Two Column Fate

Two-column Fae (or Fate) is a term I mention from time to time and other people have used it in their hacks, but I was thinking of a particular thing to be done with it today, and it occurred to me that i have no explanation of the foundations of those idea, so this is where I’m going to lay that out.

Two Column Fate basically uses two lists of skills, approaches or similar. When it comes time to make a roll, the character takes one from column A and one from Column B, totals them up and makes the roll[1]. Structurally, this is very similar to a classic “Stat + Skill” model, and it could be used for that, but the real utility of this model is to handle much more interesting cases.

There are a few mechanical benefits to this – notably it can bring the intuitive simplicity of Fae in line with the numbers you see in Fate. But the biggest virtue of this system is that it allows for the two columns to have drastically different origins (both thematically and mechanically) which allows for a wide range of interesting mechanical effects.

Consider a few examples –

Fae Leverage
Approach Crime
Careful Hitter
Clever Hacker
Flashy Grifter
Forceful Thief
Quick Mastermind
Style Passion
Force Loyalty
Wits Love
Resolve Hospitality
Grace Honor
Fate: Pick Two
Action Necessity
Mind Quality
Money Speed
Muscle Efficiency

The other thing that excites me about this is that you can treat the columns as  interchangeable elements. If you want to run a mech game, you can swap out one of the columns for the mech stats column when you’re in your mech. Different character classes might use a different second column. One column might be fixed, and the other on change over the course of play. It’s a huge avenue of responsive rules and customization[2].

So, putting a pin in it, so I can save the explanation in future conversations.

  1. Fae2 is technically a two column hack, except that the two columns have the same content.  ↩
  2. The idea that struck me was inspired by demonology type magic. You could totally use a summoned demon as your second column, so that you use its bonuses when you act through the demon. That’s pretty standard. But where it can be fun is to make the demon’s list all nasty verbs, like Destroy, Corrupt, Reek and so on. Even if you don’t use it for evil, it just kind of LEANS that way.  ↩

42 thoughts on “Two Column Fate

  1. Cam Banks

    What stands out from this is that this is non-Fate-specific design thought. I mean, it’s what drives all Cortex Plus iterations. It could also be useful when hacking, say, d20 or Storytelling System or anything that has a mechanical resolution where you could add two things together.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Oh, totally. The idea of adding is OLD. But Fate (and Fudge) have always had a bit of a stumbling block with addition, since historically it tended to break things. Finding ways to bring all that classic goodness back under the Fate umbrella really appeals to me.

  2. Fred Hicks

    The trick is to make sure that the greatest possible sum of the two columns is equal to what would normally be the skill cap.

    You could have the range of columns be unequal (column A ranges +0 to +2, column B ranges +0 to +3, essentially modeling a Superb skill cap) with no trouble, too.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Yes, i totally forgot to include that, but there’s a whole lot of interesting math in how to handle the math, but as you note, 3-cap & 2-cap is the simplest solution.

      But it also is one more interesting mechanical hook, because this also allows you opportunities to break those rules. Maybe the demon has a +4 corrupt – Because the dark powers are always willing to help – so you might be able to go as high as a +7, but only when you’re doing something pretty terrible.

      Not something to do casually – huge numbers can still break things, but it’s an interesting trick to have in reserve.

  3. silverwizard

    I have been talking about exactly this with my local group – makes FATE Mage the Ascension or Awakening *super* easy, works for any one of many techniques – my favourite being classes.

    1. Daniel Markwig

      Yep. Am currently having a discussion about this over at Among others with Ryan. And he’s been shooting down some of my weirder thoughts with totally valid feedback. 😉
      I was thinking about using Ars Magica’s verb/noun construct for Mage.

  4. Gareth

    You could do a cool magic system with this. Make one column what you’re trying to do, and the other what you’re trying to do it to. So, column one would be Create, Destroy, Change and so on, and the other one would have, like, the four elements, and plants, and thoughts and that sort of stuff. Maybe use some Latin-ish names to make it all sound mystical.

  5. Elsidar

    Where did you get the “FateDragon” example from? The first column sounds like what I wanted to reach when I tried to hack Fireborn into a Fate-esque game.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      The first column is actually the first set of approaches we ever came up with, before we even had a name for such things. They were the stats for an Amber game we had a hand in (The second column is lifted from Pendragon).

  6. Mike Olson

    I like the idea that everyone has the same approaches in the first column, but can have a different list of approaches in the second — like maybe not everyone’s Passions are the same, or you could use a version of Smallville’s Values (“Pick three things that mean something to you: Love, Honor, Truth, Glory, Power”), or the like. You have three or four of those with ratings ranging from +1 to +3; whatever you don’t have is +0.

  7. Seth Clayton

    The first thing I thought of when I read this is the old, “You can have it fast, good, or cheap. Pick two.” I think that actually works well as a concept, with a potential compel built in. The tough part is finding a set of “things” that fit most situations.

    To carry on with your “demon” example, I can also see having column A being your strength/virtue and column B being your weakness/vice. That’s maybe not quite what you originally envisioned (and may not work quite so well for bonuses) but has some interesting storytelling implications.

  8. Zebediah

    I’ve been setting up little shadowruns in 2-column fate — race affects what bonus level you can put your approaches at, everyone gets a different skill realm at apex (data, intrusion, ‘ware, network, assault, grounding) and you get a nice two-column effect.

    The interesting bits from the two-colomn side are that, while you’re always using one approach and one skill realm, all your bonuses go in a +3 pyramid, and you need a major milestone to push anything up to +3. The “because I am awesome” stunts, instof adding a flat +2, let you add another skill or approach in (specified when you get the stunt — “implied menace” let’s you add Forceful to your Sneaky+Network rolls, “that’s where I would hide” let’s you add intrusion to your data-based defense against intrusion, etc)

    This means basic rolls have an apex of +5, +6 after a major milestone, and with stunts it’s +7, then +8, then +9. We haven’t ever gotten to there, but it is a slow-growing limit.

    1. Elsidar

      Is there anywhere you’ve posted more details about this system? I’d like to read more about what you’re describing.

  9. John Edmond

    I have been interested in this since I first saw it.

    I think that I would be most interested in using the second column to be used for (or resembling) class features.

    So, the crime one from above could be reserved for a rogue. And a fighting brute would have a “maneuvers” second column. And a mage would have a “spell school” second column.

    That way it really spells out their characters expertise Is.

  10. Jean-Christophe Cubertafon

    Working on a conversion guide for Numenera, I was looking for an elegant solution to circumvent the “problem” of the three types of character. So, here comes the 2-column FAE.

    First column – Five domains: Cerebral (intellectual activities and nano-sorcery); Combative (fight, war, willpower); Communicative (interpersonal activities); Material (crafts, object manipulation, including numeneras); Natural (environment, weather, travels)

    Second column – Six approaches: as usual.

    I don’t need to bother with the type anymore!

    I dig the idea of having a flexible first column. I keep that idea for another hack for now.

  11. Henning Pfeiffer

    This is a question to all you guys, who did spend a lot of thoughts on the system, and how it might break up. (It’s about an idea, I’d like to test for my hack.)
    Which problems might arise, if I re-adjust the ladder to be more like Ars Magica? Making zero (±0) the “average” value (even for difficulties) – and allowing negative scores for PCs. (Especially when using approaches, styles, attributes, situations or the likes – not a skill list to choose from.)
    I’d go for a range of -2 to +2 (with maybe +3 being rather rare). In my mind, that should allow for some more “adding-up trickery” without breaking the system.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      It wouldn’t change much, but it might have a psychological effect, depending how players feel about negative numbers. 🙂

    2. Jesse

      Huh. I’d been using the normal 2-center, and making “add another approach” substitute for the normal +2 bonus from a stunt.

      This, however, makes it easier to do things like “This task is particularly complex — you need to be forceful enough to stop them in their tracks, flashy enough to hold their attention, sneaky enough that you don’t expose why. You’re using illusion magic, so you’ve got to add your Mystic and Social ratings.”

      There’s a game that does this by default — I forget the title, but something about being immortals who turn into animals and minerals, who are hiding from the giant eye who watches everyone’s dreams. One of the odd effects was that high-agility characters always wanted the floor slippery — it increased the chance of success slightly.

      It’s also hinted at in the Fate psychic power bit, where you may be using multiple domains (telepathy, empathy, psychokinesis, etc) on a single effect, which makes it more difficult but allows you to add multiple bonuses.

      If you make zero the basic value, complicating things in cheap. If you make +1 the basic value, complicating things is the path to victory. If you make -1 the basic value, people have to think twice about complicating things.

  12. Luke Green

    Hmm. Interesting. In this vein I could say that column two operates similar to aspects.

    Column one = FAE approaches

    Column two = defined by players with unlisted tasks at -1.


    Captain Gaetana Trolleti
    Regretful Visionary Strategist
    Mistaken for the Secretary
    Avalon’s Tinuviel Seat
    Captain of the Melian
    Rage and Guilt, Hidden Deep

    Column One: Clever +2, Sneaky +2, Careful +3, Forceful +1, Quick +0, Flashy +1

    Column Two: Strategy +2, Analysis +1, Technology +1, Psychic +0

    Lilitu Geisthexe
    First Tier Demoness of Smoke
    Distrusted by Colleagues
    A Practicing Baptist
    Spy, Not A Warrior
    A Demon’s Independence

    Column One: Sneaky +3, Clever +2, Flashy +2, Quick +1, Careful +1, Forceful +0

    Column Two: Psychic +2, Analysis +1, Strategy +1, Faith +0

    Sergeant Major Eowyn Desai
    The Shield-“Maiden” of Avalon
    Human in Body, Weapon in Mind
    Former Marine Upright Pilot
    Tai Chi Since Childhood
    Raised in High Society

    Column One: Forceful +3, Clever +2, Quick +2, Sneaky +1, Careful +1, Flashy +0

    Column Two: Willpower +2, Piloting +1, Personal Combat +1, Fitting In +0

    Possibly with the following significant milestone option:

    Add a +0 Task.

  13. Kevin Seachrist

    2 column FAE Star Wars:

    Standard approaches

    Force Use

    All of the above abilities are given shape through aspects, so Sith and Jedi share force use. Demolition specialists, medics, mechanics, and slicers share Tech. It’s the aspects that drive the narrative justification.

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  15. Ywen

    Instead of summing the two stats, why not take the _lowest_ of both?
    This way you stay in the usual range (no need to bump difficulty levels) and it sort of make sense: you’re gonna be limited by your worse stat: if the situation requires you to be a Quick Hacker but you are a rather meticulous, taking-her-time person, even if you are usually a Great Hacker then your incapacity to act Quickly will hinder you.

    1. fredhicks

      Honestly, getting limited isn’t as much fun as seeing something become a larger sum. I can definitely see that method working in some implementations where it serves the need, but in general I think that would produce a lot of “I’m holding myself back!” feelings instead of “I’m playing to my strengths!”

      1. Ywen

        It’s not holding you back. It _is_ playing up to your strengths. Your weakest strengths, in this case.
        That’s why I don’t think it’s up to the implementation.

        Summing is more complicated as it requires fiddling afterwards, because as you said it you’re changing the scale.

        Rolling the min doesn’t change the rest of the rules, because you’re still rolling one of your stats.
        And very important: as you remain within the boundaries of the usual rule, it covers the cases where you roll just one approach or just one skill because no skill (resp. approach) is fitting the situation. It does happen when you have reduced skill lists. E.g when decided you want to scare the hell out of someone and removed Provoke from the skill list. Well, you just roll Forceful, and no skill is involved.
        Whereas if you adapt everything because you’re expecting sums, when this case happens you have to adapt it back.
        With the min you always remain in the same framework. IMO adding makes just things more complicated.

        I’m suggesting this because that’s the way we’re handling that in our Fate Core games: “You want to shoot him while driving? Is that Drive or Shoot? Well, easy, if you’re a

        1. Ywen

          (sorry, double post)
          If you’re a better driver, what’s uncertain (and therefore worth a roll) is your ability to shoot while driving, and if you’re a better shooter, what’s uncertain is your ability to drive while shooting! So, yeah, it’s the lowest of both those skills. At least, until you get a stunt that allows you to use the highest”.
          It’s not tweaking the rule, because in the end we still roll a skill. It’s just what makes more sense in terms of roll selection.

          1. Jesse

            Actually, you can pull these together in a way that provides limits but also helps encourage that feeling of playing to your strengths.

            Against a single difficulty, roll the dice and apply their shifts to *both* skills.

            If neither makes the difficulty, fail or succeed at cost.
            If only one does, succeed.
            If both do, succeed with style.

            Now if you’re a Careful Hacker, you are pretty likely to succeed at careful fighting tasks and quick hacking tasks, but with style on careful hacking.

            So you get the benefits of your better skill for basic success, and the sense of “I’m so awesome, I have all the bases covered” when both columns allow you to succeed with style.

          2. Ywen

            @Jesse (I can’t hit Reply on your comment)

            I admit this can be a matter of taste (so YMMV and everything), but I don’t think because you’re a Careful Hacker you should have a high chance of succeeding with style everytime a Careful Hack should be performed. You still need the aspects and FPs to matter!

            Having two orthogonal sets of stats is a way of adding more detail to the PCs, not more power.

            And I say again: to me, rolling the min _is_ playing to your strengths. Because a PC isn’t strong at everything or else it’s uninteresting. Watching your characters fail or succeed at a cost because, yeah, they are good Hackers, just not Careful enough is fun and feeds the story.

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  17. Niels

    I have been thinking about a generic two column approach for some time. However, I’m a bit stuck with long term character improvement. Could these scores be improved, and by what rules (compared to the pyramid scheme) or would improvement purely come from stunt improvements ?

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      No one answer – a lot depends on what the role of advancement in the game is. If I anticipate a lot of advancement, I would probably let one of the columns start out kind of stunted and expect it to improve, and have all the advancement there. If advancement is possible but rare, I’d allow the occasional plus, but the main limiter would be the maximum score.

      Actually, that might work well – I’d say “ok, this game is at tier 1, which means the highest possible combination you can get is +5” and allow whatever stat distribution players want so long as that rules is followed. Advancement is arbitrary but still follows the rule, and at some point the campaign “levels up” and now the cap is +6. Lots of interesting subtleties to this and I’s need to think it through a bit, but I could see this working.

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  19. Jack Berberette

    I just came across this article at a recommendation from a friend. There is a FANTASTIC Pathfinder Hack that does a great job with two columns but also has adjustments in the success ladder and for handling difficulties. If you get the chance, I would definitely take a look at this for inspiration. He even has some great archetype hacks and some wonderful ideas for magic.

    Pathfinder Fate Accelerated

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  21. Igor

    I do not speak English, so if you have any errors, it’s because I’m using google translator. The question has nothing to do with the post, but I think I can do it anyway. In the Fate system, the character has the right to take an action and move to an adjacent zone. I know that it is not possible to perform 2 actions on the turn, but if the character abdicates to move to the adjacent zone and perform an action to create advantage and attack, as long as the benefit of the free invocation of +2 is used by another character or same character in the next round? Would not it be strange for you not to consider this a feat?

  22. Rob Donoghue Post author

    So, there are two issues at work here.

    The first is mechanical. A stunt that let me forgo my move in favor of creating an advantage would be very powerful, even if there are limits on how the advantage is used. You could balance this by strongly restricting when it can be used, but I probably wouldn’t for the second reason.

    The second is social – and action in the game is also a *turn* for a player. Letting a player (effectively) take two turns means they steal spotlight from someone else. Or, worse, I discourage other players from “wasting” their turn creating advantages, since they should leave that to the person who can do it for free.

    Bottom line: Mechanically, you could make it work, but it would be hard to make it stay fun in play.


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