I’ve been writing games in Fate for a while; I’ve had two published by Evil Hat, and have at least more in the works that will eventually be published under Tangent Artists (Dungeon Tours, Ltd., Skeleton Crew RPG). However, I’m officially announcing that I’ve started work on a yet untitled Masters of Umdaar sequel. Will it be for sale, or just a fan project? Published by Evil Hat or by Tangent Artists? A full setting or just a jumbled mess? All good questions, and I don’t have an answer as of yet.
However, it hit me, that I before I dig too deep into expanding this world, I should do some research first. It’s been three years since Umdaar 1 came out, and Fate “technology” has no doubt advanced considerably since then. What breakthroughs and hacks have emerged that I never would have dreamed of?
So, today, I start an epic adventure: To review every single Evil Hat “Fate World & Adventure.”* **
Clarification this will include every Fate World that comes free with backing the original Fate Core kickstarter, plus comes with backing the Fate Patreon. Afterwards, I might take a tangent to review paid Evil Hat projects (Atomic Robo, Strange Tales,) and maybe some third party (ex. Fate Codex), but no guarantees at this point.
**Full disclosure: Evil Hat has hired me on a contract basis twice. I am not currently working for them at this time, but if they offered, I’d definitely say yes.
What this Review Is NOT: If you’re expecting me to use my sparkling wit to sarcastically tear into the fate worlds, you’ll be sadly disappointed. I’m going to keep things positive, because:
- I know how hard it is to write one of these things, and
- Just because a world may not be my cup of tea, doesn’t mean it’s not someone else’s.
What this Review Is: This is be a quick, cursory look at each the settings; I’m afraid I don’t have time for a page-by-page analysis. I’ll be focusing on:
- The Pitch – A sentence providing what the setting feels like; this will be using pop-culture comparisons to provide a short-hand.
- The Genres – What literary and cultural settings and themes the world taps into. (Expect a lot to include “…in space!”)
- The Summary – This is a longer description, taken straight from the book or the Drive-Thru RPG. (It won’t be my original words but will save you the time to look them up yourself.)
- The Mechanics – Subsystem: Which variant of Fate does it most closely mimic (ex. Core skills, Fate Accelerated, Skill-less).
- Mechanics – General: What are significant rule additions, tools, and tweaks not found in the Core book.
- Reaction – This part is purely opinion. It will be mostly based on speculation, as most of these settings I have no experience playing. Will also focus on possible variants, and ways to hack the mechanics with other settings.
WORLDS TAKE FLIGHT
Rather than go in chronological order, I thought I’d go with convenience; since “Worlds Take Flight” is one of the few Fate hard copies I own, making it easier to read on my work lunch breaks, I thought I’d start there.
The Three Rocketeers
Author: PK Sullivan; Artist: Alex Innocenti
Elevator Pitch: Swashbuckling Musketeers… in space!
Genres & Themes: Historical / Adventure / Sci-Fi / Intrigue / Drama
Summary: Journey through the Holy Roman Stellar Empire and the worlds of Britannica Solaria in this Fate World of Adventure by PK Sullivan! The Queen’s enemies may have disbanded the Rocketeers, but duty cannot be set aside so easily.
A deadly cabal of nobles and clergy threaten to usurp Her Majesty Queen Marie-Hélène’s throne and hand Gallia over to Pope Regulus IV, and the Rocketeers now work from the shadows to protect the queen from threats both foreign and domestic. Foreign spies and papal agents lurk in every shadow as the trap draws ever closer.
A laser-sharp blade and even sharper wits will serve you well as interstellar powers play the game of puppets and shadows. The fate of the crown is in your hands.
Mechanics – Sub-System: Skill-Less
Mechanics – General: Compound Stunts (Swordplay) – This is an interesting concept; instead of making players create 3 or so stunts, Sullivan has the players create one double-sized Sword-play stunt, which is composed of four micro-stunts (about +1 bonus each, for roughly +4 bonus total). He has a whole list of different micro-stunts which you can mix-and-match, kind of like a tapas menu.
Conspiracy – This is very neat concept that I will have to investigate more thoroughly in the future. Rather than creating a villain first and the objective later, the Conspiracy model does it in reverse; what is the objective, and who are the agents carrying it out. Sullivan also introduces rules for unraveling the mystery a bit at a time.
Skills – I must give PK Sullivan points for guts, I think he was the first Fate World to rewrite the system without skills or approaches. I’m not itching to make a skill-less setting myself anytime soon, but I can say- it does require the players to start with a large amount of fate points. If you have group with a lot of larping experience, I’d look at this book for tips on making your system skill-less. The only downside is it does make it harder to port other fate mechanics from other worlds INTO Three Rocketeers after you’ve started the campaign.
The swordplay stunt system is great for quick character creation; if I wear to create my own character, I would enjoy making my own micro-stunts, but I think a short list would be perfect for first time players, or for conventions. I also see how the composite micro-stunts would work well for other settings (perhaps for creating inventions?)
Of all three, the conspiracies have me the most excited; I’ll keep it in mind the next time I craft villains. The one thing that I would can as a disadvantage is that the Conspiracies use skills when the players don’t. On the one hand, this seems a little out of play. On the other hand, this makes it even easier to hack it into an existing campaign!
The one thing I’d add, were I to run this setting, is the Swashbuckling Duel rules from the Fate Toolkit. To me, these rules best represent the slow build of tension in a cinematic sword fight; amongst armor-less, sabre-wielding duelists, the first successful hit is often the last! (I suspect this system can be a little time consuming, so I’d save it for named NPCS).
Author: Nick Pilon; Artist: Steen
Elevator Pitch: Princess Mononoke meets Ghostbusters… in space!
Genres & Themes: Frontier / Adventure / Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Spiritualist / Environmental / Exploration
Summary: Despite its long history, the Commonwealth has only civilized a fraction of the galaxy. Life on an undeveloped colony world is hard. The problems are never-ending: pirate raids, corporate claim-jumpers, outlaw settlers, unpredictable weather…and an alien spirit world unused to coexisting with sentient creatures.
Natural disasters, storms, subsistence, and even basic survival are all much harder when the world really is out to get you. Can your colony survive?
Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Core Skills
Mechanics – General:
Portfolio – A way for creating NPC antagonists that are intrinsically tied to the impending issues.
Facets – The idea of creating a powerful, “final form” of a spirit, and then 2 or more smaller “facet” versions of the character that appear earlier in the story.
Reaction: From a setting standpoint, I am impressed by how Pilon introduced a setting that clearly sets up the tension between the industrial settlers and the native spirits; in many settings, this would done in black and white, with the humans being bad and the spirits being good. However, like Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” Pilon makes it a little more ambiguous, letting the gaming group work out for themselves which side is wrong, if anyone at all. I can also see facets as great way to create multi-leveled villains that are beaten more than once (ex. a video game boss for Save Game; a DBZ style villain with multiple forms).
Sail Full of Stars
Author: Don Bisdorf; Artist: Elisa Cella
Elevator Pitch: Pirates and Navy Battles… in Space!
Genres & Themes: Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Steampunk / Alternative History / Age of Exploration / Swashbuckling / Political / Naval
Summary: In the year 1850, three empires struggle for control of the solar system: The Ottomans, whose vast Earthly empire may soon become obsolete; the Chinese, who pioneered the construction of rheoships; and the French, the new masters of alchemy. Wherever patrols are weak, pirates menace the shipping lanes. Sailors whisper rumors of dragons swimming through the black void. Fools and madmen push the boundaries of alchemy, heedless of the consequences.
Track down pirates, brave the stars, and mount shipboard battles in this Fate World of Adventure by Don Bisdorf.
Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Core Skills
Mechanics – General: The book features some of the best rules for detailed ship aspects I’ve seen. Similarly, it includes rules for crews, including combat.
Reaction: Compared to many Fate Worlds, this one is a little on the “crunchy” side; it might be ideal entry point for classic gamers who are used to more complicated systems like D&D or wargames. I am eager to try out the crew rules, which would work for supporting NPCS in any setting. If you’re not interested in the historical setting, you can easily port it to another world (for example: if you want to port “Aether Sea,” but with Fate Core.)
Gods & Monsters
Author: Chris Longhurst; Artist: Manuel Castañón
Elevator Pitch: Campbell’s Mythology meets Lycanthropes (NOT in Space!)
Genres & Themes: Mythology / Fantasy
Summary: The world is young and majestic, and humans eke out a living and dream of civilization.
But you are not like them: you are a god. A primal creature, your soul a blazing font of power, your body an expression of your nature. The more extreme your behavior the greater the power you can wield—but it is easy to become lost in a single facet of your existence and cross the line from god to monster.
Perform mythic acts, skirmish with rival pantheons, and walk the line between power and control in this Fate World of Adventure by Chris Longhurst.
Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Accelerated
Mechanics – General: While I had previously thought of Fate Approaches as opposites, Chris Longhurst came up with something I never dreamt of: putting them on sliding scales. He also came up with the idea of having your power and approaches grow (which can sometimes be a bad thing, turning you into a monster!) There is also the godly power mechanic, which involves stashing power in stations to avoid overload.
Fate is a really forgiving system, allowing players to succeed in ways that stricter systems would not allow. “Gods & Monsters” just doubles-down on this, giving players literally godlike characters.
This can make it a very difficult game for GMs to run. I suspect that they are two ways around this:
- Think of them less like “gods” and more like demi-gods; they are weaker, lesser gods that fight, adventure and fight monsters, much like your typical adventure team.
- Focus on the difficult decisions; you can do X, or do Y, but not both.
Longhurst cleverly built the second into the geas and power of the characters; they can grow stronger and stay true to their god’s nature (but at the risk of growing monstrous), or you can have they show free will, go against their nature, and grow weaker (but further from the edge).
Were I to run a game (and I desperately want to), I’d focus on the etiological, “just-so” stories. Rather than assume that the mortal world is complete, I would take a popular “just-so” story and reverse engineer it.
GM: The mortals are cold all of the time, and are always tripping in the dark, hour after hour. They ask for your help.
Players would eventually come to realize that, in this world, there is no sun. This sets them on tasks to make the sun (gathering dangerous materials to get it), as well as finding a balancing act that doesn’t involve mortals overheating or frying.
Guide the ending to resolve towards a permanent feature of this world, although it might not be the one you anticipated when you started the story. They could go a completely different route and find a solution without the sun, such as, “…And that’s why we have volcanos,” or “…And that’s why the first humans died out, and why we have ice people instead.”
Lastly, I wanted to give a shout out to the artist, Manuel Castañón, as the art in Gods and Monsters is absolutely stunning. All four artists in this book did a great job, but Manuel’s art is inspiring.
EDIT: I nearly forgot! On an earlier blog, I gave my house rules for mashing up “Gods and Monsters” and “Masters of Umdaar,” where players get to be the lost Demiurge. Here it is again, “Gods and Masters.”
That’s it for this entry. Next up will be “Fate: Worlds Rise Up!”
Until then, game on!