Tag Archives: FATE

Games That Really Disappointed Me

A thread on TheRPGSite about “Games You Really Wanted To Like But Couldn’t” struck a chord with me.  Here’s some of the games I really, really wanted to like but was sadly crushed by. Chime in with yours!

Rune. After Feng Shui, which I loved with an intense love, I was really looking forward to Robin Laws’ next game, and Vikings are cool, so it seemed like a shoo-in. Then when I got it, it was a weird budget-driven thing that I couldn’t even begin to attempt to run. You can’t put in a trap, you have to take the trap out of the budget for opposing elements…  Spreadsheet time! To create a Rune adventure you’d have to do days of prep and math, there is no “winging it.” A warning shot of what has mostly gone wrong with RPGs since in many ways. Recently I saw the 2e clone Myth & Magic trying to put in an “XP budget” thing in their scenario building and it gave me post-traumatic stress disorder flashbacks to Rune, I said “Rip that out POST HASTE boys!”

Savage Worlds. With Savage Worlds there isn’t enough meat there unless the GM is willing to be off-the-cuffing stuff, and ours wasn’t. “I’m sorry, that seems like a valid Strength trick but the game only defines Smarts and Agility tricks.” “Oh well then this system is boring as all get out as written.” Also probably the GM’s style is to blame, he’d just suddenly take 15 minutes to build a big HeroClix battle mat and put the exact same generic goblin and dwarf minis down on it (we never fought dwarves or goblins, they were just stand-ins) and look at us and say “What do you want to do?” “To what? Where are we? What do those goblins represent? Are they attacking us or something?” But we gave it two campaigns. Once the final one ended with us getting killed by the traditional SW “guy you can’t hit ever except on super lucky dice explosions” we boycotted.

With FATE, I’ve tried Spirit of the Century and Dresden Files. Spirit of the Century was just too big.  411 pages for a “pick-up” RPG?  There was no way to bootstrap a group into playing it.  With Dresden Files, it wasn’t really the core mechanics that got us. Well, maybe it was. I just remember the wizard continually outshining other people in their specialty, and then us taking an egregiously long time to cast some detection spell. “Do we have enough juju to make it work? No? OK, we put in… Some grass, because he was on grass when he was abducted! Still not enough? We put in… A phone book with his name in it! How about now?” We stole Aspects and just added them to our Pathfinder characters in some campaigns, that works well enough. Might give FATE a try in another circumstance, but it’s operating at “two strikes.”

D&D 4e, because I actually liked D&D in Basic, 1e, 2e, and 3e; then 4e took a big steaming dump on everything the game stood for.

M&M 2e and Spycraft 2e. I loved 1e of both, and I was fine with upgrading and bought the books for both new editions sight unseen. And with both, they took a fine RPG and ladled on big levels of complexity and made it read like an encyclopedia full of definitions and not a game. They were completely un-charming and in both cases after reading some, even with my previous understanding from the earlier edition, I didn’t really want to power through reading the rest of the weighty tome. There’s a game design philosophy that sometimes comes into vogue that says “Make it read like a big ol’ dictionary, and they can just piece it together from all the individual definitions!”  And that’s about as easy as learning a foreign language from a dictionary. Game designers, stop being lazy. Write a game.

I think it’s at this point I decided giant complex games were not for me any more and started eyeballing lighter approaches (though sadly Savage Worlds was supposed to be the lead candidate there).

Those are the games that I really, really wanted to like, that many people told me I should like, but that in the end I like so little that if our group was like “Let’s play X” I, who generally go along with whatever game system without comment, would have to say “Uh… I don’t know if I’d really enjoy that.”


Well, not FATE per se.  It’s a handy enough little minimalist game system.  But I hate all the FATE fanboys.

Every couple years, a new game becomes the darling of the rpg.net crowd and it’s touted as the perfect game for everything.   Want to run gritty horror, epic supers, wild west, comic mobsters?  FATE is the best tool for the job of course!

The most annoying thing is that when it comes up, the person hasn’t actually USED it for that, you understand.  They’re just SURE that it will be perfect for it.  In fact, they really haven’t played much FATE; usually they’re the normal sort of RPG forum dwellers who for some strange reason never actually play RPGs, possibly because that would interfere with their endless theoretical opinions about them.

Not too many years ago, Risus was the standard answer. Someone is looking for a game to do X with?  Use Risus, of course!

But it’s all foolishness.  Pick a sufficiently light system, and of course it’s “good for everything.”  Which is to say, doesn’t specifically support what you’re doing well without you doing a lot of work. Here’s my new system – you roll d6 and on 1-3 you succeed at whatever, and at 4-6 you suffer a setback.  OH IT’S PERFECT FOR ANYTHING!!!!

At least for the couple years rpg.net was obsessed with Exalted, it’s a rich game with loads of rules and backplot and they didn’t bother everyone else telling them they should run cops and robbers, transhumanist SF, and greek epics in it.

Anyway, fanboys, please do FATE a favor and quit it.  When it’s used for a real game like Spirit of the Century or ICONS it’s fine.  You’ll note that those games add on a bunch to the core mechanic to make it suitable for their specific genre and setup, right?  But your unthinking pimping of the game in every context just leads to overexposure and then people of discernment, like myself, start to say “Hmmm, they’re just using FATE to be trendy trendertons, forget it.”

Consider if someone is asking for a game to do something specific, that probably a game that supports that specific thing may be better.  Just saying “use FATE” to any query is only one touch better than saying “play pretend, durr hurr hurr.”

New Supers game ICONS is blowing up!

I came across a reference to the new supers game, ICONS, by Steve Kenson recently purely by chance, buried in an interview about M&M 3e. I quoted it in my recent “Player Empowerment or Player Entitlement?” post because its random character generation tickled my fancy.

Steve is the designer of Mutants & Masterminds, my favorite supers RPG.  In fact, really my only supers RPG.  I could never get into the other ones back in the day.  I ran a M&M campaign that I enjoyed, though it didn’t go over big with some of the players.  I played in a Hero System game that did not thrill me.

But after I read that one thing about ICONS, I noticed that it’s just EVERYWHERE.  It’s clearly the new RPG.net darling, there are many huge threads about ICONS in the main RP forum.  Now I’m seeing blog posts, stuff on every forum, etc.  It’s the new hotness.

Sounds like it’s a light supers RPG with good production values.  It uses the FATE system to an extent – that’s actually somewhat becoming a turnoff because of all the FATE fanboys out there, where the answer to any query about “what’s a good RPG that does X” is always “FATE!” regardless of whatever X is (and the person has never used FATE for X, they’re just “sure” it’d be just the right thing).  That’s tiresome. I like FATE all right but it’s just like any other generic system over the years (from Risus to Savage Worlds to GURPS) that its fans tirelessly tout as being the end all be all for everything.  FATE fans, you’re on notice.

But I do like having character stats that are extremely short.  Here’s Greywulf”s version of Thor:


Prowess 8, Coordination 5, Strength 10, Intellect 3, Awareness 5, Willpower 8
Stamina 18, Determination 0

Invulnerability 5, Flight 8, Weather Control (Storms, Blast & Creation) 10

Specialities: Weapon Expert (Mjolnir, 10 damage), Medicine

Qualities: Connections (The Avengers, Asgard), Enemy (Loki), Social (Temper Tantrums)

Beats huge ass character sheets/stat blocks (why even a goblin has to be 4x as complicated as this nowadays in D&D I’ll never know).

Anyway, seems interesting and the hype is loud!  I don’t have the game yet (I prefer print to PDF so I’m waiting) but here, check out Greywulf’s 10 things to like about ICONS.

I loved M&M 1e, but when they went to 2e it just got a little too much more crunchy and complicated for me.  So a deliberately light game from the same designer is a slam dunk in my book!