Approaches as an Add On

Bruce Baugh was pondering the idea of using FAE’s approaches as spheres in Mage, which is a great idea and really got me thinking. In the specific, there’s probably a little song and dance that you might want to do to handle combination, but the idea totally works, and I might want to drill into it sometime. However, it lead to a second idea which kind of excited me.

Another great use of FAE’s approaches is that because they are simple, clear and reasonably intuitive, they are an easy way to attach a subsystem onto an existing fate game with a minimum of effort. It is as simple as saying “within this particular sphere, you use these approaches” and you’re ready to go.

This is incredibly useful for games where some element is ubiquitous (like martial arts in a wuxia game) or something that really takes the game in a different direction (like netrunning or some types of magic). You just need to figure out what the approaches are (genre sensibilities should inform that) and how big the bonus set is.

So, let’s say for example we want to do a netrunning system, since those are always a bear. We could probably argue for some time on the ideal set of netrunning approaches, but for purposes of example, let’s use the following:[1]

  • Equipment – Use your deck or programs
  • Exploit – Find loopholes or back doors
  • Disrupt – Mess thing sup and take advantage of the chaos
  • Brute Force – Patience, time or lots of processing power
  • Circumvent – Route around a problem

Let’s say we’ve added a hacking skill to our Fate Core game, and we use that for everything but Equipment, which is probably defined by gear. For the other four approaches, you get a number of points to distribute based on your Hacking skill X2 (so, Fair gets you 2 points, good 4, great 6 and so on). Let’s say we adhere to a rough pyramid distribution just to limit spiking.

We might allow a few other sources to add to the pool. Certain stunts might increase it. If your vision of the net rewards strength of will, you might grant an extra point to someone with a Will of great or better.

But the net result is now you have, effectively, a secondary character sheet that handles all netrunning which is easy to set up, plays nicely with the rest of the system, but still feels very much like its own thing. That’s super satisfying.

The benefit for ubiquitous skills (like, say, fighting) is that it allows you to get a lot of differentiation without needing to lean as heavily on stunts. It can be a fun way to handle duels with a fine grain (as the two masters go to their respective approaches for the fight) that easily collapses back into the Fight skill for broader conflict.

For magic – well, for an easy example, imagine how easy it would be to do a magic system based on the Stormcallers system[2] where there’s a magic skill, and the storms are approaches. Easy peasy.

Approaches remain a really robust technology, and what’s most fun is that we’ve still only scratched the surface.

  1. This list adheres to the general metaphor of breaking into computers. If you’re playing with lots of hallucinatory landscapes, the approaches would probably be very different (and with more specific visual cues).  ↩
  2. If you haven’t seen the magic system toolkit preview, it’s a form of elemental magic, where each “storm” corresponds to an element.  ↩

5 thoughts on “Approaches as an Add On

  1. Brian Mooney

    By chance, is there a post or link where Bruce talks more about Mage/FAE? I glanced at his G+ page, but I might have missed it. I’ve been itching to try Mage with a different system, and since I backed FAE/FATE, I’d love to gather as much info as possible.

    As always, thanks for the great posts!

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      It looks like it was a private share, but I should note that it was pretty brief. If you have the idea of approaches as spheres, you’ve got the main takeaway.

  2. Eric

    This reminds me of the “Container Attributes” in Tri-Stat. This is in no way shape or form a bad thing.

  3. Ryan M. Danks

    We got the idea to use approaches in Jadepunk as alternatives to skills (choose your profession, which is basically a skill mode, and you can decide to play FAE by only using professions or going further and writing in the skills to play FC). I like the idea of using them for subsystems. It feels very much like Cortex’s skills and specialties (the old Cortex of Serenity, where you bought up a skill to a decent level and then bought specialities to go higher).

    Good stuff.

  4. Random_Phobosis

    We’ve once tried to solve the problem of broad and narrow skills by having each skill collapse into a little pyramid of sub-skills. +1 has no pyramid, +2 is a pyramid with the height of 2, +3 is a pyramid with the height of 3 and so on. If the character was a novice, he knew just one application of the skill, but then the more skilled he became, the more approaches or applications he learned. So Stealth might include such sub-skills as Sneaking, Security systems, Spying as well as Contacts in criminal circles and stuff.

    But we eventually dropped this system, because for us it’s not that important exactly how skilled is the character in exactly which additional approaches. We just know that he is more competent than untrained guy in everything that correspond to his skill, but not as incredibly good as his speciality.

    So we made somewhat narrow skills (like “Sword fencing”, “Hacking”, “Intimidation”) and tied a background Aspect to each of them. For example, you could have “Brawling (Arena fighter)” or “Brawling (Brigand)”, and, although the narrow skill is the same, the aspects implicate vastly different broad fields of expertise. The other examples are “Magic (Imperial College of Arcana)” and “Magic (Witch)”, or “Fencing (Noble House)” and “Fencing (Pirate)”.

    Another good thing is that the players don’t have to come up with all the little approaches and applications of the skills up front, they all are just kind of encompassed by the Aspect. Since there’s a lot of applications, its okay to ask a Fate point for using them. Last but not least, those background Aspects also ground the characters in the world, so they are useful in more than one way mechanics-wise.


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