This is a story in three parts.
1. I tried a new game system.
Our regular Sunday D&D 3.5 game took a couple of weeks off due to march break holidays and work schedules. Rather than do nothing, I decided to run a little “mini-campaign” (a two session story) in the same world as my previous 3.5 campaign had taken place in.
Only, I didn’t use 3.5. I decided to use Fate Core instead. Why? Mostly, because I’d heard about the system elsewhere, was curious, and figured the best way to learn was to go ahead and try playing it.
Also, though, it’s because for something that short, 3.5 is a pain.
- Character creation for characters beyond level 1 is time consuming even if you know how to do it, and some of my players don’t.
- People who had them wanted to use their characters from the previous game, and I thought that was great, but they’re 17th level. You can’t slot new people in and have them be useful unless they’re also high level, at which point no mundane story is going to challenge them.
- Plus, there’s a lot of prep required with monster stats, loot, and such.
Switching systems eliminated a lot of that.
- Fate Characters have a lot fewer statistics, and are thus easier to create. Getting your Aspects right is the hardest part, and that can (and should) be done as a group activity, so everybody could help everybody really easily. It didn’t require looking up class definitions or splatbook feats to do.
- The power curve in Fate is much less steep than in 3.5, so those already existing people could be stronger than the newer folks without breaking the game. That said, making a new character gave me a chance to also remake those characters, giving them something extra for being already existing but bringing them somewhat back in line. (Playing D&D 5e would have also let me do this, because the power curve is somewhat flatter there too, especially with skills.)
- Although there was extra prep work created by the system change as I tried to learn it, I wanted to do that anyway. Actually statting NPCs and monsters is easier, as the system is less complicated and meant to be run more quickly.
For those who are not familar, a Fate Core character doesn’t have stats like Strength. You have five “Aspects”, that are phrases that describe something about you. Deadpool’s description as the “Merc with the mouth” could be an aspect. You can use an aspect to give you a boost when it can help you (when being a mouthy merc would come in handy) by spending a fate point, and it can also be used by the DM to make your life more complicated/difficult (which earns you a fate point).
2. I liked it.
We’ve done one session so far, with another to go. That session went really well. I mean, none of us really knew what we were doing, but the system by design has people working together to determine outcomes and shape the story, rather than everything being dictated by the rules and the DM.
For example, you can “concede” a fight, effectively losing the battle. If you do so, the table then decides what that means. Did you run away? Were you knocked out cold? Did you roll down the open sewer grate and get swept off by smelly sewer water? Were you taken prisoner?
Everyone gets to help decide the outcome of that action, and that’s the direction the story takes. For those who have played games like D&D, you know that’s not typically how it works. You try and do something, roll the dice, and the DM tells you what happens.
The difference made for a very fun evening of storytelling. It also caused new things I’d never thought of to keep on appearing, as players started adding their own ideas, and coming up with explanations for why they could accept or reject a compel, do something in a given situation, or use a skill in a way I’d never thought of.
I mean, it wasn’t flawless. In particular, the setting I’m using was made for D&D, and is a super magical city based on D&D style Vancian magic. Fate Core has no magic system built in at all. So, we had to come up with something during character creation that would make spellcasting characters exist and work without totally overpowering everyone else (which they do in D&D 3.5, why repeat that mistake?). We did come up with something that’s worked so far, but it isn’t always that easy to understand.
Overall, though, the response was really positive and people seemed to be having fun. I know I did, and I’m eager to see how it goes this week when we have a larger group.
3. Now I have a problem.
Nothing I’ve said so far sounds like a problem, does it? Tried a new system, liked it, yay!
Except, I want to run another long campaign in the future. It’d be a continuation of the one I did before, because the actions of the PCs made some major, world changing things happen. A new group dealing with that would be very interesting.
The problem? I’m suddenly not sure what system I want to run it in.
Before this, there was really no doubt. It’d either be D&D 3.5 (or maybe Pathfinder, which is extremely similar to D&D 3.5, given it’s origins as a direct descendant). The new campaign is mostly/entirely the same players. They know the system already. The world was based on the rules of that system.
After this little experiment, I’m not so sure. I don’t really miss having to have a giant pile of stats for all kinds of characters in D&D, having to remember how everything works in 15 different source books (made worse with D&D tools shut down yet again), having to constantly look up the grapple rules because nobody can remember them, and all the other baggage that comes with it.
I didn’t really have any of those problems with Fate. We spent more time discussing what was happening in the world and less time discussing the rules, and that was despite us not knowing the rules very well. For the kind of game I want to run, it may just work out better to use a comparatively rules light system and let everyone tell a cool story, rather than another rules heavy system like I did last time.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love D&D. Sundays will go back to normal D&D time soon, and I have a biweekly Friday Pathfinder game that I also enjoy tremendously. The systems have served me very well. It’s just that until now, I hadn’t really thought about if another system would serve me better, and now I am.
That leaves me with a problem to solve before I can actually develop that campaign.