… or is it a Fate Accelerated hack of D&D? I get that confused.
On New Year’s Eve, Mike Shea, a.k.a. Sly Flourish, introduced me to another game. Well, actually, he introduced me to Fate back at GenCon (via his Aeon Wave project), but being that I almost completely forgot the game rules, it felt new to me last night. Mr. Flourish (as you should address him when you meet him) has adapted Fate Accelerated to fantasy role-playing using much of the terminology/approach of 4th Edition D&D, and has labeled it “Dungeons of Fate.” He ran an abbreviated version of the classic AD&D adventure compilation, Desert of Desolation, and the system allowed him to do so with no real preparation of mechanics beforehand (quite appropriate for a Lazy DM). After the game was over, he asked me, “So, does it feel like D&D?” This one question sparked a discussion on gaming philosophy, dragging in Michelle (a.k.a., Mrs. Flourish) and another player, Brian. In the end, I think we agreed on most, if not all, of the points all of us were making, but here’s my take on what we discussed.
1. Not Everything Has to Be D&D
Dungeons of Fate didn’t feel like D&D to me, and to that we should all be collectively responding, “So what?” The only game that has to be D&D is D&D, so no matter who owns the intellectual property, they must always respect the brand or it isn’t really D&D. D&D, as the most powerful RPG intellectual property, is 6 attributes (Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, regardless in what order you present them), hit points, an armor class representing your ability to avoid damage from a hit, and a bunch of funny-shaped dice. These are the constants (among others) that must be in any edition of D&D regardless of who owns the property. This is reason #1,942 why the Edition Wars are stupid: All of the versions of D&D are “real D&D” because they all respect that rule. Whatever else is added to that base, the presence of that base makes it D&D. You don’t have to like it, but it’s still D&D.
However, Fate isn’t D&D. I couldn’t care less whether Dungeons of Fate feels like D&D.
Scratch that. I do care. I don’t want it to feel like D&D. If it did, why create it? Why didn’t Evil Hat Productions just post to their blog, “Hey, everyone, we’re not going to create a new game. Just play, D&D, okay?” They didn’t do that because they wanted to create something different. Whether you like Fate or not, the industry and community are better off because we have something different.
On the other hand, Dungeons of Fate does allow for the proper feel for a fantasy setting. That should be the more important issue to players, GMs, and Evil Hat.
2. Fate Isn’t Omnipresent, But It Has It’s Place
Reasonable minds disagree, but in my humble and honest opinion, Fate Accelerated is a horrible system for a long-term campaign. There’s no significant advancement, and the simplicity of the characters runs the risk of making them boring from a mechanical point of view. (Perhaps the full Fate Core addresses this.)
So where does that leave Fate Accelerated? Well, it leaves it in plenty of places. Not every RPG game has to be a weekly campaign lasting nine months. One-shots are a common practice, and two- and three-shots are hardly rare. Fate Accelerated certainly works for gaming groups organized that way. Personally, I’m more a fan of the two-shot or three-shot, even for D&D, so the idea of my home groups organizing around them doesn’t bother me at all. Unlike D&D, however, Dungeons of Fate requires no prep time for NPC mechanics, and if you’re focused (granted, most gamers aren’t), the entire table can have its characters ready to go in 30 minutes or less.
Mind you, these characters are exactly the characters the players want to play. If you want to play a ranger that is just as competent with melee as he is with striking, you can do that. If you want to play a “stone mage” more statute than human, go right ahead. You don’t have to worry about fitting your characters into the strict constructs provided by other RPG systems, nor do you have to wade through a seemingly infinite number of options in order to find the one strict construct that matches your character concept. You also don’t have to rewrite the rules in order to make room for your character concept. In other words, Dungeons of Fate as is gives you remarkable flexibility without having to overload you with options in order to do so.
3. On the Whole, Dungeons of Fate (and Fate Accelerated) Is Pretty Good
It all comes down to this: Is Dungeons of Fate fun? Absolutely. I really don’t like stress points. In fact, I don’t know why Fate Accelerated players do. One of Fate Accelerated’s best features is simplicity. Stress points seem to be a slight bit more complex than they need to be. I don’t get it, but I don’t have to get it, because this isn’t a deal breaker. It’s literally the only thing about Fate Accelerated I don’t like, and I don’t hate it. To a realistic game designer, that’s about the best you can ever expect; you can’t please everyone all the time. Leaving it in there still leaves me with a great time at the table.
Much like 13th Age, I encourage any RPG enthusiast to give Fate Accelerated a try, if for no other reason than this: If you every find yourself at a gaming store or convention with a hole in your schedule and you’re looking for something to do, you could always jump into a quick pick-up game of Fate. It’s as suited to that situation as a simple card or board game, yet the role-playing opportunities are just as robust as any other RPG.