A new RPG system

Constructing an Abilities List

If we’re going to stick with a flat list of abilities for the purposes of allowing Anything to be a Character, we’re going to need a sensible default ability list.

I say default because as a generic system one skill list isn’t going to work the same for everything.  A game about doctors is probably going to need more than one Doctoring “skill”, and a game in a Wind and the Willows types setting is going to need it’s own skills.  However, since most games are humanish adventure games of some sort, what we’re looking for is a set of abilities that represents the “moves” characters make in adventure games.

What do Characters do?

So, what makes a sensible default set of abilities?  One easy solution to this is to simply make a very small set of abilities.  We could for example just have “Physical” as one ability and “Mental” as another, and then let details be handled by Feats/Stunts/Advantages.  However, we’re trying to construct a more crunchy game here, so that won’t fly.

Here are the things it seems characters do frequently in adventure games:

  • Physical Maneuvers – Running, Jumping Climbing, etc…
  • Melee and Unarmed Combat
  • Throwing Things
  • Lifting, Bashing, Holding
  •  Sneaking, Hiding, etc…
  • Breaking into Places, Opening Locks
  • Pickpocketing,
  • Shooting
  • Computer and Mechanical Engineering
  • Chemical and Biological Engineering
  • Crafting Stuff
  • Knowing Stuff and Researching Stuff
  • Etiquette, Finding Information Socially and Carousing
  • Lying and Detecting Lies and understanding Psychology / Empathy
  • Negotiating and Leading
  • Engaging with Contacts
  • Bullying, frightening, and torturing
  • Searching, Hearing, Listening, Spotting
  • Operating Transportation
  • Traveling and Surviving in the Wilderness
  • Buying and Selling Stuff
  • Being Willful and Plucky
  • Healing

That’s 22 broad generalizations of the sorts of thing that people do.  Now if I’m dividing things into Mental and Physical for things like “stress” and “Action Points”, then I’m going to need to similarly divide the skills, and I should keep the separation about even. Given that, lets’s see what we can come up with…

Mental and Physical Ability Draft

Physical Abilities

  • Physique – Listing, Bashing, Holding, Throwing
  • Athletics – Physical Maneuvers, Running, Jumping, Climbing
  • Endurance – Resisting Stuff, Stamina
  • Stealth – Sneaking, Hiding
  • Burglary – Breaking into places, Picking Locks
  • Sleight of Hand – Picking Pockets, Palming
  • Shoot – Shooting things
  • Survival – Traveling and Survival
  • Drive – Operating Transport
  • Melee – Close Combat
  • Endurance – Resisting Elements, Getting a Second Wind

Mental Abilities

  • Medical – Healing, Chemical Engineering, Biological Engineering
  • Craft – Craft, Design, Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering
  • Academics – Knowledge
  • Esteem – Contacts, Carousing, Etiquette, Leadership
  • Psychology – Detect Lies, Lying, Empathy
  • Rapport – Making Friends, Diplomacy, Negotiation, Buying and Selling
  • Bully – Bully, Intimidate, Torture
  • Awareness – Search, Spot, Listen
  • Will – Being Plucky and Willful

This is doubtless an imperfect list, but should suffice as a jumping off point.  From here, the work is to figure out what “Moves” such skills actually allow.  This will allow us to come up with a set of things for which we need rules.

Character Actions

Looking at the sub abilities that encompass each of these helps figure out their balance.

Physical Abilities

  • Physique
    • Lift Above Head
    • Lift off Ground
    • Encumbrance
    • Bashing Objects
    • Throwing things
  • Athletics
    • Running
    • Jumping
    • Climbing
    • Falling
    • Swimming
  • Endurance
    • Resist Cold
    • Resist Heat
    • Stay Conscious
    • Get Better
    • Stamina
    • Hysterical Strength
  • Stealth
    • Hiding
    • Shadowing
    • Moving Silently
    • Cloaking Activities
    • Surprising
  • Sleight of Hand –
    • Picking Pockets
    • Conjuring
    • Palming
    • Juggling
    • Picking Locks
    • Disarming Traps
  • Shoot – Shooting things
    • Bows
    • Guns
    • Crossbows
    • Slings
  • Survival –
    • Scrounging
    • Hunting
    • Travel
    • Resist Exposure
  • Drive –
    • Ride
    • Car
    • Motorcycle
    • Tank
    • Plane
    • Helicopter
  • Melee
    • Pole Arms
    • Unarmed
    • Swords and Sticks
    • Flails
    • Shields

Now looking at this intuitive list, it’s been broken down into “specializations” of sorts.  Is that right?  Should Melee have Pole Arms under it, or should it have defense?

An alternative way to approach this would be to define the Abilities under Professions of a sort, and to have the “specializations” under that relate to the various sorts of actions listed above.  For example:

  • Soldier
    • Swords and Sticks
    • Crossbow
    • Shields
    • Ride
  • Ranger
    • Bows and Slings
    • Scrounging
    • Hunting
    • Travel
    • Resist Exposure
    • Tracking


One advantage to the second approach is that it makes quickly defining NPC’s easy.  As in “I’ll have this guy be a Ranger(10)”, and then the abilities are known.  A disadvantage is that it clusters unrelated abilities into professions, and makes creating characters that reflect a concept harder.

Of course even if the skill list is like the top one, there’s nothing to stop “Ranger(10)” from being used anyway.  Part of the who value of having a flat Ability list is that the Abilities for a particular character can really be anything.  In fact the only reason to have a fixed ability list instead of simply allowing the Player to write down anything they want is for balance (and as a guide to the players).  However this list even fixed will have add ons like The Force, or whatever else is needed.

Where do we go form here?

The next step is to actually take the abilities listed and start creating rules for them.  I’ll probably do that in multiple parts, but expect that posts in the next few days will center around defining these abilities and the rules governing how to play each one out.  These are probably granular enough that they would make it into a “lite” version of the rules, but understanding them is going to help us understand what stats we actually need.

What rules do you see come up in games that there often aren’t rules for?  What about things there are rules for that never come up in games?


2 responses

  1. Pingback: Drafting a Lite version | Living Myth Rpg

  2. Pingback: Re-examining SKills | Living Myth Rpg

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