I was reminded the other day of the comment I made on this post of John Rogers’ last year over on G+, and I’m circling back around to it. Since we released Fate Acclerated, or FAE, I’ve seen the game really divide opinions. Some folks love it to pieces, others are really put off by it, and a few people get confused about whether or not it’s Fate Core or its own thing (as evidenced by the occasional “Fate Core versus Fate Accelerated” threads I’ve seen, as if that’s actually something that should be versus).
For the record (again), FAE is Fate Core. It’s got the dials cranked in deliberately different directions than Core’s given defaults (which are suited for the Hearts of Steel sample campaign used throughout Core’s examples). Those deliberately different directions are all about speed and supporting broad flexibility across multiple, sometimes disparate, sometimes super-similar, character types. It leaves off some of the more fiddly options for Core in the interests of brevity, and it does a bit more hand-holding as far as stunt construction goes, again with the focus on speed and ease. This gives us a very slim chassis that we can use as basis for a variety of stand-alone Fate products, at around 10k-12k words instead of Core’s 80-90k. All very intentional, and by themselves, I don’t think they’re much of a departure from Core. (That’s not to say they’re departure-free, just that the deviations are minor.)
Where I think FAE really bakes folks’ noodles, tho, is in the Approaches.
On the very surface, they’re simply a way of offering a shorter list of skills than Core’s default encourages, by a factor of 2.something to 3.something. Again, a deliberate choice made in order to keep the page counts smaller. I love short skill lists. I find them easier to work with, easier to parse, and they live just a bit closer to “attributes” as they’ve classically been realized in many a game.
When I was directing FAE author Clark Valentine to work on the project, tho, I thought this would also be a great opportunity to change the kind of question (more on that in a bit) that skills are usually there to answer. Particularly with an eye on supporting ways to differentiate a lot of otherwise very similar characters (students at a magical boarding school) or support very very dissimilar characters (heroes drawn from all genres and alternate worlds throughout time and space — as a team).
And that’s a paradigm shift. Which, as any paradigm shift can be, is pretty huge and potentially jarring. Because of that, the idea of approaches looms large for folks encountering FAE for the first time, and I think it’s in that first impression that folks make their decision about whether they love or hate the Accelerated way. It becomes the main thing that FAE is about for many.
The thing is, I see it as the easiest thing in the world to swap out, keeping pretty much everything else about FAE. When you’re doing that swap, there’s just not that much to change, so long as you stay relatively close to the comfortable shortness of “skill list” that the approaches hit with six. Four to eight, let’s say. And once you’ve decided on your quantity and the question you want your approaches/skills to answer, you’re really close to done (the only other thing to do is give a little attention to how one of the styles of stunts changes).
So, I want to give a quick (well, quick for me) guide here on what to think about when keeping all that other great stuff about FAE but swapping out the default approaches for something else.
Quantity’s the easiest thing to adjust, so I want to get that out of the way quickly. FAE uses a cap of +3 for the best rating, and it’s good to stick with that, IMO. By and large, the idea is that you want about half of your ratings to be a +1, half to be a +2, and then have a single +0 and a single +3 to define the outliers that really set the character apart. So here are the ‘balanced’ distributions I’d recommend for approaches in quantities of four through eight (six being the default).
|4 skills||5 skills||6 skills||7 skills||8 skills|
When the quantities were odd, I favored using a +1 for the odd slot out, but you could always decide to make that a +2 instead. And you can always decide to go more off-balance if you want, depending on how competent you want your PCs to feel at launch. At the higher quantities you may even want to consider adding in an extra outlier slot.
When hacking your approaches, the big shift isn’t quantity, of course. It’s the question. Over the years, skills and attributes have typically asked “what?” as in “what can your character do?” Approaches as given in FAE run counter to that default paradigm, and instead ask “how does your character do something?” But those are far from the only questions to ask, so let’s get into it here.
FAE’s default set of approaches — Forceful, Quick, Clever, Sneaky, Flashy, and Careful — don’t care what your character is doing. They care how your character is doing it.
This tends to fit well with characters from fiction because their personality tropes tend to line up with their action tropes. A character who forcefully knocks down doors also brings that forceful attitude to arguments, and so forth. By disconnecting how from what, you’ve got a way to differentiate characters that are the same on the what axis (we’re all interdimensional wizard princesses) and can focus instead on how they do those otherwise-similar-things differently (she’s the quiet one, I’m loud and brash, etc). It also moves you away from the way a what can trip you up when you’ve got characters that are vastly dissimilar (I’m a werewolf, she’s a 40-foot-tall-mecha pilot, he’s an action scientist) and give you a rating that lets everyone shine in a fairly equalized fashion (yeah, I can shapeshift into a wolf, and she can blow up buildings, and he’s a wizard with a chemistry set, but so what? We’re equal partners here, because she does the flashy and forceful stuff and I do the sneaky and quick stuff, and he does the clever and careful stuff).
Your easiest bet when hacking FAE, then, is to stay with the How question. But you don’t have to stick with FAE’s default approaches. Other systems out there have stuff that lives close to How, particularly many a Powered by the Apocalypse game system. Consider Apocalypse World‘s Cool, Weird, Sharp, Hot, and Hard. Those sure read less like whats and more like hows to me. (Heck, so do D&D’s alignments.)
When you’re sticking with How, you also get to (by and large) stick with the default template for the first (mathematical, +2) style of stunts from FAE:
Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], I get a +2 when I [pick one: Carefully, Cleverly, Flashily, Forcefully, Quickly, Sneakily] [pick one: attack, defend, create advantages, overcome] when [describe a circumstance].
Not every “how” set turns into adverbs cleanly by appending a -ly, so that’s the main bit of linguistic acrobatics you’ll have to take on. I mean, sure, you can say you Coolly, Wierdly, Sharply, Hotly do things, but saying you “Hardly” do them probably doesn’t get the intended meaning across. Alternatives here might be “in a X way”, e.g., “when I attack in Hard way.”
Attributes & Skills: What?
“What can my character do?” is probably our most comfortable question. These are what most of us are used to. When a list is short (thereby inviting people to explicitly rank each member of the list rather than just leave off a number of them) we tend to think of these as “attributes” more than “skills”, but really that’s a distinction of granularity rather than function.
Sources of short attribute lists that ask “what?” abound; perhaps you’ve heard of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Those are heavily “what?” oriented. The first three rarely cross out of physical activity, the latter three rarely cross out of mental or social activity. When they do cross over, it’s due to some sort of special circumstance (e.g., a class feature, a magical ability) rather than the default behavior of the attribute.
When it comes to the affected stunts, “what” attributes are also more like objects, things a character has, so the language can focus fairly directly on the use of your attribute (“when I use my…”).
Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], I get a +2 when I use my [pick one: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma] to [pick one: attack, defend, create advantages, overcome] when [describe a circumstance].
Because attributes are oriented on “what” they’re already a bit more restrictive, and in some cases may not require much emphasis on the [describe a circumstance] part of the template, but that’s a case-by-case decision.
This is where we start to get into some new questions — not new in the sense of “nobody has asked these before” but new in the sense that they’re just not that heavily used in the field. Roles ask “Who am I?” … which is kind of fitting for a role playing game. They buy into the idea that everyone in a group fills multiple roles for the team, at varying levels of efficacy, with the gal who is “the” role being the one highest-rated in that role. The Leverage RPG particularly shows this off with its straight-from-the-credits list of Hitter, Hacker, Thief, Grifter, Mastermind. But you could just as easily do Warrior, Healer, Wizard, Detective, Thief, Diplomat — or whatever set works, so long as you feel your list adequately covers the bulk of the roles and activities a team will need to fill and execute over the course of a game.
For stunts, the language probably feels most natural when we look at each role as a suit of clothing or mask worn for the applicable activity, using an “as a …” construction.
Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], I get a +2 when I [pick one: attack, defend, create advantages, overcome] as a [pick one: Warrior, Healer, Wizard, Detective, Thief, Diplomat] when [describe a circumstance].
Because everyone rates in many of these listed roles, the role method is probably best applied when you’re looking to present a hypercompetent group of adventurers. This is a decided departure from a system experience where each person fills just one or two roles at most (tho I’ll be honest I love the idea of a D&D game where everyone has just a little bit of Wizard or Fighter in them, even if it’s not top-rated).
Relationships: Where? With whom?
When you move the “who?” question outside of the character and instead look at the characters that the PC is interacting with, you get relationships. These could be specific relationships naming each character and rating the potency of that bond, if you’re looking to run a game that’s nearly-entirely PC to PC interactions (as with the Smallville RPG’s relationships, done in service of the superhero-soap-opera vibe). But these might be done more broadly or abstractly in order to support a stronger PC-interacts-with-the-world stance.
There are a lot of ways to do this. You can focus on groups, rating your standing/reputation with various factions. You can focus on the big names that define the world, rating the strength of your bond with the gods or icons of the setting. And you can go abstract by looking at relationship types, as seen in Marvel Heroic’s Solo, Buddy, Team affiliations which focus on how many others you’re working with at the time. You could also do it along a Ally, Friendly, Neutral, Unfriendly, Enemy axis, perhaps, tho I’d imagine there’s a strong temptation there to focus on Enemy/Unfriendly, which might challenge a general goal to make sure all the ratings are for things of roughly equal importance to the game.
For the stunts, it’s all about what kind of relationship you’re engaging when you’re making use of the benefit.
Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], I get a +2 when I [pick one: attack, defend, create advantages, overcome] [with/against] [name a relationship] when [describe a circumstance].
When your approach-substitutes focus on the question “Why is my character doing this?” they become values. This is a similar paradigm shift to the “how?” of approaches, in that it cuts across the capability notion and instead focuses on character motive and method. Smallville‘s Duty, Love, Glory, Power, Truth, and Justice are one of the strongest examples here, though you might also look to sources like Pendragon for other possible value-lists. Various emotional states might also work (Anger, Joy, Disgust, Sadness, Fear).
For the stunts, you shift the language to ask why, very plainly.
Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], I get a +2 when I [pick one: attack, defend, create advantages, overcome] [for/in/because/due to] [pick one: Duty, Love, Glory, Power, Truth, or Justice] when [describe a circumstance].
As a footnote on this post, let’s talk about a couple ideas related to combining questions.
Modes: One of the potential ways to cross over from approaches is by using modes, as found in the Fate System Toolkit and, more extensively, in the Atomic Robo RPG. Modes give you a high-level, short-list way to look at a character, but then let you drill down inside of each mode for more granularity. This can let you combine two questions in the same system: your modes might ask “who?” or “how?” — indicating roles or methods — and then the skills contained within them might ask “what?” That’s certainly their default. But you can definitely change what questions are getting asked, at either or both layers. Imagine a list of modes that are, in essence, mentors available to the characters (Dumbledore, Snape, Hagrid, etc), each containing a list of skills that ask what they teach. Or modes that are values, containing factions — you might be strong in Anger, and particularly effective in using your anger against (or with) Hardheads, but less effective using it with Bleakers and Ciphers.
Two Columns: Rob Donoghue has blogged about two-column Fate before. This pulls a bit of the Cortex Plus trick of asking two questions (“What are your values? Who do you care about?” = Smallville; “Who are you in this team? What are your strengths?” = Leverage) and getting a lot of traction out of what happens when you jam your two answers together. While it requires a little more math before the roll, this can end up feeling richer and more satisfying to some players.
The main trick is to make sure that your greatest and lowest possible sums don’t exceed the range you’re looking for the system to operate in. That said, if it’s reasonably rare that someone will be combining the two highest-rated answers together, you can probably bump the effective “cap” up by 1 without breaking much. Those best-possible-combo moments are gonna really highlight what the character’s all about.
So for a two column approach, I’d probably rate each +0 to +2, with most things getting rated at +1. But you don’t always have to have each question get the same rating spread. One question with answers that range from -1 to +1 combining with another question’s answers ranging from +0 to +3 would expand the usual FAE spread from +0 to +3 into -1 to +4, but not really break anything. You can also play with the range: one set might just give you +0’s or +1’s, half and half, while another runs from +0 to +2 or +3.
Testing, tho, is always necessary when hacking, so make sure to do some.