Fate Space Toolkit



A space-suited ship’s marine wielding a scatter-laser scrambles out of an airlock onto the hull of a spaceship, his magboots activated, and opens fire on the boarding-droids trying to break into the ship...a starfighter pilot is pushed back into the contours of her acceleration couch as her sleek attack boat zooms from the mother ship’s launch bay, incoming bogies reading as a swarm of hot red blips laser-painted on her retinas...a thick-waisted human merchant and his alien guide push through the press of a crowded bazaar under skies far from Earth as a blue-skinned shopkeeper with a mane of multicolored fronds seeks to entice them with the glowing green orb that floats above the dactyls of his splayed-out hand...

Welcome to the Fate Space Toolkit! This book is for players and GM who want to create Fate games focused on science fiction space adventure. Science fiction is a gigantic genre, and though we’ll focus on just adventures in outer space, we’ve still got to cover a vast expanse, so we’re going to get to the heart of things as quickly as we can. We’ll talk about how to use the Fate system to run science fiction campaigns set in space, and we’ll provide a range of options for including space travel and space battles as well as alien worlds and alien cultures in your game. We’ll tackle the question of realism from multiple angles in order to provide as wide a variety of approaches to space adventure as we can, from gritty Apollo-era techno-thriller to cerebral far-future space opera.

And the possibilities are endless! Think about the ways that outer space is used in science fiction. It can be a frontier for exploration, a source of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations,” (as in Star Trek), or a battlefield where contending forces vie for supremacy. It can be the “negative space” between worlds, a gulf that must be crossed in order to make safe planetfall, and within which the frail vessels of humanity are the merest motes. Or it can be a literal abyss, a void so black and empty that it threatens the lives and sanity of those human beings who dare to venture across the thresholds of night.

We call this a “toolkit” because we believe that Fate games are often custom-built—they are designed for a specific playgroup with particular preferences and a singular vision of the game they would like to play. So we are interested in exploring how the essential tools of Fate—the ladder, the aspect-linked fate point economy, and the Bronze Rule—can be used for space-based science fiction adventure. Our goal is to give you the tools you’ll need to get playing quickly, creating just enough now and then expanding, extending, and digging deeper as the circumstances demand.

Other Fate Space Adventure Games

There are lots of great science fiction games based on Fate, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out some of the more notable ones. You can mine these games for setting details and rules approaches, kitbashing them into your own game.

  • Baroque Space Opera by Mark Kowaliszyn. A galactic-scale Fate Core game in the mold of Dune or Jupiter Ascending, with high technology indistinguishable from magic available to the characters who are enmeshed in the courtly intrigues of a corrupt imperium.
  • Bulldogs! by Galileo Games. You’re part of the rough-and-ready multi-species crew of a space freighter hauling cargo for long hours, all for low pay and a chance to see this corner of the galaxy, full of interesting alien cultures and worlds. Your aspects emerge from your relationship with your captain and the other crew members. The latest edition is based on Fate Core.
  • Diaspora by VSCA Publishing. Making use of Fate’s third-edition rules and inspired by an early science fiction RPG called Traveller, Diaspora takes a hard SF perspective and offers a lot of useful “mini-game” approaches to space combat, small-unit skirmishes, and social and political contests.
  • Mindjammer by Modiphius Entertainment. This is a detailed and carefully thought-out far-future transhumanist setting for Fate Core with a hard SF perspective. It holds a wealth of material to mine for ideas or adapt whole cloth.
  • Tachyon Squadron by Clark Valentine (published by Evil Hat). This setting book focuses on a space-fighter squadron, with rules for dogfights and interception missions as well as the ebb and flow of events back at base during an ongoing campaign in the middle of a space war.
  • You’ll also find some space adventure themes and tools in some of Evil Hat’s Fate Worlds of Adventure, including Andromeda (epic space opera in an alien galaxy), Red Planet (communist pulp space fantasy), Ghost Planets (Star Trek meets Forbidden Planet by way of Indiana Jones), The Three Rocketeers (swashbucklers in space), and Sails Full of Stars (quasi-historical fantasy in the Solar System). They are available as “pay what you want” products on drivethrurpg.com, thanks to the generosity of our Patreon backers, who support the ongoing production of new settings and adventures.

The Plausibilometer

Our definition of “science fiction” is pretty broad, but we want to acknowledge that there is a continuum of different approaches to science-fictional world-building, and that there are some works with science-fictional trappings that some readers and critics think don’t count as science fiction at all. To sidestep all these issues of nomenclature and subgenre taxonomy, we’ll use a device that we’re calling the plausibilometer (PLAWS-uh-bull-OM-uh-ter) to describe how the tropes and trappings of science fiction are deployed in any given game. In your own game, you can use the plausibilometer to signal to each other some of the underlying assumptions you’re making about the way things work in your fiction.

The plausibilometer setting is an indicator of the attitude toward “realism” or “authenticity” that your group wants to enforce. It’s possible to use it in a granular way, where some setting elements are high plausibility while you let others be low or even zero plausibility. For example, many SF stories require cheap and easy faster-than-light (FTL) travel, so they allow that technology while attempting to keep everything else grounded in plausible speculation. This practice is sometimes called “blackboxing,” implying that at least some of the disruptive effects of a particular technology are not explored in the fiction. Fun games can be produced with any degree of plausibility; the plausibilometer will just help your group get on the same page.

High Plausibility

High-plausibility games emphasize creating a coherent, internally consistent game universe in line with contemporary scientific knowledge and speculation. Part of the fun of such games is getting the math right, even if only figuratively—the aim is to speculate rigorously about the ramifications of scientific developments and cultural conditions.

Set the dial to high plausibility when you want a game that is grounded as much as possible in real-world science, both social and natural.

Reality Check

In high-plausibility games, anyone who thinks that something introduced into the fiction is sufficiently implausible may call for a reality check—you may even wish to put a card on the table with the words “reality check” (or “Science!”) written on it for players to point to. When someone calls for a reality check, stop play to briefly discuss what’s the matter and try to reach some accommodation or adjustment. Defer to the desire for greater realism, assuming that doing so will ultimately make everyone happier.

Low Plausibility

In low-plausibility games, the players have a higher threshold for the willing suspension of disbelief, meaning that they’re not terribly concerned about the internal coherence of the game universe, so long as it’s dramatic or exciting. At its core, Star Wars—with its dogfighting space fighters, psychic space samurai, and giant space monsters—is the benchmark for low-plausibility games.

Set the dial to low plausibility when you want an over-the-top, pulp-flavored game high on atmospherics and melodrama. Low-plausibility games are not subject to reality checks—although some groups will be more resistant than others to bending, blending, or otherwise mixing up the trappings of different fictional genres in their game.

Medium Plausibility

Between these two styles falls most science fiction. In medium-plausibility games, the emphasis frequently falls on exploring the consequences of some “What if?” conceit. They often blend and bend genre, introducing one or two big, blackboxed implausibilities in order to drive the questions in which the fiction is interested.

Star Trek is a good benchmark for medium-plausibility games. There’s a lot of technobabble double-talk, but the focus of any given episode is usually on dealing with the consequences of a particular science-fictional MacGuffin, whether that’s a society of quasi-Romans, godlike aliens, or a lonesome space whale.

Set the dial to medium plausibility when you want a game that’s grounded in reality but you’re willing to take pretty big liberties with real science in the service of the game’s central premise. Players may still call for reality checks on implausible elements, but for the reality check to be upheld the new element must be shown to contradict or clash unsatisfyingly with an existing aspect or issue in the game; mere scientific implausibility is not necessarily enough to require fixing.

Optional Rule: The Cold Equations

“The Cold Equations” is the name of a 1954 Astounding science fiction short story by Tom Godwin in which the physics of space travel necessitates that a stowaway sacrifice herself to prevent the spaceship she’s on from crashing, because the ship will run out of fuel from her unanticipated weight. The point of the story is that the laws of physics are inflexible and unforgiving, with little room for fudging.

This view is somewhat antithetical to the spirit of Fate, whose relatively low granularity means it’s always flexible. Some aspect may always be invoked to transform a potential disaster into a triumph. In some cases, this generous approach to modeling reality can conflict with the desire for scientific verisimilitude.

However, one way to deal with this conflict is to rely on the players’ own sense of scientific plausibility. In a high- or medium-plausibility game, if any player believes that something being described is a little too scientifically optimistic, they may call for “Cold Equations.” The player challenged by the Cold Equations may reply in one of two ways before they roll the dice:

  • “Science is a harsh mistress”: If the roll is a failure, invoking aspects can improve the result only up to a tie; it’s not possible to succeed or succeed with style.
  • “The human spirit always prevails”: Invoking an aspect for this roll only gives a +1 bonus, not +2, making it much more difficult—but still possible—to succeed or even succeed with style.

You may use the Cold Equations rule in addition to or in place of reality checks.

How to Use This Book

The first chapter after this introduction is called Creating a Fate Space Game, which expands upon the basics of Fate Core for creating a setting together. The next chapter is Character Creation, which discusses how to customize character generation for a Fate Space setting.

Then, we go over Spaceships and Space Travel, Space Combat, and rules for Aliens and Alien Worlds, giving you many tools for your adventures throughout space.

Finally, we lay out five sample settings for a Fate Space game, which provide concrete examples of the rules and guidelines we talk about in the earlier chapters. You can play each as-is or plunder its ideas for your own campaign:

  • The Gods Know Future Things: Posthuman space opera at subluminal speeds!
  • The High Frontiersmen: Gritty Cold War political intrigue in orbit for high stakes.
  • Mass Drivers: Realistic space drama among the interplanetary working class.
  • Millennials: Optimistic space exploration and alien encounter in a spirit of discovery.
  • Pax Galactica: Transgalactic travelogue against a somewhat baroque backdrop.

We intend for the Fate Space Toolkit to offer a coherent picture of how to design a space-based science fiction adventure setting for Fate, with numerous alternatives and examples. But we also invite readers to go in either of two directions from using this book as a guide to setting design. GMs, you might want to adopt a setting whole cloth, developing and altering it as needed to suit your play group. Or you might want to dip into this book to steal specific ideas and approaches as desired, regardless of whether or not you’ll incorporate them into a Fate Space adventure game.