Former FATE foe finally finishes; Finds fun; Feels funny; Formulates familiar fixes FATE fans find frivolous
Right after it became available to the public, I picked up a copy of the FATE Core and FATE Accelerated rules, just so I could give the game another try after having failed, again and again, to really get what was so compelling about it for so many people.
Understand, I come from a gaming background that stretches back to '79, so I have a number of ingrained biases that don't jibe with the most common implementations of FATE or other games that place emphasis on the story over the individual characters. Add in my general predilection for detailed simulation over abstraction of any kind, and my obsessive compulsive desire to avoid any mechanic that requires me to break in-character decision-making immersion, and you might see where FATE would remain, for me, a foreign country.
That said, I was suffering from an unfortunate case of insomnia last night and so I opened up the FATE Core PDF one more time, and used the borderline hallucinatory state I found myself in as a wedge to cram the game into my brain one more time. Against all hope, I think it finally started to make sense - or so I recall from when I finally gave in to sleep - and I'm taking the time today to talk about it here for those who might have been like me and assiduously avoiding the game due to preconceived notions.
The first thing that I came to understand is that I had to take a step back, and accept that while I had a pretty good idea of the kind of gaming that I enjoy, everything that failed to fit that pattern didn't automatically have to fall into the category of The Other. My denying the FATE rules because of how fond I am of GURPS and Hero System and RuneQuest 6 was akin to refusing to play Parcheesi because it lacked a Bank and funny-colored money like Monopoly had, and all the figures looked exactly the same instead of including a little car, and a hat, and a shoe.
That's an oversimplification, but it helped me to get where I needed to go: I needed to let go of my Actor stance for a while, and accept that allowing myself to be an Author periodically didn't invalidate the actions my character took entirely, nor did it mean that I wasn't ever allowed back into Actor stance during the game - it's not an either-or proposition.
Far more difficult for me, however, was the acceptance of a level of abstraction that is normally anathema to me in what I enjoy as far as RPGs go. Again - GURPS guy - I like my skills and abilities to be finely grained. It's hard for me to accept a system whose combat skills are Melee and Missile, with no inherent option for being better with one class of weapons (swords, say, or pistols) than another. It was a stumbling block for me on Savage Worlds, and it has been one for me in FATE as well. But I sucked it up, moved on, and got to the section on skills where I was told that, of course I could increase the granularity of the skills, just to be prepared to also tweak the skill pyramid - the number of starting skills one has - to suit. Once I'd added in Stunts, and the ability they provided to differentiate skills, I was on my way to moving past it.
As I read through, I was pleased to note that the game designers accept and admit that what they're presenting is different enough to potentially be a problem for some players. That there are those of us who don't want narrative control, and those who aren't happy having to step out of our Actor shoes to make meta-game decisions. That admission from the authors was like a breath of fresh air compared to the FATE partisans one encounters online for whom there is only One True Way - and it made me realize I was being just as inflexible from my own positions as they are with theirs. It's nice to know that FATE isn't always the right choice, and even the authors understood that.
As I read through the Game Mastering section, I realized that a huge number of issues that I have with FATE - things that just rub me the wrong way - could be worked around. There are suggestions for how to create a "Top Down" game, where the GM comes to the table with a worked premise for the world and the players create characters within that framework. There's no reason that you can't have players making decisions primarily from their character's perspective, and leaving it to the GM to compel their aspects in much the same way that a GURPS GM calls out a player's disadvantages when they're being ignored.
Finally, reading FATE Core and comparing it to my personal experience in gaming brought to mind a common discussion we had back in the Old Days, when music was being released in digital format for the first time, replacing the analog of tape decks and LPs. Analog is a continuous wave, while digital would always have these jagged spots where it didn't quite true up to the wave that the original sound produced. Simulation games are very digital in that way, and the way to make them better is to provide greater detail and less abstraction. But FATE takes the other tack, and goes fully analog, with everything being so abstract as to be that fluid wave, open enough to interpretation to be able to better model what might really happen, but at the cost of precision and consistency. In much the same way that people who love vinyl albums appreciate the hiss and pop of the needle, FATE players come to appreciate that sort of realistic inconsistency that the game produces.
I came away impressed with the game in a way I never had before, and look forward to actually giving it a whirl now - something I'd not thought I'd ever say.