Layering FAE Approaches and Abilities

I have an idea for a hack to FAE/Fate Core that combines Approaches and a very short & broad skill list. I’d really like to get some feedback on this idea, but first, I feel like I need to share the train of thought that has brought me here.

The Background

As I recently said, I’ve been devouring Fate Core, Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE), and many of the various spin offs from the Fate engine, as well as engaging in the really active G+ Community. I’m really enjoying seeing the system from different angles, and seeing how it can be twisted and molded. The fact that the game is intended  to be used this way makes this exceptionally inviting and fun.

I have been particularly enamored by the marque feature of FAE, which is its use of Approaches instead of skills. Here is an extremely good explanation of what Approaches are from Chris Ruthenbeck’s  blog post “Fate Core & Accelerated Editions”:
In FC, your character has skills. It tells you what your character is doing. Things like investigate, drive, shoot, and the like. The default skill list has 18 different skills, with rules on how each does one of the four actions: overcome, create an advantage, attack, and defend.

FAE, on the other hand, has 6 Approaches instead of skills. Approaches tell how your character does something, and they are careful, clever, flashy, forceful, quick, and sneaky. Take the famous attack action: if hidden in shadows, you can sneakily attack, but a barbarian would forcefully do the same, while an elven archer would carefully line up a shot. With the focus on how something is done instead of what is done, you can get away with a lot more with the 6 approaches than 18 skills.

I was trying to figure out why the use of Approaches felt so appropriate. Then I found this great post by Sophie Lagace about “FAE or Fate Core?” where she hit the nail on the head:

The stated goal of FATE is to enable you to tell stories about characters who are proactivecompetent, and dramatic (FATE Core, p. 18).  I contend that FAE meets this mandate even better than FATE Core.

With FAE, the skills are replaced by six approaches that represent a character’s style.  And just like that, we move one notch up on the “Competent, Proactive, Dramatic” track: the question a player asks is no longer “Can I do this?” but “How do I do this?”

Aspects tell you whether you can get it done (e.g., “Mage of the Fourth Circle,” “Brain surgeon extraordinaire”, “I once hacked the Pentagon main frame”) and whyyou do it (e.g., “Need to make my mother proud”, “Can’t get enough speed thrills”, “There can be Only One.”)  Approaches tell you how you get it done.

I agree with this in a big way. I love the assumption of PC competence, and the shifted focus to HOW the character accomplishes their action.

However, in my (admittedly limited) playing with FAE, it did end up feeling a little too amorphous, too general. My players felt the same. I started thinking about some way to combine Skills and Approaches. Shortly thereafter I saw this awesome post by Ed Hastings about his Pathfinder Fate Accelerated  hack. He took a very nifty angle by combining the 6 Approaches with 6 Capabilities, which were basically packages of broad skill sets that resonated strongly with classic fantasy classes.  I highly recommend taking a look at what he’s been doing with this idea.

Get to the point already! So what?

This got my wheels turning for another take on this that I’d like to test out, and I’d really like people’s feedback on. I want to retain the brilliance of Approaches to help players focus on HOW they do things, but I want to provide a little extra structure around their areas of competence. I didn’t want to just layer on Approaches on top of the full skill list, that’d be WAY too much going on. I then realized that in many cases, the various skills could be viewed as an Approach being applied to a more general skill (I’ll call them Abilities). For example, let’s consider the possibility of combining all of the social influence skills (Rapport, Provoke, Deceive) into a single broad Ability called Socialize. A given player could have a score in this general skill, and depending on the situation, and HOW they want to accomplish their social action, they layer on the appropriate Approach. This still leaves a lot of room for the flexible creativity that makes Approaches so cool. Being Forcefully Social could be used to intimidate someone, or rouse a crowd with a charismatic speech, for example. Being Sneakily Athletic can be used to stealth through a hallway, while being Quickly Athletic could be used to sprint across that same hallway. I think using this combined method retains the brilliance of Approaches, but helps provide a little more structure for the actions they influence. It also allows characters to have a baseline level of competence in certain Abilities regardless of the Approach used, while allowing them to be moderately successful in less-skilled Abilities when they can leverage the right Approach.

The Combined Method

Here’s my first take on presenting this as a rule:
At creation, Characters distribute a +2/+1/+1 pyramid among the 6 Approaches, and then do the same among the Abilities. When they perform an action, they describe a combination of both Approach and Ability that is appropriate to the action being taken. This means that for a character’s best Ability and best Approach combination, they get a maximum of +4 (just like in Fate Core). For other combinations, the character gets anywhere from +3 to +0, depending on the combination of Approach and Ability.


Combat – Your ability to Fight, whether hand to hand, or with melee or ranged weapons. Any preferences or specializations derive from aspects or stunts. Approaches alter the style of your action. Actions: Overcome, Create Advantage, Attack, Defend
Socialize – Your ability to influence and interact with people, and generally get them to do what you want. Different Approaches alter the flavor of the action, making the difference between intimidation, deception, fast talk, diplomatic arguments, etc. Actions: Overcome, Create Advantage, Attack, Defend
Discovery – Your ability to find out information, about things, people, scenes, or anything. This can take many forms, including searching, passive awareness, empathy, or research. The Approach establishes the style of your Discovery. Actions: Overcome, Create Advantage, Defend. You cannot Attack with Discovery.
Athletics – Your ability to control your body. This includes acts of strength, agility, and endurance, any sort of movement actions, but also includes more niche applications, like stealth. Approaches heavily alter the style of these actions.  Actions: Overcome, Create Advantage, Attack, Defend
Mechanics – Your ability to manipulate and interact with machines and objects. This could include things like picking locks, repairing an engine, disarming a trap, or many other similar actions. Actions: Overcome, Create Advantage. Attack or Defend are possible in special situations, often requiring stunts.
Will – Your ability to withstand mental punishment. Also a measure of your personal discipline or conviction. Actions: Create Advantage, Defend. Overcome and Attack (as well as Creating more physical Advantages) are only possible through Aspects and Stunts like magic, psionics, holy will, etc.


Careful – A Careful action is when you pay close attention to detail and take your time to do the job right. Lining up a long-range arrow shot. Attentively standing watch. Disarming a bank’s alarm system.
Clever – A Clever action requires that you think fast, solve problems, or account for complex variables. Finding the weakness in an enemy swordsman’s style. Finding the weak point in a fortress wall. Fixing a computer.
Flashy – A Flashy action draws attention to you; it’s full of style and panache. Delivering an inspiring speech to your army. Embarrassing your opponent in a duel. Producing a magical fireworks display.
Forceful – A Forceful action isn’t subtle—it’s brute strength. Wrestling a bear. Staring down a thug. Casting a big, powerful magic spell.
Quick – A Quick action requires that you move quickly and with dexterity. Dodging an arrow. Getting in the first punch. Disarming a bomb as it ticks 3… 2… 1…
Sneaky – A Sneaky action is done with an emphasis on misdirection, stealth, or deceit. Talking your way out of getting arrested. Picking a pocket. Feinting in a sword fight.


When a character advances through appropriate milestones, they can either add a point to a skill (getting better at all applications of that Skill, regardless of Approach) or an Approach (getting better at all applications of that Approach, regardless of the Skill).

Some Issues

I like this a lot in concept, but it leaves me with a few loose ends that I’m not sure how to handle. There are few skills that get left out in the cold. I don’t quite feel like they fit in this model, but I’m not sure if I should simply exclude them, or if there’s another solution I’m missing. Here are those loose ends:

Lore is often a passive element measuring knowledge, so I think I’ll handle this the same as FAE, where you simply decide if a character knows a piece of information or not. The active part of Lore, research, will be handled by the Discovery Skill.
Resources and Contacts can be important active solutions to problems, but they just don’t seem like they combine with Approaches well, and so I think I’ll just follow the FAE method and let them be represented through Aspects and Stunts. Drive is probably too narrow too matter unless it’s super important to the game, and can also probably be handled through Aspects when it matters.

So… What are your thoughts?

So that’s the idea. What do you think about the Skill categories? Do the names of the Abilities work intuitively? Do you think it’ll be too complicated in play? Will it work with different genres? I welcome some feedback on this method. I haven’t been able to try this in play, but over the next few days I’ll post sample characters built using the Fate Core method, the FAE method, and my proposed combined method for comparison. I really appreciate your feedback and thoughts.

3 responses to “Layering FAE Approaches and Abilities

  • Abodi

    Very interesting

  • Thomas

    Lore – becomes an aspect “If I haven’t been there, I’ve read about it” and the like.
    Resources – maybe fold bribery into Socialize, other parts are either backstory, aspects or narrative.
    Contacts – becomes an aspect; “connections in the Collegia Arcana”
    Drive – assume PCs can drive/ride/pilot, unless it’s interesting for them to fail (as any other roll), but in that case they probably already ave an aspect in the gist of “professional racer”, “was a pilot on a cargo freighter”

  • David

    Thank you! I have been burning my brain trying to figure out a good midpoint style between FAE (too loose) and Fate Core (too structured). You have hit on what I think will be the perfect mix! So simple, yet so elegant!

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