A Manufactured Problem With AdvancementSomeone suggested to me that perhaps the reason that FAE doesn't include advancement rules is that it is not the characters that are intended to advance, but the fiction of the game itself. Sure. Why not. That's perfectly viable, especially for story games (and not unlike a mechanism I'm working on for another game, but more about that some time later). I'm one of those guys, though, who wants my characters to actually get better at stuff as well as experience the long term effects of my actions in the world. Maybe it's because I cut my teeth on "class & level," or maybe because I expect to earn experience points, who knows. I want my character to grow. End concept.
So I started looking at applying the Fate Core advancement mechanic to FAE and got really confused. Maintaining the "pyramid," there's no real way (as far as I can tell) to get any Approach above +4, and even then, getting to +4 requires advancing a +0 to +1, a +1 to +2 and two +2s to +3s or some such. That's an awful lot of advancement and a lot of it doesn't make much sense. What I'm hoping for is a slightly more flexible system that makes advances a little more meaningful. After all, +Jason Hobbs's Verdantist Pierre will likely never advance his Forceful approach, which is fine. He shouldn't be forced to just to improve.
Options I ConsideredWhenever I dig into a problem, I, like any good fake scientist, try to brainstorm as many options as I can that seem to fit the bill, then test them for how well they fit what I'm hoping to accomplish. The first idea actually came from +Ray Case, entirely accidentally (true to form for Ray), who rattled off the virtues called out in the Boy Scout oath as his Approaches. This struck me as totally kickass and a foundation for a really neat game. These virtues (or even others) could be added to the game as additional Approaches, but they seemed more like they were aimed at creating really solid Aspects.
The second idea I tossed around what that at some point, the game would "graduate" from using Approaches and translate itself to a Skill-based system. I'm not really sure what the "graduation point" would be, and the added complication of interpreting that threshold on top of running a narrative-heavy game just doesn't sit well. Neither does trying to parse out how +Donn Stroud's ex-sniper Etienne's Careful approach should translate into ranks in different skills.
The third option I came up with (the same one I usually come up with) was do something else. In this case, I wanted something a little more formal than the Ray-inspired "add the approaches that you want to add when you want to add them" and more free-form than the full shift into Fate Core RAW.
Approaches First, Skills LaterHere's the ruling that I've come up with is that, at character creation, all characters start out assigning skill ranks to Approaches, but whenever PCs may advance an Approach a rank, the player may instead gain a rank in a Skill, taken from the list of regular Skills in Fate Core. Since there will be situations that are covered both by the new Skill and the Approach, you could add both ranks together in those situations (thus, Etienne could Carefully Shoot to attack, representing his sniperiness). In some ways, Skills become specializations since they only apply in specific circumstances. Given the choice to advance a Skill or an Approach, the question becomes whether to advance something general and widely applicable or something narrow and focused.
The immediate objection that I could come up with to this scheme was that it might inflate the skill bonus to an untenable amount, but when you remember that advances after character creation come only at Significant Milestones, I think the "game breakiness" of the concept falls off. Furthermore, the campaign's skill cap could come into play here, limiting the opportunities for Skill advances to be taken. When the first Skill rank is taken, it could be said to increase the skill cap of the campaign (since it could be added to a max-ranked Approach), and so I don't think it'd be out of the realm of possibility to limit taking a first rank of a Skill after a Major Milestone. Whatever the case, adding a Skill effectively increases the skill cap, so that change needs to be accounted for.
So, this will be the method that the Harshlands campaign takes toward skill ranks, Approaches and Skills. Now we just have to see it in play to see if it works!