Milestones are moments in the game where something has happened to justify some kind of advancement. Milestones largely occur according to the GM's discretion, and the frequency of their occurrence will do a lot to establish the overall tone and feel of a campaign—frequent milestones allow the characters to grow rapidly and give a sort of "epic" feel to the campaign as the opposition scales in response; infrequent milestones make things feel more grounded and established.
Milestones fall into three categories—minor, significant, and major. There are some guidelines for when each happens, along with what characters can do during each type of milestone.
When a minor milestone occurs, you may choose one of the following:
Minor milestones are ideal when you want to switch the focus of your character's existing abilities or change something on the character sheet, like a skill or the wording of an aspect. Maybe something happens in the story that makes part of your character's sheet seem inappropriate, or you've simply discovered that your choice of skills, aspects, and stunts don't match your expectations in play.
Obviously, these changes should be justified as much as possible, either within the story ("Hey, my character's contact died, so I think I want to make his
Joe the Reliable Contact aspect into
Vengeance for Joe, okay?") or as a result of play ("So I thought I wanted this guy to have a Good (+3) Presence, but I'm not really using it much—it'd be more fitting if he had a lower Presence and a higher Rapport, so I'm going to switch it out with my Fair (+2) Rapport."). If the skill you're switching out is at Average (+1), you may change it for a skill that isn't on your sheet. Be careful when switching a character's peak skills (his highest ones), though—this can significantly change the character, which is not the purpose of a minor milestone. Keep it in character, so to speak.
High concepts are pretty sacrosanct and won't change with just a minor milestone. If they change at all, it will happen with a major milestone, which you'll read about later on.
On the other hand, maybe you've taken care of your trouble. Or maybe your trouble doesn't mean as much to your character anymore. Great! Just make sure that you replace it with a new trouble, and not just any random aspect.
A significant milestone usually occurs at the conclusion of a scenario or a major plotline (or once every two or three sessions). Significant milestones are about advances of experience, as the characters have learned new things in dealing with problems and challenges.
When a significant milestone occurs, your character gets all of the following:
Of particular note here is getting one additional skill rank to spend on a new skill slot, because it can be a little confusing. One skill rank buys an Average slot, which you can then fill with any skill you want. If you want a bigger slot, you have to bank a few significant milestones' worth of advancement first.
When you're upgrading an existing skill, you need only pay the difference in cost—if you have an Average slot, you can upgrade it to a Fair slot by paying one rank.
Great [_] Good [_][_] Fair [_][_][_] Average [_][_][_][_]
During a significant milestone, you decide you want to upgrade one of your Fair slots to a Good slot:
Great [_] Good [_][_][X] Fair [_][_] Average [_][_][_][_]
But this gap in the Fair row above means that you can't make that purchase at this time—you'd need an extra Fair skill in place to "hold up" the Good skill you want. You can buy a slot at Average now and upgrade it over the course of the next two milestones, or simply bank the points to buy a new Good slot directly when you get there.
A major milestone should only occur when something has happened in the campaign that shakes it up a lot—either when a few scenarios have concluded, or a long, large-scale plotline wraps up. When these happen, the characters jump up a scale of power.
When a major milestone occurs, your character gets all of the following:
These milestones signify a major change in the power structure of your campaign—your characters are going to be dealing with a whole new tier of obstacles from here on out. Consider how even basic character options are affected by one jump in refresh. Even just the bump to a skill that a stunt provides can radically alter the nature of a character's effectiveness.
This is a really big deal; it means that the PCs are directly able to take on more powerful threats and have a wider variety of resources to draw on to face those threats. (To use a boxing analogy, an advancement of power is like stepping up to the next weight class—you might be the most skilled boxer in the world, but if you're a featherweight, there's still only so much you can do against a less-skilled heavyweight.)
Another option the GM has for a major milestone is to increase the skill cap by one rank. This allows the characters to raise their skills up into larger-than-life levels, transcending all previous expectations of human (or superhuman) capability. This can be combined with the normal refresh award as often as the GM wishes. By default, one skill cap increase should probably come every two or three major milestones, happening a few times per campaign at most. A campaign where the skill cap increases with every new major milestone gain will get to Epic (literally) levels quickly.
The setup in this section is the default, based on the premise that if a single self-contained story is the equivalent of a scenario, then every two or three of those would warrant a major milestone.
Depending on the tone of the game, the GM might want to change the rate at which milestones occur, or even eliminate some types of advancements entirely.
At the very least, minor milestones should always be made available to the PCs. Characters that remain "static" can get boring pretty fast; with enough minor milestones, a player could have a totally different character sheet than the one he started with after the end of a few scenarios.
Taking away or slowing down the rate of significant milestones means that, on a basic level, the characters are not going to get more capable of dealing with problems. This can be used to firmly set the dial on a campaign in regard to the scope and breadth of challenges—a small-scale campaign that deals with solving the personal problems of low-powered characters might never require the characters to amass much more experience than they have, so as to keep conflicts satisfying. However, this has the potential issue of getting old after a while—eventually the group will more than likely either end the campaign or expand its scope.
Not using major milestones means that there are certain levels of opposition the characters simply won't be able to contend with—they're stuck in their particular weight class, and there's no moving up. Again, this can be used to tightly rein in the aesthetic of a particular campaign. Again, though, this has the potential to reduce the "life expectancy" of your campaign.
The defaults above allow for the longest-running potential campaigns, where the characters could even start at the point where they've just been introduced to relatively big threats and move up in power and experience until they're contending with the kinds of epic enemies found in high-fantasy or pulp adventure tales…and even beyond.
If there's enough downtime in your story between a major milestone and the next adventure, you might also consider re-creating your characters as a group— adjusting aspects, reconfiguring skills, buying stunts and powers, etc. While you don't need to go through the phases part of character creation again, it's a chance to rethink or replace your character's high concept. As long as there's some commonality to the character for a sense of continuity, this isn't a problem.
It's surprisingly easy to take on additional special power at a moment's notice—stressful situations can force potential abilities to rise to the fore; bargains with mighty individuals or organizations can provide you with some power at the snap of a finger. Sometimes, it doesn't make sense to wait for a milestone to receive these abilities—you and your friends are cornered, everything seems hopeless, and you reach out to questionable sources for aid to save your butt.
When these moments occur it's appropriate for the GM to allow you to make these changes—but at a cost.
The first, of course, is appropriate justification; you shouldn't be able to just willy-nilly change things on your sheet. The group should agree that the story justifies the change, or you should provide a clear rationale for it.
The second is that you must permanently and immediately drop your refresh rating and trade in fate points equal to the cost of the power. Remember that your refresh cannot drop below one (except for truly exceptional circumstances—see "Going off the Deep End" below). If you don't currently have enough fate points to pay for the upgrade, you can accrue a "debt" with the GM for the difference—you owe the GM a number of compels that don't get you fate points. These compels should be related to the circumstances under which the new powers were taken. Once you're out of debt, compels accrue fate points as normal.
The most extreme version of a mid-session power upgrade is to take your character to zero (or less!) refresh on purpose. This gives your character access to incredible power in a hurry at the ultimate price—your character is no longer a viable PC. There is no way around the final choice—once you make it, you're effectively giving up control of your character, just as surely as if he'd died.
Keep in mind that, just because you're volunteering to take your refresh to zero or beyond, it doesn't mean that you get to go on a shopping spree for anything that costs refresh. Any restrictions still apply, as well as the nature of those who might be offering you power for this last hurrah.
This should never be treated as a frivolous event—it'd be lame if you set your character up to go out in a blaze of glory and didn't get the chance for dramatic payoff. So, if you volunteer to upgrade your character's powers to the point where your refresh drops to zero or below, you get to retain control of the character for as long as it takes to resolve the immediate consequences of your choice. Usually this means playing out the rest of the scene or the very next scene; after that, your character is an NPC. You can use this to set up the circumstances of your character's departure and put a nice (or not so nice) capstone on his story.
In rare circumstances, it might be appropriate for a character to temporarily take on power. Usually, this happens when an entity imbues someone with power for a short time in order to take on a threat or fulfill some part of its agendas.
Regardless of the circumstances, temporary powers should be dealt with in a similar fashion to mid-session upgrades, but with less cost—the player has to spend fate points equal to the power's usual cost, but not permanent refresh. As with normal mid-session upgrades, the player can "owe" the GM some compels if there aren't enough fate points to pay for it.
Once again, this should only happen under rare circumstances, and the benefits shouldn't last longer than a scene—most things that can bestow power only do so temporarily, when the situation is extremely dire, and when there isn't really another option.
If you did quick setting creation and are happy playing with that, this part might not interest you much. But if you're playing with a fully developed setting, then you'll want to have some idea about what happens as the PCs interact with it. The good news is that not only will this make your setting feel more alive, but having a fully fleshed out setting can give you some more concrete guidelines for when to make certain types of milestones happen for the characters.
We aren't necessarily suggesting that the setting should change every time the characters do—places are more static than people. The next few sections show you all the various things you can change, rather than dictating when you should change them. As with milestones, it's largely at the GM's discretion as to when a setting element is able to change. Usually, this process will be intuitive as you examine the events in your scenarios.
There are two main types of changes: changes to theme and threat aspects (based on what the characters have done) and changes to locations and faces (based on where the characters have decided to go).
Theme aspects can change if the players have made a setting-based or location-based theme aspect irrelevant in the story. This sort of change is the biggest change in scale, because themes are so ingrained in how people see the setting or location—usually because whatever's inspiring that theme has been around for years and people have grown used to it.
Since they're so entrenched, it should take a considerable amount of effort to change the aspect. These changes are the ones that should happen slowest in the setting, compared to dealing with threats. Along with that, themes are never completely removed—they're changed, either for good or ill. Changes come in three flavors: lessening a theme, inverting a theme, and worsening a theme.
If the PCs strike a huge blow against the forces that are supporting the theme, but don't eradicate it altogether, the theme could be "lessened." When this happens, the GM rewords the theme aspect to sound less imposing. It's still there, but not as severe.
Here's where big change really happens. When the PCs undercut the power base of what makes the theme possible, then they're able to change the setting itself. Such changes are reflected in removing the old aspect and replacing it with a totally contrasting one based on what the characters did.
Not everything is sunshine and puppy dogs—themes can also get worse. If the PCs manage to let a situation escalate, the GM is within her rights to reword the theme to be more imposing.
Threats are a little more straightforward. If you used the threat as an aspect in setting creation, remove it when the PCs successfully take care of it. Unlike themes, dealing with threats means erasing the aspect rather than changing it. Of course, resolving a threat isn't the only option—threats can get worsened, too.
Depending on the scale of the threat, it should take anywhere between one and several sessions to resolve and remove. A small-time location threat might only take one, whereas a major setting-based threat would take many. (This is the GM's decision.)
Once a setting-based threat is removed, the GM should come up with a new threat within the next couple of sessions—the nasties rarely leave a setting alone for long. A location-based threat should only be replaced if the location is particularly interesting to the players and there's still ongoing story around that area of the setting. Even then, waiting a few sessions before filling it in allows the PCs to look into other problems.
On the other hand, failing to defeat a threat could mean it gets a real foothold. This takes some time, though less for a location than for an entire setting. If the threat gets what it wants and incorporates itself into the setting, the threat can be promoted into a new theme aspect. Some threats are happy with getting what they want and then leaving (usually with a trail of bodies behind them).
If you're looking to play a setting-heavy game—where cleaning up the setting and making it better for its denizens is a top priority—consider linking the PCs' advancement to how well they are encouraging the setting's advancement:
Of course, this should be adjusted for the amount of effort needed. If it takes several sessions to remove a location's threat, then it was a bigger menace than it seemed at first and should probably be bumped up a category or two. Likewise, taking a single session to invert a setting theme hardly warrants a full major milestone.
When you hit significant and major milestones, you might want to consider adding and removing locations, since those are good times to re-think where you want to play in your setting.
There are two reasons you might want to add a location: an interesting place keeps coming up in your game and you want to stat it out with its own theme, threat, and face; or you want to change your game up.
The first is fairly easy; if someone notices such a location, ask the group during the next milestone if it's worth statting up. If, as a group, you can quickly come up with its theme, threat, and face, then it's a good candidate for adding.
Adding locations to change up the game is a little more involved. You'll want to ask what that location offers that others don't.
Coming up with new locations otherwise works the same as when you were creating the setting.
One trick you can use when coming up with a new location is to promote an existing NPC—either friendly or hostile to the PCs—as the face of this new location. This way, there's some level of familiarity to this location built in already. In addition, if this is a drastic surprise to the characters (or even the players!), it could be the core of a new mystery.
When you're adding locations, you may realize that an established location doesn't seem to be important anymore. If so, note that down next to its entry on the setting sheet. Don't "erase" it—that location might serve as a cameo or even take the spotlight once again.
Unlike locations, faces are fairly easy to change. They're like any other character the GM feels the need to change up for story progression.
In most cases, it's pretty obvious when to replace a location's face—when you need a new one. If an existing face has moved on (or was moved along), the GM will need to create a new one. Additionally, if one of the faces has proven to be…well, boring, the GM could consider replacing the face with a more interesting NPC. You can also move an existing face to a new location, as described above.
Adding a new face can also happen when you add a new location.
Sometimes beginning a new story arc demands that the GM introduce a new face for a setting theme or threat. Alternately, a face who fills a vital role in your story (head of a faction, etc.) might die or otherwise be written out of the story and need to be replaced. When these sorts of things happen, the GM should create this new NPC, including tying him in with a setting theme or threat.
If the setting's aspects—its themes or threats—have changed, the GM should consider revising the NPCs tied to those changed aspects. Would altering one or two of the NPC's aspects help the NPC remain closely tied to the new theme or threat? In extreme cases, the NPC might need to be replaced completely.
The GM needs to exercise the most discretion when changing existing NPCs. These changes largely depend on what kind of relationship you want them to have with the PCs over time. Consider the following general categories:
Static NPCs: These are NPCs that the GM doesn't plan to advance, per se. Perhaps they're meant for the PCs to eventually grow strong enough to overcome after a long story arc. In this case, they shouldn't grow more powerful (or, at least, grow at a much slower rate than the PCs).
Rivals and Nemeses: A great technique for maintaining a good long-term rival or nemesis NPC (or peer NPC ally, for that matter) is for the GM to advance that NPC using exactly the same process the PCs go through—when the PCs hit a minor, significant, or major milestone, the GM should advance the NPC the same way. This helps the NPC stay approximately as powerful as the PCs.
Other NPCs: There are no hard and fast rules here—when the GM thinks an NPC needs to get a bit more powerful or change in some way, the GM should make those changes.
Aspects and Changed NPCs: The GM should adjust NPCs' aspects as required to keep pace with in-game events. Add new ones that become important (don't forget conflict consequences!), remove existing ones that are no longer relevant, and resolve troubles where appropriate.
When replacing a face for a location or a setting theme or trouble, think about the old NPC's high concept and motivation. You don't want the new character to seem so much like the last face that it feels like there's no change. Remember, this character was probably written out of the story for a reason.
If the high concept is similar, make sure the motivation is different. Or, if you need the motivation to be the same or similar, twist the high concept into something new. Consider how the old NPC was removed from the story and if this new NPC would be a friend or foe of the old one.
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