The Elephant in the Room

Negativity generally gets us nowhere.  When I sat down on the couch just now and opened my laptop, I had thoughts of just tearing into how much I dislike one very popular game system.  But that won’t do any good at all.  No one likes to read negative articles, and it doesn’t accomplish anything.  After all, my whole point behind this blog is to discuss a hobby I love, not to tear down what others have done.

I would, however, like to talk about that system today.  Before I name it, I’ll tell you a story about it that might make my later points clearer.  Bear with me, this might be kinda long.  While I was surfing DrivethruRPG.com (my home online most days), I found a pulp-genre game that had an interesting name, great artwork, and the reviews sang its praises.  I bought it, started reading it… and then had to read it again.  It made no sense.  Where were the basic attributes?  What’s the deal with the weird dice?  Aspects (hint, hint)?

But the game was so well written, by someone who obviously loved gaming and the pulp genre in particular that I had to give it a chance.  Surprisingly, the character generation session with my game group went fantastically.  This game urges collective character generation; the whole group should work together at the same time to create characters in such a way that builds solid connections and relationships before game play starts.  My players loved it, and it was as much fun as playing the game itself.  I try to use that same basic concept now for all my games.

The first few game sessions went very well.  They got to fly across the world in a double-decker zeppelin, they managed to sink the Arc de Triomphe into the sewers below Paris, and they had a gun battle with a horde of albino, tommy-gun wielding gorillas.  But as the game progressed, it was getting harder and harder to adjudicate actions.  The characters had only a list of skills, and aspects, and background.  For those of you who don’t know what aspects are in this system, they are like keywords denoting some kind of background or other relationship with what makes each character what they are.  It’s confusing, sorry… it’s hard to explain without going into too much detail.

As the game continued, I realized one core issue that I was finding trouble with.  Attribute checks.  Characters in this game don’t have basic attributes.  What am I supposed to do if the character is attempting something that isn’t covered by a skill?  In most RPG’s that I’m familiar with, you resort to testing their base attributes.  In this game, however (if I read it right, and believe me I read it over and over), if the characters don’t have any applicable aspects, you just roll and hope for the best.  No modifiers positive or negative.  Every character has the same, average attribute.

But okay… I was able to deal with that and find a workable solution.  Nothing wrong here, move along.  However, this situation got me to dig deeper into the system, looking for all the little details I may have been missing.  Turns out I wasn’t missing them.  They just weren’t there.  Wait a minute, this game’s all just words!  Where’s all the numbers?  Where’s the charts and tables LOL?

This realization blew my mind.  I’m an old-school gamer, and all this next-gen stuff just weirds me out.  I tried (briefly) to add mechanics to incorporate attributes to the game, but that failed miserably.  The players didn’t like it, and it felt really awkward.

Unfortunately, the game fell apart just after that.  I’m pretty sure it was my fault, but it might also just have been that it was turning summer.  Around here, when the sun starts shining, all the gamers turn flaky.  Just kidding.  Anyway, since that episode, I’ve been more and more confused at the system in question.  Oh, and since I don’t know why I’ve been keeping it a secret, the game I’m talking about is Fate, by Evil Hat games (www.evilhat.com).  Fate is now going all OGL also, so a plethora (love that word) of third party publishers are filling the world with settings and sourcebooks based on Fate.

This post has gone on way longer than I intended.  I ramble, that’s my curse.  To wrap all this up, I just don’t get Fate.  I hope you do, and I hope you like it.

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