Female Gametester, newbie (age: 26)
“Unlike almost everyone we played with and probably everyone who reads this post, I came to FateStorm with limited experience of other RPGs (I’d briefly played D&D and Exalted) and a fair amount of skepticism about the value of roleplay. In particular, much of the gender assumptions, imagery and ecosystem that has grown up around ‘sword and sorcery’ environments was deeply offensive to me. I became involved in roleplay purely as a way of helping my other half and to be sociable. With those caveats out of the way, here’s what I thought about playing the FateStorm system.
“Character generation takes a while – a whole three-hour game session, plus homework if you’re dedicated – and requires a lot of thought. If you’re a lazy, ill-informed player (as I was) you’ll need a helpful and understanding Fate to guide you through the process. However, it is – I found – a very rewarding and creative process and there’s a much greater degree of control. At the end of the character generation session that’s what you’ll have – a character, not a list of stats. The process is almost like the drama student pastime of hot seating and helps the players to inhabit their creations. Subsequently, when creating new avatars, each player generated a character in private rather than during a game session and then discussed the character with the Fate so that the avatars had to learn about each other within the game, which added to the roleplay possibilities.
“The system supports the ambitious player, the difficult player, the bloody-minded player – as long as the character development is justifiable within the world the avatar inhabits, the system can facilitate almost any permutation of character traits.
“Combat is really, really brutal. Your avatar is at high risk of dying. The system rewards the wily and punishes the mindless. Equally, good stuff is expensive and rewards are hard won.
“There’s a much greater sense of ownership when your avatar succeeds, and when things go badly for your avatar, usually, you have to take responsibility.
“I am not, nor ever will be, the world’s most committed roleplayer, but I found FateStorm to be an engaging, immersive and enjoyable gaming experience. Yes, the mechanics of the game are more convoluted than the two other games I’d played – D&D was a no-brainer, painting-by-numbers kind of thing – but I felt amply rewarded for this by the flexibility, malleability and realism. Some aspects of the FateStorm Evolved game mechanics reward long-term planning. Oh, and fights really are scary.”
System description and explanations
There are four main components that go to create an Avatar;
- The Archetype – a universal template associated with a guiding figure (warrior, thief, orphan), This will provide beginning Attributes as well as colour how the Avatar interprets and relates to the greater world around them.
- Ruling Sign – similar to an astrological sign but more cosmological, influences fateful outcomes. The Ruling Sign is also a key to understanding the Avatar’s personality and impulses.
- Egoid – a racial or cultural template that determines starting knowledge, skills and special attributes.
- Vocation – a voluntary association with a particular role in society, with added benefits and associations
The Avatar has a range of statistics, but there are three main groups that go to determine most outcomes in the game;
- Descriptors – these are base statistics of which there are four: Critical Effectiveness (CE), Mental Agility (MA), Personal Resonance (PR), and Spiritual Resonance (SR). They are associated with an element of Fire, Air, Earth and Water.
- Attributes – There are four attributes which govern an Avatar’s ability to interact with the physical environment around them; Grounding, Command, Assea and Acumen.
- Aptitudes – these are the skills and knowledge that the Avatar has learnt
Attributes and Descriptors are used to resolve all activities, everything else is tertiary. Descriptors are the primary statistics of the Avatar, they represent physical, mental and spiritual strengths. The Attributes are much more personal in their nature; firstly they originate from the Avatar’s Archetype so they are a direct influence of the Archetype on the Avatar’s life. Also they are what increases and decreases with the flow of the HeroCycle, and as such play a much more dramatic role within the game. To try to distil down the difference; Descriptors are the Avatar’s manifest natural abilities, Attributes are the Avatar’s ability to influence the world around them conjoined with the metaphysical influences that drive the Avatar’s life – they are what colour the Avatar’s life, while the Descriptors provide the tone. . Other statistics include; Prowess, Talents and Personalities as well as Resources and Allies.
The underlying currents of FateStorm are about how there is very little ‘coincidence’ in the lives of an Avatar. While their destinies are not known, what is known is that they have a destiny – and the game is about discovering what that is. The system provides tools which enable non-random determination of outcomes, but without the outcomes being obvious. In addition there are FatePoints, which the players gain, loose and expend in order to increase their Avatar’s aptitudes, prowess or talents, and to use various aspects of fate.
- Buying Fate – the Avatars, unlike normal people, are linked in with the universe in a way which allows them to actually cause the threads of fate to bend, either aiding or ailing their efforts to succeed. The system allows the Avatar to buy fateful influences, such as miracles, catastrophes, elemental influence or even summon their Archetype to possess them during times of great need.
- FateDeck – these cards are used in a multitude of ways, but they are generally used to allow the players and the fate a range of story options and to add an element of serendipity to play. Players can purchase a FateHand at any stage of play in order to influence events.
- FateSphere – the FateSphere appears in the middle of the Avatar record sheet. It is split into elemental arcs as well as their associated Ruling signs. Used as a diagram, it can determine the underlying relationships between the Avatar and any other individual. It can be used by the Fate to determine a bias in a given situation towards the Avatar, and is used as the calendar for the HeroCycle of the Avatar.
- HeroCycle – the HeroCycle describes the underlying influences of the cosmos upon the life of the Avatar. At times the Avatar will have the favour of the cosmos, at other times they will be suffering from a lack of influence. The HeroCycle is unique for each Avatar, and as such, when Avatars work as a troupe, there will be times when some of them are more powerful than others in certain regards because their HeroCycle are waxing, while the others are waning. This forces all the players to have moments when their Avatar’s can achieve legendary feats without one Avatar overshadowing the rest. It creates a reliance on teamwork and memorable stories. The HeroCycle is considered an advanced tool in FateStorm and is therefore optional to the system
The FateSphere has two primary sources of influence on the game mechanics, firstly there are the quadrants of elemental affinity, which divide the descriptors and the ruling signs – these can be used to determine elemental affinity for many other aspects of play, such as a particular magic, aptitude, or special ability. It is also the wheel around which the Ruling Signs are devised (in a similar fashion to the zodiac), this is used to maintain the continuity of the HeroCycle and determine where an Avatar sits on the HeroCycle based on their own Ruling Sign. How the Ruling Signs are aligned between individuals is what ‘suggests’ bias, such as personal attraction or repulsion. This can be as simple as someone taking an unconscious like or dislike to a person as they enter a shop, to a combatant ‘unconsciously’ selecting a single target out of a mob of opponents to attack. This can form a huge influence on the game, not in a manner that prejudices a single Avatar but that also reveals hidden threads of fate and destiny.
FatePoints and the wager system
At the beginning of each game session the Avatars are awarded a FatePoint (FP) this is added to their total accumulated FatePoints gained from previous sessions. FatePoints are used in a number of ways;
- To purchase a fateful event as described above (Miracle, Catastrophe, FateHand, etc)
- To increase Avatar statistics (such as Aptitudes, Prowess, Allies, Weaves, Vocations)
- To counter damage through sacrificing armour
- To wager on the outcome of a dramatic and potentially fateful event.
Wagering FatePoints can only be done when the outcome could have a direct negative result for the Avatar of a dramatic nature. The amount of FatePoints which can be wagered is determined by the Fate (GM), but the amount must be available to the Avatar to begin with. Failure of the Avatar to succeed will result in the loss of the FatePoints, success will result in an equal amount of FatePoints as the wager awarded to the Avatar.
The Basic Mechanics
The system boils down to a fairly simple mechanic.
- There is an Activity Rating (AR) determined, and known only, by the Fate (GM) for a given task. A higher AR indicates a more difficult activity.
- The Avatar creates an Activity Pool (AP) which is then compared to the AR to determine the level of success. The typical AP is created by adding up a Descriptor+Attribute+Aptitude. Some AP such as the Combat Activity Pool (CAP), are pre-generated as they do not alter for their set purpose.
- In any instance where the outcome is actively opposed by another then this is a duelled activity. In duelled activities each side creates an AP, these are then expended in a tit-for-tat fashion to try to gain the upper hand in the competition; whether it is a game of chess, melee combat or a verbal debate. Duelled activities are modified through any use of a special ability, prowess, talent, and of course roleplay.
- Non-Duelled activities, or Passive activities have the chance of gaining a partial success if the Avatar’s AP exceeds 50% of the AR.
- The use of AR and AP is not a simple black and white result (unless that is the Fate’s ruling), but there is room for partial successes to be achieved adding to the detail of the story.
- Duelled activities are modified by a huge range of variables, from special combat manoeuvres, to magic weaves, equipment bonuses and even personality traits. As such there is no clear winner from the beginning of an encounter. And while it may appear that one side holds all the advantage, the use of FatePoints to bring change to a situation can not be overlooked.