Random Fate Core Thought of the Day Part 2:  Fate Doesn't Go To Eleven

(For those of you that don't get the reference...  Spinal Tap - 11)

Okay, so I may have over or mis-sold this one.  This is really a second thought that I think informs and supports the previous in a way that it's kind of hard for me to talk about one without briefly mentioning the other, and vice versa.

I'm going to do a little setup on this one, as I think you need to understand how I view skills to get the point I'm trying to make here.  As always, this is just Rob's Humble Opinion and obviously ain't anything official.  I work for a little software company in the Northwest, not a huge gaming conglomerate in San Francisco!

So let's talk about skills.  Skills are how good you are at something, right?  I mean, that's what it says on the tin.

That's true in most games, and is superficially true in Fate.  But I don't really look at skills as "skills" in Fate, because, hey, Physique isn't a "skill".  What I look at skills as is closer to "how a character impacts the scene".  This makes a lot of things make more sense.  If you think about someone with a gun versus a martial artist, realistically, the martial artist will be less effective given the same skill.

But, if we just say that the skill represents your ability to influence the scene, then we can kind of roll the influence of the weapon into the influence of the skill and call it a day.  So with a hypothetical Martial Arts skill of 4, you'd be Jackie Chan, but with a Shoot of 4, you'd be pretty competent, as your weapon itself would be part of that scene influence.

I'm getting somewhere with this, really!  Thanks for reading so far!

In the previous post, I talked about modeling a cybernetic arm primarily by just giving the character the appropriate skill (Physique or possibly Athletics), an Aspect for the more narrative bits, and maybe possibly a stunt, and calling it a day.  This works because, to me, having that 4 in Physique says "I have this much influence in scenes, when I approach them in this way.  *How* I got that influence is irrelevant, whether it's working out, technology, magic, or whatever."

At this point, you might ask "what if I was a body builder that had cybernetics installed, hrm, Mr. Smarty Pants?"

"Fate Doesn't Go To Eleven."

Okay, I finally got around to the post title.  But what the hell do I mean by that?  If you're not familiar with the phrase "goes to eleven," it comes from the movie This Is Spinäl Tap.  In it, one of the guitarists talks about his amps being special because while most amps have ten as the highest setting on the dial, his goes to eleven.  Apparently he's too dumb to realize that it's the internals of the system that determine the volume of the amp, and that the label is exactly that, just a label.

Fate does not go to eleven.  If the maximum skill you can have in an area is +4, then that's what you get.  That also represents the maximum ability that a starting character can have in that area.  Period.  (Okay, there's stunts, too, but there shouldn't be anything granting a flat bonus).  +4 doesn't need to represent the same thing in every game.  It represents the maximum that a player can start with, in that game.  +4 Physique could be the strongest a human can achieve in one game, and it could be Superman in another.  It's a scale, a way of calibrating.  It's not GURPS, where 15 STR means exactly what 15 STR means, and you have lots of tables telling you exactly what 15 STR does, and you have to have crazy high levels of strength to represent augmented individuals, or supers, or whatever.

Now I'm going to tie back to Just Do It again.  One of the reasons that people like toolboxes is that they like going to eleven.  They like hearing about the maximum value of something, and then finding a way to surpass it.  "How high can we stack the bonuses?"  Many folks will want to make a character with a cybernetic arm not because they think it makes a great story, but because they think that it will allow them to go higher than the supposed highest in the system - it lets them go to eleven.  Which, of course, means that the "highest" in fact wasn't, and the real "highest" is totally dependent on how high you can stack your Lego blocks.

Fate doesn't do that.  Fate just says, "You can have +4.  And a few stunts to let you do a bit better in specific situations.  You can't have more.  Have a nice day."  Fate just says your amp goes to 10, and if you want to be louder, you need a louder amp - aka, play in a setting where +4 means something else.  It doesn't lie to you and just relabel the loudest as 11 so that you feel more awesome.  It's honest in its calibrations and ranges.

Some people, of course, do love that type of charop.  I personally have litlte use for it, and I suspect some people agree with me.  And thankfully there's tons of games in the hobby, and lots of them support that level of charop.  If I want a game that does that, then I'll play that type of game.

I'm just glad that Fate doesn't do that, and that it gives me an option that doesn't go to eleven.