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The Book of Hanz

The Not-So-Hidden Logic of Paying to Invoke Aspects

(Whew, long title.)

Okay, one of the things that tripped me up the most when I started playing Fate (apart from the lack of statistics/abilities -that was a doozy) was the fact that I could claim things like Rippling Barbarian Thews for my barbarian warrior, but they didn't actually do anything unless I spent a Fate Point on them.

I mean, seriously, huh? How does that work? Aspects are kind of like a combination of advantages and disadvantages from GURPS, only more freeform, right? If I'm really strong, it would make sense that I'd always be really strong, and it would be a constant bonus. I mean, that's just how the world works, right?

"Ahhhh," my older self says, as my younger self walks into the trap I set. "That may be how the world works -but is it how fiction works?"

Let's take a section of badly-written prose:

Nanoc, the IP-Friendly Barbarian warrior, waded into battle. He knew his target, the evil warlord Baddaguy. A screaming warrior attacked him, but Nanoc split him in half, the pieces falling to his sides. He looked around for a glimpse of Baddaguy. There! Up on that hill! Nanoc started making his way up the hill, only to find three of Baddaguy's filthy minions blocking his path. A sword strike felled one, and a parry-and-counter combination sent the next to hell. The third minion, seeing his friends die in a matter of heartbeats, ran off like the coward he was.

Now there was nothing between Nanoc and Baddaguy. He charged up the hill, screaming a barbarian warcry. Baddaguy faced him, and waved off his useless troops to battle Nanoc one on one.

Their blades clashed, sparks flying. The two opponents were evenly matched, and traded light blows, neither being able to strike a solid blow on the other.

Their swords locked. They struggled against each other, strength against strength. Nanoc's mighty barbarian thews rippled with the effort, and he flung Baddaguy down. Baddaguy cowered in helpless fear as Nanoc impaled him upon the tip of his blade.

Okay. That was crappy prose. But while Nanoc presumably always has Mighty Barbarian Thews, they're only really narratively relevant at one point, when Nanoc needed to really pull something out.

Compare that to just this modified first paragraph:

Nanoc, the IP-Friendly Barbarian warrior, waded into battle. He knew his target, the evil warlord Baddaguy. A screaming warrior attacked him, but Nanoc split him in half with the strength from his might barbarian thews, the pieces falling to his sides. He looked around for a glimpse of Baddaguy. There! Up on that hill! Nanoc started making his way up the hill, only to find three of Baddaguy's filthy minions blocking his path. A sword strike fueled by his mighty barbarian thews felled one, and a parry-and-counter combination, supported by the might of his barbarian thews sent the next to hell. The third minion, seeing his friends die in a matter of heartbeats, and quivering in fear of the mighty barbarian thews, ran off like the coward he was.

As bad as the first section was, the second one is I feel I need to bathe in disinfectant for having written it.

But that's the fundamental reason that aspects are "fueled by" Fate Points. Nanoc's struggle against Baddaguy was the only place he really needed to swing the narrative, and constantly talking about his mighty barbarian thews is just dull.

Fate Core, as far as I can see, tries to emulate fiction. That doesn't just mean "a physical simulation of fictional worlds". That means the flow and structure of fiction. That means that when we look at how a game of Fate 'should' flow, our reference point should be 'does this play out like a book, or a movie?' rather than 'does this work like how it would work in the physical world'?

A slippery, ice-covered surface, in fiction, doesn't mean that every description or shot of people on it involves them slipping and sliding around. That's boring. What it probably means is that at some key moment, somebody will slip because of the surface creating some dramatic moment. And that's what Fate tries to emulate -how the dramatic elements work together, not the actual effects of fighting on a slippery surface. It follows the rules of fiction regardless of realism, not reality -even 'cinematic' reality.

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