Sunday, December 13, 2009

AC: Abilities

Continuing my task of revising the AC system.

A character's deck represents raw talent across four broad areas, as well as the whims of dramatic fate. To compliment raw talent characters may choose abilities which show specific areas and tasks they are better at. Abilities are recorded on a character sheet-- how they're used or applied depends on the model the GM wants to use: standard or detailed. In either version, Action Cards uses an open system for defining what a character can and cannot do. Essentially characters may attempt any task which makes sense given their background. Some tasks can be considered universal abilities: so a person can climb, can swing a sword, can shoot a gun and so on. Someone with that ability generally has more options or a better chance of success. But some abilities cover the kinds of tasks which require training, experience or familiarity.

In a modern game a character will be able to use a computer to do web searches, hunt down files, and contact people. But unless their background revolves around computers they won't be able to debug a program, break encryption, or create bot networks. These are more complex and specific tasks and require the character to have an ability in the relevant area or have it be part of their core background. In a fantasy game a character can swing a sword, but won't know how to forge one. In another game they can shoot that gun, but not know how to field strip or repair it. The GM is final arbiter about what kinds of tasks require an ability to even attempt. The GM should be clear about that early on-- so players know where they should invest their points. The system provides an option for picking up necessary abilities on the fly as well (see Drama Points for Retcon).

Abilities define specific things a character is good at or (in the case of areas requiring talent or experience) can do at all. An ability can be pretty much anything: Horseback Riding, Hunting, Swordplay, Desert Survival, Grappling, Dodging in Melee. Abilities serve three game functions:
*If the task cannot be attempted without the ability, it allows the character to actually attempt it.
*If a task falls under an ability, a character with that ability may redraw if they do not like the first result pulled. The second card must be chosen in that case (see Timing and Multiple Abilities below).
*If a character is making an argument about success or for a long term task, the character can point to relevant abilities as support for that task.

Abilities and Meta-Abilities
While all abilities are equivalent generally, some abilities do allow players to do things ordinary people don't have access to. These are called meta-abilities and represent magic, powers, psionics, racial traits, or just unusual traits a character possesses. Some times these things simple grant a simple something the player can do. In other cases they may represent classic abilities, but beyond the human norm. There's a narrative and qualitative difference between these kinds of abilities more than anything else. Someone might take Sprinting as an ability, giving them a redraw on races and running. But as a meta-ability in a Superhero campaign, a player might take Super-Speed Running. The later will be always faster than the former. Each falls into a different class of dramatic description.

Standard Abilities: Homework, Computer Programming, Archery, Sprinting, Lifting Things, Glassblowing, Forensics, Analyze Intelligence, Stealth, Streetwise, Social Graces.

Unusual Traits: Double-Jointed, Iron Skin, Nightvision, Extreme Wealth, Cast-Iron Stomach, Anime Leaping, Crushing Grip, Common Sense.

Racial Traits: Nightvision, Dwarvish Affinity for Stone, Wings, Tracking Scent, Fur, Ultrasonic Hearing, Giant, Tiny.

The GM will define generally for the setting what kinds of traits fall into what categories. The rule of thumb is: if it isn't something someone could pick up with training easily, then it is probably a Meta-Ability.

Abilities cost five experience points, while meta-abilities cost ten.

Option: Some meta-abilities, while granting unusual gifts, may not be as useful in play as others. For example, a Cast-Iron stomach has a fairly narrow range of use in most campaigns. The player may petition the GM for meta-abilities like these to only cost as much as regular abilities.

Meta-Ability Frameworks
For genres like fantasy and superheroes which rely heavily on meta-abilities, the GM may wish to provide some framework for players buying those abilities. This helps define both the limits and how broad a character needs to buy. For example, instead of Super-Speed as a meta-ability, the GM might ask the player to purchase Super-Sonic Punch, Lightning Reflexes, Hypersonic Running, Vibrate Through Solids and the like as individual meta-abilities which cover aspects of that.

Magic systems especially may have particular ways in which spells are bought. In a more detailed framework, the character may have to buy particular effects. In a game with a broader framework, classes or aspects of spells might be bought (like Fire Magic or Transmutations). [see Magic and Powers for some example frameworks.

Timing and Multiple Abilities
A player can only apply an ability once to any particular check. This means they can only usually redraw once. However, they may apply more than one ability to a check, provided that each successive ability is narrower than the one previously used. For example, if Cerise tries to make a Physical check to get over an obstacle as she runs, she might use Fearsome Agility as an ability to make a redraw. If she still fails, she could use a narrower skill like Leaping to get another redraw. After that she'd have have have something even narrower and specific to get another pull. The GM is the ultimate arbiter about what is applicable.

The GM needs to choose early on one of two approaches for handling ability repulls, especially in contested situations. The first approach is to have the player make their pull, apply any repulls from abilities and present the final result they end up with. The GM then tells them if they have succeeded or not.

The second option is for the GM to tell the player if their initial result, and those following have succeeded or not. The player can then decide whether to apply abilities or drama points to the results. This second approach is easier on the players and generally helps them feel more in control.

The GM may combine these two systems-- for example, using the first for general tests and the second for combat actions.

Ability Range and Stretches
In an Open system such as Action Cards some abilities will prove to be more useful over time than others. The GM set out example ability lists for the campaign at the beginning, helping the players to identify what level of detail will be used. This is most important for defining combat abilities. For example, one game might use “Swords” as an ability, while another might have “Sword Attack” and “Sword Parry” as separate abilities. Still another might have more colorful and detailed abilities such as “Ringing Blow”, “Sweeping Sword”, “Turn with Steel” and the like. If a GM finds that an ability is too broad for the game as played, he should ask the player to define it more narrowly. If a character with a broad ability contests with another with a narrower applicable ability, the GM will give a narrative advantage to the narrower ability. For example, if a character with “Nimble” is trying to escape from a pin being performed by someone with the “Professional Grappler” ability, the latter will have a bump in resolution. Note that these considerations only apply if characters redraw for their abilities.

If a player asks to use an ability which seems to stretch the definition of what it can do, the GM may increase the difficulty of the action. So if a character fails at an attempt and wishes to redraw with an ability only marginally related to the task, they can but their result will effectively be reduced.

In the detailed version of the system, abilities are broken into four groups: Skills, Traits, Talents, and Other. They each function slightly differently, but all can be used to support arguments for actions.

Skills represent something that a character knows well or can do more easily. These skills shouldn’t be too broad (i.e. Melee, Athletics, etc) but don’t have to be too narrow (i.e. 16th Century Medieval Tapestries, Skeet Shooting on Clay, etc). Skills allow characters to make a repull if they attempt an action and don't like the first result. The character must go with the next card pulled (unless they spend a Drama Point,). A skill only allows one redraw, but if the PC has skills which overlap, they may get a second chance. Any second (or subsequent) skill use must be made with a narrower skill.

These represent physical or mental aspects to a character which can boost other actions. For example: Handsome, Strong, Tough, Iron Will, Smooth Voice, Pious, Perfect Balance, Quick, Hard to Kill, Agile, or Patient. Traits provide a +1 bump to actions where that trait can be applied. Only one trait can be applied to any action and they count towards the maximum +3 bump from Edges. The GM may require Traits to be defined more narrowly and allow them to go above that +3 limit.

These represent the character's ability to do things beyond what normal persons can. They don't give a repull or provide a bump, but instead give a unique power. This can range from social benefits like wealth, high rank, connections, or status; or they can be inherent gifts like Nightvision, Rapid Healing, Anime Leap, Hawk-like Vision, Cast-Iron Stomach, Light Sleeper, Hard to Kill, and so on. Racial traits and simple powers can be bought as talents.

Depending on the campaign style, Magic and Superpowers may be bought as abilities. Examples of detailed versions of these systems can be found in their relevant sections. If the GM is using Combat Styles, these may also be bought as abilities.

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