10/29/2013

Systems I Love: Fate Core

This probably feels like it's been a long time coming, if you've read things here.  I gushed about Fate Core's Kickstarter.  And then the Fate Dice Kickstarter.  I made myself in Fate Core after I got the PDF.  I redesigned a past DnD character for a now upcoming Warcraft Fate Core Hack and updated my previous Fate Supernatural Hack and Fate Rifts Hack characters.  My group played a one-shot Fate Core Pacific Rim Hack.  I raved about my love for my Fate Dice.  I think it's no real secret that Fate is my favorite system right now and that Fate Core's release has been a big deal for me and my group.  But I've been slow to review it.

Yeah, no one has a better cover than this.
That's mostly because I've been waiting until we were actually playing Fate Core on a regular basis to do so.  We haven't gotten there yet, as Scion is still finishing up.  But we've begun work on our Warcraft game, which will be in Fate Core and now everyone is right in the midst of going through the book to build their characters (and Evil Hat started up the Evil Hat Street Team).  Which brings me to my first major point about the Fate Core book:  it is beautifully laid out.

I'm not sure this is a fact that will get enough attention.  Fate Core is perhaps the best laid out RPG book of all time and definitely the best laid out I own (so shoutout to Jeremy Keller for fantastic work).  This is for two main reasons.  First, the book is easy to flip through quickly to find material.  This is because sections of material are logically and simply named as well as laid out in the order in which players and GM's are most likely to need them.  Any number of RPGs miss this simple concept and their books become much more difficult to navigate.  In Fate Core, I know intuitively that character creation should come after game creation and am rewarded with the material I need in the order I would expect.

The second key factor to the layout is the fact that the table of contents and index strike a good balance between being highly informative and not overwhelming.  The table of contents in Fate Core has more information than most RPG books do; having subsections listed under the major chapters of the book.  For example Character Creation has the subsections Character Creation Is Play, Your Character Idea, The Phase Trio, Skills, Stunts and Refresh, Stress and Consequences, You're All Set! and Quick Character Creation.  That's a lot of information, but each subsection title is fairly self-explanatory and it really best serves people who are looking for specific information, which will include most players getting ready for a game.  The index, unlike most RPG books, is fairly light.  It feels to me as if it focuses on terms not already covered in the table of contents, meaning it works well as a quick reference to the more obscure terms and rules of the system.  This balance means that I am provided with a large amount of information in a rather digestible manner, which makes the book quick to navigate.

Secretly the best page in the book.
Another huge score for Fate Core is that it is easy to read.  The language is simple, which all too many RPGs forget is useful.  Because the book is conversational, and so many subsections exist, it's easy to read quickly and find appropriate stopping points.  Sometimes when a book becomes too conversational, it can become easy to have sentences that look like they're informative, but don't give quite enough  information.  Fate Core seems to have avoided this pitfall through strong editing and the rounds of community feedback on the book.  I have yet to come across a point in which I had to re-read a section over and over to be able to tell myself "I think I get this concept."  In fact, it's helped me clarify a few of those points on older editions of Fate, allowing me to "get" some things that I wasn't quite sure of in the Dresden Files RPG.  Similarly, there are loads of game play examples conveniently placed after the most complex or important concepts of the rules, which speeds along the comprehension process.

Imagery is also a big help in making Fate Core easy to read.  There are tons of pictures in the book, giving readers a place to take a break.  And there is excellent use of symbols to help players remember and define the four major types of dice rolling actions.  This means that they can be used to recall that information at any time during examples or later rules discussions.  While it seems like a little thing, this is HUGE and greatly helps to cut down on flipping back and forth between sections of the book.  And if players do need to flip back and forth, the symbols make it easy to spot places in which the information they're looking for might be located.

Seriously, RPG publishers, do this. It's ultra helpful.
Outside of Fate Core, I have never read an RPG book cover-to-cover in order.  Fate Core changed this by providing an easy way in which to find rules and stopping points as I read through the book.  I also think the ease of reading for the book really couples well with the flexibility and openness of the system itself.  This has given my group, and I would suspect others, an added sense of ability to take the system to do whatever setting we might want.  My group has already discussed a fairly large range of game settings in Fate Core (from sci-fi like Rifts, Pacific Rim, or Stargate to fantasy like Warcraft to modern fantasy like Supernatural or the zombie apocalypse).  None of these seem like a stretch because the rules are flexible and it is easy to quickly navigate the book for the tools to put them together.  That's tough to beat.

As for the rules, they're pretty much Fate as it's been for years.  Players get four dice with blank, plus, and minus sides to them.  When players take an action that needs resolution, they roll those dice, count up the plusses and minuses then combine those with their values in various skills.  If the GM or player compels or invokes aspects, there might be shifts in that final number.  If the final number surpasses the target for success, the player succeeds.  Simple stuff really.  The real punch of the system is its ability to do anything and give enough structure to it that there's order to play but flexibility to allow players and GM's to attempt whatever they want.  It's clear that tenet carried over from the rules to the rule book, and coupled with Evil Hat's willingness to get their player community involved, it produced a great way to get both experienced and new players playing.

Truth in advertising.