I just set down my iPad after four hours of simultaneously reading the Fate Core Toolkit (no link, because it’s not officially out yet) and monitoring (and conversing) on the Fate Core G+ community page. Here’s my reaction: it’s awesome, get it! Seriously, it is.
That’s my official response (it’s awesome!), but that’s not to say the text is perfect. In fact, in some places, it was a quite a let down for me. I’ll tell you why, but first let me say that I had huge expectations for this that may have exceeded what the reality could have been, and possibly (most likely) colored my perceptions on the sections I felt were lacking.
So, let’s get into the review.
The Toolkit Review
The first seven chapters of the text are about how to change the core rules to work differently for your setting and are worth their numerous pages in pounds of gold. They give great advice from how to tier aspects, several variants on how stress and consequence mechanics can be tweaked, how to retool the skill list, new methods and rubrics on creating stunts, how to set up your game for different power levels of play and so much more.
Included in these chapters are multiple ways of handling weapons and armor, all of which are cool; one involving different colors of dice is pretty inventive, although I doubt I’ll ever use it. It also includes a fantastic implement for including races (properly referenced as a problematic, yet necessary, alternative to the proper term “species” in the text) and other extras like magical powers into your character creation process. It’s a great way of demonstrating how to include this very critical aspect of characterization. I was exceedingly happy to see it.
Another area I very much enjoyed was a new way to create adventures based on the characters’s aspects. Creation of adventures is something I’ve never been into overly much, as it tends to stiffen play while players look to the GM (usually me) for direction. I much prefer Lady Blackbird‘s method of asking questions and allowing the players to help decide what happens. And this system is simple enough to allow me to do that, while knowing where we’re going (which Lady Blackbird also does with the integrated, though very simple, story arc and goal).
Those of us who have the Magic Toolkit from the Kickstarter will recognize about a quarter of the book, as that section is copy and pasted in (which I believe was always the plan, and not a negative point). Though they did tack on many pages dedicated to creating your own magic systems, and it’s a pretty good section. I wasn’t very taken with the Magic Toolkit since it only covered making your own system in about a 10% of its pages, the rest dedicated to systems the author obviously enjoyed (part of that 10% are the half a page to a page of options for refining each system to suit your needs). That’s not to say the magic systems are terrible (far from it!) but I expected large swaths to be dedicated to giving readers tools to create their own systems, sprinkled with examples. The new expanded section does just that!
Beyond that section, the book turns into a mild disappointment for me. The sections on vehicles and mass combat (the latter of which got my hackles up because it’s very similar, though also very different, to a product I was considering writing) that are necessary and good resources.
After reading dozens of pages on magic, I was incredibly excited to see what they did with super powers, as I felt that to be the more difficult thing to emulate and thus more important in the toolkit, and was seriously let down. It was all of 3 pages, covered one optional system in marginal depth and spoke very little towards other methods of handling powers (though it does point you to Wild Blue, which is an excellent supers resource for Fate). This is what I was must tuned up to see, since it’s my belief that if you can model super powers you can model anything supernatural, and it was the section that was the most disappointing for me.
Other high points of the text, to get back to why this product is awesome, was a section for creating monsters that was well-done (which ironically has a cooler version of creating super powers than the supers section) and a return of the scale rules with some tweaks.
My rating: a solid 4.7 out of 5. If there was more time spent on the supers section alone, I would up it to a very solid 5 (and if you don’t care about supers, just go ahead and call it a 5).
The Toolkit should be considered required reading for the first seven chapters alone, and other sections throughout the book give great advice on various implementations. It should be included in your Fate library as an essential text. If you have ever had questions on what to do to make Fate Core or FAE work for your genre, you need this!