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Fate System Toolkit

Structural Changes

So far all of these systems still assume something that looks like the current skill list in most important ways—there’s a list arranged in a certain way,and a progressive set of bonuses. But those assumptions need not be universal—you can do some crazy stuff by stepping outside of the normal bounds.

Pyramid Alternatives

The most obvious hack is to replace the pyramid, with a column system—as is used in advancement—with a point-buy system, or even something like skill packages from specific backgrounds. This is really something you can change quite freely, but before you do, just be sure you understand why the pyramid is in place. It is fast, it demands characters be capable (the apex) but well-rounded (the foundation), and it makes sure that not every character can do everything (the skills you can’t buy). It’s not unreasonable to change these—a superspy game, for example, might have characters with very broad skill bases—but make sure you know what problem you’re solving when you make the change.

Larger Steps

Nothing says skills need to progress smoothly. Suppose that each “rank” of a skill was actually two steps on the ladder—you might now have a pyramid of 1 Superb (+5), 2 Good (+3) and 3 or 4 Average (+1), and if you’re feeling mean, move the default down to Poor (-1).

Why do this? Suppose you have a small skill list, as you might for professions or approaches. You get a heroically potent pyramid—more so than the default, even—for a smaller list. It also strongly separates the “tiers” of skill level, something that may be thematically appropriate in certain genres.

Aspects Only

If you want to take a very extreme step, you can forgo skills entirely, and use aspects for everything. This requires a single change to the way aspects work. Now, in addition to everything else, they provide a passive +1 bonus in situations where they apply. Thus, if my aspects are Acrobatic, Ladies’ Man, Strong, and Swordsman, I can count on a +2—effectively a Fair skill—in most sword-fighting situations involving strength, which bumps to a Good (+3) if I do something acrobatic.

If taking this tack, some extra thought will need to go into aspect selection so that everyone has a good understanding of when their aspects are and aren’t applicable. The first instinct of many players will be to gun for broad, simple aspects, like strong or smart, because they’re so easy to apply in most situations. However, the real advantage will go to players who take the time to put a bit more story into their aspects. Knight covers a lot of ground, but Knight of the Stars covers even more, and Renegade Knight of the Stars covers even more. As is so often the case, the most interesting characters will be the most mechanically potent.