What You Do and How You Do It: Merging Fate Core and Accelerated
by Alexandre Malette
Fate Core and Accelerated seem nearly identical on the surface: they share aspects, stress, stunts, and those weird little fate dice. In fact, it seems like the only difference is the lack of a skill pyramid in Fate Accelerated; many Fate developers think of both systems as different builds of the same game.
Yet, there are important differences between the two games in how players frame the narrative. In a Fate Core game, a player could describe their barbarian cleaving through a goblin as a Fight roll. The reasoning seems obvious: the barbarian is using Fight to win a conflict. In an Accelerated game, however, the player could describe the same action as a Forceful roll because the barbarian is dealing with the situation using direct force. The skill describes what the character is doing and the approach describes how the character is doing it.
In this piece, I explore how to merge these two perspectives to get a broader picture of what’s going on in the story—a narrative frame that includes both what and how your character is taking action. A thief might not be as good at tailing someone as he is at picking locks, even though both are Sneaky. A warrior might not be equally good at swinging an axe and fencing with grace. A combination system opens up new narrative options for the characters and modifies the flow of the story. Sure, the sniper might be great at Careful Shooting, but what if there’s a bomb ticking? She might need to use a weaker approach—Quick—to hit the target before the bomb goes off. Is it worth the risk?
This combination system tends to be more meaningful when playing more realistic or challenging games. When your character can lift cars with a +10 Physique, the difference between a +1 approach and a +2 approach won’t be enough to make this system worth the extra effort.
Approaches + Skills
The basic premise of this merged system is to make both approaches and skills matter in any given action. The simplest way to do this is to simply add the most relevant approach and skill together. For example, instead of the GM calling for a Sneaky roll in FAE or calling for a Burglary roll in Core, they would ask the player to make a Sneaky Burglary roll, achieved by rolling the dice and adding both the Sneaky approach and the Burglary skill to the result.
It cannot be that simple, however, as adding more things to each roll would dramatically change Fate’s usual balance. All rolls become too easy if we keep the skill pyramid and approach distributions intact, which is why we need to tweak them as follows.
Cutting up the Skill Pyramid
The first step to combine Core and FAE is to look at Fate’s skill list (Fate Core System, page 96). Fate has 18 skills and 10 slots in the pyramid; characters start with roughly 55% of the available skills. However, if we plan to use approaches with skills, some of them become redundant. For example, Sneaky Stealth seems fairly unnecessary and it’s hard to use Stealth with any other approach. Here are a few changes we have to make to the skill list:
- The Stealth skill must be removed. To prowl, a Sneaky Athletics roll could do the trick.
- The Rapport skill is changed to Persuade. Its function is identical, but it fits better with other approaches. Forceful Persuade and Sneaky Persuade make more sense than Forceful Rapport or Sneaky Rapport.
- The Deceive skill can also be removed. Sneaky Persuade makes it redundant.
- The Provoke skill is also removed, as a Forceful Persuade roll also makes this redundant.
Now we only have 15 skills on our list instead of the usual 18. If we want to follow the same 55% ratio, characters would need roughly 8 skill slots at character creation. Since we’ll also be adding approaches to rolls, we’ll skim those 2 boxes off of the top of the usual skill pyramid and start characters with one Good (+3) skill, three Fair (+2) skills, and four Average (+1) skills.
Adding the Approaches
Usually in FAE, you start off with one Good (+3) approach, two Fair (+2) ones, two Average (+1) approaches, and the last one is Mediocre (+0). Since we’re gluing it onto the pyramid, a similar stat line would make things a bit too easy for the characters. We want to keep the pyramid for approaches, so we’ll start characters with one approach at Fair (+2), two at Average (+1), and the others start out at Mediocre (+0).
Gluing It Back Together
Now that your characters have both skills and approaches, the rest is fairly intuitive. When you roll for an action, simply take the most appropriate skill and approach, and then add them together before the roll.
For example, if a character is playing a round of the shell game, the player would need to roll Careful+Notice to point out the proper cup and win the prize. On the other hand, if they had to read a “lost dog” sign while driving past it at 45mph, they would roll Quick+Notice instead. You could even roll Sneaky+Notice to observe someone without them noticing you back!
The most obvious problem is that a player will always try to use their character’s best approach for everything, but this is already explored somewhat on page 18 of the Fate Accelerated Book. Not every approach can be used in every situation, nor do they all give the same result. While it may seem like being Quick would nearly always be better than anything else if that is the player’s highest rated approach, the GM should change the difficulty level depending on the approach used.
For example, Claire’s character is trying to diffuse a bomb. The Game Master decides that the explosive is fairly easy to dismantle and thus would only need a Fair (+2) result on a Careful Crafts roll to achieve it. Claire decides to Quickly dismantle it instead since the clock is ticking. This makes the task much harder since she is more likely to make a mistake by rushing through it. The GM thus decides to raise the difficulty to Superb (+5) to reflect the additional challenge.
This merged Fate system is easy to incorporate into any current or future game since it doesn’t fundamentally alter the way Fate works. It only adds an extra layer of customizability, since you can now tweak the approaches along with the usual modifications to the skill list, stress tracks, consequences, etc.
You could use different approaches, such as the attributes used in Fate Freeport, for a more traditional RPG feel. Some players are more used to Strength+Athletics or Intelligence+Lore rolls and would prefer to play Fate that way.
When you represent eldritch monsters, you could invent new approaches for them to make them feel more alien, such as replacing Careful and Sneaky with Eldritch and Creepy. The Creepy approach could be used when trying to cause Mental Stress to the PCs, and the Eldritch approach would add dark magic to the mix. Furthermore, the lack of Careful and Sneaky approaches change the way the monster can act.
If you’re playing in a setting featuring magic, you could just add in a new “Magic” approach. When a wizard would throw a fireball, that’s a Magic Shoot roll, while floating over a wall instead of climbing it becomes a Magic Athletics roll. You could even add different magical skills so that summoning a creature would be a Magic Conjuring roll. In this scenario, the approach represents innate magical power and the skills would be what they’ve learned.
Mixing and matching different approaches and skills also gives the GM the opportunity to add a bit of “crunch” to Fate. For example, a GM could rule that in this game, all Forceful Fight rolls cause 2 extra points of Stress in order to give musclebound warriors an edge on their nimble Quick opponents, or make it impossible to Quickly create an advantage in combat to push players to use other approaches.
Milestones are fairly similar in both Fate Core and FAE. The only thing that needs to be changed on the Accelerated side is when you improve your approaches. Usually, you can raise a character’s approach by 1 when you reach a significant milestone. Approaches are broader than skills, however, and thus they should be harder to raise. Players can raise approaches at a major milestone only.
Playing with Stunts
In Fate, stunts represent abilities that can bend or even break the normal rules of the game. In Fate Core, they are usually based on skills, whereas they are based on approaches in the Accelerated edition. In this merged system, you can still use either of those stunts, but they should instead usually be based on an Approach+Stunt combination. Here are a few examples:
Riposte!: If you successfully defend against an attack with a Flashy Fight roll, you can spend a Fate point to deal stress equal to the number of shifts you defended by.
IED: When creating an improvised explosive with a Quick Crafts roll, a success on the roll becomes a success with style.
Investigative Insight: When an aspect is discovered with a Clever Investigation roll, it gains an additional free invoke.
Gunslinger: In combat, you can spend a Fate point to make 2 Quick Shoot rolls in one turn with a -2 penalty to each. This requires you to be wielding a gun in each hand.
Initiative by Approach
The initiative rules in Fate can sometimes be clunky. At the start of a conflict, characters compare their Notice skills, or other skills if they are tied, which can happen a lot. After that, the turn order is set in stone. Instead, here is an initiative system that is based on using attributes with skills.
Characters who are using their Quick approach go first. When multiple people are using that approach, compare the values to see who goes first. If they are tied, check the skill that they are using and compare those. If they are still tied, roll a fate die to see who goes first.
After Quick, players act in the following order: Flashy, Forceful, Clever, Sneaky, and Careful. This Initiative order can change depending on the mood of your game. For example, if you’re playing a group on pacifist characters, you could have Clever act before Forceful to encourage the players to find clever ways to escape the conflict.
For example: Marcus the assassin wants to quietly take out King George. He rolls Sneaky Fight to try to accomplish the vile deed. Meanwhile, Lizzy the royal guard spots him and pushes George out of the way with a Quick Athletics roll before he can kill the King.
If, on the other hand, Marcus the assassin had quickly lunged for the king, we would have needed to compare both of their Quick ratings. If, by chance, both were equally Quick, we would have compared Marcus’s Fight skill with Lizzy’s Athletics skill to determine who acted first.
Wrapping It Up
Fate isn’t usually known for its nuance or gritty realism. While this is a staple of the system for many players, it can be a critique for others. Bringing Fate Accelerated’s approaches to Fate Core offers a new degree of specific nuance while still remaining true to Fate’s essence and distinct style.