Continuum II – Optional Attributes Conclusion, Attributes That Aren’t Recommended

First up, for the rest of the optional attributes list…

Grace measures a characters “talent” for dealing with social situations politely and diplomatically. It covers etiquette, manners, soothing conflicts – and acting as a member of the “upper class”. A high grace score helps a great deal when interacting with “sophisticated” people, while a low one may mark you as an uncouth barbarian. It is less effective with unsophisticated peoples – but the basic ability to handle social situations smoothly is of value almost anywhere, except around the occasional real “uncouth barbarian”.

Influence measures a characters ability to manipulate events on a large scale, whether through money, politics and intrigue, calling in favors, supplying wise council, mystic influences, through family or through some other means. Characters with high influence scores are rare – and often have “difficulties” with intrigue, people trying to use, replace, or discredit, them, anyone who wants something, requests for favors, and simply being watched. Being a V.I.P. can be nice, but it can also be a tremendous pain in the ass. Extreme cases should beware of assassins.

Intuition measures a characters psychic sensitivity and ability to detect occult disturbances – as well as his or her ability to guess correctly. High intuitions make characters difficult to surprise and allow them to extract far more information from any situation then is strictly reasonable, but also leave them open to various forms of psychic disturbances, inclined to weird premonitions – and subject to bizarre mood swings, headaches, and pains, as a result of events occurring somewhere or somewhen else. A high intuition score is also very useful in Powershaping and related magical fields.

Karma isn’t necessarily “good” or “bad”. It simply measures the likelihood of weird things happening to, or around, the character. Characters with high karma scores are marked by fate, whether for good or ill. Coincidence may preserve them at one moment simply to dump them into the middle of some unlikely disaster a moment later. It may be divine intervention, consequences of a past life, or simply luck, but it happens. On the other hand, those with low scores can plan ahead with far more confidence, and if fate is less likely to preserve them, it’s also a lot less likely to feed them to the meatgrinder. It is possible to get wholly “good” or “bad” karma via a Talent or disadvantage – but that is basically a form of Luck.

Learning Potential (AKA; “Potential“) is usually only needed when characters are getting a bit absurd. (Either by taking numerous skills at absurdly high (4+) ranks or by taking years off to gain an excessive number of skill points through study). Unfortunately for would-be powermongers, skills acquired through study tend to fade, and – no matter how much they study – many people simply are not capable of going beyond the master level. As a rule, a character may not gain more then (2/3 Potential) skill points via study and is limited to a maximum of 1/3 his or her score in skill rank. Neither limit applies on skill points acquired through level advancement.

Maneuver measures a character’s ability to move well; smoothly, gracefully, and with style. It’s important to acrobats, runners, swimmers, fliers, martial artists – and dancers. Maneuver rolls are generally required when the character wants to pull off some complex, high-speed, or otherwise difficult, stunt – a dive from a great height, stepping on the wall to corner at a full run, and so on – and have it look good as well as functional. As far as the martial arts go, high maneuver scores make the practacioner look good – and scores of 16+ allow the character to learn stylized forms without taking the associated penalty and to acquire time-consuming ones more quickly then usual.

Manipulation is a measure of a character’s ability to get other people to do what said character wants them to do through more-or-less peaceful means. Trickery, guile, phony emotional appeals, loaded wording, faulty logic, and similar social trickery are the essence of manipulation. While some degree of manipulation is a basic part of any social interaction, excessive manipulation is often very deeply resented. Trying to avoid manipulating people so as to avoid this is a form of manipulation in itself. As a rule a high manipulation score is a mixed blessing – and often leads to even your friends distrusting you.

Mental Coordination measures a character’s ability to handle complex or multiple simultaneous tasks. Examples range from the mundane (Answering a question while lifting weights and watching television reruns) to such more significant operations as using multiple psychic powers, using telekinesis in several differing ways at one time, maintaining some illusion while doing something else, or keeping a horse under control while fighting. Such tasks are normally assumed to be things that require a minimal level of concentration to perform. A task that requires more then that will count as two (or possibly even more) lesser tasks. By default, characters can normally handle three simple tasks at one time. As a side-benefit, those with high mental coordination scores receive a targeting bonus when employing psychically-based attacks. There is a small problem with having a high Mental Coordination score; it tends to give people the impression that you’re not really paying attention to them.

Morale is an attribute that generally only applies to NPC’s, although PC’s may use it if they so desire. It’s essentially a measurement of how much stress a character (or group) can handle before giving way. While this is most dramatic in battle, where a failure of morale means anything from a minimal-failure fighting retreat through a total-failure rout or surrender (whichever seems likely to result in survival), it can also mean taking a bribe, giving in to blackmail, deserting a post, stealing something from an employer, or simply refusing orders. While Morale generally assumes an external loyalty, characters who’s loyalty is only to themselves may also have morale scores, but in their case it represents self-confidence. Morale rolls vary a great deal. Retreat is less tempting if there’s someone standing behind you with a halberd. A wandering bum can be bribed far more easily then a well- paid executive – especially if said executive’s position is secure and has every prospect of remaining so. Despite claims, training and experience don’t raise morale. They simply change a character’s (or group’s) estimate of the situation and best course of action. Groups also learn the advantages of operating as a team – and gain confidence in the capabilities of the other group members. Discipline doesn’t raise morale either, but it does allow a group to lose morale in stages, rather then all at once. Undisciplined mobs tend to break, but a disciplined group tends to try to retreat or fall back while retaining organization. It requires several failures to cause a rout. Leader-types may make independent morale checks, modifying the troops roll by +/-1 for every 2 points by which they make their roll – but if such a leader is captured or slain another check must be made immediately with a similar penalty. Mere incapacitation calls for another check, but with no special penalty. Leaders who fail morale checks can be a considerable problem, since their followers automatically take a similar penalty. Morale rolls are also modified by emotional factors. Abandoning your wounded isn’t good for morale. Fanatic religious devotion or defending home and family bolsters it enormously. Being reinforced – or seeing allies winning – may nullify a recent failure. A character (or groups) initial morale varies depending on recruitment procedures and selectivity. Professional mercenaries tend to have high morale. Those who don’t get out of the profession. Conscript peasants usually have low morale. Volunteers vary. Morale rolls are usually required only when something in a situation changes for the worse – or when something is obviously a stupid idea.

Mysterium measures a characters skill at remaining an unknown. The higher the score, the harder it is for an investigator or normal acquaintance to find out anything about the character. What’s more, acquaintances often won’t notice that they know little or nothing about you. This sort of thing can be due to occult skills, inspired hacking, the fact that the courthouse burned down, simply being very, very, reticent and unobtrusive, be the work of some intelligence organization, or just the result of coincidence. Whatever the cause, a high mysterium score will start to drop if it’s possessor keeps giving out information. The disadvantage of “Mysterium” is that it affects everyone. Friends will have as much trouble finding you as enemies will. If you never appear on the news, you never get any credit. Allies can’t rely on your abilities when they’re unknown. Occasionally mysterium appears in conjunction with a “secret identity” – as in; “No one knows anything about the mysterious Professor Prometheus!”. While this keeps the required secrecy to one aspect of a characters life, it also means that losing that secret will utterly destroy all the mystery; “Look! It’s only Mr Hardshack!”

Power is a characters natural psychic strength potential, over and above the base accessible from his wisdom. It is important in Empyrean Magic (which taps it), during outbursts of “hysterical strength” and other instinctive uses of C’hi, resisting psychic attacks, and in enhancing other psychic powers. Sadly, Power generally cannot be tapped directly. It usually requires an emotional (or a stress- related) trigger to bring it out. As a side benefit such “triggers” bypass the usual point expenditure limits.

Protean is a rare trait among most races. It measures a character’s ability to accelerate and control his or her shapeshifting. Unfortunately, even a high Protean score doesn’t give a character shapeshfting powers. It simply indicates that he or she will be good at controlling any such abilities that he or she possesses or acquires. A high score does have a minor disadvantage for those with active shapeshifting powers; unless they maintain strict control they tend to give away a lot through unconscious shapeshfting (“I’m NOT Jealous of him!” “Then why are you growing fangs Michael?”) although this does depend a bit on the nature of the character’s shapeshifting abilities. Low scores may indicate difficulty in making use of such talents at all.

Recognition measures how famous and distinctive your character is. It does not measure how people will react to whatever a character is known for (That’s a matter of how the people who recognize you feel about what you do, and is a bit too complex for a simple score). A high score means that many of those you meet will “know” at least a bit about you – which can be both good and bad.

Sanity is a somewhat debatable attribute. It could be seen as a measure of how rational a person is, of how closely their mental “model” of the world corresponds to that of their culture, of how well they control bizarre/ antisocial drives – or simply of how willing they are to accept reality without filtering it through theories and preconceptions. Go far enough “out of bounds” on any of these and you’ll be considered crazy. Those who won’t or can’t realize that you must open the refrigerator before trying to put the milk in (failure of reason), believe that the earth is flat (failure of world-model), want to conquer the world and cannot restrain themselves (bizarre or antisocial desire), or refuse to accept that the car has a flat because they just put new tires on it (unwilling to accept reality), are insane by most standards. It doesn’t measure stability. It is perfectly possible to have a nice stable fixed delusion. In Continuum II, any character who has reasonable goals, goes about achieving them sensibly, and is willing to deal with reality as it is, is sane. Cultural expectations do not enter into it. Sanity is, however, a variable. When a character’s mental stability (QV; Wisdom) is overcome, his or her sanity will drop. When and if it hits zero. the character will usually “snap” temporarily – lapsing into shock, confusion, hysteria, or what-have-you. They then begin over again with their “basic” sanity score reduced by one point. The lower it goes, the odder they become. Sanity can be regained through time, meditation, therapy (the telepathic variety is usually best), defeating your personal fears – or simply facing (and winning out over) the things that bother you. Sanity can be increased in a similar fashion by collecting “extra” temporary points – but this is notoriously difficult. Optionally, each lost point of sanity may manifest as mental quirks, with more bothersome quirks being equated to two or more points. A character who’s “permanent” sanity score is reduced to 0 is effectively out of action unless drastic measures are taken – or considerable time passes. In real life, sanity is all too rare; a very high sanity score has its own, built-in, penalty. If you don’t play such a character accordingly the GM will probably reduce your experience point awards. If you do, you’ll miss out on a lot of things. The “sane” response is very often to stay out of whatever-it-is that’s going on…

Size is an extremely simple attribute; It’s how large a character is. As a rule, it’s pretty consistent within any one species. Really large characters can take more physical damage before going down, but are subject to innumerable major and minor problems, ranging from conspicuousness thru having to have custom-tailored clothing and armor, being unable to fit into compact cars, and being unable to find a horse that can carry you, up to occasionally falling through the floor. Extremely small characters are slightly more fragile and have trouble with things being oversized – but they do have an easier time sneaking around and getting out of the way. It’s important to shapeshifters if the game master is keeping track of details because most of them can only manage to take forms within two size points of their racial ranges (three if shapeshifting in water).

Standing measures a characters perceived status among some group. While said “group” is usually the population at large, others are certainly possible. Standing might also be used to measure military or organizational rank, how much of the underworld a character controls, whether a character is a white, black, or grey, mage (and whether various mystic beings will respond to your invocations), how much the other knights and nobles of the realm respect you (although even a standing three knight is far above the peasants), or simply how rich and influential you are. Of course, with high (or sometimes low, such as a “black mage”) standing comes high demands on your time.

Stun measures a character’s ability to stay conscious and functioning despite pain, shock, impact, and injury. Stun rolls are required at the game-masters option – but likely occasions include being sapped from behind, being hit by a stungun, or simply taking a major attack. While this makes it easier to knock the character out, it also means that such characters tend to aggravate wounds less then others do, hence their stun score is added to their base vitality. Minimal success or failure on a stun roll generally leaves the character more-or-less dazed. As a rule, bullets, blades, and beams allow easier stun rulls then less-focused (and usually less damaging) hands, blunt weapons, and blasts.

Trauma measures long-term physical, psychic, magical, or spiritual injury. Trauma is acquired when a character takes massive, potentially-lethal, injuries, and fails an Trauma roll. The difficulty of said roll depends on the magnitude and nature of the effect producing the injury. Each point of a character’s trauma score is reflected in the game as a penalty to some activity – what depends on the GM’s whim and what produced the injury. The severity depends on how often the penalty comes into play. Trauma points (and their associated penalties) can be removed, but this requires repairing the damage somehow. It’s better to avoid it in the first place. Competent care is a good place to start, since it provides a retroactive +2 to +7 (Depending on the skill and resources of the caregiver) on the characters trauma roll (“He would have lost the arm, but we got him to the surgeon in time”). “Trauma” can be intentionally inflicted, often as a punishment. There is no roll to resist this sort of thing. Getting branded (A penalty to some social rolls) or having a hand amputated (Several points worth of trauma) is hard to resist. Trauma penalties can include various physical limits, social annoyances, psychological problems, weird curses, magical difficulties, and psychic malfunctions. While it may not be strictly reasonable, already-battered characters are harder to inflict further trauma on. What are a few more scars on top of all the others?

Voice measures the quality of a character’s voice, at least as far as range, tonality, singing, and speaking are concerned. While less then vital unless you’re a singer, and possibly irrelevant even then, those with high voice scores are simply pleasant to listen too. Low scores may indicate speech impediments or atrocious accents, but it rarely matters that much. It might be a decisive element in a closely-matched talent competition though.

Wealth measures the extent of a character’s financial resources. Sadly, unlike the convenient funding and gear provided by the “Increased Resources” talents, Wealth is something that has to be maintained and managed. Depending on the score, this may mean anything from an hours daily scrounging on through a job, and up to spending most of your time on managing your financial empire. Extreme wealth scores draw attention, publicity, and crooks, in equal measure. It can be useful, but after a point it tends to become a career in itself. Extreme levels of wealth have a nasty habit of endangering your friends and family.

Web is one of the strangest optional characteristics. It’s a measure of the strength and number of a character’s psychic “anchors” and emotional supports. Such “anchors” are either living beings with powerful emotional ties to the character (children, lovers, hated enemies, etc), or are objects (items, places, or what-have-you) in which a character has invested a great deal of their personal psychic energy. Objects and places are mental foci, triggers for memories, and places in which the character can recover his mental balance. For clairvoyants, spirit travelers, and the like, such anchors are also easy to reach psychically – and can be used to help rebuild a scattered or damaged psyche. Living beings act in a somewhat similar fashion – however they also act as emotional bulwarks, helping the character to resist many psychic assaults. As psychic constructs, webs can absorb or yield psychic power – but overdoing this risks damage to them, reducing the web score by one. The disadvantage is that a webs anchors are links to the user as well.

Zeal measures both strength of commitment, and how much energy, a character is inclined to put into causes. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a sensible, or even stable, choice of causes (QV; Intellect and Wisdom) – but a high value does make the character a splendid activist, fund- raiser, and annoyance. While it also makes a character extremely difficult to convert directly, characters with low wisdoms are prone to sudden enthusiasms. High zeal scores are common among religious figures, but they are not necessarily of any real help in exercising religious powers.

Optional Attributes which are NOT recommended :

  • Acting: This is another “attribute” that’s hard to seperate from the players performance, and is usually best handled as a character skill, rather then as an attribute.
  • Charisma: Measures how “likable” a character is. This is usually best handled through role-playing.
  • Clearance: Measures how much a character is trusted by some organization. It tends to be volatile, and is more of an attribute of said organization then of the character.
  • Education. This measures the extent of the characters education. This is normally treated as a function of a characters intellect and skill choices. A bright kid who grows up on a farm learns just as much as one in a high-pressure advanced academy, he or she just learns different things.
  • Esteem: Measures how well some character’s reputation is perceived. Basically, do those who’ve heard of you think of you as a hero of a villian? The problem here is that reputations are complex things, and one number cannot do them justice.
  • Heritage: This measures the importance of what a character is in line to inherit – whether in the form of lands, cash, or power. This is usually better handled by the GM using the character’s class, background, talents, and family, in relationship to the setting, the plotline potential, and his or her whimsy.
  • Insight: Measures the characters ability to have bright ideas and pick out important clues. Unless the players constantly need hints – which usually indicates that the game master is over-complicating things – this sort of ability is generally only useful if you want to go back to rolling the combat dice quickly.
  • Luck: This is usually used as an excuse for GM’s, and players, who are at a loss. Gaming already involves luck – the dice handle that.
  • Retinue: This measures the size of a character’s entourage. This is usually better handled as a function of culture, character skills, and appropriate other attributes.
  • Sensuality: Measures both a characters sexual attributes and his or her talent for using them. Anyone who wants to include Sensuality and deal with the resulting nonsense is welcome to do so, but I do not recommend it. Situations where it might be used can normally be handled using the character description and some role-playing – if they come up at all
  • Traits: Such as piety, courage, honor, greed, carnality, and other such personality traits are normally best handled on the character quiz. Elevating them to attributes tends to be nothing but a way to take the decisions out of the hands of the player.

Now, obviously enough, a lot of these attributes have made it into d20 through Eclipse – although in many cases it’s as a power you might want to buy, instead of as an attribute. It’s really too bad in a way; the flexibility of optional / secondary attributes allowed a great deal of setting and character customization. After all, if the game master opted to require Discipline, Fatigue, and Trauma, the setting will become a great deal more grim-and-gritty, “unlimited use” abilities become a lot less “unlimited”, and avoiding fights becomes a lot more important. On the other hand, if he or she asked for Aura, some variant of Corruption, and Mysterium, then a “secret supernatural” game is probably in the offing. Trade out one of those for Sanity and you’re headed for Call Of Cthulhu. Is he or she asking for Essence, Recognition, and one of the player’s choice? That would work nicely for a Shadowrun style setting. On the other hand, Doom (Radiation Dosage), Trauma, and Corruption (Mutation) says eithre post-apocalyptic radioactive wasteland or perhaps an alien invasion setting. Free choice? A wide-open and likely multi-dimensional setting is coming up, with lots of second chances for characters to work on specialties that there base attributes don’t really support.

Unfortunately, that degree of freedom would be pretty hard to translate to most of the current popular rules sets; most of them are a lot more restrictive about what rolls are related to which attribute, so adding options for new attributes is a lot more complicated.

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