I really enjoyed FAE. I look at it as being one of very few successful attempts at making a modern introductory role playing game. Best of all, it isn’t written in a way that’s shackled to the past or even to the long held assumptions of what an RPG is. As an entry product it’s got a load of very obvious draws. First, it’s small, running at under 50 pages. Second the price reflects that, with a Pay What You Want on pdf, or £3.99 for a hard copy (with a really luxuriant feel to it. Seriously, it feels like suede or something). Third, its actually written to the young adult audience, without being patronising, nor so childish as to put off the older reader. When you look around at other books in the wider hobby, all of those things in one package are remarkably rare.
My trouble is, I can’t pretend I’m a beginner anymore. Nor can I unread the reams of Fate material I’ve purchased in the past (in a few cases I really wish I could). That makes it difficult to be objective. No matter though, because the really clever thing about FAE is that it stands up as a game for veterans, both of Fate and the hobby in general.
But back to the novice gamer. I love that the influences and touchpoints are bang up to date. It mentions teenage wizards in it’s opening line. And animation. And the Hobbit, crucially, as a film. That’s the sort of thinking that pervades the whole book. It’s like they got a flip chart out and actually thought about this stuff, rather than the standard boilerplate that most games staple into their rules. I also love the concision. The incredibly effective layout helps, with each section completley filling it’s page count, with no wasted words. To the vet gamer, it might comes across as terse, or missing parts, but actually, I think what it’s doing is trusting the (nascent) gamer to fill in the blanks, either with their imagaination, or by talking it out at the table. I approve. Mightily.
This is unapologeticaly a game for telling stories with. It says so. In 42 more pages it confidently delivers on that promise. Yes, it starts with character generation, wrapped up in four pages, including the ‘aspects’ thing that has generated so many tortured words since I first saw them in Spirit of the Century. The innovation (to Fate at least) is Approaches which make my jaded old heart soar with delight. Where other games use abilities to measure what you do (trad) or why you do it (Indie), FAE decides that it’s how you do things that really matters. This gaming tech cannot help but add description to a players statements, which when layered with aspects (phrases of cool) and stunts (more words, written to be said out loud) make the FAE play experience completely about the colour, the plot and the story. It’s clever, and focussed as heck.
The rest of the engine is wonderfully explained I think. Like any book, it would help to have a vet on hand to show you how it all fits together, rather than the book telling you, but it’s a very strong effort. I haven’t had the benefit yet of seeing a complete novice pick this up and have a go on their own, but I can’t imagine them struggling too much. Certainly they would be better off than with most beginner offerings. Bear in mind, the system is very very forgiving. There really is no wrong answer in the rules (what can irk me as a dyed in the wool gamist is that there are very few defined right answers either!) and the sense is that the table should just move along with the story and not fret about it.
By page 35 the GM gets a go. Four pages, which cover a lot of ground, from mechanical encounter weighting to world building advice, with (yes) examples. It’s a masterpiece of concision. Speaking of examples, you then get four characters all done out with a cool picture (ah, the art, yeah it’s all by one artist, and it’s a perfectly pitched modern cartoon style. Again, I’d bet good money this was debated and project managed by a really strong team). The examples being a black male teen fantasy monk, a female swashbuckling ships captain, an Asian female high school wizard, and a female pulp gadgeteer. Diverse, cool, and a better introduction to four campaigns that many books manage in 300 pages.
The book ends with a reference sheet, an index and a character sheet that just works.
Now, it might well be that my prior Fate knowledge has helped my understanding, but I don’t think so. If anything, this book has cleared up a lot of the messy thinking that I inherited from the occasionally clumsy explanations in it’s predecessors. When I get stuck with Fate, I get the answer from FAE. Yes, Core is there, muddying the waters, and there’s a lot to love about that, but as with the old Basic/Advanced set up of AD&D, perhaps the years have shown me that simple doesn’t have to mean simplistic.
The only things about the this I think could have been done better? I’d love to see it in a box, with dice, character sheets, tokens, and some scenario sheets. And lose the Accelerated tag. Just call it Fate.
And that’s it. It’s easily the most concise and elegant complete game I’ve seen in decades. If I really had to grab a single book to take to my desert island, this might well be it. It’s quite quite brilliant.