Attentive & Sneaky Approaches

Hi, I’m very fresh to Fate. But I’ve been working on adapting my setting for the system and have a few questions about building skills.

Since this post is quite long, I just have a short question in the beginning, and then I’m interested in feedback regarding the viability of modelling Notice and Stealth as approaches.

Appropriate Skill Clarity vs Overfitting Skill Lists

Something I’ve noticed about the default skill list is that there can be a fair amount of overlap around what skills might apply to particular situations. It seems to me that this is kind of the point of Fate, as it can help provide multiple options to accomplishing a goal and invites players to be a little bit inventive around creating a fiction where their character can do something beyond what it was conceived for.

On paper, this seems like an invitation for a lot of rules lawyering. I’m a little curious if anybody can speak to that or give advice. Maybe, in practice, as long as players are keeping their attention on what story they want to tell with their character instead of what the rules-as-written say that their character can do, then everybody tends to be on the same page?

Attentive & Sneaky Approaches

Concerning the Notice and Stealth mechanics, it seem to me that these two skills refer mostly to a kind of physical/material situational awareness and concealment.

While Investigate is less about discovering something that is hidden and more about figuring out what things mean and what is a clue or what is important to a mystery or story or something.

Similarly, Deceive and maybe Empathy seem to follow the same pattern but apply to non-violent social situations.

(Some of the issues I have with Notice are expressed well in this document. Specifically, I will want a Survival skill and it probably overlaps too much with Notice.)

I wonder if skills like Investigate, Notice/Stealth, and Deceive/Empathy are more about having physical and social aptitudes while taking Attentive or Sneaky approaches.

Consider a situation where something like a car is slyly sabotaged or a computer system is cracked, a detective is probably not as likely to pick up on these subversions compared to a mechanic or someone skilled in computing. Especially if the sabotage was carried out by someone skilled in these respective areas.

That is, if an investigator can’t tell an engine block from an axle, they probably can’t tell from looking inside a vehicle if something is off of normal. On the other hand, while a mechanic can spot that the brakes are hooked up to the gas, they might be oblivious to its intentionality or significance to a case or grander plot.

Moreover, it seems reasonable that a naive mechanic may not even notice tampering done by an operator skilled in Vehicles or Machines with a high Sneaky approach bonus; something well hidden might not be found unless you’re looking specifically for something suspicious. Only with the aide of an investigator asking Attentive questions, the mechanic knows what to look for and can uncover the alteration.

Similarly, other cases are conceivable where, in trying to conceal their doings, one’s aptitude in areas outside of Stealth or Deception take precedence:

  • disrupting a building’s HVAC system
  • hiding a paper trail
  • obfuscating a computer script
  • “botching” a surgery
  • using camouflage in a terrain
  • losing ones’ self in a crowd
  • smuggling contraband on your person
  • disguising motives while being questioned

While some of these could be considered specifically material or social (Stealth or Deceive) it seems weird to me that all these cases could be.

But instead, if Sneaky and Attentive are approaches to skills like Rapport, Crafts, Athletics, Bureaucracy, Doctoring, or even Shoot, then actions of subversion can still use the appropriate skills required by the context.

Another side-effect is that being good at Sneaky approaches will work with all applicable skills. A politician who lies to their constituency can also be Sneaky in their Bureaucracy to obfuscate incriminating document evidence.

This seems like mostly a good thing to me as you end up with a more consistent character.

But the reason for writing this up is to get feedback. I’m curious if there’s something I missed that would make this not work out well in important cases? Are there some consequences that I’m not aware of? Or other variations on taking on the problem of adapting deception for non-social non-material contexts without having an explosion of skills? Am I overthinking it? Maybe it’s way easier if players just make two skill rolls, one for the deception and another for the specialization or knowledge?

Like you, I prefer to remove Notice in favor of having skills be used to notice things that relate to those skills.

Have you checked out the Discovery Action? It may be something you’ll find useful.

Some of what you’re talking about can be handled on the fly, by setting difficulties appropriately. You have a Mechanic aspect and you want to use Crafts (or Mechanical Engineering) to see if a car has been tampered with? Sounds reasonable, beat a +2, and you can invoke your Mechanic aspect for a Fate point if necessary. You want to use Notice and you have no experience with cars at all? That’s a stretch, beat a +6.

Using a different skillset might also change the narrative. The mechanic might learn that the alternator has been swapped out for a device that shouldn’t be in a car engine and looks like it’s wired to a transmitter of some kind. The random guy rolling Notice might learn that there are parts that don’t have as much oil on them, so those parts look like they’ve been replaced, and this looks kind of shady.

Sometimes you will run into rules lawyering with people trying to use a skill for an edge case. Another way to look at that is they’re being creative, and it adds something to the story. Make them describe what they’re doing and explain why it makes sense for them to use Skill X to do Action Y. Sometimes they’ll make the case. Sometimes it’s such a cool idea that you don’t want to say no to it. Sometimes it will be a stretch, and you can say no, or you can set the difficulty high.

Don’t worry too much about realism or balance. Think about whether this use of this skill makes a good story.


This was a transition for our group too… In other systems players describe their actions, and as GM I match it to the most appropriate skill. In Fate, I ask questions like: “OK, so you say you want to get to the other side of that fence–how are you going to do it?” Lots of skills might be used here… (athletics, physique, drive, resources, crafts, notice, etc.) The most important thing is to keep the narrative flowing, while literally helping the players do what they do best.

Thanks for the feedback and ideas. I’m still trying to come up with a list of skills for my setting and some characters that work with those skills for a one-shot so I can play it and see how it feels. Approaches could be more complicated than your suggestions, so I’ll try the things you’ve mentioned first. Thanks again.