More Fun With Trappings, Skills, and Stunts

On a previous post, I talked a bit about how stunts, skills, and trappings were abstractions that had far more in common than is perhaps apparent on the page.

Let’s dig into that some more.

A review: a trapping gives you access to one of the basic Fate game moves under a certain narrative context.

Those actions are:

  • Attack/Contest
  • Defend/Block
  • Maneuver/Assess/Declare
  • Simple Action (need a better name)
  • Sprint (though this may not always be necessary in every Fate implementation)

Included in most implementations of Fate are trapping-dependent constructs that count among the number of game moves, such as setting the length of a stress track or determining the default rating for something (like a Personal Workspace, see SotC’s Gadgeteering stuff).

Skills are packages of trappings, grouped together for ease of use and genre enforcement. They have variable ratings on the ladder as a way of differentiating character action.

Stunts are trappings for which the access is privileged somehow, either by entirely mechanical means (you have to take the stunt), entirely narrative means (something in the fiction has to be true about your character) or a combination (see Dresden powers, which require that your High Concept justifies the taking of a power, and it costs you refresh). That privilege provides more specific genre reinforcement by setting aside rare things in the setting and allows for character niche protection.

Trappings can stack on one another, providing improved effect. That’s how skills and stunts work – skills provide a baseline, stunts enhance from there or broaden the range of options.

Now let’s talk about the fate point economy for a bit.


People have often told me that really, aspects are all that matter to Fate, because they govern the economy. Everything else, they say, is ancillary. Those people are collectively missing a part of the big picture.

Trappings have an enormous impact on the fate point economy in play for a simple reason: they give bonuses to the dice that don’t cost you anything. Thus, they create”spaces” in play where you don’t need the fate point currency to resolve stuff. Thus, they lessen the burden of producing that cyclical flow I’ve previously talked about – without them, the spending rates would be much higher and the need for compels would be subsequently higher. There’d be a danger of fate point rewards becoming wholly arbitrary just to keep the cycle going, which takes away a lot of the tactile feel they have.

So, you need trappings in the game also – they essentially represent the fate points you aren’t spending, and that’s important.


Here’s the interesting part: really, trappings are all you need. Skills and stunts do interesting things, but they aren’t really necessary to a build of Fate. All you really need to know is 1.) what game moves can my guy get at 2.) under what circumstances and 3.) at what bonus?

#1 isn’t really all that hard to get at, because the default answer is “all of them”. Nearly all Fate builds let you roll the dice to try and do something when you don’t have an appropriate skill, at default level (usually +0).

#2 and #3 are harder – without skills, how do you figure out what it is that your character does, and does well compared to other characters?

Well, Fate already has another tool for allowing narrative context to have mechanical impact – aspects.

So imagine something like this:

Your character, Steve, has an aspect called “Assassin of the Scarlet League”. We can generally surmise some things that he’s uniquely good at – stealth, killing folks, platforming around buildings, etc etc. We have a context for action built into the aspect.

Remembering what I said above about trappings representing the fate points you don’t spend, we can easily suggest that certain things about this character count as always-on invocations, providing the +2 bonus when you roll without spending the fate point.

So it’d look maybe like this:



  • Attack a target to cause physical stress with the League’s usual arsenal. (Remember, trappings need access and context.)
  • Defend against physical attacks.
  • Sprint whenever it involves climbing, jumping, or generally moving on buildings.
  • Maneuvers that involve the use of stealth and hiding, or taking sudden, unexpected positional advantage in physical conflict.
  • Contest attempts to spot the character with the use of stealth.
  • Simple actions that involve breaking and entering.
  • Assessments or declarations involving an assigned target, to assign properties to a cased location, or identify weaknesses in locations Steve is trying to infiltrate. Also, assessments or declarations that require the use of the League’s information network.

For everything else, he’d just roll at default. Maybe we’d even allow “stacking” so that we could get more than a +2 on some of these trappings, and then we’d have something more like normal Fate’s skill progression.

Obviously, if a character has six or seven aspects, going through these bulleted lists can take time and energy – one of the reasons why we package them into skills in the first place. But for games where characters are defined by only a few broad aspects, or games where only certain categories of action matter enough to warrant bonuses for regular use, this isn’t a bad approach.

(You could also do it backwards – say, “Here’s a list of trappings important to the game, and if you want access to them, your aspects have to justify it.” You could also combine trappings into categories, like conflict or non-conflict, and let one provide access to multiple game moves at a time.)


So, how would stunts figure into such a model?

Well, remember that the primary purpose of a stunt is to privilege access certain actions, or set a character apart in a big way.

If you want to do that with the above, there are a few tricks:

  • “Lock” the trapping to that aspect – no one else can have access to it without that aspect. So, maybe Steve is the only guy who can declare that a person is “Marked by the League”. No one else can do it because they aren’t members.
  • Turbocharged benefit for a very specific instance. So, maybe Steve gets double the bonus when he’s attacking a target that is unaware of him and who is also “Marked by the League”.
  • Allowing a character to take a trapping as “Best of X”, meaning either their bonus is so huge that it requires fate points to even the playing field, or assuming he automatically succeeds unless aspects are invoked to create an exception. Maybe when Steve is infiltrating a marked target’s home, he gets a crazy +6 or simply always succeeds, unless the target can invoke an additional “Well-Guarded” or “Beefed-Up Secutity” aspect to force him to roll.


So, in sum: trappings are necessary. Everything beyond that is a choice.