Advancement & Change
Your characters aren’t going to remain static through the entire campaign. As their stories play out, they’ll have the chance to grow and change in response to the events that happen in play. The conflicts they face and the complications they overcome will alter your sense of who they are and push them toward new challenges.
In addition to your characters, the game world will change also. You’ll resolve threats as you play, or change the face of a location, or make such an impact on the world that one of the issues may need to change.
Character advancement in Fate comes in one of two flavors: either you can change something on your sheet to something else that’s equivalent, or you can add new things to your sheet. The opportunities you get to do this are collectively called milestones.
A milestone is a moment during the game where you have the chance to change or advance your character. They are called milestones because they usually happen at significant “break points” in the action of a game—the end of a session, the end of a scenario, and the end of a story arc, respectively.
Usually, those break points immediately follow some significant event in the story that justifies your character changing in response to events. You might reveal a significant plot detail or have a cliffhanger at the end of a session. You might defeat a major villain or resolve a plotline at the end of a scenario. You might resolve a major storyline that shakes up the campaign world at the end of an arc.
Obviously, things won’t always line up that nicely, so GMs, you have some discretion in deciding when a certain level of milestone occurs. If it seems satisfying to give out a milestone in the middle of a session, go ahead, but stick to the guidelines here to keep from handing out too many advancement opportunities too often.
Milestones come in three levels of importance: minor, significant, and major.
Minor milestones usually occur at the end of a session of play, or when one piece of a story has been resolved. These kinds of milestones are more about changing your character rather than making him or her more powerful, about adjusting in response to whatever’s going on in the story if you need to. Sometimes it won’t really make sense to take advantage of a minor milestone, but you always have the opportunity if you should need to.
During a minor milestone, you can choose to do one (and only one) of the following:
- Switch the rank values of any two skills, or replace one Average (+1) skill with one that isn’t on your sheet.
- Change any single stunt for another stunt.
- Purchase a new stunt, provided you have the refresh to do so. (Remember, you can’t go below 1 refresh.)
- Rename one character aspect that isn’t your high concept.
In addition, you can also rename any moderate consequences you have, so that you can start them on the road to recovery, presuming you have not already done so.
This is a good way to make slight character adjustments, if it seems like something on your character isn’t quite right—you don’t end up using that stunt as often as you thought, or you resolved the Blood Feud with Edmund that you had and thus it’s no longer appropriate, or any of those changes that keep your character consistent with the events of play.
In fact, you should almost always be able to justify the change you’re making in terms of the game’s story. You shouldn’t be able to change Hot Temper to Staunch Pacifist, for example, unless something happened in the story to inspire a serious change of heart—you met a holy man, or had a traumatic experience that made you want to give up the sword, or whatever. GMs, you’re the final arbiter on this, but don’t be so much of a stickler that you sacrifice a player’s fun for consistency.
Cynere gets a minor milestone. Lily looks over her character sheet, to see if there’s anything she wants to change. One thing that sticks out to her is that during the last session, Zird has been scheming behind her back a lot and putting her in a bad position.
She looks over at Ryan and says, “You know what? I have this aspect, I’ve Got Zird’s Back. I think I need to change that in light of current circumstances, and call it, I Know Zird is Up to Something.”
Ryan says, “Seriously? I mean, it’s not like he does it all the time.”
Lily grins. “Well, when he stops, I can change it back.”
Amanda approves the change, and Lily rewrites one of Cynere’s aspects.
Meanwhile, Landon also gets a minor milestone. Lenny looks over his sheet, and notices that he spends a lot more time lying to people than he does trying to make friends with them. He asks Amanda if he can swap the ranks of his Deceive and his Rapport skill, giving him Good (+3) Deceive and Fair (+2) Rapport. She agrees, and he notes the new skill totals on his character sheet.
Significant milestones usually occur at the end of a scenario or the conclusion of a big plot event (or, when in doubt, at the end of every two or three sessions). Unlike minor milestones, which are primarily about change, significant milestones are about learning new things—dealing with problems and challenges has made your character generally more capable at what they do.
In addition to the benefit of a minor milestone, you also gain both of the following:
- One additional skill point, which you can spend to buy a new skill at Average (+1) or increase an existing skill by one rank.
- If you have any severe consequences, you can rename them to begin the recovery process, if you haven’t already.
When you spend your skill point, it’s worth one step on the ladder. You can use it to buy a new skill at Average (+1), or you can use it to increase an existing skill by one step on the ladder—say, from Good (+3) to Great (+4).
During character creation, you organized your skills into a pyramid. You don’t have to stick to that for character advancement.
However, there’s still a limitation you have to deal with, skill columns. This means you can’t have more skills at a certain rank than you have at the rank below it. So if you have three Good columns, you have at least three Average (+1) skills and at least three Fair (+2) skills to support your three Good (+3) skills.
The pyramid follows this rule already, but when you’re adding skills, you need to make sure you don’t violate that limit. It’s easy to forget that if you use a skill point to upgrade one of your own skills, you might suddenly not have enough skills to “support” it at the new rank.
So, let’s say you have one Good (+3), two Fair (+2), and three Average (+1) skills. Your skill distribution looks roughly like this:
At a milestone, you want to upgrade a Fair (+2) skill to Good (+3). That’d give you two Good (+3), one Fair (+2), and three Average (+1):
You see how that doesn’t work? You’re now missing the second Fair skill you’d need to be square with the rules.
When this happens, you have one of two options. You can buy a new skill at the lowest possible rank—in this case, Average (+1)—and then upgrade it in subsequent milestones until you’re in a position to bump the skill you want to the appropriate level. Or you can “bank” the skill point, not spend it now, and wait until you’ve accumulated enough to buy a skill at whatever rank you need to support the move.
So in the case above, you could buy an Average (+1) skill, promote one of your Average skills to a Fair (+2), then bump the original skill up to Good (+3). That would take three significant or major milestones to do. Or, you could wait, bank up three skill points, buy a new skill at Fair (+2), then bump the original skill up to Good (+3). It just depends on whether you want to put new stuff on your sheet or not in the interim.
Zird gets a significant milestone after the end of a scenario. He gains an additional skill point.
Ryan looks at his character sheet, and decides he wants to take his Notice up from Fair (+2) to Good (+3). He knows that’s going to screw him up with the rules, though, so instead, he decides to take Resources at Average (+1)—the PCs have been on a few lucrative adventures lately, and he figures that’s his opportunity to create a sense of stable wealth.
If he waits two more milestones, he’ll be able to put one of his Average skills at Fair (+2), and then bump his Notice up to Good (+3) like he originally wanted.
He also has the opportunity to take one of the benefits from a minor milestone. He has been in a lot of fights this game so far, and feels like his Not the Face! is getting old, considering the number of times his character has been hit in the face. He replaces it with Hit Me, and There Will Be Consequences, to reflect his changing attitude about the violence he encounters.
GMs, strictly enforcing how the skills work can be a pain in the ass sometimes. If you and the players really want to be able to upgrade a certain skill in a way that breaks the rules now, simply ask that the player spend the next few milestones “correcting” their skill spread, rather than making them wait. It’s okay. No one will come after you.
You might notice that this means that the further you get up the ladder, the harder it is to quickly advance your skills. This is intentional—no one is going to be able to get to the point where they’re awesome at everything, all the time. That’s boring.
A major milestone should only occur when something happens in the campaign that shakes it up a lot—the end of a story arc (or around three scenarios), the death of a main NPC villain, or any other large-scale change that reverberates around your game world.
These milestones are about gaining more power. The challenges of yesterday simply aren’t sufficient to threaten these characters anymore, and the threats of tomorrow will need to be more adept, organized, and determined to stand against them in the future.
Achieving a major milestone confers the benefits of a significant milestone and a minor milestone, and all of the following additional options:
- If you have an extreme consequence, rename it to reflect that you’ve moved past its most debilitating effects. This allows you to take another extreme consequence in the future, if you desire.
- Take an additional point of refresh, which allows you to immediately buy a new stunt or keep it in order to give yourself more fate points at the beginning of a session.
- Advance a skill beyond the campaign’s current skill cap, if you’re able to, thus increasing the skill cap.
- Rename your character’s high concept if you desire.
Reaching a major milestone is a pretty big deal. Characters with more stunts are going to have a diverse range of bonuses, making their skills much more effective by default. Characters with higher refresh will have a much larger fountain of fate points to work with when sessions begin, which means they’ll be less reliant on compels for a while.
GMs, when the player characters go past the skill cap, it will necessarily change the way you make opposition NPCs, because you’re going to need foes who can match the PCs in terms of base competence so as to provide a worthy challenge. It won’t happen all at once, which will give you the chance to introduce more powerful enemies gradually, but if you play long enough, eventually you’re going to have PCs who have Epic and Legendary skill ratings—that alone should give you a sense of what kind of villains you’ll need to bring to get in their way.
Most of all, a major milestone should signal that lots of things in the world of your game have changed. Some of that will probably be reflected in world advancement, but given the number of chances the PCs have had to revise their aspects in response to the story, you could be looking at a group with a much different set of priorities and concerns than they had when they started.
Cynere reaches the end of a long story arc and is awarded a major milestone. In the game, the PCs have just accomplished the overthrow of Barathar, Smuggler Queen of the Sindral Reach, which leaves an enormous power vacuum in the game world.
Lily looks at her character sheet. She took an extreme consequence in the past arc of scenarios, and allowed one of her aspects to get replaced with the aspect Soul-Burned by the Demon Arc’yeth. She now has the opportunity to rename that aspect again, and she decides to call it I Must Kill Arc’yeth’s Kind—she hasn’t quite escaped the scars of the experience, but it’s better than where she was, given that her aims are now proactive.
She also gets an additional point of refresh. She asks Amanda whether or not she can turn her experience with Arc’yeth into something that will allow her to fight demons in the future. Amanda sees no reason to object, and Lily decides to buy a stunt on the spot.
“Demon-Slayer: +2 to the use of the Warmaster stunt, when she chooses to use it against any demon or any demonic servitor.”
Lily records the new stunt on Cynere’s character sheet, and rewrites the appropriate aspect.
Zird the Arcane also gets a major milestone. Ryan looks over his character sheet, and realizes that he’s in a position to advance his peak skill, Lore, to Superb (+5). He does so, and Amanda makes a note that she needs to make any wizardly enemies Zird might encounter that much more powerful, just to get his attention.
Finally, Landon also reaches a major milestone. Recently in the plot, Landon discovered that the Ivory Shroud was much more than a martial arts society—they’ve been secret political movers and shakers for a long time, and recently supported Barathar in her efforts to control the Reach.
In response to this, Lenny decides to alter his high concept slightly to Former Ivory Shroud Disciple, indicating his desire to distance himself from the order. Amanda tells him that the Shroud isn’t going to take his defection well.
So we have Cynere with a new appetite for killing demons, Zird reaching a heretofore unseen level of power, and Landon questioning his loyalty to his only real source of discipline. Amanda makes a lot of notes about what this means for the next few scenarios.
Back to Character Creation
One way of looking at a major milestone is that it’s the equivalent of a season finale in a television show. Once you start the next session, a lot of things have the potential to be fundamentally different about your game—you might be focused on new problems, several characters will have aspects changed, there will be new threats in the setting, and so on.
When that happens, you might decide that it’s a worthwhile endeavor to take a session to sit down like you did at character creation and review all the PCs again, altering or adjusting anything that seems like it might need revision—new skill configurations, a new set of stunts, more changes to aspects, etc. You may also want to examine the issues in your game and make sure they’re still appropriate, revise location aspects, or anything else that seems necessary to move your game forward.
So long as you keep them at the same level of refresh and skill points they had, reconvening like this might be exactly what you need to make sure everyone’s still on the same page about the game. And GMs, remember—the more you give the players a chance to actively invest in the game world, the more it’ll pay off for you when you’re running the game.