Creating a new skill starts with a name. It doesn’t have to be the final name of the skill, but you need something to give you direction and a sense of what the skill is intended to do.
Skill Actions and Applications
Skill are defined in two ways: in terms of the actions that you can take with the skill, and the applications of its use. While there are only four actions, as discussed in Fate Core, the number of potential applications is roughly infinite.
A skill’s name provides context for its place in the story. Its actions tell you how it matters in game terms. The intersection of a skill’s context and its actions gives you its applications—the circumstances under which it can be used.
For example, the context of a skill called Combat context is very likely going to be fighting, and the context of the Fate Core skill Provoke is social interaction. Even if both skills have the attack action, they’ll apply it in different ways. Combat’s attack application involves inflicting physical harm with things like fists, guns, or other weapons, while Provoke’s attack application involves inflicting mental harm via threats and intimidation.
A skill can have more than one application for a given action. For example, the Fate Core skill Athletics lets you defend against both physical attacks and attempts to create physical advantages against you—that’s two applications of the defend action.
This distinction between “actions” and “applications” isn’t found in Fate Core, but it’s important here because under these rules every skill has a cost dependent on how many applications it has, so we need to be a bit more precise than usual. These rules also assume that all skills are priced this way, and that a typical player character has around 30 points to spend on skills.
Mike wants to play a telepath who can project mental illusions into a target’s brain. He wants to make a custom skill to do this, and starts by calling it Hallucinations.
What game actions are a good fit for Hallucinations? One big use for the skill is probably going to be convincing people he’s someone other than himself, which sounds like overcome. Advantage is a good one, too—Mike can see using those illusions to distract his opponent with imaginary enemies or immobilize them in an imaginary pit. That also makes it sound like he could use it for defense against physical attacks by appearing to be a couple of feet in another direction, so he adds defend to the list. And what kind of imaginary enemies can’t cause imaginary wounds? That’s definitely attack.
That’s four actions in total (overcome, advantage, attack, and defend) with one application for each.
The skill descriptions in Fate Core go into a lot of helpful detail for each game action, but you don’t need to be so in-depth when making your own skills. A brief phrase for each application should suffice—just enough to remind yourself and the GM how it works. For example, “Overcome: Create believable illusions” or “Attack: Hallucinatory damage.”
Each skill starts at a cost of zero character points and has two free applications. For each application the skill has in excess of two, increase its cost by 1.
Hallucinations has four applications, so it’ll cost 2 character points. Done!
Exceeding Recommended Limits
The actions and applications for standard and custom skills only reflect their usual, reliable functions in the game. If a player wants to exceed these guidelines, that’s totally cool—as long as it makes sense in context. But keep in mind when you do this that you’re potentially setting a precedent, so proceed with caution.
For example, Briana’s playing a pilot in the Pacific Theater of World War II. She wants to ram an enemy aircraft, effectively using Vehicles as an attack. Unorthodox! The GM’s fine with it, with two provisos: One, the attacking fighter will automatically take whatever damage the defending aircraft does (as will Briana’s pilot, unless he can eject in time), and two, she’s going to need to invoke an aspect to do it.
Briana agrees. First she creates an advantage to put an aspect on his plane: Ramming Speed! Next round, she invokes that aspect for effect to temporarily add the attack game action to Vehicles, and rolls her attack.
Here are more detailed write-ups of a few standard Fate Core skills. If a single action has more than one application for the skill, each action listed indicates a separate application.
Athletics (2 skill points)
The Athletics skill represents your character’s general level of physical fitness, whether through training, natural gifts, or unusual means (like cybernetic enhancement or genetic alteration). It’s the skill that represents how good you are at moving your body.
Overcome: Deal with an obstacle that requires physical movement—jumping, running, climbing, swimming, etc. If it resembles something you’d do in the decathlon, you should roll Athletics. You’d also roll to participate in any contests or challenges that rely on these types of activities. Note that conflicts aren’t obstacles; those are handled by Defend (see below).
Create Advantage: Maneuver to gain an edge, such as finding Higher Ground, forcing someone to be Cornered, or climbing a tree to get a Bird’s Eye View.
Defend: Dodge close-quarters or ranged attacks in a physical conflict.
Defend: Counter efforts to create an advantage against you, if you’re in a position to physically interfere with whomever’s making the attempt, or to keep someone from moving past a certain point.
Combat (2 skill points)
The Combat skill deals in all manner of violence, unarmed or armed, close-quarters or ranged.
Create Advantage: Execute a maneuver or “special move” in combat, such as disarming your opponent, throwing sand in their eyes, striking nerve points, or laying down suppressive fire.
Attack: Inflict some form of physical harm, whether hand-to-hand or ranged. Defend against Combat attacks with Combat or Athletics.
Defend: Counter hand-to-hand attacks in a physical conflict. Combat cannot defend against ranged attacks, however; use Athletics for that.
Defend: Counter an attempt to create combat-oriented advantages.
Contacts (2 skill points)
Contacts is the skill of knowing people and making connections with them, especially in a pinch. The better you are with Contacts, the better your information network.
Overcome: Poll your social networks for information. Whether that’s old-fashioned “man on the street” type of work or searching archives and computer databases, you’re able to hunt down information (or people). Note that in the case of finding a specific person, a successful roll doesn’t necessarily give you immediate access to them, depending on the situation. For example, if the research scientist in question is currently detained by the authorities, that’ll be a separate obstacle to overcome (maybe using Contacts, maybe using some other skill).
Create Advantage: Leverage your contacts to create a story detail or create/discover an aspect. “Hey, my contacts tell me that Joe Steel is the Best Mechanic For A Thousand Miles—we should talk to him.”
Create Advantage: Get the word on the street about a particular individual, object, or location, based on what your contacts tell you. These aspects almost always deal with reputation more than fact, such as Known Sycophant or Notorious Swindler. Whether that person lives up to their reputation is anybody’s guess, though that doesn’t invalidate the aspect. (People often have misleading reputations about themselves that complicate their lives.) Similarly, you can also use your information network to plant information or get you information to help in the conflict.
Defend: Counter an opponent’s attempts to create social advantages against you, provided your information network can be brought to bear in the situation.
Deceive (3 skill points)
As might be expected, this is the skill of lies and misdirection. Whether spinning a convincing falsehood, crafting a disguise, or bluffing some poor dope who really ought to know better, it’s all Deceive.
Overcome: Bluff or give a false impression. These are situations in which the stakes aren’t high enough for a contest or conflict, but you still want to roll to see if things get complicated or not. More complicated cons might involve a contest or a challenge, as you layer the deception to achieve your goal.
Overcome: Create a convincing disguise, whether for yourself or others. You’ll need to have the time and supplies to create the desired effect.
Create Advantage: Obtain information from someone who (falsely) believes you to be trustworthy. This is more likely to get you story details than an aspect, but if the information represents a tangible advantage, it might net you an aspect.
By a similar token, the advantage might be an aspect you’re putting forward as a false impression. For example, if you’re undercover at a fancy corporate shindig, you might use Deceive to declare a Wealthy Industrialist Cover Story on the scene to help you mingle with the guests.
Create Advantage: Distract or misdirect, similar to declaring a false impression above. This can also apply in physical conflicts for feints and fake-outs, allowing you to put an enemy Off-Balance.
Defend: Counter efforts to discern your true motives. This includes someone using Empathy against you, as well as throwing off investigation attempts with false information.
Empathy (3 skill points)
Empathy involves knowing and being able to spot changes in a person’s mood or bearing. It’s basically the Notice skill (see below), but for people.
Overcome: Perceive a change in someone’s attitude or intent.
Overcome: Remove mental consequences from yourself or others.
Create Advantage: Read a person’s emotional state and/or get a general sense of who they are. This presumes you have some kind of interpersonal contact with them. Most often, this will mean discovering their aspects, but you can also create new aspects for NPCs as well. If the target has some reason to be aware that you’re trying to read them, they can defend with Deceive or Rapport. This includes the use of Empathy to try and discover what circumstances will allow you to conduct mental attacks against the target by figuring out their breaking points.
Defend: See through lies and deceptions to someone’s true intent.
Defend: Counter someone’s attempt to create an advantage against you in a social context. Generally speaking, this usually requires direct contact with them. If you’re working through an intermediary, Contacts is probably a more appropriate skill to use.
Notice (1 skill point)
The Notice skill represents a character’s overall perception, ability to pick out details at a glance, and other powers of observation.
Overcome: Spotting or reacting to something in the environment, often in a timely manner. This includes hearing the faint sound of a twig snapping behind you, spotting a concealed gun in that mail carrier’s waistband, and searching a cluttered room for the evidence you need.
Note that this isn’t license for the GM to call for Notice rolls left and right to see how generally observant a character is; that’s boring. Instead, call for a Notice roll when both success and failure would have equally interesting results.
Create Advantage: Discover something new and advantageous in the environment via direct observation. You might look over a room for details that stand out, find an escape route in a debris-filled building, notice someone sticking out in a crowd, and so on. This advantage can often manifest as a situation aspect. For example, you might spy Hidden Handholds in a wall, find a Weak Point in a tank’s armor plating, or chance upon some Distinctive Spoor in the course of tracking a monster.
When you’re watching people, Notice can tell you what’s going on with them externally; for subtler, more internal changes, use Empathy.
Defend: Watch over an area to detect people trying to use Stealth or Burglary to infiltrate it.
Example: Action-Science Skills
Here are the standard skills in our action-science setting. They’re all basically taken right from Fate Core. If you’re wondering where the actual science skills are, see Science: It’s Special.