In Seacat 3: Superbasics we looked at the core mechanics, including this basic bit of rpg toolkit: Test: d20 + Stat + Skill over Target. Now we’re going to look at stats and skills more closely.
Stat and Skill Recap
Stats (much shorter for vital statistics) represent a hero’s inherent aptitude. There’s six of them. The game is named for them, or rather their names are adjusted to spell SEACAT. They’re also used as resources during the game, going up and down during play. For heroes they range from 0 to 5. The easiest way to generate stats for a starting hero is to take seven points and assign them among the stats, with a maximum of 3 in any one.
Skills (not much shorter for skills) are inchoate learned aptitudes. A hero starts with 3 at level 0, and gains more as they level up. For simplicity’s sake, skills are tied to levels, ranging from 1 at level 0 to 4 at level nine. Skills can be pretty much anything, from ‘Big Game Hunting’ to ‘Pharmacology’ or ‘Necrolegal Practices’. Combat skills also fit here. Magic, if such is your desire, is also a skill. An expert takes the same skill twice, doubling that skill bonus, but at the cost of skill diversity.
Everything on the hero sheet is a resource to use (and misuse) in play. The number of available skill, ability, and inventory slots is limited — but depending on choices and in-game events, skills, abilities, stats, items and more might travel around different parts of the sheet. Spells may take up inventory. Curses may block ability slots. Infections may replace skills. Changing bodies will rearrange baseline (full) stats. Anything on the sheet that can be penciled in or erased may be lost or gained, modified or augmented through play. Keeping a few blank sheets handy is useful.
Six stats: SEACAT
The UVG plays with six stats: Strength, Endurance, Agility, Charisma, Aura, and Thought. A stat of 0 is the minimum, 5 is the maximum. They map to the ability modifier bonuses of the stats of classical fantasy roleplaying games.
Strength is the active physical stat. It does what it says on the tin. Lifting bars, bending gates, hitting monsters. That kind of stuff.
Endurance is the passive physical stat. It’s about how much pain and strain a character can take. Long-distance running, carrying heavy loads, holding alcohol, and such.
Agility is the dynamic physical stat. It’s about applying the hero’s body with precision and speed to dodge oncoming triceratopsians and throw head-lopper bombs with razor precision.
Charisma is the active mental stat. It’s vitally important because it goes back to its classical Greek khárisma, representing divine fortune and favor. The gods and reason hate the uncharismatic, and Charisma also serves as a luck stat. When a hero tries to batter down resistance to their arguments through force of personality, this is what they use.
If a player asks if their hero can find a war pig, greased lightning mobile, rod of doom, or simply the latest edition of Burly Barbarians at the town market, that calls for a Charisma test.
Further, nine times out of ten, random effects or mindless creatures attacking a party of heroes will target the least charismatic one first. Clearly explain this rule to players before they generate heroes.
Aura is the passive mental stat. It indicates how much punishment the hero’s soul, spirit, or psyche can take when faced by horror and stress. It correlates almost completely with Endurance.
It is explicitly not Wisdom. It does not show good judgement or shrewd insight. Those are character traits that the player decides for their hero, much like they decide on the colour of the hero’s hair or shoes, without affecting mechanics in any way.
Thought is the dynamic mental stat, correlated with how quickly the hero can process and manipulate information. Its naming is also a silly reference to the Egyptian god Thoth. When a hero has to figure out a puzzle, decipher the control panel of a golden barge, or learn a new language, this is the stat for that.
Players roll stats in order with a d20. If they want to generate a stat with advantage, then they simply have to generate another stat with disadvantage. Fair is fair, after all.
|d20||Stat||What This Means|
|1–10||0||You’re close to the human mean.|
|15–17||2||Really quite good.|
|18–19||3||Excellent. The best you can get with a point buy.|
|20/20||5||The 18/00 of stats. Do you know that reference?|
Alternatively, if you prefer point buys, take seven points and assign them to your stats, with a maximum of 3. This is fine, too.
“But I wanted something different!” wept the player.
Fine, let them use the point buy.
Or, ok, let’s clarify. It’s for the whole group to decide what game they’ll have, not just the Cat. If you’re all in it for a hardcore old school experience, then … tough. But, usually you’ll find some kind of compromise. Be mature about it, don’t spoil everyone’s fun by demanding the perfect character at all times. Don’t spoil a player’s fun by demanding they play a character they don’t want to.
“Skull says, use point buy instead, then, seriously.”
Remember, stats are a resource and attacks and the environment can damage them. From starvation to disease to monsters.
Stat damage suffered when your stat is already at 0 causes fatigue.
All stat damage is temporary unless otherwise specified or a character dies, in which case, yeah, it’s permanent. Stats are one of the key attributes, along with Life, that heroes recover by resting.
Fatigue is an endgame spiral that bypasses most resources, quickly retiring a hero from play. Heroes progress one step along the fatigue track every time they take stat or Life damage that would take them into negative scores, and also as a result of some abilities or effects.
Fatigue and running out of life are the two main ways for a hero to “lose” and be taken out of play.
Learned skills are descriptive and vary from setting to setting and over time within a campaign. There is no mechanical or terminological difference between what other games call proficiencies, tools, and saves. They’re all just skills. A hero’s sheet has limited space for skills.
Adam B gave a much better definition than me of skills “as things that 1) someone could make a living with, 2) requires training to acquire, and 3) requires regular practice to maintain.” — good for defining new skills.
Heroes start with three skills at level 0 and gain more as they level up, study, or initiate memory transfers (and other hyper-magitech oddities). When a skill applies to a test, add the hero’s bonus (so, at level 0 a skill adds +1, at level 9 a skill adds +4) or double their bonus for experts (so +2 at level 0, +8 at level 9).
For simplicity’s sake, the hero’s bonus is tied to the hero’s level. It represents the bonus to their roll whenever they do something that they would be good at. You can unmoor it in your game, if you like.
Skills can range from ‘Sleight of Hand,’ ‘Melee Combat,’ ‘History,’ or ‘Carpentry,’ to ‘Project Management,’ ‘Bricklaying,’ ‘Neurosurgery,’ or ‘Golem Whispering.’ Players and referees are encouraged to make up their own and use them following common sense and dialogue. Any skill or profession that sounds fun, and the rest of the players also find at least mildly amusing, is fair game. Skills are one of the simpler ways to distinguish one game table and campaign from another.
One Can Always Try
Skills define what a hero is good at. Anyone can use a first aid kit, dive to cover from a bragon’s death weapon attack, or say they know some history—but a skilled hero is actually good at it. Any character can attempt any task, even if they don’t have a relevant skill, but they make their rolls with disadvantage and without adding a skill score to their roll. For example, a Safranjian Painball Star can try to decipher the glyphs on a Black City pseudolith or a cat wizard can try to fire a laser rifle with those cute paws, but they roll with disadvantage because they’re not much good at it.
- Test requires skill (e.g. driving a truck): d20 + Stat + Skill over Target
- Test requires skill, but hero lacks it: ↓d20 + Stat over Target (roll with disadvantage)
- Test doesn’t require particular skill (dodging a liquefactor ray): d20 + Stat over Target
- Test doesn’t require particular skill (but hero has a skill or ability that fits the narrative, e.g. superhuman reflexes to dodge the liquefactor ray): d20 + Stat + Skill over Target
Players should figure out what is a consistent use of individual skills in play—over-broad skills that are constantly spammed in every situation are probably over-broad.
Optional: Perfect Match
Optionally, when a very specific skill (or hero background, remember, skill covers a lot of ground here) is perfectly suited to a test, the hero may roll with advantage because of their specialty. This likely won’t apply to very broad skills, like ‘History’ or ‘Close Combat,’ but might well come into play with something like ‘Redland Wine Cultivation’ or ‘Steppelander Vech Piloting.’ As with every aspect of roleplaying, it’s a social activity, so communicate with each other and be willing to compromise.
E.g. an Orange Commando lock-picking their way into an Orange Commando arms locker. A Silver Legionnaire hot-wiring a howler ground effect car, like those they’d used in the 3rd Limbo War.
If a hero takes a skill twice, they count as an expert, and apply double their bonus every time they make a test with their skill. This is the route to take if you want to make a combat-focused character, for example.
So, if you want a master duelist Start them off with a skill in the poncitanian dueling rapier. Then take that skill again. Now the hero rolls attacks with advantage and has a doubled Skill bonus added to their rolls. That said, when they attack with a wasteland choppa-sword, they probably roll with disadvantage. Oh well. The price of specialization.
Again, an excellent definition of the skill tiers via Adam B: I’d probably think about them as: 1) not good at it [no skill], 2) good enough to get paid to do it [skill], and 3) good enough to get paid to teach it [expert].
Gaining New Skills
To gain new skills heroes must visit different locations and mentors. At the end of a week of study they make a moderate Thought test (that’s a roll over 11). Each location or mentor can only provide one success. After achieving four successes the hero gains their new skill.
Simpler or more difficult skills are possible. Something like “the Dark Arts of Irshe Dalgba” might require six locations and tests. On the other hand, something like learning to drive an automatic cargo wagon might require as little as two.
Optionally, when a hero levels up and unlocks a new skill-slot, just let them spend 2d4 or 2d6 weeks in one location, learning a new skill they want.
Players can invent new skills they want their heroes to learn based on their experiences in the game. The referee may then pepper random sites and non-player characters as potential mentors around the steppe, creating an instant personalized quest.
Deeper Look Ultraviolet Grasslands Skills
In the UVG I presented a list of 40 skills very briefly. I plan to expand on these in a series of posts on heroes for SEACAT, providing more abilities and items and spells to go with each skill. Here, just a taste of where things go.
- Apothecary — Mix poisons, potions, and medicines — a pretty regular profession skill that lets a hero work as a pharmacist. Anything an in-game fictional pharmacist could do, the hero could reasonably do. Additionally, they can are skilled in the use of recipes, concoctions, and decoctions, which the hero stores in their inventory (one stone each). Recipes let them convert time and money into poisons, potions, or medicines (these take one soap each).
Example: Golden Gutreaver — potent mineral and herbal emetic ($1d20*) that deals 1d10 damage when ingested, but also gives advantage to tests against poisons afflicting the victim … er … patient.
- Archaeology — Discover lost artifacts, climb, jump, dodge boulders — this is an obvious tribute to an obvious movie star. Crucially, in a dungeon-crawling setting, an archaeologist would also make skilled tests to detect traps and hidden doors.
- Big Game Hunting — Shoot big guns, order slaves around, ride on an elephant, chomp cigars, talk turkey — this is a composite skill that effectively gives a bonus to using big hunting rifles (and maintaining them), riding and shooting from the top of a big lumbering animal or machine (so, yes, hunting from tank-golem-back would also work, sure), and probably estimating the value of trophies, bragging, and more. Think of every bad cliché, this is it.
- Biomechanics — Modify living organisms with body-horror magic — this skill unlocks access to biomechanical magic (spells that take up inventory slots) and abilities (when the hero modifies themselves).
Example: Standard Beauty Modification — spell — Power 5: over one week the soft and hard tissues of the victim … err … patient realign and adjust to meet the beauty standards of the dominant local culture. At the end of the process, the modified character acquires a new ability — Beyond Natural Looks — giving them advantage to all social tests in that culture. The modified character also suffers 1d4 points of fatigue and is reduced to 1 Life.
- Cat Grooming — Make cats happy and receive their love — basically caring for cats. But, in-game, this might also give the character the ability to restore life points to cats by stroking them.
Example: Lay Hands On Cats — spell — Power 1: spend an hour to restore 1d6* life to a cat. If you roll a 6, you restore a recently killed cat to life.
- Chemistry — Make explosives, cook drugs. Ok, won’t detail all of them … have to go make breakfast. But I’ll get back to this list!
- Coffee Making — Make coffee, grow coffee, run plantation or bar.
- Comedy — Bring joy, laughter, and inappropriate sounds.
- Contortionist — Squeeze into small places. Put on circus shows.
- Crystal Healing — Use placebo effects to your advantage. Focus magics.
- Dice Maker — Make dice. Carve small things. Cheat at dice.
- Fishing — Catch fish. Also, hooks, boats, nets, and things.
- Foraging — Know and find your berries and nuts and mushrooms.
- Gun Running — Shoot guns, hide things, sell illegal goods.
- Hallucination — Travel in your dreams. Talk to spirits and chairs. (going to have to expand this one!)
- Legume Farming — Grow beans. Wake up early. Till fields. Work long hours. Pay onerous taxes. Sell legumes.
- Marketing — Sell magic legumes.
- Masonry — Build buildings. Shape stones. Understand dungeons.
- Mule-whispering — Get pack animals to get along. Have animal friends. Keep them happy.
- Narco-herbalism — Know and find and smoke and dry and preserve your inappropriate berries and herbs.
- Navigation — Find your way by stars and winds and waypoints.
- Necromancy — Talk to the dead. Sometimes walk them, too.
- Nomad Raiding — Ride like lightning. Steal cattle. Shoot guns and bows. Skirmish. Guerrilla tactics.
- Oldtech — Use Long Long Ago technomagic. Understand emoji.
- Packing — Really know how to pack stuff effectively. Probably get bonus inventory slots if you have time to pack. (Actually, totally get bonus inventory slots)
- Phytomancy — Talking to plants. Making them move for you.
- Profiteering — Also known as business administration.
- Project Management — Consummate middle managerial skills, organizing time sheets, setting key performance indicators.
- Protocol — Coffee ceremonies, modes of address, titles and such.
- Puppet Theatre — Theatre. But with puppets.
- Safe Driving — Rally, drifting, stunt driving, how to crash safely.
- Showfighting — Swords, halberds, whirly blades! Dancing!
- Soul Juicing — Reading people’s intentions. Possessing their bodies.
- Spelunking — Venture into deep places. Climbing, rappelling, diving.
- Storytelling — Telling good stories with satisfying endings.
- Surgery — Medicine with a focus on knives and sewing needles.
- Tactics — Find and use strategic advantages for war or business.
- The Business — The corporations, banks, and self-help associations that lubricate the world. Shaking up recalcitrants.
- The War — History. Using ancient war machines.
- Vome tech — Adapting and using vomish implants. Managing their side-effects. Enslaving vomes.
Skills might initially seem a bit dull compared to stats and special abilities, but in SEACAT they’re actually the key that unlocks different hero paths and modifications at higher levels.
Optional: Simpler Skills
If a skill list or inventing skills is too involved for your taste, just use the hero’s type, class, profession, or description.
For example, if the hero is a a soldier, they add their hero bonus when doing soldier-y stuff. If they are a wizard, they add their bonus when doing wizard-y things. If they were a cowherd before they went adventuring, they get a bonus when … herding cows. Possibly also milking. And feeding.
Ok … phew. This was another long one. But we’re still tackling the core of SEACAT, so it’s better to meander a bit more and chat with the Blue Skull.
Edited 2019-10-21: added more Blue Skull commentary based on feedback.
Next time … probably tackling the inventory. Then, after that, the magic system.
Now for a standard pitch closing. To support more of my creative rpg writing and art, the Stratometaship patreon is a good place to start. Alternatively, you can buy the .pdf of the Ultraviolet Grasslands at Exalted and on DTRPG. You might also consider the Slumbering Ursine Dunes books, which are heavily arted-out by yours truly. That link leads to What Ho!, by the way.