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Review: Spirit of the Century

16 June 2007

I am dying to try this out. Spirit of the Century is a tabletop pulp role-playing game by Evil Hat Productions. SotC uses the FATE system, which is a wonderful extension of the Fudge system.

I loved Fudge because of its simple mechanics. Everything is described in terms of an adjective ladder, although I’m going to show you the FATE ladder for simplicity:

  • Superb
  • Great
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Average
  • Mediocre (+0)
  • Poor
  • Terrible

Many older RPG systems used attributes for things like Strength, Will, and Beauty. With Fudge, you only bother defining the things that make your character different from everybody else. Johan has Good Strength, but Poor Eyesight. Turns out I use this adjective ladder all the time in daily life. Things just get ranked on this ladder. "Was the movie Great or just Good?"

FATE added on to this adjective ladder concept with Aspects, facets of a character that don’t necessarily translate to the ladder. One of Sir Cedric’s aspect is being a Knight of the Purple Phlox, for example. Thus, Sir Cedric can use his Knight aspect during the adventure a set number of times to force re-rolls or die roll improvements. The adjective ladder is still used for skills and task resolution, though.

SotC expands FATE points, a form of storytelling currency that allows a player to use spread the love amongst their Aspects as they see fit, instead of in set silos. This gets around what I see as a deficiency in D&D, where I can only cast one Fireball a day. With FATE, I just am a Fire Wizard.

The thing about Aspects is that the GM can compel them as well, though a character can spend a FATE point to refuse the compel. Maybe the GM compels me to speak out against plans to extinguish the Eternal Flame. Maybe Sir Cedric has a hard time leaving a damsel in distress. And in this way, adventures can grow organically from the characters.

That’s good, but then there are tags. Objects in the environment can be tagged. Other characters can. Even villains. Tagging provides a free FATE point to invoke an Aspect of that object. Of course, there are limits, like you need to have a pretty fair idea what Aspects and object or entity might have.

But if I’m crime-fighting in an Alley on a Dark and Stormy Night and I want to use the Darkness to my advantage or to convince the GM that there happens to be a convenient fire escape in the Alley, I can tag the environment. And if Stormtroopers are well-known Bad Shots, a tag can help them miss me. And if I know that Darth Vader still has a Vestige of Humanity, I might just be able to tag that too.

These ideas combined, I think, is like the quantum leap that computers games experienced with Half-Life where you could really interact with your environment, pick things up and use them. (There might have been a prior game, but Half-Life was the one for me.)

I say "I think" because I haven’t been able to put together a SotC game yet. Any takers?

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