Now that FAE is out in the wild, people are getting a good sense of what approaches are, but for the unfamiliar, here’s the quick version: approaches replace skills, and represent the style with which you solve a problem rather than the manner in which you do so. Sounds pretty abstract, but it’s easy to illustrate. In FAE, the approaches are:
So, if I get in a swordfight, we’re not rolling my skill, but rather we’re rolling based on how I’m approaching the swordfight. If I’m hammering away at my opponent, I’m being Forceful. If I’m dancing around, launching quick attacks, I’m being Quick. The basics are pretty straightforward.
Once you’ve got a grasp on the basic idea, the next question that springs to mind is whether that list really covers everything, and the answer is “no, of course it doesn’t”. But it’s not supposed to – it covers enough of a range to support the kind of play that makes for the baseline for FAE but, importantly, it also teaches the concept in a quick, very absorbable fashion.
Why is that important? Because one of the easiest ways to hack FAE is to come up with your own set of approaches, ones that reflect the specifics of your particular game. The general list works well for many things, but different games have different priorities, and by delineating approaches, you are explicitly calling out the areas where things happen in your game.
How do I mean that? Consider how easily FAE can be used to hack the Leverage RPG. In leverage, the 5 core stats (Hitter, Hacker, Grifter, Mastermind & Thief) can just as easily be seen as approaches. It’s pretty much a direct port, which is handy.
Too easy? Ok, let’s step into the realm of super spies. When I think about James Bond, I feel like he doesn’t quite line up with the approaches as listed, and I might try something like:
- Resources (Gadgets, money)
- Contacts (other people)
Easy to debate the specifics of the list (and I encourage you to make your own) but it illustrates the way that James Bond solves problems from my perspective. And if I run a FAE game with those approaches, I’m making a statement about the shape of the game.
Note that that list also reveals two interesting things about approaches:
First, they’re exclusionary – There’s no “violent” approach in the core list because violence could be approached in any of the ways listed. By making violence an approach, it’s called out as its own focus of spotlight and, more importantly, as something that CANNOT be accomplished with another approach. In effect, the Bond list says “violence is its own thing, and it caries weight.” That is to say, if there is a most important thing in your game, then you explicitly don’t want it on your approach list – thus, there is no “spying” approach for James Bond.
Second, they can also be external – the FAE core list is solidly traditional in that it talks about expressions of the character, but there’s no reason that approaches need to be that way. Can you solve a problem by throwing money at it? Then perhaps resources are a valid approach, if you expect to see that a lot (I could totally see it for the Richie Rich game). This point is important when you start thinking about plugging in things like magic systems into FAE, and deciding if magic should be an approach. It also matters a lot when you start thinking about GM approaches.
But that’s a whole other topic.