The nature of Fate

After much complaining and relative inaction, I found a live tabletop gaming group this past fall, and one playing the Fate system at that. So, although I had played some one-shots and other little things, I was able to be properly introduced to the system as well as a different approach to playing that is needed when using Fate as a serious system.

The Fate system is best described by starting what it isn’t. Our GM describes it succinctly as “not a simulator”, which is accurate. The intent of the system is to create a story that centers around competent characters, and the specifics are equally dependent on the social contract between the GM and the players as they are on the rules as written. Characters are built around 5 or more “aspects”, which are supposed to describe the core tenets of the character that impact gameplay. Everything else in the game is also described with aspects which have the same basic gameplay rules, making the game genreless and fairly easy to adapt to any gameplay situation you could imagine.

As I’ve learned in this current group, the freedom inherent in the rules requires a strong and well-defined set of expectations for the particular game coming from the GM. I come from running GURPS where the GM needs to be very clear about what is and isn’t allowed in a current game, but Fate requires even more than that. Since the core mechanic in Fate is to “invoke” an aspect, it means that the extent of each aspect needs to be agreed upon by the player and the GM. If a player is a superhero of some sort and has an aspect controlling their power, the specifics exist outside what’s defined by the system. Superman may have an aspect explaining that he’s from Krypton, but the powers he gains as a result are defined by the player and the GM, not within some Fate splatbook.

This freedom has been equal parts exhilarating and difficult for me. My initial character idea was pretty mundane, but for the setting (near-future urban), I didn’t really want to make any jumps. As I was discussing the character and my vision of the character to the GM, the subject of his race came up, being that this was a Shadowrun-like setting with elves, dwarves and other fantasy races. I wasn’t particularly entranced by any of them, so the GM said “you know, he could be a robot”. And so he was. And it has made a world of difference.

Which brings me to the reason this group has been so helpful for opening up my eyes as both a player and GM. I’ve wanted to run a bottom-up style game many times before, but it’s very difficult to do in systems that require strong mechanical definitions (or at least requires a lot of work). Fate has very good mechanics for allowing things to come into a game with minimal disruption, and it helps even more when your GM is able to throw things into the mix fairly easily.

Now that I’ve really gotten a taste of Fate I’m enjoying it a lot, and need to figure out a way to run a serious Fate game with my online group.


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