Review: Fate Core System

I’ll be doing 3-4 reviews of Evil Hat products over the next few days. Full disclosure, that is so I can enter this awesome giveaway multiple times, although these really are products I love. In fact, I’ve been sort of buried in the Core book and the System Toolkit (review for that coming up next) for the past week as I’ve started working on my own game I hope to publish sometime next year.

If you’ve never tried a tabletop RPG, you might think of dungeon crawls and scaly monsters. But there are many types of games, many rules systems and stories to explore. I consider myself a very casual gamer, and even I’ve played with at least 6 different systems (quite a bit more if you count different versions and copycats) with as many different settings and genres. My favorite system by far is Fate, in part because it’s so open and easy to adapt to a variety of stories.

The Fate Core System (also available as a PDF file) is our starting point. It’s a very thorough introduction to this simple system, introducing the basics and exploring the ways it can be customized and used to tell just about any kind of story you want. It gently guides the reader through the process of designing a game, creating characters, and actually running a session. There are many helpful descriptions and examples of game components such as character skills and challenges.

Although I still think, as I’ve said, that Fate is the easiest system I’ve encountered, there is a learning curve. Some of the terms used will be unfamiliar even to gamers coming from other systems, and I recommend carefully reading the sections relating to anything that seems confusing. Because I’m the least-experienced player in my group, others tend to “give me advice” about the most effective actions to take on turns to keep the action moving as quickly as possible. The first time I ran a Fate game, just an easy holiday one-shot to give the regular GM a break, I realized there was a lot I had taken for granted and didn’t really understand.

But it’s not complicated! I’ve spent over two years using the system as a player and gamemaster, reading games other have designed for it (haven’t had the chance to run one yet), and adapting concepts from other systems to it. I haven’t yet come across anything I couldn’t figure out after a few minutes carefully reading the Core book. And it’s well worth spending that time, because those little details that are easy to ignore until they come up are actually crucial to the game.

Fate aims to be a rules-light system, allowing the players to focus on roleplaying rather than points. As much as possible, the rules try to get out of your way. It does an excellent job of that, but one consequence is that as a new player I didn’t look beyond the most simple character design. These next few sentences will likely not make sense to readers who haven’t played, and that’s okay – they wouldn’t have made sense to me either until about a week ago.

I didn’t like spending Refresh points as a new player. I hated adding temporary situational Aspects and never used a Stunt. (At least not by choice – I’m sure at some point someone told me that was the best thing to do and I went with it.) Now that I’ve read them to understand for myself, I see that this is where much of the flexibility comes into the system. These are the things that let you really customize a character, add flavor to the game, and make the most of the mechanics.

One of my favorite things about the system and the company that produces these books is their focus on open culture – all these rules are also available online for free, along with several games. If you’re not sure about it, that could be a place to start. But if you like it, I encourage you to support the company and add this to your collection. It’s a fantastic resource, and it’s also a beautifully-produced book that will look great on the shelf. Check it out!

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