The throwing weapons start strong, with throwing axes and knives both giving +1 to throw at first level. The missile weapons all introduce a +1 strike bonus at second level, along with – thrown, natch – battle axe, spears/forks and short sword. Polearms and small shield give +1 to throw at third level, with blunt, lance and large shield giving +1 at fourth. Large sword and staves give +1 to throw at fifth level and ball and chain is the last weapon proficiency to give +1 to throw , at sixth level. (There is a typo in the large shield table: both seventh and tenth level introduce a +3 throw bonus. I assume the first is a typo for +2.) Thrown weapon to-hit bonuses top out at between +2 (ball and chain) and +8 (knives), while missile weapon to-hit bonuses top out at +6 (crossbow) or +7.
The Palladium Books game Ninjas & Superspies (originally published in 1987 but I’ve only got the revised 1990 edition) says, on p130 (under the heading ‘grab attack’),
Grabbing flying objects, especially incoming missiles like daggers and arrows, is more difficult. First, the attack must be Parried (Dodging means avoiding the projectile altogether). If the Parry is successful, then the character can attempt to grab the projectile. Grabbing hand-tossed objects requires a Strike Roll of 10 or better (yes, character bonuses are allowed). Grabbing objects fired by a device like a bow, crossbow or sling will require a Strike Roll of 14 or better (again, the character's bonuses to strike/grab are allowed). Projectiles fired from any kind of gun can NOT be grabbed.
This strongly implies that missile weapon attacks (except from firearms) can be parried. I’m inclined, however, to read all the combat rules in Ninjas & Superspies as a reworking of the combat rules presented in this book rather than in any sense a clarification of how these rules were intended to be used. With that caveat, I feel it shouldn’t be possible, under these rules, to parry thrown or missile weapons.
the attribute bonuses to parry and dodge are identical for a given PP score
most of the hand-to-hand combat skills give identical bonuses to parry and dodge (the exceptions being longbowman, thief and non-arms)
the weapon proficiencies give additional bonuses to parry – as do superior weapons – but the only other source of permanent dodge bonuses is the class abilities for druids with certain totem animals
characters with hand-to-hand skills (possibly depending on class: see below) can parry without losing their attack in combat but no-one in this book can dodge without losing their attack
the overwhelming incentive is to parry rather than dodge whenever possible. So dodging must have some sort of counter-advantage over parrying or it would have no value in play. I therefore assume that
parrying requires a suitable weapon or object in hand – if you parry with your bare hands you still get hurt
parrying is strictly a melee activity whereas you can dodge thrown and missile weapons.
All of which is a longwinded preamble to saying that, just as I looked at parry bonuses compared to melee strike bonuses above, I’m going to compare throw bonuses (and missile weapon strike bonuses) with dodge bonuses. The overall to-hit bonuses are, from best to worst (with a note listing which hand-to-hand skills give a matching-or-better dodge bonus overall),
knives and longbow – none of the hand-to-hand skills give a dodge bonus that matches the to-hit bonus for longbows or knives overall
throwing axe – none
sling and spears/forks (which share the same progression) – none
shortbow – none
crossbow – none
small shield – none
battle axe – soldier
polearms – soldier, non-arms, knight, thief, mercenary and longbowman
short sword – soldier, non-arms, knight, thief, mercenary and longbowman
blunt, lance and large shield (which all share a progression) – soldier, non-arms, knight, thief, mercenary, longbowman and palladin
‘Rate of fire [sic]’: The big advantage, to my mind, of missile weapon proficiencies is that they give multiple attacks per minute. As noted above, the various hand-to-hand combat skills give mutliple attacks from second (soldier, knight, palladin, assassin and thief), third (mercenary, longbowman and ranger) or fourth (non-arms) level, topping out at four (non-arms) or five by thirteenth (palladin) to fifteenth (mercenary, longbowman and thief) level. The missile weapon proficiencies, on the other hand, give multiple attacks a minute from first (sling and longbow) or second (shortbow and crossbow) level, give five attacks a minute by fifth (longbow), sixth (sling), seventh (shortbow) or ninth (crossbow) level and top out at seven (crossbow), nine (longbow and shortbow) or ten (sling) attacks a minute.
A palladin with a polearm (or a flamberge, or a goupillon flail) is the most damaging melee combatant per hit but they’re getting between half and two-thirds the attacks per minute of a longbowman of the same level (with a mean proportion across all levels of 56%) and only doing one-and-a-half times the damage per hit (disregarding damage bonuses and criticals, that is – a palladin gets the same number of critical hits as a longbowman until sixth level and one-and-a-third times as many thereafter). If you ignore the most damaging weapons (polearms, ball-and-chain weapons, large swords and, for missile attacks, longbows), eg because you’re playing a wizard, diabolist or druid, you’re looking at missile weapons like a crossbow (1d8 damage up to seven times a minute) or a sling (1d6 damage up to ten times a minute) as opposed to melee weapons like a hercules club or an iron staff (2d6 damage up to four times a minute). Of course, one of the advantages of thrown and missile weapons is that you can keep your distance from opponents, especially ones with shorter-range weapons, so it might be more appropriate to compare them to the more defensively effective one-handed-weapon-and-shield combinations.
Thinking about spells and other abilities that substitute for weapon proficiencies, there are a number that can effectively disarm opponents, summon allies and, of course, hurt or kill people and animals. Broadening the subject of subsititutes for weapon proficiencies to that level makes it much too big to cover here: I’ll say more about relative damage and so on when I cover the abilities in question. Narrowing it down to spells and abilities giving bonuses with weapons, there are the following (I probably should have mentioned the druid totem bonuses when I was looking at the hand-to-hand combat skills).
’Animate Object’, a fourth level earth warlock spell, works on wood, clay and stone objects, including weapons made of ‘mostly wood or stone’, and gives them +2 to hit and +3 to parry. (There is a spell with the same title on the main list: its write-up is different but doesn’t explicitly contradict the write-up for this one.)
A druid with a rodent totem gets +4 to dodge at second, or possibly third, level.
A druid with a fowl totem gets +2 to parry and dodge.
A druid with a hooved totem gets +6 to damage and +2 to dodge.
A druid with a feline totem gets +2 to strike, parry and dodge.
A druid with a canine totem gets +4 to damage and +2 to parry and dodge.
Looking at those bonuses I realise that, if you really want to maximise the amount of damage done in a minute, a hooved-totem druid with a hercules club is better than another character wielding a polearm. If damage bonuses apply to thrown and missile weapons as well as melee weapons, a hooved-totem druid with a sling or a shortbow does more damage than a longbowman. Once you’ve got two, or possibly three, levels in druid, of course, you’re looking at multiclassing over to palladin or longbowman for more damage output.
Carpentry is a secondary skill, so available to all classes, but some receive class bonuses: druid gets +15%, ranger, peasant and merchant +10%, healer +6%, squire +5%, longbowman and scholar +4%. It gives one percentage, which is the chance to build and repair ‘wood items and/or parts of buildings’. The write-up specifies that the percentage is ‘the success ratio of proper construction, quality and repair’, which reads to me like it may not be intended as a binary succeed-or-fail percentage, or perhaps it is intended to be that sometimes but not in every circumstance: seems like a good idea to me, although that reading does amount to saying this percentage is a number to be used at the GM’s discretion. The percentage starts at 16%, rises over 50% by sixth level and over 90% by thirteenth. ‘[W]ood items’ is a pretty broad category: I’d be inclined to say a player character dwarf druid couldn’t roll against their carpentry skill to create a dwarven quarterstaff with damage and parry bonuses (such a weapon could be worth up to 510 gold). On the other hand, I’m not fond of the idea that player character skills can never produce the best results seen in the setting.
I can’t find any spells or abilities in this book that are close substitutes for the carpentry skill but ‘Wood to Stone’, a sixth level earth warlock spell that permanently transforms up to sixty pounds of wood per level of the caster into stone, would work well with the skill, enabling a carpenter to produce stonework.
Thinking about the point Erik Sieurin brought up above about the functions of skills in play and my response about skills providing opportunities for players, I get the impression that the secondary skills can be a bit less appropriate for pro-active use than the class-and-elective skills. Carpentry, for instance, can obviously be used to perform a trade, and thereby make a living and/or infiltrate a community. Apart from those long-term effects, though, I’m not sure what this skill would be used for in play. A-Team-style shenanigans, making traps, false doors and so on, perhaps. Even if a player character with the skill were allowed by the GM to produce any ‘wood item’, the skill is basically substituting for the gold that would otherwise be used to procure that item. Using the skill for repair, obviously, might come up but that smacks of the GM creating a problem to fit a solution the players have: if there were no carpentry skill in the party, would their wagon axle still break in the middle of nowhere? Obviously it’s legitimate to engineer problems that the players can solve in order to showcase the characters’ abilities to solve them but I’m really strugglling to think of how a creative player could use this skill to achieve their goals.
Cook, despite being a secondary skill, is a class skill for peasant (+10%); ranger, squire, druid and healer get +10% as well while shaman gets +8%. It gives one percentage, which is the chance of preparing food well: the book says that a failed roll means ‘the preparations are particularly disappointing (bland, too spicy, looks icky, etc.)’ so, as I understand it, still an edible meal or whatever. The percentage starts at 10%, rises above 50% by fourth level, to 90% by seventh level and is listed as 100% from twelfth level onwards. (Cook is the only skill that is literally listed as reaching a 100% chance of success. Other skills can implicitly get that high but it’s nice to have it written down in black and white, especially given Palladium Books’ later blanket rule that no skill percentage can go higher than 98%.)
There are a few spells that could be used to substitute for the cook skill but none of them are very good substitutes.
’Create Bread and Milk’, a fifth level spell from the main list, provides a large but random amount of (somewhat bland) ready-to-eat food.
‘Heat Object/Water’, a fourth level fire warlock spell, can be used to cook food ‘simply by staring at it’. Nothing is said about whether the food is appetising when so cooked, whether a cook skill roll would make a difference or anything like that: I prefer to think that a warlock with the cook skill could roll against the skill when using the spell to attempt to cook food well by just looking at it.
’Resist Hunger’, a second level psionic power, prevents the caster from experiencing hunger but does nothing to prevent the physical effects of not eating.
This skill seems like it might be easier to insert into play than carpentry: there are more and briefer opportunities to cook and to impress people with your cooking in the typical scenario, I would think, than to make or repair carpentry. Posing as a cook, also, would probably get a character closer to NPCs of interest than posing as a tradesperson. Outside of an established community where cooks have a particular role, I suspect there are enough situations where the difference between a friendly encounter and a fight could hinge on whether the player characters could provide a slap-up meal for NPCs to make this skill a useful way of approaching potential antagonists. And, of course, if you still wanted to eliminate the people for whom you’re cooking, the GM might allow the use poison skill to succeed more easily if the people using the poison are the ones actually preparing the food.
Dance has the following class bonuses: palladin and noble get +20%, knight, merchant and shaman +10%. It gives two percentages, one for ‘folk dancing’ and the other for ‘ball and fancy/formal dance’. (There is no mention of sacred or ritual dance, despite the fact that faeries and demons – objects of worship to some of the playable races – have dance powers. That omission and the inclusion of ballroom dancing are the kind of anachronism I mentioned above that I feel is vital to the tone of dungeon fantasy games.) The percentages ‘indicate the relative skill and quality of the dancer’, so this is another skill that isn’t necessarily rolled against. The folk dancing percentage starts at 18%, rises to 50% by third level and 90% by sixth level but tops out at 99%. The formal dancing percentage starts at 12%, rises above 50% by fourth level and to 90% by ninth level. There are no spells or abilities that are close substitutes for the dance skill.
The two percentages are suggestive of dancing skill as an indicator of social class. Infiltrating an event or a community by dancing seems plausible, as does impressing NPCs with a character’s dancing ability. As with the cook skill, I feel that dance – and the other performing arts skills (play string instruments, play wind instruments and sing) – could serve as a rudimentary form of communication, perhaps even superior to language for communicating some things. I like the idea of the party palladin improvising an interpretive dance to convince the orcs that the party is chasing the evil healer who came through their land, not raiding their livestock, especially if the orcs have a fairy ring handy and are threatening to make the whole party dance themselves unconscious.
Demon and devil lore has the following class bonuses: witch, summoner and priest of gods of darkness get +30%, scholar, diabolist and priest of gods of light +20%, palladin, wizard and shaman +15%, warlock, mind mage and healer +10%. It gives one percentage, which ‘indicates the approximate degree of study and knowledge’ and is also explicitly rolled against to ‘recognize the handiwork (influence) of demons or devils’. The percentage starts at 25%, rises over 50% by fourth level and to 90% by eleventh.
There are no spells or abilities that are close substitutes for this skill. Several classes (wizard, witch and summoner in particular) can contact demons and/or devils directly so I supposed they could ask them about their lore; priests and shamans have more generalised information-gathering powers but nothing specifically related to devils or demons.
Demon and devil lore is obviously an information gathering skill and so, absent some player-narrative-control houserules about declaring things true with a successful roll (which could be great, to my mind, but would be totally divorced from how I think Siembieda conceived of the game being played in 1983), it would require the GM’s direct co-operation to use to gain information. Impressing people with a character’s knowledge of demons and devils might be useful in some circumstances but I imagine it might well backfire.
This is obviously another skill for which priest of gods of darkness gets a larger bonus than priest of gods of light. As a secondary skill, however, it is available to all classes so the only way to use it to improve our understanding of which classes are gods-of-light aligned and which are gods-of-darkness aligned is by compring the size of class bonuses. (The classes receiving bonuses are listed above, and the ones receiving zero bonus to this skill are all the arms classes except palladin, all the optional classes except scholar, and druid.)
This gives us two measures of how comparatively evil a class is, without any obvious way or choosing between them. It does, however, allow priest to be meaningfully included in the rankings (whereas the purely class- and elective-skill-based rankings, of course, trivially have priest of gods of darkness as first rank evil and priest of gods of light as first rank good). Ranking all the classes most to least evil according to class- and elective-skill availability with bonus in this skill as a tie-breaker, we get
priest of gods of darkness
priest of gods of light
Merchant would fit in at the good end with peasant except for the unique evil of not being able to take the medical skill.
Faerie Lore has the following class bonuses: druid gets +20%, ranger, wizard and summoner +15%, palladin, peasant, scholar, warlock, diabolist, priest and healer +10%, mind mage +8%, shaman +5%. It gives one percentage and the book says it is identical to demon and devil lore but for faeries. The percentage starts at 20%, rises to 50% by fourth level and 90% by tenth. I wonder why summoner gets a lower bonus to this skill than demon and devil lore: they’re similar skills and both concern entities that summoners can usefully summon and control (faeries, in fact, are easier to control). I suspect it’s simply that Siembieda wanted to emphasise the summoner as a demon- and devil-summoning class: that’s certainly how the class write-up reads to me (see below).
There are no spells or abilities that are close substitutes for this skill, although druids and elves can develop friendly relationships with faeries in the normal course of events. As for pro-active use of this skill, I would assume it would be pretty similar to demon and devil lore but with less risk of backfiring.
Imitate voices has the following class bonuses: assassin gets +10%, thief and mind mage +8%, summoner +6%, noble +5%, shaman +4%. It gives one percentage, which is the chance to successfully imitate the voice of someone the performer either ‘knows intimately’ or has studied for a total of at least an hour (possibly over several occasions). The percentage starts at 18%, rises over 50% by sixth level and to 90% by twelfth but the book specifies that the skill must be rolled for every six minutes: succeed or fail, the result stands for six minutes and then you can roll again. Now, you can say a lot (in the dark, from behind a door or in disguise) in six minutes. But, as we’ve discussed above, the chance of success drops off quite rapidly when you have to make multiple successful rolls.
An assassin, for instance, has an even chance to successfully imitate voices – for six minutes – by fourth level and over a 90% chance by eleventh. But
for twelve minutes, the chance is below 10% until second level and below fifty-fifty until seventh
for eighteen minutes, the chance is below 10% until fourth level and below fifty-fifty until eighth
for twenty-four minutes, the chance is below 10% until fifth level and below fifty-fifty until ninth
for half an hour, the chance is below 1% until third level and below 10% until sixth.
Personally, I don’t mind these diminishing probabilities, for a couple of reasons.
It’s verisimilitudinous that an impersonator would need to only speak for a short period to remain convincing (as with the prowl skill becoming increasingly impractical as the number of people sneaking around together grows).
It seems like it would be interesting in play. ‘Where can you get to if you can only climb fifteen feet?’ Is a boring question but, ‘What can you say in six minutes?’ Is, in my view, an interesting one and one that could lead to entertaining decisions in play.
Unlike the scale walls skill, where the consequence for failure is explicitly falling to the ground, the consequence for failure could be something more interesting like having to explain why you don’t sound like ‘yourself’.
The obvious ability that could substitute for this skill (and the disguise skill, of course) is the changeling racial ability to impersonate other humanoids. There is also a pair of spells on the main list, ‘Metamorphosis (Self)’, fifth level, and Metamorphosis (Others)’, sixth level, which change people’s shape but it’s not clear
whether the target can be metamorphosed to resemble a specific person
whether the voice is also metamorphosed: the spell does specify that the caster would be able to speak while in the shape of a mouse, so I suppose not.
In order to use this skill pro-actively, a character would need to have someone worth impersonating and study their voice and vocal mannerisms for a total of an hour or more. But, having studied the appropriate subject, you could get up to an awful lot of mischief with this skill, especially if you could combine it with (or somehow obviate the need for) the disguise skill, finding out secrets, giving instructions and so on, especially if the subject impersonated were the sort of person who gets others to do things for them, like a noble, a leader or a military officer.
Mathematics is a class skill for scholar (+60%) and merchant (+15%); diabolist gets +30%, summoner +22%, wizard and mind mage +20%, warlock +5% and priest +4%. It gives one percentage, which ‘indicates the relative knowledge and success ratio of solving mathematical problems’. The percentage begins at 25%, rises above 50% by fifth level and to 90% by ninth.
There are no spells or abilities that substitute for this skill. As with carpentry, I’m not sure there are a lot of ways it could be used pro-actively either. It could be used to gain employement as a treasurer or accountant or something, I suppose: it might even be useful to commit fraud and embezzlement while in a trusted position with access to money.
Painting has the following class bonuses: diabolist gets +15%, scholar, merchant, noble and summoner +10%, squire and priest +5%, longbowman +4%. It gives one percentage, which ‘indicates the quality of technique and rendition’: this is the fine art of painting, not the trade. That desription makes me think this is another skill that isn’t necessarily rolled against for success and failure. The percentage begins at 12%, rises over 50% by third level and to 90% by ninth.
There are no spells or abilities that substitute for this skill. As with dance, it could be used to communicate, but it would be a longer-term proposition than speaking or dancing. On the other hand, a painting might be more persuasive than a dance if properly presented as part of a political manoeuvre or religious mission. A portrait painter might also be in a position to spend long periods of time alone with clients, which might be useful for all sorts of shenanigans.
Play string instruments has the following class bonuses: noble gets +12%, scholar and druid +10%, priest +8%, druid +10%, merchant +6%, knight, palladin and squire +4%. As with the other artistic skills, the one percentage this skill gives doesn’t seem to be (purely) for rolling against to determine success: the book says it ‘indicates the quality of technique and performance’. The percentage starts at 26%, rises to 50% by fourth level and 90% by twelfth.
The only spell that’s close to substituting for this or the other music-making skills (play wind instruments and sing) is ‘The Faeries’ Dance’, a sixth level spell off the main list, which creates ‘an eerie music’ and also (subject to the usual save against magic) forces people to dance for ten minutes per level of the caster, rolling under their PE score every twenty minutes (and when the spell duration ends) to avoid going unconscious for 3d6 minutes. This is like – but not identical in effect to – the faerie ability which uses faerie rings, which may or may not be available to (hob-)goblins, kobolds and orcs. As for pro-active use of this skill, I discussed my thoughts above when looking at the dance skill.
Play wind instuments has the following class bonuses: noble and druid get +12%, scholar and warlock +10%, priest +8%, knight, palladin, squire and merchant +6%. The one percentage this skill gives is exactly 2% less than the play string instruments skill until ninth level, then identical to it. I can’t help thinking these two skills should have been one skill: it seems pointless to differentiate them for the sake of a two-point difference in a percentage that, apparently, isn’t necessarily for rolling against, especially when the class bonuses for four classes exactly compensate for that 2% difference.
Plant/farm lore has the following class bonuses: ranger and druid get +20%, peasant +12%, scholar and healer +10%, shaman +4%. This skill is ‘not to be confused with the identify plant and fruit skill although a related ability.’ This skill covers ‘knowledge and legends about plants and their healing or special properties as well as the basic knowledge for their growth and care.’ It gives one percentage, which begins at 12%, rises above 50% by sixth level and above 90% by twelfth.
As with the identify plants and fruit skill, this skill would be really useful if there were plants with particular useful properties in the setting: a tenth level ranger or druid would know everything about plants. I suppose these two skills work together, in that this skill enables a character to know about a plant with certain properties, or know the properties of a certain plant, while identify plants/fruit enables them to actually find the plant in question.
With that demarcation in mind, it seems that the only spell that might substitute for this skill would be ‘Grow Plants’, a second level earth warlock spell, which doubles the growth rate of plants by improving soil fertility: that could be used instead of, or in combination with, this skill in agriculture and similar pursuits. As with other information-gathering skills, pro-active use of this one would either mean player declarations based on successful rolls or the direct co-operation of the GM.
Preserve food has the following class bonuses: druid gets +20%, ranger +16%, peasant and healer +10%, diabolist +6% and shaman +4%. It gives one percentage, which is the chance of preserving food in various ways: ‘canning (in jars) fruit and vegetables, pickling, drying and salting meats, and so on.’ (I assume the ‘canning’ mentioned here in’t the pressure cooking used in modern canneries that prevents botulism and so would only work to preserve fruit and pickled vegetables.) The percentage begins at 24%, rises over 50% by fourth level and to 90% by ninth.
Looking back at the trap/skin small animals and trap/skin large animals skills, there is an overlap between the classes who can take those skills and the ones who get a bonus in this one:
druid gets +15% to trap/skin small animals and +6% for large animals
ranger gets +20% to trap/skin small animals and +10% for large animals
peasant gets +10% to trap/skin small animals
healer gets +2% to trap/skin small animals.
Several classes can take the trap/skin small animals skill (longbowman, squire, mercenary, knight, palladin, soldier and mind mage) without getting class bonuses to this skill; two of them (knight and palladin) can take the trap/skin large animals skill as well. But that’s not very significant since, as a secondary skill, preserve food is available (even without bonuses) to all classes.
Diabolist and shaman get bonuses to the preserve food skill without being able to trap/skin small or large animals, which, I suppose, means they’re expected to be preserving fruit and vegetables rather than salting or smoking meat. I do like the idea of diabolists and shamans (one of the more calculating and one of the crazier classes) being better than most at making marmalade and tsukemono.
There aren’t a lot of spells or abilities that could be considered substitutes for this skill. I suppose ‘Stone to Flesh’, a sixth level earth warlock spell also on the main list, which can turn up to fifty pounds of stone per level of the caster into, well, flesh, could be used to produce meat from imperishable rocks. The witch’s optional class ability of immunity to poison would presumably allow a character to eat spoiled food, which is sort of a substitute, as is the second level psionic power ‘Resist Hunger’.
As for pro-active use, this skill has a fair amount in common with the cook skill, in that it could be used to make some money, impress people with thoughtful and tasty gifts and, of course, to make poisoning easier: the ‘heavy, sweet odor and taste’ of hemlock might be well-masked in a nice jam.
Racial histories has the following class bonuses: scholar and wizard get +20%, summoner +15%, noble +14%, mind mage +12%, ranger, merchant, witch, diabolist, priest, shaman and healer +10%, soldier +6%. It gives one percentage, which ‘indicates the approximate degree of information the character has learned or can remember’ about ‘the activities and trademarks’, ‘histories and characteristics’, ‘backgrounds, legends, tendencies, affiliations, leaders, habits, etc.’ of six of the other twelve playable races: this skill explicitly excludes knowledge of languages. A character can take this skill twice to know about all twelve of the other playable races: the books says it ‘can be chosen twice to include all races’ so I assume characters have the sort of knowledge this skill would provide about their own race anyway. The percentage starts at 18%, rises above 50% by seventh level and to 90% by thirteenth.
On the assumption that all player characters possess this sort of knowledge about their own races, that innate knowledge could substitute for this skill, as could the information-gathering abilities of priests and shamans. As for pro-active use, I assume it would be similar to demon and devil lore or faerie lore.
Read/write additional language has the following class bonuses: diabolist gets +40%, scholar, wizard, and mind mage +30%, summoner 24%, palladin and priest +20%, knight, merchant and noble +10%. (The write-up for priest of gods of darkness actually has a listing saying, ‘Read/ write additional language (+ 30%)’. But it’s under elective skills, there’s no listing for read/write own – as there is, with a +30% bonus, in the priest of gods of light write-up – and there’s a separate listing with a +20% bonus under ‘secondary skills’. So I’m pretty confident that it’s a typo for ‘read/write own language’, since that would make the literacy skills of both kinds of priest identical.) This skill gives one percentage, which ‘indicates the approximate degree of literacy’ in ‘other written languages (alphabets/symbols)’: the book says this skill only gives literacy in one such but may be taken more than once for more ‘written languages (alphabets/symbols)’. From that description, I suppose this skill covers the ability to use a foreign script with the speak additional language skill covering the semantics: that interpretation would also explain the complete independence of the two skills. The percentage begins at 20%, rises to 50% by sixth level and 90% by fourteenth. As with the read/write own language skill I looked at above, there’s a +10% bonus for all characters with an IQ score of 12 or more. Functionally, of course, this skill is similar to the read/write own language skill.
Recognise poison has the following class bonuses: assassin gets +15%, ranger, thief, witch, summoner and priest of gods of darkness +10%, priest of gods of light +8%, mercenary, scholar, mind mage, druid and healer +6%, noble and wizard +5% and shaman +2%. It gives one percentage, which is the chance to recognise a poison by its ‘aroma, taste, color/appearance, and effects (on a victim)’ and ‘includes a fundamental knowledge of the poison’s lethalness, effects/symptoms and origins’: the character must actively use the skill. The percentage begins at 10%, rises to 50% by sixth level and 90% by twelfth. It’s nice to have a skill like this, I think: I like the idea of a player being able to roll against this skill for their character to do the Sherlock Holmes thing of identifying a poison by one of its properties and knowing its others. It does, however, call into question the paragraph on p16 about using player skill instead of skill rolls: if the GM has previously described an assassin’s blade as having a yellow-green sheen and it turned out to be coated with deadly poison, would it be down to the players remembering this when they find a corpse with a small wound smeared with yellow-green fluid or would it come down to a recognise poison skill roll? Either? Both?
This skill is, of course, the second evil secondary skill I’ve looked at, after demon and devil lore. Accordingly, if I aggregate the class bonuses for this skill with those for that one, I can update the ranking of classes from most to least evil:
priest of gods of darkness (arguably this one should edge out witch for the top spot, since it’s the only (sub-)class that doesn’t get access to a horsemanship skill, but I’ve no idea what relative weight to give that: see also merchant, below)
priest of gods of light
And, as before, merchant would be at the extreme good end with peasant if it weren’t for their evil lack of medical skill.
Recognise precious metals/stones has the following class bonuses: assassin, merchant and warlock get +15%, thief and noble +10%, mercenary, longbowman, knight and palladin +5% and scholar +4%. As mentioned above, dwarves get a +4% racial bonus. It gives one percentage, which is the chance to recognise and appraise precious metals and (semi-)precious stones, including identifying fakes. The percentage starts at 8%, rises over 50% by eighth level and to 90% by thirteenth. The book specifies that a character ‘gets only one chance (roll)’ to recognise and/or appraise a particular item. Presumably that applies to other skills, such as locate secret compartments/doors and identify plants/fruit, as well.
‘Identify Minerals’ a first level earth warlock spell, gives the caster a 90% chance to identify any minerals within five feet for three minutes per level. Leprechauns have this skill at 96% so a summoner who could command one or a druid or elf who befriended one could benefit from their ability.
As for pro-active use, I’m really not sure there’s anything that could sensibly be done with this skill. Player declarations of the presence and/or value of precious metals and jewels would be tantamount to player declarations of how much money the characters have on hand, which would sit uncomfortably with the prices given for magic and criminal activities. It seems to me more like using this skill would always involve substantial GM input to set up.
Recognise weapon quality has the following class bonuses: noble gets +15%, knight, palladin and assassin +12%, soldier +8%, mercenary +6%, merchant +5%, thief and squire +4%. Kobolds also get a +10% racial bonus, dwarves get +6%. (I wonder why there aren’t more and bigger bonuses for the arms classes: it seems to be a social class thing.) The skill gives one percentage, which is the chance to determine whether a weapon has been made by dwarves or kobolds and/or is magical. The precentage begins at 10%, rises above 50% by sixth level and to 90% by thirteenth: A tenth level kobold noble can infallibly recognise weapons of superior quality, whereas a dwarf merchant has some chance of failing to recognise them until thirteenth level.
The write-up says the skill gives ‘the ability to determine the level of a weapon’s quality, including craftsmenship, weight, balance, edge, metal strength, and so on’, which would seem to give a detailed understanding of the bonuses that come from dwarven and kobold weapons having superior crafting, weight, balance, edges, strength and studwork, but it also says, ‘Although the person may be able to tell that a weapon is superbly crafted with bonuses, it is impossible to determine exactly what these bonuses are until used in a combat type situation.’ Which raises the somewhat interesting question of how this (and other hidden information) is supposed to be shared in play. If a player character acquires a weapon with bonuses for superior (dwarven or kobold) quality, are they supposed to be able to tell it has bonuses (or whatever the equivalent is in the setting) when they use it? Should the GM apply the bonuses without explicitly telling the player? Should the GM be dropping hints (‘This sword seems to be really well balanced for parrying,’ ‘The troll lands a crushing blow with their flail, much heavier than you expected,’) or just letting the players infer what they can from the die rolls and numbers they do know about?
There aren’t any spells or abilities that substitute for this skill in recognising weapons of superior qaulity but there are a couple that enable characters to detect magic weapons.
‘Sense Magic’, the first level spell off the main list (which is a common knowledge spell known by all wizard characters), makes the caster project a field ten feet wide and thirty feet long within which they will see any magical people, places or objects, including magic weapons, radiate a distinctive aura (the spell write-up says it can be focussed on ‘any one person or object if desired’ but gives no indication if that is also subject to a thirty foot range limitation or not: I’d be inclined to say not). Cobblers (the magic goblins a player character goblin has a 15% chance of being) get the spell-like ability to do this from third level.
’Sense Magic’, the first level psionic power, will ‘indicate the presence of magic’ within sixty feet for two inner strength points, or give the caster a 69% chance to track down a source of magic (again, no range is given) for eight inner strength points.
Pro-active use of this skill has the same issues as for the recognise precious metals/stones skill, I would have thought. I suppose, if the group were into player narrative control being mediated by skill rolls it might be nice – for this skill and recognise precious metals/stones – to have players roll for success in order to declare what the contents of a treasure trove are in detail, but that seems a bit feeble. What might be more interesting would be for a player with this skill to be able to roll to declare that an enemy’s weapons are of superior quality, or even magic, on sight, since the enemy would then have a chance to use those weapons before the player characters get their hands on them. (I suppose they might do the same with recognise precious metals/stones but that seems less entertaining to me.)