Last week I introduced idea of the Zero Sum skills (nutshell version: having all skills paired up, with a set total sum.) Sadly, I didn’t really get a chance to analyze them, and discuss when to use them.

Before that, a shameless plug:

Tangent Artists is going to (Re)Generation Who this weekend, the brand new Doctor Who convention not far from Baltimore, Md. Come check it out!

First, let us take a look at the existing Fate Skills and Approaches.

FATE ACCELERATED

Number of Skills (Approaches) to pick from: 6

Skill Cap: 3

Pyramid Spread: one 3, two 2, two 1, one 0.

Total Skill points: 9

Average Skill Strength: 1.8

Number of skills at 1+: 5

Percentage of all possible skills with at least 1+: 83%

Percentage of all possible skills above average: 50%

FATE CORE

Number of Skills to pick from: 18

Skill Cap: 4

Pyramid Spread: one 4, two 3, three 2, four 1, eight 0.

Total Skill points: 20

Average Skill Strength: 2

Number of skills at 1+: 10

Percentage of all possible skills with at least 1+: 55%*

Percentage of all possible skills above average: 16%

**Note from the Editor: In the Fate Codex ezine by Magpie Games, Ryan Macklin wrote an article advocating that 55% was the perfect skill percentage. I recommend you look it up: Fate Codex, Volume 1, Issue 2, under “Changing Skills: A Matter of Survival.”*

And thus, we see, how the Fate Zero Sum stacks up.

FATE ZERO SUM: DOCTOR WHO HACK (The one from last week)

Number of Skills to pick from: 8

Skill Cap: 4

Pyramid Spread: one 4, two 3, two 2, two 1, one 0.

Total Skill points: 16

Average Skill Strength: 2

Number of skills at 1+: 7

Percentage of all possible skills with at least 1+: 87.5%

Percentage of all possible skills above average: 37.5%

Comparison to Fate Accelerated: As you can see, Fate Zero has a wider range of skills to choose from, but a higher percentage of skills at +1. Fate Zero caps at 4 instead of 3, meaning that there’s a greater difference between your top skill and the average mook’s skill rating.

Comparison to Fate Core: Zero Sum has a much skinnier pyramid- as such, you feel less like a “jack of all trades” and more of an expert in a specific field; characters still skilled, but less versatile. This also means that there is more variation in your dice rolls- you have as many skills as +3 as you have at +1, making +2 a *mathematical* average, but not the actual number you’ll be consistently adding.

SLIDING THE RULER

Of course, that’s based entire on using the Doctor Who hack, with each skill pair equaling 4 and with 8 skills. Let’s play around and see what we get:

ZERO SUM: FOUR SKILLS

Prototype Skill names: Thought, Feeling, Intuition, Sensation

Number of Skills to pick from: 4

Skill Cap: 3

Pyramid Spread: one 3, one 2, one 1, one 0.

Total Skill points: 6

Average Skill Strength: 1.5

Number of skills at 1+: 3

Percentage of all possible skills with at least 1+: 75%

Percentage of all possible skills above average: 50%

ZERO SUM: SIXTEEN SKILLS

Prototype Skill names: Too Many!

Number of Skills to pick from: 16

Skill Cap: 4

Pyramid Spread: Several Options:

a. two 4, three 3, six 2, three 1, two 0.

b. two 4, four 3, four 2, four 1, two 0.

c. three 4, four 3, five 2, four 1, three 0.

Total Skill points: 32

Average Skill Strength: 2

Number of skills at 1+: For each Pyramid Option

A & B. 14

c. 13

Percentage of all possible skills with at least 1+:

A & B. 87.5%

c. 81.25%

Percentage of all possible skills above average:

a. 31.25%

b. 37.5%

c. 43.75%

In the effort of pushing something to the breaking point (or past it), let’s see what happens with a zero sum with 16 skills, only this time each Skill Pair is set at 5, with a skill cap of 5!

ZERO SUM: SIXTEEN SKILLS –FIVE POINTS, FIVE CAP

Prototype Skill names: Too Many! Aaaaaargh!

Number of Skills to pick from: 16

Skill Cap: 5

Pyramid Spread: One five, three 4, four 3, four 2, three 1, one 0.

Total Skill points: 40

Average Skill Strength: 2.5

Number of skills at 1+: 15

Percentage of all possible skills with at least 1+: 93%

Percentage of all possible skills above average: 50%

This might seem a bit power-mad at first glance; compared to Fate Core default characters, you have 4x the number of 4+ skills. However, it’s not far from Atomic Robo, which can result in characters with two or three skills at 5+, and four or five skills at 4+. This might be ideal if you plan on using a Fate Ladder with a base of 10 or 12.

Also, things get more interesting if you add the possibility of negative numbers into the mix. Let’s see that last one, but with the sum of every pair still equaling 4.

ZERO SUM: SIXTEEN SKILLS –FIVE POINTS, FIVE CAP + NEGATIVES

Prototype Skill names: Too Many! Aaaaaargh!

Number of Skills to pick from: 16

Skill Cap: 5

Pyramid Spread: One five, three 4, three 3, two 2, three 1, three 0, one -1.

Total Skill points: 32 (33-1).

Average Skill Strength: 2

Number of skills at 1+: 12

Percentage of all possible skills with at least 1+: 75%

Percentage of all possible skills above average: 43%

Thus, we see how a few negatives can potentially stem the range of skills that your heroes are good at. Imagine the original Doctor Who hack with each pair adding up to 3 instead of 4; you would have PCs that have less power and more breadth (although, if you wanted that, you could just use the default FAE or FATE list.)

So, I’ve thrown a bunch of numbers at you, but I still haven’t answered the BIG question:

**WHY USE SKILL PAIRS / ZERO SUM SKILLS?**

An excellent question. Here are a few ways in which it might be useful:

Fast character creation: Because two skills are linked together, picking one automatically picks the value of the other. This means you could have players pick 16 skills in the time it takes to pick 8. If you want to use a very lose skill pyramid (ex. Can only have one skill at 4), this makes the skill process even faster, as players don’t have to constantly consult a chart- they can just go to town adding points where they want. I’m tempted to try this at a convention some time, and let players build their characters. Likewise, it lets you create a NPCs with the same strength as the players in no time, in case you need to pull a new character out of your hat.

Separate but Equal Philosophies: Even if you are not using the Zero-Sum angle, I would recommend building your skills in pairs- that way, you are guaranteed that all characters have as equal chance of being effective in a scene, even if they have completely different philosophy; not every conflict should be won by the most aggressive PCs. In Fate Core, Fight and Shoot are perfect opposites- one involves directly getting into the fray, the other deals with indirect combat. In a social conflict, Provoke can be used to deal mental stress, however it doesn’t have a non-aggressive opposite; personally, I would alter Rapport into “Evoke”, and add the ability to add mental “stress.” If evoke/rapport is used to take an opponent out of a conflict, it represents the target being convinced to agree with you, while any consequences might represent any feelings they have for you that might linger into later scenes.

A World Divided: If your campaign focuses on two opposing worlds, you could have each pair have one skill attached to each “side.” For example, a Star Wars campaign with each pair having a Light side and a Dark side; a setting in Revolutionary France, with each skill having a “common” skill and a “noble” skill.

I had originally planned to cover the Impossible to beat threats and how to scheme against them, but looks like we ran out of room. Next week: **To Scheme the Impossible Scheme!**