- Fate Core System – Core Rule Book
- Lead System Designer: Leonard Balsera
- Assistant Development: Brian Engard, Mike Olson and Ryan Macklin
- Art Direction: Fred Hicks
- Artist Work: Kurt Komoda
- Publisher: Evil Hat Productions
- Release Date: 2013
- Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-61317-029-8 & ePub ISBN: 978-1-61317-057-1
Whether you have plans to play in a high sci-fi setting or a grim-dark fantasy game, the Fate Core System has the tools you need to run a game that is character driven and filled with drama! Fate Core is a setting and genre agnostic system that is easy to learn and play and aims to have players role-play with less dice rolls. It comes with default skills and powers that can be used out of the box but it really shines when modified to better suit your game’s themes and setting.
About this Review
In this review, we will be discussing the core rulebook for the Fate Core System, a tabletop RPG. This 4th edition of the game was crowd funded by Evil Hat Games on Kickstarter in 2013 and was released that same year. This 2013 version of the game was published by Evil Hat Productions and remains the most updated version of the Fate Core System at the time of this review. It should, however, be noted that the under the Fate umbrella there are many products and rule modifications published by Evil Hat Productions. These modifications take the system further and explore different (and more specific) flavours of play. These products are categorized into different “spheres”. Please see this diagram from the Evil Hat Production’s website to fully grasp the scope of the Fate Core System:
While these altered and additive versions of the game were not considered in this review, knowing how expansive the ruleset of Fate Core is provides important context to prospective players. Especially to those who already have a favorite setting or genre they wish to explore.
In today’s review, we shall cover four main sections. The first contains an analysis of the overall layout, structure and ease of reference of the document. The next part will evaluate how well the book describes the game’s core systems and we will share insight on the strengths and weakness of said systems. The third will be a section on the characters you can play. Lastly, the fourth and final section will summarize the contents of the review, providing you with a rating of the game on a scale from one to ten, ten being a perfect score.
Structure of the Rulebook
The Fate Core System rulebook comes in a compact 6 × 9 inches book with black and white interior. The book covers lots of ground in its 302 pages. It is subdivided into 11 chapters that cover the various components needed to learn how to run and play the game. These chapters include:
- A basics section that serves as a quick introduction to the systems of the game. This 15 page introduction is all a player needs to pick up and play in a game of Fate Core.
- Roughly 30 pages on choosing a setting and creating the cast of characters for your game. This includes guidelines for playing through character creation.
- About 75 pages, spread out through two chapters on the main mechanics of the game and how to tweak them to better fit your vision.
- Another 50 pages or so that discuss action, challenge resolution, dice interpretation, etc.
- Some 100 pages on running the game and advice on scenes and scenarios.
- And lastly, roughly 25 pages of tools, cheat sheets, etc.
The rulebook is well laid out and feels very easy to navigate. Despite some concepts being a little difficult to grasp, they are well explained and often illustrated with diagrams or tables breaking things down in a very manageable way. There are also illustrations peppered throughout but these are black and white images. It also does a wonderful job walking new players through its systems. It is incredibly straightforward and manages to do so in only 15 pages. This ease of onboarding is a big selling point when trying to get players to try a new tabletop gaming system.
Where to find it?
The book, plus a PDF copy, can be purchased from the publisher for a very low cost of $25 USD or curious readers can pay what they want to pick up the complete PDF on the same site (here). Additional free official resources are available to you on the publisher’s website. These resources include cheat sheets, fillable character sheets, commissioned supplements, rule addendums and some highlighted community creations. Even without accessing these extra resources, the Fate Core System’s rulebook does a good job of equipping it’s reader with tools and cheat sheets that you can use when running the game.
Overview of Fate’s Systems
The Fate Core System is a core game system that has no fixed setting, genre, traits, skills or powers. The rules in the core rulebook do offer some default suggestions but it is intended to be a base that you build upon. In this way, Fate Core is more akin to a universal roleplaying system like Monte Cook’s Cypher system or Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying system. At its kernel, the Fate Core System does provides you with building blocks that make for fun gameplay and is as a wonderful starting point for your imagination. From within these building blocks there are a number of interesting mechanics and systems presented to you.
The first of these are the fudge dice. Instead of rolling traditional dice such as six sided dice, twenty sided dice and everything in between, the Fate Core System has you rolling six sided dice with custom faces: Two empty face, two faces with a plus (+) and two face with a minus (-). To resolve most conflicts in the game, you roll four of these dice and tally up the totals. Unlike in a d20 system, or a 2d10 system, this centers your odds on a normal curve. In other words, your odds of rolling a neutral result (before any modifiers) are significantly higher than your odds of rolling a critical failure or critical success. This minimizes the occurrence of those wild swings that are more common in a D20 system. This method of resolving conflict is interesting because it makes your modifiers more important, enabling players to succeed more often when confronted with a challenge they are good at. To me, this makes sense. A seasoned adventurer should rarely fail at doing something they are trained to overcome.
The next building block are the Aspects. Most entities in a game of Fate Core consist of a collection of one line descriptors called Aspects. A player character, a location, a threat, a vehicle, etc. will all have a couple of these descriptors. These phrases explain what the entities is and adds dimension to the thing it describes. Interestingly, in nearly all cases, the game encourages the Game Master to brainstorm their creation collectively with the players. This might sound a little abstract, and in fact it kind of is. Perhaps things will clear up when I talk about the next building block.
Part in parcel with the Aspect is the next element: the FATE point. FATE points are a replenishable resource that the players and Game Master can utilize to gain a bonus when rolling to overcome a challenge. However, in order to benefit from the bonus, they must justify why they are fated to succeed based on the relevance of one of their Aspects. If none of the descriptors fit, then the bonus can’t be applied. Similarly, character, things, and locations can be compelled by other players or the Game Master to act sub-optimally based on their Aspects. To trigger this, you give the target one of your FATE points and explain how a specific Aspect is relevant. Doing so usually causes the character to fail in a given challenge or to do something that might generate significant risk to themselves or their allies.
Combined together, these systems do a fantastic job facilitating a narrative focused playstyle where collaboration and improvised drama really shine. On the contrary though, combat and tactics in the game feel a little hand wavy. There are mechanics for stress and consequences but only within the narrative context that they occur in.
It should also be noted that while the game system’s building blocks are a little abstract, they are playable as is. Because they are generic they are quite versatile and in short adventures or one-shots, they will do the trick without any modification. This speaks to one of the major strengths of the Fate Core System. It offers you a playable experience wholesale, while also providing you with the guidance you need to mold and adapt it to better suit your needs.
What kind of Heroes are you fated to be?
The Fate Core System is designed to run adventures that are centered around a cast of dramatic, proactive, and talented heroes (or villains if that’s your thing). You build these heroes much like most other elements of the game: with Aspects. Unlike other game systems though, you do not pick a class or job or a race or anything like that. Instead you draft up character aspects that outline the significant components of the adventurer. Aspects are very flexible and can describe personality traits, a bond to another character or an organization, a trouble, a flaw, motivation, a commitment, or a physical trait, etc. A character should have two or three to start off, and you can have as many as 5 that you flesh out and add to your sheet as you play. Writing these aspects can sometimes be a bit of a challenge if you’re not used to them, but thankfully the rulebook has several you can use for inspiration.
Your character is also defined by a combination of skills they are proficient in. These skills add a bonus to relevant challenge rolls. The game provides you with 18 default skills that do a good job covering nearly all situations and players get to pick a handful of them based on what they want their character to be good at. The beauty of Fate Core though is that you can alter this skill list if your game has a different focus. In fact the game’s rules even encourage you to consider the kind of challenges that are present in your game and to use the list as a starting point! For instance, a political game might have additional social skills or a seafaring game might have nautical skills that you create and add.
Lastly, your characters will have stunts. These are unique powers that only your character has. They represent your characters special talents, training, etc. They provide you an in game bonus or allow you to make exceptions to in game rules in restricted scenarios. Like the other elements of the game. the rulebook comes with 54 default stunts but it also gives you the tools to build your own!
The Fate Core System is a fascinating game system. It’s mechanics enable some of the most collaborative action and character focused play I have ever encountered in a tabletop game. Any group that plays Dungeons and Dragons in a theater of the mind space or folks fond of one-shot adventures that focus on the story over tactics will undoubtedly fall in love with Fate Core. This being said, running a game might prove to be an adjustment. It may come as a welcome change if you are looking for collaborative play, but it does take some getting used to. Also, while the default skills and powers are completely playable as is, the system offers so much flexibility and guidance for those willing to put in the work. Game Masters who aspire to design their own games or for creative minds who are eager to tinker the default settings will find lots of guidance baked into the game to allow you to bring a setting to life. This being said, making these changes is work and if you hope to make your creations balanced expect additional tinkering.All in all, the Fate Core System is fun, flexible and unique. I rate the Fate Core System a 7 out of 10 for good (and if you’re into home-brewing, you should bump that up to an 9).