while the system will work with pretty much any setting you can envisage – fantasy, modern, science fiction, horror, urban fantasy, spy thrillers, whatever – the rules are constructed and tuned to reward a specific style of play, with competent characters taking risks to control their own destinies. I’ll talk a little bit more about what all that means in the sections below.

So, while you may wind up playing a cyber-soldier in a dystopian future or a talking rabbit in a mostly idyllic meadow or a lost soul trying to find redemption after death, the play experience will recognizably be a Fate play experience. The basic system, the characters as the centre of the game, and the types of actions that are encouraged or rewarded will be similar if not identical. You’ll know you’re playing a Fate game.

Let’s look at some particulars.

Game Creation

The assumption of Fate games is that players and GM alike spend some time constructing the setting, creating a shared understanding of the world and what type of game you’re going to be playing. This sort of collaborative world-building has been floating around the various Internet forums and pages for several years, and entered official Fate games with DFRPG.

The city-building chapter in DFPRG is wonderful, giving guidelines and advice for creating a setting that offers a lot in the way of adventuring opportunities and ties the characters strongly to the world and to each other. The advice in the Fate Core book has been smoothed and streamlined, obviously tuned from the feedback from DFRPG players over the years. It is focused, providing concrete steps to create the type of game that everyone wants to play, with all the necessary hooks to make for a playable world to fit the characters into.

This chapter pretty much single-handedly transforms Fate Core from a standard setting-free system book into a toolkit for building games. Reading through the section, I had many different ideas for games, and the example they give of a sword-and-sorcery game being designed and constructed clarifies all the high-level concepts with solid, workable examples.

In addition to the advice in this chapter, Evil Hat will be publishing a Fate Worlds book, with twelve fleshed out settings, from Arthurian mecha adventures, through small-town supernatural drama, to WWII mad science airship combat. Drafts of these various settings have been provided to Kickstarter backers, as well, and they all look pretty good ((Of course, some will appeal to you more than others. That’s the nature of things. But there’s something in the mix for pretty much everyone.)).

Character Creation

Characters are the core of any RPG, but Fate games, especially those built using the game building advice, there is such a strong interaction between the characters and the setting that character creation has a very definite effect on shaping the game. The character creation in Fate Core is similar to every other Fate game, but most like DFRPG. It has been simplified and streamlined in a couple of different ways, especially by reducing the number of aspects and phases.

The process is pretty simple, and again encourages a collaborative effort. You come up with the High Concept and Trouble ((I talk about what this means in this post for DFRPG. Note that there are no templates by default in Fate Core.)) aspects for your characters, writing up the necessary background info. Then, you get one adventure and two guest-starring roles in other people’s adventures, with an aspect for each, giving you a total of five aspects.

This is fewer than in any of the previous Fate games: SotC had ten aspects for each character, and DFRPG had seven. Reducing the number of aspects speeds up character creation and helps focus the characters a lot more. It also means that you need to make sure that every aspect you have pulls its weight, generating fate points and letting you spend them. From the GM point of view, fewer aspects means there’s a little bit less for you to keep track of, making your job a little bit easier. As for downside, well, I don’t really see one. There were always a couple of aspects on character sheets with the larger numbers that just never got used very much. As I said, this focuses things.

The skill selection process uses the skill pyramid idea from SotC, with the pyramid topping out at Great (+4). This is something that’s easy to adjust, either by raising or lowering the cap, or by going to a skill column idea with skill points, as seen in DFRPG. The upshot of this choice, though, is that picking skills is a little faster without having to fiddle with the columns and skill points – just choose and rank the ten skills you want, and you’re done.

This builds characters with real skills and abilities – characters who are good at things right from the start. While there is the ability to advance and get better at things, you don’t start as a green rookie with the life expectancy of a mayfly, and a need to be wary around house cats. That said, there are ways to change this aspect – essentially, you can dial things up and down the level of competence pretty easily, especially if you take some cues from the Power Level setting in DFRPG.


I’m talking about stunts separately, though picking three stunts is part of character creation. Yeah, everyone gets three stunts, which the characters design in collaboration with the GM. So, stunts work just the way they do in DFRPG, though you get three for free and can buy up to two more, for a total of five. Each extra stunt, however, costs a point of refresh.

The explanation of building stunts is more clear and precise than in DFRPG – the changes they made to the text aren’t huge, but they make a big difference in how easy it is for players ((And, of course, GMs.)) to design their own stunts. As examples, you get a few listed stunts illustrating each of the different kinds of things you can do with stunts.


Refresh is still an important part of characters, but it’s not the central issue for characters that it was in DFRPG. Everyone gets three refresh by default, and you can spend up to two points on stunts or extras during character creation. Refresh still determines how many fate points your character starts with each session.

This is another setting that can be easily dialled up and down, increasing or decreasing the general power level of characters. If you build a game with lots of wacky powers for the characters, you probably want a larger pool of refresh to allow players to spend it on the extras you develop.


Extras are the special abilities and powers that some games require. These can range from magical powers, to specialized tech and vehicles, to organizations and locations that the characters have access to.

Extras are one of the ways to tune the setting developed by the players in the game-building phase. They show what unusual resources the characters may possess, showing what’s possible in the game world. The chapter on extras talks about how to create and define them, and offers a short list of different types of extras to use either as-is or as examples.

One of the more important parts of this chapter is the discussion on determining whether an extra costs refresh and, if so, how many points. It spells out the major concerns and considerations, and walks you through the determination process, supported by a few insightful sidebars in strategic locations. It’s all good, useful advice for building your own game.

While extras do a good job of adding flavour and depth to your game, it’s pretty obvious that they are not required for any game. Indeed, the building of extras in the chapter leverages all the ideas of aspects, skills, and stunts from previous chapters to show how to put extras together – canny GMs might choose to bypass extras and just deal with what they mean via aspects, skills, and stunts ((The one place that might not work is in calculating cost for the extra if the GM decides that what the player wants is good enough to be worth charging a point or two of refresh.)). This approach works very well for games with a low weirdness factor, but other game types may have you wanting more powerful ((Or more codified.)) possibilities, represented by a list of available extras.


This is a Fate game, so aspects are the beating heart. Every iteration of Fate has a new discussion about what they are, why they’re important, and how to pick good ones, and Fate Core is no different. Every iteration of this discussion gets clearer and more helpful, and the one in this book is the best so far.

Some of the terminology in this section has been overhauled to minimize confusion – removing the “tagged” term, for example, and just sticking with “invoke.” The use of compels gets a very welcome clarification, taking a bit of a cue from the plot point economy in the Cortex Plus games, I think, to solidify the fate point economy in a very useful way.

There is also a good explanation of situational aspects, which helps to emphasize the cinematic, collaborative, free-wheeling way that aspects can feed into play. The idea of assessing and declaring situational ((Or character aspects.)) aspects have been cleaned up and simplified, again taking a bit of a burden off the GM.

Probably the best thing about aspects in Fate Core is the detailed and clarified description of compels. They’ve been broken into two types: event compels and decision compels, with clear examples structured around fill-in-the-blank sentences ((Lenny Balsera, in an interview, chortled about how he put Mad Libs into Fate Core.)):

You have _____ aspect and are in _____ situation, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, _____ would happen to you. Damn your luck.

You have _____ aspect in _____ situation, so it makes sense that you’d decide to _____. This goes wrong when _____ happens.

There’s also a good discussion about compelling your own character, and compelling other characters. All in all it makes the use of compels in play much simpler and clearer.

One other thing about the aspects chapter that I want to call out for special comment is the Using Aspects for Roleplaying section. I’ve been playing games with aspects ((Or similar things, like Cortex Plus‘s distinctions.)) long enough that I’ve sort of intuitively internalized the advice offered here on using your aspects to guide roleplaying, but it’s wonderful to see the idea explicitly called out and discussed in the rulebook.

In all, aspects haven’t changed much, but the explanations surrounding how they work have been clarified.


One of the places where Fate really became complex was in the skills section. First in SotC and then in DFRPG, the skills chapter was a big list of every skill and every way you could use a skill. It was wonderful for completeness, but it added a bit too much complication to the available actions. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this sort of thing, but I found that, while it gave a lot of guidance to GMs for handling skills, it added what amounted to a bunch of mini-systems for each skill.

Fate Core addresses this in a really useful way. The designers took a look at the way all the subsystems worked and pared it down to the essentials. They found that each of the skills basically does some combination of four basic things:

  • Attack: This is how you hurt someone with the skill. A successful roll deals stress ((And potentially consequences.)) to the target. Not every skill gets this ability, but creative play may allow a character to use a non-attack skill for a special attack ((Especially if you’re using the conflict structure and set-up to model something else, like a mystery or a chase.)).
  • Defend: This is how you stop an attack from hurting you. As with an attack, not every skill gets this ability ((Though more skills get the defend action by default than get the attack action.)), but special circumstances and good creative description may earn you some leeway from your GM.
  • Gain Advantage: This is essentially the new version of performing a maneuver from previous editions. Every skill gets this action by default. It establishes a new aspect on the situation or on a character that the character can then use for a bonus, or allows a character to take get a free invocation on an exiting aspect.
  • Overcome: Overcome is the action you use when you want to… well, overcome some obstacle or difficulty. So, that’s what you’re doing if you try and pick a lock, but it’s also what you do if you’re trying to remove the On Fire aspect from a room you’re currently standing in. It gets you past obstacles and removes situational aspects. In a lot of ways, it’s like the opposite of gain advantage and, like gain advantage, it’s a default option fro every skill.

The detailed descriptions and examples of each of these four actions in the book make their use rather intuitive. They also focus on opening up the possibilities for the skills rather than restricting them ((Which is, counterintuitively, the opposite of what the lengthier descriptions in previous iterations did.)), giving guidelines for how to tell which category of action a player’s intended use of a skill falls into, and offering suggestions for how to adjudicate it.

Following up the explanations for what you can do with skills, there’s a section on outcomes – the four different levels of success you can achieve – fail, tie, succeed, and succeed with style. This last one, succeed with style, was called spin in earlier iterations, and applied only to defence rolls. Now, it’s essentially a critical success that gives you a little bonus, depending on the type of action you’re attempting.

The next chapter spells out the structure of using skills in more complicated situations than just rolling to beat a given threshold. There are three of these structures:

  • Challenges deal with multiple overcome actions to defeat a given obstacle. Really, it’s a way to get more characters involved in a task – fighters holding off hordes of zombies while the thief tries to pick the lock and the wizard unravels the magical wards on the door, for example.
  • Contests represent two (or more) characters striving against each other for a goal, but not trying to harm each other directly. So, arm-wrestling, races, stuff like that.
  • Conflicts are fights, whether physical or not. This is two or more characters actively trying to harm each other.

I think it’s important to note that the different structures here are identified and examined, not to force you to use them, but to demonstrate the different ways that skill use by different characters can interact in dynamic, interesting ways. In this way, like the rest of the rules in the book, it’s a collection of suggestions for how to use the bits of the game mechanics to create exciting, fun stories. What I’m trying to say is that, as with the other Fate Core rules, you shouldn’t let yourself be restricted, but inspired by the suggestions and examples.

Mechanically speaking, actions are the engine of Fate Core, and they have been cleaned up, clarified, and polished from previous iterations. Like most of the rest of the rules, they have benefitted from the careful consideration of the designers and the years of play by a large, dedicated community.

GM Advice

The Fate Core book is chock full of GM advice, spread through every chapter, in the main text and in the numerous sidebars and examples. There are three chapters, though, that deal specifically with how to be a GM in a Fate game:

  • Running the Game talks about the gritty details of what to do when you’re sitting in the GM chair during a Fate session.
  • Scenes, Sessions, and Scenarios gives practical advice about how to put together the story for a Fate adventure.
  • The Long Game explains how to string the individual adventures into a longer campaign.

These chapters do a great job of bringing together the entire toobox of Fate Core, making the thinking behind the mechanics clear, and showing the utility of the more abstract concepts presented in the book. More than anything, though, they work to transfer the designers’ understanding of the system to the GM, teaching what questions a GM should ask, and how to judge the answers to those questions.

All the GM advice is aimed at giving the GM the tools to run a Fate-style game, a game where the coolness of the characters is paramount and blends seamlessly with coolness of the story to generate a play experience that transcends both ((Pretty pompous phrasing, I know. But it’s true.)).


I’m not much of an art guy. I like nice pictures, but I can’t really discuss them in an intelligent, insightful way ((“Dude, that picture’s cool!” is pretty much the extent of art critique vocabulary.)). So, I’m not going to try and do that.

What I will do is tell you that I really like the art in the book. It’s all grey-scale, but it’s very well done grey-scale art. What I like most about it is that pretty much every picture gives me an idea for a game setting for Fate Core – kung-fu gorilla with a cybernetic brain, mystical police detective, biplane pilot with flying saucer silhouettes painted on her plane, sword-and-sorcery adventurers, dead guy in a mystic circle… I could base a game world on pretty much any single one of these.

To add to this coolness, there are three or four series of pictures, each of them fleshing out a given game world. So, there are several pictures of the kung-fu cyber gorilla, for example, each showing him ((I’m assuming it’s a him. He’s wearing traditionally male kung-fu silks.)) in different situations, each of which adds a little more to the character and his implied world.


If there’s a single word I’d use to describe Fate Core, it’s “polished.” Every iteration of the system, its obvious that the designers have taken the opportunity to look at the game, see what’s working and what’s not, and shape it more and more towards their ideal game. Systems get smoothed out and clarified, explanations get better, and stuff that doesn’t work gets changed or removed.

There was nothing wrong with Fate ((In my opinion, anyway.)) in any of the previous iterations, but it’s obvious that the designers have been getting better at what they do and clearer in their vision of what the game should be. They see how the game works, what it does best, and tweak it to emphasize and focus on its strengths.

It’s a setting-less system, though, designed to be adapted to your chosen setting. That said, most of the specialized sub-systems from other Fate games, such as the magic system from DFRPG, could be adapted to the Fate Core system with trivial effort.

In short ((Yeah. Waaaaaaaaay too late for that, huh?)), this game is awesome. If you like Fate games, you need to get it. If you’re not familiar with Fate games, this is a good way to start.

And if you don’t like Fate games, well, then there’s no helping you.

ICONS #1 – Spectacular Origins Issue!

I was planning to try the Battlestar Galactica boardgame this past Saturday evening, complete with the Pegasus expansion. Unfortunately, I left the invites too late, and only two people were free to take me up on the offer. Three players is sub-optimal for BSG, so instead Clint offered to run a game of ICONS so that we could check out the system.

He and I had both read ICONS in .pdf format, and both had sought the hard copy version out at GenCon because we liked it so much. This was easier for me than for him, because it was just on the other side of the black drape divider between Pagan Publishing (where I was) and Cubicle 7 (where it was). So, we had picked it up, and read it, and were both very intrigued by the random character creation, the pared-down FATE-style rules, and the four-colour superhero defaults.

He, Penny, and I got together to roll up characters – Clint made one along with us, even though he was running the game – and for Clint to run us through a short adventure.

We spent the better part of two hours working out characters, which seemed like a long time for the quick-start, random style of the game. But it was the random style that threw a couple of problems at us. Here are a couple of issues that arose:

  • As with all random character generation methods, there is a significant chance that one character is going to wind up being just plain better at stuff than the others. Or worse. Yeah, you can play with a character that has fewer powers, or lower powers, or lower stats, but we wound up with a situation where one character had less everything than the others. By about 25%. Now, there’s a point-buy method you can use to avoid this problem, and we came up with a simple house rule to avoid the boned-character syndrome (basically, allow the character to buy up extra levels in skills/abilities to meet the minimum point-buy value), but it’s still something you need to be aware of. And then there’s the flipside: what do you do with someone who rolled significantly better on everything than everyone else? Scale the character back? Doesn’t seem really fair. While I don’t worry too much about character balance in games, I do worry about whether the characters have equal chance to be cool in game.
  • The random power distribution can cause some strain in coming up with a good theme for your character. This is offset at least a little by the idea of bonus powers, but it can be easy to forget about those. Gotta remember them. On the other hand, I wound up with a character concept I would never have come up with on my own, and am pretty happy with my character.
  • The book needs an index, or at least a more complete table of contents. Or at least an alphabetical list of the powers, with the page they appear on. You spend a lot of time in character creation and in play looking up your powers, and they’re not arranged in a very useful manner. Well, they sort-of are, but it’s not the best choice. The powers show up in the table where you roll for your powers subdivided by power type. In the Powers chapter, they are again subdivided by power type, then listed alphabetically within that type. So, you need to remember that Precognition, say, is a Sensory power, and not a Psychic power. A reference list or index would have made looking stuff up soooooo much easier.
  • The section on calculating Determination says that each ability above 6 counts as a power for purposes of calculating starting Determination, while the example says each power above 7 counts as a power. It would have been good to have this clarified.

Those issues aside, I really enjoyed the character creation phase. It reminded me strongly of the old Marvel Super Heroes game from TSR, with the random rolls and interesting surprises along the way. As I mentioned I wound up with a character that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own, one that I quite like and am finding interesting to play – a prototype emergency rescue robot with advanced probability predictive algorithms to help him get to emergency scenes prior to the emergency actually taking place. Think RoboCop with precognition, but licensed to fire and ambulance services, and no weapons beyond his strength.

After character creation, Clint led us through a quick setting creation phase. He gave us a short paragraph about an alternate NYC, where repeated terror attacks, the declining economy, and a couple natural disasters had turned it into an urban war zone. We added some ideas about the widened gap between the corrupt, wealthy haves in their fortified townhouses and the desperate, despairing have-nots, resorting to a feudal gang allegiance to stay safe and alive. The New York Restoration Authority, consisting of some remaining civil government along with a few police and emergency workers, bolstered by the US Army, were trying to reclaim the city and bring it back from the brink, but feudalism and anarchy had taken root in the neighbourhoods, and the corruption among the wealthy residents made the outlook bleak.

This gave us a place filled with potential adventures, but with a slightly darker, grittier outlook than standard 70s-style four-colour comics. Think Batman with a slightly-more-friendly version of the No Man’s Land storyline.

The adventure threw together my robot and the voodoo queen of Manhattan (Penny’s character) to figure out what was causing a series of sinkholes to show up along the ley lines of the city, apparently excavated by earth spirits inhabiting bodies of rock and concrete. We chased them down to an underground site where we found a group of people in outmoded clothing trapped in some sort of stasis – the members of the Century Club from our Spirit of the Century games. And that’s where we left it for this session.

With our familiarity with FATE, the system was pretty easy to pick up, though the way you can spend Determination works quite differently from Fate Points, and Aspects are also used somewhat differently. And you’ve got stats! The wider numerical spread using d6-d6 rather than 4dF also threw us for a bit of a loop, and we had trouble coming to grips with what the change in the probability curve meant for our stats and powers.

The combat worked pretty quickly and easily, though it’s easier to take someone out in combat – unless they’re pretty buff – than we expected. Because neither of our characters was a real brick, we had some real problems with the earth spirits in the concrete bodies, especially as they could sandblast us when we hit them. It took some quick thinking and Determination spending by Penny to save our collective butts.

The biggest thing that was different was that all the tests were rolled by the players. The GM didn’t roll to hit; the player had to roll to avoid being hit. As someone who GMs a fair bit, I really like this idea, though I’m not sure if it’s easily exportable to other games where so many things are handled by opposed rolls.

We all had a great time with the game, though, and I think it’s going to wind up an ongoing, if irregular, feature of our group.

Oh, and if you’re interested, here’s the character I came up with:


Strategic Probability Evaluation Computer – Tactical Emergency Response

Prowess: 7               Intellect: 4
Coordination: 6     Awareness: 6
Strength: 7              Willpower: 6

Life Support 3 (Breathing, Heat, Radiation)
Precognition 4
Danger Sense 7

“I am here to help.”
Wired Into the Emergency Network
Official Emergency Vehicle

Public Servant On Call
Inexperienced With Emotions
Shannon Murphy, Maintenance Technician
Archenemy: Infrastructure Network Control Intelligence