Welcome back to the Card Catalog 1 Pilot, 3 Ways series! Delayed, but completed! Thank you for your patience! I will admit that FATE is a game system I hadn’t really played much with, having taken deep root while I was in the personal great gaming fallow of the previous decade. FATE is the most narrative and story driven of the three settings for this series and it actually was a lot of fun. In fact, I am planning to return to FATE and this little setting with a full card catalog later that will rope in the rest of the Seize the GM crew. I know there has been a bit of delay in finishing this series of posts, and hopefully time is returning to be able to do more writing on the deadlines. I’ll take a week off to start getting the next Card Catalog post in order and see you back on April 16th!
15 years ago, Evil Hat came out with FATE, and part of the new generation of narrative storytelling began. I have not done a full Card Catalog with FATE before, and I think that I will enlist the fellow Seize the GMers to help me do that in the upcoming months. I’ll do some abbreviated descriptions here, and make sure that I come back for more when we do the fuller write up. FATE has a legion of dedicated and motivated fans brought on by the innovative and narratively enhancing mechanics of the FATE system or maybe the support for gaming shown by Evil Hat including the OGL and Creative Commons licensing options for Fate.
There are several intertwined parts of FATE as a mechanical system, that includes the character creation system which has players swapping story lined to integrate them together and help create narratively focus Aspects of different characters. Additionally, Fate’s precepts are that the game is about drama and that the PCs are exceptional – role playing games like Fate are about being bigger than life and about being active in the environment.
The basic mechanic for FATE uses the specific FATE dice, though they can be jury rigged on a d6 pretty easily. The Fate Dice are 6 sided with 2 “+”s. 2”-”s, and 2 blank faces each. You roll 4 Fate Dice and add the values for your result. If you are rolling with a skill, you add this to your skill total, described below, and compare it to a difficulty set by the GM. Aspects can also be Invoked or Compelled to those later. Fate Points also come into play where you gain them from your Aspects being Compelled against you and can be spent to Invoke an aspect or maybe make a slight narrative shift. FATE points also can be used to activate certain particularly useful or powerful stunts, but I think we will save a fuller description for focus on FATE in the future.
FATE Core is not a setting dependent system, and it provides for some great guidance on building a setting in conjunction with the players. It is hard to overstate the emphasis on the work between the GM and the Players in designing the world or setting and the initial character development. We’ve got the 1 Pilot, 3 Ways thing going on, so we are definitely going science fiction and I’ll give you a rough description of the world for now and we can come back to it when we do a more developed FATE write up later. I am a fan of political upheavals and actions being a motive force so potentially warring space empires is a fun place to start. I am not going to worry too much about some of the specifics until we get to the later write up, but we are talking at least star system wide with science fiction implausible FTL drives; a “soft sci-fi” but not a full on space fantasy. I would call this “Medium Plausability” in the words of the FATE Space Toolkit. For the most part, we will stick with the default settings and rule components to make the following:
Since I am looking at Science Fiction, I’ll start with two opposing nations and a space station somewhere to the side. This is a tried and true trope, but it sets up a lot of drama – It is the basic setting for The Expanse, in both books and TV series, as well as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5. It is Gygax 5 that shall be the home of this campaign.
Once you have the broadest swath of the setting’s scale, you look at some troubles for the setting. Fate Core recommends two, with the default to be a present or current trouble or problem and one that is coming in the future. A good present issue is THE TRADE WAR IS COMING to highlight the economic pressure between these nations. For the Future Problem, we’ll save that for our return visit …
Next, we create some quick descriptions of locations or people that the players can interact with, and who will have their own Aspect to help shape the campaign play. Remember that players and the GM can invoke these Aspects when appropriate for purposes of making some of the rolls more interesting. I mentioned the idea of the two different space empires that are dancing around a war with ONE MISTAKE CAN TURN A COLD WAR HOT, so my first two things I want to work out are their Aspects or Issues. For the Franitelli Consortium, an ancient empire that may well be faltering and needs a war to keep its economy from collapsing, has lots of possibilities. Similarly, in contrast (because Science Fiction so often deals in that design), a decentralized star nation on the other side like the C.A.N. with it’s own problems! Instead of economic, this one is pure political where factionalism is leaving a hawkish Chancellor able to make decisions without majority support. There is a lot of inspiration that can be mined from the Cold War between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. in the 20th Century as an archetypal template.
The rest of this campaign design will be fleshed out with the help of the players including some more location descriptions and some NPCs to recur.
Generally, we will replace the “Drive” skill with “Pilot”, “Lore” with Knowledge, and “Crafts” with Mechanics. This makes a better sense of the world and I am fine with Knowledge being the generic scientist skills that Feats will simulate. Mechanics reflects a skill that would have an impact on the game world more than Crafts as well. For Extras, where the worlds and settings truly set themselves apart, I am going to include Geneware and Cybernetics in the mix. To qualify for these Extras, a PC needs to have an Aspect that would reflect that such as “GENE WIPED & SPLICED UP” or “CYBERSAMURAI”. A cost to use the Extra will likely vary based on the type of modification, but between investing skill slots for implanted knowledge, to refresh points for amped up cyber reflexes, the variety is legion.
Design & System Notes
Fate has very straight forward crunchy bits, as befits a narrative heavy game. The first thing to think about are these “Aspects” that form the crux of Fate’s system. These are short and snappy descriptions that describe your character, or anything really, that could be “invoked” to help or hinder you. These are adjectival phrases or shorthands for things about your character that provide the springboard for your role playing. For example, a warrior’s aspect could be “READY TO FIGHT” or reflect the specific training they received as “STUDENT OF THE LOST MASTERS”. Other Aspects reflect noticeable features or relationships for your character as well as status based duties. You may note that they get rendered in CAPS or SMALLCAPS frequently to set them off when reading. Aspects can be “Invoked” during play by the players or the GM may “Compel” them either at the cost of a FATE Point or to receive a FATE point during a scene respectively. An Aspect may be Invoked for a variety of uses, from a reroll to a flat bonus to your roll on a skill. When it is Compelled by the GM, you can accept the narrative complication he or she is devising (and regain a spent FATE point) or spend a FATE point to prevent it. The first thing to do to make a FATE character is to come up with our first two aspects – your high concept & your trouble!
The former is your core character concept which may well describe your profession or place in the world like Wanderlust Exiled Monk or Workaday Police Inspector. While this will mostly be used as a way for you to as a player to Invoke the Aspect to your advantage, make it broad enough that the GM to Invoke as a negative as well. The second Aspect to consider is the Trouble. Because the Characters are Dramatic Characters for FATE, there is something that “complicates your characters existence[.]” That is your Trouble!
For M’kal, His High concept is HOT SHOT PILOT. I thought about whether I wanted to make it the icy cold professional, but decided instead to leave that for one of his other aspects. HOT SHOT PILOT could be used by the player as a benefit in a situation where maybe his reputation could get him some recognition, or it could be invoked against him by up and comings bravos to challenge him. As a Trouble, I like the idea of DRUMMED OUT OF THE MILITARY because it is something that can come up in a myriad of ways. In his home country, it could be a sign of disloyalty and shame, with the secret police watching him from his background. In the neutral zone, is he someone that attracts trouble as a reputation for being unable to be controlled.
FATE then moves to the “Phase Trio” of character creation where you create the history and story of your character up to now. Each Phase adds an Aspect to your character either from history or what you learned. Phase One is about your first adventure. Remember that FATE is built around the supposition that the characters are proactive and dramatic so your first adventure had to leave it’s impression on you. Phase Two and Three create a mechanical session zero because you pass the power to the player on your right who helps you describe how you crossed paths with his or her character! This helps bind the characters together and generates some cohesive storytelling for the GM to use later. If you are not making the characters around a table with a party, you can of course just create them whole cloth like we will for M’kal, but I wanted to mention the basic method first.
With three Aspects to choose without the benefit of passing the character sheet around for a Session Zero like creation, I will start with ICY PROFESSIONAL because that is our definite concept for the 1 Pilot, 3 Ways build. This could be used in a positive or negative aspect but also will be quite enjoyable with the next Aspect – GENE WIPED & SPLICED UP. This past, with military experiments, has produced some remarkable results such as the piloting abilities but would also be a distinguishing mark in society with the potential for some unexpected biological results. It also lets me take some augmentation Extras if I so choose. Which you know I probably will. Finally, for his 5th Aspect, between the military training, the gene wiping, and the indoctrination, M’kal simply exists OUTSIDE SOCIAL NICETIES – he isn’t rude or a boor, but the social customs and etiquette don’t have an immediate frame of reference for him. His outsider nature tends to have him potentially able to short circuit certain social expectations for both good and ill.
Now that you have a good handle on your character, you actually put the stats down on paper, or Skills as they are called in FATE. There are only 18 Skills to choose from and you start with a ranking in 10 of them at the default power level. It is purposefully designed as a broad system to provide the most flexibility. You have ratings from +4(Great) to +1(Average) to start. Among the Skills are things other games would call Attributes or States like Physique or Will which provide not only their own benefits but also the Stress and Consequence Tracks described below! The breadth of these skills has ratings that exemplify Close Combat where the skill is all forms of close combat. You begin with 1 Great (+4) skill, 2 Good (+3) skills, 3 Fair (+2) Skills, and 4 Average (+1) Skills.
Pilot at Great (+4) is an obvious start for M’kal. On the other end of the spectrum, Stealth, Provoke (the ability to goad or intimidate people socially), Physique, and Contacts are suitable Average (+1) skills here. As you’ll see in advancement, this make sit easier to improve them and keep everything together. Between those two – Athletics & Notice at Good (+3), and Will, Shoot, and Fight at Fair (+2) round out a rather good representation of a former military pilot hotshot I think.
Once you know what your skills are, you can choose your Stunts. Stunts are special tricks or abilities that allow a Character to use a Skill in a different or distinct way. In a SuperHeroic game, this would be where the powers would live or a way to reflect Special Training for “Class Features” that everyone wouldn’t have with a Skill. You can have anywhere from 3 to 5 in a standard game, but the more stunts you start with the fewer FATE points you will have to spend.
I’m going to make a Stunt called STAY ON TARGET for the Pilot Skill. This allows a +2 to the roll when tracking or following another ship. I will use BODY LANGUAGE READER straight from the book to allow a Notice test to discern Aspects of other people rather than Empathy because I see M’kal still being pretty cut off from emotions. For M’kal this will be something I attribute to his Genetic Mods. Finally, for the third Stunt, I am going to pick INDOMITABLE which provides a +2 to Defend against Provoke attacks related to Intimidation or Fear.
I am going to reduce M’kal’s Refresh by 1, meaning that he gets fewer FATE points each session, as a cost for a Genetic Modification Extra. The idea of trading off that human ineffable ability to succeed for the more mechanical bonuses is a common trope. This is similar to the FATE SYSTEM Toolkit idea for Augmentations between minor & major taking refresh. As an Extra, M’kal has NEURO PILOTING HYPERFOCUS – He has been genetically modified to be able to enter a state of heightened responses and awareness through neurotransmitter modifications and manipulations of the brain specifically for his Piloting. The experiments he was subjected to were trying to find ways to modify and evolve the soldiers to their specific tasks to give them an edge if that COLD WAR TURNED HOT. By taking a degree of Mental Stress, M’kal can activate the Hyperfocus for a scene and receive a +2 to his Piloting rolls as well as related rolls such as Notice or Will that are about piloting. This Extra helps explain why he keeps to himself and why is an outcast, compared to the other 1 Pilot, 3 Ways builds.
Finally, you derive your Stress and Consequences Tracks from your Skill rankings. Stress Tracks for both Mental and Physical Stress start at 2 boxes, with the aforementioned Will and Physique able to add additional boxes. Similarly, there are three Consequences slots – Mild, Moderate, and Severe. These are the wounds or harm that isn’t just a flesh wound or being a little winded. They provide penalties and act as Aspects that can be invoked or compelled as well and are only slowly healed back.
Advancement is a bit different than the other games we have looked at as well. There are not levels like the d20 systems we’ve looked at, nor are there points to be spent like in build style systems. There are, however, measures for it called Milestones:
- Minor milestones don’t advance your stats, but may show change in your character and can be where you change some Aspects around based on your characters experiences. I liken this to a single episode of a TV series and is described as usually a single session of game play.
- Significant Milestones are about new things and about the advancement of stories. This is a lot like the end of an arc or the midseason finale of TV shows, and likely several sessions worth of play. In addition to renaming Severe Consequences to show recovery, an additional skill point is available. The skill pyramid you see on the sheet helps explain how to advance skills – you can never have more skills at a higher level than the level immediately below it. This requires you to slowly learn new skills to keep the character rounded and get close to the existing skill Cap (which in our game is +4).
- Major Milestones do advance the power of the characters as well as the world itself. This is usually 3 or so scenarios which seems to be close to a season of TV if you think about it. Something large scale has changed in the world from NPC deaths to power balances shifting, or anything else of that nature. In addition to the benefits of the other milestones, a Major Milestone also provides an additional point of Refresh that may be used to buy new stunts or kept to increase FATE points and if you have the skill points, you may break the Skill cap and increase it for the campaign. Finally, as this is a story driven system, you can rename you High Concept Aspect if it is warranted.
I am going to say that we have reached a Major milestone that was made up of 3 Significant milestones to get there to approximate our 6th level. This means that a total of 4 skill points may be applied to move skills up the pyramid and an additional Refresh Point will need to be handled. It isn’t enough to break the skill cap to +5, but the next Major Milestone could see that happen.
I start moving skills up the pyramid to put M’kal in a place where he will be able to increase his Piloting. Notice is the obvious item to move to Great (+4) and fits with the consistency of Dexterity and Intelligence often being the Pilot’s focus. To support that, I need to move Will up to Good (+3) and I think Physique up to Fair (+2). This dials in more of the genewiped and improved idea of M’kal, but we first must see what skill will be added at Average (+1) to allow this step up to happen – I go with Mechanics to let him start to fix what may get broken especially as he seems to be on his own a lot up to now.
I decide to keep the additional Refresh to put M’kal back to 3. Since the NEURO PILOTING HYPERFOCUS Extra takes a FATE point to use, it seems like he needs to the extra FATE points. Maybe next time, he’ll broaden his skills and find a new direction with an additional Stunt.
M’kal On’did always knew a world, a star system, that was on the verge of violence. Skirmishes happen on a regular basis so much so that people forget that there isn’t a real war going on. Ntil they are given a reminder of what a real war means to the system. Today, on NAME Station, M’kal’s ICY PROFESSIONALISM keeps him cool even though the station is a DMZ THAT LEAVES EVERYONE ON EDGE. How he got here, and why he barely blinks when taking the job you’ve come to offer is filled with rumor and half truths.
“Staring at you? Yeah. That’s M’kal On’did. A pretty good mercenary if you need one.”
“M’kal isn’t a super soldier. Yes, he isn’t still blessed with his original genome. You can thank the Franitelli Consortium for that.”
“The way I hear it, he was already a HOTSHOT PILOT that signed on to fly the starways when the Consortium decided to experiment on their own troops. Always the mind for innovation, the black book project partnered with a few of the powerful Houses in the Consortium to implement genetic experimentation and preprogrammed Neurohyperfocus.”
“Yeah. . .
. . .Freaky is a good word for it.”
“M’kal didn’t stay put, though, and something got him kicked out being unceremoniously DRUMMED OUT OF THE MILITARY.”
“I hear he grew a conscience, briefly, but more than likely, if you’ve talked to him, it’s that habit of cutting through some of the social chaff. You forget your past, you get through basic training, and then you get your genetics scrubbed down, rewritten, and put back in can leave you OUTSIDE SOCIAL NICETIES.”
“What can he do?”
“He’s one of the best Pilots around, even without those special edges he has. He can read a room and see through what you are hiding. He won’t blink in the face of a threat, and he has all the training he had in the Consortium Military, but he seems lost sometimes. Stuck on the frontline when ONE MISTAKE CAN TURN A COLD WAR HOT and without a family means he has to find something or someone else to believe in.”
“You know that sabotage ring that got busted last month? Yeah, that one. M’kal was in the middle of that. It definitely stopped Gygax 5 from being sacrificed to this TRADE WAR COMING DOWN THE ROAD but it leaves you with the question – What’s next?”
“Yeah. He’s still looking at you.”
“No. He hasn’t blinked yet.”