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A science fantasy RPG inspired by Dune and Jodorowsky's Metabarons
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Mechanics Update #2 - Skills, Traits, Powers and Augments

Posted by Edward Little - Shrike Studio (Creator)

Last time we looked at the basic characteristics and skill check mechanics of the game, this time we're going to go into bit more detail with regards to those and walk through the creation of an Emissary character. For this example, we're going to create the character Karkosky, a player character concept created by one of our Kickstarter backers.

Karkosky's defining concepts are that he is a human character, but one heavily augmented with cybernetics. He is a gunslinger, preferring to use a pair of pistols in combat, and that he has technomancer-like powers for the times when his pistols aren't up to the job. We chose Karkosky for this example because his concept is quite broad and will allow us to show off and explain some of the different character customisation options available.

The first two steps of character creation are concept and race, in this case this has already been done, so we will move onto the third step, characteristics. As mentioned in the previous mechanics article, a starting character has 2 ranks in each characteristic and 10 points to distribute amongst them. We need to start by considering which characteristics will be most important to Karkosky. As a gunslinger, dexterity will be important as it used for ranged combat checks. Endurance is important as it makes Karkosky more resistant to injuries and also determines how many cybernetic augments his body can handle. The 'technomancer' aspect of the character concept will be best met using Emissary powers, although we could also make him psionic to add a little more weight to the mystical side of his character. The pisonics skill will require a decent composure.

Strength: 2  

Dexterity: 4 (2 points spent)

Endurance: 4 (2 points spent)

Composure: 4 (2 points spent)

Intelligence: 3 (1 point spent)

Awareness: 4 (2 point spent)

Presence: 3 (1 point spent)

Charisma: 2

We could have min-maxed the characteristics more, or distributed the points differently, but this gives us a good starting point that checks all the requirements we had without making the character too specialised at one particular thing. The high awareness synergises well with the high dexterity, as both contribute to making the character harder to hit and faster reacting.

Racial bonuses and adjustments must now be applied. In this case, Karkosky is a Human. However, Humans, like all other races in Emissary, possess three sub-type, each with their own unique bonuses. Karkosky is a Spacer, giving him +1 dexterity, +1 awareness and -1 strength. Additionally he receives a circumstance bonus to dexterity checks made in microgravity. Next up is skills.

We have 48 points to spend on skills. At this point it's worth remembering that our skills will determine what kind of characteristic traits we can take and whether we can use the mastery bonus of those traits. In this case, we know that we will definitely want some dexterity traits with mastery bonuses. We also know that Karkosky has an affinity for technology and machinery, so related skills would also make sense. We'll start by maxing out the following:

Weapons (ranged): 5 (6 points spent)  

Drive/Pilot: 5 (6 points spent)

Survival: 5 (6 points spent)

Sense motive: 5 (6 points spent)

This immediately gives us access to two dexterity traits with mastery and one each for composure and awareness. We now have only 24 points left to distribute among other skills. We need to consider what fits the character and what will be useful, as well as other traits we might want.

Athletics: 2 (2 points spent)  

Unarmed combat: 2 (2 points spent)

Larceny: 4 (4 points spent)

Stealth: 2 (2 points spent)

Microgravity: 3 (3 points spent)

Psionics: 3 (3 points spent)

Technology: 4 (4 points spent)

Spot: 2 (2 points spent)

Track: 2 (2 points spent)

This gives us a spread of useful skills that remain appropriate to the concept of the character and access to a further two characteristic traits, another dexterity one (this time without mastery bonus) and an intelligence one. Investing more heavily in fewer skills would have allowed us access to more traits, but it would severely impact the character's ability to interact with the world outside of those few chosen skills. This is a trade off one needs to consider when making a character.

The next step in our process of character creation is choosing universal traits. Universal traits may not be as powerful as characteristic traits or as immediately beneficial as some of the racial abilities, but they can still be very useful. Importantly, universal traits cannot be gained after character creation and offer you the chance to tailor some fundamental features of your character. As a Human, we have access to 3 universal traits. In this example, we have chosen the following for the reasons outlined below:


A character with the ambidextrous trait does not suffer the usual circumstance penalty for using their off-hand to perform a complex action. Ordinarily a character wielding a weapon in each hand would suffer a circumstance penalty to the use of both weapons and an additional circumstance penalty to the off-hand weapon. An ambidextrous character would still suffer the first penalty but not the latter one.

This is obviously a very useful trait for Karkosky, as it allows him to fight with two pistols more easily than he would otherwise be able to do.

Death Wish  

A character with the death wish trait may choose to re-roll the result of a Corruption check after violating one of their Ideals. They may choose to take the second result or keep the result of their original roll.

We haven't talked about Ideals and Corruption yet, mechanics which relate to Emissary powers. However, Karkosky strikes us as the kind of character who might not always play by the rules, someone who does what it takes and makes the difficult decisions, sometimes arriving at conclusions not everyone would agree with. The Death Wish trait essentially mitigates some of the problems an Emissary might face when they go down that route.

Lightning Reflexes  

For the purposes of determining turn order the character's agility counts as 2 higher than it otherwise would be. Additionally, whenever ambushed or caught by surprise, the character can make an awareness check (TR 14) to negate the usual advantages granted to the attacker in this situation.

A gunslinger has to have lightning reflexes right? This synergises well with Karkosky's character concept and his high awareness. He's more likely to act first and less likely to get caught off guard by someone else.

Next we have our characteristic traits, starting with the ones we can have mastery in. For the sake of keeping this article a bit shorter, we'll summarise the mechanics descriptions for these, rather than quoting the whole thing as we did for the universal traits.  

Gunslinger (Mastery)

This trait effectively allows Karkosky to quick draw small weapons without using an action, additionally the mastery bonus also eliminates the other penalty for using two weapons. Combined with his ambidextrous trait, he can now use two weapons with no additional penalty at all to either attack roll.

Sure Aim (Mastery)

By taking this trait at mastery, Karkosky can ignore penalties to his ranged attacks that would be caused by cover or other people in his way, so long as he has line of sight to the target.

Seen it All (Mastery)

This trait at mastery level allows Karkosky to ignore any psychosis that mental attacks or severe trauma could normally cause.

Cold Reading (Mastery)

This trait at mastery level allows Karkosky to use his ranks in sense motive to perform intimidation or manipulation checks, as if he possessed those skills at the same rank.

Close Combat Expert

This trait effectively allows the character to perform a double tap with his weapons, dealing an additional die worth of damage but using twice the usual amount of ammunition.


This trait allows allows the character to ignore circumstance penalties they might face when navigating or working in an unfamiliar environment.

Apart from starting equipment and additional purchases (we will only go into augments today), the only other step left to do is choose our Ideals. Ideals are the conceptual link between Emissaries and their Simulcra, the alien technology implanted within them. Each Ideal has an associated branching tree of Powers that the Emissary may gain access to as they become more experienced. Using Powers requires the spending of Sympathy, which can be regained by resting or satisfying an Ideal. All Emissaries possess the Ideal of Duty (and may freely choose others in addition) and begin the game with 2 points of Sympathy and a basic set of starting Powers.

In addition to Duty, we will give Karkosky the Ideal of Restraint. Restraint is all about planning and preparedness, never being surprised or caught off guard. It can be satisfied by uncovering a trap, plot or a secret motive. Similarly, it can be violated by acting rashly and falling foul of a scheme that could have otherwise been avoided. We'll keep things simple for now, as the purpose of this article is not to delve into all of the different Ideals and how they behave mechanically (we'll save that for another time). Getting back to Karkosky, our main purpose for choosing the Ideal of Restraint is that one of its three branches will eventually give him the ability to interrogate machines, temporarily control and animate vehicles or computers, and even create artificial intelligences in his own image.  

The final part of today's update is Augments, cybernetics in the case of Karkosky. Augments need not be chosen during character creation and can be purchased at a later date, when available. However, cybernetics were one of the defining aspects of Karkosky, so we will use this opportunity to explore a few of them. A character may only possess a number of cybernetics up to their endurance score. Additionally, a character will lose the ability to heal naturally when they possess more than three (needing repairs instead) and gain the Artificial Being trait if they possess more than five (having effectively no biological parts left). Karkosky is a fairly extreme case and is heading in this direction, but hasn't quite become completely machine yet. We will give him the following cybernetic augments:

Joint Motors  

Benefits: The character gains 2 extra points of strength and a circumstance bonus to stamina checks.

Drawbacks: The character loses 4 points of strength when exposed to an EMP-like effect. A craft check of TR 20 is required to restart the motors.

Electromechanical motors are fused to all the joints in the body, providing greatly augmented strength. However, limbs and joints become extremely difficult to move if the motors ever fail.

Laminated Skeleton

Benefits: The character gains 2 extra points of endurance.

Drawbacks: The character suffers a circumstance penalty to stamina checks.

The bones are replaced or plated over with aerominium, an extremely lightweight and strong material used in the construction of spacecraft hulls.

Multispectral Vision

Benefits: The character gains the blind sense trait and can additionally see through thermoptic camouflage.

Drawbacks: The character loses 2 points of awareness if exposed to an EMP-like effect. A craft check of TR 18 is required to restore normal function.

Eyes are plucked out and replaced by high quality Jarl Cenner optics, coupled to a high resolution imaging sensor.

Early preview of Karkosky's character design
Early preview of Karkosky's character design

 In other news, we've started commissioning maps and illustrations for the scenarios, including the existing three and the additional ones being produced. Some early previews of those below too:

Enceladus Maximillion, veteran Emissary
Enceladus Maximillion, veteran Emissary
Example scenario map
Example scenario map
Daimadoshi_CL, John W Raney, and 3 more people like this update.


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    1. Missing avatar

      mike bowie on

      Are skills always tied to specific characteristics, or are they mixed-and-matched depending on the situation?