The strength properties of fault rocks at shearing rates spanning the transition from crystal-plastic flow to frictional slip play a central role in determining the distribution of crustal stress, strain, and seismicity in tectonically active regions. We review experimental and microphysical modelling work, which is aimed at elucidating the processes that control the transition from pervasive ductile flow of fault rock to rate-and-state-dependent frictional (RSF) slip and to runaway rupture, carried out at Utrecht University in the past 2 decades or so. We address shear experiments on simulated gouges composed of calcite, halite-phyllosilicate mixtures, and phyllosilicate-quartz mixtures performed under laboratory conditions spanning the brittle-ductile transition. With increasing shear rate (or decreasing temperature), the results consistently show transitions from (1) stable velocity-strengthening (v-strengthening) behaviour, to potentially unstable v-weakening behaviour, and (2) back to v strengthening. Sample microstructures show that the first transition seen at low shear rates and/or high temperatures represents a switch from pervasive, fully ductile deformation to frictional sliding involving dilatant granular flow in localized shear bands where intergranular slip is incompletely accommodated by creep of individual mineral grains. A recent microphysical model, which treats fault rock deformation as controlled by competition between ratesensitive (diffusional or crystal-plastic) deformation of individual grains and rate-insensitive sliding interactions between grains (granular flow), predicts both transitions well. Unlike classical RSF approaches, this model quantitatively reproduces a wide range of (transient) frictional behaviours using input parameters with direct physical meaning, with the latest progress focusing on incorporation of dynamic weakening processes characterizing co-seismic fault rupture. When implemented in numerical codes for crustal fault slip, the model offers a single unified framework for understanding slip patch nucleation and growth to critical (seismogenic) dimensions, as well as for simulating the entire seismic cycle.