May 282013

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?

 Posted by at 1:51 pm
May 272013

Over on Google+, Christopher Ruthenbeck asked a question about handling absolutes in Fate Core. Read the thread for full context. Here’s an edited/expanded/altered excerpt of my response to it.

Absolutes are tricky. They’re the least gameable thing we might adopt from our inspirations in fiction. And they’re often something that can’t really be trusted. “This here’s absolutely true,” our television or book series tells us in one episode. Then a few episodes pass, and suddenly we find out there’s an “except…” The cloaking field is absolute, except when a particularly clever opponent figures out a way to look at secondary signs of the presence of a cloaked vehicle. Etc.

But let’s proceed with the notion that an absolute is desirable in our game.

What is an absolute? It’s an unavoidable outcome, something that in a success vs. failure scenario either eliminates the possibility of success, or eliminates the possibility of failure. Ah, yes. And there’s the crux of it, that “vs”.

Absolutes for me typically reduce into the same ur-example: the fall to the death. The players must make their climbing roll successfully, or they fall to their death. Except that sucks and is anticlimactic and as such should actually never be on the table in the first place. There is no success vs. failure there. This is an absolute for our purposes: crossing the chasm must be a success, full stop.

Fate Core already gives us a tool for handling this situation: success vs. success at a cost. If you don’t succeed, you still succeed, but you pay a price to do so: You make it across the chasm, but you’ve lost valuable time, your important widget fell into the lightless depths below, whatever.

So for our “100% no-fail cloaking device” absolute, how do we apply that tool? We apply it to the attempt to hide: successful hiding vs successful hiding at a cost. Essentially, working like this: if the enemy WOULD detect you — thereby implying failure of your attempt to hide — you can instead treat your failed attempt as success at a cost.

Working out what the “at a cost” is is the real sticky wicket. Failure’s off the table, so don’t let it distract you at all.

When an absolute is considered palatable for your game — it won’t be for everyone — this suggests a class of “absolute-validating stunt” that you can work into your extras or power set or what have you. Like this:

Absolute Cloaking Field: You can’t fail at attempts to hide. If the rolls indicate you would have failed, you may instead choose to succeed at a cost. Costs could include: draining all power from the ship’s systems; losing valuable time that you can’t afford to lose; etc.

Depending on your taste, this sort of stunt could be completely off the table; on the table as a standard option; on the table but only for certain kinds of skills; on the table but at a higher than one refresh cost; etc. I leave the pricing as an exercise for a specific table and its tastes.

What other absolutes could we apply this to? An invulnerable foe who always succeeds at defense rolls, only the cost of that success is sometimes quite nasty? Perhaps. It’s probably best applied to circumstances that would normally be a succeed/fail Overcome Obstacle roll, but depending on how far you’re willing to push the system it could potentially work its way into the other of the four actions too.

What absolutes do you want to put in your Fate game? And how would you build them, given this?

 Posted by at 9:13 am
May 252013

Fate Core CoverFAE cover

Fate Core and Fate Accelerated have gone up for open preorder today, with the books set to ship in mid-July. There are both print versions available in preorder, and “pay what you like” PDF downloads available.

If you’d like to “pay what you like” (including free) without having to interact with the store software, send your contribution via Paypal to and then download your PDFs of choice (or vice-versa):

Not every part of the Fate Core/FAE experience is launching today. Our target is July for releasing the rest: epub and mobi file format support, and the release of the text of both Core and FAE under both the Open Game License and a Creative Commons attribution (CC-BY) license. These texts are NOT released under those terms yet — but they will be, and they’ll remain free. We’ll also introduce the “Powered by Fate” logo for use on your Core and FAE derived products.

Stay tuned!

 Posted by at 2:56 pm