15 Years of FATE

A tweet from Rob Donoghue was a reminder that it’s been almost fifteen years since he and Fred Hicks published the first edition of FATE as a free download.

Around that time there was a lot of discussion in the Fudge community on how to take the system forward, as more people tried pushing the envelope and starting hitting the limitations of Steffan O’Sullvan’s original design. At one point there was an attempt to create a next-generation Fudge by committee on the official mailing list. But it very rapidly got bogged down in fruitless arguments about what the standard attributes should be, and went nowhere.

It became obvious that what was needed needed was for one or two people with a clear and coherent vision to make their version of Fudge without interference from anyone else’s competing hobby-horses and sacred cows. Rob Donoghue and Fred Hicks went ahead and did this.

FATE addressed what for me had been one of Fudge’s biggest weaknesses, the ambiguous relationship between attributes and skills, something that was nevertheless a sacred cow for many in the community. But the very clever and elegant Aspects mechanic ended up more as a superior replacement for Fudge’s Gifts and Faults, and attributes were instead folded into skills. Skills became broad areas of competency, limited in number, thus avoiding the skills-bloat that bedevilled systems like GURPS. It really is a clean and elegant design, devoid of obvious cruft.

FATE has itself now gone through several iterations, but it has effectively become the next generation of Fudge we wanted fifteen years ago. It hasn’t entirely replaced Fudge, which is still out there and still has its adherents, but FATE, with its high profile licences has broken through to the gaming mainstream in a way Fudge never quite managed.

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7 Responses to 15 Years of FATE

  1. Carl Cravens says:

    I think the key thing is that Fred and Rob didn’t set out to make a *replacement* for Fudge… they just built a game using Fudge like everybody else was doing. It was the “do-it-yourself game engine” after all. Fate became an amazing piece of work with Spirit of the Century, and what they built really stuck.

    I think that happened without competition because Fudge became abandonware… there was no one at the helm. Steffan left the project, but the person he left in charge had no interest in making the game move forward. Fudge stopped evolving, especially when the primary publisher went heavily in the red but refused to go under while at the same time refusing to publish anything new.

    And I wonder if, in part, Fate’s success as a community is because they very early on divorced themselves from the Fudge community. A lot of Fudge people saw Fate as “not Fudge” (the community was very good at drawing lines like that), and Fred and Rob didn’t want to dominate the mailing list, and they took their discussion elsewhere. And that led to a community that wasn’t bogged down with the baggage of an abandoned game, a publisher that couldn’t publish, fans that didn’t want to spend money actually buying stuff, etc.

    Evil Hat have been really good about encouraging and *helping* others to play in the Fate sandbox.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Can’t disagree with any of that, and as an insider you know more about what was going on behind the scenes.

    But FATE still ended up becoming a successor to Fudge by capturing the imagination of the people who might otherwise have been writing other Fudge builds.

    And you’re dead right about the negativity of the Fudge community even if it was only a loud minority who did the damage. I remember the ways people used to patronisingly dismiss or even shout down any newbie who dared to suggest redefining the roles of Attributes and Skills, for example.

    Did the success of FATE contribute towards the decline and fall of GURPS. or can we blame that one on Pathfinder?

  3. Chuk says:

    Did GURPS fall? Huh.

    I think a big part of FATE’s success has been Evil Hat putting it forth and doing some really nice work, even from the first free downloads. I mean, I like Fudge but a lot of Fudge projects are more all over the place than the FATE books. And certainly some big licenses helped get it more attention.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    GURPS seems to have disappeared at least from the British dead-tree market – can’t remember the last time I saw a GURPS book on a shelf in a shop. I fell out of love with the system around the time of the 4th edition, when it lost a lot of it’s flavour and looked as though it was trying to be poor man’s Hero System.

  5. Chuk says:

    They have certainly gone over to mostly PDF — I just read the Stakeholder’s Report from SJ Games and I don’t think they had any new print releases in 2015 (just reprints of the two core books). I get the Hero System comment, but I liked Hero System and kind of liked the new GURPS better (mostly).

  6. Carl Cravens says:

    I kind of wonder if GURPS 4th didn’t more or less deal GURPS its final blow. I never really played GURPS, but I own most of the world and resource books because they’re useful in any game and easy to adapt to Fudge, Hero System, etc. I didn’t need a new edition of GURPS or new editions of those resources.

    Fate material was just a step above everybody else in the Fudge world. Even their early work had production quality higher than most professionally-published Fudge work. Evil Hat’s real superpower is in identifying talented people and helping them shine through the Evil Hat lens.

  7. Tim Hall says:

    My problem with GURPS 4e was that 3e was optimised towards gritty realism, and that was lost in 4e. GURPS never scaled well, and re-optimising towards a default of cinematic action meant low-powered characters started looking too similar. Nearly every character ended up with the same attributes.

    They also re-designed Psionics from the ground up, and again optimised it around four-colour superheroes (a genre that has zero interest for me) rather than pulp SF/Horror. It became a lot harder to design a playable psionic for a lower-powered fantasy game.