RPG Review: Fate Accelerated


Fate is a difficult system for me to grok. I like it conceptually, but I have a difficult time when it comes to running it. 

Fate is what's considered a narrative game. Instead of modeling a simulation of the reality of the RPG setting, it is designed at supporting a story. I've seen arguments as to whether or not this makes it a "real" RPG. I think the whole debate is a bit silly, dealing with issues of "bad wrong fun". Truthfully the challenges I have with it are largely a function of me being a grizzled gaming grognard, gaming since the early 1980's. To paraphrase Yoda, I must unlearn what I have learned. I've a hunch that I'd actually have an easier time grokking Fate were I to know less. 

Overview

With that prelude behind us, let's take a look at the Fate Accelerated game. It is a variant of the Fate Core game. Fate Core looks a lot like what one would expect from an RPG book - pretty thick, lots of skills, stunts, etc. Fate Accelerated is much, much shorter, weighing in at 50 pages. Let's take a look at the character sheet:

And let us also take a look at a sample character:


OK we'll begin by walking through the character sheet. At the top of the character sheet we find Current Fate Points and Refresh. At the start of each session you start with your Refresh in Fate Points, unless you ended the last session with more. We'll talk about what those are for in a bit. 

A character in Fate Accelerated has five aspects - one high concept, one trouble, and three other Aspects. I'll quote page 8 of the rules below to summarize Aspects:

An aspect is a word, phrase, or sentence that describes something centrally important to your character. It can be a motto your character lives by, a personality quirk, a description of a relationship you have with another character, an important possession or bit of equipment your character has, or any other part of your character that is vitally important. 
Aspects allow you to change the story in ways that tie in with your character’s tendencies, skills, or problems. You can also use them to establish facts about the setting, such as the presence of magic or the existence of a useful ally, dangerous enemy, or secret organization.
It sounds as if aspects are just descriptors but they play a huge part in Fate. They are tied into Fate Points. They enable you to do things you couldn't otherwise do such as fly, cast spells, parry blaster bolts, etc. They are used by your opponents against you and by you for your own benefit. Therefore the best aspects are double edged. Looking at Abigail up above, we see she has an Aspect entitled "I hate those guys in Cyclops house". This tells us there is a Cyclops house and she hates them. Obviously they are going to play a major role in the game.  When performing tasks, Abigail can spend a Fate point to get a bonus if she can justify it with any of her aspects. For example, were she in a race to finish brewing a potion before a member of Cyclops house she could spend a Fate point to get a +2 bonus. On the other hand, someone trying to get her upset could use that aspect against her, giving her a -2 penalty or them a +2 bonus against her - but she gets a Fate point for the trouble. Or the aspect could compel her to do something she might not otherwise want to do - for example, were she to see a member of Cyclops house bullying a first year student, she might be compelled to intervene. If she does, she gets a Fate point. To resist, she has to spend a Fate point. As you can see, you want some bad things to happen to you. And your trouble aspect is designed to be a magnet for bad things (though a creative player could find ways to make it positive as well).

We also see Approaches. When performing actions, how you perform it is of highest importance. For example, Abigail is best at being Sneaky. If she casts a spell which relies on sneakiness she gets a +3 bonus. For example, an invisibility spell would likely rely on sneakiness. On the other hand, were she want to race on a broomstick she'd probably use Quick, where she only gets a +1. However, depending on the nature of the race she might be able to pull in other approaches. For example, if she were to spin her broom around and charge into a pursuer she might use Forceful. As one might imagine, this requires a lot of give and take with the GM. While I was referring to magic, she'd use these approaches for any action. For example, trying to walk across a sheet of ice would likely use Careful. Maybe she'd whip out a Fireball using Forceful to melt the ice - but that might have other consequences. 

When you roll in Fate, you roll four Fate dice (AKA Fudge dice). They are each marked with 2 plus signs, 2 minus signs, and 2 blank faces. You total the pluses and minuses with your approach rating as well as any other bonuses or penalties.

We've also got stunts. These allow for alterations to the rules. There are two types of stunts in Fate Accelerated. The one listed in Abigail's character sheet is of the type that once per game session allows her to have something happen automatically, with no roll required. The other type is one that gives you a bonus under certain circumstances such as:

A character can have up to three stunts to start and keep his or her Refresh at 3. Every additional stunt takes away a point of Refresh. As a character gains more experience their Approaches and Refresh can be increased. 

We can also see Stress and Consequences. Before we get into those its important to discuss the types of actions a character can perform in Fate Accelerated. I am going to give a very simple version of each of these. They are:
  • Create an advantage: Do something to create an aspect or discover one. For example, were the Dothraki Khals be screaming all the horrible things they are going to do, you might Flashily tip over a giant lamp to create the aspect "the tent is on fire!". Or you might sneakily feint in a sword fight to make your opponent off-balance. Succeed and you get a free invocation of the aspect as well as creating it. But at any point a character can spend a Fate point to use an aspect. 
  • Overcome: So your off-balance. Or the room is on fire. You can use Overcome to get rid of that aspect. Of course you'll need to narratively be able to justify it. You can also use Overcome to do something like pick a lock or dodge around or under a guard.
  • Attack: Not just with weapons, you can attack with words. You could, for example, try to destroy a foe's reputation. The Hulk would likely use Forceful to attack. Harry Dresden, not one for subtly, probably uses either Forceful or Flashy when shooting fire. See also Defend below.
  • Defend: You can automatically use a Defend action to protect yourself. As with all actions, you decide what approach to use for defending. The GM might rule some are inappropriate depending on the circumstance, or apply some penalty. 
Now that we've got the actions behind us, what are the consequences of being attacked? If your attacker beats your defense, whether with sword or with words, you take stress. However many points you are beaten by is how much stress you take. The first stress box can absorb 1 stress, the second 2, and the third 3. If you find a single stress box to fully absorb the stress you can also take consequences - a mild consequence can absorb 2 stress, a moderate 4, a severe 6. A consequence is a type of aspect, pretty much always negative, so foes can use it against you. Working with the GM you describe the consequence. Stress boxes recover at the end of the scene, as do mild consequences, assuming you get a chance to breathe. A moderate consequence clears at the end of the session after the current one and a major at the end of scenario. That should guide the description of the consequences. For example, a mild consequence might be a "twisted ankle". A moderate one might be something like "caught cheating on boyfriend". A major one might be "broken leg", "bleeding out from gunshot wound", "caught having an affair with an intern". It stays with you for a long time. It might be modified as time passes - for example "bleeding out" might become "partially healed gunshot wound". Someone could still use a Fate point to use it against you - or take a create an advantage action.

One thing you'll notice isn't in the book is an equipment list. Equipment is very much a freeform exercise. It can enable you to do things - for example, without a gun you wouldn't be able to take an action to shoot someone. And it could be an aspect if it is important enough to your character. It might also be part of a stunt.

So that's the very high level view. The book itself can be downloaded for free at RPGNow so it's absolutely something you could check out for yourself.

My Opinion

I mentioned I've had trouble grokking Fate. I've described it pretty well, so my challenge is not in the understanding the rules. What I have trouble with is properly leveraging aspects. If one is not used to this type of game, they are easy to forget about - at least in my experience. And if that happens the spending and gaining of Fare point rapidly slows down. Which is a bad thing in a game called Fate.

The reason I'm reviewing Fate Accelerated is were I to experiment in Fate, this is probably the flavor I would make use of. Fate Core is a lot more traditional, having skills in place of approaches. I think for me to fully engage in the assumptions of Fate I need to break a bit further away from the traditional models. I also like the extremely brief length of the book - not only is it just fifty pages long, but those pages are not dense and contain many "30-second summaries" of rules. This makes it a lot easier for me to point to the free download of the game to my players and have them able to be fully on board with the rules. Should we give it a try I'll do a follow-up of this review.

Overall, I like the simplicity of this set of rules. It definitely takes a bit of mental gymnastics and trust between players and GM. If you're looking for a tactical simulation type of game, you should run away from Fate (or grab a copy and throw it into the fires of Mount Doom). If you're looking for a narrative game, I think this would make for a good choice. I would strongly suggest all players be on board with a basic understanding the rules - my attempts at Fate Core games with people unfamiliar with Fate went so-so - not bad, but not with aspects and Fate points flying.

Disclaimer

I've been poking through some of my more narrative games lately (Firefly, Fate, and Urban Shadows) and had been thinking of giving a review. Evil Hat is soliciting reviews in July as entries into a contest. I'm going to enter it, but I don't think that constitutes a purchased review. Though I'd not say no to an advanced copy of Dresden Files Accelerated...


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