Have you ever thought about starting a tabletop rpg, but were intimidated by learning all the rules? Do you like the idea of Fate Core (reviewed in my last post!) but wish it offered a little more detail? Would you like to design a game and setting but don’t know where to start? If you answered yes to any of these questions, the Fate System Toolkit might be just what you need! If you answered no, well…stick around anyway, maybe I can change your mind.
The Fate Core System is complete on its own and can be used as-is to create whatever kind of game you want. Experienced gamers and especially experienced GMs could probably pick it up and design a game without a problem. Even less experienced gamers can easily use it to create something basic. My first experience with the system was with a group designing our own setting. It was a basic fantasy setting so we all had an idea what we were doing and we all had an area of focus. I think it turned out pretty well!
But now I’m working on my own game, my own setting, and my own adaptations to the Fate Core System. I needed help figuring out how to add some details to make it my own. So I pulled all our Fate books off the shelf and for the first time dug into the Fate System Toolkit.
Oh. My. Word.
I’ve praised the Fate system for being simple and wide open, but I never realized just how complex and detailed it can be. The system gives you plenty of room to add as much or as little control as you want, to leave character Aspects completely free or use them to tie the group together or fill them all in right at the start with details particular to the setting. This book contains many suggestions for adapting the game and examples of how that can look.
I particularly liked the instructions on setting up a profession (like a Class in D&D) or race in Fate. In that game my group designed together one of us was playing a dwarf and another an elf, but it never occurred to us to consider race-specific Aspects or Skills. That all just went to the background – interesting stuff I liked writing, but that wouldn’t necessarily enter the game unless we felt like roleplaying it.
It’s the sort of thing that seems almost contrary to Fate’s design if all you know of it is its simplicity. I recently asked my partner about professions in Fate but he didn’t know about them and thought it sounded like something that wouldn’t fit. That makes sense, because I remember during that fantasy game we didn’t want to bog our game down with too many details. We were just learning the system and it seemed like the point was to keep everything as vague and open as possible.
Now that I’ve looked through the System Toolkit I think it’s more that Fate’s rules shouldn’t get in the way of the story. If the system itself narrowed things down too much it would be a problem because not everything will be relevant to every game and they wanted it to be wide open for players and designers. It’s adaptable more than necessarily small and hands-off, so any way you can use the rules to add flavor to the game and tell your story better is open to you.
Sure, you can make a character in a few minutes with very little information nailed down about a setting, but if there are a bunch of details you want to add to make the experience more complete, go for it! And it really doesn’t make anything more complicated. There might be more to read through, certainly, you might have to have a better idea of where you’re going with a character or a game from the start. But everything still just comes back to those simple core rules. Race and profession tie directly into a character’s Aspects, Skills, and Stunts the same way you’d choose the options you want from a D&D or Pathfinder game and put them right on your character sheet. Nothing extra to check in the middle of the game, it just grounds the character more fully in the setting.
The instructions for adding equipment look like fun. I’ll likely be running a Ghostbusters campaign in Fate soon, so I’ll get to play with those then and I’m looking forward to it. The customized tools section is simple but useful. I especially like the suggestions for turning regular dotted six-sided dice into Fate dice. Not really something I need and I happen to love the Fate dice that are already out there, but something to keep in mind.
My one criticism of the book is that the section on magic is long. That may be necessary, I think during that fantasy game I mentioned we all avoided magical characters and that may have been because we weren’t sure how to work magic in Fate. Having these examples will certainly be helpful. It just seems like much more attention was paid to it than everything else covered and it’s not something I really noticed as a necessary alteration. But I do like the options and it helps me think of it differently. I had planned to keep magic very vague and minimal in the game I’m writing now, but maybe I’ll reconsider now that I have these examples.
The Fate System Toolkit is not really a necessity and may actually cause difficulty for new or very casual players. It’s easy to get caught up in the details and tempting to try all the suggestions given. I found myself trying to apply professions to my game where they didn’t really add any value and I wound up putting way too much focus on what should have been tiny background considerations, straying from the core of the game. But if you’re more familiar with the system and ready to push it further, or if you’re a more experienced gamer in general and want to explore the game more fully, this is an excellent resource.