Character growth is something that runs high on many a role players list of things an RPG can handle. Fate 3.0, at first brush, seems ill suited to handle this. But that's because the means it has built in are a rather elegant departure from the "experience point" systems. You just need to ask yourself a few questions to know what tools to use.
And man, does Fate already has some tools built in for you!
Table of Contents
TOOL ONE: Phases
Character advancement can actually bee seen as a continued "character creation on the fly" By declaring a new phase in a character or characters' lives, new things can be considered, added, dropped, and shuffled.
TOOL TWO: The Pyramid
I noted praise for the pyramid ranked high in praise for 2.0. That's because, quite simply, it's an amazing tool for both play and dramatic effect. It forces you to focus, naturally making you prioritize and decide what's most important to you.
TOOL THREE: Each Other.
Few games truly encourage so many levels of collaboration on the true goal of role playing— enjoyment. I've seen Fate Hack and Slash, I've seen it Tell a Proper Story, and almost any other type of campaign you'd like— and it worked, because the game encouraged the group to make the game they wanted. This can and should extend into character creation and advancement.
But First, Ask Yourself…
QUESTION THE FIRST: Do I need to include "advancement"?
Something the debut Fate 3.0 game Spirit of the Century makes no bones about is that its cast members should be considered bin many ways "complete"— Ie, they've figured themselves out to a point, and the rest is prioritizing and drama. Members of the century club are beyond broadening horizons and more about using what they've gained.
Consider whether "progression" is a big motivator for your setting. Maybe character growth will come more from the evolution and replacement of aspects as plots resolve and relationships change. Maybe your story focusing on an elite black-ops crew needs to focus on drama— they're already elite, right? Maybe "leveling" would be a distraction from the game's real themes!
If so, skip it. I mean it. Forget the rest of this article and play what fits your game.
But if developing the characters further is key, or at least a good feature to have…
QUESTION THE SECOND: WHAT IS THE PINNACLE?
The first thing to decide about character advancement, interestingly, is where you want it to stop.
Let's go back to SotC for a second. Remember, characters run at the default are considered to be "fully developed" skill wise, with further "progression" coming in at a dramatic/ emotional level. Unlike other games, a "level cap" is not a point to say goodbye— rather, it's a place to shift focus to other things.
To determine the pinnacle for your game, complete the following sentences:
The most aspects anyone should have is _
The pinnacle of skills is to have one at _ and a width of ____ skills at bottom.
If we were to answer that for SotC, we might say:
The most aspects anyone should have is 10.
The pinnacle of skills is to have one at Superb (+5) and a width of 5 skills at bottom.
Many are reporting that adding new aspects, after a certain point, becomes more confusing/ crippling than anything else. Even if trying to "power game" by adding more "cool" aspects, many power gamers in my experience find themselves simply not using them all.
The sweet spot, in my (admittedly limited) experience, seems to be between four and sixteen aspects, which give flexibility with regards to invoking/ tagging without bogging things down.
SKILL HEIGHT AND WIDTH
(look at http://www.faterpg.com/dl/pyramidreloaded.pdf for thoughts on more complex pyramid structures)
The concept here is simple— where do you want a character's greatest skill on the ladder? Think about tone. Are you playing mega-high fantasy or gritty noir? Think about the most astounding thing the heroes should be able to do with just a skill use, and set that as your bar. Personally, I find that you should set the height to at least Good or better.That way, with a few invocations or a lucky roll of the dice, a Legendary action is still in reach. Fate is focused on helping you bring the awesome. Work with it.
Next, how diverse do you want each character's skills? Your width, in Skills, must be at least equal to the number of your Skill height. The height in SotC is Superb (+5), so you'll need at least five skills at the bottom to make a pyramid. If you want characters to be able to branch out a bit, adding even one brick to the base allows them to add
quite a few skills. If we add even one brick to the SotC pyramid base, that will support another brick on every layer above it up to you pinnacle level— five more skills! Add bricks carefully to find a good result for you campaign.
Stunts could be considered the DEPTH of the pyramid— little tricks you can do that make a skill more useful to you. But that actually stretches the metaphor too far at the cost of flexibility.
One possible cap— especially if you're using stunts as powers— is to limit the number of stunts in a stack like the speed stunts on page 68 of SotC. You may limit it to one such stunt in a stack, or what ever fits your campaign's style.
QUESTION THREE: How fast do you want to get there?
SotC starts RIGHT up there, all aspects accounted for, a big, full pyramid, and a set of stunts. That takes five phases.
The Default is this. One phase allows you space for two aspects, one stunt, and three skills. Just decide how many phases happen before the game to set your starting point. You can also monkey with the aspect:stunt:skill rates and ratio, if you like. Find what works.
Now, to use these tools during a game.
OVER THE COURSE OF THE STORY…
As for progression in game… Let's not introduce Fate to experience points, okay kids?
Let's instead use a concept that's already there, but unnamed.
The milestones in SotC include:
- The Great War
- Debut novels
- Guest Appearances.
The Milestones in a campaign based on mystic discovery might include:
- Finding the Mentor
- Choosing your path
And so on…
Milestones are the moment that a new phase starts for a character or group. They often give the phase its name. They are not handed out, they are agreed upon; this means that once a group is formed in a game where characters are bound as a group, they tend to share milestones, or at least come to them at similar times.
You have a case for a milestone if:
- Your character or group has a notable shift in perspective
- Your character or group achieve a goal whose effects change the course and tone of you series
- Your GM gives you a big, beautiful 180 to re-invigorate the game and is bribing you to come along for the fun.
Think Season, not episode enders. The end of any given episode is not necessarily a milestone. A milestone is Angel leaving town, Sheridan going to Zahadum, Arthur loosing the sword from the stone…
When you finish dealing with a milestone, you start a new phase. You get your stunt, skill, and aspect slot if you have room. And you get to add a new, cool bit of history to your character.
Milestones are marked by aspects.
BUT I HAVE ALL MY ASPECT SLOTS FILLED!
One thing can happen with aspects instead of adding a new one, and you can do it before your slots are full, too; the only time you are obligated to fill all slots is during character creation phases.
Instead of adding a new one, you can transform an aspect. This consists of taking an aspect that you can rightly state is no longer a valid reflection of your character, and replacing it with what a milestone suggests is a better fit.
Some aspects suggest a certain point in a character's life— one they might, or even are expected to, grow out of. Apprentices don't stay apprentices forever, for example. So, at the milestone where you leave your teacher's side, you might transform "Apprentice of Nuros" to "Student of Nuros" (since you hope his teachings will stay with you) and add the aspect, "wandering mage".
Other plot forces can suggest a transform. If you're excommunicated from your church for heresy, you might be a "Heretic of Ed" or "Hunted by the Church of Ed"… but you aren't a ordained priest anymore.
BUT WHAT IF I'M AT THE TOP?
You ain't done. Remember, once you reach your pinnacle, it's now a matter of refocusing and redefining.
You can still shuffle.
Shuffling means changing the position of skills in your pyramid, or taking them out and replacing it with new ones. You can also shuffle stunts, and may indeed have to if the skill they're based on is removed from your sheet. For example, if I'm favoring guns over swords but have swords rated higher, I can swap the two.
A conceptual shift happened once I heard the idea of shuffling on the FATE mailing list. It made me think of Final Fantasy VII's materia. Your equipment gave you a certain number of slots for these little gems, and each materia provided certain benefits— a spell, a skill, a way to use one of the other materia…
What you get each phase is not an aspect, or a skill, or a stunt.
What you are getting is the space to hold one.
Once you have all the /spaces/ you can carry, you can change what's /in them/ to reflect character growth. How often this can be done is up to the GM/ players, but in general, shuffling cannot take place in the middle of a conflict exchange— no matter the context. You can do this slowly, a few skills/ stunts/ at a time, and no one should find it odd.
Shuffling more than half your pyramid around, or replacing what's in a quarter or more of the slots all at once instead of slowly takes a milestone.