Skill Drain in Fate

I was flipping through my copy of Fate Core yesterday, writing notes down for the Achtung! Cthulhu build of Fate, Naturally, being a period piece meant paying special attention to different skills, including Resources. Looking at the boxed text on page 123, it talks about how to limit Resources in your game.

The second option struck me as an interesting idea: where if you succeed, but not with style, your skill rank temporarily bumps down a notch, to a minimum of +0.

Suddenly, I had my grasp on a sanity mechanic, and it starts by broadening this concept of “Skill Drain.” When you stuffer a skill drain, if you have an effective rank that’s higher than +0, the effective rank lowers by 1.

Skill Drain mechanics must answer three questions:

  • What causes the drain?
  • How it recovers normally?
  • How you can accelerate recovery?

Explaining Resources with Drain

Succeeding with style means no Resources drain. Succeeding normally means Resource drain. This is essentially the same as giving up a boost to have the cost of success not actually happen.

Recovery can be variable, based on effective rank. Recovering to Average or Fair could take a day, as your available funds are unlocked. Recovering to Good or Great could take a week. Recovering to higher could take a month. (Or, in a slightly pulpier game, each day where you don’t need Resources to spend something means one rank is recovered.

In this case, I’m not sure there’s a way to accelerate recovery normally, though perhaps that depends on how you get your money — if you’re a trust fund kid, you could call home and ask for more on short notice, at the risk of socially indenting yourself to your parents or revealing your secret plans.

Using Drain with Will/Sanity

[Note: the following is me musing on an idea, not leaking what’s in the game.]

Fate has a functional mental stress system, and while I had a thought to make a separate sanity track, I’m instead going to build off of the mental stress — that way if someone stresses you out as a normal person, it does affect your ability to deal with the Cosmic Unknown (in that those who have had a good day today will snap maybe one or two minutes later than someone who just had a shitty day at the office and are now dealing with Cthulhu blocking traffic on the WA-520 bridge.

Normally, if you’re resisting something with Will and you succeed, good on you! If you succeed with style, you even get a boost. But with the Cosmic Unknowable, succeeding means Will drain, and succeeding with style means no Will drain (and no boost either).

You normally recover one rank of Will with a good night’s rest. (“a good night’s” is key to that.) That doesn’t have to parallel mental stress box or consequence recovery.

An Empathy action might help accelerate it, at the risk of making it worse if you screw up. (This could require a stunt like Psychiatry for access to this action.)

Since Will is linked to derived elements, specifically how many mental stress boxes you have and if you have an additional consequence, you have to make the call on whether or not derived elements change as the skill does. I think for my purposes, I’m going to say it doesn’t because that makes the game play a bit easier. After all, this is already representing the classic sanity death spiral.

The Opposite

This means that there’s a possibility of increasing effective rank for a bit. I certainly wouldn’t allow it as a normal thing you can do, but then magic is pretty damned unnormal.


Those are my brief thoughts on turning Skill Drain from something mentioned in Resources into a general Fate concept. What say you, Fate-heads?

– Ryan