Fate Core System

Dungeons of Fate came about randomly at International Tabletop Day. When I say randomly, I mean that our DM for the Dungeons and Dragons basic game that I have been hyping up in previous articles never showed, so a table of us were left on our own. Luckily, and quite predictably, the question arose “does anyone have anything they want to play.” I have been long talking about my BaRPG kit, which includes a binder full of one off games and dice box designed for use in bars and at parties. Quite predictably other people at the table had similar kits and a flurry of flipping ensued. The original game was suppose to be around 7 hours, so instead one long Basic Dungeons and Dragons game, we played 3 or four smaller games with smaller rule sets. One of those games was Dungeons of Fate, a house rule variant on classic Dungeons and Dragons using the Fate Accelerated engine for play. I will, of course, talk about the mechanics and rules, but I had some questions about this game and found the creator, Mike Shea, very easy to reach and up for talking. So, by the fireside of an old tavern, we decided to smoke pipes together and chat about it. Mike Shea owns and operates the site Sky Flourish which I found all of the rules for his system.

Fate seems, to me, a system sort of distanced from the old Dungeons and Dragons model. Did you find the engine applicable to an old school setting?

Very much so. I originally designed Dungeons of Fate to support running old-school 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons modules at conventions and did so on a few occasions. I’ve used it for The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, Ravenloft, and the Village of Hommlet.

I think how old school it feels is up to the players and the GM. If players go off the wall with their aspects and stunts, it might not feel like D&D at all but if they stick to some core ideas it can feel a lot like D&D. The same goes for the GM. If the GM describes monsters using typical D&D sort of ideas, it will feel like D&D but if they describe things in some crazy off-the-wall way, it won’t. So how true to D&D it feels is up to the players and the GM. Of course, there IS D&D so it doesn’t HAVE to totally mimic the system. If people want D&D, they should play D&D. 5e is a fantastic system for the classic feeling of D&D. Dungeons of Fate is intended to bring Fate-like storytelling and character development to classic fantasy roleplaying. Players and GMs should want that sort of thing rather than a pure mimic of D&D.

Do you think this is more accessible to people who are coming from a D&D background that may not know anything about Fate?

That’s hard for me to answer. I think Fate can be both a simple and a complex system. Parts of it are easy to pick up, like aspects and stunts and fate points. Other parts of it can be hard like creating advantages or designing the right stunt. There are a lot of opinions about this sort of thing, opinions that often come wrapped in “this is how Fate is supposed to be” without necessarily being true.

I tried to simplify a few Fate things in Dungeons of Fate. Creating advantages is one of them. If you’re creating an advantage, your challenge level is always 2. That way people with fantastic imaginations don’t always get better chances to create an advantage than someone who can’t really think it through. For example, if the PCs are facing off against a fire giant (level 4) and a ranger wants to distract the giant with a distracting shot (Something they totally just made up) as a created advantage, they would have to beat the fire giant’s level (4) but if they instead set a trap on the ground, it would only be a 2 or less because its not hard to set up a trap.

In Fate, the narrative assigns the difficulty but thats tricky and can lead to favoritism by the GM for the most creative player. Instead, in Dungeons of Fate, creating an advantage is always a 2. If you’re casting a buff spell, setting up a trap, aiding an ally, or firing a distracting shot, its always a 2. That simplifies things a bit in my mind. This is a long-winded way of saying that I designed Dungeons of Fate so that you didn’t NEED to know Fate to play but if you did, you’d be very familiar with it and the rules are a little more rigid and clear.

You said you were working on a 2.0 version. Any idea what is going to be changed?

Oh yeah, lots of stuff and it might end up being a complete disaster but we’ll see. Instead of writing around Fate Accelerated, I’m writing it from scratch. It is still clearly Fate, but you won’t need anything else to play it. Dungeons of Fate is its own system.

First off, I’m switching to 2d6 instead of the four Fate dice. I want the game to be easily downloadable and playable and a lot of people won’t have Fate dice but just about anyone can scrape up a pair of six-sided dice. So I’m switching to 2d6 which changes all of the target numbers. Monsters still have levels but the base target number is always 10 instead of 2. So instead of rolling against a monster’s level you’ll roll against the monsters level + 10. 10 is a nice easy number that won’t require the GM to remember very much.

I’m also reducing the attributes to Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Charisma. I’m not a huge fan of the Str / Con differences and the Int / Wis differences so four attributes are easier to manage. This gets away from feeling like D&D a little bit, but I think its better for a single-session game. Creating advantages is still always a check against a challenge of 10, just like I talked about earlier. If you want to buff someone or set up a trap or fire a distracting shot, it’s a challenge 10 roll. I’m simplifying hit points away from Fate-style stress and consequences to just plain-old hit points. Its a much easier system to understand, I think, for new players or experienced players.

I only played this once for a few hours and it seems like a great convention / one shot system. Do you think it has a chance to be scalable and a longer system for leveling?

I don’t and I don’t plan on designing it to do so. There are so many great systems with better character progression built into them. D&D obviously but also 13th Age, Numenera, Shadows of the Demon Lord and a whole bunch of others. Dungeons of Fate is the game you jump to when you don’t have the time to play any of those other ones. It wouldn’t be too hard to get it to expand but the simplified character design won’t really scale well. I think people will get bored of them. Honestly, if a game is going more than one session, I’d stick to D&D 5e (and I do).

My experience with this system lends itself very much to an off the cuff make up as you go style of convention play. Our game was very much classic cardboard fantasy with a story that involved going into a dungeon to retrieve some sort of magical artifact. The system held up well enough for the few players at the table who had light RPG experience and enough slow paced flavor that more experienced players could see how the system worked. The Fate combat relied more on broad strokes that needle thin damage value which allowed my own character to be a cocksure trident wielding Paladin who throws nets on his enemies for n o good reason.

This is the type of game that new players and also jaded D&D players could possibly love. Its entry level is low enough for people to get on board and its flexibility similar to Dungeon World is freeform enough to allow volumes of fun for a couple of hours. As mentioned by the designer, this is not meant for long term play rather if you find you GM/DM not available or a no show at a convention, this could be a perfect engine for passing the time.

We broke our games into multiple smaller games so we played Dungeons of Fate for about 2 hours. In that two hours we were given a task, found a dungeon, and crawled around for a bit. This whole scenario was very formulaic but again highlighted the simplicity of the engine. Creativity was encouraged and the action felt narrative rather than hack and slash. Our emergency GM was familiar with FATE enough to make the game run smoothly without any hiccups. The system was fun and entertaining enough for me to add it into my binder full of lite RPG systems and enough to write a review on.

Talking with Mike Shea was sort of random as I found his contact info when researching the system. He was nice enough to answer my questions but also to give some more thoughts regarding RPG Hacking/Creation. Anyone who spend enough time with RPG systems has an unresistible urge at some point to take tools and hammers to whatever system and make them better.

I think that there are about as many RPG systems as there are GMs. I bet most GMs have some draft of some RPG system sitting on their hard drives. We’re all tinkerers and we love to tweak systems. Sometimes we have to tweak so much that we come up with something completely new. That’s not always a good thing, particularly if we fall under the illusion that ours is “better”. A lot of us are armatures at game design. We don’t really know what a good system looks like. I’ve probably designed twenty versions of a simple D&D that, frankly, just suck. They’re TOO simple and too boring. No one would want to play them, not even me.

There’s a great old article about this called “Fantasy Heartbreakers” In summary, the article supposes that a lot of RPG GMs think they have the next best RPG in their head, spend a lot of energy and money creating it, and then realize its unmarketable or worse, discover its unmarketable after expecting a windfall. In the end, they’re all just bundled house rules patched onto AD&D.

Dungeons of Fate is the RPG I wrote that probably should have just sat on a hard drive. It solves a particular purpose for me and has some unique aspects that I enjoy and I think others will enjoy – mostly in being a pick-up single-session game where players can design a character from scratch that fits exactly what they had in their head. It also has the advantage of being easy for a GM to run. Have a monster in mind? Choose a level and that’s the target number PCs have to beat. You don’t need a monster manual. You don’t need a huge book of spells. All of that is in your head.

But there’s a reason I gave Dungeons of Fate away and plan to do so with Dungeons of Fate version 2. There are so many fantastic RPG systems out there and this one is really a small side hack. D&D, Fate, 13th Age, Numenera, Dungeon World; these are all better systems by far, but this system scratches one particular itch that I’ve had and so I’ve found it to be useful enough.

As a creative exercise, it might be completely unmarketable. I’ll write 20 thousand words. I’ll do a nice design. I’ll give it away, and maybe a half dozen people will try it. I really don’t expect it to be a big deal. And that’s ok. I’ve accepted this the second I started writing it. If its nothing other than a creative exercise for me, that’s ok. I see it as a gift to those who find some use in it and don’t expect to ever earn a dollar from it. But if these half-dozen people (yourself included!) like it and keep it in their GM go-bag for those occasions where they have nothing ready and want to play a single-session RPG, here it is.

Dungeons of Fate can be found here along with the 4 page PDF for easy printing and storage in whatever binder you must have. If FATE interests you, one can find more information at the very wonderful Evil Hat Productions. If you are interested in old school D&D, well then I am still on a quest to actually play through and DM a game so I urge you all to be patient.


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