Thursday, July 14, 2011

ICONS Called on Account of Rant

FATE frustrates me.  On paper, it should be my go-to game for everything.  It's got so many things going for it that are squarely in my wheelhouse.

And yet...

The only FATE implementation (which already sounds pretty soulless) I can really wrap my head around is ICONS, which plenty of FATE adherents will cheerfully point out is merely "FATE-derived," as opposed to being the real McCoy.  Fair enough.

The thing is, I so badly want to like it and it's so often attached to concepts that really appeal to me, so I end up purchasing them and then wondering what on Earth I was thinking.  Again.  Because (again, apart from ICONS) every single FATE book I've encountered is roughly the size of the greater Pearland municipal phone book.  Seriously.  Let's look at my collection and run the numbers:

Spirit of the Century:  400+ pages (there are some ads at the back I'm not counting)
Legends of Anglerre:  384 pages
Starblazer Adventures: 632 pages!
Agents of S.W.I.N.G: 344 pages
Diaspora: 270 pages
The Dresden Files RPG: 402 pages (this is just "Your Story," the rules volume, by the way)
And the latest addition to the pile, Strands of Fate: 471 pages

By comparison, ICONS is only 128 pages.

Now, to be fair, a number of these books contain significant bits of setting material.  Agents of S.W.I.N.G, for instance, provides 40 pages of introductory text before moving into character creation and rules systems, which take up the next 183 pages of the game (Approximately.  One can argue that the equipment and organizations rules fall somewhere between fluff and rules.  Spirit of the Century contains a great essay on running pickup games in a pulp style, but the actual amount of text devoted to the setting is pretty paltry, especially considering how many pages are devoted to rules.  Hell, The Dresden Files "Your Story" book is JUST rules.  There's an entirely separate volume devoted to NPCs and monsters and stuff.

I guess what set me off was that I really want to like FATE, and I'd seen some good buzz about Strands of FATE online.  Folks who had similar problems wrapping their heads around the game said this one fixed a lot of those issues.  Since it was only ten bucks in PDF, I grabbed it.  Without looking at the page count.  That 471 pages?  All rules.  They may be good rules.  Hell, they may be GREAT rules, but I suspect it's going to be a while before I figure that out.  Because none of the above games explains to me why they need to devote so much verbiage to what is allegedly a rules-light story-friendly game system.  I'm certainly not afraid of ponderous rulebooks: one look at my D&D or Hero System shelves will dispel that notion.  But no one pretends either of those games are anything but rules-heavy crunch.  I just don't see why FATE generates or warrants a similar word count.

(For what it's worth, there probably will be a new ICONS character up before the night's out.  But this has been building since Tuesday and I had to let it out.)


  1. Preach it. I really wanted to love Dresden Files and to take it home and make it my bride, but I struggled to wrap my head around it.

  2. This is one of the 2 things that keep me from Fate games. I just can't get my mind around the size of the rules.

  3. I just can't play a game where the average die result is zero. Can't do it.

  4. @Greg: I've played far too much Feng Shui for that to bother me, but I understand all too well how a particular mechanic can be a deal-breaker.

  5. I do find it odd that most FATE games are so large. The core concept is so simple. That's why I adore ICONS.

  6. Think about downloading FATE 2.0 and giving that a try. I used it for years as my go-to game of choice. The rules are a bit different, but they are very accessible. Here's the link: Enjoy!

  7. Most fate/Fudge books are so large is because most are tool box books. With 3-5 examples on how to do every thing. Often with with 4 or more magic systems as an example with rules for making your own. While Icons Is a set of rules, derived from those huge lists of optional rules.
    There is a whole section in most books on just alternate rolling methods. It really is a customize to taste system.

    Icons is basically what a GM is supposed to do with Fate/Fudge. You pick and choose the options from the big book you want to use that best suits a play style you want to emulate.

    As for the problem of not "wrapping your mind around it" is a matter of over thinking I feel.

  8. @Ronin: I'm all too familiar with the toolbox concept (being a long-time Hero System guy), but I guess maybe I'm expecting the individual games to pare it down a bit rather than regurgitating (or reinventing) the wheel every time.

    I don't know about the over-thinking. Maybe that's the case. Thing is, I loved FUDGE, so it's not like FATE's a foreign country, but there just seem to be aspects of FATE (pun intended) that feel counter-intuitive, even after I've seen them play out. Ultimately, it may just not be my thing.