[FATE] But there aren’t rules for that!

Every now and then, someone asks me about whether Fate Core can handle long-term campaigns, or tell me that it doesn’t seem crunchy enough since it lacks the same depth of rules as crunchier RPGs like D&D.

Personally, I think a lot of it comes from failure to fully grasp the potential of the rules set. Fate is light, fast, and fluid, but it has a surprising amount of granularity due to the Fate Fractal, and the fact the system readily welcomes hacks and mods: bolt on rules from another Fate game, turn some dials here, tack on another stress track or more stunts there. The main reason I love it is because of how easily the system allows itself to be molded, bent, modified, and expanded, yet still remain quintessentially Fate.

More to the point, Fate can re-create almost anything another game can do. If you wanted to replace zones with miniatures, you can do it, but I’m not sure why you would. If you wanted to replicate a gritty apocalyptic game with the characters scrounging for food to survive, you could add more stress tracks. Or for a vampire or cyberpunk game, having a stress track to replicate humanity. Cyberware can be replicated as equipment stunts or aspects. Skills can be renamed, aspects can be added, and the Fractal can take care of the rest.

Fate Core Cover

Maneuvers, Combat Aspects, And You

I’ve already gone over this once before, but contrary to popular belief, you can do any of the D&D combat actions in Fate. The difference is that they’re streamlined into the rules, and instead of having a block of chunky text for each one, they use the same simple systems that power the rest of Fate. Really, Fate is all about streamlining the game, and its flexibility means that the only limit is your own creativity.

I think Fate Core is moving more in the right direction by giving each skill four “approved actions,” since names help bring those actions out to the fore. Create an Advantage is the ability to put an aspect on something, and that would be the main way to incorporate the various things that give you modifiers in D&D.

  • Disarming: Roll contested Guns vs. Athletics, or Melee vs. Melee; if successful, place a “Disarmed” aspect on the target.
  • Grappling: Roll contested Fists (or Physique) against the same; if successful, place a “Pinned” or “Grappled” aspect on the target.
  • Tripping: Roll contested (Guns or Melee) vs. Athletics; if successful, place a “Tripped” aspect on the target.
  • Suppressive Fire: Roll contested Guns vs. (Athletics, Physique, or possibly even Will); if successful, place a “Pinned Down” aspect on the target. (Also leads itself to a Guns stunt, like tagging the Pinned Down aspect to make an attack instead of getting the normal Fate point bonuses.)
  • Height Advantage: Roll Athletics vs. (either Athletics, Melee, or a static difficulty); if successful, give yourself an “I have the high ground!” aspect as you jump onto a table, climb the stairs faster than the guy you’re fencing with below, etc.
  • Environmental Hazards: Getting kicked into a fireplace or hit with a burning brand may make you “On Fire,” if your opponent was creating an advantage. Other hazards can be handled with aspects, either for the scene or the location (zone): “Poison Gas Cloud,” “Toxic Material Spill,” “Downed Power Line,” “Crackling Electric Field,” “Liquid-Hot Magma,” etc.
  • Going off that last one, traps, barriers, and hazards may also be (or have) aspects: “Caltrops” or a “Police Spike Strip” may contest a Stealth vs. Notice, and if successful, give you an automatic consequence or free negative aspect like “Slowed” or “Deflated Tires.” To replicate a modern shooter game, you might hide behind a chest-high wall that gives you the “Under Cover” aspect.
  • “On Fire” has always been a Fate favorite, and one of the early suggestions was to use the Fractol to generate the fire much like a character: with skills, so it can make maneuvers, and stress boxes, so it can take hits and be beaten down. I think other elemental hazards can be handled similarly: giving them a few skills to make maneuvers, a few aspects to change the scene. A blizzard is really more of a scene/zone aspect, but I could see rolling a maneuver for a  hurricane or earthquake to knock someone down.

I will cop that this appears less crunchy than other RPGs, since those usually have their own subsystems for maneuvers like these. But when you really look under the hood at maneuvers, especially in D&D, they boil down to the same simple formula that everything else does: “roll a d20 and add modifiers (skills + attributes + any feat bonuses).” I’d argue that since the Fate version is roughly identical—“roll 4dF (or d6-d6) and add modifiers (skills + stunts + any aspect bonuses)”—it’s more an issue that Fate pushes players to create these kind of actions on their own, and not have a long list to choose from in the book.

To me, the list of combat actions in D&D always seemed limiting since it was hard (at best) to incorporate an action or maneuver outside of that list. I have to imagine the opposite is true for people who look at Fate and wonder why they’re not allowed to grapple or disarm someone.

But His Aspect Says…

Another thing I’ve heard several times is that aspects don’t do anything, on a tactical/mechanical standpoint—On Fire doesn’t actually damage someone, it’s just something you tag saying the opponent was distracted by the flames on his clothes; Disarmed doesn’t mechanically remove the ability to attack, it just gives an aspect you can tag to make it harder for someone to attack.

What I think’s happened here is that people were taking Rules-As-Written at face value: RAW in D&D or Pathfinder have clauses for what happens after a maneuver’s been made, while Fate’s RAW in this case was more about just generating the aspect. Earlier editions of Fate  implied that aspects were things that only came into play when they’re tagged—as in, aspects aren’t determining factors “active” every second, but are invoked/tagged because they now have narrative relevance at this moment in time. Ergo, aspects are static and only have a mechanical impact when tagged.

To me, that’s a gap in logic. If someone’s Disarmed—you shoot someone’s gun out of their hand or knock their sword out of reach—they can’t make attacks with that weapon. They could make an action to get those weapons (doing a dramatic roll under your sword-swing to retrieve their blade and come up behind you, Athletics vs. Melee contested roll to give themselves an En Guarde! aspect or something). They could just draw another weapon that they have on their person, and attack with that. But if your Magical Longsword or Heavy Assault Rifle just got knocked out of reach, you can’t turn around and roll Melee or Shooting with that weapon without retrieving it first.

The rules are narrative-focused but still adhere to the logic and physics of that narrative, and if your gun was just knocked out of your hand in the narrative, you can’t immediately turn around and shoot someone in the face if that gun’s a zone away. Same with Out Of Ammo as an aspect; it’s more than an Aspect someone can tag to get a +2/reroll against you. It’s altered the narrative to display that you’re… out of ammo. Ditto for On Fire; tagging it to say someone’s distracted by being On Fire and either a.) easier to hit or b.) easier to dodge away from, that’s just an added benefit. At the end of the day, they’re on fire, and that’s going to start eating up stress (and consequences) unless they can extinguish it. Same for a corridor with a Bottomless Pit; you couldn’t just waltz across it, would you? No, you’d fall in.

Seeing aspects just as a mechanical modifier and not as an element of narrative feels like bad GMing to me, and fails to grasp the contextual nature of aspects. Aspects are the equivalent to D&D’s situational modifiers, but they’re more than that: they’re ways to impact the game world, changing its rules to create your own advantages. They still have physical presence in the game world, but they’re also neat toys that the characters can play with—e.g., tagging the Bottomless Pit as an aspect to get a bonus when pushing someone in.

2 thoughts on “[FATE] But there aren’t rules for that!

  1. Typically what seems to happen is people talk about aspects through a filter of second-hand knowledge, erroneous assumptions, bad examples and continued (and sometimes willful) misinterpretation. Aspects have, for the most part, always been “always true”. IIRC, Fred Hicks or someone else on the Fate Core team expressed some surprise that people weren’t already doing things that way, even in earlier versions of Fate. It’s just that Fate Core made it somewhat-explicit (I’ve commented before how “aspects are always true” is not straight up, explicitly spelled out in the FC rules), and most people who complain about aspects not mattering just haven’t caught up to the rest of us yet.

    1. I think part of the problem is most players are used to D&D design mentality, where every eventuality is spelled out in the rules so that players can’t abuse a feat or spell or something and claim it’s working as intended. When I was doing my Deadlands/Dresden hack, one of my players (another Fate GM) looked at some stunts and magic I was working on and told me it was too wordy. I looked it over and, yup, realized I was over-complicating things with “if/then” clauses, to protect something that didn’t need protecting.

      Plus the abstract nature means players need to think about mechanics in a new light. When you’re used to bean counting every bullet or arrow, you know ahead of time when you’ll run out. Getting an Out Of Ammo compel is a lot less tangible and more sudden to someone thinking on a mechanical plane instead of a narrative one.

      Core is doing a wonderful job at cleaning up and solidifying the rules, but the post was a reaction to another “aspects are situational and have no constant effect” argument I heard recently. Sigh.

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