Jan 292011

So, Fred’s post talks a lot about what Fate Core has been. My main interest is in where it’s going. That’s what this post is about, as a supplement to Fred’s post. In that sense, the title might be misleading – I’m thinking out loud a lot throughout, more interested in asking questions and exploring potential than finding answers. I don’t know if this is really “Core” material or not. But, who cares? It’ll be fun. I’m assuming you read the other post and that this isn’t your first rodeo with Fate as a system.

I think the best way to proceed is to go a subheader at a time, in roughly the same order Fred did, and just follow all the way down through the document. Again, minimal editing, so if I go off into left field weirdo designer territory… well, just go with it.


So, what’s interesting about the use of dice in Fate is that in a sense, they mainly serve as a positioning mechanism that determines how many fate points you’re potentially going to spend in a particular instance. My experience with using d6-d6 shows that players will spend fate points more quickly and more often, because the results are more varied. So compels and other means of pushing fate points back to the players become more important in the course of a session – you might consider an automatic restoring (aka refresh) of fate points at the halfway mark of a session or something like that.

It also makes the setting of difficulties even more art than science than normal, because the players are more vulnerable to bad dice luck. It’s even more important, when you’re going with this, to make sure that both failure and success have interesting outcomes that push play forward.

Finally, keep genre in mind – does the increased randomness fit the kind of game you’re running? High action comedy adventure, rock on. Serious, down to earth spy drama? Maybe stick with 4dF.

The Ladder

Nothing much to say here. I suggest you locally adopt the practice of naming steps over Legendary, with such titles as “Fuck Dang +11” and “Dick Awesome +12” (is a registered trademark of Ryan Macklin).


You can get a sense of whether or not you will need to invoke aspects to succeed by looking at where the difficulty sits relative to your skill. If it’s 2 or more under your skill, no worries. If it’s within one or even, you might need to invoke, but probably not. If it’s 2 or more above, you’re probably going to need to invoke.

GMs: This is a great tool for you to manage fate point flow, as long as you aren’t an ass about it.


I consider skills to be an optional concern in a Fate game you might build from the ground up. I’ll talk about that in more detail here in a sec, probably after I talk about stunts.

Choosing Skills

One of the ways we tend to talk about niche protection is by looking at a character’s “peak” skills, which are the three highest skills on the character sheet. If each PC has a different peak with no overlap, you probably have a good variety going on, regardless of what that variety actually is.

GMs: Those skill peaks are what that player came to your table to do. Make sure they have that opportunity on a reasonably frequent basis.

Designing Skills

So the first thing you’re looking at here, in terms of trappings, is providing access to all the basic game “moves”: simple actions, assessments, declarations, attacks, sprints, maneuvers, and blocks. Different skills provide this access selectively, consisting of one or more trappings.

(You might have figured out that the reason why skills are optional is because the trapping, the access, is really what matters. Skills are just a way of articulating that access in a nice, neat package for ease of reference. There are other ways to do so. We’ll get there. I lied, I started talking about it early, whee!)

The second thing you’re looking at (and maybe this doesn’t need saying, whatever), is the narrative context under which you have that access. It’s not sufficient to build a skill like Intimidation and say, “You can use this skill to attack.” Because then I could say that I can add my Intimidation to a roll to punch someone in the face, which is obviously weird.

So instead, you’d say something like “Attack: You can use Intimidation to make a mental attack against someone when you’re in a position to incite fear of injury or harm.” Now you’ve provided both parts: a context in which that skill operates and access to a game move. Now it’s a trapping.

The reason I’m bringing up narrative context is because that’s where you’re going to figure out what skills you need and what skills you don’t. If you can come up with a short description of, say, ten to fifteen things you expect the characters to routinely do during the game, your skill list is pretty much built – you’re not going to have the Cotillion skill in your Vietnam War game, because there is no appropriate narrative context where you’d need that to provide you access to one of the basic actions.

I’m sure I’ll end up talking about this in an example post later.

Also, in games where your skills determine other passive things about your character, like stress tracks, it’s considered to be a part of this “game move access” even though you don’t proactively engage them. So, if your game was a merchant fleet game, and you had one ship for every rank in Resources, that’s the same kind of “game move” as being able to make the declaration that you own something of value. This will be important when we start talking about stunts.

Aspects aka The Reason Why We’re Here

Generally speaking, we acknowledge that aspects can be described as falling into a few major types, recognizing at the same time that the boundaries between these types are fluid and edge cases exist:

  • Description – The aspect tells me a trait or detail that is true or generally accepted about your character. Hyperbole is accepted and at times encouraged. (“Strongest [Wo]Man in the World”, “Volcanic Temper”, “Survivor’s Guilt”, “Chieftain of the Nakotas”, “I LURVE PUPPIES”)
  • Connection – The aspect tells me about your character’s relationship with a person, group, or object. (“Excalibur, My Blessing and Curse”, “I Love Mom”, “The Bureau Needs Me”, “James, Why Won’t You Just Die”)
  • Situation – The aspect tells me what kinds of things tend to happen when your character’s around. (“Always the Butt of a Joke”, “Oops, I Broke It”, “Danger Magnet”, “Someone’s Always Got to Challenge Me”)
  • Story – The aspect tells me what motivates and drives your character, what forces, external or internal, impel him or her to action. (Snarky version: This aspect tells me why I should give a damn about your guy.) (“On a Mission From God”, “They Kidnapped My Sister”, “Debt to the Mob”, “The Burdens of Knighthood”)

As stated above, these are going to overlap – “Survivor’s Guilt” is a description aspect, but it’s also a story aspect. As long as you’ve got a good smattering of these, your character should be in good shape.

Using Aspects

So, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how we might streamline or re-approach the way we talk about using aspects. Time to hypothesize. Don’t worry if this starts to sound weird – it probably sounds weird to me too.

If we strip away all the divisions we currently have about using aspects, reduce the process down as far as we can, and eliminate artificial distinctions, what we get is the following:

  • Someone mentions an aspect is relevant to what’s going on in a scene.
  • The nature of that relevance determines who gets a fate point or has to spend one.
  • Someone gets to do one of two things: manipulate the dice, or manipulate the in-game situation (or the story, or the fiction, or whatever you call the part that you roleplay).
  • The appropriate parties exchange Fate points.

I’m abstracting out this far in order to point out some stuff about the invoke/compel dichotomy that may not really be necessary or even desired in some games. For example, there’s kind of a default assumption, even in our own texts, that invoking is something the players primarily do and that compelling is something the GM primarily does.

There’s no reason why it has to be this way – it’s perfectly legit for the GM to spend fate points on behalf of her NPCs to help out her dice, and it’s perfectly legit for the player to spend a fate point to propose a dramatic complication for one of the GM’s characters.

So I think there’s a lot of flexibility to these dials that we haven’t explored. Ryan’s been mining some of that territory on his blog with distinguishing “Internal” and “World” compels; I highly recommend you go check that out.

Anyway, what matters is that the use of aspects promotes a cyclical flow of fate points from the players to the GM and back out again, rotating the “story power” around the table for the length of the session. The other method we introduced for getting Fate points back in Dresden (cashing out of a conflict via concession) is built from this logic – a concession is basically a “self-compel” of the consequences you’ve taken, with the outcome of you not being able to get what you want out of this fight.

As another example, the text of our books talks a lot about how in order to be a “real” compel, some consequence (plain English consequence, not game term consequence) of weight or merit must follow from it, and that if you don’t have one, you should push until you do. I’m pretty hardcore about this at my tables – you have to derive a certain kind of pleasure from watching your character suffer (and then overcome suffering) to play Fate with me.

But, you know, maybe your group doesn’t like that kind of stuff. It can be a pretty disconnecting experience for some people to get behind their character and then have to be okay with bad shit happening to them. Some people just don’t want to think like writers when they game.

So, hey, maybe they shouldn’t have to. Maybe the main way they get fate points is by roleplaying the crap out of their aspects and getting awarded at the high points of that roleplaying – whenever the whole table laughs, or oooos and aaaahs, or any other one of those momentary expressions of enthusiasm.

Maybe the GM in this kind of game doesn’t really put pressure on them as much dramatically, but focuses on providing good opposition that will ensure a steady drain of fate points in conflict scenes. Maybe you can still concede in conflicts and get fate points that way, so you have an out when the dice aren’t falling your way.

You know what? As long as the flow remains intact, that’s perfectly okay and perfectly Fate.

Am I suggesting that we get rid of invoke/compel? Maybe. Not necessarily. But I wonder how much wealth could be mined from focusing on teaching the fate point economy itself, rather than a particular configuration for distributing it. I envision a “Ways to Spend Fate Points” and a “Ways to Gain Fate Points” that’s a little more reflective of the possibilities, with the standard invoke/compel as an example, rather than as a definitive norm.

This allows the potential toolkit-savvy group to identify their preference and drift the thing to their liking, without my macho bullshit getting in their way.

Also, I think “tagging” can go away as a term. A tag (as of Dresden, anyway) is a one-time, free invocation that you get from having established or unearthed an aspect on the scene or another character. Do we really have to have a special term for that, if we just say, “Hey, if you establish this aspect, you get to invoke (or whatever we call it) once for free! Yay! Make more aspects!”?

Maybe we do. I’m just asking.

Choosing Aspects

Not much to say here, except this: phases don’t necessarily have to be about backstory in the “and then X happened” sense. The amount of ways you can group phases is staggeringly immense, and as long as you get the cross-pollination stuff happening in there, the results will still be just as cool.

The second edition of Fate (2004, holy shit, really?) offered two alternate ways of structuring phases – by where in the world you lived, or by what careers or pursuits your character was interested in. This would shape not only what aspects you’d end up with, but also what skills you could invest in.

So imagine that instead of doing history-based phases, the GM came to the game instead with a map of her fantasy world, and told you, “Okay, so for each phase you’re going to place yourself in one of these nations. Life in these nations tends to follow these themes, so here’s a list of examples of the types of aspects that would be common to people from that region. You can spend as many phases as you want in the same place, or you can travel, and pick up different aspects elsewhere.”

Or imagine that the GM said, “Okay, at the start of character creation, there are basically three paths – Peasant, Artisan, and Noble. Here are the kinds of aspects that would be common to each. In your second phase, if you take Noble, it opens up a path of Religion, Military, or Politics, and here are example aspects for those. If you take Peasant in your second phase…”

You see where I’m going with this? The important part of phase work is that it gives you a certain kind of context for you to determine what the most important defining, human features of your character are before you start play. It doesn’t necessarily need to involve the creation of a backstory.

I guess that was more to say than I thought. Oops.

GMs: Taking advantage of this kind of structured phase work can help you a lot if you really dig worldbuilding.


Here’s the dirty secret about stunts: for the most part, they’re just skill trappings separated by some kind of special privilege. That privilege usually has something to do with calling out a particular ability as rare, or wanting it to be a signature that highlights a particular character type or a trope of the genre you’re playing in.

As an example, let’s look at a Scholarship stunt from Dresden Files, called “Doctor”. The Doctor stunt lets you use your Scholarship skill to justify starting the recovery process for moderate or severe physical consequences. We could have just made a skill called Doctor and gave it a trapping that let you roll to do the same thing. Why didn’t we?

Because in Dresden, like in our current modern world, doctors are rare, and if you aren’t gifted with some form of supernatural aid, recovering from injuries is a difficult process. You get badly shot, you go to the hospital, period dot. If we’d put a Doctor skill on the list, nearly any character could take at least one rank in it and then be able to help people recover from severe injuries – that doesn’t jive with the setting.

Let’s look at another one. There’s a Performance stunt called “Poet”. It gives you a +2 on a Performance roll when you’re composing something with words. We could have made a Poetry skill and given it the trapping “Simple Action: You can use your skill to compose written works; the higher the roll, the higher the quality of the work.” Why didn’t we?

Because this way, it provides a special bennie to someone who is interested in making their character just that much more distinctive. Poetry doesn’t have the broad utility that most skills on the list do (like, Guns, for instance), and doesn’t really make sense in the context of the setting as a general character option. The Dresden Files is not about a bunch of poets running around writing odes to monsters.

As a privileged signature trait for a character, though, it can be pretty cool. Other people might also have Performance, but you’re the poet – it can become something your character is known for, and it has a mechanical effect to reinforce that recognition.

So, privilege. You don’t normally have access to what stunts can do, because they’re set apart on purpose to make them special.

That brings us to the other dirty secret about stunts: without a skill list to define what the commonly accessible trappings are, or some setting/genre conceit to create that privilege (like magic or the Force), stunts are effectively meaningless.

Finally, the Point

When Ryan said, in a comment on Fred’s post, that skills are actually the optional construct rather than stunts, this is basically what he’s pointing at. Unless you’re going to artificially separate the “normal” trappings from the “privileged” ones, it’s all just trappings, and then stunts and trappings are the same thing. You need them, because they give you access to the game moves. But you don’t need to use skills to group trappings. That’s just one solution. It’s a good solution for a variety of reasons, just not the only one.

Probably I’m going to have to tease alternatives out in an example later too, because this thing is getting long.


Don’t really have a lot to talk about here, except clarification kind of stuff. This is another area where I’m wondering if the system couldn’t use some streamlining.

Here’s the biggie: Maneuvers, assessments, and declarations are basically the same action, they’re just opposed differently. It’s you using a skill to establish an aspect or a detail onto something else in the game world that isn’t you. Sure, you can make a quibble that an assessment only “discovers” an existing aspect, so you’re not really establishing it.

I say hogwash. In play, there’s almost no difference between the GM writing her NPC’s aspect on an index card and sliding it to you and the GM writing the aspect you just made up on an index card, sliding it to you, and assigning it to her NPC.

We make the distinction largely for the sake of context – maneuvers happen in conflict, assessments and declarations usually happen during investigation scenes outside of conflict. But my experience is, there’s a huge amount of overlap here, and I question whether we really need to keep those distinctions by default.

That whole “particular family of difficult tasks” thing is what we’ve referred to as simple actions in other texts. Maybe that’s kind of a shitty name, right, because there’s nothing simple about picking a deadbolt lock, but that’s totally a simple action that you could do with the Burglary skill, in game terms.

Functionally, defenses and blocks are the same thing – it’s just that, in our games, the need has arisen to make a distinction between the reflexive things you to do protect yourself and the committed effort you might take to foil an action that’s targeting someone else. But it’s all about trying to stop someone else’s effort. In another implementation of conflict, we might not need to make that distinction.

The movement thing is what we called a sprint in Dresden, to distinguish it from the free movement of one zone you can take on a turn if you want. It’s important to note that movement doesn’t have to be physical, when you’re thinking about trappings and skills for your game – you can have social “movement” or political “movement” or whatever you need. The idea behind zones is really about organizing who is capable of engaging whom in a conflict – if you figure that out differently, it’s possible you wouldn’t need sprints as a basic game action at all.

Supporting Character Change and Growth

Nothing really to say here. I’d like to see some other options besides the Dresden model explored in Fate Core. I just don’t know what they would look like right now.

The Fate Fractal

Fred pretty much covered everything I think needs covering here, too, for now.

Thank God, It’s Over

So that’s what I’ve got for now. I think it’s a fertile ground for conversation.

Bring it.

 Posted by at 10:54 am  Tagged with:

  34 Responses to “The Core of Fate Core, Part II”

  1. This is a very cool look behind the curtain.

  2. I like the implicit and explicit ideas of reducing the number of game terminology entities. But I said that before.

    Very much like the approach of trying to generalise elements/processes to cover a wider range of possibilities and get less bogged down in separate sets of specifics. But that’s very much how I’m wired.

    What you say about pre-play aspects reminds a bit of what I’ve done with chargen in PDQ. I christened it ‘funnelling’: specify, say, 3 types of thing that’s important for characters in this genre/style, and then players must put at least one Quality Rank in each of those (in addition to their free choices). Because people will try to get benefit from what they have available it helps to funnel play in the right direction.

  3. @Tim – Yeah, functionality as a toolkit is one of the main things that motivates Fate Core. The thing I want to avoid, though, is not having something that works out of the box. So right now I’m trying to figure out where the boundaries are between, “this is Fate Basic, go play,” and “look at all this wacky shit you can do”, how much of the curtain we should lift.

    It’s a process, you know?

  4. I’m with you, Lenny. A lot of the distinctions that have been made (skills, trappings and stunts; blocks and defenses; and so on) don’t need to be made in a Core context, because those distinctions depend on the context of the game in which they’re set. Different approaches to skills and aspects negate the need to distinguish between stunts and trappings. If the universe is one in which all things are generated by the mind (a la Dreamscape the movie, for example) then defenses and blocks can be identical.

    I think it serves the Core better to focus on broad categories and how they work, and then introduce as examples some of the specific methods that have been used. Go with the basic framework behind it all, and then elaborate – those basic structures establish the real rules, from which specific manifestations in game rules can be worked out by the players. It also means less explanation and a tighter ruleset – you can leave exceptions and contradictions and specifics to the people who need them for their game, and you don’t have to elaborate to explain as much.

  5. Ryan confused the hell out of me the other day when he commented that maybe skills were the optional thing and stunts were the core mechanic (at least that’s how I remember it coming across). Having read your thoughts, man, that is not how I’d summarize it!

    I agree that stunts and skills are pretty intertwined. The part of stunts you’re talking about here (and it’s only part of them) is in essence an ala carte trappings buffet.

    To digress for a moment, incidentally, I’m in favor of killing off “tag” entirely — the tendency to terminologize rests heavily upon my shoulders, because I personally like to summarize wordier concepts with a term that’s short and punchy so I don’t feel like I have to say “invoke-which-is-free” every time I could just be saying “tag” instead, but I’ve come to realize that a lot of gamers out there totally do NOT experience the value I do in that, and it’s not so much value for me that I can’t live without it.

    Similarly, I’m in favor of killing off “trappings” in favor of something that sounds more correct. “Moves”, somewhat inspired by Apocalypse World I imagine, definitely has the advantage of being a more natural-language way of talking about it.

    On that note and back to the main thing, yeah, I see skills as packages of moves, and stunts as ways to ala carte grab additional moves to graft onto your existing packages. If I was doing a highly modular system, I might just list all the moves and give people a means whereby they can design their own skill packages within certain limits, but that’s a little too gearheady — I suspect that prebuilt packages, i.e., skills, will continue to be the mode of the day.

    But as I said, that particular use of stunts is only one of the parts of stunts. The other part is the “two shifts spent in a particular way”. There, you’re not seeing a stunt add another kind of move or privilege or what have you to a skill package, you’re seeing a stunt take an existing move and make it more potent (under the defined circumstances and in the defined way). And that part, really, is where I see the stunt-as-stunt concept existing, with the stunt-as-additional-move thing being something that the stunt concept has conveniently, additionally appropriated from the concepts of how skills are put together.

    Finally, I hope I didn’t give the impression in my original Core of the Core post that I was putting across the idea that maneuvers, assessments, and declarations were truly at all different from one another. If anything, I tried to acknowledge (or at least thought I did) that they’re essentially the same mechanic.

    I may be missing other things I should be popping a comment off on, but I think that’s enough for now. 🙂

  6. In the experience of one DFRPG gaming group, no you don’t need the separate terms “tag” and “invoke”. We always find ourselves using “tag” for when a character makes use of an aspect for a bonus or a re-roll. The monosyllable “tag” just seems to be more visceral for us I think. We distinguish between “tags” and “free tags” instead of “Invokes” and “tags”.

    Maybe some mention should be made of the party cohesion possibilities of character aspects. The guest-star part of character creation in SotC and DFRPG implies and encourages connections between characters, but some implementations might call for something explicit, such as “At least two of your aspects must directly refer to your relationship to another PC.”

    There’s also the opportunity to make the play experience more explicitly About Something Important, by requiring that one or more character aspects reference and NPC, an organization, a theme or threat, a place, etc. A cops-and-lawyers game might require every character to have an aspect that describes their relationship with “The Law”. A Fate implementation Dogs in the Vineyard might require all PCs to have an aspect that refers to their relationship with the Church of the King of Life.

    I have a mental picture of an html format for the completed Fate Core that starts with Fred’s outline, then at the bottom of each section are several button to expand particular example implementations of that section. “Click here to see how you might do this in High Fantasy, Click here for Interstellar Buddhists With Laser Swords, Click here for Spies, Click here for a Dream-Within-a-Dream Psyco-thriller, Click here for angsty teens who pilot giant robots.” A bit like the Fate Wiki is structured, I think.

  7. @Fred – I’m not necessarily speaking for Ryan on the topic, either, it’s just my interpretation of what he’s saying. I fully expect more thoughts on this to emerge over time.

    Consider that “tag” might be a better, more active term than even “invoke”, and should get promoted to being the default language instead. I know we have years of tradition built into it, but nothing gold can stay, right? (Haha, cross-posted with Alden)

    Re: skills/trappings/stunts, there’s another level of extrapolation I’ve got that I haven’t brought to the party yet. It’s… well, you’ll see.

    I don’t see as firm a line between “two shifts of extra effect” and “additional/expanded access to trappings” as you do – from my POV, a stunt that says, “+2 effect when you use X trapping in Y way” isn’t really all that different from raising a skill from Fair to Great, except where privilege sets it apart. So I’m inclined to consider the distinction as artificial.

    On the other hand, this is pretty conceptual, in-the-clouds kind of shit… if there’s a tangible experience of the division at the table, that’s what matters, right?

    Re: maneuvers/assessments/declarations, no, you didn’t. I was just hanging a big bright lampshade on it, though, ’cause they sure look different in SotC and Dresden, when they’re really not.

  8. Ohh, interesting, Alden. I hadn’t considered tossing “invoke” and keeping “tag”. I can see the value of that (“tag” was selected for its linguistic punch, so you calling it visceral speaks to me).

    I definitely think party cohesion techniques should be discussed to some extent. I touched on them briefly in my post, but I can see that they need deeper consideration.

  9. @lenny — Yeah, I’m all for completely busting down the distinctions in maneuver/assess/declare while still using those concepts as ways of framing HOW you might … do whatever it is we end up calling the M-A-D collective.

    Re: “tag” — yeah. Yeah. I’m stewing on that. But, man, I so get why “invoke” was the chosen language initially. It’s because these fuckers have NAMES, and invoking those names has power.

    On skills/stunts, yeah, ultimately we’re talking about “move packages” and “specialized moves”. It’s all about the moves; skills (packages) and stunts (individual moves, or specialized refinements of established moves) are just different slices from the move pie.

  10. Well summed up(more like well ‘splained) Lenny. I like the idea of skills and stunts being optional- it kind of brings me back to the FATE you used to run with us back in college. It was simple, flexible, and we liked it, dammit! It kept the games focused on the story, rather than forcing players keep track of all those extra elements, which has always felt kind of Gamist to me(forgive me for using the “G” word in vain). I’m excited to see what comes out of all of these musings from all of you EH guys, and I look forward to following the progress!

  11. Please please please, let’s leave the terms “gamist” and “narrativist” where they belong, dragged out behind the barn and shot dead. Otherwise people will feel compelled to come here and tell you how you’re using the term wrong (which I believe may be the case)! This conversation needs to stay on-point about Fate, not about how people (try and fail to) talk about games.

  12. *gets his .44 magnum*

    Oh, fine. But I’m not cleaning the barn this time. Who would have thought the word “indie” would have bled that much?

  13. Stunts… any mileage in comparing Truth & Justice Stunts? “I can run really fast right? What if I run in a circle so fast I make a whirlwind?” Letting an ability do something that’s not part of its core but can be connected by genre logic.

    And the other use is specialisms, for players who want to overcome the broad-brush nature of the system to further define their character’s awesomeness zones.

  14. @fred: Firstly, I must admit that I feel downright privileged to be put in my place by the man himself 🙂

    Secondly, I’m coming from a place where i’m busy converting DnD players to the system, and they’re trying to figure out ways to combine skills, aspects, and stunts or powers to power-game the system. But I’ll let it go, lest I get the blame for starting some kind of apocalyptic flame war here.

    @lenny: Firstly, holyfuckingshit.

    Secondly, When i am shopping for a geeky plushie for my GF on some random Sci-fi website where I see DFRPG as the #4 selling product on their site(these guys sold comics, figs, posters, books, board games, and other shit) it says to me your game has gone way beyond “indie”.

  15. @Andi – We want, or I want, to talk about that reflex in later posts – it seriously is just the G-word itself that carries the baggage. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s how it is.

    I’m saying that to invite you to, in future posts, talk to us precisely about these specific behaviors. We don’t need the vocab terms to connect on that front, right… just tell us what your players try to do, and we’ll talk about how we address (or don’t address) those behaviors in the system. The problem, more often than not, is that the jargon terms stand in for specific behaviors that could be more easily discussed if they were revealed for what they were.

  16. Well said.

  17. Regarding terminology:

    When we sat down to work on Strands of Fate, the terminology was one of the things we decided that we might be able to change for the better. And the first thing to go was the Adjective Ladder. Now, I know it’s sort of a “sacred cow” to some FATE fans, but it’s also one of the things I’ve seen Strands gets a lot of praise for.

    Is the Adjective Ladder needed? If so, why?

    In the end we decided to ditch the adjectives because, while it makes actually reading the book a bit more pleasant, in play they just become words that only serve to obfuscate the numbers. You still have to have the numbers, so why not eliminate that conversion step? It also allows you to reach for greater values without needed to come up with yet another synonym for “Awesome”.

    We also decided to ditch “tag” in favor of simply saying invoke or compel. We debated that one a lot since, as has been pointed out, “tag” is one syllable and it really rolls of the tongue easily. But we decided to go with just “invoke” and “compel” because easily translate to “positive Aspect use” and “negative Aspect use”.

    We ended up tossing “Shifts” and “Effort” as well, and from the feedback we’ve received, the removal of these extra terms helped a lot of people wade into the FATE pool with a bit more confidence. They didn’t feel like they were drowning in terminology after the first chapter, which is how I felt after reading my first FATE book.

    So that’s been my experience. Take from it what you will.


  18. You say:

    GMs: Those skill peaks are what that player came to your table to do. Make sure they have that opportunity on a reasonably frequent basis.

    Okay, so what happens when those skills wind up being things like Concentration or Endurance which are, per their descriptions, rarely if ever rolled? Sure, the character’s got a nice long stress track, but I have a hard time working out how to challenge that, particularly when the character doesn’t have equally high ranks in the applicable defenses. High defenses are easy to spotlight – give the character plenty of opportunities to use them to generate Spin. Long stress tracks? Much harder.

  19. Concentration must be from a Fate implementation I’m not familiar with, but yeah, okay, we’re talking stress-track-givin’ skills.

    With these, the player may be saying that they want to be the “last man standing” in whatever the relevant stress-context is, *despite* taking punishment. In the case of a physically tough guy, we’re talking about a “tank”, a guy who can step up and face the blows and keep on coming. So, sure, those defense skills aren’t as high, but their long stress track says “yeah, so what?” Dish ’em some pain and let them laugh it off — that’s its own reward.

    Also consider providing opportunities where that skill will modify another skill. Since Endurance (or whatever) is an apex skill, when it comes into play as a modifier (say on a long-distance Athletics run, a lengthy stakeout, etc), the skill getting modified is almost always going to be lower than it, so it’s always gonna provide a +1.

    Similarly, there are ways you can go “straight at” a skill like Endurance (or Conviction, or Presence), though I agree they aren’t always obvious. How about a “whose rep crumbles first in this mud-slinging campaign” socio-political “race”? Or a “I’ll drink ya under the table” Endurance v. Endurance contest?

  20. There is a long-standing tradition of heroes whose chief ability is the ability to get the tar beat out of them and keep on ticking. See John McClane, Wolverine, etc.

  21. @Mike McConnell: I remember the ladder as words before I remember it as numbers. I don’t think +4, I think Great. I’ve met other people for whom that’s true as well, and for whom it holds up in play. I think it’s just one of those things – it takes all kinds, you know? I don’t think the game should promote a specific injunction to remember either – words, numbers, whatever you need to figure it out and facilitate communication at the table.

    One of the very things I question about invoke/compel as the defining standard is the connotation it has (which is, don’t get me wrong, totally our doing in the first place) with strict positive/negative use. I wonder if there’s more territory there to mine yet.

    Re: shifts/effort, I hear you. There’s probably some cleanup that can happen there.

  22. @fred – Yeah, my bad. I got mixed up when referring to Conviction from DFRPG.

    The Apex Skill advice is definitely good. I’ll look at the player’s sheet again and see if I can’t find a way to apply that to one of her +4s or +3s, to make it seem sufficiently badass. Since, after all, I’m trying to show off why having Conviction as her +5 matters, and using it to boost a +1 or +2 would work just as well if it were a +3.

    My main problem with challenging it is that, without Defense skills, any opponent competent enough to be a credible threat (IE, require a “tank”) is going to be able to easily land hits in the upper quarter of their stress track. While someone with a reasonably good Defense skill is going to be able to last longer by avoiding getting hit at all.

    I think what I’m getting at here may be more an implementation complaint. Extra stress boxes simply haven’t wound up being very good without a defense skill to back them up (at least in my games), and having them attached to a skill that says in its description “don’t roll this much” doesn’t help. (SotC and DFRPG, with the notable exception of DFRPG’s Presence skill) I guess my solution is hacking in a couple more Trappings for Endurance and Conviction to bring them up to the utility of Presence, such that the players who took them have more opportunities to show off.

  23. @Nick Pilon: One of the reasons we atomized the structure of trappings in this series of posts is to open up the issue of implementation, and how you determine if a skill is doing enough, and how much you want one skill to be doing.

    I can definitely see where you’re coming from in regards to Dresden at least, where we decided to cap the stress tracks at 4 boxes. In the SotC I’ve run, I felt how hard it was to land solid hits on high Endurance characters, both because of the 8-box tracks, but also because nothing had a Weapon rating – it’s all just skill on skill. Of course, Conviction also has a trapping that isn’t in the skill section – it’s the foundation for safe, powerful magic. So there’s that.

    But I could definitely see adding some trappings there – Conviction as an attack skill comes to my mind immediately… I mean, that’s the classic fire-and-brimstone preacher thing. Maybe they aren’t well-spoken, but the ferocity of their very belief can move people.

    If you’re far along in your campaign and have the refresh to spare, one hacking-not-hacking way to handle that is, of course, through stunts. Adding trappings to skills themselves is saying that *every* character who wants to peak that skill should have that point of focus, whereas trappings you get through stunts let you customize skills as applying in certain ways for certain character types.

  24. @lenny I don’t particularly want to force the player to spend refresh to buff up what has turned out to be (in play) a mechanically uninteresting skill.

    The character in question is a spellcaster, with Conviction as her +5 and Discipline as +4… But she’s mainly a Sponsored Magic caster, so she doesn’t go around flinging spells at quite the rate wizards do. Even then, Conviction +5 and Discipline +4 seems less interesting than the other way around, as Conviction’s participation is still very passive.

    I think I’m going to give Conviction trappings for social attacks and mental maneuvers and blocks. But again, the main risk I wanted to raise here was the danger of having skills that are too passive.

  25. @Nick Pilon: Sure, I feel you. I’m just saying, a multitude of options are available to you for the issue.

    I mean, keep in mind, my POV includes not just Dresden, but any potential Fate implementation anyone might make, ever. Stunts costing you refresh is a specific widget. It may not make it into every Fate game.

    But your concern is a valid one. ‘Nuff said.

  26. I think it’s a general design constraint, not just a particular concern. “Skills that just add stress boxes are dull”, perhaps?

  27. Our group has fallen into using “tag” and “tagging” for tags, invokes AND compels. There are different ways to tag Aspects, and who gets the Fate chip is the one getting screwed, while who is paying a chip is the one getting the benefit.

  28. To start, I want to make the blanket statement that my observations are only based on the two groups with which I’ve played SOTC and the DFRPG. Though some of my comments my seem as such, I don’t intend to make generalizations about the playerbase as a whole; it’s just that having to qualify every statement with “in my groups” gets a bit old.

    Re: Conviction in DF
    One thing I’ve noticed with all of the stress track-enhancing skills is that players only tend to care about the levels of the skill that increase the stress track, since that trapping of the skill is one of the most apparent when looking at a completed character sheet. Average is a particularly desired level for these skills because the first point in the skills tends to be worth more than the first point in most other skills, with the reverse holding for the second point (taking the skill to Fair).

    Conviction gets this treatment more than Endurance or Presence because of how little use it is to characters would don’t use Magic or Faith. Amusingly enough, it seems to be the one skill that either shows up at Average or in the top 3, unless the player is intentionally weakening a character type that uses Conviction in order to tell a story about precisely that sort of character.

    I think Conviction/Resolve and Endurance (not so much Presence) have the problem that they often don’t lead to interesting choices unless you’re designing a character with that particular skill in mind (generally by having it as one of your higher skills, but sometimes by intentionally putting it lower than the rest of your build would suggest). They’re not the only skills that have this issue; some skills run into this problem because of how rarely they come up in play unless the GM goes out of his way to make them important to the game. Two examples of this second type are Gambling and Pilot from SOTC.

    Is it a good thing that there are skills like this? I don’t think so. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing either. Sure, skills like Rapport and Athletics will usually lead to more interesting creation/advancement choices, but skills like Pilot and Conviction will also lead to such choices with characters for which those skills matter. The only part I do worry about is the “first point matters most” issue, since it leads players to put that skill on the character sheet even if they don’t have any interest in the skill–particularly in the DFRPG where it’s a full 50% increase in the number of stress boxes for the track corresponding to that skill. And with skill points so easy to come by using the normal advancement rules, it seems silly not to invest just the one point. The choice would be much more interesting if the extra box came at Fair instead of Average, but I can’t think of a way to make that work using the standard “upgrade every two points” progression without making the fifth point almost useless for Endurance and Conviction/Resolve unless you have powers/stunts that add trappings.

    Re: Invoke/Tag/Compel
    My groups have slipped into using “Tag” when they mean “Invoke”. “Compel” has managed to hold its own, I think in part due to the focus on “self-compels” to pick up extra FP. (For a variety of reasons, I as a GM don’t Compel my players as much as would be done in normal groups.)

  29. I don’t really have a problem with folks doing that “first point matters” logic with the stress track providing skills. I can’t say that any character’s Average tier of skills is particularly interesting; that tier’s more about having just a little extra edge when the character’s out of their usual element (i.e. in situations outside their apex).

  30. I’ve just learned about Fate recently, and in the process of gobbling up what information I can, I’ve been reading both this post and the preceding post. I must agree that the word Tag does little to help people understand what it represents, for a newbie such as myself. I really like the use of Invoke and Compel in the terminology, since they inspire a natural understanding of how they relate to aspects just from the connotations of those words. A suggestion that occurs to me for maintaining the punchy nature of the term “Tap” and for moving toward more natural terminology for the game effect it represents: replace the word “Tag” with “Tap.”

    Just as one might say a situation invokes or compels the application of a character aspect, one might just as naturally say that the player taps into that aspect of his or her character. Additionally, the term brings to mind images of faucets or tapping kegs of ale, water mains, etc… to make a resource available for use, which I understand to be the main use of Tag in the terminology here.

    To support this case, the verb uses for the second set of definitions at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/tap seem to carry all the right connotations as well.

    In any case, I hope the suggestion can help someone else start to understand the system a little quicker, and I look forward to spending more time exploring Fate in the near future.

  31. I understand where you’re coming from with tag/tap, but the verb “tap” has been forever tainted by Magic: The Gathering. Tag does the work and doesn’t have the baggage.

  32. I’m not sure the baggage is necessarily a bad thing.

    Truth be told, the Magic: The Gathering terminology helped establish the connection for me. Furthermore, the uses both established and proposed seem to be coming from the same angle, which suggests the connection could be a useful one for many. To that end why not use terminology with an established meaning that fits the bill of what you are trying to bring across. That is, as long as it avoids the drawbacks of overloading a term?

    (I understand this is a moot point if you decide that lending a term to the concept is not actually useful, which I suspect may be the way things are headed.)

  33. Firstly, I kinda like “tap”- I agree with Terry that for new players, the term is very evocative of its use, whereas “tag” just seems to connote “mark”, like how you’d maybe tag an animal for scientific study or something.

    Like it or not, Fred, you might feel the way you do from being mired in your own terminology for a decade or better. I also get that, as someone in charge of the intellectual property of his company, you don’t want to go treading on someone else’s lawn (especially WotC!) unnecessarily or cause any kind of brand dilution. So, take what you will from that.

    Secondly, just to stir up some discussion, I would like to see a better list of suggested questions a GM can ask players to evoke the thought processes conducive to creating aspects. A sort of Socratic Method of guided questioning, if you will. The biggest problem I have with new players is that helping them pick aspects using current methods is like throwing crap at the wall and hoping something will stick. It might even help to study the best aspects we all have come up with and what kind of questions we asked to get to them. For example, “Does your character have any kind of phobia, aversion, or allergy to anything?”, or “How does your character handle problems- directly/indirectly, etc.?”, “Tell me about your family history.”

    Before anyone feels compelled to refer me to page such-and-such of so-and-so book, I know stuff like this exists, but I haven’t found anything really satisfying. I would like to see a method to take new players from having a “feel” for who their character is to putting something concrete down on their sheet.

    Look, I know there’s the Phases, but they feel to me more like an organization exercise, rather than something that gets the mental juices flowing. I also feel that generic questions would also be more adaptable to the myriad settings one hopes to support in a universal application like Core. I think something like this could help out those new FATE GMs that might otherwise be turned-off by the daunting task of aspect selection by demystifying the process and making it more approachable.

    If I’m the only one with this concern, I’ll shut up 🙂

  34. Back briefly to terminology: At my table I use Invoke to mean using your own aspects, and tag to mean using something else’s aspects. I make the distinction because a Tag (using something else’s aspect) is halfway between an invoke and a compel, and the target of your tag can buy their way out with a fate point.

    example: I’m intimidating the mad scientist’s assistant into helping me escape, and I tag his ‘Cowardly assistant” aspect to get him to, well, cowardly assist me. I’m invoking his aspect for a +2 bonus, but I’m also compelling his aspect to his detriment, and instead of choosing to take the fate point he chooses to spend one to buy out of the implicit compel. Because of this I don’t get to tag his aspect, so I don’t get the bonus but I also don’t spend a fate point.

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