Skills are the way the game represents any kind of knowledge the character may have, both practical (in the sense we normally use the word "skill") and theoretical (such as knowledge about a subject like mathematics).
To make it possible for the GM to resolve the results of an attempt to use a skill (this is typically called a maneuver), skills are represented by a number called the Skill Value (or SV). We'll calculate this value by adding together factors representing the character's training, physical or mental talents (stats), and abilities and weaknesses. One other important factor that is added in is the effect of similar skills. In Prism, knowing a group of related skills makes each one enhance the others.
Skill values are essentially percentile; that is, they range from 1 to 100. You can consider as a rough rule of thumb that the skill value is the percentage probability of success at an ordinary, average task using that skill under normal conditions. However, because of open-ended dice, and the huge array of modifiers that may be applied based on situation, this is only approximate. It is entirely reasonable to have skill values over 100.
If you were to sit down and list your skills, you would probably find that a surprisingly small percentage of them relate to what you would consider your "profession." For better or worse, most real people know a wide variety of things, dabbling in many subjects, some that they aren't even interested in, because of constraints of society, schooling, family, etc. When you start creating a character, you should keep this in mind; a character with this type of wide skill base will probably be a lot closer to a real person than the "specialist" so common in roleplaying and adventure fiction.
Most of these "extra" skills are going to be unimportant ones, that aren't useful (very often, anyway) in adventuring, warcraft, exploring the heavens or the dungeons, or most of the things the average character does. That's just like your life, in which many of your skills aren't there to help you make a living. In the modern world, things like trivia, those violin lessons you took when you were a kid, calculus, sports rules, or even how to make a character in some roleplaying game, are not the kinds of skills you need to use in your career very often, but you nevertheless have spent a lot of time learning them -- often because you had to, but frequently because you are not a secretary or fisherman or manager, you are a human being, and there is more to you than your job. The same applies to your character.
Keep in mind "unimportant" skills from two major sources. First, during your childhood and lasting right up through adulthood, you have been forced and required to learn skills that don't match your "grand scheme" for your life. School started the trend with subjects you weren't interested in, and your parents helped with social skills for situations you never expected to be in. You probably then went through a job or two before landing the one you really were suited for, even if you were lucky. And even at that job you spent some time learning unrelated office skills, social protocols, and other procedures that aren't in your job description.
Of course, when you go home, you start tapping many skills that are even farther removed from your workaday career skills. You probably have a few hobbies or interests, and you probably have learned about many others over your lifetime. Apply this sort of reasoning to your character and you'll find that there's quite a lot of skills you probably ought to spend a few points at.
Feel free to enforce this attitude by requiring that PCs take skills outside the normal domain of their profession. However, it is extremely important that, when the PC gets a chance to make some not-usually-useful skill useful, it be encouraged strongly. For instance, a modern-world character skilled in Economics might, on being brought to the Middle Ages, figure out a way to make a killing by using his knowledge of market dynamics. This is very realistic, adds wonderful color to your game, and encourages other players to have and use skills other than the typical combat and magic/psionics skills.
Chapter 7 contains an alphabetical listing of over 200 skills, many of which can be specialized farther into more skills. In addition, it is easy to make your own skills when needed.
In Chapter 5 you picked Aptitude Values to match ten categories of skills. As was mentioned then, each skill falls into one or more of these categories. The listings in Chapter 7 include a group of statistics on each skill; the statistic labelled 'C=' shows the first two letters of the category a skill belongs to.
Remember to keep your aptitudes in mind when examining skills; but also remember it is OK to train, even aggressively, in a skill falling into a category that you have a poor aptitude in, if that is appropriate to your character's personality.
Some, perhaps most, of the skills in Chapter 7 have more than one category listed, separated by slashes. This indicates that a skill falls into more than one category.
In some cases, you can choose whichever category you want (typically the one you have the best aptitude in). But in most cases, the different categories reflect a slightly different "flavor" to the skill. For instance, Fletching is listed as both a CRAFTS and an OUTDOOR skill. As a CRAFTS skill, Fletching reflects knowledge of the use of specific tools, types of wood and other materials, and the theory and practice of arrowcrafting. An OUTDOOR version could involve simple tools and easily gathered natural ingredients, appropriate for improvising in the wild. Do not be fooled into thinking the CRAFTS version necessarily produces better arrows, however; most CRAFTS fletchers want to produce more arrows, rather than better ones.
The GM may apply a bonus or penalty, if you are using a version of a skill that is more or less appropriate to the situation. For instance, the CRAFTS fletcher in the wild without his tools would be at a disadvantage.
Some people know math well, and some people don't know math that well. But some people know math so well that they have stopped trying to know all of it, and now focus on their field to the exclusion of all else; for instance, maybe they are experts in trigonometry, or combinatorics and probability.
It would be impractical and not much fun if this game included separate skills for trigonometry, algebra, and all the other fields within mathematics. You would spend hours training in such a wide plethora of skills, each representing such a tiny amount of knowledge, that before long, you'd be writing an encyclopedia representing your character's entire knowledge base! On the other hand, it is good to know what a specialist is specializing in.
So when you take a skill, you can always specialize. For instance, a computer programmer might specialize in simulations modeling. When writing simulations programs, he might get a big bonus from the GM, but when writing word-processing software, he wouldn't be able to use his whole skill; the GM would apply a penalty. How big these bonuses and penalties are depends on how specialized his specialty is, and how unrelated the specific task is to the specialty.
You don't need to be an expert to specialize, and you can specialize in almost any skill, with the permission of the GM, of course. Note the specialization when you train in the skill, and remind the GM of it whenever you use the skill.
Also, your character may want to train in more than one specialization of the same general skill. In that case, you can treat each specialization as a different skill, and the base category as yet another; the GM will allow you to treat them as similar skills (probably very similar).
The majority of games occur in a single genre, where the characters may have access to some skills, but others would be rare, unheard of, or totally impossible to train in. Obviously, the Revolutionary War soldier can't have developed skill in starship piloting under normal circumstances. (He can have an aptitude for it, however.) And the starship pilot probably hasn't much experience in musket-oriented warfare.
Obviously, then, you can only train in skills that are available in your campaign. Remember when skimming the skill catalog that many of those skills are only there because this is a universal system, and do not apply to your game.
Some skills do apply in different genres but mean different things in them. For example, Electronics Engineering means a very different thing today than it did in 1950 and than it likely will in 2050. Where it is relevant, you should make a note of what genre, time period, and technology level your character was in when he developed a skill, in case he is likely to end up in a different genre later. The GM will figure out how much of your skill applies when you are out of your genre. Remember that being advanced is often as bad as being backward. Today's electronics engineer probably is unprepared to work with vacuum tubes and analog relays!
As an option, you can train in a skill "out of period" if it makes sense for your character. For instance, the futuristic electronics engineer might have, as a hobby or something, studied the electronics of the twentieth century. In these cases, you should develop two separate skills: Electronics Engineering: 23rd Century and Electronics Engineering: 20th Century. The GM will determine to what extent these skills are similar (in game terms).
Chapter 7, entitled "Catalog," is a catalog of all the predefined skills for Prism. These are listed in alphabetical order.
Rather than list the various climbing skills as "Climbing," or "Climbing: Mountains" and "Climbing: Walls," etc., skills are named, and listed, individually, e.g., Mountain Climbing and Wallclimbing. This approach was used throughout.
Each skill listing includes the name of the skill followed by two lines of statistics, and then the description of the skill itself. The statistics are as follows. 'C=' tells the category the skill belongs to; multiple categories are separated by slashes, and category names are abbreviated to two letters. 'S=' tells the stat(s) to be applied. 'D=' shows the Difficulty Modifier (or Diff Mod for short) which will be used in section 6.3.1. 'U=' tells the Untrained Value, which we'll use to figure out how well you can "fake it" if you are not trained in a skill. Finally, 'SIM=' shows a list of similar skills, and the Similarity Ratio for each.
You might notice, in skimming Chapter 7, that there are no skills related to magic and psionics at all. This is because you can use just about any magic or psionics system (or both) with Prism. Three such systems are described in appendices A-C, and the appropriate skills are described there. Use them as guides to how to adapt another system to Prism (especially A and B), or how to make your own magic or psionics rules (especially C).
As GM you must make clear what kind of magic or psionics, if any, is available on your game world. But if you want, you can always lie! Many fantasy adventure novels include the discovery of some form of magic that was previously unheard of, or the realization that magic exists at all. The only way that something like this can have any real impact is if you convince the players that it doesn't exist -- and play that way for a time before letting your plans come to fruition. In fact, this idea of forming plans in advance but resisting letting them come to pass too soon is one of the keys of making a campaign that combines consistency with a sense of epic proportion.
Also see the Fast Attack skill in Appendix D.
There are a few abilities that involve maneuver rolls of some sort to see how well they turn out. In some cases, a particular skill might apply to an ability; for instance, the Light Sleeper ability and the Detect Ambush skill go well together. However, in some cases, it may be appropriate to develop a skill specifically in making the best use of an ability. For instance, someone with an ability in Visions may (at the GM's option) be able to train in choosing or summoning his visions rather than waiting for them to come of their own accord.
If you want to try to develop your expertise at using an ability, ask the GM for the statistics for the skill required, and get an idea what the GM might think the skill could let you do. Sometimes, the GM will insist that no training is possible, or that skill development is not possible without access to some information or someone else to be taught by. (For instance, you may have a psionic-related ability that you can only develop when taught by people who know about psionics.)
When you want to use a skill that you're not finding in the catalog, that's no problem! The GM will figure out the statistics and let you know anything unusual you need to know.
Most new skills fall into one of the following three categories. First, many of them are just variations to, or specializations within, existing skills. For the latter, you can use the rules in section 6.2.3 and maybe not even need to bother your GM. For the former, the GM will let you know if the variation you want is allowed, and any changes to the skill's statistics you need to take into account.
Another category of skills is those related to making a living. Remember that in most campaign worlds, people can't make a living by being an adventurer. And even if they could, most people would consider them loony or lower-classed when told they didn't have any kind of regular job. And even if that wasn't a problem, most characters will have had some kind of job at some point in their lives. One way or the other, it is not uncommon to have some sort of "professional" skill. In many cases, a skill already exists (e.g., a doctor would be trained in Physician and Surgery, a silversmith at Smithing, a systems analyst at Computer Programming, a journalist at Writing and Research). In others, there is no skill listed. Some examples might be: beekeeper, stockbroker, clerk, human resource manager, winetaster, health inspector, cartoonist, etc.
The third category is hobby skills. These may not come in handy very often, but then again, they are usually very cheap (that is, in game terms, they don't cost much to develop) and they add flavor to your campaign and character; and then the golden moment may come when your skill at model railroading may save you!
The moral of the story is, don't be afraid to ask your GM to help you make up a new skill. The list in Chapter 7 should by no means be taken as an exhaustive list.
There are a few skills that everyone ought to consider taking, even if they don't seem appropriate or important at first glance. Here are a few hints at skills to keep in mind.
Virtually all characters are trained in one or more spoken, and probably one or more written, Languages. Those brought up with a thorough education will also be trained in Research and Writing.
There are a handful of physical skills that are fairly common in most cultures, such as Swimming, Treeclimbing, Athletic Games, Jumping, Running, and Throwing. You may not be trained very much, but you probably have a few points. Also, Hit Point Development is important to remember to train in.
Virtually all characters have some Area Knowledge of the area they were raised in, and possibly other areas. Anyone who has bought or sold things probably knows a bit about Trading. Living with family will lead to some skill at Housecleaning and Cooking.
It may seem odd, but most characters know a few points worth of Martial Arts Strikes I, as this skill includes simple brawling, fisticuffs, boxing, and any other hand-to-hand combat, even of the variety not normally called "martial arts."
The point of these skills is not that you are required to learn them, but that if you don't spend at least a few points, you should have a reason why not.
When it comes time to buy begin by writing down all the skills you want. If you have trained in skills before (i.e., you are not making your character from scratch right now) you already have many skills written down, and typically will only want to pick a few, if any, new ones. However, when you first make your character, you have only a blank skill sheet.
First, think about any specific skills that come to mind that are unusual, but that your character needs to be trained in; this could involve skills not in the catalog, ability skills, and skills that just seem important to your image of your character. While they are fresh in your mind, make some notes, or, if you already know Prism skills that represent them, write down the skill names.
Then, skim through the skills catalog (or the reference chart). Consider each skill, to decide if your character might have trained even a little bit in it. It does no harm to write the skill down now even if you end up deciding not to train in it, so don't be skimpy. For each skill you decide to include, follow the steps in the next few sections to copy the important information from the entry in the catalog (or from what your GM assigns).
Write the name of the skill on a blank line of your skill sheet. Find the skill in the catalog (if it's there), choose a category (see section 6.2.2), and write the two-letter abbreviation for the category down in the Cat column. Also, copy the stats (e.g., "IP") into the Stat column.
In the Diff column of your skill sheet you will want to write the skill's Difficulty. This is a number, typically from -3 to +14, which tells how difficult the skill is to train in. Calculating it is simple. Find your AV in the category you chose, and add the skill's Difficulty Modifier (or Diff Mod; listed after the 'D=') to it. The result is the skill's Difficulty (or Diff). Write it in the Diff column.
If you have chosen an optional or required specialization, or want to note that you trained in a different tech level, etc., simply note this after the skill name. For example, rather than having trained in Area Knowledge, you may have trained in Area Knowledge: Paris. Remember that you may also train in another specialization of the same skill (e.g. Area Knowledge: Versailles).
To develop a skill, you will be "buying" some training using development points (abbreviated DP). The cost is dependent on the skill's Difficulty and how much you want to buy. Use Chart 6.3, the Skill Purchase Chart, to find out how much a given amount of training costs for a skill.
To use this chart, find the column that matches the skill's Difficulty. For Difficulties below -3, use the -3 column; for Difficulties above 14, use the 14 column. Then skim down the column. The numbers listed are the amounts of development points you can choose to spend. When you decide how much to spend, read over to the left edge of that row to find out how many points of training you get.
For example, with a Difficulty of 6, you can spend one DP to get one point of training, two DP for two points, four DP for three points, six DP for four points, etc. You cannot spend a number of development points not listed on the chart. For instance, when buying the skill mentioned above you cannot spend three DP; you would have to spend two or four. You also cannot buy a number of points if there is no cost listed. For a Difficulty of 2 you cannot buy six points, you would have to buy five points at a cost of two DP or seven points at a cost of three DP.
Add the resulting number of points to the number in the Training (Train) column on your skill sheet. If that column was blank, pretend it held a zero. For example, suppose you had a Difficulty of 4 in the skill Sailing. You decide to spend four DP, and your Training column is empty. You would now write a five in it, since you just gained five points, and (you pretend) it had a zero in it. At some later date, you spend another three DP in it. This time you gain three points, which you add to the five already there and write an eight.
When you start to get good at a skill, it starts to get harder to get better at it. So if the number in your Training column was less than or equal to 25, but after you finish training, it is greater than 25, you should increase the skill's Difficulty by one. This is called crossing a cusp.
Cusps occur every 25 points; so your Difficulty will go up when you pass 50, 75, 100, etc. points in Training. If you manage to train so many points that you pass two cusps at once, you still have to increase your Difficulty by two.
In practice you won't be buying one skill, you'll be spending a whole bunch of DP on a variety of skills.
First of all, you need to keep track of how many DP you have left to spend. My favorite method is to get a piece of scrap paper and draw a large box on it; then divide the box into smaller boxes in such a way that the number of boxes is equal to the number of DP I have to spend. For example, if I had 28 points, I would divide the box into four rows, then into seven columns. Then, as I spend DP, I put Xs in the boxes.
When you are first creating a character, you tend to do three development periods in a row, one for 60 points, one for 40, and one for 50, so I make a box with sixty boxes within it, and do the first development period, putting slashes going one way; then I put 20 slashes going the other way and do the second period (40 points) putting slashes going the other way as I go along. Then, I put 10 circles over the double slashes and do the last period (50 points) putting in circles as I go along.
You may not hold development points over from one period to another, so you have to make sure that you spend all your points, not one more or less. You cannot train in the same skill twice during one development period. If you decide you want to have done more, just go back and redo the training to spend more points.
Remember, the only thing you need to be doing is writing down the new Training values, and possibly updating the Difficulties if you cross a cusp. You don't need to track anything else during this process. However, when you finish, you should perform the SV calculation process on all your skills.
For your convenience, a summary of this process is described below. Please refer to Chapter 12 for a complete example of the process in context.
In these sections you'll be figuring out the total Skill Value for a skill that you've already trained in.
You have already calculated the amount in the Training space. If you have not trained in this skill, and the space is empty, treat it as a zero.
It is important to determine at this point, whether you have trained in any similar skills. There is a very important and very subtle and slippery idea to absorb before you can do this. It is possible for a skill, called Skill A, to have Skill B as a similar skill, but for Skill B to not have Skill A as a similar skill. For instance, Free Fall Maneuvers will use Acrobatics as a similar skill, but not vice versa. Because of this, it is important, when talking about similar skills, to keep track of which one is using the other; there will be many opportunities to confuse this if you are not careful. When you feel yourself becoming confused about this, you can call Skill A the recipient skill, and Skill B the donor skill. In the above example, Acrobatics is the donor skill, and Free Fall Maneuvers is the recipient skill. I will use this terminology to make things clear at various points throughout the rest of this chapter.
The skill you are currently trying to calculate the SV of is the recipient skill. You look it up in Chapter 7, and find that one of the similar skills listed for it is one you have trained in. For example, you are calculating your SV for Scuba; it lists Diving as similar at a ratio of 1/3, so Diving can be a donor skill. The process is as follows.
First, note the fraction listed with the name of the donor skill. This is the Similarity Ratio. Find the donor skill on your skill sheet. Multiply its Training value by the Similarity Ratio and write this down as the Base for the recipient skill. You can see why I chose those names; the donor skill has given a fraction of its training value, which becomes the Base of the recipient skill. (Note that the donor skill does not lose anything!)
There is one important catch here. Suppose at some later date you train in the donor skill, changing its Training value. At that point, you would need to recalculate the Base for the recipient skill. To make sure that happens, you need to write down, in the Recipient Sim Skill column of the donor skill, the name of the skill it was the donor for. (A single skill may be the donor to more than one recipient, so you may have to do some squeezing to fit them all in there.) Write the name of the recipient skill (or an appropriate abbreviation) and, in parentheses, the Similarity Ratio.
Later, when you train the donor skill, you will see immediately that some other skill or skills are using it as a donor, so you can do the recalculation, by multiplying the new training value by the Similarity Ratio and using the result to replace the recipient skill's Base.
Note that it is possible for two skills to each be similar to the other (at the same or different Similarity Ratios), in which case each one considers the other both a donor and a recipient. For example, Force Field Operation and Force Field Engineering are mutually similar.
What if a recipient skill has two different similar skills that can be donors, and you are trained in both? You can pick either one, probably based on which one will give you a larger Base. If you want to (you certainly don't have to) you can write the recipient skill down as a recipient of both of the potential donors, so you can watch to see if the other donor you didn't use someday is able to donate more points (you might want to put a star next to the one you didn't use to remind yourself).
What if you don't have any skills that are similar to the skill in question? The number you then write down in the Base column depends on whether you have trained in this skill at all. (Yes, you can calculate the SV for a skill even if you haven't ever trained in it.) If your Training value is zero, the Base is equal to the Untrained Value listed in the skill description. If, however, you have trained in the skill, the Base is zero.
Your stats influence your success at various skills. In section 6.2.1 you copied down a string of letters referring to your stats. If this was only one letter, simply write down the value of the corresponding stat in the Stat column. Otherwise, average the values of all the listed stats, and write that down. Round off if necessary (round up for .5 and higher, down otherwise).
Note that a single stat can appear more than once. For example, if the code is SSD, and you have a Strength of +6 and a Dexterity of +11, you would add 6 + 6 + 11 = 23 / 3 = 7.66 which rounds to 8, so you'd write 8 in the Stats column.
The GM will assign bonuses and penalties due to your various abilities and weaknesses; note them in the A/W column, and write a small letter indicating which ability or weakness is responsible for this bonus or penalty.
There are so many possible abilities and weaknesses and so many skills that no attempt at all is made to provide cross-references for them. A few abilities and weaknesses list specific bonuses or penalties to specific skills. For the rest, you must improvise. Bonuses of -25 to +25 are most common, but don't be afraid to let multiple abilities, or truly profound abilities, bring a bonus above +25, or to allow weaknesses to result in penalties of more than -25.
Items of superior or inferior quality or other special circumstances will cause additional modifiers to the values of skills. These additional modifiers will be listed in the Misc column.
Simply add together the values in the Base, Training, Stats, A/W, and Misc columns and write the total down in the SV column. This is the SV itself, the only number you will use in play. The others are only used to calculate this number.
The entire process of skill development is not necessary for most NPCs (though for NPCs who are members of the same party as the PCs, for instance, it is appropriate). To determine the skill values for an NPC, first note any skills whose SVs you are really concerned about. Next, figure out how development points the character has acquired. Then, assign any SVs you want to assign. For the rest of the skills, assign a value called Importance which tells how important the skill is the NPC, on a scale of 1 to 10 (a 10 being his all-encompassing drive, a 1 being a skill probably ignored). Consult chart 6.4 (NPC Skill Calculation), looking up the skill's difficulty across the top and the assigned importance down the left; multiply the resulting number by the character's development points and divide by 100. This gives a good approximate SV (although you can also add in stat and ability/weakness values if they are unusual enough). This approximation is usually adequate for most NPCs and can always be fine-tuned if desired.
For those of you who would like to use this chart in computer programs, or who are pathologically curious, the formula used to generate this chart is as follows, where D represents the Difficulty and I the measure of importance: