War in the Heavens: Dark Energy
The FATE system at-a-glance
The FATE game system is simple, flexible, and narrative-oriented. It measures charcters on key dramatically-relevant abilities (skills), fleshes them out with player-defined, description-based traits (“aspects”) and then balances game play with a give-and-take economy of narrative control and character success (“Fate Points”).
I am enthusiastic about FATE because of the way it makes individual character description a manageable game mechanic that provides game balance. I realize lots of people will feel something “missing” that there aren’t a lot of crunchy bits. Remind yourself how many good RPers are turned off by the necessity of crunching, and generally wrestling with game mechanics to find a concept they won’t interfere with! On the contrary, in FATE, player-defined aspects become more “useful” exactly when they are seem narratively interesting or appropriate.
Skills exist to provide a reliable measurement of characters’ native ability in a number of areas normally key in the kind of adventures they can expect in the setting. The skill list is specific to the chronicle & setting.
For the Skill list used in Fading Suns in this Chronicle, see Skills.
Aspects and Fate Points are the essential innovation of the FATE system. Gone are characteristics, merits, flaws, etc. These outstanding features of individual characters are all done with Aspects.
Aspects can be anything innate to or descriptive of the character (generally excepting skills, though you’re allowed to take an aspect to back up a skill if that skill means a lot to you). They can represent traditional stats like strength and constitution (“strong” and “healthy”), or more evocative traits like “agile” or “brawny.” They can be be abstract descriptors like “noble,” stylistic things like quotations (“Make my day!”) prized posessions like “drives a lamborghini,” an important NPC, another player’s character, a destiny, or nearly anything else. Perhaps most confusingly, they can be negative, for example, "cowardly” – and there are good reasons to take “negative” aspects.
For more ideas on Aspects, see the Aspect Examples List.
Aspects affect the game in conjunction with an economy of points, called Fate Points. To understand why you want both positive and negative aspects, here are the THREE ways Aspects and Fate Points can affect game play for your character:
- You can “invoke” an Aspect, by paying one fate point, in order to get a large bonus to succeed at any test to which your Aspect is appropriate.
- The Game Judge can “compel” an Aspect: The Judge will suggest that your character behave in a way consistent with one of its Aspects (usually against their interests), and then make you a two-edged offer: he’ll GIVE YOU a certain number of fate points if you go along with his suggestion. Or, you have to pay that many fate points if you want to ignore his suggestion.
- You can spend one or more fate points for a better result on any test, or to take a limited degree of narrative control over a scene. Not nearly as much oomph per Fate Point as invoking an Aspect, but extremely flexible and so, potentially very useful, especially if you get creative while remaining realistic.
- [I may institute a price-is-right style bidding aspect to taking narrative control]
Let’s face an uncomfortable fact: every experienced RP gamer has an inner “powergamer” (or “rules lawyer”). And it’s easy to see why. Try and create a character purely from concept, that is, rules-agnostic. Now, fit it to a system and discover: some or many aspects of your creative work just don’t fit the game mechanics meaningfully. That’s why everybody combs over a system first, to understand its highs and lows, it’s loopholes, and what they can and can’t expect to do with it.
I’m not saying FATE is magically immune to this tension between creativity and mechanics. But know how you really powergame FATE? By struggling to find aspects and combinations of aspects that will be interesting— narratively appropriate— frequently, and in the context of your character and their abilities. If an aspect often contributes to a good story, you will be directly rewarded— either with bonuses via invoking, or with Fate Points and greater narrative control.
You’re not only free, but encouraged, to suggest ways your own or other players’ aspects could be invoked or compelled during a session. Bring your table talk! It’s a great route to more collaborative storytelling. HOWEVER. You should respect the Game Judge’s role as final arbiter of compelling aspects with the offer of fate points, and each player’s role as final arbiter of whether they’ll invoke their own aspects. Suggest creatively. Do NOT harangue, and do not grouse if your suggestion is not taken— you still have primary creative control over your own character.
See also: How Character Generation Works for Fading Suns in the FATE system.