Fate RPG versus Exalted

Fate works great… for theatre students. It’s a narrative game focused on narrative tropes. So it works great for people who have studied stuff like writing, storytelling, advertising and other fields of creative expression. In other words, people who are already trained to think critically about narrative and character, people who think in tropes.

The problem with Fate is that it’s not actually a simple game. Exalted is a complex game, but like most complex games most of that complexity is actually front loaded. It’s all based around character creation and development. You can spend hours, maybe days, designing an Exalted character (especially as the XP stacks up).

But once you’ve crunched all the numbers and added up all your totals and have all your Charms accounted for, it can play very fast in game. Now, that isn’t to say it will, because a lot of people refuse to do that up front stuff. This is why I loved the combo mechanic and a lot of people didn’t understand why it was so brilliant.

The thing about Combos was that what it actually did was reduce your tactical options to a handful of useful options. Instead of having a dozen Charms to choose between each round, you had maybe three different Combos. The game forced you into developing a few focused combos because it made using un-Comboed Charms a disincentivised strategy (ie, it would get you killed). This vastly reduced the amount of decision making the player has to make at the actual table. By “unleashing” the combo rules, the Ink Monkeys actually vastly increased the number of decisions per combat a player has to make to an absurd degree which is one of the reason I think the Ink Monkeys never really understood how the system actually worked…

But anyway! Back to Fate. Fate is a game where the kind of work that Exalted is supposed to encourage during character creation and advancement (front loaded) is instead pushed onto the GM and players in the middle of play. Lacking a specific rule to cover a situation doesn’t actually make a game less complex, because complexity isn’t a matter of rules; it’s a matter of burden. How much mental burden does actually running the game place on the players of the game?

In Exalted all the mental burden is (supposed to be) front loaded. You can play the game (if you do it correctly) with relative ease because you have all your stats for each situation on your sheet and your choices are actually quite simple. Then it’s just a matter of rolling dice, with some stunts for flavor (and the wonderfulness of stunts is that the rules basically amount to “always give stunt dice”). In Fate, the burden occurs in play specifically because things like Aspects don’t have hard and fast rules. You have ten (or more) Aspects, each of which is nothing more than a vague idea, and you have to figure out how to use them to extract bonuses from the GM, who has to adjudicate the use of Aspects based on his personal judgement of the situation, the utility of the Aspect and so on. Further he has to engage in compels and other pushback regularly (meaning he has to memorize or have access to all the player’s aspects, so 40+ discrete things on top of his NPCs and setting) in order to keep players supplied with Fate Points. All of this is wishy-washy and requires a lot of ruling on the fly. This increases the number of decisions per action you have to make, not decreases them.