In the Hands of FATE

I really need to get around to reviewing FATE one of these days, because it’s a damn fine system which needs as much publicity as possible. In fact, I like it enough that I’ll skip over reviewing the system’s big game lines, Spirit of the Century, Starblazer Adventures, and the Dresden Files RPG, just so I can go over the upcoming releases.

Ever since I got my grubby mitts on a copy of Spirit of the Century, I’ve been trying to get a game going using its FATE system. The system itself looks amazing; it’s highly cinematic, skills-based, very crunchy yet free-form and streamlined, and all but demands creativity from its players and GM. The crunch level is mercurial: it looks complicated, but isn’t, but can handle pretty much everything, because it simplifies itself down to manageable systems. If you can wrap your head around making a character, you can make anything from monsters organizations to starships, since all of these (and some more I forgot) are made exactly like characters are.  In short, it’s everything I wanted Savage Worlds to be. (Well, besides using the original Deadlands rules.)

Evil Hat’s Spirit of the Century was the first major FATE release, and it won an ENnie. Spirit was a slick game of ’20s pulp action heroes, in the spirit of Adventure!, only with a lot more of… everything. For an indie game release—and purely indie gaming, too—the game received a hefty dose of notoriety. And it deserved every mention; it’s probably the pulpiest pulp game on the market, and I say that with Adventure!, Zir’An, and Hollow Earth Expedition (aka Adventure! Mark II) sitting on my shelf.

The first major release, after Spirit, was the massive Starblazer Adventures tome that I should probably review one of these days, having read it cover to cover.  It’s not based on the old Starblazers anime, but a relatively obscure British science fiction comic which ran from the late 1970’s through the ’80s. The comic itself is pretty trashy at points: pure space opera, with bug-eyed monsters, lots of daring rescues and chases, evil empires with hordes of minions, world-destroying monsters, and the heroes always win in the end. Though you could run Starblazers with it, or any other SF game you wanted to. Starblazer’s publisher, Cubicle 7, pulled off a noteworthy stunt: take an old, relatively unknown license and make it a solid gameline.

Which brings us to today. Cube 7 is continuing to release FATE products under its Starblazer Adventures line, and they are fairly awesome sounding. The first is the $30 Mindjammer campaign setting, which takes a posthumanist view on the Starblazer universe. This is a world of highly advanced technology, including a shared “mindspace” for minds to interlink and share data, and sentient spaceships. At the same time, it’s filled with lost and ruined worlds, regressed from the technological future. The book introduces a solid amount of new material, including new races, skills, stunts, gear, and spaceship rules, on top of the information on the Second Age of Space and the New Commonality Era. At the end, it has a series of pre-designed adventures; like most people, I’m not a huge fan of shelling out for adventures when I really just want a setting-/sourcebook, but these looked halfway decent. Besides, I like seeing how the “professionals” think the game should be run.

Next up is The Planet Killers. It’s set in the “standard” age of Starblazer, the Thermal Wars, and proposes an epic campaign spanning the vast reaches of space. What has me most interested about it is that it covers all the “big” gear; with advanced vehicle rules, I’m hoping for mecha and more robots. The “planet killers” themselves are doomsday weapons of the SF trope variety, like the Death Star. Despite both Amazon’s listing, and the Cubicle 7 store’s preorders for a game due out “May 2010,” it’s not out yet, or at least nowhere near the US; a damn shame, since it has my full attention.

Every now and then, another Starblazer product pops up: End of Everything. This book is, much as it sounds, a rulebook for a post-apocalyptic future. According to the devs, it should cover possibilities from Gamma World nuked futures to zombie apocalypses, which is fine by me. I have a soft spot for the post-apocalypse, so I’m looking forward to that one, to.

I should also mention Legends of Anglerre, which is actually out. Theoretically. The main problem with Cube 7 is that, located across the pond, their releases take forever to reach the States, and their stock on places like Amazon is sketchy, to say the least. Anyways. Anglerre is the main fantasy FATE game, based off some of the swords-and-planets worlds of Starblazer which were full of amazons, barbarians, dinosaurs, and the like. (Again, space opera. Can you dig it?) Anglerre has all the rules necessary to handle any kind of fantasy world, though, with dragons, spellcasters, a pantheon of gods, and the like. I’m curious to see just how well it can integrate with Starblazer and Spirit for some pulpy “occult magic” kind of vibe, though I’ve also been thinking how well FATE would handle running certain fantasy book series lately. (Empire in Black and Gold if you must know.)

Going back to Evil Hat again. Their Dresden Files RPG made a fairly big splash this summer, with its two ginormous books. I never could get into the Dresden Files—haven’t gotten around to the books, and while the show was okay it didn’t hook me like others did. But the Dresden Files RPG is damn tempting. Compared to the trade-sized, black-and-white Spirit, Dresden is two huge, slick books, production values notably higher. The first, Your Story, is over 400 pages, while the second, Our World, clocks in at over 270 pages. I have seen both books sold at local game stores, which is definitely a step up. The Dresden Files RPG is a major accomplishment for Evil Hat; I hope it puts them on a solid footing, game developer wise.

One last note about Cubicle 7. They have a number of other good games which don’t happen to use the FATE system, such as the new Doctor Who roleplaying game (anything based off David Tennant is made of win), which is a damn fine game indeed. They’re also getting the license to develop a new Lord of the Rings RPG; hopefully it fares better than the last two attempts, specifically MERP. So, for being relatively unknown, they carry some weight.

The main reason Cube 7 and Evil Hat need all the pimping they can get is because they are indie publishers. The average game store doesn’t stock them because their products are a risk—people can be expected, eventually, to pick up the latest WotC releases, or White Wolf if it’s popular in the area, since those games are familiar and have a wide audience through that familiarity. Most game stores can special order them through Alliance (if they can’t, find a better game store), and both companies have e-stores on their e-sites.

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