I hopped on both the Fate Core 3 and Cortex Hackers Guide kickstarters earlier in the year with no regrets and while this is NOT a review or discussion of the systems included in these books, nor the layout, nor the art or anything content wise by any means, I don’t like either of them and here’s why: they are generic RPG books and little did I know– I can’t fucking stand them! There’s really nothing more boring than a system without a reason to use it and while I really like both Cortex and FATE, the ownership of these books is fundamentally useless to me– and I can’t even get through reading them….at all. Imagine trying to learn Advanced Squad Leader or Mystic Realm (both very difficult games to learn) without having a strong affinity to the gaming theme they represent. Could you get through such rules? I thought I could, but I can’t. Not ever.
Let’s take Lamentations of the Flame Princess as an example of a similar game to the of the books above in that it still presents a sort of generic system for running Fantasy RPG’s first off. Lamentations uses the most generic and nearly universally familiar OD&D system (Moldavy Basic essentially), changes a couple of things (like only fighters get +1 to hit at levels) and then tells you how to run a Fantasy game with it. There is a (very strange) adventure in the back, but other than that there is no description of the Lamentation’s world at all– just about what survival Fantasy Horror gaming should be like. Yet, while the system is one most of us are intimately familiar with (being the basis of all D20 play ever anon), Lamentations, while not including much in the way of a world, has a very clear Swords and Sorcery /Survival Horror focus for the game, the art and writing; a setting that makes what you are getting into with the game extremely clear. It is not a base rule set for any genre it is a base rule set for Swords and Sorcery. Of course we know from the years gone by that D20 has been used for everything under the sun with some incredibly weighty systems (Pathfinder, 3.5, etc.), but that’s not what Lamentations is doing. Instead it’s laying out a well-known set of rules within a specific paradigm even WITHOUT a massive world-spanning gazetter included in the base package. I love Lamentations and it will be my go-to D&D game if I ever give that a whirl again, and who can deny modules like The God the Crawls or FUCK FOR SATAN to boot? Most importantly, I was able to get through the text of the rules, the GM advice (which is amazing and goes far beyond anything I’ve ever read for running an actual group of players) and the supplemental materials. Why?
Let’s talk about Cortex and Fate– both excellent rule-sets. At the moment I prefer Cortex a bit more because, those of us that love Exalted want to play high powered crazy fights in less than 8 hours a piece. While I really enjoy exploring a new RPG system, what I don’t like, and this is a recent discovery, are these tool-kit only rulebooks. While clearly laying out what can be done with the system and the system itself (in the case of FATE 3), there’s absolutely no hook at all saying to me as a GM, i.e.: the person that will have to put all the work into the game for the most part, that I should try to make stories for this. It’s more like saying: ok you as a person should make an RPG out of this– and if you have time for that type of thing you are in a completely different demographic. Even the awesome Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, whose setting I really have no interest in at all (apart from Guardians of the Galaxy) gave myself and my players some framework to WANT to play. When I pick up FATE 3 and peruse the Hackers Guide for Cortex… I fall asleep, LITERALLY. There’s just nothing there but laying out an RPG system which, while incredibly important that it’s not pure shit (I’m looking at you Twilight 2000), it’s extremely boring when extracted from any sort of genre framework to spark the imaginations. It’s like one side of the brain is satisfied while the other one just sits there, bored off it’s ass.
Dresden Files (FATE 2), while not that fun to play as any sort of Wizard, are essential books for my RPG library as a basis around how to create that TYPE of game (modern Wizardry) with FATE. Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (CORTEX), again while not a specific world I am interested in playing in was yet another awakening to what is possible for handling high powered, superheroic RPG’s. Even very difficult systems like Legends of Wuilin (which will likely never see print) Strange Fate (FATE 2 on crack) are extremely interesting books because they weave the stories you are going to tell in with the system it’s presenting. While you are reading the SYSTEM you are also beginning to create the stories that you will tell together with your group–and I think this is absolutely key. Sure some people that want to make a FATE or CORTEX game may love the generic system books, but for me, it’s just a waste.