I’ve been looking for an opportunity to test out my own version of “Two-Column Fate“, in which the game plays very similarly to a game of Fate Core, except instead of one list of “skills” or “approaches”, you have two; each time a player makes a roll, they pick one from each category and add them together along with their roll result. As an example, here’s the version I’ve been tinkering with:
Want to attack with a melee weapon? Add your “Fighter” and “Physique” and roll the dice. Picking a lock? Rogue + Finesse. Withstand a poison or illness? Explorer + Vigor. Charming someone at a party? Aristocrat + Acuity. It works surprisingly well, and allows you to have broad areas of expertise while still letting you differentiate your character from others.
I was looking for a setting that was already somewhat well-established, so that I could playtest the system without putting a lot of work into worldbuilding, and I found the perfect resource: the Zeitgeist Adventure Path.
The adventures are written for D&D 4E and Pathfinder, but just reading through the free first adventure and player’s guide, I was immediately convinced that it would be a natural fit for Fate. Canvassing crowds for threats, tailing suspects, interrogation, tinkering with bizarre arcane (bizarcane?) technological advancements such as “guns”… the authors did a commendable job adding some amount of roleplay to the tactical wargame known as D&D 4th edition, but the campaign is begging for a more storytelling-oriented system, and Fate seems perfect for it.
So, I got some friends interested in playing, sent them the Zeitgeist player’s guide (with instructions to ignore any mechanicsy stuff), the Fate Core rulebook, and the character sheet template I drafted up:
We had one session to create characters (a gunsmith veteran, a skyseer druid, and a martial scientist duelist), and then yesterday we played through all of Act 1 of the first adventure, “The Island at the Axis of the World”. Everyone had a blast!
I noticed that while everyone but me was new to Fate, it never felt like a slog at any point, and everyone was easily able to follow the flow of the game; the “Golden Rule of Fate” served us well (Decide what you’re trying to accomplish first, then consult the rules to help you do it) so that the game moved along at a good pace and everyone felt like they were meaningfully contributing. I noticed that even though the players did not often use their Aspects to spend/gain Fate points, they still used them to guide their roleplaying, which I thought was great.
The two-column system for Attributes/Professions worked very smoothly. Everyone at the table was used to the classic “stat + skill” implementation of older tabletop RPGs, so it didn’t seem awkward or slow. After the session, all three players did want to redistribute points a bit, and we settled on the following rule for placing points:
At character creation, you have eight points to distribute across your Attributes and Professions. You can’t have any Attribute more than two points higher than all your lesser attributes (and the same goes for Professions). So:
Physique = 4, Vigor = 2, all other attributes = 0: ✔️️
Finesse = 4, Intellect = 3, all other attributes = 0: ✖️️
Vigor = 4, Physique = 3, Acuity = 1, all other attributes = 0: ✔️️
As for Stunts: we’re all still a little hazy on how best to use these. Whenever you take a stunt, you reduce your “refresh” (the number of Fate points you begin a session with) by 1, so you should only really take a stunt if you believe it will, on average, provide your character with better utility than a single Fate point per session. Many of the existing examples for stunts in the Fate Core book (mainly the “replace a skill in a certain circumstance” ones) don’t work that well with a two-column system. And I think “gain +2 to Fighter when using it to create an advantage”-type stunts are kind of lame; I feel like any narrative justification for your character’s superior ability to create advantages while fighting could easily be applied to the other Fate actions (overcome, defend, attack). So right now we’re trying out stuff like: “Gunslinger: Gain +1 to Fighter when using firearms.” “Historian: Gain +1 to Scholar when recalling or researching history.” We also have a couple more interesting ones like “Stargazer: Your vision is unimpeded by darkness. You can see in dim light as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light.” (Essentially 5e darkvision.)
In short, we all had a great time with the system and the setting, and it really did feel like they fit perfectly together. Maybe the authors should consider making an official Fate version of the adventure path?