Tabletop gaming — Fate and why I love it


So after I finally got my act together, a few of us made characters and played the first session of the Dresden Files Accelerated Edition playtest. I’ll write more about that later, but today I want to deal with a comment one of the players made on the G+ community we have going. I was going to respond in the G+ group, but since it’s something I hear a lot about Fate and because it’s about tabletop systems and paradigms in general, I figured I would post my response here instead.

(Plus it gives me a blog post and those have been rather nonexistent sparse of late. Scotchtober has yet to happen, for instance. Maybe we’ll have to do Vodkember instead.)

Note that my response applies more to Fate Core than it does to the Accelerated editions, but since the latter is derived from and intended to fit in with the former, what applies to Core applies just as much to Accelerated versions.*

The Comment

Here’s the comment, with apologies to Eric for quoting him without permission. My lawyers will be in touch with your lawyers.

Had a blast – even if my brane wasn’t firing on all cylinders! I’m still not sure I get the system as a whole. I feel it’s designed to be so different from any other RPG on the market that it obfuscates a lot of stuff that could be put in much plainer language. I’ll soldier on though because it was fun if confusing. [My emphasis.]

Yay for having a blast, btw! I felt my pacing was off but we’ll get to that in the session post.

Eric makes a valid point when he questions whether the Fate system is just a shtick to differentiate it from the more crunch-heavy systems out there. I don’t agree, but rather than keep telling you all how good I think it is, here are a few resources that might help make my point.

Wikipedia’s Fate article – a decent starting point

A D&D lover’s guide to other RPGs: Fate Core

Stackexchange forums: Approaching Fate systems from a d20 background

Paizo forums – Fate Core: Tried it, didn’t like it (Because dissenting opinions matter. Also because the poster makes a valid point, albeit not all that well, and because some of the responses are worth reading.)

But, but… it’s awesome because I said so!

And now I’m going to tell you again why I think it’s so good.

Eric – note that our group and the players we know have played narratively and collaboratively for decades; hell, we played (A)D&D collaboratively back in the 80s. This is apparently not the norm for tabletop gaming (maybe especially in the US), even moreso with the rise of the later D&D/Pathfinder editions where how far you can walk in a given span of time is painstakingly represented on a game map. In that light, I think Fate is an attempt to ‘formalise’ (ironically) the more free-form nature of cooperative and narrative-driven games. Yes, you and I & the NWO crew did this for years and actually wrote “Freeform” games for 20-100 players where they got a character sheet each and we sat back to watch the mayhem, but that’s not the norm for tabletop or LARP/-adjacent experiences.

As I see it, Fate is intended to be a) a generic system usable with any setting and b) a system that promotes player/GM narrative collaboration (and starts that right from the get-go with collaborative character and setting design). Mostly though I believe it’s designed to encourage players to let loose with their ideas and to make them understand that they can exert creative direction in the game. The GM already knows she can because GMs have been doing this since forever, but players need to be shown they can do it – and then, helpfully, shown how they can do it.

I’ve run Fate now with 6 Fate-newb players in several different games, and most (all?) of them have had a hard time getting their heads around it. As a Fate-newb GM, *I* had a hard time getting my head around it, and I was more than ready for a formalized representation of the way I prefer to play. For many players, the idea that they can and in fact should exert a measure of narrative control in a Fate game is difficult to a) get their heads around, and b) actually do.

If that doesn’t happen, the group might as well go back to playing anything other than Fate, because Fate doesn’t work nearly as well if the players don’t commit to an active engagement with (and development of, as ideas strike them) the scene, the scenario, and the world.

I’m emphasising that because I think it’s the living beating heart of the Fate paradigm. I might be entirely wrong (and the Fate folks can come over and tell me so), but I suspect I’m not.

As a GM, I am so freaking ready for this kind of system I can’t express it properly without excessive and enthusiastic swearing. Benefitting from the table’s ideas makes the GM’s job a lot easier and lets her concentrate on lesser jobs like pacing, dramatic tension, saying MUAHAHA a lot and organising the mechanical bits. Because the plain fact is that 3, 4, or 5 brains are always better than one, and not just if you’re a zombie.

All the times when players in our groups suggested something way better than what the GM had come up with (and the GM instantly adopted it)? That’s what Fate encourages or even mandates. And while we’ve had the benefit of a closely-knit, trusting and collaborative gaming group, this allows people who haven’t known each other since college to experience the same kind of creative cooperation.

Those funky-ass aspects and why they’re cool

And that’s where aspects come in, that traditionally OMGWTF hard-to-understand part of Fate systems. In the context of the argument I’m making here, aspects are the levers the players and the GM use to exert their control over the world, the NPCs, the action or themselves. It’s a way of saying “OK, we know you’re not used to having this level of control/input in a tabletop game, but it’s fine really, you’re supposed to, and this is one way in which you do it.”

Example: A character has the Always in the right place at the wrong time aspect. The player can leverage (aka invoke) that aspect in order to show up, quite by ‘accident’, at the super-seekrit take over the world board meeting. Or at the invitation-only Bad Guys Inc., fundraiser. Or to come out of the mall into the parking lot where one of his buddies is currently being kidnapped by Ninjas. Note that this in no way decides whether those scenes will go well for the character – it just means the character gets to show up and in that way affect the course of events.

Similarly, the GM can leverage (aka compel) that aspect to have the character be passing by the isolated park clearing in which the We’re Really Nasty Witches coven is having its monthly esbat. Or to make him decide whether to attend his child’s talent show (after missing the previous three and making a solemn pinkie-swear promise)… or save said kidnapped buddy before he’s loaded onto a plane bound for who-knows-where.

It’s something Eric, Dave and I have been doing for years even if we didn’t call them aspects, but it may be a paradigm very few RPG groups are comfortable with. One of the things Fate does so well is to provide a framework for playing cooperatively even if you’re not initially that way inclined. (To quote another friend who shall remain anonymous: “I’ve never dared play a tabletop game because all the people I know who play are ridiculously competitive and that’s never struck me as fun.”)

Eric, I hope that helped. As for the rest of you – there will be more Fate games going on once the Dresden Files Accelerated playtest is done (end November). I’ve been in a tabletop drought for over a decade, I’m quite willing to jump back in at the deep end.

A few more links for interest & further reading

(Dev post) Fate misconceptions and aspect spamming

Rick Neal — Birthing Pains: High Concepts, Templates, and Troubles (Dresden Files)

Rick Neal — The Lightning Bug and the Lightning: Aspects in Dresden Files RPG

Or just read all of Rick Neal’s articles on the Dresden Files RPG (not the Accelerated version):

… and on Fate in general

– – –

* For what it’s worth, I’m fairly sure I prefer the full-on Core versions to the Accelerated version. That said, the Accelerated versions are excellent for pickup games or for inexperienced and/or young players. They definitely have a place in the Fate universe. It just turns out that I like my rules a little crunchier than I expected (though not as crunchy as, say, Pathfinder).

6 thoughts on “Tabletop gaming — Fate and why I love it

  1. I’m at the Risk and Scrabble level of board games, so this all seems like MATH to me. I feel like I’m picking up and comprehending every third word or so. Still, I’m happy to see you’re gaming and writing about it in your ever brilliant way.

  2. If you can play Risk you can totally play tabletop roleplaying games, as the latter were inspired by the wargames in the waybackwhen.

    And Fate is low on the crunch-factor (i.e. number-crunching, i.e. granular rules for stuff, e.g. how long it takes you to digest your dinner and whether you’ll drown if you get in the river too soon 😉 ).

    And no offense to my currently all-male star cast (and they’re lovely), but it’s always nice to get more women into any kind of gaming.

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