There are two common ways that people end up doing “powers” in Fate: stunts for each, and aspect permissions. I constantly see the stunts-for-each model used, and only after someone talks about the aspect permissions do people give them a try. I always wondered why stunts were the popular way to go.
I think the reason that people go to stunts first is because they feel like feats/advantages/perks from other games, and that’s where the powers usually lie. In GURPS, for example, you take specific advantages to give your otherwise normal human special powers. M&M, likewise, has an entire system for building powers from the ground up.
Fate doesn’t have that, though. People still cling to what is familiar to them, and stunts fill that niche. Aspects are the “new shiny” of Fate for many people, so they don’t play with them that much at first, which is understandable. Start with what you know/seems most familiar.
With this set-up, you need to determine if you want to be able to fly or be a fast-talker. Can you shoot laser beams from your eyes, or are you tough-as-nails? In my opinion it stifles creativity and forces choices that player’s really shouldn’t have to make.
What I Think of Stunts
I’ve long held the belief that, in Fate, aspects are who/what you are, skills/approaches/professions/etc are what you can do, and stunts are what you specialize in. Using stunts for powers, therefor, doesn’t fit with my view of Fate.
The other option that is talked about is the idea of aspect permissions. We all know what the I Am Iron Man, …Because I’m Batman, and Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man aspects mean. Iron Man has his armor. Batman has gadgets and karate. Spider-Man is strong, quick, and a web-slinger. That works great with established heroes, but not so much when creating your own.
“Game balance” is a factor to many people, and Fate gamers are no exception. If I can just have an aspect that lets me do anything, you’ be crazy to not do that, right? Well, yes and no. Superman is that kind of character—super strong, super fast, x-ray vision, super breath, flight, etc, etc, etc. But Batman is still able to fight beside him. Same with Hawkeye and Hulk.
There’s also the issue of competing views on what an aspect actually means. If you’re not all on the same page, arguments can ensue quit quickly.
A nice compromise between the two actually exists, and I’m really ashamed to have forgotten all about it: Wild Blue, by Brian Engard. It’s in Fate Worlds Volume One: Worlds On Fire and is about superhero sheriffs in a wild-west world beset by fae. Angry fae. Bitter fae. Fae so eager to rip your face off it’s not even funny. Well, it can be, but not usually.
The way powers work is, like a lot of things in Fate, is a fill-in-the-blank:
I have the power to [blank]…but [blank].
What can your power do, and what’s it’s drawback? Wild Blue then goes on to break down what this means a bit more:
A gift …
- Provides justification for fictional actions.
- Provides two stunts worth of benefit.
- Can be invoked as if it were an aspect.
- Gets better with time and experience.
A cost …
- Provides justification for fictional actions.
- Provides context and limitation for your gift.
- Can be compelled as if it were an aspect.
The last bullet point for “A gift …” is explained to mean that you can further specify and expand your gift. For a stunt, you can add another thing your gift allows you to do, but the GM then gets to choose another cost for your power.
Evil Hat Modifications
Of course, in Wild Blue, you only ever get one power, so this rubric doesn’t work for most comic book-style heroes who have many different powers/abilities. It doesn’t take much to modify it to allow for more powers. In fact, Evil Hat did just that! Their first Patreon-created World of Adventure was Venture City Stories, a supers-meets-cyberpunk where you take Shadowrun and replace magic with super powers.
Of course this wouldn’t be one of my blog posts without me coming up with a new/different way of doing things, so here it is:
For games that deal with “powers”—supers games, giant robot games, even magic—use the following template.
As Brian’s mad lib: My power/gift/mecha lets me do [blank], [blank], and [blank]…but [blank]. It also comes with two stunts worth of benefits.
You can take a stunt to add one more [blank] to that list. If you want another stunt worth of benefits, you also need to add another …but [blank]. This means you can slowly build your repertoire of abilities/powers/etc slowly—one stunt to gain another blank, and one stunt for more numerical benefits—or super-charge your abilities—taking both for one stunt, but suffering another cost.
Two of my favorite examples to use for aspect permissions are I am Iron Man and Last Son Of Krypton. Also, I do enjoy using my old City of Heroes character Aina Nightbringer, a dark/dark defender who had darkness control powers. I’ll be using these three as examples
I am Iron Man
This is my favorite for a reason: I love Iron Man as a character and I love his suit. It’s the precursor of all giant mecha everywhere!
We all know the basics of the Iron Man armour, but there have been so many different modifications and variations that one simple aspect can’t do it justice, so for this example I’m going to use the MKIII from Iron Man 2 (the most recent Iron Man movie I’ve watched, going through them all in preparation for Ultron).
My Iron Man armour lets me blast things, take a beating, and fly…but I’m vulnerable to high-energy attacks.
I gain a +1 to attack with Shoot and Fight, and a +2 to defend against physical attacks with Athletics when in the armour.
Of course, Tony Stark’s player can always spend a stunt to give it more options, like space flight, invisibility, Hulk-busting capabilities, etc.
Last Son of Krypton
I’m in the middle of season 6 of Smallville, and since that’s the Superman I’m most familiar with, it’s going to influence this write-up—IE no flights, not tights!
The power of the yellow sun gives me invulnerability, super speed, super strength, and heat vision…but I am vulnerable to Kryptonite.
Bulletproof, absolute Athletics (both from Atomic Robo).
If you’re not familiar with Aina, I suggest you read this post.
Due to the Arachnos tampering, I can manipulate dark energy, use it as a weapon, and teleport…but it’s fatiguing.
I gain a +2 to creating darkness-related advantages with Will and a +2 to overcome with Stealth when not in an area of bright light.
Some Final Notes
With my three examples, I hope you see that the stunt benefits don’t always have to be split between all three of the [blanks]. Iron Man has no flight-related stunt benefit, Superman doesn’t gain anything when using heat vision, and Aina can teleport without any stunts.
They are all allowed because of their abilities, the stunt benefits just make them better at things the powers let them do anyway.