If I'm playing a game and my character is a super badass who is really good at one thing then I shouldn’t be left rolling the dice and feeling like I have a completely average result.
The first time I played in a Fate game it was a science-fiction setting and I made my character to be this ace pilot. I had the maximum skill that I can possibly have in flying my space fighter, and I remember rolling the dice (A LOT OF DICE) and the result that I got was completely average. I didn’t even successfully complete a basic maneuver. It wasn't so much that it was a very bad roll, it was just that it was not a good roll. I looked at it at the dice and asked "doesn’t this mean this is always going to average out?" and the GM said "yeah it pretty much always averages out" and I said "then I'm not an ace pilot, it doesn’t matter how good my skill is, I’m always going to be average and everything I do is going to be average"
There was a lot of hemming and hawing from the players around the table who loved the concept of this system, and somebody said "that’s not exactly the way that it works because you have other things to draw upon" and I said "I don’t think I should have other things to drop upon, I should have the skill, and then I should roll the dice and do something cool, or do something skillful, or at the very least competent"
I wasn’t even competent
The other thing I don't like about Fate is that there's no character progression.
I asked about experience points at the end of the session and was basically told there’s no leveling up, there’s no buying more skill points, you basically just spend experience to move points around or shuffle your skill levels around. That doesn't appeal to me, either as a player or as someone who enjoys fiction. If I’m playing an ace pilot in the first session then I should still be an ace pilot in the 14th session, regardless of anything else. Just like Walter White is a chemist in the first episode of Breaking Bad, he's still a chemist in the last episode of Breaking Bad, but he's definitely picked up some other skills along the way.
I asked "I'm a pilot, I’ve maxed out my skill, what is stopping me from just moving all those points from being a pilot into becoming a neurosurgeon?" and I was told "you have to justify the changes, so it would very unlikely that you would be this great pilot and then all of a sudden become a great neurosurgeon, because you have to explain why" and I said "you mean, an average pilot becoming an average neurosurgeon" but I went a bit further with this inquiry too and said "well it’s in the rules that I can just move these things around, so if I can find a way to become a neurosurgeon you’re telling me that’s all I need to do, contrive a way to connect it?" and the GM said "yeah, it's highly unlikely you'd have a character that is a great pilot who becomes a great neurosurgeon, but if you really want to find a way to do it then you just need to explain it"
Well, that's my only goal with this character now: to become a great neurosurgeon who dies while flying because he's forgotten how to pilot his ship.
I remember somebody saying that character growth is not tied to skills, and my response to that is "But it is!" I'm a completely different person today than I was when I played Fate. I'm not only a different person but I've picked up new skills along the way. That's what's key about character progression, you not only have to progress but you have to feel like you're progressing. I feel stale and stagnant if I stop doing new things but the great thing about progressing through life is that I can still do the old things that I haven't done in a long time. Accounting, bartending, making a latte, I still remember how to do all of those things alongside being able to write a joke and drive a semi. I'm not an ace pilot or a top notch neurosurgeon, but I definitely still think Fate is a dumb system.
2 out of 5 stars, for this years-late review of the Fate RPG