Separating Aptitude from Capability
A couple weeks ago, I riffed on an idea about using Fate Core for Mage: the Ascension. And based on a conversation with the ever-Enlightened Travis Stout, I’m revising the idea some. What I’m about to talk about will address a specific case, but the topic behind it is worth understanding in general.
At the core of it: I’m divorcing the notion of capability (whether you can do something) with aptitude (how good you are at it). This is a common thing in skill systems — if you have the skill at all, you can use it at whatever rank you have; and sometimes you don’t even need that, and can use a default. However, in some esoteric setups (like with Mage), how good you are and what crazy shit you can do are linked. If you’ve got Forces 3, then you’re better at Forces 2 stuff than someone who just has Forces 2 — the system collapses capability with aptitude.
And that’s how we made it work with the Cortex Plus Action hack I did a couple years back.
Fate Accelerated’s approaches introduced another idea: instead of treating ranks in different magical Spheres like skills, instead treat them as permission. If you have Matter 1, you get to do X; Matter 2, X & Y; and so on. (And for this purpose, I would just refer to the Mage book on what different ranks mean.)
That handles capability. For aptitude, I would dust off the Resonances, treating them like approaches:
- Stasis: for analysing and understanding something, for bolstering something that exists, and for countermagic
- Dynamism: for changing something that exists, for creation of something new
- Entropy: for pure decay and corrosion of something, for the enforcement of natural law, for luck and chance
And to be clear, you’d mostly use dynamism to attack someone with Forces, entropy for harsher types of assaults, and stasis for defense. But, as with all approaches, it could be flexible. Maybe.
In character creation, maybe you would choose either: (1) pick one at +2, and the other two at +0; (2) pick two at +1, the other at +0. (I am honestly tempted to use negative numbers in this build, if to psychologically enforce the notion of resonance, but for now I’ll stick with this.)
And if you can justify how your paradigm aspect fits with what you’re doing (notably with a focus or apparatus), that’s a further +1 — without even spending a fate point.
This build means that the chance of being successful is based not on what you can do, but on the sort of Avatar or Genius within and how you understand magic to work. Take two different concepts:
- Forces 3, Dynamism +2, “Neo-Heremtic” as a paradigm — that guy’s going to be slinging around heat at +3 if he’s doing it with his wand
- Forces 3, Stasis +2, “I’m the Montgomery Scott of the Void” as a paradigm — the same capability of throwing around that heat, but this character’s mindset means she’s more capable of turning a bomb into a larger bomb (bolstering something) than altering local physics to make a blast of fire
- Forces 3, Entropy +2, “Harmony with Nature” as a paradigm — yeah, you want to see someone cause a thunderstorm? That’s this person. (Provided its advancing the cycle of nature, and not just inventing one out of nowhere.)
This build also satisfies a bit of what I like regarding Cortex Plus, namely that you’re declaring multiple things on your character sheet that are behind the action you’re doing. Here, it’s simple: “Matter 1 lets me understand the nature of this strange material, but I only have Stasis +0, so I’m not as good at that as I would be if I was reforging matter, and this fits in my paradigm of ‘Mad Scientist with Ether Goggles.'” You can do it, and you’ll roll +1.
[Edit: I would also likely build in mechanics for pushing yourself past your limits, but that’s a different post, as it’s an extension of the idea.]
 There are likely better words for this, but it gets muddled in English much of the time.
 Which I have complicated opinions on in general, and am slowly coming to appreciate.