OOC: In Fear of Fate’s Blank Canvas
This article started off very differently. Originally, I was going to write about why I thought Fate wasn’t a more popular system, and my argument was because there were so many ways to do one thing, that it could turn people off of the system in favor of one that had concrete rules for specific situations. But the more I tried to write this article, a small nagging thought at the back of my head would keep creeping up and whisper, “Aren’t you really talking about yourself right now?”
Fate is the game I’ve played the second-most, right after D&D, but it’s the one that I think about the most. It might be because it was the first real rulebook I ever read (and reread, and rereread), but when I read any other game for the first time I always have this thought of “how would I do this in Fate?” Fate’s openness and customizability is what keeps drawing me to the game, but over the years I’ve realized that same openness is also what keeps me from playing it more than I have.
Up until a short while ago, I would have put the blame of my wishy-washiness on the rules. While Fate specifies what rules are meant to be used in a fight, a chase, a debate, the fact is that the system is so flexible that practically any tool can be used in any scene. And while I love that flexibility, I can understand why other people may not. There’s a stability and speed to be found in knowing that there’s a single rule for a single situation and moving forward with that. I love to fiddle around with things, so thinking about how a fight scene could be framed as a Challenge or a Contest instead of a Conflict is great fun. But it’s easy to get stuck in the planning and brainstorming phase, and even six years of GMing haven’t made me much better.
I’ve talked before about the freedom I find in adventure modules. That freedom is found in where I get to devote my time. Whenever I look at Fate, I see the possibilities of every game I’ve ever imagined. Of a space-fantasy ship sailing through the aether, or a team of ghosts fighting to earn their place in the afterlife, or a Pokémon game that has almost nothing to do with Pokémon. The very nature of Fate pulls me to original ideas, where I can’t sit in the safety of an adventure module. I see the blank canvas in front of me, and I love thinking about all the things I could put there, but I’m terrified that the result won’t live up to my imaginings.
The fear that lays just behind the blank canvas is the knowledge that as an author, or designer, or artist, I’m responsible for the thing I create. When an idea stays in my head, it’s perfect, unsullied. But the thing about that perfection is that it doesn’t exist. Anymore than my childhood ripoff of Bionicle, an unpitched, unplanned, unplayed game does not exist in any form except in my mind. I can imagine that it would be fun if I only just had the perfect setting, the perfect set of rules, the perfect inciting incident. All that’s missing is the actual fun.
The simple solution is to realize that nothing will be perfect, but it is often good enough. I know that a session is almost never going to be some perfect blend of roleplay and mechanics and story. We’ll talk it out, and figure it out next week. The second I leave my narcissistic obsession over perfection, I find a perfectly serviceable result that has a few hiccups but is a whole lot of fun. And if that’s what I’ve been able to accomplish with D&D, there’s no way I can’t do it in Fate.
I decided a little while ago that the next campaign I run will be in Fate. I don’t know what it will be, I don’t know who will play in it, I don’t have a clue what kind of story it will be. But ever since I made that decision, I’ve started to feel excited about creating again.