Fate Core Thought of the Day:  Fate is not abstract

One of the criticisms I frequently hear of Fate is that it's a very abstract system.  This is understandable.  It certainly looks like an abstract system - I mean, there's like no concrete actions except Attack in there at all!  And aspects are pretty abstract, right?

I can understand this view.  I also disagree with it.  A lot.

The key for me is really, truly grasping "Fiction First".  In a lot of games, the basic sequence might look something like this:

1) I choose Power Attack
2) I describe "I swing my sword down with all my might!"
3) The GM rolls the dice and says the mechanical result
4) The GM describes what happens

Now, the key here is really that steps 2 and 4 are kinda really optional.  The "meat" of what's happening is in steps 1 and 3.  And that, to me, is pretty key in understanding why some people find Fate super abstract, and others don't.

Here's how I view Fate's resolution system

1) I say "I bring down my axe on the orc's head with all my might!"
2) The GM translates this as one of the four actions, and ties it to a skill or approach
3) Dice are rolled, which give some mechanical impact and constrain the narrative
4)The GM and/or player describe the outcome.

There's a bunch of main differences I note here.

The order of the first two steps changes between the examples.  In the first example, we're choosing a game mechanic directly, and then throwing on some description.  In the second, the description drives the choice of game mechanic.

Secondly, in Fate, I usually have the GM be responsible for choosing the mechanical bits - especially in FAE.  This isn't 100% of course, as someone saying "I drive the axe down at the orc's head with all my power" is clearly angling for a Forceful Attack.  But in Fate, you're not actually choosing a mechanical action directly most of the time.

Third, and I think most importantly, there are optional steps in each example.  However, they're not the same steps.  In the first example, it's the description that's optional - it's totally valid to just do the mechanics.  However, in Fate, it's really the mechanical bits that are optional.  If it's totally clear what's happening, we can just skip them.  If I'm behind a totally unaware enemy, and do the aforementioned axe-to-the-head maneuver, it'd be totally legitimate to say it just cleaves his skull.  I wouldn't blink for a second at a GM that did that.

So in Fate, it's the descriptions that are mandatory.  They're the "meat" of the game, not just the decoration.  The mechanics exist solely to help us get past the parts where what happens isn't obvious.  This is mirrored all over the place - 'if you can't think of something interesting for both success and failure, don't roll'.

To put it another way, let's look at a Create Advantage roll to trip someone.  Pretty typical, right?

Let's look at how that works:

1) "I lash out my foot and take the enemy's leg from underneath him!"
2) "Okay, Roll CA with Physique"
3) <roll roll> "Yay, you made it! Put Tripped on the bad guy!"
4) "The bad guy falls face first in the dirt."

So, what's really happening here?  What's important?

If you view steps 2 and 3 as the 'real' game, then, yes, it's ridiculously abstract.

I view steps 1 and 4 as the important bits.  My character isn't "Creating Advantage" - he's tripping someone.  The bad guy doesn't end up with an aspect, he ends up face down in the dirt.  The mechanical bits are just there to help us figure out what happens, and to give us future mechanical reinforcement.  They're not the "real" thing.

So from my view, I really look at the sequence as:

1) "I lash out my foot and take the enemy's leg from underneath him!"
4) "The bad guy falls face first in the dirt."

There is nothing abstract about this whatsoever.  This works because I'm putting the "reality" of the situation above the mechanical representation.

However, many people will look at the 'real' sequence as being:

2) "Okay, Roll CA with Physique"
3) <roll roll> "Yay, you made it! Put Tripped on the bad guy!"

This is ridiculously abstract, especially if coming from a system like GURPS, where the system itself will tell you exactly what happens.

But the rules in Fate aren't like that.  They're not a "physics engine".  They're not even rules, really - they're more like 'rule templates' to be used by the GM when adjudicating actions.  This is a pretty big shift from many games where the rules are concrete things, and are intended to be used very directly by players.  It's a shift that took me quite a while to make, personally.

So yeah, I can see how some people think Fate is abstract.  I certainly did when I started playing.  But I think that's mostly due to a misunderstanding of how the rules are meant to be used in Fate, and an expectation that they do things that they intentionally do not do.