What Modes Are
A mode is a broad area of competence, represented as a group of skills connected by a common theme. For example, the Action mode includes skills about things like running, fighting, and piloting, while the skills in the Banter mode are all about social interaction.
Every game should have a small number of standard modes, somewhere between four and six, available to players. These modes should reflect the themes of your setting, and should collectively cover everything that the typical PC in the setting might be expected to tackle problems.
The four standard modes included here—Action, Banter, Intrigue, and Science—are intended for PCs in a science-oriented, modern-day action-adventure setting.
Unusual characters who don’t fit neatly into this paradigm, such as a robot in a setting dominated by humans or a wizard in world of warriors and scoundrels, can have one or more weird modes. These are either player-defined or purpose-built in advance to enforce the themes or tropes of the setting, or both. “Weird” doesn’t have to mean literally weird--they’re also good for niche skillsets that aren’t integral enough to the setting to be standard modes. Examples in our modern-day action-science setting might include things like Reporter, Secret Agent, or Martial Artist. If the standard modes describe ways of doing things, weird modes describe the character doing them. You can find a few pre-fab weird modes later in this section to act as examples.
Every PC has three modes, whether standard or weird.
What Modes Do
The primary function of modes is to make character creation quick and easy. Instead of picking and rating skills individually, you pick three modes, give each a rating, and get to playing.
Modes also serve as a way to quickly conceptualize or evaluate a character, or even a setting. A character’s selection of modes gives you a good indication of what’s important to that character’s concept—what they’re all about. Even at a glance, you can tell that a character with Action, Science, and Robot modes is much different than one with Dinosaur, Intrigue, and Banter modes.
Every mode has a rating. Of a PC’s three modes, rate one at Average (+1), one at Fair (+2), and one at Good (+3). While these rules don’t add a mode’s rating directly to a roll, a mode’s rating does affect the rating of its skills.
Modes and Stress
Characters start with two mental stress boxes and two physical stress boxes.
Modes with Athletics or Physique can give your character additional physical stress boxes, while modes with Provoke or Will can give your character additional mental stress boxes. A mode with one or more of these skills rated at Fair (+2) adds one box, while one rated at Good (+3) adds two boxes.
If a mode has skills that apply to both scopes, pick one. For example, the Action mode has Athletics, Physique, and Provoke. If you’ve given it a rating of Good (+3), you could have two more physical stress boxes, two more mental stress boxes, or one in each.
Bonus stress boxes from your Good (+3) and Fair (+2) modes are cumulative. So if you have Good (+3) Action and Fair (+2) Intrigue, both of which have the Athletics skill, you’ll get three more physical stress boxes—two from Action and one from Intrigue.
A character’s array of modes is the only way to add stress boxes.
The Standard Modes
Here are the standard modes in our action-science setting, complete with the standard skills each contains (taken from those listed earlier).
Action: Action-hero type stuff, like flying a plane, leaping over a chasm, or some good old-fashioned face punching. If you’re being overtly physical or tough, you’re making use of a skill in the Action mode.
- Skills: Athletics, Combat, Notice, Physique, Provoke, Vehicles
Banter: Interpersonal skills, polite and otherwise. This covers everything from reasoned persuasion to irrational intimidation and all points in between.
- Skills: Contacts, Deceive, Empathy, Provoke, Rapport, Will
Intrigue: Subterfuge, subtlety, and ventures of questionable legality. Stealth, disguise,
and your standard B&E all fall under Intrigue.
- Skills: Athletics, Burglary, Contacts, Deceive, Notice, Stealth
Science: All fields of scientific endeavor, whether you’re hacking a mainframe, accelerating particles, or rebuilding a transmission on a ’69 Charger. If you’re pitting your brain against an inanimate object, you’re probably doing Science.
- Skills: Notice, Will, all sciences. (See Science: It’s Special for more detail on the Science mode.)
Even with just four modes, the player’ choices of ratings allow for plenty of variety—and that’s not even accounting for skills and stunts, which offer even more differentiation between PCs.
Supplementing these are custom modes. Optional and usually player-defined, custom modes serve two basic purposes. One, they cover unusual character concepts, like sentient robots or possibly psychotic dinosaurs. Two, they say something very specific about the character in question. A custom mode might combine elements of two or more standard modes, or it might bear no resemblance whatsoever to the spectrum of typical human ability.
We’ll unpack what all that means later on in this chapter, but for now here are some examples of custom modes.
- Robot: You’re a mechanical artificial intelligence of some kind. Robo himself is the most obvious example, but that doesn’t mean he has to be the only one.
- Mutant: You’ve been altered by science into something more (or less) than human.
- Secret Agent: You’re an elite operative for a shadowy organization of one kind or another.
- Reporter: You’re a professional journalist of the investigative variety who relies on a sharp eye and sharper instincts to get to the bottom of things.
Some of modes will have a bit of thematic overlap, like Intrigue and Secret Agent. That’s perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. No standard mode is wholly unique, and many custom modes will share something in common with one or more standard modes, or even another custom mode the character may have. It’s actually beneficial when they do.
The cost of a mode equals the total combined cost of its skills. The cost of an individual skill depends on how many applications it has. The next section, Skills, has more detail on skills and how their costs are determined.
For example, here are the costs of our standard action-adventure modes:
Skills Within Modes
If modes represent broad areas of competence, then skills are like specialties within those modes. Even so, skills can be pretty broad themselves.
Skills are the basis for everything your character actually does in the game that involves challenge and chance (and dice). Like modes, skills are rated on the adjective ladder. The higher the rating, the more effective your character is with the skill.
Trained, Focused, and Specialized Skills
A skill’s rating is limited to three possibilities—equal to its mode’s rating, one step higher than its mode’s rating, or two steps higher than its mode’s rating. Thus, no skill can be rated more than two steps higher than its mode’s rating.
When you take a mode, you are also trained in all of its skills—your rating with those skills is equal to the rating of their mode.
Skill ratings can improve from there, “climbing” the Adjective Ladder. So if you were to improve one of those Action skills from trained to focused, its rating would be one rung higher than Fair (+2), or Good (+3). If you improved it to specialized, its rating would be two rungs higher than Fair (+2), or Great (+4).
- Trained: The skill’s rating equals the mode’s rating.
- Focused: The skill’s rating is one rung higher than the mode’s rating.
- Specialized: The skill’s rating is two rungs higher than the mode’s rating.
No skill can be higher than specialized within a given mode. This means the highest skill rating your character can have is Superb (+5)—a specialized skill within their Good (+3) mode.
Modes you don’t have are rated at Mediocre (+0). Skills in these modes can’t be improved, so they’re all Mediocre (+0) too.
A skill is reinforced if it’s associated with more than one of your character’s modes. The more it’s reinforced, the higher its starting rating. If a skill is associated with two of your character’s modes, it’s reinforced once—write it down as focused under the higher-rated of the two modes (and only under that mode). If all three of your character’s modes have the same skill, it’s reinforced twice—write it down as specialized under the character’s highest-rated mode.
Regardless of how many modes reinforce a skill, it should never appear more than once on your sheet.
Your character’s three modes are Good (+3) Action, Fair (+2) Science, and Average (+1) Intrigue. Suppose that all three of these modes contain the Notice skill, which means Notice is reinforced twice. Because it can’t appear more than once in your modes, it will only appear under Action, because Action is the highest-rated mode that contains it. Because it’s reinforced twice, its rating will be equal to Action’s rating plus two, so you have Superb (+5) Notice.
Further suppose that Action and Intrigue also both contain the Athletics skill, so Athletics is reinforced once. Again, it can only appear once in your modes, under the highest-rated mode that contains it, so that’ll be Action. And because it’s reinforced once, it’s a focused Action skill, which means its rating is equal to the mode’s rating plus one—in this case, Great (+4).
Improving Skills Within Modes
Reinforcement isn’t the only way for a skill to be rated higher than its mode’s rating. You can also spend excess skill points, whether during character creation, during play, or after an appropriate milestone, to improve skills as well.
Science: It’s Special
You’ve no doubt noticed that none of these standard skills is particularly scientific in nature (the “sweet science” of fisticuffs notwithstanding), nor is any of them apart from Notice and Will associated with the Science mode.
That’s because each field of scientific study is its own skill—robotics, physics, exobiology, engineering, mechanics, chemistry, you name it—with the same two actions. And all of them are associated with the Science mode. In other words, the Science mode has a virtually unlimited number of associated skills, or at the very least way too many to list here.
When you write the Science mode on your character sheet and give it a rating, all of your Science skills—that includes all fields of science—have that same rating by default. For example, if you have Fair (+2) Science, that means you have Fair (+2) Robotics, Fair (+2) Physics, Fair (+2) Engineering, and so on. You don’t have to write these individual sciences down on your sheet. You can just write something like “All Other Sciences” and leave it at that.
You can improve any of these Science skills just like you’d improve any other skill in any other mode. So if you have Fair (+2) Science and want to have better than Fair (+2) Robotics, you could bump your Robotics skill up to Good (+3) or Great (+4).
Science Actions and Applications
Every Science skill other than Notice and Will has the following actions and applications:
Overcome: Know things and solve problems related to the scientific field in question.
Create Advantage: Leverage your scientific knowledge to create or discover details or aspects related to your chosen field, whether by time-consuming research or by suddenly recalling vital information. This lets you do things like recalibrate complex machinery (Hyper-Sensitive Sensors), introduce a new algorithm to a robot’s programming to change its behavior (Human... Friend?), or add a volatile compound to a rocket’s fuel to improve its performance (Almost Too Much Thrust).
Sample Custom Modes
Each of these custom modes includes a list of skills associated with the mode. These skills are taken from the list of standard action-science skills provided earlier.
Keep in mind that these custom modes are meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive. If your idea of a martial artist doesn’t gel with the one presented here, that’s fine. They’re templates, nothing more.
A paragon of self-discipline, physical training, and face-punching.
A trained, well-traveled pilot, professional or otherwise.
Someone who makes it their business to know other people’s business.
A generic robot, with no specific assumed function—your average automatic intelligence.
A covert operative for a covert agency.
A skilled combatant with a military background.