Finding my Fate with the C-Team

I have mentioned in one or two of my blogs that I happened across a game online one day of the Fate Core system.  Many of you may be unfamiliar with this system as it is not exactly released yet and was recently the subject of a successful Kickstarter to get it up and running.  I happened across the system quite by accident one day at work.  I was checking my Google+ page and I had a notification up saying that I had been invited to a hangout that was happening right then and there.  At the time I was a little naive about the whole hangout thing so I thought someone must be taking a personal interest in my blogs or something similar and want to talk to me so I clicked the Join Hangout button as I did not have any classes to teach for the rest of the day and my marking was up to date.

I landed in a hangout with a few people, none of whom I had any dealings with prior to this, and they were mid discussion about nothing in particular.   Soon they acknowledged me and told me they were thinking about making characters and having a game.  I asked what system and they replied Fate which I said I had never heard of and they stated I would pick it up in no time at all.  I thought I would sit in and see what it was like not fully understanding that they would expect me to join in the character making but that is not the only surprise this session was going to have for me.

Cue the music Dah da dah dah, dur dun dur!

They started to ask “What sort of game do you want?  Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Modern?”  I was a bit taken aback by this!  Who runs a character generation session without knowing what setting!  They shot around a few ideas until they settled on a spoof of the A-Team T.V. show (which would become known as the C-Team).  We were to be mercenaries for hire in the flavour of that great 80’s show which sounded like fun.  I was still a little confused as to how this was all going to work and they then started into character generation.  Character generation as I had never, in my 27 years of roleplaying, experienced before.

They started talking about a sentence that described their character’s high concept.  They called this sentence an aspect. I listened as one by one the other people there came up with a saying like “A smile gets it done” or “Explosives expert with nothing left to lose“. There were around 5 of us in the hangout and I was just taking notes about how this all worked, being nice and quiet when I got asked what my concept was.  I had not even been thinking about playing and then there I was stumbling to find something, after all, making a character didn’t mean I had to play…  So I came up with the first thing that came to my head which was something like “A sniper who thinks he is a brawler” and then there were a lot of um’s and ah’s and general consensus that it was not a good aspect, that it wasn’t focussed enough and covered too much.  There was even a call of the fact that there really wasn’t anyone in the A-Team like it.

Well, that stumped me a little.  Not knowing the system, I had thought perhaps this is just where we get an idea for the character and the stats would follow.  One of the resident experts gave me the heads up that the aspect, especially the high concept, should be generic and double edged.  That is say what the character is all about as a whole but have a way that it could be used positively and negatively.  So, I looked at what had been already created and decided I would target Murdoch from the original series.  They didn’t have a vehicles specialist so I should be in safe territory.  I asked how “Always in the pilot seat” would suit if I played a character like Murdoch and it went down very well.  Then the GM said it was time to move on to the trouble aspect.  It was around about now that I realised perhaps there is something more to these aspects than I had first thought.

I asked how many aspects there were and I was told five!  I was a bit taken back by this.  What were their purpose?  When did we get to the statistics?  So we went through the trouble aspect which was the part of the character which generally causes them the most grief.  For my version of Murdoch I came up with “I am one beer short of a six pack”. After this the remaining aspects have no specific name but are designed to broaden the character.  I added “I always know when I am sane” and then the GM had us do a round of involving our characters with others in the group and having someone else build a character aspect for me.  I had the stealthy infiltrator tell a tale of how every time he seems to be in a tight squeeze I always arrive at the last second to get them to safety.  He made the aspect “Never fear, Derek is here!” Derek Schnapz is the name of the character.

Then the GM asked us to fill in the fifth aspect after playing for a bit and said it was time to do our skills!  No stats, just aspects and skills so far.  I was wondering how this would work at all!  He gave us a skills “cheat sheet” and we had to pick a skills pyramid.  One skill at +4, two at +3, three at +2 and four at +1.  I had no real idea about skills so I chose them quickly, Drive being at the top, followed by Craft(Mechanical) and Notice.  The +2 skills were Empathy, Deceit and Will while my +1 skills were Stealth, Shooting, Athletics, Burglary.  I really did not know much about any of the skills and it seemed Drive covered all types of vehicles.  I would probably go back and change one or two of them with what I know now but it is all OK.

Now, on to stunts they said.  Stunts?  Were these like Feats in Pathfinder?  How did it all work?  At the time I got told I could choose one for free and any extra cut into my refresh, whatever the hell that was!  I decided to just choose one and take it from the cheat sheet of established stunts.  It looked like they were situational bonuses that you got to add to your skill checks.  Everyone else made up there own stunts, and some of them took more than one.  I decided not to as I thought cutting into my refresh might not be good, even though I had no real idea what it was!

After this they decided to play.  I was flabbergasted to use an absolutely ridiculous word!  No stats, no equipment, just aspects, skills and stunts.  How would this game play?  How would I know if I could lift something heavy?  How did I know how much money I had to play with?  What the hell was going on and how did I get in the middle of it all?  And then they added dice stream to the hangout and told me to set up my four fudge dice for play!  What the heck were they?  It was like I had never role played before and I was completely lost!

All the images from here on have been taken from the Fate
Core Kickstarter page

In fact that feeling pervaded me through the game and I was quiet through most of it.  I was watching how the game was played.  Apparently there were these things called Fate points that you could use to do stuff in game, get bonuses to rolls, re-rolls and the like.  Nobody really told me if I had any of them so I was scared off using any.  I learnt that Fudge dice are six sided dice with two sides showing the + symbol, two showing the – symbol and the final two remaining blank.  You roll them, adding 1 for every plus symbol, taking one for every minus symbol and not doing anything with the blank faces.  You add this roll to your applicable skill for a result.  I also noticed that the storytelling was as much the players responsibility as it was the GM’s!  With each use of a skill the player would “take over” the story and add what they needed to complete the skill use.  This was innovative role playing for me.  I may have happened across a bunch of American’s playing an Indie RPG, but I had also stumbled into a new outlook on gaming and I liked it.  A lot. They gave me a copy of the rules (as apparently it was legal to share with those playing the game) and I made a mental note to read them.

I had played in three games of the C-Team and still not read the rules.  I had worked out some of the things I had been confused about.  The refresh was the number of Fate Points you started with.  Using a Fate point had to be tied to one of your aspects, that is if what you were doing could be related to one of your aspects you could use a Fate point.  I had still no idea how physical conflict was resolved or what stresses vs. consequences meant but I liked the way this game worked.  I liked the fact that there were no stats and the core of your character were these aspects.  I liked it so much I included it in my online Pathfinder game (not the no stat rule, but the aspects tied to hero points rule).  I had been in a couple of gamer chats where they had discussed Fate as a system and the general consensus was it is a good system.  There were some updated rules from the game design team along the way that upped the number of free stunts to three but I had to agree with a player who had comment about this.

He stated that Stunts were pointless in Fate.  If you were smart with your aspects you are better off keeping all your refresh as there was nothing that you could do with a stunt that you could not do with a Fate point, an invocation of an aspect and a skill roll.  I thought these words were absolutely on the money.  Sure, take free stunts to add some flavour but never take any stunts that reduced the number of Fate points you could use.  Stunts by their nature narrowed the use of a skill to a specific circumstance for the stunt to be useful and therefore were not as broad as the ability just to wing it with Fate points.

All of the above part of this blog has been a bit of preamble to what now follows.  Through my C-Team game I have been given the latest set of rules that have come out of the development team from the game.  It is beginning to get some nice graphical elements, some good examples and a clear structure.  I want to offer you my thoughts on this innovative system, for what it is worth.  I won’t be talking about how the book looks etc. because I don’t have a copy of the book, I have a PDF of the proposed rules.  I will talk about the rules and the current structure of the PDF that was released in mid-March.

First off, from the above description some of you might be a little put back by a system that has no set statistic structure and just uses phrases to describe everything inclusive of class, abilities and personality.  Well I am here to say that this is not a setback, it is the main strength of this system.  The aspects define a character well, and the suggested way of making the character (in a group session with group feedback) allows for the player to get a real feel for the character.  The focus on the aspects rather than statistics and a class enables the character to focus on playing the character, warts (trouble aspects) and all.  the system even suggests that the player look for ways that their foibles can be compelled as when it is you gain a Fate Point to use.

The image from evil hat’s FATE website

Apparently systems that used Fate as the core system (such as The Dresden Files) utilised more than five aspects.  I think five is the right number and this version, being a refinement on previous versions, has it just right.  Any more than five aspects would become a little too unfocussed, broadening a simple character concept unnecessarily.  The core book also does things a little differently to the way that I built Derek in that all the aspects come from the controlling character.  They do encourage aspects that involve the other players, or involve your character with their story with an eye on producing a dynamic group with a bunch of concepts that can be used to build the story.

The skill structure is a good basic system and the use of Fudge dice innovative and simple.  It has a certain elegance.  But as the game is setting-less and meant to be usable across any setting you can imagine the designers have been brave by keeping their skill list so short.  I think it works well, most of the skills can be rebranded to any setting and they give a good amount of detail on how to add new skills if needed, or even unpack skills that exist if they are too broad for your setting.

The one thing that I was not familiar with, and was keen to learn about, when I started reading this was how the conflict system lead into the concept of stress boxes and consequences.  I had only really been in two combats and nobody shot at me, in fact we were awesome and pretty much took out the opposition so only the GM had to handle this side of things.  Well, without going into too much detail, it is a good system and allows for the player to pull out if they have too much invested to lose the character by taking consequences.  Stresses are the boxes that are ticked off as active “damage” of sorts (mental or physical) and when you are out if you take further damage you are “taken out”.

I have to say that the advice given for building the game is also very good.  It builds the games off the aspects provided by the character.  Also, in every setting the idea of the aspects is carried through so the  scene would contain a couple of aspects that could be invoked, the campaign would have some aspects, the NPC’s are built with aspects.  It is just a clever system and the way that they describe building stories using these aspects is just downright smart.

A nice simple character sheet and they use tokens for
Fate points which is nice and tactile.

Finally, they have an extras chapter that is designed to give you some further ideas on how to build certain settings up, like a supers campaign or similar.  I do have to say, I felt this chapter was pointless and I would organise things much differently in my game if I were to build a fantastical setting.  There is a lot of talk in here of usage of stunts and various other tricks and I think most of them were completely complicating an otherwise elegant and simple system.

This game has a massive amount going for it and the criticisms I have for it are relatively minor.  First of all, I still hold to my issue with the stunts that I mentioned earlier.  The fact that you can “buy” more stunts than the three initial freebies with refresh should be taken away.  It is narrowing focus and taking away from character flexibility.  As written there is nothing that you could not do with a Fate point that is currently a stunt.  And the fact that they mention some times that a Fate point may be required to power a stunt is a bit of an insult.

Secondly, the way the book is ordered is an issue.  There is a fair bit of game specific terminology (e.g. creating an advantage, overcome, invocation of an aspect, compelling from an aspect, boost, boost with a free invocation) and the first two to three chapters of the book use them prolifically.  This would be fine but a LOT of them are not described until after this in the conflict chapter.  To the books credit they do reference page numbers to these rules.  I personally HATE having to skip off to another portion of the book (especially when reading the PDF even if they are indexed) as I lose my train of thought.  I would much prefer to see a general glossary at the start of the book, or an up front how to play chapter that covers some of the basic terms and concepts.

The final criticism I have is endemic to a lot of systems currently out at the moment and that is the idea that you must always pander to the players ego.  This idea that you should soften a bad skill roll by explaining away the error not as the fault of the character but of the environment.  For example, say you went to shoot someone and the dice came up four negatives and you had a skill of +2, that gives you an overall score of -2 and pretty much a fail at the roll.  By the books suggestion the GM would say that you raised the gun, aimed it perfectly at the head of your opponent but as chance would have it you pull the trigger just as a truck crosses your path and it hits the side of the truck.  This idea is ludicrous and should be outlawed, skilled people have bad days, and the dice rolls reflect that.

Fudge dice 🙂

The book in fact goes on to say that you should always make the characters feel awesome and special? Come on!  Where would we be if every story was filled with every mistake being the fault of someone else and characters that always felt they were on top of their game?  What ever happened to the low in the character as they feel helpless only to bounce back with an idea or unexpected support to come out on top again?  These are the stories that matter.  The idea that your character always gets it right, it is just circumstances out of your control that make you lose out is wrong.  They do take this idea with character death also, actively suggesting the GM should not kill a character as the player has invested their time in the character and they will feel bad.  Why would you do this in a system where there is a mechanic that allows you a get out of conflict by taking consequences.  If they don’t want to take the consequence then they should risk death.

Of course this final grievance is simply a matter of tone.  You can pick up the book and ignore these suggestions, as I will be doing when I run a game.  I am just worried about where our hobby is going when good systems are coming out with this sort of advice.  If you want to play a role, in my opinion, you should be ready to accept the highs that role can give as well as the bad stuff that can happen in it too.  If you play the game over and over and over and the players pick up on the fact that they can do anything with no realistic result then of course they will do it.  Player: I jump out of the plane without a parachute and aim for a hay bail. GM: No worries!  Lucky that hay bail was over a mile high as it absorbs the energy of the fall and leaves you with a twisted ankle…  Can anyone say DnD 4th Edition?

So, apart from a few minor criticisms, I love this system.  It is slick, it is smart and it feels right.  It is aimed at playing the role rather than rolling the play.  No complicated multiple rolls across many turns type mechanics.  the idea of shared storytelling is deep in the game so that the GM is pleased when the player takes on the narrative and it feels good to hear the players concept of how the game is going.  This is going to be a book I will buy, no secrets about that at all.  In the meantime, roll on C-Team, never fear as Derek is here!

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