SPECIAL Abilities

_5227741_origA few months ago I picked up Pits & Perils from Olde House Rules. It’s modeled after the numerous war games-turned-fantasy RPG campaigns that proliferated during the early 1970s.

Pits & Perils uses a really simple approach for character abilities. Instead of ranking each attribute (e.g., Strength 9), a character either possesses the ability or does not. In Pits & Perils you might, for example, have a Strong Fighter or Intelligent Magician. (Or maybe an Intelligent Fighter or Strong Magician – potentially more interesting as characters.)
This suggests a way to incorporate abilities in a minimalist game (like Tempora Mutantur) without adding a lot of complication…

SPECIAL Abilities

This optional rule combines the core idea from Pits & Perils with the seven SPECIAL Abilities from FalloutStrength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intellect, Agility, and Luck. (Taking the first letter of each spells the word SPECIAL.)

Before selecting their class, player characters roll 1d6 twice to determine their SPECIAL Abilities:

1d6 Ability
1 Strength [ST] Raw physical power
2 Perception [PE] Investigate, tracking, detect lies
3 Endurance [EN] Withstand adversity
4 Charisma [CH] Lead, persuade others
5 Intellect [IN] Know legend, recall information
6 Agility [AG] Climb, speed, stealth, etc.
Luck [LK] Fate, karma, general good fortune

If the same result is obtained both times, the character’s second Ability will be Luck [LK] instead.

STRENGTH relates to physical prowess. The character may attempt deeds of raw power, like forcing open a stuck door, etc.

PERCEPTION means attention to detail and intuition. Players must still rely on their own judgment. However, perceptive characters might notice things others miss, like fresh tracks or knowing when someone is lying to them.

ENDURANCE indicates health and well-being. Hardy characters can hold their breath and swim rough waters, etc. The referee might also grant them benefits to saving throws against things like disease and/or poison.

CHARISMA is charm and leadership ability. Players should always act out their personal interactions. However, leaders can attempt to influence others and even alter their reaction rolls.

INTELLECT refers to knowledge and learning ability. Note that while players are expected to think for themselves, learned characters might recall facts about the game world, like the location of some Ancient relic.

AGILITY is a measure of speed, balance, and coordination. Agile characters can attempt to hide, sneak, and steal small objects, like a coin purse. However, this may not be possible with metal armour and/or shields.

LUCK is an odd Ability; it’s a combination of fate, divine favour, and (in general) how the universe views you. Some people are born luckier than others.

Some of these Abilities suggest associations with certain character classes, but this is not required. A character may be a smart and agile Enforcer or strong and hardy Thinker, for example.

Game Rule Information

The rules for SPECIAL Abilities are left intentionally vague. Referees are recommended to interpret the general descriptions as they see fit for their campaign.

One concrete suggestion is allowing PCs to invoke a SPECIAL Ability to gain advantage when rolling an Adventuring Feat. The player must make a case before rolling the dice, and if the referee agrees with their reasoning the PC may roll 2d20 and take the higher of the two results.

Feats of Might may be influenced by Strength and Endurance; Skill can be affected by Perception and Agility; and Lore is associated with Charisma and Intellect.

Unlike the other abilities, Luck influences saving throws – but only when failure would result in death or permanent disfigurement.

Not every roll can be affected by SPECIAL Abilities – it is up to the referee. Also note that combat rolls (initiative, attacks, damage) can never have advantage from SPECIAL Abilities.

6 Responses to “SPECIAL Abilities”

  1. This Pits & Perils rule is great at differentiating characters without a lot of rules hassle.

    I would have to go through Tempora Mutantur again and see how this might interact with other game features (like mutations and repairing relics, for example), but I think it would be pretty seamless.

    The onus is on the player to roleplay their abilties, not just add them as a bonus to rolls.

  2. I’ve also posted a campaign idea inspired Pits & Perils on my other minimalist RPG blog:


  3. I don’t like the idea of having an ability or not having it. Everyone should have a shot at accomplishing any reasonable action. I like the SPECIAL stat line-up. All player characters are special.

    • It’s more of an indication of above-average ability. In game terms, it provides a (substantial) bonus to some non-combat rolls, but any character can still make an attempt.

  4. I was really excited to see this new post. Keep up the good work!

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