This post was triggered by a conversation in the Fate Core community on Google+, started by Ian O’Rourke.
I’ve heard a few folks expressing concerns that players in a Fate Accelerated (FAE) game are constantly going after their +2/+3 approaches to the exclusion of the others. Essentially: Players are creative, and they’re great at rationalizing one of their higher-ranked approaches in avoidance of the others — what am I to do?
First off, I’ll say quickly that I don’t consider that to be an actual problem. If fun is had, and players get the satisfaction of solving the puzzle of how to apply their characters’ best abilities, I’m not sure there’s all that much trouble in paradise. The only zone of consideration where this becomes an actual problem, for me, is if that starts to feel like something that’s boring. Gameplay should reliably produce fun: if fun is getting sapped out, something does need to be done.
Short of that? All is functioning as intended. We see plenty of times in fiction where our heroes figure out a way to tackle the problem that’s surprising and unusual and just so happens to apply their abilities at their most effective. And Fate, after all, is a fiction simulator. So: that.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t tools in the toolbox to apply when the it feels like characters are taking a less optimal approach (ha) by twisting things to focus on using that high rank.
FAE itself talks about using approach-based difficulties for some tasks. Simply put, this is the GM setting the difficulty slider at different levels depending on the approach used to get the job done. Picking a lock might be a Careful activity right front and center, of only Fair difficulty. You want to pick that lock Forcefully (also known as kicking the door down)? That’s more like a Great. Makes sense, and follows fiction we already know.
That example happens to point out something David Goodwin said over on Google+ — the approach the player selects colors how the action is performed. You may want to do something quietly using anything other than Sneaky, but you’re most likely going to make noise using that other approach. So if a player is choosing an approach other than what you’d expect as the “solution” for the problem at hand, take the time to talk this out: how does using that other atypical approach change the nature of the solution? Rolling a boulder to block a mountain pass might be a Forceful action when you put your back into it, but if you’re going for Clever instead, you probably needed to find the right lever and fulcrum first.
And that reveals another tool for this particular toolbox, something I offered over on the Google+ thread: approach-based costs. Instead of changing the difficulty — that’s not always an option — consider the price of using the somewhat less applicable approach. Going back to our locked door, if you’re Careful or Sneaky about it, you can probably get past that lock without anyone realizing you’ve done so. A Forceful or Flashy approach, on the other hand, probably means the door can’t be locked again. Your passage will be marked. Similarly, you might keep an ally on your side if you’re Clever or Sneaky about getting information from them, but if you go for Quick or Forceful, you’re likely being rude or outright scary in your pursuit of the truth. Bridges will be burned.
Finally, if you’re simply looking to encourage a player to take the least optimal path once in a while, maybe it’s time to bust out an approach-triggered compel, assuming you have an applicable aspect at hand. “You have In Love With The Prince and you’re trying to gain the King’s aid, so it makes sense that you’d decide to impress him by doing something Flashy (your +0 approach).” This is tricky territory, though; that phrasing in quotes is supposed to continue with a “This goes wrong when…” chaser, and rolling that very suboptimal approach has to count as something that “goes wrong”. Use such techniques lightly and sparingly, as typically a compel is a flag that it’s time to set aside the dice. And you could — and perhaps should — do that here, in fact: assume failure, and have fun with the results. Even though that other approach hasn’t been rolled, it has been highlighted, and that’s part of the goal.
How do you handle “one note approach” behaviors in FAE games at your table?