Monday, April 4, 2011

Atomic Dawn: Mutant Future Skill System

My home campaign of Atomic Dawn for the Mutant Future game has a cultural and technological level more in-line with the 1800s than the Dark Ages, though there are many low tech zones. As-such skill-sets and technological knowledge is similar to that found during the American Old West, though access to the machine shops and specialized equipment to make a locomotive (for instance) is very hard to come by. Most places default to a level somewhere between the Dark Ages and 1700's Colonial America, with a few more advanced gadgets and innovations such as revolvers, hand-crank washing machines, pot-belly stoves, shotguns, and beer with bubbles.
If used correctly, skills can make a character more three dimensional, painting a picture of his or her abilities and interest beyond combat or powers. Skills also allow a character to have more options at character creation, especially if the character in question has not rolled the best in Attributes and/or Mutations. Even a blind, irradiated character with a Strength of 4 can still be useful with the right skills.

Skills represent a character’s “background knowledge,” as well as areas of expertise gained through practice and training. As characters grow in experience, they learn new skills and improve upon what they know. There are twelve different skills in the game, described below.
Every character has a range of skills that allows him to perform a variety of actions with varying degrees of expertise. These skills represent the "day job" and origins of a character as well as grant more fine tuning for a characters overall concept.
At 1st level, characters begin with the characters INT score x's 10 in points to allocate amongst his or her desires skills, with no more than 40 points placed in a skill at this stage. Most characters gain 10 additional points to allocate amongst their skills at each odd-numbered experience level. Pure Human characters gain these 10 points at every single level to reflect the innovative spirit of these people and to offset their lack of mutations.
  • Academics: Academics represents knowledge of the past and present, and is applied when deciphering ancient languages, and doing modern research and study. It is also used when attempting to identify Artifacts, , modified by the characters Tech Bonus due to a high INT score.
  • Athletics: This is the practice of all things overtly physical. Running, jumping, climbing and the like. 
  • Business: Business is still very important in the Mutant Future. This skill is rolled when selling items or buying from junk merchants. 
  • Crafting: This skill represents skill in making items such as those found in the equipment lists on pages 16-20. However it also is used when repairing Artifacts, modified by the characters Tech Bonus due to a high INT score.
  • Diplomacy: Diplomacy is the art of negotiation, persuasion. Successful use of this skill should allow the player character (along with role-playing) to change the attitude of NPC's by one category to the positive.
  • Medicine: From first aid to surgery, this is an important skill to have in any adventuring group. Successful use of this skill can stop PC's from bleeding out when incapacitated, and allows a character to heal as though having full rest even if traveling. 
  • Outdoors: Survival in the weird wilderness of the Mutant Future is no joke. This skill includes knowledge of animals, plants, riding, tracking, setting snares and general survival. 
  • Perception: Searching, listening and sensing the motives of others are all determined by this skill. Player characters who are on lookout or are otherwise paying attention should be allowed a roll to avoid being surprised. 
  • Performing: The arts are not forgotten in the Mutant Future, and in-fact are highly prized. Characters who are very good at performing can earn a decent living and are usially welcome. 
  • Piloting: This represents operating any and all vehicles, though a ML might require a Tech or Academics + Tech check if the vehicle is a relic. Otherwise, this skill can be used to handle watercraft and general navigation. 
  • Politics: This is  the skill for those who wish to deal with the law (either side of it), rulers, city guards or legal contracts of any kind. 
  • Stealth: This skill is all about not being noticed, and of covering your activities. Sneaking, hiding, sleight-of-hand and all other kinds of sneakiness are included. A successful roll on this skill allows a character to surprise opponents in combat.
The Skill Check: Roll D100 and compare this to the relevant skills percentage score. If the dice roll is equal to or less than the skill’s score, the attempt is successful. If the total is greater than the skill’s score, then it has failed. What this actually means in a given situation is entirely up to the referee.
Referees should be careful not to overuse the dice! A game can be ruined quickly if every action that a character takes might fail or succeed depending on a skill check.

Uses in Storytelling
Use of this skill system is not just for players! Mutant Lords (Mutant Futures term for a Gamemaster) can easily make use of this system to add depth to his campaign setting.
Mutant Lords and Players are encouraged to come up with their own character origins. Think of characters from your favorite Post Apocalyptic movies, books or comics, and try to think of what skills might apply. Hank McCoy (Beast) is a biochemist as well as an X-man, and Severian from The Book of The New Sun was a torturer. Think how these careers would translate into Skills and run with it.
As an example taken from the NPC's mentioned on pages 39-41 in the Mutant Future game book we can construct a simple character origin and career from before he/she/it became an adventurer. As follows:
Animal Trainer: Animal trainers have to be alert, skilled in catching animals and in keeping them alive. Thus their primary skills would likely be- Animal Lore, Profession (animal trainer), Survival.
Blacksmith: Tremendous physical power and endurance as well as great skill and awareness are required to be a blacksmith. Thus along with a high STR (15+) their primary skills would likely be- Athletics, Profession (blacksmith), and Lore (metallurgy).
Scholar: The life of a scholar is all about reading, and talking to other scholars. Thus along with a high INT (15+) their primary skills would likely be- Lore (any), Profession (scribe or scholar), and Tech (any)
Seafarer: River and ocean trade is a tough but necessary trade, calling for physical skill, awareness and an ability to handle their craft. Thus their primary skills would likely be- Athletics, Entertainment, Profession (seafarer), Lore (sea).
Spy: A spy must be sneaky, self sufficient, and sharp to survive long. Thus their primary skills would likely be- Athletics, Skullduggery and Survival.
Junk Merchant: Trading salvaged trash and treasures for coin and trade goods requires skill with numbers, the gift of gab and the ability to patch up damaged goods (at least as far as appearances go). Thus their primary skills would likely be- Diplomacy, Profession (merchant) and Tech (any).
Slave Trader: The grim business of Slave Trading is a sad reality in the era of Atomic Dawn, and requires awareness, skill in business and the ability to keep slaves healthy (or at least alive). Thus their primary skills would likely be- Lore (medicine), Profession (merchant) and Ride.

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I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light
-- Henry Vaughan