We love Fate Core here at Burn Everything Gaming. It is an easy system to learn that can handle very complicated circumstances. New and experienced players can have a lot of fun with the mechanics, which are well balanced between them and with the GM. But my favorite thing about Fate Core has to be how easy it is to make your own custom rules and settings.
I’ve personally been doing this with the Fate game since before the Core rules came out. I have an old Avatar Fate-bender game that was based off of Dresden Files mechanics. I have gigs of custom settings for other games I enjoy (DnD, L5R, Shadowrun, etc.) with Fate conversions. There’s a huge list on the Fate Core official website with a lot of fan-made rules and settings for pretty much everything now. And of course we have the wonderful Star Trek Fate RPG that we use for the podcast.
So today I thought we could take a look at how and why one goes about Hacking the Fate system to make wonderful new game settings (like the amazing NIHM game we mentioned in a previous post). We’ll take a look at the 3 main areas changed to make Fate Core more setting-specific: skills, stunts, and extras.
As Evil Hat will tell you in their books, the basic skills in Fate Core are purposefully generic. Really you can use them as is for any setting you want. But skills are the most often used mechanic in most RPGs, so by changing them you really go a long way to changing the flavor of the game.
Sometimes the basic skills don’t cover something unique in your setting, like Chi or Magic or Gardening. Sure you could throw all of those under another skill like Will or Shoot or Lore, but then you might end up with an overpowered skill. So feel free to add that skill and see if your players jump all over it.
Alternatively you may want to drop a skill that you don’t see being useful in your setting. Maybe you are running a caveman game where Drive and Shoot are useless, so you don’t need them. Or maybe you made a couple of new skills out of Investigate since you are running a detective game, and so you decide not to keep the original skill.
And you can always change the names of the skills. This can get a little confusing for experienced Fate players, so be sure your group always has access to the full list. But it is great for flavor. Have Burglary become Banditry in a feudal Japan setting or Hacking in a future sci-fi setting.
So for example, when I wrote my old Fate-bender setting, I had the following skills: Allure, Artistry, Banditry, Cultivation, Endurance, Flexibility, Healing, Instinct, Knowledge, Luck, Martial Arts, Physique, Research, Sense, Sincerity, Status, Trickery, Weapons, Willpower, and Zen. Granted I also had a Kharma stress track in addition to the other 3 from Dresden, which is a great segue to our next category.
Extras are those little extra mechanics that you are designing just for your system. I try not to get too carried away with these because they can easily add a lot of complexity for only a little extra flavor. But they are fun to make, so we make them.
Extras tend to go with skills for mechanics, though they can be added to aspects as well. Creating a LIVING ASPECT mechanic, for example, by combining a number and motivation with a standard aspect to give it a character-like personality (the fire burns everything close by at a 5). You can also add stress tracks tied to a specific skill like how the normal ones are used.
But the most common form of Extra comes from combining 2 or more stunts together so that you get a power that lets you do something new, like spell casting in Dresden or martial art styles in Tian Xia. These extras cost a lot of refresh because they tend to define a character that possesses them more than your average stunt.
Making extras in Fate-bender was kept as simple as I could. Benders could choose a bending power of their element (earth, fire, water, air) that requires an aspect of their element to be on the scene. This encourages water benders to carry a bottle of water, for example. Bending inflicts stress on a character that uses it, similar to how spellcasting works in Dresden, to balance the use of this kind of power.
Later they can take sub-powers that required the basic one. So a water bender gets a free extra and could choose ice bending or plant bending. An Earth Bender does not get a free option for sand bending or metal bending, so they have to pay for those. But because they are tough, they take less stress from bending.
The Avatar extras are much more complicated, so I won’t get into them in this post. Let’s move on to my favorite customization of Fate Core: stunts!
I think I make my own custom stunts the most because with the other Hack options you really have to stop once the game starts. Changing skills would really throw off the game if you did it in the middle of the campaign, and having options for extras that the players didn’t have a chance to pick when they built their characters is an easy way to generate hostility in the group.
On the other hand, the official books encourage players and GMs to make their own stunts while they are playing, and it is pretty easy to find inspiration from that awesome thing you did last game and turn it into a stunt that you can use to keep doing it. ++++ on a Burglary check? That lock was really easy to pick. You should take a stunt to show how natural you are at opening sealed doors.
In the book, they basically recommend you use stunts for 3 different things: bonuses to specific skill checks, using alternate skills for skill checks, and bending a minor rule. Stunts should be available to everyone with enough refresh to buy them or else you are making an extra with extra rules. Keep that in mind when making custom stunts, as player characters love to make fun combinations with abilities.
I personally like to make stunts that push the story, since that is my big thing. Often times that means making things a little bit more complicated. For example, you can get different levels of bonuses: a +1 to an uncommon circumstance (attacking dragons), a +2 to more rare circumstances within that category (attacking dragons from a mount), and a +3 for the ultra-rare moments (mounted combat against a 3-headed green dragon). It encourages players to pursue where they get higher bonuses.
I also like stunts that give a huge benefit at a cost or have an extra requirement. Like a NASCAR stunt that gives you +4 to Driving but a -2 to Notice, so you can drive super fast but the focus makes it hard to notice the monkey demon throwing flaming poo at you. Or the DECOY TECHNIQUE where another character can assist your Stealth check with a Rapport roll rather than creating an aspect for a +2 bonus. The potentially high bonus is worth getting multiple players involved and shifts the risk around the table.
And there are stunts that exist just to make the story interesting and get the players to describe the action! Like the local favorite BLUE STEEL that allows a character to use a completely irrelevant skill for a check once per session, so long as they explain how it actually happens. (So I use my Provoke to defend against the thrown knife Attack when I flash the perfect male model look at the dagger, stopping it in mid air fly trip thing.)
Mechanics are an important part of our hobby, and they should make the games we play more fun. Fate Core is not for everyone, no matter how well you hack it. And it is not the best option for every setting you can imagine.
That being said, customizing Fate Core is a great way to help bring a lot of games and settings to life. And for those of us that never get to play as much as we want to, it is a great way to explore and create wonder for ourselves that we can enjoy.
So what’s a fun stunt or extra that you have come up with? Or maybe seen someone else post on a forum or something? Let us know!