I suspect anyone who’s looked at FAE’s approaches has considered the mechanical exploit of just using your +3 approach whenever possible. And if your +3 is in one of the more flexible approaches (Careful, Clever and Flashy in particular) then it’s not terribly hard to spin your fiction so that there’s a good argument for a particular approach.
This is kind of lame. No question about it. But the immediate tool of arguing with the player about which approach is applicable is even lamer. No one wants to stop play to have that discussion. And, honestly, it’s not a huge problem – the spread of approach bonuses is small enough that this behavior is hardly overwhelming, and presumably the player is having fun with it.
But still, it bugs me. And it’s a big reason why I will always use the optional rule of adjusting difficulties based on approach [p. 37, 2]FAE party to mitigate that behavior, but also because it simply makes intuitive sense to me. It’s rare that I’d adjust by more than +1/–1, but it’s a good option to have.
But it also scratches the surface of a larger issue, one that can be a bit of a frustration for a lot of GMs. Out of the box, Fate (and by extension, FAE) has poor support for what I call “the right tool for the job.” Because all aspects are mechanically equal (as are all approaches), there is a tendency to go for quantity over quality – that is, even if one aspect fits a situation perfectly, it may well be accompanied by two more that are kind of loosely applicable.
I admit, this is a space where I think there’s a lot of power in having a trusted GM’s judgement in play. The right tool is only rarely a technical concern – it is most often one of theme and taste. When Inigo Montoya tags his revenge aspect against the 6 fingered man, that seems right and true. When he tags his Swordsman aspect, that feels mechanical.
But supporting that is tricky, especially since you really don’t want every aspect invocation to be a conversation, and the easiest way to solve that problem is the same way it’s done with approaches – by adjusting difficulties. Using the right aspect might decrease the difficulty by 1 (effectively granting it a +3) while a lame or questionable aspect might increase it by 1 (effectively reducing the bonus to +1).
There’s some sleight of hand to doing this on the difficulty side, and were I to be completely transparent, then I would effectively be promoting a variable aspect payout system that would break down as follows:
- +1 – Technically applicable, but uninteresting. The thousandth time you’ve used your ninja aspect.
- +2 – Most invocations
- +3 – Oh, man, yes, that’s perfect. A Paladin fighting a devil.
- +4 – (effectively granting a free second invocations) Oh holy crap that’s so perfect I can’t stand it – this is your moment to shine, and if you’re not about to hit a milestone, something is badly wrong.
But that’s really not tenable in play. Even if the vast majority of uses come out to a +2, the need to check each time (and the opportunity to argue each time) is a total drag. And that’s why I offload it to the GM side, out of sight, with difficulties (because mechanically, a +1 for you or a –1 for me is a wash).
Not everyone is going to be ok with such an approach. It demands a lot of trust in the GM to allow such hidden tools, though arguably it’s only so much of a stretch, since difficulty is already under the GM’s auspices. And if your table is not comfortable with something like this, then don’t do it. The purpose of this is to reward certain behaviors (ones your players hopefully enjoy), not to try to sneak in a little bit of extra GM authority while no one’s looking.
- Not to say that discussion can’t be had. Coming to an understanding of where one approach ends and another begins is a very useful thing for your table, but that’s something to do before or after play, not in the moment. ↩
- FAEFate Accelerated, Evil Hat Productions, 2013
- If you disagree with that assertion, then the good news is that this is not a problem you need to solve! That is not a bad place to be in at all. ↩