Sunday, December 16, 2012

Skills in Year of the Phoenix

In last week's installment, we started to generate a character for the Year of the Phoenix role-playing game; namely, David Long, a 26 year old Chinese-American.  Although voting was very close, we're going with “Support Services: Mechanic” for his position within the 'Project Phoenix Special Reaction Team' to which he will be assigned.  Knowing David's position, we can distribute dice among his Skill Spheres in an effort to make him more effective.

For every Phoenix character, eighteen ten-sided dice are divided among the six Skill Spheres (Knowledge, Talent, Observation, Communication, Manipulation, and Kinetics).  For each sphere, at least one die must be assigned but no more than five dice may be assigned.  An 'average' character would have three dice allocated to each sphere.  Since David is supposed to be a Mechanic, let's assign five dice to Knowledge and four dice to Manipulation.  To balance this out, we will assign only two dice each to Talent, Communication, and Observation; the Kinetics sphere will have three dice.  Dice results are added to a base value of 15 and the total is treated as a percentage.

If I were to create a 'hack' of the “Epic Rule System” Martin Wixted used for Phoenix (and co-developed with Scot Michael Fritz), I think I would turn 'Conditioning' into a Skill Sphere.  Also, I would get rid of the 'Talent' Skill Sphere which – by definition* – includes “unquantifiable aspects of a character.”  The skill list for the Talent sphere is a hodge-podge.  I think I see what Wixted was trying to do, but each of the listed skills could just as easily be included in others spheres (mostly Communication and Observation).  Alternately, I would reserve the Talent sphere to reflect a sort of magic attunement / spellcasting ability.

Anyway, David's Skill Spheres are as follows:  Knowledge (56%), Talent (29%), Observation (29%), Communication (26%), Manipulation (33%) and Kinetics (28%).  The Phoenix character sheet (see below) has a 'Skill Sphere Grid' meant to provide players “with a quick reference to check where [a] character is strong or weak.”  The number of 'Specific Skills' a character has is equal to his or her age in years; however, eleven of these skills must be the 'core skills' taught to all Project Phoenix personnel and some skills (in David's case, three) must be taken as part of the character's 'service branch' training.  This leaves David with twelve 'Personal Skills.'  (26 - [11 + 3] = 12)

For each specific skill, the result of 3d10 is added to the appropriate Skill Sphere value.  Instead of rolling dice, players can add 15 to the Skill Sphere value.  This is slightly less than what 3d10 would average, but you don't have to be concerned with bad dice mojo.  Players can also use a second skill 'slot' to add another 3d10 (or 15).

Among David's core skills, there is an 'interaction skill' – which we decide is Etiquette (COM) (36%) – and a 'personal management skill' – for which we choose Operate Vehicle: passenger car (MAN) (43%).  David's native language is English, which is represented by two skills:  literacy (KNO) (65%) and 'linguacy' (COM) (42%).  For his second language, Mandarin seems appropriate; literacy (KNO) (73%) and 'linguacy' (COM) (37%).  David's remaining core skills (and their values) are as follows:  Astronautics (KNO) (73%), Computation, which is essentially mathematics (KNO) (73%), Extravehicular Mobility Unit (a.k.a. 'EMU') (KIN) (50%), Shuttle Computer (KNO) (68%), and Self-loading Pistol (MAN) (45%).

David's 'service branch' skills (and their values) are as follows: NASA Vehicle Repair (KNO) (73%), Operate Lunar Vehicle (MAN) (52%), and Robot Repair (73%).

Before continuing with his 'Personal Skills,' let's address David's special ability.  He has two Ability Points.  Let's go for the obvious and select 'Machine Empathy.'  At two points, this allows David to diagnose “any problem with a vehicle or device” within ten meters in four minutes (his 'Talent' speed).  The 'mechanical' explanation for this ability is a “neural implant,” but we're going to define it as a 'mental' ability.  This means one of David's personal skills will be 'Machine Empathy' (TAL) (53%).

David should possess mechanical aptitude should not be limited to NASA vehicles, so we have him obtain (normal) Vehicle Repair (KNO) (77%).  We'll also have David learn some martial arts.  This should not be interpreted as an exacerbation of a racial stereotype, but merely an opportunity to show my cherished readers how martial arts are handled in Phoenix.  According to Wixted, “Martial artists attempt to improve themselves in all areas of life (such as...inner peace and control) but such extensive treatment is beyond the scope of [the skills] chapter.”  Otherwise, Wixted lists various 'moves' that can each be purchased as a specific skill “as long as it is compatible with the character's background.”  So, we'll have David get:  Punch (KIN) (46%), Throw (KIN) (34%), and Unarmed Parry (KIN) (45%).  For a Throw, a “successful Grapple is required first,” so we'll get Grapple (KIN) (51%).  We'll also have David get martial arts as a Knowledge skill representing the philosophy, tradition, and other knowledge about the martial art (KNO) (73%).  The value for 'Throw' is weak, so let's 'spend' another skill to add 3d10 – Throw (KIN) (47%).

David has five Personal Skills left.  Overlooking the pre-gens for ideas, I settle on:  Hide (KIN) (44%), Listen (OBS) (44%), Detect Lie (TAL) (53%), 'Simple Repair' (MAN) (43%), and Moonsight (OBS) (50%).  I considered a Talent skill that Wixted lists (but does not describe) – “Nerve (chutzpah)” – but I don't think it's right for David's background.

* Training Manual (p. 10)


  1. I have rarely seen voting so close. All of the other options were a mere one vote behind the winning one!

    What is "Moonsight"? Is it a fancy name for "night vision"?

    1. "Moonsight: Allows the hero to see in the dark by analyzing patterns of grey tones. There must be some light (a crescent moon will do) for this skill to be effective."