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Sass & Sorcery

Tempting FATE: Advancement

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There's one aspect of hacking up Spirit of the Century that was neglected in the previous posts: character advancement. That is, characters change in response to their experiences. Usually by getting mechanically better at what they do. Most games that I've seen build on this base model, either with levels or build points. Spirit of the Century, as written, is not one of these games.

By design, characters have already "made it" as pulp adventurers and heroes, so there's nowhere really from which to advance. No zero-to-hero model which, in my opinion, makes SotC so danged appealing - I've spent the past decade and a half doing the grind, so to speak, so I dun wanna track it anymore (in either player or GM capability; it's just not important enough to bother with).

But Star Wars is not Spirit of the Century, despite this series of posts all about modifying FATE to suit the flavor of Scoundrels, Princesses, Walking Carpets and Kung Fu Monks with Laser Swords. The saga itself is a hero's journey, so some sort of "progress tracker" would be appropriate. The only question is how to implement it. Let's look at some models.

First is the traditional, D&D-type model of gaining more mechanical oomph with each advancement unit, which is how Saga Edition handles it; I won't say it's a bad system, in and of itself, but for FATE it very much is. The subject is discussed in SotC's GM chapter, and comes to the conclusion that, for this specific game, adding more power to the characters makes the game less interesting (though not quite in those words).

Instead, one of the options is the idea of "shuffling" - wherein lateral advancement is still advancement. Basically, at the end of a session, the player may swap out one Aspect, one Stunt and/or swap a Skill for one in the rung above it. The character changes, but doesn't actually gain mechanical power. I really like this, as it allows for change without adding extra complexity. But it may not be enough change for a suitable Star Wars game.

One option for mechanical advancement comes with the framework limits we set on FATE in the beginning. SotC characters are supposed to start with ten Aspects, but we cut that number by about half, thus their potential in the form of FATE point refresh. Adding advancement in this respect could be slowly reintroducing those missing Aspects. If we wanted a more heroish journey, we can limit a character more at the beginning, with capping the skill pyramid at half the number of Aspects. Since Stunts are "purchased" with Refresh, adding more Aspects also increases the potential number of Stunts.

The other option I'd consider is just upping the Refresh every so often. Instead of adding more Aspects, or monkeying with the skill pyramid, we just increase the Refresh rate (and consequently, Stunt potential). We'll still see the same amount of Force Points, and the potential need for early and often Compels and tags (which is the whole point of the economy), without having the characters "outgrow" the system's sweet spots.

Of course, you could do both - first adding in the missing Aspects, then giving out Refresh afterwards - so they're not mutually exclusive. As a player (and, really, the GM is just another player, albeit one with a different role than the others), I'd more favor Refresh awards every so often, than having to come up with extra Aspects. Still, as this blog series is still (sadly) only theoretical changes, I'm not ruling out giving players the option for a more "growth"-oriented game; in fact, it'd be one of the things discussed before chargen even happens (then again, since advancement could affect skill caps, it only makes sense :P). In an ideal game, I'd see Shuffling happen frequently and Refresh increase every half-dozen sessions or so.

(We'll see how things play out, if/when I manage to find willing folks to play, heh. Looking at the local climate, it's certainly a challenge. But I digress.)

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