Evil Hat Productions’ Unusual Urban Fantasy Setting for FATE CORE - THE SECRETS OF CATS!

One trope that has been around since the earliest myths, but is only rarely pursued in role-playing games is the one where a hero does not necessarily have to be a human. And by that one should not include humanoid creatures like elves and dwarves and aliens and vampires, for they are variations on the human-theme, but true non-human entities such as animals, robots, and other creatures out of legend.

Interestingly enough, cartoons both short and feature-length have always been willing to explore the idea that an animal or construct can be a heroic figure. Disney and PIXAR film characters have certainly demonstrated that dogs, dinosaurs, mice, ducks, chipmunks, fish, and even toys can all take on epically heroic aspects and save the day for themselves and humanity alike.

This theme of animals as heroic characters is the main idea behind The Secrets of Cats: A World of Adventure for Evil Hat Production’s FATE CORE RPG system. Authored by Richard Bellingham and released this year, The Secret of Cats offers players a chance to leave the human world behind, and enter an urban fantasy where felines of every kind are the brave heroes fighting to save humanity from the perils of the night!


The Secrets of Cats: A World of Adventure for FATE CORE

  • Writing & Adventure Design: Richard Bellingham
  • Art & Illustrations: Crystal Frasier
  • Publisher: Evil Hat Productions
  • Year: 2014
  • Media: PDF (52 pages)
  • Price: Pay What You Want (Suggested $4.00 at RPGNow.com)


The Secrets of Cats: A World of Adventure for FATE CORE
is an urban fantasy/horror setting for use with Evil Hat’s FATE CORE and FATE CORE ACCELERATED in which the players take on the roles of sentient mystical felines who save mankind from the powers of darkness! This setting book comes complete with everything required to build FATE CORE sapient feline characters, including setting lore, Aspect design, Skills, and Stunts – both normal and magical – and including guidelines and suggestions for designing heroes in this “non-human” realm. Additionally, there is a town setting and a complete adventure there, along with NPCs, Complications, Threats, and more…


Production Quality

The production quality of The Secrets of Cats is quite good, presenting a pleasing reading experience with an straightforward layout coupled with a fun and enthusiastic writing style. The page format is simple yet bold in appearance, with font choices and text colors which make it easy for the Reader to discern important concepts. Important notes appear in purple boxes with white lettering, while practical examples and other notes appear in colorful italics, while Aspects and other traits appear in bold print.

The PDF is organized with both a table of contents and a solid set of bookmarks for use in navigating throughout the document. The table of contents is hot-linked, and just as useful as the bookmarks for quickly finding the information one requires. The Secrets of Cats does not have an index, but given the book’s length at only fifty or so pages, an index might have been considered a bit of overkill.

The artwork and illustrations from The Secrets of Cats: A World of Adventure for FATE CORE is really fantastic, possessing a Bluth-esque quality reminiscent of animal characters seen in feature length cartoons like The Secret of NIMH or All Dogs Go to Heaven. While possessing vaguely human qualities in their facial expressions and gestures, the cat character portrayed on the cover and interior remain quintessentially feline in nature – these are sapient animals of a mystical nature and exhibit animal traits. The few images of humans and other creatures are also well rendered and have great character. The only downside if that there could not have been more incidental illustrations to break up the occasional “wall-of-text” sections of the book.


Got Nine Lives… Cat’s Eyes…
The Secrets of Cats: A World of Adventure for FATE CORE is a setting supplement, first and foremost, and as such, requires additional materials to utilize the contents – namely a copy or copies of FATE CORE rules and possibly FATE ACCEPERATED. The character creation and setting contents in The Secrets of Cats is fairly complete, and more than enough to run the adventure included in the supplement – or even launch an extended campaign!

The Secret of Cats is broken down into five parts with each one discussing different aspects of the setting supplement. The author opens with a brief Acknowledgements with nods to the Google+ FATE CORE Community who provided feedback and testing, along with an explanation on Using this Supplement before launching into the cats’ secret-stuff. For the most part, the book is written from the sapient feline perspective, making it easier to consider for players and GMs to imagine what it might be like to portray an intelligent and magical cat.

In Part I of the supplement, the author introduces players to The Duties of Cats, and conveys some of the background information about the setting. The Secrets of Cats is an urban horror/fantasy setting, in which feline characters undertake the solemn mission of protecting mankind from dangers both mundane and supernatural. Cats are sapient animals, and as characters possess magical powers to guard their Burdens (humans) from things that go bump in the night. Because human myths and legends are real – there are ghosts and ghouls, fairies and wendigos all waiting to prey on humanity –if not for the bravery of cat-kind to save them.

Throughout this section and the rest of the book, the author explains some of the stranger behaviors of felines in the new understanding of their mystical natures and responsibilities to watch over their Burdens. For instance, cats kill animals and leave them near a person’s home not as some offering to the humans within, but to fuel their magical powers with blood sacrifice and erect wards, foresee the future, or even do mystical battle on behalf of their Burdens. Of course, humans have no idea that cats can speak or use magical powers, and cat characters must ensure that their abilities remain an absolute secret!

Part II of The Secrets of Cats provides rules for creating feline characters using much of the same rules as human characters are created in FATE CORE. The author provides a quick one-page reference guide, and then offers greater details about creating Aspects, Skill selection, the four types of Magic Skills, and Stunts. Like other characters in FATE CORE, feline heroes have a High Concept and Troubles as Aspects, as well as Burdens which can range from a single individual to an entire neighborhood of humans. The author also discusses the general nature of what it is to be a cat, their nature, senses, lack of literacy and their naiveté about the human world. There are practical examples detailed within this section of the book, usually centering on Jezzabella, the local NPC feline leader of the Parliament of Cats in the setting. True Names are also an important Aspect of cat characters in the setting, as it also forms the foundation of some of the Magic Stunts. There are four types of Magic Stunts available to cats – Warding, Naming, Shaping, and Seeking – and each has its own set of unique powers to be used during play. In some respects, the magic system is vaguely reminiscent of the wizardry used by the Archmage Ged in Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy, but these FATE CORE Stunts are written with a definite feline-flair which make them quite diverse and amusing to read.

Part III delves into the setting of Silver Ford, a small town in Maine which was once the host of a silver mine. A map of the town is provided here, along with a list of Issues and Places & Faces which have their own Aspects to describe them. The locations in the town have amusing and interesting names from a cat’s perspective, such as The Meeting Place which humans would call the Milly Ross Play Park or the House Across the River which is a cat’s way of describing the local covered bridge. This section is fairly short, however, but it does leave room for a GM to add his or her own locations to the map of Silver Ford.

The author provides an adventure in Part IV, a solid, creepy, occult investigation for feline heroes to undertake to protect local children from a dangerous curse. The adventure is a fairly sand-boxy in nature, assuming a GM chooses to add a few side-treks and distractions along the way. There are plenty of opportunities for role-playing and problem solving, and the adventure’s main threat can be vanquished in more than one way.

Finally, Part V contains some guidelines about creating other Complications and Threats should the adventure lead to an entire campaign in Silver Ford. These include some specific happenings pertaining to specific NPCs and locations in the area, as well as some suggestions about creating other threats such as Spirits, Were-Creatures, Fairies, Tulpas, and Sorcerers.


Overall Score: 8.8 out of 10.0


Conclusions

There’s something absolutely whimsically fun about the concepts explored within The Secrets of Cats: A World of Adventure for FATE CORE. The setting really opens up a unique role-playing opportunity for players of all skill levels. Obviously to gamers who are feline aficionados, The Secrets of Cats will have a very strong appeal, but it’s likely only cat-haters that would find this game setting to be completely without merit. Younger gamers in particular might really take a shine to becoming their favorite pet for a few role-playing sessions!

This FATE CORE supplement is a real steal at the Pay What You Want pricing, and the recommended purchase price is plenty cheap for all the amusing and imaginative content in this setting. While playing sentient animals – specifically cats – might not be everyone’s role-playing forte, The Secrets of Cats nevertheless provides a very unique and fun take on the urban fantasy theme. There’s plenty of mystery and horror tropes to explore here in this setting, and players can have a full nine-lifetimes of enjoyment exploring this new role-playing fur-spective from head to tail.

Editorial Note: This Reviewer purchased a copy of the product in PDF format from which this review was written.

Grade Card (Ratings 0 to 10)

  • Presentation: 8.0
  • - Design: 7.5 (Imaginative and wonderful writing; simple and solid layout; excellent bookmarks and ToC)
  • - Illustrations: 8.5 (Fantastic artwork; good map; needed more art to avoid “WoT”)
  • Content: 8.5
  • - Crunch: 8.5 (Excellent interpretation of rules into a unique setting; very cool feline magical stunts!)
  • - Fluff: 8.5 (Decent amount of lore and background; amusing and fun twists on cat behavior!)
  • Value: 10.0 (It’s Pay What You Like Pricing – it’s a great deal, but do pay some cash to the author!)
 

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