Last week, I briefly mentioned that I got a few members of our RPG group together to test out the Breakfast Cult setting for the Fate Accelerated system. I said that I had a few thoughts to share, and so here we are. It turns out, however, that I can’t really critique the game based on one session using a specific setting. So although I offer some thoughts towards the end, this article is more of a “Fate Accelerated Primer”.
(Some of you who are familiar with the system might note the lowercase “Fate”, instead of the fairly common capitalised “FATE”. In my research for this article, it turns out that the lowercase has been the “correct” format since at least 2015. As a result, this is how I’ll be trying to refer to it from here on.)
Settings? Systems? What…?
First, let’s take half a step backwards. If you don’t routinely play RPGs, you might be a bit confused between a system (or rule-set) and a setting. This is only fair. Let’s break it down a little bit:
- A system or rule-set is the set of rules (get it?) governing how the game works.
- A setting (often called a Campaign Setting) is the place in which the characters of the game find themselves.
A good example of this is Savage Worlds – a group of players could find themselves exploring space, delving into ancient tombs, hacking and slashing their way through an Orc horde, or investigating a murder in the Wild West. All these different types of games can be played using the same system (or rule-set), making it relatively easy for a single group to move between different genres without having to learn a whole new way of playing every time. In fact, Savage Worlds is the system used by a large number of individual settings.
Indeed, this is the same setup used by Fate Core and Fate Accelerated (Accelerated is a much simpler and more streamlined – although this doesn’t make it objectively better – version of Core). Either of these systems can be used in a variety of published settings (provided worlds and adventures), or homebrew games (where you create your own world and story).
Breakfast Cult is a setting that utilises Fate Accelerated. Have you ever wanted to solve mysteries involving Lovecraftian Elder Gods (y’know – Cthulhu and his buddies)? What about in a High School? On an island in the middle of the ocean? 100 years in the future? Where the occult is a recognised and vaguely-respected science? With a bit of an Anime flavour layered over the top?
You want ALL of those things…? Well, have I got a setting for you! Welcome to Breakfast Cult!
It’s a bit a niche area of interest, I’ll grant you that. It’s not really my personal area of interest, and Fate Accelerated is/was a new system to everyone in the group as well. This makes writing this article a bit tricky – what I’m trying to do is write about Fate Accelerated, not Breakfast Cult, but it’s awfully difficult to talk about one in isolation of the other. But I’ll do my best.
How does Fate work?
I’m going to take a massive axe to an already slimmed-down system, and summarise the core of Fate in two sentences:
State what you want your character to do and how you want to do it, and roll four special dice to see if it works. Justify how this action is helped or hindered by your character's Aspects for a bonus.
And that’s really it. Aficionados of the system will want to flay me in exchange for my butchering of the system, and they’re welcome to. However, try to keep in mind this is an article for people with no experience, written by a guy with only a few hours experience.
Anyway, there’s four key parts of those sentences that I really want to focus on: the dice, how you act, your Aspects, and the bonuses.
I mentioned these dice last week, but the general idea is that you have four dice with three different faces: two pluses, two minuses and two blanks. You roll these four dice and sum the totals, ending up with a result between -4 and +4. Pretty simple stuff.
This is the official term for how you act. There are six approaches available: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, and Sneaky.
Couple of quick examples: You could try to Flashily distract the guards at the door, but there’s not much point trying to Forcefully do it – they’ll probably figure out something is up. When they do leave their post though, you might try Forcefully kicking the door in. Trying to Quickly open the door though isn’t going to help if it’s locked.
Every character has varying bonuses (from +0 to +3) to each of the Approaches. This means that some characters are naturally going to be better at some things than others, but everyone can try to do anything anyway.
Aspects help to define who your character is. Depending on the type of game you’re playing you might have a different number of aspects, but there’s generally between 3 and 6 per character.
An aspect is a short phrase, and is very specific to the setting in which you’re playing. “Best Pilot on Mars” is an awesome Aspect, but it would be utterly useless in Breakfast Cult, where Mars (or even Piloting any kind of ship) is not really relevant. “Captain of the Swim Team” would work better for Breakfast Cult (after all, it’s set in a school), but it’s not very helpful if you’re playing a Medieval Fantasy game.
There’s no set list of Aspects to pick from – it’s entirely up to the players to define their own to suit the characters and the game they’re playing in.
You should also try to pick Aspects that have a potential downside, as well. This is super helpful when we discuss the bonuses that you get for spending your Fate points.
Yes, the feature that lends it’s name to the game. Or does the game lend it’s name to this feature…? Never mind. Either way, Fate Points are most certainly a central aspect of the Fate Accelerated system.
You start the session (generally) with three Fate points, and can spend them throughout the game to gain various bonuses by Invoking your aspects. Further, you can earn more points by having your aspects Compelled.
Invoking and Compelling are two sides to the same coin – you will generally Invoke your own aspects to help yourself out, and the Game Master will Compel your aspects to hinder you in some way (of course it’s a lot more complicated than that, but that’s clear enough for now).
The bonuses you can get include:
- +2 to the roll. Simple and straight forward. “I invoke my aspect ‘Keen Sense of Smell’ to help track the intruder”
- Reroll the dice. Also simple. No invoking or compelling necessary here – just spend one of your Fate points.
- Confront an opponent to increase the difficulty of their task. Slightly more complicated. “The salivating dire wolf is ‘Ravenously Hungry’, so it’s more attracted to the deer he’s already caught than to me”
- Help someone else in their task. Fairly easy. “Because I’m a ‘Wanna-be Librarian’, I’ll help Josie with her research”
Of course, there’s a lot more to the system as a whole, but those four key areas should give you enough information to know whether it’s something of interest to you.
This is where it gets hard, trying to separate my thoughts on Breakfast Cult, from FATE Accelerated more generally. Because it turns out, I found it really hard to help my player’s Invoke their Aspects when we’re playing in a setting I’m not really familiar with. I don’t go in big for Anime, Future settings aren’t really my favoured terrain, it’s many years since I was in high school, Lovecraft and the Elder Gods are things I’m only marginally familiar with…
…But what’s awesome is that none of that affected how much fun we had. Don’t get me wrong at all – Breakfast Cult is a very detailed, well thought out and fascinating setting – it’s just not one that I personally found easy to work with.
I’m confident, though, that if we were playing a more traditional Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder type setting, that it would have been much easier to work with the various parts of the system – especially Aspects.
Here’s a few examples of Aspects taken at random from the pre-generated characters in Breakfast Cult:
- Only Cares About His Hair
- Self Described Star Footballsman
- Cybernetics Are, Like, Cool And Yeah
- Goddamn, I Hate Magic
And that’s not even the weird stuff dealing with the Occult… Working in the type of setting I’m used to playing in, though, allows me to come up with Aspects almost off-the-cuff:
- Master of Undeath
- Best Swordsman in the Kingdom
- Strange Connection to Animals
- No Lock Can Keep Me Out
Some of these are horribly cliched, but that’s half the fun. A system like Fate Accelerated could be nearly perfect for “pick up and play” games, with none of the complicated prep-work of more traditional RPGs. As long as everyone involved is well-versed in the world you’re playing in, and this is where we fell afoul of Breakfast Cult. It was just too alien to us as individuals as a setting.
But would I try again? I sure as heck would! Fate Accelerated is fun!
If you’re interested in trying it for yourself, check the links above. It’s actually free, but I’m not going to hand it to you on a silver platter – go check out the Evil Hat Games website and find it for yourself!
And if you’re a fan of Fate Accelerated, let me know. I’d love to know the types of games you’re playing yourself.
Yours in Adventure,