It seems like there's a gremlin in the Fate answers. He bites without warning, no one is immune, and while he'd been quiet for some time, he's back now. And he's making it hard to get good answers, which makes people not want to ask at all (I'll explain that at the end, after I've defined what I'm talking about.)

The gremlin is a tendency to focus on Fate as a narrative game when it's inappropriate to do so.

I'm referring to a trend in answering Fate questions which seemed common for a while, but then died down and I'm concerned to see it again in this answer. (Let me make it clear that I'm not singling out SSD; a number of citizens have fallen into this trend at different times, and there's no real common thread or serial offender that I've noticed--hence the "gremlin" idea).

The gremlin encourages us to respond to Fate questions that are specifically concerned about how the mechanics work with an answer which basically says "Fate isn't about mechanics, just make stuff up as it goes," and often implies (or outright says) that worrying about mechanics in a Fate game means we don't get Fate.

Sometimes this is the entire answer, as in this post which ignores the established setting and mechanical guidelines in favor of "Fate is narrative, so just make stuff up as you go." (The whole thing is especially egregious when it's being done in a post about a rules-heavy Fate system like DFRPG with subsystems and very explicit lines drawn for what is and is not mechanically possible, as well as strong setting definitions.)

Even questions which ask about how to facilitate the Fate philosophy are susceptible to having answers which condescendingly and painstakingly explain the Fate narrative philosophy instead of talking about how to implement it.

Other times, it's tacked onto a totally okay answer, as if the asker of the question is so fundamentally clueless about the system that they need to be educated about it even though it's tangential to the question they asked.

To me, and people I’ve talked to, this feels like having the “d20 + ability modifier” mechanic explained every time I ask a D&D 3.5 question... often instead of answering the question I actually asked. Which is, at best, unhelpful and patronizing.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think the Silver Rule (“never let the rules get in the way of what makes narrative sense”) is pretty essential to the Fate ethos. But all those rules still exist and are important --or we wouldn’t have a Golden Rule that says to figure out how the rules help model what we want to do! This gremlin nudges us to tell each other that if we try to understand how things can work within the rules provided, we don't get Fate, and the rules are not what Fate is about (why, then, do they and the Golden Rule exist?). There is no rule that says “ignore the rules and do whatever.” The Silver Rule is about when the rules would get in the way or cannot help, not a general justification for telling people to stop trying to understand the rulebook and turn the game into a free-form RPG.

This is making it hard to ask questions.

I know that for many months now, every time I sit down to ask a Fate question, I dread the possibility of meeting this gremlin. I spend a lot of time trying to phrase my questions to avoid getting cluttered with answers that just say my mechanical concerns are unfounded because I can ignore the rules. I even sometimes don't ask questions if I fear they'll provoke a tide of "you just don't get the game" answers.

I've spoken with a few others who have encountered the gremlin, and it's hurting their ability to be enthusiastic about asking Fate questions on this site, too. This is a problem. The gremlin is cluttering the Fate questions with Answers That Don't Answer the Question. This makes people feel like they'll be called dumb for asking how the system works--which makes them stop asking Fate questions, which is... bad... for an SE site.

How can we make this gremlin go away, so that our Fate answers are no longer plagued by the idea that wanting to understand and use mechanics is antithetical to the system's ethos?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I personally have three questions I would like answers to, but I am sure as hell not asking them here because I'm sure I'll just get answers telling me Fate's a narrative game and the mechanics shouldn't matter. So the impact here is real for some of us Fate players. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 16 '13 at 4:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ To a degree, answers are always going to be guided not just by the rules text but by the prevailing attitude of the subculture that plays it. Like the 3.5e subcommunity is full of hardcore optimizers, the FATE subcommunity is full of FORGE escapees, and that's how they think about the game. It's unavoidable to a degree, it's like if you ask a Bible question in a Midwestern state you're going to get an answer very much derived from local cultural interpretation. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 16 '13 at 12:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk That sounds like a reasonable explanation, but I'm not going to let it justify action that seems contrary to the SE philosophy (as WaxEagle explains). Defeatism or resignation isn't on the table for me. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 17 '13 at 1:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener - I'm really sorry to hear that. I've tried to provide good answers to Fate questions, and even if sometimes I remind askers of the place narration holds in the game, I try to back up my answers with Fate-appropriate levels of crunch. Please ask - the questions are at least as valuable to the site as the answers - if we value answers, don't we have to value answer-generators? \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Aug 22 '13 at 10:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gomad Given that this discussion is in the open and having the impact it's having I am already more comfortable with that and will be doing so. :) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 22 '13 at 12:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ This reminds me a bit of D&D discussions where people use Rule Zero as a crutch (or worse, lean on the “DM is God” trope). I've always found that irritating too. Yes, you can tweak mechanics to your liking, but sometimes I just want to know what falls within the mechanics as written. \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Aug 29 '13 at 4:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just wanted to add that my answer that is linked was not meant to say ignore the rules in favor of the narrative. It's just saying the the magic system supports the narrative- not the other way around. \$\endgroup\$ – Chuck Dee Jul 22 '14 at 19:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ The one that really bothers me is people ignoring the rules-as-written tag. If the asker had wanted answers that didn't involve the rules in any way, they probably would not have used this tag. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 13 '14 at 1:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel we need a Meta like this for 5e "Gm Fiat" answers. Maybe I'll type one up in the morning. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Apr 10 '15 at 7:21

I think this goes back to one of the core statements about Stack Exchange sites.

  • Asking Expert questions, getting expert answers.

To me, and I have no context having not read or played Fate, it seems like people are so bogged down with non-expert Fate questions that the first instinct is to give an answer suited for a beginner in the system and not an expert.

There are some things you can do when asking a question to alleviate this (I'll enumerate them in a moment). But ultimately the onus is on the answerers not to condescend, even if the person is a n00b, and only explain core concepts when it's apparent that the person asking the question doesn't get it.

My advice to askers:

  • Display system mastery in your question. Use the correct vocabulary correctly, show understanding of the mechanics surrounding the ones you're asking about etc.
  • Explain your specific problem clearly.
  • Use comments to help folks understand that it's not the core concepts you need help with but the specific mechanics.
  • Make it clear in your question that you need help with a mechanical concept.

    However, these pieces of advice are akin to saying "this is how not to get assaulted" - you can be careful, but bad things still happen. It's not your fault. The focus here is rightly on how we can reform answerers to provide answers that don't condescend.

  • Assume the person is an RPG Expert. This is intended to be an expert community. People asking questions are to be treated like experts asking expert questions. I know that "expert" has a rather loose definition here, but assume that someone is an expert until they prove they aren't.

  • Expect overall system mastery. Write your answer as if the person who is asking only has problems with this specific mechanic. Don't explain basic concepts unless they are pivotal to explaining the mechanic.
  • If you find the question too general or unclear, flag or vote to close. Don't answer it. If you feel led, comment explaining why. Don't answer questions that require an entire rewrite of the system rules.
  • If you feel that a person has a basic misunderstanding of a core game concept based on their question confirm this to be the case; before you answer. Don't write an entire answer that will be useless if you misunderstood the question. Understand what the OP is trying to ask before you answer.

Overall, I think that the answer to this conundrum is reminding folks to not make assumptions about system mastery, to remember that not everyone plays games the same way. Ultimately, we must all remember that this is intended to be an expert community. If we don't keep this in mind we lose the very thing that makes this site so valuable.

Again this site's intent:

  • Expert questions to be answered by Experts.
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    \$\begingroup\$ "this goes back to one of the core statements" ...I see what you did there. In all seriousness, thanks; this describes a lot of what I was feeling, and places it in the SE context with practical "how-to" and "how-not-to" advice. My biggest take-away is that gremlin answers aren't answers and should be treated as such--commented on, downvoted, and even flagged if they're particularly egregious. If the answerer doesn't think I asked the question well, they have no business answering it unless/until it's "fixed" in their minds. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 16 '13 at 14:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ This needs to go on the About page. Front, Framed and Bold. \$\endgroup\$ – Nigralbus Aug 21 '13 at 11:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ People asking questions are to be treated like experts asking expert questions I agree with this approach (it's a core appeal of the site to me) but the release of a particular game (not Fate) about a year after this answer has rendered that assumption somewhat moot (unfortunately). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 20 '19 at 12:09

The text on the downvote button now simply reads:

This answer is not useful.

With community consensus, we can downvote these types of answers. In this case, I think the solution is simply to achieve quorum about what constitutes good answers, and then to lead by example and act on it.

While I don't think any of us will have a problem following up on this, I feel obligated to point out that downvotes are only marginally constructive by themselves; comments are key for establishing quorum and changing behavior.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed; but as you'll note from several of the links in my question here, engaging with the problem on an individual basis has never produced any effect except hurt feelings or declarations that I have no idea what I'm talking about. I'd downvoted-on-sight every answer mentioned in my post except the one that's otherwise very solid. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 16 '13 at 3:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ The issue, so far as I can tell, seems to be a bugbear that mechanical questions about Fate indicate a fundamental misunderstanding about the system, and maybe even aren't good questions. Got any ideas about how to reach a quorum on that? \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 16 '13 at 3:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BESW Well... we reach a consensus that they're bad answers. If a question asks about the mechanical aspects of Fate and someone answers with "It's not a mechanical system," it's... not a helpful answer. Period end. The important thing is to leave comments explaining why you've voted the way you have; even though everyone here's open-minded, people will still be oblivious without an explanation. \$\endgroup\$ – user8248 Aug 16 '13 at 3:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Emrakul Leaving comments explaining a downvote is actually often discouraged by the mods, I think. It's also more complex than this since at times it's part of an answer that's not all that bad, and the entire thing doesn't seem worthy of a downvote - but the answer still features this gremlin again. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 16 '13 at 3:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, we're explicitly told not to clutter up the comments with explanations of downvotes unless the explanation is obviously able to help improve the answer. And yeah, often it's just part of an otherwise acceptable answer... but taints the whole discussion anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 16 '13 at 3:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ But it's important to raise peoples' gremlin-awareness, if not to improve the current answer, but also future ones. The mods' encouragements and discouragements are there to improve the site; with that goal, it's okay in my opinion to (with respect) cast the rules aside a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – user8248 Aug 16 '13 at 3:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough. I don't think this is a complete answer,but it's probably part of a complete answer--can we get a mod in here to say something about this use of comments? \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 16 '13 at 4:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ See meta.stackexchange.com/questions/138189/… and meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/647/…. Pure "I'm going to use a comment to say I downvoted" isn't encouraged without actual constructive criticism (just like "+1 I likey" isn't a good comment), but explaning your problem with an answer is legit. Of course if it turns into a comment war, normal Marquess of Queensbury rules apply. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 16 '13 at 12:36

Tell people to cut it out in comments, maybe.

I have often wanted to respond to such answers telling them something to the effect of...

Yes, we get it. We understand Fate too. We have read the books and taken time to understand it just like you have. We are not ignorant about how this game works. Please take this question seriously and respond as if we are equals, not unenlightened people who don't get the game.

... but my desire to say that is the result of my frustration with this issue in general, and I am not sure how I would convey any part of this in any way in any tone and be taken seriously.

Maybe if it is an issue with some community acknowledgement, so that people might actually stop and think "Huh, maybe I actually shouldn't do that," we can start just commenting on such answers saying (not in these exact words): "Hey, you're not taking the question seriously. Cut that out and answer it." - perhaps with a link to this meta question.

I don't know how this gremlin snuck in, really, but I want to see it gone.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, that seems a bit snippy any way we put it. Maybe, with this post, we can link to this and ask them to remove the gremlin from their answer. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 16 '13 at 5:45

The answer to this is "use the SE system." If you do not believe an answer is helpful, downvote it, say why to get others on your side. Flagging might be helpful but in general we don't delete an answer just because "someone doesn't like it" - if it is truly irrelevant sure, otherwise if it's not super downvoted we will defer to the community.

When Asking Your Question

Say specifically what you want. In the example question What should happen in a legendarily successful attack against a mook? the question nowhere states "I want a rules mechanics answer not a narrative one." I find SSD's answer to that question quite appropriate especially since the rules do say "go gonzo with the narration." Sure, you later clarify in a temporary comment on an answer "Oh I knew that but..." But if you don't put that into the question, you can't blame people for answering the question you wrote down, not the mental question you have.

When Answering Questions

We specifically allow answers that "break the frame" of the question because sometimes that really is the best answer, of the "Doctor, it hurts when I do this" variety. How do we know if it's appropriate or inappropriate? Votes. And self restraint, you should only break the frame of the question if you are really, really convinced it's the best answer. (Again, in the question linked I'm not even sure frame-breaking is going on because the question doesn't specify.)

Muddy Areas Of Human Cognition

Areas like this are difficult because you are dealing not just with written game rules but a game that specifically doesn't focus first on rules, and the general culture of its players play it a certain way. In general D&D 3.5e players care about whether something is balanced, but ask an Over the Edge player about "is this balanced" and they're going to tell you you're asking a silly, meaningless question. You can probably find a wacky gonzo 3.5 player or a rules-obsessed Over the Edge player but they don't represent mainstream thought there. So you have to expect you'll get answers that come from the dominant value system gamers attracted to that game share, and that those answers will be found useful by others.

It's like reading the Bible and then taking it to a group of Christians and asking for a full list of shellfish because it says you're not supposed to eat shellfish in Leviticus. Mostly they're going to answer "well you see, not bound by the Law etc." If you insist then maybe they'll get you to one of the small denominations that does that (seventh day adventists maybe?) but it is fair of them to also suggest "don't do that..." Just like the recent question about optimizing D&D 2e. The best answer to that was "You know, in 2e circles, people don't really optimize, and when they do they are considered 'those dirty min-maxers.'" Different mores surround that version of the game than 3e, for example.

It's fine to want to play the game differently from the majority, but of course majority = votes here on SE. Mitigate against it by being very clear about what you want in the question and then accept the answer that suits you. Those other answers are being found helpful by others even if not by you, so they have a place, and they don't cost you anything. That's why there is a separate "accept" functionality and not just the voting.

  • \$\begingroup\$ did you read the first version or the edited version in response to this post? \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 19 '13 at 2:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of which exactly? I've read the edits on this question, on the "legendary" question and 7SD's answer there. Do you think there is information there that invalidates my answer above? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 19 '13 at 2:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, it might be worth noting that "feel free to downvote it, but we're not going to act on flags if it's a licit upvoted answer" is the unanimous opinion of the mods on this matter. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 19 '13 at 2:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ The fact that the question didn't ask for a mechanics suggestion instead of a narrative one is a point against the fact that SSD's answer was primarily a lecture about the role of mechanics (the "gonzo" part isn't the issue; the lecture is). I agree with everything said here as general principle, but this meta post is concerned with a pattern of assuming inexpertise when the asker hasn't actively proven his proficiency, rather than when he actively demonstrates a lack of proficiency. You're turning the issue around, defending an action that isn't being attacked. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 19 '13 at 8:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question's title and main point is "Fate is narrative answers to mechanical Fate questions" and that's the question and answer linked as an example. Shrug. You also feeling like people are "lecturing" you is maybe partially founded and partially not. Good answers tend to restate things too. In the recent DR question, I quote the DR rules text, not because I think the questioner didn't read it, but because it helps form a complete answer which others can benefit from. I think y'all may have whipped yourself into an oversensitive frenzy here. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 19 '13 at 12:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ If there weren't a pattern of this behavior, I'd agree--and the first example linked is definitely not the most harsh. If that were the only instance, I wouldn't be making a meta post. It's the fact that this is a recurring trend which concerns me. The trend has made people nervous to ask questions individually, before I approached them to ask, so it's definitely not a mass hysteria thing. (I'm not sure which question title/main point you're referring to, I'm afraid.) \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 19 '13 at 14:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I find it eerie how this mirrors how people treat abuse victims. People try to justify or deny it it (SSD's answer) or minimize the experience or the feelings(this answer). It doesn't help people who are actually experiencing abuse to deny it exists, justify abusive behavior or minimize the fact that they feel this way. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 19 '13 at 16:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle maybe you need to discuss this privately with the mods if you feel strongly about this but escalating to "abuse victim" rhetoric is ridiculous and won't be entertained here. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 20 '13 at 1:34

Lots of people have been weaned on 13 years of a particular sort of RPG design which has a strong mechanics-to-mechanics paradigm for how rules work. This is not how all games work, but it's very easy to mistake most RPGs' designs as supporting such a use. Fate is an interesting example of a game that strongly diverges from this flow-chart of rules handling, yet still superficially appears to follow this paradigm. As a result, lots of people play Fate as if it supports mechanics->mechanics rule handling when it actually does not. It doesn't break when played this way, but it fails to operate as designed when played this way and it results in questions here that are only meaningful if the fundamental misapprehensions of basic parts of Fate's design are left intact.

I answer Fate questions that ask how mechanics->mechanics rules works with answers that say Fate does not support the mechanics->mechanics paradigm. When someone asks such a question, I will generally point out that Fate requires the players/GM to chain two or more narrative->mechanics interactions together in order to find the next bit of mechanics that applies, not try to find the next mechanics bit directly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you at least see a little bit of why that could seem quite condescending to someone who understands this concept? Could you see how this is not treating someone like an expert? This kind of explanation is (or at least should be) unnecessary for this site. We're not here to change how people play games, we're here to help them get answers to their questions. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 17 '13 at 22:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle Yes. But it's no different than telling a new 4e player that their desire to have the combat actions have fixed, canonical, sensible narrative effects that they're barking up the wrong tree. We have several questions with answers to that effect. They can try, but 4e will fight them tooth and nail the whole way. A Fate GM can try to find a mechanics-to-mechanics rules handling flow they can use, but the system will sit there unhelpfully not doing what they wish it would. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 17 '13 at 22:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was not making this mistake. I understand that everything ultimately comes from and returns to the narrative (and that the narrative enters the mechanics when useful). I was, however, dealing mainly with mechanics in my question you answered: what can I do mechanically with an entire five spare shifts on an attack? "Fate is about the narrative, so ignore the rules" does not help and is condescending. "There isn't really anything there: take a boost if you like, but the rest should just be an impact on the scene" on the other hand is helpful and not condescending. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 18 '13 at 0:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Assuming that asking about mechanical scope or choice obviates an understanding of the need to attach mechanics to narrative context in the game is assuming that the askers are inexpert until they prove themselves to you. If you actually think that it's a poor question, shouldn't that elicit a comment, an edit, and/or a vote-to-close? Answering poor questions instead of improving them is not good for the site, so I'm not sure how this is a useful justification. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 18 '13 at 0:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener The answer to what to do with five spare shifts is to stop staring at the shifts. They are not important. That's taking a mechanic (roll the dice) and looking for a fallout mechanic (what do I do with these shifts) that doesn't exist, because that's not how the game works. Shifts are thrown away. The roll has a narrative effect, and that has a mechanical effect. The shifts are not mechanically important in this mechanical event. You can invent a mechanical effect, but then you're drifting the system. That's fine, but asking about houserules and wanting official rules is silly. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 21 '13 at 6:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BESW I see it as a variety of XY problem. They're asking for what mechanics are supposed to fill in this hole they've found in the system, but that is invalidly presuming that what the system fills that hole with is a mechanic to start with. Just because they ask for mechanics doesn't mean their problem is actually solved by providing made-up mechanics that don't exist. The answer to an XY problem is to identify the actual problem they are experiencing behind their assumption of what the solution is, and solve that problem. Ask where the D&D 4e Craft skill is, and you have the same error. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 21 '13 at 6:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Please, let's take this to chat when you're back from vacation. There's a very simple misunderstanding that I think will can be easily cleared up in a more dynamic conversation. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 21 '13 at 6:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW Back from vacation. I'm not likely to shift on this though, but I'm curious what you see as the simple misunderstanding. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 21 '13 at 6:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Looking forward to it. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 21 '13 at 7:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BESW could somebody post a link to this transcript? \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Apr 18 '15 at 16:48

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