Year of the Phoenix characters do not possess attributes in the sense of traditional role-playing games; instead, they have Skill Spheres. The 'kickstart' section of the Read Me First! pamphlet says:
Anything a character can do is defined by one of six Skill Spheres... Knowledge (KNO) (your education and street smarts), Talent (TAL) (your spirit, presence, and persuasion ability), Observation (OBS) (your five senses), Communication (COM) (your ability to entertain or teach someone through conversation), Manipulation (MAN) (skill with your hands), and Kinetics (KIN) (prowess with physical activity requiring your whole body).Each Sphere has a percentage value. To determine if a character can accomplish any given task, the player rolls d100 and adds the value of the appropriate Sphere. If the sum exceeds 100, the task is successful. The amount by which the total exceeds 100 indicates the quality of the result; each additional twenty percent represents an increased 'level' of quality. Our boy 'Keeps' from last week tried to play the harmonica. The Manipulation Sphere covers ability with musical instruments and Keeps' MAN value is 34%. Therefore, a roll of 67 or greater is necessary for Keeps to successfully play the harmonica.
Characters have specific skills with values that add on to the appropriate Sphere. For instance, 'Surgery' is a Manipulation skill, 'Forensics' is an Observation skill, and 'Pharmacology' is a Knowledge skill. While Keeps doesn't have a specific skill for harmonica playing, he does have 'Boating,' another Manipulation skill. Keeps' score with Boating is 44% rather than 34%. Incidentally, a skill of literacy with a given language is part of the Knowledge Sphere, 'linguacy' is part of the Communication Sphere. Linguacy – evidently a word Wixted made up – is the ability to speak a language (and, I suppose, the ability to understand the spoken form of a language).
Skill Spheres have a Skill Speed which is inversely proportionate to the Sphere's value. Skill Speed refers to the amount of time required to complete a task; a lower Skill Speed means the task takes less time. The scale of time (i.e., seconds, minutes, hours, days) varies from skill to skill. Skill Speed cannot be any higher than 5, nor can it be any lower than 1.
One might expect a skill penalty in Phoenix to take the form of some number subtracted from either the skill value or the dice roll. However, Wixted implemented penalties in a different manner. In Phoenix a Difficulty Die is used when “a disability or a reduction in the character's usual chance of success” comes into play. The Difficulty Die is a d6 rolled concurrently with the d100 normally used in determining success. If the result of the roll falls within the penalty range, the character fails that skill attempt. An injury might impose a Difficulty of 2. In such an instance, a roll of 1 or 2 on the Difficulty Die would mean failure even if a successful result was indicated by the d100.* Difficulty penalties are cumulative.
Another Phoenix concept is the 'Max roll' (as in maximum success). If the d100 results in a Max roll, the character succeeds with the highest level of quality and any Difficulty penalties are ignored. The 'range' of a Max roll is based upon the value of the appropriate Skill Sphere; the greater the value, the greater the Max roll range. For example, Keeps' Manipulation value is 34% – the Max roll for this value is 98-00. A value of 50% or greater allows a Max roll of 96-00.
Contrasting with the Max roll is the 'Klutz roll.' A sufficiently low roll on the d100 represents a 'spectacular failure.' The chance of a Klutz roll decreases with higher Skill Sphere values. Keeps' 34% Manipulation value means he would 'Klutz' with a roll of 01-03. With a value of 50% or greater, a Klutz occurs only with a roll of 01.
* As an optional, more complex rule, rolling within the penalty range does not cause automatic failure. Instead, a roll within the penalty range reduces the d100 skill roll by 20% x the Difficulty Die result.