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As I prepare to run my first game of Fate Core, a player and I are designing a new race of intelligent dinosaurs. The dinosaurs have advanced skill in genetic engineering, and they strongly believe in the virtue of specialization; each creature is engineered, trained, and culturally expected to be really good at one thing.

To model this, I am altering the skill pyramid for this race. Instead of:

  • 1 Great (+4)
  • 2 Good (+3)
  • 3 Fair (+2)
  • 4 Average (+1)

I am thinking the dinosaurs will have:

  • 1 Superb (+5)
  • 1 Great (+4)
  • 1 Good (+3)
  • 3 Fair (+2)
  • 3 Average (+1)
  • 1 Poor (-1)

This keeps them at 10 skills on their character sheet, and if you add up all the bonuses they get, that remains at +20.

Am I likely to unbalance the game this way? What are the expected consequences of this decision? Is there anything I should watch out for?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are these dinosaurs going to be player characters or NPCs? Will they be friendly, opposition, or potentially both? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 24 '18 at 13:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Both! \$\endgroup\$ – DawnPaladin Aug 25 '18 at 4:26
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FATE/FUDGE is notoriously cantankerous about small changes in numbers, because once you simplify things down that much, every little bit matters. As this indicates, the bell curve on FATE dice is really steep (62.96% chance to roll -1, 0 or +1), meaning that the most important factor in a result is the skill level. So yeah, whatever stats are connected to initiative and/or damage could really turn the tide of a battle. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but just know going in not to sic too many of these guys on your party or you're looking at a TPK.

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The numbers are fine. Your approach might not be.

A single +5 isn't going to break anything. Just keep in mind that you make notable opposition the same way you make PCs, so any giant enemy bioengineered dinosaurs are going to be topping out at +6 or +7, depending how giant.

However, having a skill at -1 is really not the drawback you might think it is, because it's very difficult to engineer a situation where you force one PC, in particular, to use one skill, in particular. And if you do manage to do it, well, an improbable situation that works to a character's disadvantage is often called a compel.

An Alternative

You might want to consider a stunt pattern found in Atomic Robo:

Absolute(ly) _________, but weak (at/against) __________.

When you're absolutely something (like strong) or alternately have absolute something (like recall), then any Overcomes you do with your absolute attribute:

  • auto-succeed against passive opposition, as long as they're something any human might do. If you're using something like the Fate Fractal or Masters of Umdaar's Cliffhangers to generate large static opposition numbers, consider rolling your absolute overcomes with a +4 bonus against passive opposition +5 and higher.
  • auto-succeed against active opposition, unless your opposition is also using an absolute attribute, in which case roll normally.

If you're in a situation where your weakness arises, your GM will toss an event-based compel at your high concept.

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To an extent, naturally, this depends on character stats and how players play, but it will have significant effects against higher difficulty rolls.

Against a difficulty of 5, a character with +4 has a 38% chance of succeeding, while a character with +5 has a 62% chance of succeeding. That's a 25% increase. Against a difficulty of 4, odds go from 62% to 82% (20% improvement). That +5 will succeed almost all the time at lower difficulties (94% success likelihood vs. 3 and even better as the difficulty goes down).

Further, it's not a matter of "adding up all the bonuses." That -1 skill is still a skill they can use, and which might succeed in play, so it's an extra resource worth accounting for.

That said, one of the problems with having a very wide range of skill scores is that the lower ones are so unlikely to succeed in play that players feel they're not worth choosing in the first place. This tends to unbalance characters as players treat those skills as "dump skills," even if they are useful.

Now, this is not to say that nobody could possibly play an effective character with this structure! But a +5 is a very, very powerful thing, and having an extra skill at -1 doesn't make the character less powerful.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Whereas humans have 10 skills with positive bonuses, the dinosaurs have 9 skills with positive bonuses and 1 skill with a penalty. I don't think it's an "extra" skill, unless I've misunderstood you. \$\endgroup\$ – DawnPaladin Aug 23 '18 at 21:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ "That -1 skill is still a skill they can use...so it's an extra resource" - can't all characters use all skills? I don't understand. Wouldn't changing a skill from +0 to -1 take away power? \$\endgroup\$ – DawnPaladin Aug 23 '18 at 21:16
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I'd expect that this would imbalance your game somewhat.

This is going to encourage a situation where you have to have opposition that is stronger in order to challenge the dinosaur person, or deal with them getting an easier time on standard opposition. In addition you are effectively limiting the selection of skills that they are likely to try to get involved with by giving them a -1 in a skill. The issue isn't purely the +5 vs +4 at the top level, it's that there is more likely to be a larger gap between the Dino and others who didn't specialize in that skill.

The focused skill pyramid is already focused. Taking one of their Aspects as a skill focus, or enforcing a stunt selection is already doing the focus work for you. Due to Aspect and Stunt usage it's far more tricky to line up two Fate characters and say 'these both have +4 Might, so they are equivalently strong'. Especially given this is a first run, I'd suggest just playing with the rules as they are before trying to house rule. If your dinosaur wants to be a tinkerer, having +4 in craft and two or more Aspects that focus on crafting as well as a stunt or two, will make them hella good at crafting. They are already specializing vs another character that spreads their Aspects and Stunts further afield. If it's a massive deal for you then maybe consider preventing non-dinosaurs from using the focused pyramid and making them take a broader approach.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ When you say "focused skill pyramid", are you talking about the pyramid I proposed, or something else? What is the focused skill pyramid? \$\endgroup\$ – DawnPaladin Sep 1 '18 at 18:50
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Let's say you have a mixed player-character party, where some of them are "normal" and one of them is one of these dinosaurs.

I can see that you balanced the Dinosaur's skill pyramid so that they only spent 20 skill points, exactly like the normal skill pyramid you presented peaking at +4. This doesn't really unbalance anything. They all still used 20 skill points. The Dinosaur would be super strong on that one skill but it would be balanced by not having as many skills at +anything. It would be a less versatile character, even while totally owning that one area.

Now let's say you did what some answerers seem to be thinking you're asking about: What if you just plopped a +5 skill on top of an already-normal 20-point pyramid, peaking at +4 with that uber-skill just added on without the corresponding balance.

The effect of letting one of your players have a +5 but NOT letting others have balancing benefits is that that one party member will tend to dominate the others, in terms of how much the party gets to share in successes. So what could someone do about that?

There are Fate systems which are set up to allow mixed parties, with "normals" playing together with "supers", creatures, supernaturals, robots, etc., and to broadly generalize, the balancing benefits which normals get in order to make up for the smaller apparent inherency of talent are any or all of:

  • More Refresh
  • More Stunts
  • A free Extra
  • And more.
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