Fate Core/Fate Accelerated: What it Is and What it Isn't

Continuing the discussion from What rpgs were you most pleasantly surprised by in the last few years?:

I’m just spinning this off into a new thread because it’s become off topic from the premise of the original thread.

@Deckard wrote: “It has s not the skills per se, more that this is pretty much all the basic game offers from what I can tell. Plus, Fate is clearly built with railroading in mind. I much prefer to play to find out what happens and get surprised, even as the GM.”

I have to disagree that Fate was built with “railroading in mind”. While it has many features of a traditional RPG, it does offer baked in shared world-building, shared narrative, and starting at the place of “describe what you want to do and THEN consult the rules to do that thing” (Golden Rule). The Fate Fractal (Bronze Rule) lets you build almost anything you need in the game (organizations, weapons, magic systems, superpowers, vehicles, etc.) with the same pieces you use to build a character (Aspects, Skills/Approaches, Stunts, Stress, Consequences) which makes play easier and is where the system gets exciting for me. And you are always free to ignore the rules if they get in the way of what makes narrative sense (Silver Rule).

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As a real lover of Fate in all its forms, I see the biggest strength of Fate being the lack of railroading. I can see how it might come across this way, however.

The core mechanic of the Fate system is the Fate Point economy. At its best, this is a give-and-take form of storytelling where players can spend points to steer the story in their way and the GM can pay the players to let them steer the story. This gives everyone at the table (somewhat) equal power to add exciting moments. At its worst, this means that the GM can “invoke” bad things happening at will, which is where the railroading comes from.

I think the downside of this mechanic isn’t from the system at base, but rather in how it’s used. Where the system really shines is when you have a GM that is willing to “be a fan of the players” (to borrow a term from the DM principles in Dungeon World). If a GM can use trouble in a way that creates exciting conflict with the world in exchange for letting the players do heroic things when the time calls for it, that kind of story has huge swings in mood which makes for a rich storytelling experience.

One common misconception with the GM invoke is how it’s meant to be used as well. My understanding of the rules is that you’re giving the player the option of taking a FP in exchange for GM invoke. The point is to give the player the option between leaving the game up to chance in dice rolls all the time and letting that give the game variance or trading deep character hubris and moments of overcoming obstacles for the variance. Either way, the story should play out roughly the same.

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I watched Fate being played for horror. Apparently, Fate does this poorly. Maybe only Fate horror requires railroading.

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    Fate does not do player challenge well. As in combat or puzzle challenges like OSR style games. I enjoy OSR and more narrative games. I prefer mid-level crunch so I still HATE Pathfinder & D&D 3.5/4.0 and still play some D&D 5e.

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    It seems in Fate that in most actions (particularly fights), You can either attack (with no options to do a “careful” or “strong” attack), or use something to get a +2, but it is always the same +2.

In PbtA you generally get more interesting outcomes in conflicts. Depending on the game you also get more mechanical benefits than just a +2. That is similar to using skills in other games but I prefer games where the mechanics are more than just a bonus. I want PbtA style Moves / Feats in other games. Skills leave me bored if that is the major mechanic.

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    I HATE the way FATE tries to bribe players to do something they feel their characters would not or to take risks they as players generally would not. PbtA makes this happen naturally by adding risks to the 7-9 roll.

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    Fate has absolutely no tactical game to play. Even though PbtA games are not tactical, you still can decide to Defy Danger or the like with anyone one of your abilities if you can explain it. This gives the move a slightly tactical feel because you needed to make a decision. In Fate is seems players will generally just say, “I do X” because X is their best skill skill every time or “I do Y” because they finally met the situation where their aspect is relevant.

Cortex is appears similar. I have run this Cortex Plus for Marvel Heroic. It does the I do X if I can justify it mechanic as well, in a more convoluted and crunchy way. I only enjoy that game for one-shots. Anything longer turns into players trying to justify their choice of dice pool (to succeed) rather than actually following the skill set naturally OR gaming the dice pool.

My actual experience from Marvel Heroic -
Player - “I am ignoring my teammates so that I get my Individual die (d10) rather than my teamwork die (d4).”
Me: “But your teammates are fighting the same enemy right next to you?!” exasperated.

I can easily see this happening in Fate for the +1 or +2

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That’s not what Fate means to do, though. A compel is only valid when the player thinks this is something the character totally would do, even if it leads to complications. Compels aren’t meant to be punishments with a nice bow on top, they are meant to be rewards for moving the story and exploring the character.

If a GM used compels the way you describe, I’d hate that too!

Also, finding ways to create and incorporate Aspects in a fight can be about as tactical as fights in most pbtA games.

What I personally don’t much like is the fact that you might have zero-sum rolls where someone rolls and the story doesn’t move forward. That rarely happens in pbta.

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Did you play Fate? Or just watch it? Was the GM using the Fate Horror Toolkit?
Also, the management of the Fate pool is part of Fate’s “tactical” play. It’s not about your position on a grid, it’s about your fictional position and your resource management.

If you haven’t played Fate, I suggest you reserve judgement until you do. I would also encourage you to see if there’s a Fate-based game that does something you want and check that out. For example:

  • Atomic Robo - this low-level supers game is much better at explaining critical Fate concepts than Fate Core is - stuff I had internalized over years of play and discussion were just flat out there in this game.
  • Fate of Cthulhu - if you want to see a Fate take of Lovecraft, check this one out. It’s horror with a dash of hope and a great reimagining of the tired “ablative sanity” of CoC.
  • Tachyon Squadron - this game about spacefighter pilots brings some cool new Fate tech to the table, including “maximized dice” where some abilities / stunts allow you to turn some number of your dice ot the + side, instead of just adding to your total. It’s subtly different but it keeps totals from climbing - I think of it as “bounded accuracy” for Fate. It also brings a FitD style play cycle and the stress / relief economy to Fate.

Fate’s primary strength, for me, is that Aspects and the Bronze Rule allow anyone to become a designer by allowing them to decide what deserves mechanical weight in their game. It’s astonishingly flexible and every time someone complains about it being “all the same” I laugh because unified resolution mechanics are, IMO, good and so few people ever complain about d20+mod vs TN being “all the same”.

At any rate, I’d hope you would give Fate a chance.

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Exactly! I don’t generally want a game that plays out the same regardless of my decisions.

Whenever I tried to railroad a Fate group in the early days, the system enabled them to take control, by self-compels, for instance. So I don’t bother any more!

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Bookmarking this thread so I know where to recruit Fate players from!

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That seems completely at odds with the Fate rules as I read them - the idea that any combat has zones with aspects that can be invoked to obtain non-trivial bonuses (and you can take actions to add new aspects to the environment yourself) gives so many opportunities for tactical play which really engages with the environment in which a conflict happens.

Sure it is possible for two people to just stand there trading dice rolls, but that isn’t the best way to play it, and certainly isn’t the expected way to play it from what I read.

Cheers

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Maybe I am just overly paranoid and sensitive to power dynamics (especially those in relation to economies), but I have always been worried about the fact that since AFAIK the GM has infinite Fate points there is less “cost” to them for proposing a compel but since players do not have an infinite supply it costs them more to say no to a GM’s compel.

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The GM has an unlimited amount of FP to give to their players to accept a compel. That much is true.

But: The compel has to make narrative sense, it has to complicate the characters life in a way that is tied to an aspect, and the player has to agree that it is something that would tempt their character. That isn’t easy, and mostly, when I run, I just recognize self-compels and give out FPs.

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Even though I’m totally on the Fate fan corner in this debate, I think you may be onto something concerning this bullet point in particular, @Deckard . Now, I agree with the repliers who pointed out that much of what in the Fate points economy appears appendant rather than ingrained in the rules is probably a result of how they are handled by the players. At the same time, however, there is an undeniable simplicity in PbtA’s having setbacks built into the 7-9 range for 2d6 rolls. It’s game design done elegantly as hell. So I understand how Fate’s expedient (exchanging tokens back and forth across the table to signify invoking and compelling, procedures that, one could argue, demand a good deal of burdensome Aspect tracking) can seem like a designer’s afterthought in comparison.

Frequently, Fate points, invokes and compels can be misused and, at least in my own experience as player and GM, they tend to be handled poorly during the first couple of sessions, when everyone is still getting used to the engine. But --and this should not be overlooked-- so do the [6 or lower/7-9/10+] tiers in PbtA die rolls. The fact that, in my own experience as GM, people usually have to ask for clarification regarding the use of Fate points during play while die rolls in PbtA games tend to feel more fluid and intuitive to the same group of players might be of some significance to the matter at hand. But I think it rather points to differences in gaming styles than to differences in design quality. PbtA’s design is, from the get go, addressing the recurrent necessity of players to be able to put together a session on the fly. It is a one-shot friendly engine and that’s an important part of its near-omnipresence in the indie scene; Fate Core, on the other hand, is comprised of elements that seem to encourage a good deal of preparatory worldbuilding, long games, and (relatively speaking, of course) the conservation of a modicum of “crunch”. And, of course, a certain amount of table prop thingies.

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Right. And the whole, I want to play out story X sounds very on the rails compared to the PbtA improvisational gaming I have become accustomed to playing and reading.

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But then again, on the prep-heavy(-ish) vs. prep-light side of things, there is FAE to consider. Since I’ve never played it, I wouldn’t know how it actually fares in comparison, regarding the facilitation of predominantly improvised game sessions. Any thoughts?

I usually just lurk on these forums but this topic prompted me to make an account. I’m a big fan of fate and I’ve been playing fate since spirit of the century and I wanted to just say a couple of things that sprung to me as I was reading these posts.

  1. GMs do not have an endless supply of fate points. For their NPC’s they get a pool of fate points equal to one fate point per player at the beginning of a new scene, and this is a pool of Fate points that is shared by all the NPC’s.
  2. I don’t see compels as bribery to get players to do something they don’t want to do. First if it is something they don’t want to do then they can reject the compel. Additionally if I’m compelling a player aspect then I’m compelling an aspect that they created together with the table and it is something that they want to happen in game. For example if I create a character with an aspect such as “Haunted by Murderous Brother” then obviously that means that as a player I want that aspect to come into play for my character otherwise I wouldn’t have created that. I feel like this is very much in the vein of most Pbta games. For example in Dungeon World if I picked the Ranger as a playbook then that telegraphs to my GM that I will like to see at some point me be able to track or do something survival based.
  3. My last point that came to mind, though I’m sure I have many more, is that fate to me can be very tactical. I think it’s very much like 16 HP dragon example for Dungeon world, in that a lot of Fate has to do with fictional positioning especially because of aspects. Aspects are facts things that are always true and as a GM I try to make sure to tell my players that simply just attacking over and over again won’t really do much in fate. My fate veterans know that in order for you to take down a powerful enemy you have to create multiple advantages, that one player can then invoke all together and deal a powerful blow. This means that most of our combats deal with my players trying to change the environment or tactically approach the enemy from a different angle.

Now I agree that fate is not for everybody and I’ve run it for several people who have simply decided that it just wasn’t for them and that’s fine but I just want to make sure that we give a game a fair shake and not judge it based on misconceptions.

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Welcome, @Manifest!

I agree: the compels suggested for any aspect should be in tune with what the player had in mind for compels when they created that aspect. The compel is what the player felt would be an interesting negative situation for their character that they would like to see come up in play.

And actually a Fate GM has two pools of Fate points: a limited pool for NPCs to use in a scene (one Fate point per PC), and an unlimited pool for compels. That pool is unlimited to ensure that GMs can always give the players a chance to earn a Fate point by accepting a compel thus keeping the Fate point economy flowing.

I’ve also found when creating an aspect for your character, it is helpful to try and come up with at least two examples each for how you might invoke your aspect, how your aspect might be invoked against you, and how your aspect might be compelled.

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@jaerdaph

Yes that is correct about the two pools of Fate points. I just wanted to clarify that NPCs don’t have unlimited Fate points.

This is a good role of thumb for Session Zero, which are a must for Fate just like some PbtA games.

Also I wanted to point out that I’m biased and much prefer Fate Accelerated rather than Core.

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I prefer Fate Accelerated as well but I do bring some things in from Fate Core. I also really like Fate Freeport which is basically Fate D&D. It sits at a nice sweet spot between FAE and Fate Core with its limited skill set of six skills named after the six basic D&D abilities.

This is the piece that still rubs me the wrong way: you either do what the GM says and get a Fate point or you say no and lose a Fate point. (And if you have no Fate points you just have to do what they say, yes?)

The agency piece there just doesn’t feel right to me…

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I admit it can look that way at face value. There’s a little more to it than that though. As mentioned previously, the compel should be some sort of complication that the player wants to see come up in the fiction. The rules also encourage negotiation between the player and GM (and the whole table even) of what the compel does and how it will look. After discussion with the player and input from the table and deciding the compel doesn’t make sense, a compel can also be withdrawn by the GM and cost the player nothing in Fate points.

Ultimately, if it is getting in the way of enjoyment of the game, then it should be dropped, and the rules cover this.

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