Authors: Robert Donoghue and Fred Hicks
Editors: Fred Hicks, Lydia Leong
This document is Open Game Content, as described in section 1(d) of the Open Gaming License.
GMing can be a lot of work. It can be rewarding, fun, even invigorating, but it takes a lot to get from one end of a game session to the other, while maintaining one's imperturbable cool. The system shouldn't make that any harder, so here, we provide a collection of things that a GM's going to want to know, but that the players don't need to. Remember that any section of these rules can be removed if it doesn't suit your group; that's doubly true of this chapter. The goal is to prevent headaches, not cause them.
Aspects allow a GM to represent NPCs in a sort of shorthand. A GM may (and should, for most minor characters) simply assign aspects, and use those for all rolls. Thus, a caravan guard might be represented simply as:
Mercenary 2 (Good)
Perceptive 1 (Fair)
Horseman 1 (Fair)
In general, these aspects do not allow rerolls. It is suggested that the GM construct the aspects in a pyramid, much like what is done with skills, but that is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule, especially for NPCs with few aspects. The GM should also be aware that NPCs designed this way will probably have more effective skill levels than a character constructed from a similar number of aspects. This is somewhat offset by the absence of aspect invocations, but the discrepancy can become noticeable in high aspect (ten or more) characters, so it's best to limit this tactic to less important NPCs.
While it is assumed that most skills default to Mediocre, that is not necessarily the case. Certain rare or esoteric skills may begin with a lower default, such as Poor, Terrible or even Abysmal (which is practically the same as "none"). These skills are bought up like any other skill, except that it may take several ranks to get them up to Average. The good news is, until those skills reach Average, they are not counted for purposes of balancing the pyramid.
The key element to advancement is the character's goal. This is the aspect the character is looking to pursue next, such as Master Thief or Officer.
When it comes to the point in the story where it is appropriate to distribute advancement, the character gains a single skill rank. This skill rank should be spent on a skill appropriate to the goal.
These skill ranks should be distributed over the course of a game arc, with the goal of awarding the fourth skill rank when the arc concludes. When that fourth rank is achieved, the character achieves their goal, and may add the aspect to their character sheet. The player now selects the character's next goal.
It is important that the GM work the goals into the story arc so that the conclusion is satisfactory for everyone involved. If that is not feasible, the player and GM should sit down and discuss how to make the goal work, and if it's not workable the player should be allowed to pick a different goal. The player should not be penalized in situations like that.
Exactly how long an arc should be and how few and far between advancement sessions should be is a matter of taste, and should be suited to the specifics of the game in question. In general, err on the side of caution - characters may move from fighting killer midgets to demon princes over the course of some games, but it's a phenomenon rarely seen in literature.
The pyramid needs only to be balanced when the character chooses a new goal - it may get unbalanced by the single skill point advancements. The GM should help the player keep track of this. Players should be spending skill levels in such a way that balancing the pyramid will be possible by the time a new goal is chosen. That said, if the character reaches their goal and the pyramid is unbalanced, the situation needs to be rectified. Ideally the GM and player can come to some agreement, either modifying some skill levels or laying out exactly what the next few skill purchases will be. The first time this happens, it is very important to try to work with the player, and not penalize them.
Of course, if the pattern repeats to the point of abuse, penalties become more appropriate - specifically, the GM is now responsible for spending the player's advancement skill ranks on whatever she sees fit, until the pyramid is rebalanced.
Advancement can also occur during downtime. If the GM determines that an extended period of time should occur between story arcs, it may be appropriate to allow an advancement phase to occur. This is treated just like a normal phase in character generation. The character may choose to buy their goal aspect during this phase - if so they should pick a new goal. There is nothing that mandates this during downtime - it's just a nice option.
If advancement is slower than players are comfortable with, a good compromise is to award Fate points in lieu of more traditional advancement. The exact pace they are awarded at is up to the GM, but even a single Fate point per session (beyond those gained with aspects) can be a significant award.
If the players are not comfortable with coming up with character goals, the GM may choose to simply award skill advancement, and let players choose the aspect when they have accumulated enough skills to earn it.
Over the course of play, a character's aspect may become inapplicable. The villain they've sworn vengeance against is dead, or the quest they set themselves to is completed. During an advancement event, the character may change that aspect to something different, which reflects the experience the character went through in resolving the previous aspect. For example: If that character's father is an aspect, and his father is killed, "Vengeful" might be an appropriate replacement. Replacement aspects should be discussed with and agreed upon by the GM.
If an extra is lost or destroyed, it does not have the kind of plot protection that aspects have. If the player can restore it in play, then all is well, but if a character reaches a goal and are still missing an extra, they may re-spend those skill ranks on other extras, or recover lost extras through whatever explanation the GM can think of.
The pyramid structure results in more low level skills, with Greats and Superbs being areas where the character truly excels. However, the model does not work for every genre - some games call for more highly skilled characters.
Games like that are better served following a columnar pattern, where you must have as many skills in the rank below to support the skill you like. As such, to have one Superb skill, the character needs only have one Great skill, one Good skill, one Fair skill and one Average skill. Obviously this results in fewer total skills, but with more high level skills. This is not as egregious as it initially appears: since the column must be checked each phase, it's impossible to build directly up to too high a spike without widening the base.
It is generally assumed that there is no hard cap on the number of ranks a character may have in any particular aspect. However, the GM is entitled to place caps on how high an aspect can be bought, either in a general sense (e.g. no aspects over 3) or on case-by-case basis (if you buy one more aspect in the Church, they'll make you pope, which is great for you, but not so much for the game). As with all things, common sense and good judgment are the watchwords. For those desperate for a hard and fast rule, try this: no more than half of a character's aspect ranks may be in a single aspect or no aspect may be higher than the character's highest skill.