Abilities set characters apart.
In a session, a player can use all kinds of personal resources generated at the genesis of their character. A simple thing like coming from the same town as someone, for example, can sway a decision or a reaction. If the character possesses a Swiss Dagger, they will have different options than someone with an Astrological Compendium.
Abilities are selected after you roll on the tables to determine your Occupation, Association and Focus. Those three rolls provide a list of eight possible Abilities, from which you can choose three.
Those three Abilities provide you with more depth to understanding your character, shape their presence within the setting, and provide a loosely defined skill set. It’s the skill set that’s worth considering, as both a player and a Game Moderator (GM).
Know What You’re Doing
When you have an Ability, a situation might seem to present a challenge to someone without any expertise but be simple for you.
For example, if you possess Infiltration and plan to enter a location without being noticed, both player and GM alike might argue that no challenge exists. You have the expertise to know how to act, dress and carry yourself – it’s there in your Abilities.
Without that Ability, the GM might set a Challenge to determine whether you fit in or stand out like an intruder.
Here, your selection of an Ability is rewarded by setting you apart from everyone else. Your character’s Abilities allow them to shine in situations where others will face a struggle.
Experience Makes You Grow
When you have an Ability and a situation presents a Challenge that could be open to anyone but on which you have an edge, then an Ability can offer a Step Up – or, possibly, prevent a Step Down.
If you and a colleague both search for a secret door but you have Observant, the GM will call for an Intellectual Challenge from both players, but offer you a Step Up.
Why might a GM take the opposite route of protecting you from a Step Down?
Perhaps the characters find themselves in a situation where they have to show present a display of skill and failure is more likely to show them for fools. Maybe in a grand party, the group dance calls for the precision of movement and poise – so, the GM asks for everyone to make a Physical Challenge Stepped Down, except the character with Dance who can make an unmodified roll.
Knowledge Opens Doors
A final situation might arise where possession of an Ability is essential to have a chance of achieving anything at all.
For example, scouring an alchemists library in search of a specific occult text on an obscure subject might only be possible if you possess Occult Lore. There are hundreds of books and you have limited time to search before discovery, so Occult Lore is like a passport to even entering the Challenge. There’s no Step Up because the Ability makes it possible, not easier.
The same might apply to professional skills or sciences, like Dentistry or Anatomy. Without the Ability, the GM might be loathe to allow a Challenge at all – or, they might Call to Fail. stating that if you progress with the attempt you will inflict damage on the subject and likely achieve nothing advantage, like soaking up blood rather than staunching the flow.
So, in summary:
- Possession of an Ability might allow you to do something without a Challenge, whereas others would roll
- Having an Ability may give you the edge, and a Step Up, or make you less likely to do something catastrophic, and offset a Step Down
- Sometimes an Ability is like having an invitation to participate; without it, you don’t get to roll at all, but with it you face a Challenge without any advantage