Fate Worlds taught me everything I need to know

Well, not really. But the Fate Worlds books do a remarkable job getting you to re-examine Fate and how to apply its rules to a specific game or campaign you’re working on. Fate games take modifications and hacks without issue or complaint, meaning it’s incredibly easy to customize the rules to fit what you’re running without changing the feel or basic gameplay elements. Most GMs are used to doing some of the same things in other systems—re-naming skills, re-skinning monsters—but Fate has an almost limitless capacity for the addition, subtraction, or modification of existing elements without stressing either the system or the GM—and once they’ve learned the system, the players.

Fate Core Cover

The perfect example of that is the Fate World books; let’s start with Worlds On Fire because I think it has the worlds that most interest me (and it’s also first in the series). For $15, you get 280 pages worth of six Fate “worlds,” sample campaign ideas, toolkits, and adventures to get you going. They’re all coming from different authors, with different perspectives and different applications of the rules. They’ve been modified, sometimes lightly, other times quite extensively. And no matter how it’s finagled and enhanced, it still gives off that same new Core smell.

In short, they get you to rethink the rules, and start to imagine how you can modify them in your own games to evoke the setting or feel you desire.

The Fate Toolkit worked very hard pointing out the modularity and flexibility of the system by sketching out dozens of subsystems. Older Fate games like Starblazer and Legends of Anglerre used what’s called the “Fate Fractal,” covering rules for anything from vehicles to countries to cultures to entire solar systems using the same rules you used to make characters.

But I think the Worlds books do the better job showing what you can do with the system. Worlds On Fire’s six worlds are the more action-y types which I think will appeal to gamers coming from a more traditional background—specifically Kreigszeppelin Valkyrie, Burn Shift, and Wild Blue—but it also has White Picket Witches and Fight Fire, two high-stakes worlds rich in drama and conflict that are nothing like normal expectations of “conflict = combat” in a roleplaying game.

Tower of the Serpents

What is it? A D&D-style one-shot adventure, complete with “read this text aloud” segments, set in a swords-and-sorcery setting, that uses the sample characters from the Fate Core book. (Though you could run other characters in it.)

What does it teach us about Fate? First off, I’ve been told repeatedly how Fate doesn’t handle a D&D-style game, which this adventure disproves. It’s not a grid-crawl where you break out your ten-foot-poles by any means,  and is more the type of badass Conan/Lankhmar type game, which is what I think of when I hear the words “D&D.” And it’s done in the guise of a D&D-type adventure scenario, again making me really, really interested in a Dungeons of Fate/Fate Freeport hack.

Second, it’s a good lesson in how to tie your adventures to your characters and the plot/world Aspects they come up with. The biggest paradigm shift Fate brings—besides Aspects and the fate point economy—is building games your players want to play in, as it makes things more personal when thugs from the Scar Triad referenced in your Aspect shows up. Here, the adventure has been custom-tailed to the three starter PCs.

Would I run this? Yes, in a heartbeat, if I can convince some local players to give Fate a try instead of always falling back on D&D/Pathfinder.

White Picket Witches

What is it? A campaign idea set in a high-drama supernatural world—think Desperate Housewives if the characters were drawn from True Blood, Once Upon A Time, Grimm, or to draw from the developer’s design diary, Teen Wolf, Haven, or The Witches of Eastwick. It has a solid setting waiting for characters to be dropped in.

What does it teach us about Fate? I think the big push here is that drama and conflict doesn’t always have to involve big guns or flashy spells. White Picket Witches reminds me of how many Call of Cthulhu scenarios give the pre-built characters overlapping backstories—petty rivalries, affairs, that sort of thing—and this is very similar, only where the characters aren’t intended to go insane and die. No, it’s a game of drama and intrigue and setting up petty rivalries between others so you come out on top. In short, imagine a supernatural suburban soap opera and you’re starting to get the idea.

On top of this, it also flips a lot of the core rules around. Aspect types High Concept, Trouble, and Other are replaced by five new types—Canon, Tragic Flaw, Casting, Childhood and Heritage—that a character is made up of. Skills are replaced with Assets, which are a lot more like FAE’s Approaches in that they’re how you do things rather than what you do: making a Savvy social attack could be a witty snipe, while making a Powerful social attack would be more calling someone a bitch to their face. Meanwhile, spellcasting acts more like stunts than most Fate magic systems. It may surprise many players that re-doing aspects and minimizing skills doesn’t really change the basic gameplay.

Would I run this? I think my biggest hurdle is that it’s genre emulation for something your typical gamer isn’t as familiar with—I’ve seen White Picket Witches categorized a bit too often, sadly, as the RPG world made for the players’ girlfriends. That said, with a group of interested people willing to have fun, it would be a blast.

Fight Fire

What is it? A toolkit to build firefighter characters—deal with their in-house drama, save the victims and get out, and live to tell the tale. It has some sample scenarios and such, but you’ll need to bring your own plot and characters.

What does it teach us about Fate? Fight Fire should cause a lightbulb to go off over every Fate GM’s head in terms of environmental hazards—treating abstract things like smoke and fire as characters, giving them their own stress tracks and skills and ability to make maneuvers. In a way, it has very predetermined objectives: save any victims and get out, while putting out the fire, if possible, is a secondary objective. And like White Picket Witches, it shows you can have scenes of intense challenge and drama and conflict without the traditional sense of combat. Fire-fighting is one of the most dangerous professions there is, and Fight Fire reinforces that.

Would I run this? I’m a big fan of Rescue Me, so yes, especially as a side game to a longer campaign. I think this one would require a lot of convincing for any group I try to run it for, but they’d also probably leave the first session going “man, that was pretty boss.”

Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie

What is it? A campaign idea that combines (new) Battlestar Galactica with a romanticized pulp vision of World War I air aces, off to stop a rogue German scientist and his army of metal-men. It has a metaplot, some pre-fab PCs, and enough of a campaign outline for you to create your own version of the campaign.

What does it teach us about Fate? In some ways, Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie is one of the most straightforward of all the Fate Worlds… worlds. Though, it does get your GM gears working in some new and interesting ways. It shows a really slick way of incorporating powerful gear (airplanes) your squishy mortal character has, by using it as a stunt-based extra. It’s a streamlined system for those who want to rely on the character, rather than breaking out airplanes as yet another character via the Fractal.

The way it focuses on relationships—much like Galactica, with the crew and pilots having their own friendships and rivalries—gives an added layer of depth. They now have a whole lot of things to do when the PCs are “back at base” and not out being awesome pilots, and those relationships can make combat really interesting—will someone come to aid you, or does everyone leave you behind when you get shot down? The way Fate handles flying and zones is just waiting for maneuvers and advantages to place Aspects like Barrel Roll and Immelman Turn. And since you’re all playing historical figures, you get debriefed by Ernest Hemingway. A lot of this is setting and flavor, but that shows us how Fate can incorporate its rules and narrative into one fluid machine.

Would I run this? Given my love of Sky Captain pulp and Battlestar, hells yes. I think the idea and setting is brilliantly realized, compact but not without plenty of room for expansion and a decently-long campaign.

Burn Shift

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 15.17.04

What is it? A build-your-own Gamma World style post-apocalyptic campaign. It comes complete with setting material, NPC movers and shakers, a variety of monsters, organizations and towns with their own motivations, and (glory be!) an overland map of the area. What you need to bring are the players and the direction in which you want to use all of this.

What does it teach us about Fate? In some ways, Burn Shift (like Kriegszeppelin) is a more straightforward and traditional campaign. Both of them give you all the pieces to a great campaign and tell you to run wild with them, hoping you’ll follow the metaplot as written but not really caring if you do your own thing. Where it shines is its depth of completeness, even though it’s a faction (a bit over 1/4th) of the book’s length: it has everything you could want for the campaign. It’s all done in a very evocative style, and  has a rich flavor to boot.

Sarah Newton worked on earlier Fate incarnations (Starblazer and Mindjammer), and a lot of those elements—e.g., using the Fractal to build communities-as-characters—make an appearance. It’s old hat for Starblazer readers, but it may be a new revelation to someone starting with Fate Core. And it’s still as brilliant an idea as it was when Anglerre did it. My old friend, using environmental hazards as “characters” to challenge players, makes a return; its apocalyptic-y flavor gives it more range than Fight Fire (poison clouds, nanite swarms) but has less specialized depth to their crunch. And there’s a few other cool elements as well, such as taking Flaws (like Troubles, but that don’t count against your aspect totals).

Would I run this? My love of mutant futures knows no bounds, Sarah Newton does an excellent job giving the GM plenty to work with without one fixed plot, and the setting includes everything that’s great about Gamma World. I think Burn Shift’s wealth of plot and setting makes it easiest to run as a long campaign using just what’s provided in the book, too.

wild blueWild Blue

What is it? A campaign idea that blends the wild west and superheroes, on another planet. It gives you a lot of setting detail and some character options, with plenty of room to expand.

What does it teach us about Fate? Fate is all about complications. Sometimes it’s cool to do something disadvantageous, because it gives you an advantage later, makes you interesting, and gives you some more time in the spotlight. Wild Blue realizes that, and built it into its superpower “gifts.” Each one gives you both a benefit—“I have the power to teleport from shadow to shadow”—but comes with its own built-in catch—“…but each time I do, I leave something behind.” That alone makes it worth the price of admission; it’s a good example of a rule that stays within that nature of complications while being unique and interesting.

On top of that, the campaign flavor is excellently crafted and one of the most unique world ideas I’ve seen in a long while. There’s a good backstory, a nice selection of locations and NPCs, and it gives a great idea of what you could do in the setting. Which, to me, is what the best settings do: inspire the GM while leaving plenty of room for new additions.

Would I run this?  I absolutely love it, and would have a blast running out of the box. The risk/reward tradeoff of the “Gift” powers has me thinking of similar applications for any number of Fate incarnations—I could see ripping it off and using it to represent mutations in Burn Shift, for example.

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