Monday, August 23, 2010

Fate: Free Rules are a Life-Saver

About two years ago, I was looking for a free game system to run an online Play-by-Post campaign. I had grown tired of the rules "crunch" of games like D&D and Rifts, and wanted something simpler and that would give the players more narrative control than in traditional RPGs. I came across a generic game called Fate unassociated with any campaign world, and the first product based on its ruleset: Spirit of the Century, a pulp game in the vein of Indiana Jones or Doc Savage. I immediately adored the system. It was rules-light, gave narrative control, and was very much free. 

As some of you know, D&D 3rd Edition was released under the "Open Gaming License," an innovative form of copyright that released the rules -- but not the setting -- as free, released as text files over the internet. And the cool thing was this: anyone could modify these rules as they saw fit, and publish them -- so long as parent company Wizards of the Coast and the original authors were properly credited. Wizards apparently felt the "OGL" system undercut their profits too much, as they abandoned it in 4th Edition, but the concept and legal license has been snapped up by a number of smaller games -- including Spirit of the Century and Fate. I had a vague notion of eventual publication, so Fate's OGL status sealed it for me in terms of what system to use to run and write my campaigns.

I'll lay out the basics of the system here, so we can follow how I've adapted and modified the rules for my own purposes.

Fudge Dice and the Ladder

All task resolution in Fate is done with Fudge dice (named after the Fudge free universal RPG system). They are six-sided dice with two "+" sides, two "-" sides, and two blank sides. You always roll four of them (4dF), allowing for a result of -4 to +4, with distribution heavily weighted toward a result in the middle (-1, 0, or +1)

Almost everything in the game world can be described with an adjective and a matching number, ranging from Terrible (-2) to Legendary (+8). Roll the dice, compare the result to the ladder, and you can see how well an action succeeded.

Skills, Aspects, and Stunts

Characters in Fate have three important features: Skills, Aspects, and Stunts.

Skills are anything a character is good at, whether learned or inherent. The Skill list varies based on the needs of the setting: The City of Lives includes Athletics, Conviction, Lore, Melee, and Vigor, among others. 

Where Skills tell what a character can do, Aspects tell who they are: personality traits, points of view, quotes, important people and important objects are all types of Aspects. They are a roleplaying guide to the player, a guide to the GM as to what to include in the campaign, and can temporarily improve a character's skills when they're doing something important and in their nature.

Stunts are little ways to end the rules, representing special training or equipment: a +2 bonus to Athletics to run fast (and only to run fast); the ability to spot a liar with Deceit rather than the usual Empathy; a sword enchanted to be harder and sharper; etc.

Fate Points

Last, but not least of the core mechanics: Fate Points. Fate Points represent luck, opportunity, or the hand of fate, depending on how you look at it. They power Aspects, certain Stunts, and...

Magic, next time on Realmcrafting.