Strands of Fate

Back at the end of July, a friend ran a playtest session of Strands of Fate, a generic, cross-genre iteration of the FATE role-playing rules, as made famous by Spirit of the Century, and themselves an outgrowth of the venerable FUDGE system.

The premise was based on the film Scanners, about rogue, corporate and neutral psychics coming into conflict. Easy enough, although I think we shocked Neil by only one of us having seen the film, and that was his wife.

The thing I was most curious to explore about FATE was its much-vaunted aspects. They’re free-form character attributes like “Dumb as a brick” and “Can I buy you a drink?” In addition to being a place for a player to get creative in fleshing out their character’s personality, they have a mechanical element. A player can invoke one of their character’s aspects to spend a fate point to get a reroll, improve their existing roll or take authorial control of the scene for a moment.

At the same time, the GM can compel aspects, influencing a player character’s actions. “Ah, but you’re ‘Dumb as a brick,’ so you wouldn’t realize the contessa is really the cat burglar in disguise. Here, have a fate point.” Invoking and compelling fate points create an economy, essentially, meaning that fate points should be moving around the table, keeping authorial influence distributed among all participants.

After getting the tone for the other characters players were creating — a violent clown, an Akira knockoff and robot-loving would-be cyborg stand out in particular — I decided to go with Bill Murray. No particular reason. It just popped in there. Turns out I don’t have much insight into what Bill Murray would say when presented with an irrefutable choice to join up with rogue scanners.

Of the players at the table, Neil, myself and one other were at all familiar with FATE, I think. I figured that would be the case going in, as well as that there would be a relatively slow pace to the session, as everyone picked up a whole new lingo unlike what they knew from more traditional role-playing games. And that was the case.

When things did pick up a bit and we started experimenting with tagging and compelling aspects, I was, frankly, disappointed. Spending a fate point doesn’t do a whole lot. FUDGE, and by extension, FATE, has a fairly tight results spectrum: -4 to +4 on 4dFudge, or -5 to +5 if you roll d6-d6. Fate points in Strands of Fate can give a +2 to a result or allow a reroll. So you can turn a crappy roll into a mediocre roll, which still may not beat the contesting result, or you can gamble that you won’t get another crappy roll.

I had to bow out before the game ended, so I’d be curious to find out how the session progressed. Did everyone else warm up to aspects and fate points to the point they ever took authorial control?

The scenario I’ve seen other people describe, in which fate points fly around the table as people invoke and compel aspects is an attractive one. But I think it would take a lot of work to get there, not only in the players learning a new style of game to play, but also processing all that information. To compel an aspect, you have to know it’s there and retain the information for when it becomes relevant. I had nothing but sympathy for Neil and his cheat sheet of forty-eight aspects, eight from each of the six players who started the game that afternoon.

Aspects seem like an interesting idea, but they also seem like extra work without an overwhelming amount of benefit to make it worth my time to bother with them.


8 thoughts on “Strands of Fate

    • It sounds like Dresden Files and FATE have created a two way street: gamers going to the novels for the first time and likewise novel readers going to the RPG.

  1. Well, that session did convince me not to use FATE for nerdfest. I think overall out Fate session went ok, but it just is too much the way it was set up.

    One big problme is that Fate, like any other generic system, really needs to be developed a bit for the specific type of genre you are going for in order to pull everything you wanted off. Fortunately Strands of Fate had ready made powers that I could just cut and paste, but if I were to do it all over again I’d likely just have to rewright all of those powers and really tweak them to fit with what the story was trying to achieve.

    And yeah, too many aspects make for information overload.

    I’d be interested in seeing a d20 game, or Pathfinder, with Aspects bolted on to see what can come of it. The Aspects do have the potential to help players that aren’t that interested normally in roleplaying to be able to inject a bit more theme into their game. Being able to compell players into doing “soft” dramatic stuff for a little bit, and not just be wading around in numbers and rules might be worthwhile.

    • I could see finding aspects more appealing if they went either way: giving a character in a more traditional system one or two as convenient handles to incentivize interaction among the group members, or what I’ve seen some people suggest, which is removing skills entirely and using aspects alone for task resolution.

      Even, then, though, I think tracking eight aspects is too much to ask of most players, and particularly the GM. Five might be feasible, if they fell into a themed structure: this is your Physical aspect, this is your mental Aspect, etc.

  2. When I was playing Spirit of the Century I had more or less the same experience. Figuring what to do with aspects took a while, and until I had figured it out some, I was a bit adrift. Eventually I did like the game.

    One of the things I like about Fudge is that as a game system it tries to stay out of your way as a GM/Story Teller. I’m still contemplating Fate from that point of view. I’m reading my first Harry Dresden novel now (and enjoying it, surprisingly), so maybe that will catch me.

    • I must be the only player in the world who finds FUDGE to be an ever present barrier. My mental process usually runs something like, “Okay, I want to do this thing, so I will roll the dice. rolls dice I got an exceptionally crappy result. I can improve that to a slightly less crappy result or hope to get a better dice roll. Either way, it will cost me one of these precious fate / luck points that are not refreshing because no one’s compelling me to do anything. rolls dice again Doggoneit.”

      • Yeah Tyler, I can see that. Perhaps one of the reasons it works for me is because I de-emphasize the dice rolls anyway as a GM. If someone is being creative, and they roll horribly, instead of making it fail, I tend to make it success with complications. Sometimes horrible, hilarious complications. I’m also free with luck points.

      • If the fate points are not moving around fast enough, just play with a higher refresh (the number of points you start the game with) and you will see that soon, people will start spending them and the economy will fall into place. You are just experiencing a recession – the solution is always the same: print more money.

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