D&D 3.x to Fate 2.0

Recently, I did something I've never done before - I changed rulesets for my tabletop fantasy campaigns. Sure, we went through the change from AD&D 2nd Edition to D&D 3.0, and with less impact, 3.0 to 3.5. This time, however, I made the jump from D&D of any kind to Fate, a system that has much more emphasis on narrative and player input, and much less in the way of crunchy numeric bits. And it's fantastic.

The main thing I'm enjoying is that preparation time is cut down to a tiny fraction, at least in terms of numbers. I used to do a huge amount of work preparing for games, and the vast majority of this time was sunk into number-crunching, the generation of NPCs and monsters. Now, I don't mean to say that I didn't enjoy that - there's something almost therapeutic about sinking into a pile of rulebooks and working out exactly what stats a half-dragon half-demon elemental-specialised wizard has. But it takes a lot of time, and that time was taken away from the hours I could otherwise spend on coming up with good plots, names, and background information.

Fate characters are defined by their aspects and their skills. Aspects can be as simple as "Strong", or as complex - and evocative - as "Ain't Nobody Touchin' Me No More". They set out some principle or idea that is important to, or intrinsic to, the character. They can be invoked by the GM (I'm probably going to think of that role as "the DM" for the rest of my life, though) to suggest that characters should undertake certain actions. "You've got the aspect "Loyal" - you can't let him go in there on his own!". If the player agrees to take the action, they're awarded a Fate Point. If not, they have to pay a Fate Point back to the GM.

Fate Points are the other mechanic I really love in this game. A player can spend them for several useful effects - mechanically, they can change the roll of the dice, and in other areas, they can effectively move the story on. A player can pass over a Fate Point and say "We find a way through the mountains," or "There's a passing shepherd, maybe he knows where the pass is." Something that hasn't yet come up in my game yet, but which I really like, is the possibility to pass over a Fate Point in response to something that's happened, and say "Foreshadowing". At that point, the GM takes a note of what happened, and uses it as just that, to foreshadow some later event.

For task resolution, there are skills, which are filled out along with aspects, so that the two inter-relate. There are special dice, marked with "+" on two sides, "-" on two sides, and with two blank sides. Rolling four of these gives a number between -4 and +4, which you add to your skill for a result. That's compared to difficulty, or an opposing roll, and the action succeeds or fails. This mechanic applies to just about everything in the game, and even combat is just a series of these rolls.

For the mechanics of the game, that's about all there is - it's clean, simple, and incredibly effective.

The only bits we've really had any difficulty with were the use of magic in the setting, and the skills pyramid. And, being honest, the magic thing is my own fault, because I don't want the characters played with Fate to be more or less powerful than those played with D&D. D&D's spell system, though, is full of a huge number of checks and balances that just aren't there in Fate, and we're still debating the best way to move that across. At present, we're going with "You can do stuff that the PHB spells do; make a roll and see what comes out." It's not perfect, and we're looking at other ideas like a mana pool.

The skills pyramid is one I suspect will come with practice and use. Basically, for each aspect your character starts with, you get four skill points. You can spend the skill points on ranks in any of a given list of skills, as long as they're relevant to the aspect. If you have a number of skills at a given rank, there must be one more skill at the rank below - that is, if you have three skills at rank 3, you need to have four at rank 2 and therefore five at rank 1. This is a lot more difficult to manage than it sounds, particularly when you're used to the unlinked, unrelated skills of D&D. However, other people have done some thinking about this, and there's a FATE Skills Pyramid Generator, which is very, very useful, especially when you're dealing with large numbers of aspects.

I'm really pleased, though, by the way combat doesn't slow down the game. Not that I'm ever going to run fight-heavy games, but when it does come up, I prefer the game not to grind to a halt while people work out the numbers, positions, and what feat does what. The narrative control that goes over to the players is also excellent - if someone's getting bored, they can just spend a Fate Point and move things along. That take a lot of pressure off the person running the game, and again, allows putting in more Cool Stuff.

Posted by Drew Shiel at May 23, 2007 1:35 PM

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