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FS3.3 - Ability Rolls

An Ability Roll is used when you want to know if you succeed or fail at a given task using one of your Abilities. You roll (virtual) dice based on how good you are, and the result determines the outcome.

When to Roll

Ability Rolls should be used judiciously. RPGs are about roleplay not rollplay. It is not necessary to roll for every single thing. You should consider using an ability roll if the character is:

  • Under significant stress.
  • Facing challenging circumstances.
  • In conflict with another character.

Hail Mary Rolls

Rolling dice is fun and all, but it’s also important to consider what your character actually knows and can reasonably have a chance to accomplish. You cannot turn a cow’s ear into a silk purse or leap a giant chasm no matter how well you roll.

A storyteller may allow you to spend one or more Luck Points to get a “Hail Mary” roll out of blind luck even when one would not normally be allowed.

Untrained Rolls (Defaulting)

If a task falls under a skill not listed on your character sheet, you are assumed to have the Everyman rating. As described in Ratings, Everyman reflects the skill of the average adult layperson.

If an ability is rated Everyman, you can use/roll it as long as it makes sense for a layperson to have a chance of performing the task. Doing CPR? Sure. Brain surgery? No. Just no. You cannot fly a jet with Everyman Piloting, disarm a bomb with Everyman Demolitions, or repair a car engine with Everyman Technician.

Rolling an unlisted ability rated Everyman will effectively roll its related attribute + 1 die.

Instead of making an untrained roll, in some situations it might be acceptable to roll a related ability at a -3 modifier. For instance, if you lack a Vet training, you could default to Medicine-3 to treat a hurt dog.

What to Roll

Before rolling, you need to figure out which Skill applies best to the task at hand. When more than one applies equally well, you can choose the one with the highest rating. If you don’t have an applicable Skill, you can make an untrained roll as explained in Untrained Rolls.

FS3 uses 8-sided dice. You roll a number of (virtual) dice equal to the Skill Rating plus the linked Attribute. You can gain or lose dice through special Modifiers.

Since Languages and Background Skills have different rating scales, they add a different number of dice when rolled. For example, someone with Wits 2 and the Beginner rating in Wookie would roll 4 dice.

Skill Rating Rating Name Skill Dice Rolled
0 Everyman 1
1 Fair / Beginner 2
2 Good / Conversational 4
3 Exceptional / Fluent 6

General Skills versus Specific Skills

Sometimes games will have general skills for things like Athletics or Education, which may overlap with more specific background skills like Basketball or Geography. Someone with the specific skill should have an advantage, especially if characters are going head-to-head in opposed rolls.

  • For a general task (e.g. Athletics vs. Running), give the character with the specialized skill a +3 modifier for their more applicable knowledge.
  • For a task requiring more specialized knowledge (e.g. Athletics vs. Ice Hockey), give the character with the general skill a -3 modifier for defaulting.

Specialties

Specialties restrict what your character can do with an ability. If you use a skill outside of one of your specialized areas, apply a -3 modifier the same as if you were defaulting.

If the task is too far outside your specialty (like a paramedic attempting brain surgery or a helicopter pilot trying to fly a space shuttle), then you shouldn’t roll at all unless the Storyteller is allowing a Hail Mary Roll.

Success Level

When you roll your ability dice, any die that is a 6 or higher is counted as a success. It only takes one success to accomplish what you set out to do. Extra successes mean you did really well. You can think of success levels like letter grades on a school exam. Did you scrape by with a passing grade or score top marks?

Rating Description
* Embarrassing Failure
0 Failure
1-2 Success
3-4 Good Success
5-6 Great Success
7+ Amazing Success

An Embarrassing Failure happens when more than half your dice are 1’s, even if you got some successes. You don’t just fail, you fail is a spectacular and embarrassing fashion–like shooting your friend or falling flat on your face.

Modifiers

Modifiers can boost or reduce your Ability Rating, making the task easier or harder than usual. When considering modifiers, bear in mind that 3 rating points is the difference between a beginner and a professional, so a modifier of +/-3 is a pretty dramatic impact.

Modifier Description
+/- 1 Modest boost or challenge
+/- 2 Significant boost or challenge.
+/- 3 Extreme boost or challenge.

A couple special situations:

  • Spending a Luck point gives a +3 modifier.
  • Defaulting to a semi-related skill or unrelated specialty gives a -3 modifier.
  • Carefully taking your time (assuming there’s no immediate danger/stress) or having special preparations gives a +2 modifier.

Here are some sample modifiers for a climbing roll:

Modifier Description
0 Climbing a tree.
-1 Climbing a slippery obstacle course wall.
-2 Climbing a challenging mountain.
-3 Remember Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2?

Linked Attributes

Whenever you roll an ability, it’s always Skill + Attribute. Even when making an untrained roll with a skill you don’t have, you’re just rolling the “Everyman” skill level of 1 plus the associated attribute.

You can specify the attribute when rolling (e.g. Acting+Persuasion) or you can rely on the default linked attribute:

  • Action Skills have individual linked attributes (e.g. Firearms is linked to Reflexes and Melee to Brawn).
  • Background and Language Skills are linked to Wits.

You can always override the default linked attribute based on the situation. For example, when trying to identify the caliber from a bullet wound it’s probably best to roll Firearms+Wits rather than Firearms+Reflexes.

Opposed Rolls

When someone is directly opposing you, you don’t just need to do well, you need to do better than the opponent. That’s where Opposed Rolls come in.

Each contestant makes a roll as normal, and the one with the most successes wins. It is also possible that nobody gets any successes and they both fail. To determine how well the winner did, you look at the “net” successes - the difference between the winner and the loser:

Net Successes Description
0 Draw
1 Marginal Victory
2 Solid Victory
3+ Crushing Victory

Example: Nemesis and Mavros are sparring. They both roll Melee. Nemesis gets 2 successes (Good Success) and Mavros gets 1 success. Nemesis has a net of 1 success, giving her a Marginal Victory.

Teamwork

Up to three characters can combine their efforts toward a single task. One character is designated the leader, and will make a single roll for the group. The other characters each make a separate Assist Roll first to see if they can modify the Group Roll.

Assist Result Group Roll Modifier
Failure -1
Success +1
Good Success +2
Great Success +3
Amazing Success +4

The modifiers for the Assist Rolls are added together and applied to the leader’s Group Roll. The maximum total modifier for the Group Roll is +4, no matter how well everyone succeeds.

Example: Elodie and Zoe are assisting Tug with a Repair roll. Elodie and Zoe each roll Repair first, and get a Good Success (+2) and a regular Success (+1). This lets Tug roll Repair+3 for the Group Roll.

Social and Performance Skills

Sometimes you might want to use performance skills on another character, like Music or Art. In these situations, what you’re rolling for is your objective performance. How the other character reacts to that is up to them.

For example, Mac hates classical music. Lexi is playing a Bach concerto for him on the piano. She plays her heart out, getting an Amazing success on her Piano roll. That’s not going to make Mac fall in love with classical music. A grudging “not bad” would be true to his character while also respecting the roll results.

Similarly, social skills like Persuasion and Con have a heavy performance aspect. It’s important to remember that skills are not mind control. You are not going to change deeply-entrenched beliefs, convince someone to go against their strong moral convictions, or gaslight them into insanity with just a roll, no matter how successful. Social skill rolls are meant for superficial encounters and snap judgements, and are typically opposed rolls against the defender’s Wits or Grit.

For example, Jamie might manage to fool Claire into believing that the koala he’s holding is a vicious, dangerous koala cousin known as the “Drop Bear”, but he’s not going to convince her it’s an elephant no matter how well he rolls. At best he might befuddle her with his apparent sincerity. Anthony might intimidate Ben into backing down from a fight, but he’s not going to intimidate him into murdering his family with an ability roll.

Longer-term manipulation should be more than a roll or even a series of rolls.

Storyteller Considerations

Figuring out what players need to roll and then interpreting the results generally falls to the gamemaster/storyteller. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

FS3 is designed so that competent characters will succeed most of the time on routine rolls. We don’t expect folks to often fall flat during a ‘roll Athletics’, so often you can forego those kinds of random, straight-up rolls. Rolls become interesting where there are challenges, usually in the form of modifiers or opposition.

One success is sufficient for accomplishing the essentials of a task. Multiple successes can indicate relative success (a higher grade on a test, noticing more details in a perception check) or going above and beyond (it doesn’t just function, it’s prettier or more fuel-efficient). Requiring multiple successes to accomplish a task can crater someone’s chance of succeeding.

Opposed rolls are inherently more challenging than regular rolls, because the opponent is actively resisting or challenging you. For passive challenges (e.g., jumping a chasm, swimming in a storm, sneaking past a camera), it is better to use modifiers than opposed rolls.

Finally, FS3 is not designed for beyond-human capabilities. The dice simply don’t scale as you might think for higher ratings, so don’t expect a “big bad” with twenty dice to wipe the floor with regular PCs.

For more information on how the dice work, see Mechanics.

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