When discussing Fate, the most obvious—yet at the same time most overlooked—pillar is skills. Most gamers are familiar with how they work: roll dice and add a number, so it’s oft-overlooked. However, skills can be a great boon when customizing skills to your own game.
Skills Are Anchors
The main reason why I decided to work on skills first is because so much of the game revolve around the use of skills. It’s hard to talk about aspects without mentioning that you invoke them on skill rolls, or talk about stunts without knowing how the skills work that are modified. Heck, most stress tracks can be modified by certain skills.
With that in mind, we’ll dive right into skills, and what they have the potential to do!
Skills Tackle Problems
Skills, first and foremost, help to describe how your character goes about tackling problems—higher skill rating means it’s more likely to be your go-to. This means that the names of your skills can evoke a lot of your setting elements.
Many Fate games do this already. Take a look at either of the Fate Worlds books, the Fate Worlds of Adventure, or any module, adventure, or home-brewed hack. Some skills are added, and others are just renamed. Take a look at your favorite flavour of Fate (Core) and examine its skill list. What skills are added, changed, or just renamed?
Renaming Skills to Reinforce Genre
Sometimes the easiest and best option you have is to rename an existing skill so that it evokes the setting better. Skills such as Contacts, Crafts, Drive, and Lore can easily be renamed. Influence instead of Contacts. Robotics instead of Crafts. Ride instead of Drive. Academics instead of Lore. But almost any skill can be renamed to better suit some genres.
As an example, in my attempt at a Mass Effect game, I renamed Burglary to Hacking. It was more evocative of the media—players loved hacking into terminals, hacking doors open, and even hacking enemy AI to work for them. With that simple change, it made the skill easily identifiable, and covered the same ground as the skill it “replaced.”
Making New Skills
Keep in mind that just because you can add new skills to your game doesn’t mean you always should. When deciding if you should add a new skill, you should ask yourself two questions:
- Does another skill already do what you want the new one to do?
- Would it be cool to be the [New Skill] guy?
- How does this skill impact existing skills?
Does Another Skill Already Do What You Want the New One to Do?
Most of the time, you’ll find an existing skill that does what you want the new skill to do. For example, in many hacks—from dungeon crawling games to modern games—people feel the need to add a Brawl skill to cover unarmed combat. This is already covered by the Fight skill, so it’s not necessary.Having two skills that do the same thing with very minor differences isn’t the Fate way.
Would It Be Cool to Be the New Skill Guy?
The real litmus test, in my opinion. Would it be cool to be the character with the new skill as their apex? For example, if you’re doing a Star Wars game, would it be fun to be The Haggler? Not really, no. Haggling could easily be part of the Rapport skill, maybe as a stunt family for in-depth wheeling and dealing!
This one is pretty straight forward, in my mind. If you think that players would have fun with the skill, it’d be worth looking at adding.
It’s important to keep the number of skills to a reasonable number. Remember that Fate characters are supposed competent, and thus they should have access to an ample number of the total skills available.
Fate Core has 18 skills, and a Great (+4) skill pyramid, a total of 10 skills. This means that any one character has access to 55% of the total skills. Ryan Macklin has a great breakdown on “the 55% Rule” in his Fate Codex article Changing Skills: a Matter of Survival. So as to not take too much from his article, I would highly recommend reading it.
Every now and again, it might behoove you to take one skill and split it into two different ones. Keep in mind the answers to the two questions, above, when doing this, however.
The first example that comes to mind is Lore. In an urban fantasy game—The Dresden Files and similar—it is important to draw a distinction between mundane knowledge and magical knowledge. Academics is for your school-learning, while Lore is the magical knowledge. Contrasting this with the above example of splitting Fight into Brawl and Melee, it’s a very important distinction to make: mortals can be very educated and smart but be clueless about the magical world. But those who train in various martial arts usually know armed and unarmed fighting just as well.
Another example would be Stargate. Again, Lore is the culprit. Split it into Science, so Carter or McKay can solve problems with SCIENCE! and History for Jackson to riddle out how to access the hall of Thor’s Might.
One last example is Crafts. If you’re in a game that has a new super-science—say Robotech or Æon Trinity with its biotech—having one skill for more mundane tech and one for the super-science is helpful. There’s always that tinkerer who knows nothing about the new stuff in the beginning, but becomes a master at it as the story progresses.
Skills Make the Game Go ‘Round
All in all, skills are the most fundamental crunchy bits of Fate. Almost everything else in the game hinges on them, therefore it’s important to know how they work, how they interact, and how to make the best of them!