Matters of Fate: Shortest skill list?

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about skill lists, Approaches and Professions in the Fate system, in preparing my Storm & Sail game (starting next weekend) I’ve decided to go with a Profession based system, but it has got me thinking about just how many skills are actually needed in a Fate game; if you love the current amount of skills that’s grand, I’ve no problems with that, but this post probably isn’t really aimed at you.

Recently my wife Hannah has been running a game using Aspect only fate, essentially the skill rating you add to your dice rolls comes from the number of aspects you have that are applicable.

For example: If you had “Best gunslinger in the county” and “Quick on the draw” as aspects and found yourself in a shoot-out then you could claim +2 as your skill level, one rank per applicable aspect.

This system seems to be working really well at the moment although it does involve a bit of adjudication as to what aspects are applicable in certain situations, and having players who aren’t going to attempt to manipulate the system to get the best rolls in any and all situations; very similar to some of the potential issues that Fate Accelerated can face depending on the level of player buy-in to the spirit of the system.

It also got me thinking about the World of Darkness series of games where attributes are organised into three categories, physical, mental and social, I started thinking about whether or not these three “stats” could be used to replace the existing skill list, and I believe that they could be. Those three labels cover pretty much all situations that I can think of, trying to be diplomatic with somone, roll social, trying to recall ancient lore, roll mental, fighting a pirate, roll physical.

Now I can hear some people complaining and saying that there wouldn’t be much variety using this system, however I think this is where the stunt system can more than adequately pick up that slack, you want to play a character who is more dexterous then brawny, then take a stunt or two that benefit you in those sort of situations, and vice-versa if you want to be the brutal but clumsy barbarian. Although it might be worth the GM being a being more lenient with the situations that stunts can apply to.

15 thoughts on “Matters of Fate: Shortest skill list?”

  1. I think the lessening of the number of skills makes the game more flat and less interesting. I see it as an unnecessary oversimplification. There is less diversity, and an increase in the stretching to justify (read: B.S.’ing) using the aspects or dwindling skills that Fate does have.

    I feel that, on top of aspects, it’s very important that the PCs be different mechanically. Having only 6 skills to choose makes the PCs more samey, and makes those skills far less important or indicative of the character they are representing.

    Ten skills isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t mind seeing that expanded. Even within the limited choices of six, it’s further limiting to have only six to choose from. This means that every PC has the same skills as every other, only to slightly different degrees. Once again, I feel this is unappealing, as it makes the PCs less distinct in what they can do. What’s wrong with having only one of the PCs be able to do a certain skill?

    To each his own.

    1. That’s certainly a valid point of view, IMO it is more important for characters to be played different than have systemic differences, aspects and stunts still provide opportunities for characters to work differently regardless of the amount of skills points. I also believe that the three skills listed (physical, social and mental) would actually cut down on the amount of BS-ing (as you put it) since it’s pretty obvious when you need to use of those three skills as opposed to the Approaches in FAE that are more open to interpretation.

      Like you say, each to their own 🙂

      1. Take a skill like medicine, non-magical healing. Just because someone is smart, doesn’t mean they’d have any medical knowledge. Let’s say a player has a skill of ‘3’ in Mental. That means that they have a 3 in every topic of knowledge there is? History lore required? Let me make a Mental check. Computer tech know-how required? Hey, I have a 3 in Mental, I probably know this. Best way to set a broken bone? No worries, I have a 3 in Mental, so I’m probably well-versed in this as well. And physics. And economic forecasting. And meteorology. Etc.

        That is why I don’t like broad skills. Or at the least, I’m unconvinced that it is a superior approach to having more defined ones.

        1. Using your example it would mean that a person with Mental 3 has a 3 in every mental capability, however, a person who wanted to specialise in medicine would take a stunt giving them +2 to mental rolls when attempting medical pursuits, making them clearly superior to the person who has a mental skill of three, and this doesn’t even take into account whether or not the medically inclined PC has aspects that can be bought into play.

          1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t need an aspect to just roll using a skill? Which means I do indeed have a 3 in every mental capability, and the stunt would earn me a bonus on top of that 3.

            I’m not bashing the idea of using less skills, but I don’t see how it’s better or just as good than using more.

          2. You don’t need an aspect to roll a skill, however the aspect can be used to support certain areas of knowledge or ability; for example, if your 3 mental medic has an aspect of “One of the top surgeons in the Empire” and really wants to pass a medical style roll then they can spend a fate point and invoke the aspect to add a +2 or gain a re-roll as normal.

            I don’t necessarily think less skills is a better idea however I certainly think it conveys the skill style mechanic (which is far from 100% necessary) in a simpler way. It has it’s advantages and disadvantages as every system (including the present skill system) does.

        2. I’d say a character couldn’t attempt anything medical in nature unless they have an aspect that justifies that attempt. For example, I’d allow someone that is an Eagle Scout to do basic first aid and things of that nature straight up, but if they tried to perform an emergency tracheotomy it’d be REALLY, REALLY hard for them as opposed to the character that is a World Renown Surgeon.

          1. This. Aspects form an essential part in character action permissions for Fate and FAE, and the difficulties of tasks should reflect that fact. That’s why a short skill list, approaches, or even the Jadepunk-style professions do not necessarily enable PCs to do everything through merely possessing the relevant broad Mental skill/approach.

            Furthermore, in some genres, such as in superhero comics, the characters often have broad skill sets (e.g. computers, first aid, etc.) where they seemingly have a knack for everything. Such characters are, instead, distinguished by their powers and narratives. One must also consider that the tremendous level of specialization of fields in today’s knowledge is relatively a new historical phenomenon of the past two centuries. Before that, it was not uncommon for someone “Smart” to be considered well-versed or working in a wide variety of academic disciplines, including across the sciences and humanities.

          2. Very interesting point – you’ve definitely made me think about the extent to which aspects provide permission to make certain rolls or undertake actions 🙂

  2. Have you looked at the Fate Freeport Companion? It basically uses the 6 D&D stats as skills and then flushes them out with aspects and stunts.

    1. Yes I have a copy of it and these thoughts were in-part inspired by the system, I do quite like the Fate Freeport Companion although I’m not keen on the magic system in it 🙂

  3. FAE has its moments of bs-ing, for sure. But remember, for every stat used, IT ISN’T ANY OF THE OTHERS. So being careful isn’t quick. Being flashy isn’t clever. As players approach a situation and shoehorn their best Modifier, remind them that being forceful in all situations can be a detriment . It’s not perfect, but maybe it can help. As for magic, I like your Permission use. That covers more than you know.

  4. In Fate Accelerated Edition they define 6 Approaches instead of 18 Skills. This is brilliant for playing a game with young kids because they may not have a correct idea of the different fields of knowledge but still generally can describe HOW they want to achieve something.

    As an extreme simplification in a fun game, your Skills could be Bash Stuff, Shoot Stuff, Fix Stuff and Think About Stuff! Aspects and Stunts still provide the spice of special moves or areas of influence, as always.

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