Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review: Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE)


GAME INFORMATION
Number of players: 3-6 Age of players: 8+ Length: 2-4 hours
Type of Game: Roleplaying Game Languages Available: English
Game Designers: Clark Valentine, Leonard Balsera, Fred Hicks, Mike Olson, Amanda Valentine.
***

It’s no secret that I love Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE). Looking at my posts on this site, over 90% have been Fate Accelerated builds.

But let’s get this out of the way first: I wasn't particularly enthused about this flavor of Fate when I first viewed it.

It’s not that I didn't and don’t like Fate: I've been a fan since it was FATE (Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment). And it wasn't that I didn't like Approaches vs Skills either: I've never been the biggest fan of the Fate ‘Skill Ladder’ to begin with..it’s always felt rather mechanistic to me.

The problem I saw was that things seemed to be missing: where are the Extras from Core? Where are the rules - the sweet, crunchy rules - for exceptional things like magic, mecha, and supers?

Nowhere, seemed to be the answer. So I looked elsewhere for ideas on how to model characters and worlds. FAE seemed to be lacking what I wanted in terms of options, so it stayed as a download in my RPG file, unlooked at and unwanted...for several months.

But then something changed.

I started to regularly play card games again. Card games use simple mechanisms to model fictional realities: look at Magic the Gathering, or Warhammer Invasion, or the classic or most recent Netrunner games.

All of the above games manage to emulate their genre using rather simple rules. Looking at Fantasy Flight’s new Star Wars card game in particular, I was impressed how they made the game feel like Star Wars, both in game play and for individual cards.

Let’s look at everyone’s favorite space-princess with attitude, Princess Leia Organa:
Say what you like, bun-hair Leia's got soul
Since this is a card game, rather than having complex stats the character is represented by a few key icons and game-specific text:
  • She has a Force Rating of 3 (those vertical silvery globes). The average is 1. The Force is strong with this one.
  • She’s a member of the Rebel Alliance (Vader was right!)
  • The black blaster icon is her fighting ability. She only has one; she’s not bad, but that’s not her strong suit.
  • She can also help with achieving objectives (explody icon) and she can delay opponents as well (Pokeball icon), but only when the Force is With Her.
  • She’s a Leader, and Force Sensitive; no Jedi, but the potential is there.
  • Here’s the part I love: although she isn’t very tough (1 damage takes her out) she is automatically captured by the enemy when she leaves play, AND this action reinvigorates allied characters. Fantastic!

In short, the card does a bang-up job of modeling how the character works within the fiction, within the framework of the card game rules.

But what does this all have to do with FAE, you ask?

Fate Accelerated Edition also uses just a few moving parts of express complex characters within their fiction. These components are:
  • Aspects: Short but expressive lines of text that describes who the character is and what they do: minimum 2, maximum 5.
  • Approaches: There are six available: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick & Sneaky. These do not express what the character does (this is covered by Aspects), but rather how well they go about what they do using a particular approach (i.e. a Rogue type is going to favor Sneaky, whereas a Warrior will likely flavor Forceful, and the Bard Flashy).
  • Stunts: These are exceptional ‘rule-breaking’ abilities that represent that character’s specific strengths in the fiction. If we were to model Princess Leia’s ability to automatically be captured rather than killed when Taken Out, this would be best modeled using a Stunt. 

Let’s look at my favorite sample character from the FAE book, student wizard-in-training Abigail Zhao:
"Harry who?"
Abigail’s game stats would fit very nicely into a card sized format, but they still are enough to model a complete and playable character. Looking at her character sheet we know that:
  • Abby is a spellcaster: her ‘Enchantment Specialist’ and ‘Cast now..’ Aspects tell us that much. These grant her permissions to cast spells as an action.
  • She can be a tad reckless, and uses her magic as the first resort to solve problems. Her ‘Cast now, Ask Questions Later’ Aspect tells us that.
  • She has beef with a certain Dexter Fitzwilliam, and a rivalry with Cyclops House (and we know from her High Concept that she is of Hippogriff House). She also has an ally named Sarah, who looks out for her.
  • She tends towards Sneaky, Clever or Forceful solutions to problems, heavily weighted towards Sneaky since this is her highest Approach. 
  • Her ‘Teacher’s Favorite’ stunt is powerful, and tells us a lot about how the character works in the fiction of her world; in a school based game the ability to summon a friendly teacher is potentially huge. But it’s limited to once per session, so her player should use it wisely.
Choose your Approach (you see how I come back to the cards idea here?)


So Abby here showed me a system that did exactly what I wanted it to do; model a character using a few simple components, but without leaving me feeling that something has been left out.

With less than 40 pages of content (including sample characters), Fate Accelerated Edition has been accused of being an ‘incomplete’ game. Granted, even the book itself reinforces this idea at times, referring back to Fate Core (the 300+ page main rulebook) for advice on how to expand on the basic system and for additional GM’ing tools.

But rather than being incomplete, I see the system as being ‘complete enough’. I have run a game with it already, and never felt like I was ‘missing’ anything I needed to tell stories at the game table. In fact, gameplay was smooth, fast and fun- as Accelerated as the cover would suggest. And with such a brief volume, it was easy to look up any rule I might have been unclear on.

Admittedly, I can easily see how those more familiar with traditional RPG modeling might have some difficulty groking this system. Where are the character’s stats? There is no Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, etc. Skills are missing as well; how can I tell what my character can do without skills?

The answer is...you really don’t need that stuff to play your game. Want a strong bruiser? Give them an Aspect like ‘Powerful Barbarian from the North’ and a high Forceful Approach.

Or a wise Scholar of the Order of the Seventh Seal? Give them a high Clever Approach and ‘Scholar of the Order of the Seventh Seal’ and maybe ‘Knows things man was not meant to know’ if you want to add additional flavor. 

The sky's the limit here, and you can play this game however your table prefers.

If you want to play a crunchier Fate game, Fate Core is there waiting for you with just about everything you need. If you want to play FAE with some extra dials and wheels, check out either Fate Core & the newly published Fate System Toolkit for ideas how to add these to your game.

You might note that in this review I've talked very little about the game mechanics of Fate in general. There are a few reasons for this:
  • I want you to check out the book. If you are not familiar with Fate already this is a good place to start. And since it’s only $5.00 for the print edition and ‘Pay what you like’ (including nothing) for the PDF, there’s little excuse not to do so. Plus it’s a short read.
  • I will be discussing the use of the four actions (Create an Advantage, Overcome, Attack & Defend) in other posts, as well as the use of Aspects in play. Examples of Stunts can be found elsewhere on the site. 
Some additional selling points before I close out:
  • If you have ever felt constrained by the rules of game, or have searched to see how a rule might interact with a particular scenario, you might like Fate Accelerated a lot. There are four actions to choose from, but a lot of depth can be bundled into how these actions work out in play.
  • It offers tactical options comparable to games like D&D 4e (really! Fate has tons of tactical options) but YOU get to make up the flavor text, not some remote game designer. 
  • You can play the game you want to play, and the characters you want to play from the get go. As much fun as ‘building’ characters can be in more traditional ‘crunchy’ RPG’s, the freedom of having table-defined abilities/powers and traits makes this process even more fun, IMHO.
  • To the point above, although FAE is a great game for pick-up groups and one-shots, it features the same robust character progression as the Core game. It doesn't quite model zero-to-hero (characters start out heroic by default), you can play hero to demigod without any trouble at all. 

The past ten years have seen Fate develop from a indie ‘no press’ game shared among like-minded gamers looking for alternatives to traditional game systems that emphasize pre-flavored mechanics, to a small-press revolution via Spirit of the Century & the Dresden Files RPG (among others), to the powerhouse in the RPG gaming world it is today.

Fate Accelerated is just yet another flavor of Fate to come along in this revolution, and is currently my favorite flavor yet.

So check it out...you might like it.
Questions about Fate? The links below might help: