FS3.3 - Customizing FS3

This article gives some tips to game designers for customizing and Customizing FS3.


The six attributes are designed to cover the basic aspects of a character. There are two for physical strength/finesse (Brawn and Reflexes), two for mental strength/finesse (Grit and Wits), and two that are a blend of physical and mental (Perception and Presence).

When changing attributes, consider that every skill - even a Background Skill - needs to be tied to an attribute. That’s why Presence exists even though it isn’t relevant to any of the basic Action Skills. It’s there so you have something to roll with Background Skills like Acting or Singing.

Action Skills

One of the hallmarks of FS3 is the distinction between Action Skills, which are relevant to the conflict in the game, and Background Skills, which are fluff skills to promote character depth. Another hallmark is a fast, easy character creation experience because the skill list is limited.

To stay true to these basic principles, it’s important to keep the skill list reasonably small. ~10-12 skills is ideal. More than that, and you’re going to end up with people min/maxing excessively or getting overwhelmed trying to figure out what skills they need. Fewer than that, and you won’t have much differentiation between characters.

Limit Action Skills to what is important to your game and likely to come up in conflict situations. Sure, Survival and Driving and Riding are all potential Action Skills. But are there really going to be a lot of challenging horseback rides or car chases in your theme? Are people going to be stranded out in the woods a lot? If it’s not important, leave it to a Background Skill.

Attributes aren’t meant to be rolled by themselves; only in conjunction with a skill. Rolling just “Wits” is really rolling “Wits+1” to represent an untrained roll using the Everyman rating (1). So if you expect something like a willpower or perception check to come up a lot in your game, you should have an Action Skill to go with it - like Composure or Alertness.


FS3 works best with broad Action Skills, because otherwise you end up with a gazillion of them. Because they’re broad, you could easily imagine lots of specialties within every Action Skill.

That doesn’t mean you need to add specialties for every skill. It’s just not necessary in most cases. Specialties are meant to be used when you have a common foundation in a skill, with distinct, specialized fields of study once you get to advanced levels.

Medicine is a prime example. There is a common base of knowledge about anatomy, illness and injury no matter whether you’re a family medicine doc, a surgeon, a nurse, or a paramedic. They then each have specialized skills on top of that foundation. You don’t want a paramedic doing surgery, and a surgeon would be equally out of their element on an ambulance, but both share a number of skills in common.

Contrast that with skills like Firearms and Melee. Sure there are differences in wielding a club vs. a sword, or firing a rifle vs. a pistol. But they’re not that different. If you’re an expert with a pistol, you shouldn’t lose half your dice just because you’re firing a rifle instead.

You should consider adding specialties to your Action Skills when:

  1. The skills are similar enough that you DON’T want to charge people the full cost of buying separate skills that have a common base of knowledge.
  2. The skills are different enough that you DO want to penalize people who are trying to use the skill outside of the areas that they have purchased.
  3. The differences are actually relevant to RP and worth keeping track of.

For example: On a Battlestar game, Piloting meets all three criteria. All pilots basically start out on the same kind of trainers, but flying fighter crafts or larger ships requires additional specialized training. In that theme, it’s important for RP to know who can fly what.


Advantages can be used for things that aren’t skills, but that you want people to spend points on in chargen.
They basically work exactly like background skills, but they’re in a separate category because they’re… not skills.

Common things you might use this for:

  • Resources
  • Connections
  • Rank
  • Cyberware
  • Powers/Spells - although be careful, because FS3 doesn’t really work well in fantasy/superhero settings. (see Choosing FS3 for more reasons why).

Because Advantages are all rated 1-3 and all cost the same, they not well-suited to modeling things like CofD merits/flaws, Cortex assets/complications, or Shadowrun positive/negative qualities.

The advantage rating descriptions are pretty vague (Fair/Good/Exceptional), so you should be sure to elaborate on what exactly those ratings mean in your system. What is “Fair” rank, for example?

Ability Point Limits

Be sure to allow enough ability points for the types of concepts you want to support. There’s nothing wrong with telling people to start off at “level 1” - MMOs and tabletop RPGs have been doing it for ages. But “level 1” characters should have an appropriate “level 1” background. It makes no sense to allow a Navy SEAL character and then nerf their skills.

The default limit of 40 AP in FS3 Core is designed to give you the “everybody has them” skills at fair levels, a couple skills at professional levels, a handful of above-average attributes, and a few more skills to spread around to make yourself stand out.

If you have more skills or want people to start off more awesome, you should consider raising the bar accordingly.

It’s okay if not everybody spends all their points (that’s why it’s displayed as a warning if you go over, not as a ‘you still have X points to spend’). Action-oriented characters will need more points than supporting characters to achieve the same degree of competence, because action skills cost more.

See Managing Min-Maxing for more information.


Games are encouraged to use the full range of ability levels, with the possible exception of Legendary.

Curtailing people causes weird effects. For example, refusing to approve rookie pilots with low skills or veteran pilots with high skills takes a game that’s tuned for dice ranges from 2-12 and smushes it down into 4-9. Everyone starts to blend together.

Don’t be too worried that you’re going to hugely unbalance the game by allowing a couple 6’s or 7’s. It’ll be fine, really.

Experience / Advancement

There is no universal approach to character advancement, everything from carrot-on-a-stick (constant stream of advancement as an incentive to keep playing) to rewards-based (if you do things that help the game, you’ll advance faster).

The default FS3 configuration is geared toward a more realistic advancement. You may pick up a new skill here or there, but you’re not likely to go from zero-to-awesome in the typical game’s lifespan. You get lots of points in chargen to start off cool if you want to start out as an expert, but it’s going to take a long time to become one during the course of the game.

There is no right or wrong here; it is a question of style and preference. But there are a few caveats if you’re going to change the system:

  • Characters who start out as newbie/apprentice type characters are going to be very frustrated if they’re expecting the Hero’s Journey and you’re enforcing a more realistic rate of advancement. Set appropriate expectations.
  • If you limit chargen points too much and enforce a slow progression model, you’re basically begging people to min/max their skills in chargen.
  • It’s a bit jarring to restrict starting levels in chargen (“sorry, you don’t have enough background experience to justify a rating 6 in that skill”) and then let characters advance to level 6 in a few months of game play. Be consistent.
  • Carrot on a stick model works best when people start off at low levels (as MMOs/tabletop RPGs do). When you let people start as experts and still expect continuous advancement, you can quicly reach godlike power levels. It can also lead to some glaring disparities between veteran characters and people fresh out of chargen. (the “dino effect”)
  • Reward-based advancement can lead to OOC sour grapes if people are unable/unwilling to do certain things due to time/temperment/etc. It can also create a have/have-not splintering of power levels.


This is a pet peeve of mine, so take it with a grain of salt :)

Please don’t add a Dodge skill. The melee skills already incorporate dodging (as well as parrying/blocking). A separate dodge skill is just one more thing for folks to min/max. Plus, unless you’re a dodgeball expert, it’s pretty rare for someone to go out of their way to learn dodging specifically.

Some games added a Dodge skill in 2nd Edition because of the way melee defense works. In 3rd edition that’s no longer necessary. If you’ve got a Sword, and someone’s attacking with an Axe, you defend with your Sword skill.

Combat Without Armor

The default FS3 configuration is balanced for near-modern military combat with vehicles or ground troops will be wearing body armor most of the time. If you don’t have armor in your theme (e.g. a Wild West game) you’ll probably find that combat is too lethal. You can adjust the lethality levels in that case.

You may also want to do this in a post-apoc or low-tech environment where healing is in short supply, since otherwise it might be hard to explain people surviving terrible wounds.

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