Hot on the heels of SIGMATA, I’ve taken some time to look through the new game from Evil Hat Productions: Uprising. I’ve actually had this one for a little bit (I was one of the Kickstarter backers) but the actual street date for its release is today so I’ve been waiting to review. Uprising is a darkly-themed game of resistance, betrayal, and hardship, set in the same universe as The Resistance, Coup, and Coup: Rebellion, collectively called the “Dystopian Universe” which really doesn’t seem like a term you can claim as your own thing. Regardless, it’s a very attractive-looking book but does it live up to that potential? Read on and see.
While this is a Fate product and has the Fate Core symbol on the cover, it’s not quite the same as other Fate products. There are aspects and tracks but other fun inclusions as well. I’ll try to give a clear view of the system in this review but just know going in that we’re not talking Fate-as-usual. The other thing to keep in mind is that the setting for this book is a near-future dystopian France, specifically the capital of Paris Nouveau, so there are lots of French terms in here. I’ll get into the setting in due time but just wanted to set that up first and foremost.
With all that out of the way, let’s get to the show.
Character and Setting Creation
First and foremost, characters in Uprising work off of playsheets rather than being designed whole cloth like in other Fate games. In Ehdrigohr or Red Planet you tie yourself to cultures or factions without it impacting your mechanics directly, while in The Dresden Files there are templates but these are just shortcuts for character stats that you could make from scratch if you really felt like it.
Not so with Uprising. Like playbooks in Powered by the Apocalypse games there is a framework with prompting questions that gives you stats and helps you to formulate both the mechanics and the personality of the character. There are nine playsheets in Uprising grouped into three social classes: La Societé (the rich upper class), les Citoyens (average citizens), and les Exilés (the dregs and outsiders). After you pick a social class you get a unique stunt and five pre-established conditions, then you pick one of the three playsheets for that class which gives you prompting questions for aspects, your skill arrays, your methods of advancement, and stunts to pick from. When you advance you can do things like increase your refresh, increase your means (see below), gain a stunt, gain some cyberware, or gain a contact.
For instance, let’s do a quick character creation for an upper class operate of la Résistance working with the city police in Paris Nouveau. That’s obviously la Societé which means this character gains a stunt, great wealth, that makes is easier to buy equipment. They also write down the conditions Angry, Wounded, Compromised, Depleted, and Marked for Death some of which are shared with other classes and some of which are unique to la Societé. Now we pick a playsheet and in this case the Officer makes a lot of sense. There are five questions listed (“Why do you deserve your position?” etc) two of which we pick to make starting aspects, then three different skill arrays to pick from which favor the sorts of skills law enforcement are good at. Officers get advancement marks when they do things like issue an order and someone obeys or use violence to solve a problem; five advancements and they get fate points to spend. Last of all there are five unique stunts for the Officer and you get to pick two (in addition to Great Wealth from class).
Lastly, each player has a secret which harkens back to The Resistance card game that this RPG draws from. You draw a card from the secret deck and get results like “Mole Hunter” (you are supposed to be looking for traitors within the la Résistance) or “Killer” (you’re a secret sociopath you really just likes bleeding people). There’s also about a 40% chance that you’ll be a spy working for the government and waiting for your chance to betray your fellow players. Think that makes everyone suspicious and hostile? That’s the idea. Each secret has advancement triggers like the playsheets and they also have “reveal clauses” when you can reveal your secret. The Mole Hunter, for example, gets a free advance of their abilities when they correctly accuse someone of being a spy during a mission debrief. They up their abilities, let everyone know their secret, then draw two secret cards and pick one to be their new secret.
Means and Ends
The skills in Uprising consist of four “means” which are used for four “ends.” The four means work much like skills do in other Fate games except, of course, that the palette is a lot smaller. Fight is for all those ultraviolence things you want to do; Manipulate is for the more subtle art of deceiving; Maneuver is for quick-thinking and quick feet; and Observe is for planning and watching.
The four ends roughly equate to the four uses of skills in Fate, though the names are different. Cause Harm is Attack; Avoid is Defend; Gain the Advantage is Create an Advantage; and Resolve an Uncertain Outcome is Overcome. Although the game purports to be Fate Core, this seems a lot more like the six approaches of Fate Accelerated to me. Oh well.
Let’s talk a little bit about the world that these Résistance fighters are running around in. This is a near-future setting with heavy cyberpunk influences which means that citizens of Paris Nouveau have AR implants in their brains, you might have cybernetic eyes or limbs, and everyone is dressed in weird clothes with neon hair. Just embrace it. As you’ve probably gathered, the government is both corrupt and totalitarian which is why normal people are fighting a guerilla war against it. The backstory is that nuclear weapons and climate change caused a collapse of international relations and Paris turned in on itself in order to keep the peace.
The default setting is Paris Nouveau and there are some great resources for creating a French cyberpunk setting, but there are also a few other locations that get a brief mention (apparently knowledge of the outside world is both fragmented and highly regulated). Nice (now called “Neese”) has seen moderate success in rebuilding their infrastructure which probably means their going to be attacked and annexed by Paris Nouveau. New York is fragmented into borroughs that are each self-ruled and dealing with widespread hunger. Upfrancisco is built on top of crumbling San Francisco with a fragile economy and serious social hierarchy. Nu Berlin is a nuclear fallout zone with mutants, while Prague, London, St. Petersburg, and Tokyo are all listed as destroyed. Cairo (mysteriously called “Cairo-321”) apparently has flourishing trade but the details are scarce and Versailles is doing surprisingly well which means the government in Paris Nouveau is trying to limit contact lest the people get any ideas.
These alternate locations are given as possible international jaunts for Résistance fighters in Paris Nouveau but you could easily make up your own details for any city you like. Much of the setting is customizable by nature (see below) so creating a dystopian Chicago or Perth or Kuala Lumpur shouldn’t be too hard for a clever GM.
Building la Résistance and the Government
After all the players make their characters, the group as a whole makes up the large factions of the city. Like characters, both la Résistance and the Government have aspects, points to spend, and advances with special abilities.
La Résistance gets a manifesto (pretty much a high concept aspect) and a weakness (like the trouble aspect) which are setting aspects always available. They get a cache of fate points too which can be spent like the characters’ own fate points, representing the sort of support your faction can offer. La Résistance also starts with two advancements (like characters start with two stunts) and they can get more as the game goes on. Players get important contacts and cybernetic enhancements as their advancements, but Résistances get intelligence assets, materiel, and popular support. They also can start “The Revolution” which is an endgame option to tear down the Government with one last mission…
Speaking of which, you also create the Government together! I guess… like all governments. This is similar to the process above with two aspects (the government’s positive slogan and it’s negative scandal) and a bank (literally) of fate points for the GM to use. They get two advances from their own lists: corporate resources, military arms, and security forces. They also have the advantage of numbers and ubiquity so good luck freedom fighters.
Missions start with a prep scene where they get an action to recover things a little bit. They can clear conditions (another way this is like PbtA games), requisition equipment, request favors from movers and shakers allied with la Résistance, or create an advantage for the upcoming mission. I love the photomontage feel of this, especially since it gives people the chance to pass notes between people, privately or in the table. Also, if you’re still on the fence about this awesome game, consider the following line: “GM, here’s a dirty trick: pass a note to a player that says, ‘Study this note as if it contained interesting information, then nod and pass it back. Take a fate point afterward.'”
When the mission proper starts, the GM gets a Budget of fate points equal to the number of players plus one and they can pull from their Bank if they think the Government is extra-pissed. The PCs work towards Resistance goals and the Government works towards government goals (so far so good) which are both part of the narrative arc. Through the mission the GM will accumulate blowback through PCs taking shortcuts or by them trading 3 blowback for an instant fate point. The GM has a list of things they can spend blowback on including creating complications, force the players to make harder choices, trigger government advances, or even kill player characters (!).
At the end of the mission is the debrief where you take care of advancing the PCs, Résistance, and government. Step 4 of the debrief, though, reads “Check if any PC wants to accuse another.” What?!? Paranoia and accusations are built into this game which makes it so much more fun. When you accuse someone, the GM takes you both aside for an “interrogation” (which, I assume, can involve beating the player up) and you have to choose one of three options: reveal your secret to the accuser and clear your name, reveal that you’re actually a Spy but that you want to become a double agent, or refusing to talk and being executed by la Résistance. Why would you want to accuse your fellow players and why would they fall on their swords? Well, if you successfully turn a Spy into a double agent you get two advances for free (as reward) and if someone is killed then la Résistance gets an advance. Accusing someone who’s actually innocent, though, strengthens the government’s hold and it gets an advance instead. Simple, straightforward, and darkly awesome.
This game is so good, you guys. If you are a fan of Fate games, this one offers you so many new mechanics to try out. If you like PbtA and Fate both, this is a beautiful marriage of the two. If you run any sort of spy games (with or without traitor mechanics built in) then this is an elegant way to structure those games.
Aside from all of that utility, though, this game itself is fast and excellent. I backed this project on the basis that Fate is good and Evil Hat Productions is a quality publisher and I’ve enjoyed playing The Resistance and Coup in the past. I figured it would be a good game of Fate with lots of spying and neon-punk craziness. I was not prepared for the intricacies here and I think this would be an awesome option for a one-shot, campaign, or even as a gateway gaming experience to get your boardgaming friends into RPGs. It’s great and if you’re thinking about it at all I recommend you go for it.