Fate Core: An interview with Fred Hicks of Evil Hat

Fate Core System (Evil Hat)

Fate Core System (Evil Hat)

Fate Core, Evil Hats current Kickstarter will be a stunning success! I support the company since their pulp RPG Spirit of the Century. I am honest, Fate is not my favorite game engine, but in my opinion they made another way of roleplaying popular: Storytelling and narration over crunch.
The so called Storyteller system for the World of Darkness (White Wolf/The Onyx Path) is still a pretty traditional.

Beside their way of doing business, this is the major reason to support them. Their inspirational game helps to tell stories as a team of players. The Gamemaster is one of the „co-creators“ of the game world and how it feels. (S)he is not the entertainer alone. The GM job in Fate feels to me like the primus inter pares concept (the first among equals). I prefer this gaming style.

This interview with Fred Hicks was published first on the official German Fate website. So, if you want to know more about our community go to One of the operators has co-created the very fine Black Metal fantasy Fate RPG Malmsturm (Sorry, German). They know Fate better than me …

Now, real insights by Fred Hicks. Hello Fred Hicks, let us begin with your introduction and tell us a bit about your gaming experiences?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Which experiences? I hail from a lot of gaming traditions. I had my redbox time, my flings with Hero and Gamma World of various editions, my college years of Fudge and Amber Diceless. They all inform my tastes today. I’m a bit of a „gearhead“ when I get time for it. I love a clever, unobtrusive mechanic. It’s taken me a long time to come around to seeing the strength of good settings, and moreover the unity of system and setting therein. Imagine a new potential customer or fan. How would you briefly describe Fate Core. What makes it special? Why should a fan of the Fate engine support the new version?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Fate Core is a roleplaying system that focuses on capturing what’s excellent about fiction. It’s oriented on providing you tools that give you the best possible story experience. An authentic one that focuses on modeling great fiction, not physics. Because that’s what we sit down at the gaming table to make: stories. What is the best and what is the most critical aspect of the upcoming edition?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Clarity of vision and strength in communicating that vision. The game is simply more on point, and better explained, than any prior version. What is the most important Fate Core feature or stretch goal for you?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: There are so many stretch goals! I’m particularly excited about Fate Accelerated. We’re taking the 300-or-so pages of Fate Core, and paring it down to more like 30-or-so, with an eye on giving a very easy to digest, quick to jump in and play version of Fate that’s more accessible to beginning gamers and folks who prefer to avoid the thicker rulebooks. We’re not done creating it yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to land close to the style of game that Rob Donoghue and I tend to run at our home tables.

Fate Core -- Kicktraq Your Fate Core Kickstarter is a remarkable success so far. What do you think are reasons for this surprise?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: For me the surprise is in the magnitude, not the success. We spent a lot of time making sure that our design for this kickstarter was smart, clear, and doing exactly what we wanted, while delivering a high quality and undeniable value to the prospective backers. We paired that with an existing audience that we took ten years to build. All the same, I mainly hoped we’d do about as well as Dungeon World’s kickstarter did. We’ve… done a bit better than that. If I recall correctly you and Rob Donoghue created the game based on the FUDGE RPG engine.
Fred HicksFred Hicks: You recall correctly.
What is your opinion on the FUDGE RPG?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: It’s the first example of a „crowd-sourced design“ RPG I can think of, and it came along in the early 1990s, on an internet that many folks hadn’t heard of or used. Seriously ahead of its time. But it was always, always geared towards the folks inclined to monkey around with their game systems and often didn’t offer enough in the way of „drag and drop“ pre-constructed bits for people to just pick up Fudge and start playing without having to make a number of decisions first. Our earliest versions of Fate were mainly about trying to solve that problem.

Fate Core: Art Preview (Evil Hat)

Fate Core: Art Preview (Evil Hat) What other inspirations did you have?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Rob Donoghue reads a LOT of games and they turn into this big synthesized soup of things in his head, so it’s often hard to tease out where certain ideas and inspirations came from. Seventh Sea was a big deal though, a direct trigger for the creation of aspects, with its notion of having people *pay* for their disadvantages (like having a nemesis) because that was a *cool thing* to have show up in the story and put more spotlight time on the character who had it.
Really eye-opening. Over the Edge, Risus, and Amber Diceless all played around in there too. Now others take over the development responsibility. What happened and what do you think about giving your baby away?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Y’know, occasionally the whole open licensing thing gets frustrating, when folks take our „baby“ and run off in a direction that does absolutely nothing for us. But that’s also the strength of it, part of the reason that Fate has done as well as it has. Your baby doesn’t always grow up the way you hoped she would, right? And that’s okay. We make our babies so they do that: grow up, become their own person, go off into the world and change it. By that metric I think Fate’s doing pretty damn well no matter what folks are doing with it. Within the Evil Hat fold, tho, it’s always been pretty easy to hand over the baby. We’re a very collaborative company in that way. Ego doesn’t last long, and there’s always a special alchemy that comes out of putting two or more creative brains together under one hat. Crowdfunding (like Kickstarter, Indiegogo) seems to change everything. E publishing and the electonic gaming support via smartphones or tablets and online gaming of traditional RPG are gaining ground. It seems the younger generation is lost for most unplugged gaming (traditional RPGs and board games). They get great eyes for fancy video games. What do you think about the current gaming scene and market development in general?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: I think gaming is pretty strong even with the advances in videogames supposedly siphoning away interest. I mean, what videogames do well is a lot of complex math very quickly, right? So the value of „mathy“ tabletop games is diminished. That might make some parts of gaming look like it’s dying, and maybe those parts are. But where I’m at I’m seeing crazy diversity — way beyond what used to be available or supportable. And sure, each individual game might be reaching smaller audience than the titans of old. But in aggregate gamers are still a pretty sizable, strong community. We just need to make sure we orient on ways to welcome new players of any
age into the hobby, rather than putting a new layer of bricks on the barrier around our walled garden of a hobby. Fate Accelerated and the games based on it are in part our effort — funded by the Kickstarter — to make that just a little more possible. In the past Evil Hat did something unusual. On the company blog you published the number of sold games. Now you gave the beta version of Fate Core to all backers of the Kickstarter Campaign. I think these decisions are exemplary, but what is the idea behind this „open business“ attitude?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: It’s pretty simple. We’re treating people like we’d like to be treated. Starting out as a game company 7 or so years back it was terribly difficult to get at the information about what reasonable sales performance looked like in gaming. So when we started *having* that information… we provided it so others could benefit. Similarly, we’ve found time and again
that if we let folks get a look at our games before we send them to the printer, their scrutiny leads to a better, stronger final product. So the whole „get a look at Fate Core RIGHT NOW“ thing for the Kickstarter was a bit of a no-brainer. Please tell us about your future plans. As far as I know you plan Paranet Papers for the Dresden Files RPG and a new expanded edition of the RPG history book Designers & Dragons? Anything else?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Ha! I’d love to tell you about my future plans, but there’s honestly just too much. Look at the stretch goals on the Fate Core kickstarter, and blend that together with this post — — and you’ll have a good sense of it all. Finally, some fun and quick questions.
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Finally! The others have been so arduous! Seriously, tho, were those earlier ones not supposed to be fun? I had fun. We start with: Role playing is …
Fred HicksFred Hicks: … the way we celebrate the mad, wonderful ideas that happen when one person’s thoughts escape the brain and go out for a night of dancing with everyone else’s dreams. Favorite Fate variant?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Prior to Fate Core? (Because it’s totally Fate Core.) Diaspora and Bulldogs! tend to get into a big fist-fight for supremacy, there. Each one does what it’s setting out to do so very well.

Dresden Files Accelerated (Evil Hat)

Dresden Files Accelerated (Evil Hat) What was it like to work with Jim Butcher?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Awesome.
Did he have problems of letting you play with his creation?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: He did not.
Did you play with him the final version of the RPG? If so, how was it like?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Truth is, he loves the game, he’s seriously proud of it, but he’s not likely ever to play it. „Too much like work,“ he says. „You’ve recreating my writing process too well. Can’t do it. Plus, what a nightmare that’d be. I’ll be all, ‚Yes it DOES work like that, and I’m going to write the next book to MAKE it that way!'“ Gamemaster or player?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: I was gamemaster a lot for a while, tag-teaming with Rob Donoghue. Most recently we’re BOTH getting to be players for once, and it is a freakin‘ blast. What are the key ingredients for a great game?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Mechanics that produce an emotional response that bonds the player to the experience. Great art. Clarity of presentation. You work as a freelance layoutist. The layouts for the Dresden Files RPG and the Night Black Agents RPG are pretty complex.
Fred HicksFred Hicks: I started work on Night’s Black Agents, but I was not responsible for the final look of that game. Alas! But it turned out the direction I was going, and my schedule, was a bad fit. I’ll take credit (even tho I didn’t in the text) for the Dresden Files RPG though. Would you care to share your thoughts about good gaming layouts?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Whether you’re going minimalist or baroque, your layout has to live in the same world as the material, but only to the extent that it helps shed further light on what’s exciting about the setting and what’s important about the text. Fancy fonts can be a distraction. Deliver the goods in a way that enhances readability, learning, and the inherent pleasure of the game. What do you plan for the Fate Core?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: I plan to have Jeremy Keller complete his work on it! You can see his strong but simple-to-behold design right now by pledging to the Kickstarter and downloading the preview.

Strange Tales: Prototype Cover (Evil Hat)

Strange Tales: Prototype Cover (Evil Hat) A design tip for established or upcoming game developers?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: Figure out what your system is doing that supports the soul of the game, what it’s *really* about as an emotional and storytelling experience. Strip out everything else. See how well *that* runs. Then add back in only what’s needed to further enhance that. What was your first role playing book and board game?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: My first board game was… gosh, I have really no idea. I think for both of those it was the kid-age classics: red box D&D and Candyland. What is your favorite role playing game of all time and inrecent years?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: It’s hard to say no to Amber Diceless. Endlessly hacked by its fans, it’s incredibly malleable, and just plain delivers the goods. So far ahead of its time. In recent years? I’m seriously geeked about Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. What is your favorite (board) game of all time and in recent years?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: I love a good game of spades. Trick-taking games scratch a special itch for me. Recent years — man, Shadows Over Camelot. So good. Favorite game designer and/or artist?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: The Fate community. I ain’t gonna name specific names. The aggregate group-mind of it all produces amazing stuff. Every day.
I get the best ideas for my games when … or I am most creative when … ?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: … I’m in the shower.
Thank you, Fred Hicks. Anything else you want to share with the fans?
Fred HicksFred Hicks: We just announced the Dresden Files Accelerated stretch goal for the Fate Core kickstarter. It’s at $400k and I really want to see us hit it. We’ve got one week to make it there. I think we can do it. Please come on by and help us make the goal!

Fate Core Kickstarter
Fate Core Kicktraq
Evil Hat

All images except the Kicktraq analysis are provided by Evil Hat. Used with permission (24 January 2013).
The Kickstarter analysis for Fate Core provided by Kicktraq.

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