When a GM makes the initial decisions about their game, one of the choices they make is what Power Level they want the characters to start at. (Power level names are themed on the percentage of your character that is immersed in trouble). The power tiers come with suggested skill point totals and refresh totals, and they generally set the tone of how much of the city the fallout of your adventures are likely to affect. The suggested skill point total will come with a skill cap, or a level your skills can't rise above. Let's start talking about power level.
The chart looks like this:
|Power Level:||Refresh:||Skill Points:||Skill Cap:|
|Feet in the Water||6||20||4 (Great)|
|Up to Your Waist||7||25||4 (Great)|
|Chest Deep||8||30||5 (Superb)|
Power Level is a good judge of the scope of the challenges characters will be facing in the game, and how widespread the fallout from their actions will be.
- Feet in the Water is usually a very local game, with challenges that would affect people you know, or your neighborhood. You are barely more powerful than normal mortals, and you'll mostly be concerned with the mortal world. My hockey player in Ttory's Zombie Survival game is around this level, and we can't even keep gas in the car let alone fight some powerful creature.
- Submerged means you'll be dealing with things that could end your city as you know it, or maybe your country. Massively powerful beings and global organizations will know your name, and come looking for you. You likely have the power to wreak havoc on a very wide scale, and have to be very careful about every decision you make. (Ahem, Darkarma, I'm looking at you.)
Many people have created custom power levels, half levels between these, and less and more powerful ones too. Feel free to play around with the Power Level defaults once you have run a couple games, but I don't advise doing it before.
Refresh is the measure of the character's capacity for power, in terms of tricks, supernatural powers, and their ability to dodge what the narrative and the dice have in store for them. When you choose mortal stunts and supernatural powers, you are spending your Refresh to give them to your character. You may never go below 1 refresh remaining, because that would indicate that you are so powerful that you no longer have free will, and you have become a slave to your nature. In essence, you hand your character to the GM to become an NPC. The more unspent refresh you have, the more FATE Points you are granted at the start of the game, and at every advancement point (they're called Milestones, and not really a "level" in traditional terms, more like a natural break in the narrative or a narrative ending) your FP fill up to, or "Refresh" to that level.
My Scion of Prometheus is at a Submerged power level. He started with 10 Refresh, and I spent 7 of them on Mortal Stunts and Supernatural Powers (he's the son of a Titan, he needed some pizzazz!). That leaves him with an Adjusted Refresh (the refresh remaining) of 3. At every Milestone, assuming he's spent his FP below 3, he would be granted enough FP to bring him to 3 for the start of the next chapter or adventure. Narratively this means he's somewhat bound by his powers, but still has some wiggle room to cheat a bad fate. Mechanically it means I can spend FP to start altering things right away, and don't need to collect a lot of compels or consequences before I earn them.
Italics added to emphasize a really, stupendously important point:
- There's an urge to buy every power in the book because your character is awesome, but mechanically it makes sense to leave some flexibility, unless you like being at the whim of everything your GM has in store for you.
Skill Points are the number of points you can spend on... wait for it... skills. This is what I originally intended this writeup to be about but then I figured I'd better back up and include the concepts that are related or you'd all be confused. Skills cost one point for each level you want them. If I want a stealthy character, I buy stealth at level 3, and pay three skill points from my total. However, whatever your skill point max is, you must obey the Skill Pillar, or the Skill Pyramid. For every Skill you buy at level 2, you must buy one Skill at level 1. For each Skill at level 3, you must have a supporting level 2 and level 1. You may never have more higher level skills than you have lower level skills to "support" them.
For example, the Scion of Prometheus:
- Superb (+5): Deceit, Presence
- Great (+4): Contacts, Endurance
- Good (+3): Rapport, Resources
- Fair (+2): Athletics, Lore, Stealth
- Average (+1): Burglary, Conviction, Discipline, Empathy, Weapons
(You can tell that he is a really impressive guy who knows everyone and can run the Boston marathon without breaking a sweat, but you shouldn't believe a word he says. And he's good at some other stuff.)
If you count them up, his Skills total 35, telling you he is at the Submerged power level. More importantly however, notice how every skill at level 5 has a skill at level 4, 3, 2, and 1 to "support" them. Since skill levels only cost one point no matter their potency, this is necessary to provide balance, and ensure that characters are at least decently well rounded. You have the flexibility to be amazing at a few skills, or competent at a lot of skills, or somewhere in between.
In addition to their base description (which is pretty much what you imagine it is), Skills come with Trappings, which are more specific things the skill is good for. Deceit has "Cat and Mouse", "Disguise", "Distraction and Misdirection", "False Face Forward", and "Falsehood and Deception". In the book, Trappings tend to be a little more "poetic" in name than I think they need to be for clarity, but for the most part they are self explanatory. You can find a list of Skills and their Trappings on this handy dandy reference sheet. I'm not going to list out their meanings, because we're not given permission to copy and paste, and that's too much work! Buy the book! Or work with your GM on it.
Skill Cap is the maximum level you can buy your skills to at your Power Level. Nuff said?
You've noticed that certain Skill levels come with descriptors: Average, Fair, Good etc. These are a more narrative friendly way to discuss the level of competency or success you've achieved, without saying "plus five, plus seven" etc. I'll post the chart here (it's on the reference sheet too), but in my experience pbp tends to skip using these since we type everything out and don't tend to refer to numerical success directly.
- +8 Legendary
- +7 Epic
- +6 Fantastic
- +5 Superb
- +4 Great
- +3 Good
- +2 Fair
- +1 Average
- +0 Mediocre
- -1 Poor
- -2 Terrible