Mar 232011

As you’ve probably noticed, our gaming group’s preferred incarnation of the FATE system is Strands of Fate. SoF resembles other Fate games in many respects, but differs in its approach in a couple of ways, ways that I feel improve the Fate experience.

Author’s Note: For a comparison of differences, click here.

For me, the difference that really sets SoF apart from it’s contemporaries is the lack of a traditional Skill System.  I know what you’re thinking – I myself can’t believe that my favorite RPG doesn’t have a defined, specific skill system clearly showing what my character can do and what he’s good at.  For the past 20 years or so I wouldn’t even consider playing a game without skills.  But, when I looked at how SoF handles skills, I instantly recognized genius.

Instead of traditional skills or attributes, SoF uses twelve Abilities:

In general, these Abilities will be rated between -1 and 5.  In my experience so far, as both a player and a GM, these twelve Abilities cover everything I could possibly do with my character as well as helping me define a great deal about him.

However, with SoF this is only the beginning.  To really see what a character is good at, or really bad at, we need to take a look at his Aspects (Specialty Aspects in particular).  Aspects tell you so much more about a character’s strengths and weaknesses than a skill with a number ever could.  For example, in most Fate games someone good with a gun may have something listed like this:

  • Firearms: +4

Ok, that’s nice.  I guess the character is better than a guy with +3, but worse than the one with +5.  And I guess he’s the same with any type of gun.  In Strands of Fate that character might have an Aspect or two looking like this:

  • Fastest six-gun in the west.
  • Born with a rifle in his hand. (Agility)
  • One shot, one kill. (Perception)
  • “It’s time to rock and roll!” (Agility)

This tells me a lot more than “Firearms: +4” ever could.  This was illustrated for me during the game I recently ran at DunDraCon.  Four of the players at the game were new to Fate.  One guy, after glancing at his character sheet said, “What does my guy do?  What’s he good at?”  Before I responded, another player told him to read his character’s Aspects (SoF characters have at least ten).  After reading the Aspects, the first guy nodded and said, “I’ve never had such a clear idea about who my character is, and what my character does.  I even know what he doesn’t do. Cool.”  That’s one of those great “ah-ha” moments.  In SoF, a quick look at well-written Aspects and you usually know more about a character than two pages of background and notes.

Eliminating a traditional skill system has two additional benefits.  First off, players have the ability to focus on roleplaying Aspects, instead of number-crunching.  They look at their characters from a more story-focused and narrative viewpoint than a simple collection of stats and modifiers.  The second benefit, and the one I really appreciate as a GM, is having a very brief list of Abilities to remember instead of a chart of 30 skills.

I play in a Deathwatch game a couple of times a month.  It’s a fun game, but there are more than 40 different skills.  As a GM, I want to be familiar with all the skills so that I can ensure they each see a little “screen time” and that the players who’ve invested in certain skills feel rewarded by seeing them come into play.  In SoF, I only need to remember the twelve Abilities.  If a character has a relevant “skill” (Aspect), it’s up to them to remember to Invoke it.

For me, this not only makes adventure design easier, it also really streamlines on-the-fly decisions.  So far, in the SoF games I’m playing in, it’s always been very clear what the appropriate Ability to use is, and each of the players know their character well enough to decide if any of their Aspects should come into play.

This is yet another reason why Strands of Fate has become my roleplaying system of choice – a simple but comprehensive mechanic combined with a rock-solid focus on story-telling.

More awesomeness...

John Lewis

John Lewis started roleplaying back in 1983 with the ‘old blue box’ edition of Dungeons & Dragons. He has played and/or gamemastered more games than he cares to admit, or can even remember! Currently he spends the vast majority of his game time running a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying campaign. John's next project is to convert the Warhammer 40,000 RPG's (Dark Heresy, Deathwatch, Rogue Trader) to Strands of FATE. He is also an avid miniatures painter and wargamer and enjoys a variety of different boardgames.

  13 Responses to “Playing with FATE: Skills – Who Needs ‘em?!”

  1. I like the idea of not have ‘skills’, but how is perception related to ‘physical’ ? It’s clearly a mental ability?

  2. I thought about that too. I’m not sure about Mike’s specific reasons, but I’ve grow to really like it.

    From SoF: “Perception is the measure of the character’s level of awareness and his ability to stay on toes and react to sudden changes.”

    Keep in mind that Abilities cover a broad range; clearly a wolf has a high Perception but low Mental Abilities. A construct, like an animated statue, is also created with some ability to percieve it’s surroundings but isn’t likely to have Mental stats. Also unlike many games Perception is the Ability rolled for Initiative, not Agility.

    Ultimately the more I’ve played the more I have to agree with the creator, all things considered Perception is clearly a Physical Ability, it has more to do with your physical senses that your mental accuity.

  3. John hits the nail on the head. Perception is about the physical senses. This is especially critical when you consider shapeshifting, possession, or transhuman body swapping. In those cases, you get the Physical Abilities of the new body, and the senses come as part of that package.

    That said, if there is a situation where you feel like Reasoning or Knowledge might play a role in whether or not you might notice something (Ex: a blacksmith noticing something strange in a smithy), you can use the rules for combining Abilities, so both Perception and Knowledge/Reasoning can come into play.

    Most of the time though, it just boils down to how sharp your eyes and ears are.

  4. Still trying to understand the SoF system. Love the whole aspect situation but does it not take a specific genre of players to have the imagination to think outside the box. Not dissing the system, just trying to understand the basics and am really confused.

  5. This reminds me of an anecdote . . .

    I remember once, about a year ago, I was invited over to someone’s house where they were planning to test run a game that one of the guys who lived there was writing. One of them told me about the setting in brief (space pirates, I think) and it sounded cool . . . until they showed me the system. Evidently they decided to take the system used by White Wolf and make it horrendously complicated.

    See, it was a “skills only” system – evidently somewhere along the line the creator decided that “Strength,” “Charisma,” and other Attributes/Abilities were illusory, and instead you had skills in lifting things and hitting things or swinging weapons or arm wrestling or whatever. Yes, “Arm Wrestling” was actually on the sheet. Along with approximately 200 others. It was overwhelming, and it left me with my head in my hands wondering what the world was coming to that someone thought this was marketable.

    I wish I were kidding.

    I looked at a character sheet or two and STILL didn’t have the first clue about what a character could (or couldn’t) do. Except I gathered that you COULDN’T do anything you didn’t have points in, which made me want to pull my hair out. I heard a story about the gm enforcing that and making characters fail to lift pencils because they didn’t put points in the skill. (I had a flashback to an old D&D anecdote about rolling a breathing check. . . )

    I wish to ZOD I was kidding.

    That said; Strands of FATE’s approach sounds kind of brilliant, and I wish I’d thought of it first. 😀

  6. @ Alton:

    You simply have to have some players that are open-minded. Fate, and Strands of Fate, are not tactically crunchy games. The basic mechanic is still the same, though – if you try to do something that a roll is called for, use whatever is appropriate on your character sheet and add some dice. When you have that part down, you’ll start looking for bonuses from the environment, and even your enemies.

    As far as needing an imagination, it doesn’t require a lot. I mean, it doesn’t take much imagination to say, “I’m a fighter, I’ll use this “fighter” aspect to get a +2 bonus to my attack. Here’s my fate point.” That’s pretty bland, but it’s simply the minimum imagination required. After a while, the player will probably say instead, “Back in the day, I was trained as a soldier of the King’s army, and I fought in many battles. This is simply another battle and another foe. Even though this demon is freaking me out, I’ll still rely on my training as a soldier. Here GM, here’s my fate point, and I’ll get a +2 bonus.”

    Really, this part of the game is the easiest, because that’s all there is to it. What’s interesting is later you’ll start looking for other ways to use aspects. You’ll start placing aspects on your enemies (I’ll throw dirt in his eyes “Blinded”), you’ll start using aspects that the environment provides (I’ll dive for cover, you said there were “Boxes Everywhere”, right?), and you’ll take notice of your enemies’ injuries (he now has a head wound and seems dizzy? Then I’ll attack him in a flurry of blows he can’t follow).

    If you can, get to a convention and play a game using any of the Fate versions, it’ll open your eyes and explain a lot. Also, think about incorporating a couple of aspects into your 4E game, something small and easy to start with. Finally, stick around because we’re going to keep providing more and more articles on Playing with Fate!

  7. Yeah, cool. since deciding to blog, I have also made it a goal to go to a few conventions in the year and actually planning the BIG one this year. I may be going to GenCon. Thanks for your patience Tourq. You have helped me a lot and I appreciate it.

    I am looking forward to more FATE writing because it is interesting me a lot.

  8. I may have posted this here before, but if you want to play around with some of FATE’s concepts by adding an “Aspect-like” mechanic to D&D4e, try this out:

  9. Hello John,
    forgive me for my bad English.
    I appreciate your articles “Playing with Fate.”
    I would like to start using Strands of Fate Dark Heresy and read your articles is getting me to do so.
    I’m glad to know that you want to convert Dark Heresy to Strands of Fate, I am a beginner, I’ve never played with this system and would help me a lot to use the experience of an expert

  10. @ Gert_dal_pozzo:
    I’m glad you are enjoying the articles. I’ve just finished converting Deathwatch, Rogue Trader, and Dark Heresy to SoF for my new home game. The system works very well and converting isn’t really any big deal. The key to an easy conversion is to focus on the way Strands of FATE works and remember that every little thing does not need to be directly converted. Focus on achieving the “feel” and “theme” of Dark Heresy not the minutia of mechanics.

    Feel free to ask questions and seek advice here at he Shack. Many of us are pretty familiar with FATE and love to give advice. Good luck, and good converting!

  11. By the way, for the 40K games I’ve gotten rid of Resources and replaced it with Reputation. It just makes more sense in the 40K universe.

  12. @ John: Thanks for the advice!

    you plan to publish your conversion Strands of Fate for the world of WH40K?

  13. I was thinking about putting out my conversion for 40K, but my latest version does not use the regular Fudge dice. Instead I use the dice from the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying game.
    *EDIT* Nope, we went pretty much with Strands of FATE as it is, including the normal Fudge/FATE dice.

    That being said everything else is pretty much standard Strands of FATE. So, maybe I’ll start putting out a few articles….

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