FATAL is legendary, as is this review of it. More legendary than RaHoWa and probably even Synnibar for being an unplayable, rubbish, obnoxious, even ‘evil’ game. This loose series of articles is about examining these supposedly irredeemable games and seeing if there’s anything of worth to be salvaged in them.
It doesn’t hurt that one of the reviewers who savaged FATAL is epic level cock-mongler Darren MacLennan. He’s such an irredeemable fuckwit that the instigator of FATAL, Byron Hall, can’t help but come off more favourably for the fact he was savaged by a helmet.
What’s the Problem With FATAL?
FATAL has a shitload of problems and there’s no getting away from it. Even if it were the best game in he world, at nearly 1,000 pages it would be unwieldy even if the game were perfect, wonderful and without flaw. It isn’t.
FATAL is most notorious for three things. It’s obsession with a level of detail that most games wouldn’t bother with, it’s obsession with sex and rape and – coming in third – the puerile nature of a lot of its spells.
Taken as a whole it’s an obsessive mess but without the sexual element it probably wouldn’t have drawn the comment, ire or infamy that it does. Because it’s so infamous for being shitty I think people are afraid to admit that there’s anything that might be of value in there. I think there is though.
The few bits of art that were commissioned for FATAL really aren’t that bad at all and while there are nipples, wangs and muff galore it’s really not that shocking at all. It seems to fit, overall, with the Heavy Metal aesthetic that bleeds out of the few bits of readable text. I’d use much of this art without any sort of compunction and it wouldn’t be out of place, at all, in games like Lamentations of the Flame Princess or anything with a weird fantasy or horror BDSM style. Other pieces of art are good enough to be used in just about any fantasy game and it’s a pity the artists involved didn’t get more work and more exposure.
The art definitely speaks to Lotfp or even Barbarians of Lemuria. Going on the art alone, this is something I might want to play. Shame about the rest.
FATAL’s setting is just your bog standard fantasy setting, pretty much. Much of what’s there is nothing new, it’s just often ‘nasty’ and much of it is inferred from the monster descriptions and spells. Many of these are pretty puerile and childish but the idea of taboo things having power isn’t exactly new or controversial. FATAL just doesn’t shy away from laying it out directly, rather than hinting.
FATAL’s content seems to describe more of a medieval fantasy setting, a dark and more urban oriented set of ideas that aren’t worlds different to those found in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. There’s a disconnect between the presentation and thought and the career/role options but the second set aren’t so terrible, really.
Quadratic equations? Penile thickness tables? Anal circumference? There’s virtually nothing redeemable about the system. Although…
Much of the game is based around a d1000, rolling 3d10 in much the same way as you would with 2d10 to produce a d100. This is unwieldy and mathematically would slow down games but the level of granularity it opens up in a rules system is potentially a good thing.
Gamers who like their mathematics and granularity aren’t particularly well served at the moment though, for some people, it’s definitely an appeal of the games. Millenium’s End, Rolemaster and others have been extensive and comprehensive and have taken an intensely simulation-oriented viewpoint. A d1000 would certainly allow gun-fetishists to tweak each and every fraction of a percent out of every modification and bolt-on. It allows little things to make a real, statistical difference and while that may not be to everyone’s taste there’s definitely a wing of the hobby that loves the crunch.
The one thing that FATAL does really well – and is probably taken from someone else’s work – is in its career/occupations section. There’s a really comprehensive list of medieval occupations and guilds that are easily portable to other games and systems and saves you hunting down an old copy of Central Casting.
Even FATAL has some useful stuff you can drag out of it. A more savvy look at a d1000, simulationist system might be worth doing as an exercise (though I think I’d approach it as a d100.0 system). Much of the research/desperate justification is useful, as are some of the tables and lastly, the art that had been commissioned was of a generally good quality and would be worth rescuing, or finding the original artists to give some employment.
Speaking of which, if you know: Adam Briggs, Andrew Dobell, Kimon, Lazar Stojkovic Steven MnMoorn or Steve Willhite, feel free to send them my way.
While FATAL’s approach is obsessive, self-contained and troublesome there’s no doubt that there’s a desire for more adult oriented media. Game of Thrones, Spartacus, the rise (again) of the erotic novel into public conciousness, these are all things that are heartening to see in a time when we’re also seeing a lot of financial and social censure and prudish pressure.
Maybe it is time for a genuinely adult game.