Spirit of the Century is a role-playing game of pulp-era adventure using the Fate system (originally a spinoff of the FUDGE rules...with which, ironically enough, it already had little more in common than the dice by the time SotC came out, and which it would eventually outstrip commercially by a fair margin). Characters are described by their skills, their stunts and their aspects, with the latter being essentially being freeform bits of description considered important enough to have a mechanical impact via the fate point rules—a character could literally have an aspect like "Nice Hat" and spend fate points to invoke that for appropriate bonuses (or conversely have it compelled to get into trouble over for bonus fate points). The game is designed as a "pick up game", features open-ended character creation and is fairly rules light. It also allows a large degree of player involvement in shaping the story—both through creating aspects which define the game background and spending their fate points to make declarations about the world around them.
The year is 1922. Aircraft are beginning to fill the skies. Electricity, radio, and the internal combustion engine are transforming the world. The War to End All Wars is in the past and the future is full of amazing possibilities. In the hidden corners of the world lie strange artifacts with astounding abilities; perhaps remnants of legendary Atlantis or Mu. Unfortunately there also lurk sinister forces who would use these scientific advances and strange antiquities to further their own destructive agendas. This is where the Centurions come in.
The Century Club is, on its surface, a social club whose charter is one of philanthropy and the promotion of arts and sciences. Its members are a cross section of humanity's most talented and influential people. Some of those among the Century Club are truly special however. These Centurions, each born on the first day of the first year of the new century, are individuals of extraordinary ability. These amazing people use their talents to guide the world away from darkness and to shape a brighter future.
Tropes Used In the Game:
- Chandler's Law: In the advice for game masters, one section is titled "When All Else Fails - Send In the Ninjas" and is simply this trope applied to gaming.
- Character Name and the Noun Phrase: The recommended title style for character novels
- Christmas Episode: The Christmas/Hanukkah-themed supplement Spirit of the Season
- Early-Installment Weirdness: As the first ever (and breakthrough) commercial implementation of the Fate system, it suffers a bit from this. In particular:
- Non-mook characters, both player and non-, are tough. Stress tracks start at five boxes plus bonuses from above-Mediocre relevant skills and any consequence taken (mild/moderate/severe in order) completely soaks up an entire hit regardless of severity rather than the limited numbers of shifts typically seen in later games. It's thus pretty much literally impossible to take out a plot-relevant character in less than four very solid hits, and since those would have to happen without damage bonuses of any kind the far more likely outcome is to see them nickled and dimed out...if they don't simply decide to concede first.
- Taking stunts does not reduce refresh yet. Player characters start with five stunts (to which it's then actually kind of hard to add more) and a comparatively whopping 10 refresh regardless, leaving them with a lot of "free" fate points before they have to as much as think about accepting compels.
- House System: The Fate system in its still slightly rough first commercial incarnation.
- Padded Sumo Gameplay: See Early-Installment Weirdness above. Even the game's designers conceded that this was a bug, offered early house rules to address it, and fixed it in later Fate builds.
- You All Meet in an Inn: Averted by the character creation rules, which has players create links to at least two other characters as part of the creation process.
Tropes Used In the Setting:
- Big Bad: Despite having several mostly unrelated villains, the game makes it clear that Dr. Methuselah is far ahead of the pack in this setting.
- Birthday Buddies: The player characters are all Centurions: "potent individuals of action", born on the first day of the century, and endowed with extraordinary skills and abilities.
- Bizarre Baby Boom: The player characters and their major opponents were born on the first day of the century and have a special link to some aspect of the century's communal mindset as a result.
- For Science!: A common motivation for villainous Mad Scientists (and some heroic ones).
- Hollywood History: The Roaring '20s and The Great Depression, with elements of Genteel Interbellum Setting.
- Love Triangle: Jet Black loves Sally Slick, who only has eyes for Mack Silver.
- Mad Scientist: A common antagonist for the players.
- Maniac Monkeys: Apes were a common feature in pulp adventure tales. Naturally they show up here, in the form of Gorilla Khan and his gorilla army.
- Pulp Magazine: The inspiration for the game
- The Roaring '20s: The game's default year is 1922.
- Two-Fisted Tales: Spirit of the Century fully embraces the "pulp" equals over-the-top adventure stereotype.
- A Villain Named Khan: One of the sample antagonists is the evil conqueror Gorilla Khan, an uplifted gorilla—although his cape and helmet make him look more Roman than Mongol.
- Weird Science: From jetpacks to talking monkeys, weird science is a big part of the setting. Out of the eight example characters, six either use, or are products of, weird science.
- Wrench Wench: Example character Sally Slick embodies this archetype, right down to the head scarf and a pipe wrench wielded as a club.
Tropes Invoked or Used by Stunts:
- Big Fancy House: your character can start with one of these, if you take the appropriate stunts.
- Cool Car: One Stunt gets you a sweet ride with some improvements. It's a prerequisite for a Stunt that gets you a ride with upgrades most people would think impossible.
- Jet Pack: Example character "Jet" Black's uses one. So can any player character with the appropriate gadget stunt.
- Made of Iron: There are whole chains of stunts centered around making the players able to shrug off the most horrifying punishment—as appropriate to a game inspired by the likes of Doc Savage! However, see Padded Sumo Gameplay...
- The most notable example, though, is the aptly-named "Man of Iron". Normally, when you get hit in a stress box that's already checked off, the damage "rolls up"—and if it rolls off the stress chart, you take a Consequence. With "Man of Iron", the damage rolls down first, and only rolls up if there aren't any lower boxes to hit. This means that dealing the character Consequences requires either hitting them for more than their stress capacity in one shot (tricky, since one of the prerequisites gives the character another stress box) or filling the entire stress chart.
- Master of Disguise: The Stunt of the same name lets you go "off-camera", and then at any point select a generic, nameless NPC and reveal it was you all along. The catch? If someone knows you might be there and beats you in a roll-off, they get to pick which NPC you are ("Wait a minute... You! You're the Emerald Emancipator!")
- No One Could Survive That!: "Death Defiance" lets you spend a Fate Point any time your death would be "off-camera" to miraculously survive.
- Omniglot: Characters can naturally speak their starting language plus one language for each step of Academics. "Linguist" adds five to that total. "Gift of Tongues" lets them speak any language they could reasonably know, plus their Academics+Linguist of languages they couldn't reasonably know.
- One Bullet Left: "One Shot Left" lets you declare during a fight that you're down to your last bullet. The next shot you fire gets hefty bonuses... but you are out of ammo once you fire it, with no way to replenish it except to actually, physically acquire more.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: All of the Resources stunts, which have names like Money Is No Object and Grease the Wheels.