Tuesday, December 11, 2012

[Fate Core] Rules vs. Settings

This is a warning.
So! That Fate Core Kickstarter's been pretty crazy, am I right? It's great to see so many people excited enough about it to back the campaign -- exactly 3,600 people, as I type -- and also to see how many of them are new to Fate with this edition. That's awesome.

Not surprisingly, there's a lot of discussion about Fate Core in various places around the Internet, and a lot of it's revolving around what it can do. Most of the time, inquiries about this kind of thing look something like this:
Really enjoyed the Terra Nova TV series when it was on and was wondering if it would be possible to make that kind of setup using the FATE system?
(That's James Cartwright, commenting on the Kickstarter page.)

Or this:
I would love to see a strong example of a heavily race based system. Ideally in my mind an anthropomorphic animal game in the vane of Redwall, Mouse Guard, or Ironclaw.
(That's Jonathan Dietrich, also on the Kickstarter page.)

These both sound like great games to run with Fate Core. Terra Nova may have let me down as a show, but the premise was cool -- sci-fi tech and dinosaurs! As for the anthropomorphic animal thing, well, I own Mouse Guard and backed Cairn, so I'm in.

My reaction to this kind of thing is always the same: Yeah, of course Fate can do that. What does it really involve, anyway? Knowing the source material? Fate Core gives you everything you need to sort out the rest.
This is a pretty unfair attitude, I know. I'm so used to hacking Fate and talking about hacking Fate and seeing Fate hacks that at this point it's kinda That System Everyone Hacks to me. You want to do something with Fate? Great! Go do it. What are you waiting for? Again, unfair.

However, there's an actual point to be made here as well. As I also said on Twitter, there's a real difference in Fate Core between saying "I want rules for..." and saying "I want a setting that's like...." 98% of emulating a genre using Fate Core is knowing the genre well in the first place.

Do you need special rules for shooting a dinosaur -- rules that aren't already in Fate Core? I don't think so. I mean, sure, you'll want to stat up some dinosaurs, but that's definitely within the scope of the rules as written. Do you need special rules for playing a sword-wielding mouse (as opposed to a sword-wielding human)? If everyone's playing an animal, make sure everyone has at least one aspect describing what kind of animal they are. (And then, y'know, stat out some cats and weasels.) Hashtag done!

Let's take Fate Core assistant developer Brian Engard's Wild Blue setting as an example. Wild Blue is part Western, part fantasy-magic stuff, and part supers. It has new rules for the magic-and-supers stuff (in the form of gifts), because Brian had a specific vision for how those work in the setting that he needed to convey. It has a couple new skills that suit the setting. And... that's it for new rules. Because Fate Core does everything else.

But Jonathan Dietrich came back with this:
Which is a great question! I tried to answer it on Twitter, but Twitter's not the best medium for that sort of thing, so let's see if it I can do it justice here.

What we're really talking here when we talk about sci-fi dinosaurs or heroic rodents isn't rules, but setting. Most of what'd be in a good Terra Nova RPG built on Fate Core would be descriptions and stats for things from the show -- an implementation of the system, sure, but off the top of my head I can't think of anything especially new it needs in terms of rules or mechanics. (Of course, I'm no Terra Nova scholar or anything, so maybe I'm misremembering.)

Anthropomorphic animals? As a complete game, I'd want lots of descriptions of animals and examples of aspects and stunts for each. But what I can't imagine is that any of that would deviate from the tools that Fate Core gives you. Maybe -- maybe -- you'd want size and scale rules, but extras can do that as-is. (The Extras Toolbox will probably have those size and scale rules, but still.)

The thing is, the protagonists in these stories do things that "baseline" human protagonists do in Fate Core anyway. (Well, apart from, like, gathering nuts for the winter, I guess.) They don't shoot laser beams from their palms or have super-strength or bend the laws of reality or anything. Even if they're mice or voles or whatever, they do what mice or voles or whatever in the setting do -- which makes mice or voles or whatever the new baseline, which means you don't need special rules for them. If you know your source material and follow the directions in Fate Core, you'll get the game you want.

With all that established: What makes Atomic Robo so special that it need its own book?

This is a fair and complex question.

One, Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener want to do it. I want to do it. Evil Hat wants to do it. Lots of Robo fans really want us to do it. So... we're doing it.

Two, ARRPG may be an implementation of Fate Core, but it has several significant divergences meant to engender the kind of play we want to see out of an Atomic Robo game. Modes simplify character creation and skills to get players playing ASAP. We expect some people who buy the book will be Robo fans first and RPG fans second, or totally inexperienced with RPGs, so right from the start "quickplay" was the default. (Fate Core's easy for first-timers to pick up too, of course; a lot of these core concepts of ARRPG were established long before I even set eyes on Fate Core.)

Y'know how I said I'm not a Terra Nova scholar? Over the past year, I have arguably become an Atomic Robo scholar. Eating, breathing, and sleeping Atomic Robo has had a huge effect on the game in a hundred little ways. Atomic Robo doesn't tell stories the usual Fate Core way, so ARRPG structures stories the Atomic Robo way. The game has mechanics that emulate some specific stuff from the source material, like a group of Action Scientists working together to apply science to a mystery, a quick method for handling the in-game invention of new technology, and the capacity of characters (like Robo himself) to greatly exceed normal human limits.

What else? Aspects are categorized differently. There are no phases. There's no refresh (another very early decision). PCs start with more stunts. There's a subsystem for building customized skills outside of the extras framework. ARRPG has the great GM advice from Fate Core, but with an eye toward telling Atomic Robo stories, and new tools to help you do it. And because I wrote it, it has a random table. Maybe two. Maybe a random number of random tables. We'll see.

(Incidentally, some of the above will probably make it into the Extras Toolbox in some form or other.)

On top of all that, it's a thorough sourcebook for Atomic Robo -- more information on the Robo-verse than you'll find in any other book, plus a bunch of great art from Scott, both from the comic and new stuff. As a fan of Robo, this might be my favorite part of it.

Anyway. What was I talking about? Something to do with rules vs. settings in Fate Core?
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