Wrestling with FAE

approachRight before Metatopia, I finally got my hands around the element of Fate Accelerated that I kept stumbling over in the approached, and in retrospect, it’s super obvious. The problem, historically, is that it’s super easy to spam your best approach, especially with approaches like “clever” and that generally there’s a disconnect between how the various approaches feel in play. I’ve previously floated Fae 2 as a solution, and it still works, but I’m still digging into the underlying problem.

For those who need to look it up, the approaches are Quick, Clever, Forceful, Flashy, Careful and Sneaky. In an ideal world, they act as adverbs, describing a character’s action, and coloring the outcome, and as such, it doesn’t matter much if a particular approach is used a lot – it just means that action will skew in that particular way, which is fine. The problem is that this only works if all of the approaches are equally applicable, limited only by player creativity.

But they aren’t, because some of these adverbs are also their own verbs, especially when you need to move quickly, sneak, or smash something. That is, certain approaches have implicit actions which are very difficult to decouple from the approach, and that’s a real problem when the character is trying to sneak carefully or quickly.

FAE2 offers one solution to this – let the player choose one approach and the GM pick the other, then add them up – and it works fine, but requires retuning difficulties a little. You could also modify FAE2 so the player simply picks both, and that works fine.

But what we’ve been trying a little is “Choose as many approaches as you want (practically caps at 3)” and roll the lowest. At first blush, this may feel punitive, but remember that FAE difficulties are skewed in such a way that even a +1 is pretty useful. And the tradeoff for the reduced bonus is much greater latitude in capable action – ut is very difficult to describe a character action, however convoluted, that can’t be thrown into the bucket of two or three approaches.

It also makes certain things pop. When a character can apply an unqualified +3, that feels like they’re getting spotlight. When a character is forced to roll a +0, it feels like that really is a shortcoming (without a lot of mechanical pain). It works pretty well.

Now, the counterargument is that we’ve largely been doing this with It’s Not My Fault and the random nature of character creation may make players more forgiving of this. Jury is still out, but we keep experimenting.

I also considered giving each Approach an implicit action, so that fine manipulation was always careful, and social manipulation was always flashy and so on. After some thought, it seemed clear that this was kind of backwards thinking, but it was useful for fleshing out my own thinking about what the Approaches mean. I don’t need a rule saying that flashy is manipulation, but having an understanding of flashy that says it encompasses influence, not just ostentatious display, makes it a little more clear to me when Flashy is appropriate. Clever? Does the action have multiple moving parts? That’s a good flag for clever. Careful? Consider that it encompasses patience and timing, and that’s a lot of action.

Practically, it’s important to get to the point where you can see why each Approach could be awesome. Without that, they seem lumpy and imbalanced, but with that understanding, then it becomes a firehose of action an excitement.

7 thoughts on “Wrestling with FAE

  1. Gregory Sanders

    This is super interesting. I do like the simplicity of FAE but the spamming aspect has kept my attention mostly elsewhere. I like FAE 2, but this twinned approach of discussing specific verbs and defining all that apply rather than what apply most really mitigates my concerns. I’ll be watching with keen interest.

  2. EZ

    I also spotted the super obvious problem. But after running several games, I realized it’s not a problem at all. My assumption was that players could abuse the system, and break the game, as if this were D&D or Exalted.

    Players mostly don’t want to abuse the system, though this might result from the selection of players who choose to play Fate, or indeed, FAE in particular.

    And the players who want to spam their best ability? I fail to see how a round peg fits into a triangular hole. And I fail to see it often enough that the player will need to convince me and the other players that their approach works. More often than not, they can. And their storytelling raises the quality of the game for all.

    It’s gotten to the point that I’ll flat out tell new players that there will be very little reason for them to roll anything except their best approach. Some try my advice, but it’s hard to decide to use a hammer, even when it’s your best tool, when you are given a stocked toolbox.

    These tweaks sound interesting and fun. But it strikes me as misleading to claim they fix a problem. What they do, is change the flavor of the game. These flavors are nothing more severe than differences in preference of play. The “problem” is one of FAE’s greatest features.

  3. Tim Gray

    This ‘problem’ is baked in by what you did to make FAE.

    In most RPGs the primary stats are about capabilities. In FAE they’re acting instructions.

    (And I should say that I still haven’t played it.)

  4. Grillmann

    (non-native english speaker here, you have been warned)

    On the one hand hand, i am intrigued by your rather technical aproach to this problem. Closer examination of the aproaches and their syntax could indeed give them some sort of equal worth. Fate/FAE should not become a MinMax-ing thing like old AD&D (Strength over all) or oWoD (Dexterity over all).

    On the other hand i don’t really see (or rather myself have) the problem to begin with. Sure, on a mechanical level, the problem exists, but only if you don’t account for the narrative element:

    If a charakter always solves his problems in a forcefull way, there will be drawbacks:
    -socially he might be considered a bully (and who really wants that? If NPCs react bad enough to this, the players will most likely think twice about this aproach)
    -in combat he will have some sort of high risk-hish reward fighting style, which could make failed rolls more dangerous. The same could be said for most physical activities
    -forcefully picking a lock? More like destroy the door. The problems could be: noise, the inability to later close/lock the door on a retreat and stuff like that

    Character always doing things in a clever way?
    -people might think he is a smartass/coward/lazy, especially on failed rolls and/or successes at a cost

    Character always doing things carefully?
    -again, maybe he seems like a coward
    -could be viewed as a low risk-low reward kind of deal
    -doing things carefully usually takes more time, which too can become a problem

    tl;dr certain aproaches can be made (a bit more) undesirable by the possible (bad) outcomes of the actions, depending on the chosen aproach.

    P.S. In addition to this, there is always the option of changing difficulties: If a certain aproach is possible but “a bit unlikely” or “overused”, then just raise the difficulty of the roll and (from a mechanical standpoint) be done with it (it being the “problem” of people overusing certain aproaches). Mechanically speaking it makes no difference wether you let the player roll with a +3 aproach against difficulty 2 or with a +2 aproach against a difficulty of 1. So if there is no real difference, why make more complex rules?

    P.P.S. As a gamemaster i don’t have this problem to begin with as i don’t play with MinMaxers. My players trust me to not screw them over just because they chose to act in a non-optimal manner. If you reward non-optimal play, they will come to love it, as long as you yourself like to tell stories about moral, human and flawed charakters. And let’s not kid ourselves: Those characters make for much better stories anyway…

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  6. Blue

    It seems to me in FATE that you need to spend/gain a Fate point when you use what’s cool. Aspects follow this. Stunts follow this. But skills / approaches don’t. Skills have their own limitation that they only apply when they are relevant, but approaches don’t.

    So what if we treat approaches more like Aspects instead of skills?

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