Saturday, January 9, 2016

What I Got From Fate: The Good Part

This being the Internet, there are a lot of people around who argue about stuff. the community of RPG players is no different, and I would imagine it's probably more intense than most in terms of emotional investment because games are little nuggets of pure joy in an otherwise crap world of strife. So, the fights that we have as a community tend to be very passionate.

Right now, I don't think there's a game system as a whole that's more divisive than Fate. (Note that I'm not calling it FATE, because it's not an acronym or initialism of anything, as GURPS is.) Opinions on it tend to gravitate toward the extremes--either it's the fantastically innovative pinnacle of the RPG form, or it's the worst example yet of a mechanical mockery of what RPGs are. I don't know, insert your own hyperbole here.

Personally, having run a game Fate, I will say I don't really like it.

Let me start off with some caveats: I know that a lot of people play Fate and they really like it. I tend to be an open-minded guy, so I am open to the possibility that maybe I was just doing a horrible job GMing the game. I have also heard that some prefer to play Fate Accelerated Edition to Fate Core, which was the version I was running. Again, I'm going to point out that I'm forming my judgments with relatively little experience. I've also not played any Fate games that are heavily intertwined with settings, such as The Dresden Files or Atomic Robo. So it may be possible for me to like Fate, but I'm not going to run a game any time soon.

I ended up starting a campaign that was a story of a group of carnival freak show performers in a steampunk setting; think Victorian-era continental Europe. We played about four or five sessions before I realized that Fate was killing the game. I took the characters and re-built them in GURPS, which was the system we used for the remainder of the campaign.

Let's start with the good part about Fate. When I played Pathfinder and other such games, we tended to build our individual characters and then throw them together with little consideration for each other apart from their function. You know the lines. Who is the healer, who is the "tank," etc. This type of mentality is the first step in a game where you are running a glorified stat block as opposed to an actual character.

Fate forces you to come to the table for an introductory session that plans how the campaign is going to go: GM and characters alike. I knew that I wanted the characters to be members of a freak show, but those were my only conditions. My agenda was otherwise blank, and so we arrived at the steampunk fantasy idea after going around the table and talking about what we all thought would be fun. By our establishment of the Aspects (capitalized to emphasize I'm talking about the Fate mechanic) of the world, I also got a big cue as to what flavor the game was going to have. I realize that any old RPG can have this collaboration session, but Fate incorporating it into the rule book really emphasizes how player consensus is crucial to a campaign's success.

What's even more awesome about Fate is the character creation. The first task you are given is to come up with your High Concept, your essence, your defining phrase. In Fate, you are not just a Rogue, you are a Daring Swashbuckler of Venice, an Infamous Cutpurse, or a Disgraced Turncoat. Because the mechanics depend on descriptive but flexible Aspects, you get a lot more character definition. The same is true of your Trouble, a secondary Aspect that defines your downside. Flawed characters are interesting characters, and even if a character is seemingly perfect, everyone struggles with something.

In order for the game to even function, Fate demands that the characters be fleshed out. This fleshing out ensures that you're not just consulting your array of numbers and modifiers that you just so happen call a character.

As if that weren't enough to generate characters that were more interesting than 90% of D&D characters out there, Fate then calls for the Phase Trio (a name I dislike because it sounds way too ambiguous and theoretical). Essentially, each player comes up with three bits of backstory--at the table alongside everyone else. The first bit starts to establish each individual character's history, but the second and third are stories where the other characters are involved. As a result, the beginning of the actual campaign sees a group of characters that are all interconnected in some fashion. They don't have to form your standard D&D Trope Party, but you likewise don't have a collection of individual lone wolves, either.

(Then there's a whole bunch of skill crap and stuff, which is the remainder of character creation, but I've already addressed the best part.)

I think that the preliminary session of this campaign was one of the greatest, because we already had a good sense of who the characters were going to be as the game progressed. The only downside I can see to this approach is that sometimes I like to ease into a character concept and let it develop over a span of play sessions. Of course, the danger is that the character will forever remain a faceless amalgamation of statistics, which has happened far too often throughout RPG history.

What I got from Fate is the realization that in some form or another, I should approach game creation and character creation from a standpoint of open-endedness and collaboration. There is no reason to come to the table with a game prepared only to discover that no one's interested in playing, and there's no reason that the players have to be a bunch of randos who meet in a tavern.

Next time, I'll discuss what happened when our Fate game got going, and why I had to switch systems. Until then, does anyone read this? Comment if you do.

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