Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Playing with Fate Accelerated Edition chargen

So recently Arthur suggested that I give Fate Accelerated Edition a look.

First impressions

With only a few minutes of prep, you could be exploring the universe with your favorite sci-fi characters, fi ghting the forces of evil with a party of talking chimps, or setting up shop as a modern day sorceress specializing in love potions. Maybe you’re looking for the ideal pickup roleplaying game.

I initially read this, in the context of the previous sentence, as "Maybe you're looking for the ideal lockpicking game", which sounded awesome.

...Or you’re a first-time gamer looking to try something new without investing hours of your time. Regardless, Fate Accelerated Edition will bring something special to your table.

Fate Accelerated, or FAE, is a condensed version of the popular Fate Core roleplaying game that brings all the flexibility and power of Fate in a shorter format. Inside, you’ll find a method for making fast, fun characters and simple systems to support whatever story you can dream up on the fly. With FAE, you can be playing in minutes.

Sold! I like the sound of all this stuff.

It helps a lot, too, that FAE is available as pay-what-you-want (including nothing) from Evil Hat, and Evil Hat are sensible enough to offer a plain old zip link. That's actually very important. It meant that rather than setting up an Evil Hat account to download a file they were offering me for as little as £0.00, I could just grab the file straight away. If I did have to set up an account, it's entirely possible I wouldn't have bothered. I've reached a point in my life where I'm increasingly ticked off by the need to create yet another account for yet another piddly little website just to do some tiny thing, and since I really am only playing around with this right now I see no need to pay for it. Of course, if I do experience life-changing delight and decide to stay using this, I'll buy a copy.

"No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior express permission of the publisher.

That said, if you’re doing it for personal use, knock yourself out. That’s not only allowed, we encourage you to do it.

For those working at a copy shop and not at all sure if this means the person standing at your counter can make copies of this thing, they can. This is “express permission.” Carry on.

This is a game where people make up stories about wonderful, terrible, impossible, glorious things. All the characters and events portrayed in this work are fictional. Any resemblance to real people, magical martial artists, schoolgirl witches, pulp scientists, or piratical cats is purely coincidental, but kinda hilarious."

The impression, it keeps getting better.

What are we doing?

The contents page comes next. I have to notice that this is more substantial than I expected. It's 44 pages. My enthusiasm is somewhat dampened, as I suspect it'll take more than "minutes" to read that much, let alone build characters with it. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

Next, it quickly and with fair enthusiasm lays out what you're doing and what you need. There's what I read as a non-condescending description of what roleplaying is, with sensible referencing to TV to get their message across. Player and GM roles are introduced, with marginal cross-referencing to more substantial information. There's straightforward guidance on making characters in general, and playing cooperatively.

"That’s how you tell great stories together — by not being afraid for your character to make mistakes, and by making choices that make the story more interesting for everyone at the table — not just you."

Sound advice.

"Make sure your character has a reason to interact and cooperate with the characters the other players are making."

Making a character

I begin trying to create a character. I'm hampered by a crippling inability to come up with a setting and stare into space for several minutes.

Okay, okay. A randomiser is needed. Good thing I already wrote one, eh? Actually it's a bit overpowered for what I'm doing here and misses off a couple of things... let me just fettle a bit *tinkers*.


Right. This is a FEEL-GOOD ADVENTURE GAME (which I think is the idea anyway, right?) of ESPIONAGE with GOTHIC aesthetics. Characters use SMALL AMOUNTS of SINISTER MAGIC to combat their adversaries.

Sounds good to me.

I'm supposed to start by picking a high concept.

This is a single phrase or sentence that neatly sums up your character, saying who you are, what you do, what your “deal” is.

Actually I'm finding this surprisingly difficult. They don't give any guidance on what a high concept actually means; they just have some words. They also don't tie them into the setting examples given earlier, which I would have recommended. How does the Chief Field Agent of IGEMA differ from the other characters? Are they all IGEMA members, all field agents, or a disparate band thrown together by chance? In what way is this supposed to define my character - is it an RP guide, a shorthand for other players, or is it going to have mechanical ramifications.

I also can't help noticing that they say "This is a single phrase or sentence that neatly sums up your character, saying who you are, what you do, what your “deal” is." but provide three examples that don't really do that:

  • Feline Captain of Cirrus Skimmer
  • Suncaller of the Andral Desert
  • Chief Field Agent of IGEMA

Is Suncaller a name, a title or a job description? What does a Feline Captain do (or is Captain of Cirrus a title, like Captain of Horse? I can't even parse this one)? In fairness, if I knew what IGEMA was that last one would make a decent amount of sense. But we aren't talking "Conan the Barbarian" here.

My initial thought is "secretary to Lord Adolphus de Lacey", picturing His Lordship as a sort of quest-giver and offstage NPC. But the description doesn't particularly point to any adventurous tendencies. Then again, neither do theirs. Oh, let's just go with it.

Decide on the thing that always gets you into trouble

I'm going with good old insatiable curiosity. A nice safe bland option given I don't have a full setting or a group to riff off here. Good old, um, X (names come later) doesn't like unanswered questions, holes in the record or things out of place. It's an occupational hazard.

I need another aspect too. What makes for an interesting character here? I'm still a bit puzzled by what Aspects are for, which isn't helping. What am I trying to do with them? I give up and follow the trail to another page, which explains a bit better. After a bit of thought, I shrug and go for Formidable Illusionist. Being able to confuse and mislead other people seems useful as a secretary as well as an agent of the Crown, and it fits well with a gothic setting in my view. We're not talking pretty pictures here, but shadowy flocks of crows, subtle shifts in facial expression, seeming taller and more sinister, the noise of approaching rescuers, or simply an illusory locked door in a doorway.

My character is Felix Kimberley, an average-looking clerkly type with glasses, neat hair, a drab but respectable suit, and slightly fancy taste in tiepins.

His approaches are Careful (+3), Clever (+2), Sneaky (+2), Quick (+1), Flashy (+1) and Forceful (+0). These determine how good I am at taking various tactics to achieve things. Felix is a cerebral, methodical sort who doesn't like being in the spotlight or hurrying.

By default, FAE suggests choosing one stunt to start with. however, if this is your first time playing a Fate game, you might find it easier to pick your first stunt after you’ve had a chance to play a bit, to give you an idea of what a good stunt might be.

Sadly, I'm not likely to be using Felix in reality, so better pick a stunt. This, once again, calls for some delving into the rulebook. You make up your own stunts based on a couple of simple templates. I quickly discover that to make sense of them I really need to read the actual rules a bit, because I don't understand what the mechanics would do.

Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], I get a +2 when I [pick one: Carefully, Cleverly, Flashily, Forcefully, Quickly, Sneakily] [pick one: attack defend, create advantages, overcome] when [describe a circumstance].

There are several examples, but once again they are fresh and not connected to the examples given earlier. This means there's no continuity of concept to give a sense of why you have something. It makes sense to me that a stunt would tie into an aspect, but it doesn't (after some rereading) seem like that's where the "way you are exceptional" bit comes from. Okay, let’s think. Felix gets sent to take care of things for His Lordship, and given His Lordship’s line of work, that’s a pretty broad portfolio. The secretary needs to be someone who can cope with all kinds of situations, and if we’re spies, needs to do it by drawing minimal attention to himself.

I’m also not really sure what kinds of circumstances exist. How do you express “doesn’t draw much attention” in this template? I’m not sure I can. I need something else. Unflappable? Suitable, but I don’t understand how I’d express that in this template either – what’s the Circumstance, and how does it tie into the Approaches? It’s probably some kind of Overcoming? How does this even work? The only ones I understand are Attack and Defend, and I’m not entirely sure I understand them.

Ah, sod it. I’ll pick something that works based on their examples and have done with it.

Because I am a Mediator, I get a +2 when I Carefully overcome obstacles when in conversation with someone.


All told, I think (ignoring writeup time) I've spent somewhere from 20-30 minutes on this, much of it thinking and reading. It compares favourably with crunchier games, but then it has simple mechanics. It's about on the same timescale as Call of Cthulhu, which is another largely simple game with some slightly fiddly chargen aspects and free choices.

The process is simple, but getting my head round what ideas like "aspect" actually mean really wasn't that simple for me. In some ways it actively clashes with my interpretations; for example, the High Concept description to me sounds like the answer should be "two-fisted botanist with a heart of gold" or "cheerful fishman pilot-for-hire", whereas they offer a selection of job titles that provide surprisingly little information without supporting context.

I do think there’s a sizeable flaw with this quick start ruleset in its failure to carry through examples from start to finish. I’m sure that it would have been much easier to get my head around character generation if they had, y’know, actually generated a character: start with a High Concept, add Aspects and Stunts, and carry them through to a finished playable character who could be used in rule examples. This is something that Call of Cthulhu does reasonably well (though admittedly not in the quick start rules).

The template for Stunts felt awkwardly mechanical to me – it actually felt more like you design a power and then skin it, rather than coming up with a concept and then expressing it in their terms. This is partly because I’m not familiar enough with the system to translate into it, of course.

Another mild drawback is that it seems relatively difficult to create a character on the fly when you don’t already know the ruleset, because so much of it is freeform. Obviously within a specific campaign setting this will be slightly less of an issue, but knowing what are likely to be sensible aspects and stunts are tricky before you have a solid idea of both how the game plays and how the rules work. In this case having an experienced player or GM to guide you seems like a definite boon. I prefer chargen to be largely independent, so that you can create a character without any significant knowledge of the rules (they’re unlikely to be optimal, but I want it to be possible). Even games as complex as D&D allow this because you’re picking from pre-set options or allocating points to transparent traits.

I’m quite torn here. I’d be semi-interested in playing it just to see how it actually works, because I don’t really get it (and in fairness, I've made no attempt to read any rules that aren't directly relevant to chargen). However, what I’ve seen here has been a bit offputting. I can’t imagine putting this in front of inexperienced players and expecting great enthusiasm. The fact that the rules are 44 pages long is a significant factor here. Maybe I’m just being pessimistic? It might be easier with a group bouncing ideas off each other. Maybe I was just overthinking things. I dunno, really.

Final word

The promise:

Inside, you’ll find a method for making fast, fun characters and simple systems to support whatever story you can dream up on the fly. With FAE, you can be playing in minutes.

While it's technically accurate, I don't feel like half an hour is exactly "minutes". Even twenty minutes is a bit long for that; I was expecting more like five to ten. On the "fast" score, then, FAE hasn't done that well this time. That being said, you can probably create your third character in ten minutes, when you aren't puzzled any more. There's clearly room for plenty of characterful characters, and it looks like a simple system to use once you actually understand it. On the whole, this seems like a basically okay set of rules (from my brief glance at them) that's undermined by an underwhelming quick start guide.


  1. Embarrassingly, I hadn't actually read FAE very closely before making the recommendation - I just threw it out there because I knew that FATE had a fairly quick and easy traditional RPG system with modern bits, and I knew that FAE was the quickstart version.

    In retrospect, it certainly looks like the examples given in the Quickstart leave a lot to be desired. Potentially FATE Core does a better job; certainly, I think an introduction to FATE which doesn't make damn sure that Aspects are fully explained before people start character gen is rather flawed. Possibly FAE is more useful as a stripped-down fast-play version of the rules for folk who are already conversant with the underlying ideas than it is as an introduction to FATE or RPGs in general - which rather means it fails at its stated goals. Ah well.

    1. (In particular, the rules should have been ferociously shoving you away from picking Aspects which don't have any downside to them because those end up being FATE point sinks which don't open up opportunities for you to earn FATE points back in play - good Aspects in FATE are features of your character which you can exert to your benefit but also can bite you on the ass, so you can both spend and earn points with them. "Thinks with his fists" is a good Aspect because you can use it to get bonuses for punching stuff and also earn points by punching inappropriate stuff, for example.)

    2. I think it's fair enough to throw out that kind of recommendation without doing exhaustive research. I took it as more of a "this thing exists" than a personal endorsement, and it's a genuinely interesting thing.

      One impression I got is that FAE falls in a slightly awkward middle space, like the novella.

      It's not a full-blown manual, only 44 pages long for $5, and it doesn't have space for lots of explanations and detailed examples - although of course that's an editing decision. This may explain why the chargen is so sparse, but not why it's disjointed.

      On the other hand, it's well outside the range I'm used to for an actual quick start set. Those are typically only a handful of pages, something that you could reasonably give out in the first session (though ideally earlier) and expect people to read in some amount of detail. This ruleset is giving more description than I'm used to, to the point it includes its own quick versions of most of the rules! There's an actual index (useful, but significant). There's GMing advice. I think that it's aiming to be a more complete guide that both introduces and supports play, not just a stopgap. In this case, that was a problem because I wasn't up for reading 44 pages just now to try and work out how it works.

      I get the impression that a traditional quickstart might not work all that well with this ruleset, because it's somewhat reliant on fluffy mechanics (like aspects) that need more explanation than "when you lose Sanity, reduce this number". The Deathwatch quickstart rules (excluding scenario) are only 20 pages, including a basic wargear list and four sample characters, and it's a pretty wordy quickstart with explanations, pictures and all that.

      The FAE itself may well be pretty good, but its chargen is dodgy.

    3. ...the rules should have been ferociously shoving you away from picking Aspects which don't have any downside to them...

      The closest they get in the chargen rules is one line:
      When you think about your high concept, try to think of two things: how this aspect could help you, and how it might make things harder for you. Good high concept aspects do both.

      It's only on page 30, after several pages of information on using Aspects, that they get any more detailed:
      Composing good aspects

      When you need to think of a good aspect (we’re mainly talking about character and situation aspects here), think about two things:
      • How the aspect might help you—when you’d invoke it.
      • How it might hurt you—when it would be compelled against you.

      Even that is quite a long stretch from your much clearer and punchier explanation. I mean, most game rules talk about creating balanced characters, but it doesn't usually mean there'll be massive mechanical disadvantages.

  2. I've now discovered there are in fact complete sample characters in the back, which seems to be where the Aspects in the examples come from. They didn't mention that. There still doesn't seem to be anything explaining how they were put together to make coherent characters that work well within the ruleset.

    Maybe I'll do a post on quickstart rules in general...

  3. I would be interested to know whether they did any playtesting with this quickstart stuff with the sort of absolute beginners FAE purports to be aimed at. I suspect not. Ironically, I suspect it'd probably be easier to learn FATE from FATE Core because that has the space to actually unpack and explain concepts.

  4. I can certainly say I'm glad I went for the £0 option, since I'd be a little miffed if I'd stumped up for this up front. I might well look into FATE more, though, since it looks like a potentially interesting and fun system.

  5. If it's any consolation, I believe FATE Core also comes with an £0 option.

    1. I'll probably check it out, then, as it may explain things better.

      I'm quite surprised to say I've really struggled to find any FATE actual plays, which nowadays is my preferred way to sound out games. I think I found possibly two, one of which was a lonely "first session" of a deceased podcast.