Category Archives: Fate

FAE 2

I have a FAE hack (Which I am calling FAE2[1]) that has been eating my brain which I will almost certainly use next time I need to run FAE because it’s very simple to implement, requires minimal changes from any existing material, and it opens a number of doors that I want to see opened.

The hack is this: When you make a roll, rather than choosing an approach and rolling that, you pick two approaches and add them together, and use that. Mechanically, this means that the potential bonus has changed from 0–3 to 1–5, so it will require a small (+2ish) bump to any passive difficulties or simply statted enemies, but otherwise you can largely play as written[2].

So why do such a thing? I have many, many answers:

  • Allows GM and player to each input into a challenge. The GM can say this is a Careful challenge, but the player can try to muscle through, and choose Forceful, and those are the two stats to use.
  • 2 approaches means two possible causes for failure. This is a subtle but important point which is key to respecting player’s schticks. If a player is super sneaky, but they blow a roll, it sucks to say the problem was with their sneakiness. This offers an obvious alternative.
  • Which approaches are chosen and how they combine offers an obvious area for mechanical hooks. Stunts which trigger a mechanical effect if two approaches are combined. Effects (fictional or mechanical) which force the choice on one side or another. Situations where you double down on a single stat. Switching up approaches to change the dynamic of a situation. Lots of possibilities.
  • This allows for the addition of an additional character- or campaign-specific approach to cover something that is important to a specific campaign. The most obvious possibility is some form of magic, but it does not take much imagination to see the possibilities of things like status, resources, alignment or very nearly anything else. In straight Fae, adding an approach for specific situations means those situations are all about that approach. This means that those situations will be tempered by other elements on the character’s sheet, which I very much like.
  • It also is an easy way to model games where there are things which not everyone can do, but which have differentiation among those who can do them (like, say, Avatar).
  • The handling of the extra approach is also a robust and profound mechanical hook, especially since nothing demands that it be consistent. Actions might charge it up or run it down.
  •  I hate to even say it, but I suppose I must. Spamming your best approach is the obvious abuse in Fae, and this mitigates it somewhat. It can outright counter it if the GM similarly just always picks the players worst approach, but that is an example of two wrongs trying to make a right but actually creating a pretty bad game for everyone else.

I fully get that for some people this might be an arbitrary or fiddly change, so I’m absolutely not suggest ing it as a blanket change. But the benefits seem so self-evident to me that there’s no way I can’t try it.


  1. Electric Boogaloo  ↩
  2. Alternately, you could reduce all approaches by 1 (so the go from –1 to +2) and leave everything else as is. I have an instinct to not do this, but I cannot fully articulate why, especially since I can intellectually think of a lot of potential benefits to it – for example, it now might now becomes an interesting compel option for the GM to compel you to use an aspect (at –2) rather than an approach, because the door has opened to negative approaches. Dunno. It’s apart I need to think about some more.  ↩

Aspects as Approaches

Fred threw me an interesting idea about approaches and alignment yesterday, and as is the nature of such things, I’ve ended up in another place entirely. The other half of the thinking in this came from watching some Anime – Bleach in particular – where you see sometimes-interesting, sometimes-lame narrative tricks that keep fights interesting despite super powerful protagonists. One of the better ones is when the hero’s heart is not in the fight, and so they do poorly against an opponent they could usually squash because they’re hesitant or distracted. The passions that make them strong (compassion, justice, whatever) become weaknesses.

You can model this with aspects, straight up, but I really got in my head the idea of that emotional component of a fight, where what’s really going on (through stakes, escalation and so on) is that the hero’s reasons to fight are steadily being brought online, especially in a climactic battle. It’s a little meta, but storywise, that’s often what’s going on.

This in turn lead to thinking about baselines. If you’re running a game where everyone can kick ass, how do you model the guy who doesn’t? If everyone’s built from zero, then it’s no big deal, he’s just built differently, but if you’re going to assume a baseline of badassness, then he needs something to bring him down a step or two, which suggested the possibility of approaches with negative values.

That (and the discovery of an old character sheet) lead to some thoughts about Exalted’s four Virtues ( Compassion, Temperance, Conviction and Valor) and how they’re potent but double edged, but how that’s more the domain of aspects in Fate, and that lead to a leap which seemed very obvious in retrospect – aspects are approaches, or very nearly so, so why not mash them up further?

That is to say, every aspect is effectively an approach with a +2 (or –2) value, with rules surrounding when and how often you can apply it. And viewed that way, there’s no real reason that the value of 2 needs to be set in stone – we can embrace the idea of variable potency by simply having it be baked right into the aspect – I’m a knight of the cross (3) and a drunk (1) but I’m also a secret freemason (2). Not only do those have different mechanical weights, they enrich the data set. Consider the character I just described, and contrast her with I’m a knight of the cross (1) and a drunk (2) but I’m also a secret freemason (3).[1] Tells a different story with the same elements.

Similarly, for scene aspects, size can tell a story, so there’s a difference between On Fire (1) and On Fire (2).[2]

Plus, this also allows for a trick that solves one of the great communication problems surrounding aspects – I can explicitly write down how I want it played. That is, if I note a number (2) then I’m saying that’s a normal aspect that can hinder or help me. But if I want, I can explicitly note it as positive or negative (+2 or –2) (though I can’t think of many reasons to do the latter) to indicate that it can only be used in that way. That’s important mechanically, but it’s more important as a communication to the GM and the table that makes it clear where I do and do not want my safe zones to be.

Ok, yes, at this point were going far enough from Fate Core that this probably would merit its own build, so I’m going to have to sketch it out some, maybe run a game or two, but I have to say, I’m a little excited by this line of thinking.


  1. Parenthetical numbers also allow for these things to be called out as aspects in plain text without additional formatting, which is handy if you’re going to steal HQ’s 100 word chargen. Which you should. In fact, it’s a great way to do pre-gens, since you could leave the blanks, and let the player come to the table and weight them.  ↩

  2. That’s actually the tip of a very big mechanical iceberg. By allowing the improvement or diminishment of aspects, you open the door to a whole new approach to how aspects are mechanically interacted with. Just putting a flag in that for the moment, since that’s totally it’s own subject.  ↩

GM Approaches Strike Back

Some great discussion over on Google Plus about yesterday’s post made it pretty clear that the idea has some legs, so I’m going to drill down and talk about it a little bit more.

First, a little more discussion on how these GM approaches are used. When I came up with the list of GM approaches, I did not base them on things that GMs can do (that’s a larger list) but rather, I specifically limited them to consequences, with an eye on how to handle the player losing a roll. Things like harm, loss of resources, misinformation and so on are all non-blocking consequences of things going wrong, and the approaches reflect that.

This is a big difference between these and the GM “moves” of the *World games. Moves are much broader and cover things both in and out of conflicts, while approaches are fairly conflict-centric. It would not be impossible to extend the approaches into a set of move equivalents, but you’d need to expand to include things like introducing a fact, foreshadowing the future and so on. Coming up with that list might take a few minutes – less if one wants to just lift the list from Dungeon World – and the bonuses might not be relevant, but that’s probably a subject for some consideration.

An additional difference is that approaches are primarily reactive rather than proactive. They can be used proactively, in a “guy with a gun kicks in the door” kind of way, but they’re primarily used in response to player actions. After the player determines their action, the GM considers what sort of outcome might be the most interesting and how hard it should be, and picks the approach that lines up with that.

Second, GM approaches need not be the only factor in play when coming up with the net difficulty. They make a good baseline, but scene-specific elements can influence things. Oe easy way to do that is by giving NPC’s stunts and aspects, so that the underlying approaches are the baseline, and the stunts modify those.

Alternately, you could combine GM approaches with NPC approaches. If both are rated from +0 to +3, then you can get a totally difficulty from +0 to +6, which is a pretty robust spread.

Third, the idea of GM character sheets ended up surprisingly toothy. Specifically, the GM stunts were pretty awesome as people started coming up with their own. I hope that some other folks decide to chime in with their own.

A few fun ones:

From Seth ClaytonCliffhanger – +2 to Escalate at the end of a session.

From Matt Wildman: I Can Think Out Of The Box Too – +2 when I introduce something even the players weren’t thinking of to steer the story in a new/different direction.

Mine: Charming Adversaries – +2 When I use an NPC to misrepresent the PCs as bad guys.

GM Approaches

The other day, I talked up using different approaches for NPCs, and while I think that’s a solid idea, it also opens the door on something even more interesting – GM approaches.

Unlike NPC approaches, GM approaches are less about the action and more about GM intention. That is to say, GM approaches are based upon the expected consequences of the GM’s actions. As such, the core GM actions might be:

  • Harm
  • Misdirect
  • Steal
  • Misrepresent
  • Delay
  • Escalate

Harm is reasonably self explanatory, since it comes up in every fight, though anything that might result in PC harm (or certain types of aspects) falls under this.

A successful Misdirect gives the players false information. How you handle that will depend on your table habits regarding secrets, but the result is fairly straightforward.

A successful steal strips a player of a resource. Maybe it’s cash or a weapon, but it might be something more ephemeral, like support or an ally.

A successful Misrepresent changes how the world sees the characters, and comes up in many social exchanges.

A successful delay, well, causes a delay.

A successful escalate makes the situation worse.

Note that one specific approach which could be on that list but is not is stymie – the GM approach focusing on just stopping the players. Why? because that’s the boring outcome. By removing that from the explicit list, the GM is forced to always think about a non-boring outcome.

There’s a lot of room for mechanics in these. They could easily be restricted to explicit outcomes if you want a move-like set of limitations, but I consider that a better starting point than a conclusion. A little more curious is the question of how a GM uses them, and to that end, I see two possibilities.

First, the GM could set these levels at the outset of play (2 +3s, 2 +2s 2+1s) either by her own logic or as determined by players, and then the values are re-allocated whenever you use a +3 – It becomes a +1, bump up a +1 to a +2 and Bump ups a +2 to a +3. Creates a challenge for the GM to balance between outcomes and difficulty, which is kind of appealling.

Second, and possibly more compelling, this allows for the possibility of GM Character Sheets. That is, how would you stat yourself up as a GM? Where do you want to focus your strengths? Heck, throw in some stunts (Because I’m a Killer GM, I get a +2 to harm in the first round of combat) and you could build a whole profile. Write up a few of these and you could have a variety of GM “hats” to choose between before play. Heck, spread them out on the table before a con game and let the players choose the form of the destructor.

Ok, yes, there’s a bit of frivolity in this idea, but as a trick to channel the GM to thinking about outcomes, there’s a lot of utility here.

Also, totally curious what people think their GM sheet looks like.

NPC Approaches

Bear with me here, this is still a pretty experimental idea, but I have found myself wondering what happens if the GM starts having approaches.

There are some slightly indirect ways to implement this – NPC approaches make a lot of sense when you’re talking about villains. Heck, I could totally see a villain whose approaches are:

  • Minions
  • Gadgets
  • Gloating

and it would be pretty easy to run with that. Really, you’re mostly just using them as a means of establishing difficulty baselines, so the mechanical challenge is straightforward. And as a GM, they basically create clear directions of action for the villain. I mean, yes, you could probably come up with a universal list of villain approaches, but I admit t really like the idea of customizing them per villain.

It seems like a fun way to handled “named” villains in FAE. I mean, most NPCs in FAE really can be viewed as having 3 approaches:

  • What I Do Well: +2
  • What I do poorly: –2
  • Everything Else: 0 (and you can really just toss this)

Taking the Steel Assassin from the book (p. 38)

  • Sneaking and Ambushing: +2
  • Standing up to determined Opposition: –2

Yes, it’s just a reframing of what’s already there, but in thinking about them like approaches, it becomes easy to scale these things up for more interesting opposition without necessarily making for more complicated opposition. That is, if I need the Steel Assassin Wizard, it’s as simple as

  • Sneaking and Ambushing: +2
  • Lightning Magic: +2
  • Standing up to determined Opposition: –2

(and, yes, this streamlines EVEN FURTHER if you mush approaches and aspects together for NPCs, and there’s no good reason not to in a lot of cases).

One useful thing about this is that most NPCs matter only in the context that they appear in. That is, in most situations we don’t ever need to know how good a cook the enemy mecha pilot is, so we can easily represent him with Guns, Missiles and Laser Sword approaches. PCs need to be much more robust, so they need the general approaches, but that scene-specificity allows the GM much more leeway in thinking about NPC approaches.

This becomes even more important when you want to hang additional fiddliness off these things. To use the mecha example, why would you differentiate lasers and missiles as approaches? Why not just call them a “weapons” approach, and fill in the color?

The answer is that you totally can do that, but sometimes we WANT to make that differentiation, and mechanics can support that. Maybe Lasers ignore armor, or Missiles can attack multiple targets. A few simple things like this can give an enemy a lot of extra color, and the mechanics are usually as simple as “lower bonus, but some manner of special effect”. To go back to our Steel Assassin, we upgrade him to the ICE ASSASSIN as follows:

  • Sneaking and Ambushing: +2
  • Frozen Strike: +0, adds “Frozen” aspect on hit.
  • Shattering Blow: +2, invoke target’s “Frozen” aspect for free.
  • Standing up to determined Opposition: –2

The “combo” that drives this NPC is pretty straightforward (Freeze people then smash them) so it’s not much more complicated to run, but it’s much more colorful than our usual steel assassin.

This is one of those things that let’s a GM use FAE for her end of play, even if the players are using Fate Core, because the mechanics really are a list of the things the GM hopes to see in the scene, supported simply and robustly.

Of course, this is just one approach. There’s another one that’s been on my mind for another day.

The Right Tool for the Job

I suspect anyone who’s looked at FAE’s approaches has considered the mechanical exploit of just using your +3 approach whenever possible. And if your +3 is in one of the more flexible approaches (Careful, Clever and Flashy in particular) then it’s not terribly hard to spin your fiction so that there’s a good argument for a particular approach.

This is kind of lame. No question about it. But the immediate tool of arguing with the player about which approach is applicable is even lamer. No one wants to stop play to have that discussion.[1] And, honestly, it’s not a huge problem – the spread of approach bonuses is small enough that this behavior is hardly overwhelming, and presumably the player is having fun with it.

But still, it bugs me. And it’s a big reason why I will always use the optional rule of adjusting difficulties based on approach [p. 37, 2] party to mitigate that behavior, but also because it simply makes intuitive sense to me. It’s rare that I’d adjust by more than +1/–1, but it’s a good option to have.

But it also scratches the surface of a larger issue, one that can be a bit of a frustration for a lot of GMs. Out of the box, Fate (and by extension, FAE) has poor support for what I call “the right tool for the job.” Because all aspects are mechanically equal (as are all approaches), there is a tendency to go for quantity over quality – that is, even if one aspect fits a situation perfectly, it may well be accompanied by two more that are kind of loosely applicable.

I admit, this is a space where I think there’s a lot of power in having a trusted GM’s judgement in play. The right tool is only rarely a technical concern – it is most often one of theme and taste. When Inigo Montoya tags his revenge aspect against the 6 fingered man, that seems right and true. When he tags his Swordsman aspect, that feels mechanical.[3]

But supporting that is tricky, especially since you really don’t want every aspect invocation to be a conversation, and the easiest way to solve that problem is the same way it’s done with approaches – by adjusting difficulties. Using the right aspect might decrease the difficulty by 1 (effectively granting it a +3) while a lame or questionable aspect might increase it by 1 (effectively reducing the bonus to +1).

There’s some sleight of hand to doing this on the difficulty side, and were I to be completely transparent, then I would effectively be promoting a variable aspect payout system that would break down as follows:

  • +1 – Technically applicable, but uninteresting. The thousandth time you’ve used your ninja aspect.
  • +2 – Most invocations
  • +3 – Oh, man, yes, that’s perfect. A Paladin fighting a devil.
  • +4 – (effectively granting a free second invocations) Oh holy crap that’s so perfect I can’t stand it – this is your moment to shine, and if you’re not about to hit a milestone, something is badly wrong.

But that’s really not tenable in play. Even if the vast majority of uses come out to a +2, the need to check each time (and the opportunity to argue each time) is a total drag. And that’s why I offload it to the GM side, out of sight, with difficulties (because mechanically, a +1 for you or a –1 for me is a wash).

Not everyone is going to be ok with such an approach. It demands a lot of trust in the GM to allow such hidden tools, though arguably it’s only so much of a stretch, since difficulty is already under the GM’s auspices. And if your table is not comfortable with something like this, then don’t do it. The purpose of this is to reward certain behaviors (ones your players hopefully enjoy), not to try to sneak in a little bit of extra GM authority while no one’s looking.


  1. Not to say that discussion can’t be had. Coming to an understanding of where one approach ends and another begins is a very useful thing for your table, but that’s something to do before or after play, not in the moment.
  2. Fate Accelerated, Evil Hat Productions, 2013
  3. If you disagree with that assertion, then the good news is that this is not a problem you need to solve! That is not a bad place to be in at all.

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.  ↩

FAE’s Best Friends

Gregor Hutton’s Best Friends RPG is an amazing little game (which is no great shock, Gregor’s stuff is all amazing) with a petty, malicious, brilliant little chargen technique which is trivially ported to FAE.

Best Friends has a list of stats like tough, pretty, rich and so on, all of which are effectively the approaches that matter to a high school group of frenemies. As with Leverage, it’s a list that’s pretty easy to map directly to approaches, but that’s tangential to the appeal.

What’s most marvelous is that for each stat (or for our purposes, approach), you write down which character your character hates because they’re better than you. Literally. “I hate Betty because she’s prettier than me”. GM gathers those up, and the value of the stat (approach) is equal to the number of people who hate you for it.

There are a few rules to make sure that everyone is reasonably equally represented, but that’s an easy bit of math based on the number of approaches and the number of players. Slightly trickier is making sure the total number of plusses comes up to a competent total. If need be, you might start everyone at +1 everything, and layer the additional points on top of it, but only if you really feel the need.

Anyway, it’s a wonderful trick, and so trivially easy to port to FAE that I had to share.

Approaching Approaches

Now that FAE is out in the wild, people are getting a good sense of what approaches are, but for the unfamiliar, here’s the quick version: approaches replace skills, and represent the style with which you solve a problem rather than the manner in which you do so. Sounds pretty abstract, but it’s easy to illustrate. In FAE, the approaches are:

  • Careful
  • Clever
  • Flashy
  • Forceful
  • Quick
  • Sneaky

So, if I get in a swordfight, we’re not rolling my skill, but rather we’re rolling based on how I’m approaching the swordfight. If I’m hammering away at my opponent, I’m being Forceful. If I’m dancing around, launching quick attacks, I’m being Quick. The basics are pretty straightforward[1].

Once you’ve got a grasp on the basic idea, the next question that springs to mind is whether that list really covers everything, and the answer is “no, of course it doesn’t”. But it’s not supposed to – it covers enough of a range to support the kind of play that makes for the baseline for FAE but, importantly, it also teaches the concept in a quick, very absorbable fashion.

Why is that important? Because one of the easiest ways to hack FAE is to come up with your own set of approaches, ones that reflect the specifics of your particular game. The general list works well for many things, but different games have different priorities, and by delineating approaches, you are explicitly calling out the areas where things happen in your game.

How do I mean that? Consider how easily FAE can be used to hack the Leverage RPG. In leverage, the 5 core stats (Hitter, Hacker, Grifter, Mastermind & Thief) can just as easily be seen as approaches. It’s pretty much a direct port[2], which is handy.

Too easy? Ok, let’s step into the realm of super spies. When I think about James Bond, I feel like he doesn’t quite line up with the approaches as listed, and I might try something like:

  • Violence
  • Stealth
  • Intellect
  • Charm/Sex
  • Resources (Gadgets, money)
  • Contacts (other people)

Easy to debate the specifics of the list (and I encourage you to make your own) but it illustrates the way that James Bond solves problems from my perspective. And if I run a FAE game with those approaches, I’m making a statement about the shape of the game.

Note that that list also reveals two interesting things about approaches:

First, they’re exclusionary – There’s no “violent” approach in the core list because violence could be approached in any of the ways listed. By making violence an approach, it’s called out as its own focus of spotlight and, more importantly, as something that CANNOT be accomplished with another approach. In effect, the Bond list says “violence is its own thing, and it caries weight.” That is to say, if there is a most important thing in your game, then you explicitly don’t want it on your approach list – thus, there is no “spying” approach for James Bond.

Second, they can also be external – the FAE core list is solidly traditional in that it talks about expressions of the character, but there’s no reason that approaches need to be that way. Can you solve a problem by throwing money at it? Then perhaps resources are a valid approach, if you expect to see that a lot (I could totally see it for the Richie Rich game). This point is important when you start thinking about plugging in things like magic systems into FAE, and deciding if magic should be an approach. It also matters a lot when you start thinking about GM approaches.

But that’s a whole other topic.


  1. And should also be familiar to anyone who remembers my Amber hack (Grace, Force, Resolve and Wits) as well as somewhat reminiscent of Robin Laws’ Dying Earth RPG.  ↩
  2. speaking broadly, you will find similar portability in any system where it is expected that characters have ALL of the possible skills at some level of capability.  ↩

What Makes a Skill

Yesterday, I stole one idea form Bulldogs! and today I’m going to steal another.

Back in the day, Feng Shui presented a very interesting way to handle skills that worked very well for it’s wide, loose model. In short, a skill represented three things. The first, Physical Ability, was the traditional meaning of a skill – actually doing the thing the skills described. If the skill was guns, it means shooting people. If it was Thief, it meant breaking picking locks and such. All standard enough.

The second thing, Knowledge, measured how knowledgeable you were about the skill in question. Thus, if you had a high guns skill, it also meant you had an encyclopedic knowledge of guns. This worked very well for the action-movie focus of the game, since that tends to be how action heroes operate. The thief may not be “The Smart Guy”, but he can rattle off the details about a specific type of bank vault with nothing more than a glance.

The last thing, Contacts, measured the character’s connection to the community surrounding the skill. This meant you knew who the other big players were in your space (“He was killed with a golden bullet through the left temple, the signature of Midas Mayhem!”) but also the broader network around it, including gun dealers, collectors, specialists and so on. Among other things, this meant that a thief could find a fence or a gun-bunny could get his hands on a bagfull of guns without much real hassle.

Now, I don’t know if Laws took this from another game, but for me it was a total eye-opener. By establishing these Skill Components, he’d neatly solved a ton of problems from more detailed systems that emerged from a disconnect between the character as envisioned and the character as supported by the rules. That is, even if you bought up your core skill, you would usually need to also buy up the far less rewarding Knowledge and Contact skills to avoid looking like a chump (or, as was more often the case, ignore them and hope the GM did the same).

I internalized this approach in my own play, to great satisfaction. In time, I added my own spin in the form of a fourth Skill Component for Perception (So gun guy could spot a sniper or a concealed carry without being Sherlock Holmes) and happily meandered onward.

But for all that, there was a bit of a downside to this, since it did not map to all sill lists, especially if you want to go to a finer grain. As an example, Feng Shui had the Intrusion skill, which covered a wide range of thiefly pursuits, and that worked. But if you ever needed to split it up (into, say, Burglar and Stealth) then you ran into weird questions, like what exactly Stealth Contacting meant. Is there a big Stealth community out there? Do they have a very sneaky newsletter?

Bulldogs! strikes at the root of that problem by taking a similar (but more detailed) breakdown and building _up_ from it to construct skills. The basic idea is that a skill can be used to do the following things: overcome an obstacles, make an assessment, make a declaration, place a maneuver, attack, defend or block.

Now, what exactly those mean has some system-specific weight, so if you’re not clear on what “make an assessment” means, then don’t sweat it (or go read SOTC) but what’s important is that those are, effectively, the seven mechanical things that a character can _do_ in the system, so using them as the baseline to define the skills makes for super tight engineering.

The idea is not portable in and of itself – those 7 things are fate specific – but the idea is a fascinating lens to take to another game and ask what characters can actually _do_. Curiously, you can end up coming around to a similar space as Apocalyse World’s moves this way, albeit from a somewhat different direction. In both cases the bones of system are laid bare, and the construction on top of them is made apparent to the reader.

So, yeah. It’s a good trick.