Fate Core Thought of the Day:  Advanced Fiction First

Ooooooh.  Advanced.  Sounds pretentious.  And, honestly, this is kind of a weird subject, so I might have to approach it somewhat obliquely in a few ways.

So, most of the time, when I talk about "Fiction First" it's from the viewpoint of resolving actions.  And that's a pretty good use of it, because it can be really hard to resolve Fate actions if you don't do it in a fiction first way.

This is the same, but slightly different.  Maybe a bit deeper, or more theoretical.  Maybe slightly less immediately practical.  Maybe I've just finally gone off the deep end.  Maybe more than one of the above.

Perhaps, it'd be better described as "the primacy of fiction".  But that sounds even more bizarre than "fiction first".

Anyway, the canonical example of this is that a room isn't dark because it has the Dark aspect.  The room has the Dark aspect because it's dark.

The way I look at it, there's four primary elements in most RPGs.  The players, the GM, the "fiction", and "the bits".  The fiction being the stuff we imagine in our heads, and the bits being the stuff written down on a piece of paper, or the dice, or the tokens on the map.

So what this really kinda says here is that "the fiction" is what drives the bits, and not the other way around.

Basically, imagining a dark room is "the fiction".  The 3X5 card or whiteboard note or whatever saying Dark is "the bits".  And the fiction is what comes first, and what drives the bits.  Always.  We use the minimum amount of "bits" to keep everyone on the same page, and to make sure we don't forget stuff.

So when somebody gets knocked on the ground, that's what leads.  The fact that On the Ground is an aspect is really more of a note of this, so that we don't forget it, and a hint that we can use certain mechanics relating to this fact now.

So, here's a slightly more advanced example.  One of the things we hear is "situation aspects exist until they're not longer narratively relevant."  What the hell does that mean?  Here's a more concrete example.

You're providing Covering Fire.  Then, you go inside a cave that has no visibility to the area you were providing covering fire for.  What happens?

So, if we do a "mechanics first" approach (or, "primacy of the bits" if you want), there's an aspect there, and we need to have some mechanical interaction to get rid of the Covering Fire aspect, or maybe it's even there.  It seems a bit.... odd.

But from a "fiction first" approach, it all just... works.  The aspect is just a reflection of the 'reality' of your PC providing covering fire.  If you're in the cave, you're clearly not providing covering fire any more, and so there's no reason for there to be an aspect, right?

And that, right there, is the core of "fiction first".  The mechanics do not define the reality.  They merely reflect the reality, and specifically only certain parts of it.  If the imagined reality ever conflicts with the mechanical bits, the imagined reality wins.

And when we start applying this idea more broadly, a lot of things become really obvious.  Have a Broken Leg consequence?  Weird that it means you can't climb a ladder without a Compel?  Yeah, that would be weird.  But, in the fiction, it makes perfect sense that you can't just climb a ladder if you have a broken leg, right?  We don't even get to the point of a roll or anything else, because the fiction coming first tells us that the action doesn't even make any sense to begin with.

This isn't how all games work!  Many games have lists of specific conditions, that tell you exactly what you can and can't do, with specific modifiers and conditions.   And that causes a lot of confusion - people see "Aspects can be invoked for +2 or Compelled" and assume that's all they can do, because those are the only mechanical effects.  

But that's not even half of the story - yes, those are the pure mechanical effects (apart from providing passive opposition), but since aspects are true, and the fiction leads, then any logical consequence of those aspects is true as well.  And, really, again, the aspect is just a note, a reflection of the imagined 'reality' in the first place.

To me, fully understanding this idea is the point at which Fate goes from being a fairly complex game to being an incredibly simple and streamlined game, and the point at which it really begins to "sing".