I’ve been seeing some discussion, off and on, about Fate Core System and Fate Accelerated Edition. I’ll call them Core and FAE in this post, because it’s Sunday and I am lazy. I figured I’d chime in on the discussion, because I’m discovering that I have some opinions about it.
Also, this is just one guy’s opinion. There are a lot of people out there better equipped than I am to do this kind of analysis.
I don’t really think of FAE as a separate entity from Core. It’s a build of Core, as Fred Hicks says, and I agree with him. FAE is what happens when you open the big Core toolbox and pull together the socket wrench set, the allen keys, and the WD-40, and toss in an old voltmeter you found in the back closet. It even still has both lead cables, so we’re in business.
But FAE does behave a bit differently than Core as expressed in the game’s example settings. Why is that? Yes, stunt templates and single stress track, but really it comes down to the difference between FAE’s approaches and Core’s skills. This might seem like arbitrary jargon, but it’s not—it points to a very real difference in what they represent.
The major difference is that skills describe what problems you can solve, while approaches describe how you solve problems.
The standard approaches in FAE (Forceful, Quick, Careful, Clever, Sneaky, and Flashy) are things everyone can do. They don’t tell you anything all that unusual about your character in terms of your competence – your capabilities tend to be assumed based on genre and setting conventions. Characters in a Star Wars campaign can drive speeders and operate computers and shoot blasters. You don’t need an aspect to justify it, it’s just part of the setting. This means you need to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding these assumptions, especially if some players are less familiar with the setting.
If you have a capability outside the norm for your setting, take an aspect to reflect it. You probably need a Force-related aspect to be a Jedi in a Star Wars game, for example, because not all the characters in Star Wars have access to using the Force. All this adds up to FAE having a tighter focus on aspects than Core tends to have.
Another consequence of aspect + setting-driven competence in FAE is that gradations of competence aren’t important. If you’re a hacker, you’re a hacker; you won’t find out who the better hacker is by looking at the character sheet.
Approaches, while they don’t say much about how good you are with a longbow or how much you know about the lore of faerie, pretty obviously tell you something about your character’s personality. Of course you’ll look for ways to use your character’s highly rated approaches—that Flashy +3 or Forceful +2, over your Sneaky +0. And that’s OK—real people do that, don’t they? They’re almost aspects in themselves—invokable and compellable with a fate point. Hm.
That said, something I wish I’d stated more strongly in the FAE text is that sometimes the GM has to push a bit to make sure that the approach the player is choosing to use not only matches the fiction they describe, but is effective at all. Sometimes, circumstances demand that you be sneaky; nothing else will do.
Which brings up the issue of short skill lists vs. approaches.
Approaches aren’t just a short skill list—remember, approaches tell you how you do things, not what you can do. Short skill lists are a fascinating topic for another post , but for now, just keep in mind that not every Fate game with a short skill list is trying to be an implementation of FAE. If you specifically want to use approaches for your game, and you want a list that’s different than the FAE default list, make sure you stick with descriptions of manner—i.e., how you do things—not things like D&D stats (as in Fate Freeport Companion) or roles (such as D&D classes or Leverage Hitter-Hacker-Thief-etc. roles). While those may be distinct from skills as well, they’ll play differently than approaches.
I guess I don’t really have a conclusion here, so I’m going to sum up what I see as the big differences between FAE and Core:
- FAE approaches tell you how, Core skills tell you what.
- FAE requires a firm shared understanding of genre assumptions.
- FAE emphasizes aspects to a larger degree than Core.
- FAE doesn’t model fine degrees of difference in competence.
- Approaches can reveal aspects of personality.
- All approaches are useable by everyone, which feels different than the Core skill list.
[Editor: For further reading on this topic, check out Christopher Ruthenbeck's take on the differences.]