Ranks and ACTIONs

A character's abilities, powers, and more are represented by ranks. Ranks are levels of prowess, each of which is represented by a special name that identifies its position in relation to others (greater than, less than, et cetera), and a standard rank number (usually in the center of the rank's range). There are sixteen basic ranks in all, listed by name, standard rank number, and rank range on the tables below.

Human Ranks

Table 11: Human Rank Names, Numbers, and Ranges

When discussing normal human beings, this range of ranks will most often be used to describe them. While some ability scores can be higher and be considered within the range of a 'normal' human's, these five ranks are where the vast majority of such individuals will fall in all of their statistics. This is particularly true of Strength, which literally cannot be higher without some sort of super-human capability.

Furthermore, most super-humans will have ability scores that fall within this range as well. They may have a few which exceed these ranks, which is par for the course, but few individuals are super-human in every ability score - and those that are usually turn out to be the most dangerous. Power ranks that fall into this panorama are nonetheless quite useful, if not generally considered 'world shaking' in nature.

Super-Human Ranks

Table 12: Super-Human Rank Names, Numbers, and Ranges

This spectrum of ranks is most often used to describe ascendant humans - those who have spectacular powers for some reason or another, or perhaps inhuman beings of some sort. A few exceptional 'normals' may have ability scores that fall within this neighborhood, as a human's Fighting score may range as high as Amazing (50) rank, but this area is where you'll find a majority of the super-powered population.

Supers typically have one or more ability scores in this range, though most of theirs still reflect their basic, human nature. Many of their powers will fall into this category, however, which is what makes most super-humans, well, super. Sure, the right power at Feeble (2) rank can do a lot of damage if wielded properly, but the same one with Unearthly (100) might can dish out that much more.

Cosmic Ranks

Table 13: Cosmic Rank Names, Numbers, and Ranges
Shift X150126-175
Shift Y200176-350
Shift Z500351-999

The three cosmic ranks represent extreme levels of power. They're so potent that they're generally considered out of the human experience entirely, hence their lack of vivid descriptors (as the ten basic ranks before possess). A majority of super-human beings won't possess an ability score or power at one of these ranks, though a rare few might manage it through sheer luck or happenstance (certain exceptions notwithstanding).

No, those beings who possess standard ranks within this spread tend to be alien in both body and mind, often from other worlds or planes of existence. They may be bona fide deities, or perhaps simply take advantage of the superstitions of lesser beings to perpetuate such belief to their own benefit. Nonetheless, entities with levels of power in this strata are not to be taken lightly, for they can easily change the world.

Abstract Ranks

Table 14: Abstract Rank Names, Numbers, and Ranges
Class 100010001000-2999
Class 300030003000-4999
Class 500050005000+

Finally, the abstract power ranks are those which are even more unfathomable than those three which came before. These represent forces which can destroy worlds, if not entire universes when used aggressively enough. The three classes of top-tier might are rarely, if ever, attained even by gods (or cosmic beings) themselves, for they are most often possessed only by abstract, alien entities.

Such creatures (if they can even be classified as such) are those which serve as an embodiment of some grand force or concept. Their sphere of power is nigh-absolute in their area of focus, thus justifying these extreme levels of power. Typically these entities are the 'base' from which gods who embody related, but lesser concepts or principles draw their might from - or must pay homage to somehow.

Rank Conditionals

In addition to the sixteen standard ranks, there are four rank conditionals. These are all ranks (or a range of such) that one will not attain normally under most circumstances, but may nonetheless be forced to roll on now and then. Access to rank conditionals are typically only granted with the Judge's approval; they may be seen as either too limiting or too powerful (especially the second one). The four rank conditionals are:

The Shift 0 Rank: barring a severe injury or illness, or perhaps a non-humanoid body (or a lack therein), most characters will never actually possess an ability score or power that functions at this rank. This is because this rank indicates a lack of power or ability. Having an actual Shift 0 rank in a statistic means that one has no inherent use of said ability score or power (it's useless to them).

For the most part, a character will make use of the Shift 0 rank when a higher rank is modified to function on this column. This can happen as a result of severe penalties to a desired action that, while not making it impossible, gets one very close to such a state. Actions attempted at Shift 0 rank are the most likely to fail, but nonetheless have a slim chance at success (usually with a dash of Karma to help).

The Beyond Rank: similarly, characters will not possess any ability score or power at the Beyond rank, for the most part. This level of might indicates infinite power, gained only in the rarest of situations - either when several Class 5000 powers are used in conjunction, or when it is assigned to the most potent of abstract beings. When the latter occurs, such a character is usually just a plot device.

The reason for this is that the Beyond rank transcends mere game mechanics, it is all powerful. Anyone who manages this level of might evolves beyond the game's boundaries, hence the name. On occasion a character may manage to achieve this rank in some capacity or another for a short period of time - fiction is replete with such examples, after all - but such a situation is highly transient in nature.

The Hyperexhaustive Rank: this is a special rank conditional that is applied to powers only, never to primary or secondary ability ranks. A power that is hyperexhaustive will physically drain the person that uses it, being incredibly hard to operate or control. When a hyperexhaustive rank appears during character generation, either due to lousy rolls or when chosen as a limitation, roll again.

This second result will be the base for power factors such as range, damage, and so on. The result is the hyperexhaustive rank. This will read as HE-(power rank). For example, a player eventually rolls a hyperexhaustive rank for a power. They immediately roll again on the applicable chart; the result being Excellent (20). As such, this power is of HE-Ex (20) rank. The tricky part is actually using a hyperexhaustive power in combat.

When a character wields a hyperexhaustive power, the necessary ACTION roll is made on the Shift 0 column, as wielding it is particularly difficult. Whether the use of this power succeeds or fails, it (and the character who possesses it) will be drained by the effort involved. Ideally, the power should not be used again for twenty-four hours of game time, allowing it to recover from this extreme exertion.

If this rest period is observed, no undue harm will come to the character. However, failing to do this will drain the power further, and require it be rested for one week without further use. If the power is drained to this point, a week's worth of abstinence on the part of this power's use is required to recharge it fully. However, sometimes this is not practical, and this tricky power must be used yet again.

Bypassing a required week-long rest on a hyperexhaustive power extends the time necessary for a full recovery to one month. If this third and final extension is not observed, the power will be completely burned out. While the Judge has the option of allowing it to come back after perhaps a year of game time (certainly a considerable wait), the most likely outcome is that the hyperexhaustive power is gone forever.

Recovery of the ability may be possible, but may require a special mission or other extreme measures, all at the Judge's whim.

The Hyperkinetic Rank: the flip side of the hyperexhaustive rank, a hyperkinetic rank implies an ability score or power that normally operates at a functional rank (determined in the same fashion as a hyperexhaustive power), but will suddenly 'spike' in power under certain circumstances. This stimulus cannot be something always present in the environment, such as water or oxygen, but need not be especially rare, either.

When exposed to the predetermined stimulus, the hyperkinetic effect is activated, and the power in question begins to function at a +1 CS. For each round of sustained stimulus afterwards, the power will be increased in scope by a further +1 CS, until it hits an upper limit of Shift Z (500). This enhancement lasts until the stimulus is all gone, plus 1d10 turns, at which point the power rank will revert to its normal, functional state.

While such an extreme boost in power may be exhilarating, it is not without adverse effects. For one thing, controlling extreme levels of power can be difficult. For every +1 CS the hyperkinetic ability score or power experiences over one's Psyche (will), apply a -1 CS to ACTIONs required to control it. Such high levels of power are difficult to keep a handle on.

Furthermore, when the hyperkinetic power wears off, the character will be left somewhat spent, suffering a -2 CS penalty to all ACTION rolls for a number of turns equal to the time in which they were, for the lack of a better term, hyperkinetic. During this time, one cannot reinitialize the hyperkinetic state, which may leave him or her in something of a pickle depending on the circumstances of its use.

While a character's ability scores may be bolstered by a hyperkinetic effect, their Health and Karma scores will not be affected by this change (even if an over the top boost seems like it should double - or more - such sums). Finally, hyperkinetic powers are noted with a special prefix, as are hyperexhaustive abilities. An Excellent (20) ranked hyperkinetic power, for instance, would be noted as HK-Ex (20).

Assessments of Capability, Talent, Influence, Operation, or Nature (ACTION rolls)

Whenever a character attempts an action with significant difficulty, he or she must normally make an ACTION roll to determine whether or not it succeeds, ACTION being an acronym for Assessments of Capability, Talent, Influence, Operation, or Nature.

An ACTION is made by rolling a d100, and checking the result against the rank in question on the Universal Table. This procedure is the basis for all actions in the Costumed Adventurer Simulation Engine, and after playing for a while will come naturally. There are four color bands on the Universal Table that stretch through the ranks. When attempting an ACTION, a white result usually indicates failure. A green result represents a sufficient success, a yellow result an exceptional success, and a red result the best possible result one can achieve.

As an example, consider a hero in mortal combat with their deadly arch-nemesis. To hit with a left hook, the hero must make a successful ACTION roll based on their Ftg (off) rank. Normally a green result will do, so the player rolls the dice, the result being a 42. Tracing along the '41-45' row on the Universal Table, we see that if our hero has a Ftg (off) rank of Excellent (20) or better, that punch will indeed strike their foe. However, if they don't prove victorious with this mighty blow, said villain may strike back in kind... possibly in a much deadlier fashion.

This is an over-simplification of the variables that can occur in combat, but will do to demonstrate the basic idea of an ACTION.

Column Shifts

Modifying basic ACTIONs some, extenuating circumstances may provide additional modifiers to the odds of success or failure while attempting a given ACTION. For example, firing a gun at a fast moving, randomly dodging target whilst standing on oil-slicked ice and avoiding incoming fire yourself is a bit more difficult than hitting those stationary targets in an air-conditioned firing range. Circumstances like these are handled by Column Shifts (CS).

A +1 Column Shift, to the right on the Universal Table, is a shift for the better. This means the circumstances for executing this ACTION are more favorable than normal. In other words, in this particular situation, a character attempting this Column Shifted ACTION does so as though the effective rank they were using was one higher than would otherwise be indicated.

A -1 Column Shift, to the left on the Universal Table, is a shift for the worse. This demonstrates an added difficulty the character attempting the ACTION must overcome. Or, to put it bluntly, they attempt the ACTION as if the ability or power score they wield was one rank lower than their statistics would lead you to believe.

Further shifts one way or the other serve to amplify the help or hindrance a situation applies to whatever ACTION a character is attempting.

Column shifts come in three forms in the Costumed Adventurer Simulation Engine. The first is the inherent Column Shift. It is a positive or negative modifier that occurs because the character possesses a talent or quirk that assists or hinders the ACTION being attempted. This most often takes the shape of a +1 CS, +2 CS, or +3 CS bonus, but may be a like, negative modifier instead, in the case of quirks.

The buddy Column Shift is the second kind of CS. It involves a person lending a helping hand to the character attempting the ACTION roll. As long as the helping hand has a rank within 1 CS of the score being checked, the person rolling adds a +1 CS to their rank. For example, two characters with Good (10) Strength (vgr) attempting to lift an Excellent (20) weight would allow the player with the dice to do so at the bonus described here.

Or, in other words, perform as if their character had Excellent (20) Str (vgr) instead of just Good (10).

Finally, there is the situational CS, a type of Column Shift not covered by the other types of CS. These are basically Column Shifts caused by all other situations and modifiers, and run the gamut of environmental difficulties to the actions of others helping (or hampering) one's chances of success. When a situation invokes a Column Shift (for good or ill), it will be explained in the course of play.

ACTION Intensities

One area heavily involving ACTION color results is the idea of ACTION intensities. ACTION intensities come into play when a character encounters something of a set level of power or ability in the course of play, and pits their ability scores and/or powers against it. This can be as simple as lifting a significant weight, or as complicated as attempting to reverse engineer alien technologies.

When attempting an ACTION well within one's ability, such as a character with Remarkable (30) Strength attempting to lift a 400 pound weight, a green ACTION is usually all that is required. This can be represented in game terms by declaring the difficulty to be green if the action attempted is from -1 CS to -3 CS below the ability or power being tested. Our example illustrates a character lifting a weight less than their Strength rank.

ACTIONs that are of an intensity equal, or nearly so, to one's capabilities often require a yellow ACTION. For instance, our high tech hero with a Reason rank of Amazing (50) is trying to figure out how an alien whatsit they found works. If the difficulty of an ACTION is equal to one's own rank, it will generally fall into this category. Our example showcases an ACTION that is of the same rank as our hero's ability.

If one attempts an action of a difficulty that is greater than their own ability, such as the above hero with a Strength rank of Remarkable (30) trying to lift over a ton, a red ACTION is typically required. Furthermore, significant modifiers may apply to the attempted ACTION (see below). This represents a character being pushed to the absolute limits of their capabilities - and trying to succeed nonetheless.

Automatic and Impossible ACTIONs

In the course of play, characters may attempt feats that are particularly easy - or astoundingly difficult. The Judge may often rule that die rolls are unnecessary when a character does something, as it may be a matter of incredible ease... or staggering impossibility.

Automatic ACTIONs are often those which have an intensity more than three ranks below the ability of a character attempting said ACTION. If a character with an Unearthly ranked Strength had to roll the dice every time they picked up a light pole, game play would quickly become very tedious. As such, the Judge may dispense with die rolls if they feel there is no reasonable chance of failure when attempting an action.

Impossible ACTIONs can include those which are of a difficulty that is two or more ranks higher than the character attempting it. If one has an Amazing Strength, they can bench press up to 50 tons with some difficulty, but 200 tons - usually a hallmark of characters with Shift Y Strength - may be quite beyond him or her. In such situations, the Judge may just say the ACTION is simply outside of the character's capabilities.

If mitigating circumstances are in play, the Judge may nonetheless allow (or insist upon) die rolls, even if an ACTION is normally considered automatic or impossible. In such cases, it is recommended that a modifier equal to the difference between the character's score and the difficulty at hand be applied to their die roll - positive for automatic ACTIONs, negative for impossible ACTIONs.

Such mitigating circumstances usually include the threat of immediate death to a character or someone in their vicinity (often an impetus for surprising feats of strength), or when a character is resisting untargeted attacks (like psychic assaults). It is generally bad form to disallow players a resistance roll to such, though Judges can readily do so where NPCs are concerned, if he or she wishes to speed play along.

Types of ACTIONs

Ability ACTIONs are those that are based on a character's first seven basic abilities - either Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Reason, Intuition, or Psyche. These are the easiest to manage, in that ability scores from one character to another work exactly the same, and it is usually easy to determine when one is required. They are utilized often, whether attempting to strike a foe in hand-to-hand or ranged combat, lift an object, invent a spacecraft, or even find the information necessary to solve (or plan) a crime.

Power ACTIONs are similar in function to ability ACTIONs, in that it is usually easy to tell when one is needed. Instead of referring to an ability score, however, a power rank is used to resolve this type of feat. Nominally, power ACTIONs are streamlined to work in the normal way, but any variations are noted in a power's description.

A special kind of power ACTION is the power stunt. This is a use for a power that is not accounted for in its standard definition. If the Judge allows one to try it, it will fail unless a character passes a red power ACTION roll the first time it is attempted. The next four times a character attempts a power stunt, the difficulty is yellow. Finally, the last five times a character attempts said stunt, he or she need only roll a green power ACTION.

After they have tried a stunt ten times, a character has effectively mastered it, and need not attempt ACTIONs just to see if the stunt will work - it is now a part of their standard power usage. At any rate, each time a character attempts a power stunt, he or she must pay 100 Karma points if they wish to have any chance of success. This forces characters to pay for their new power stunts, though stunts are nonetheless cheaper to work out than new powers altogether. That costs a lot more Karma in general, depending on the origins of a character's powers.

Table 15: Popularity ACTION Situational Modifiers
CSSituational Modifier
+3 CSTarget benefits greatly
+2 CSTarget of same mindset
+1 CSTarget benefits somewhat
-1 CSItem is of Good value
-2 CSItem is of Remarkable value, or is at risk of not being returned
-3 CSItem is placed in danger or is unique

Popularity ACTIONs are normally required when a player wants something from another character, whether it be information, money, equipment, or anything else he or she thinks they can get away with. When a character attempts such an ACTION, their Popularity score is the base rank used on this roll. This rank is then given potential Column Shift modifiers based on the situation at hand. There's only a few basic CS modifiers to this ACTION, and they're listed on table 15.

Of course, these Column Shifts aren't all that goes into the Popularity ACTION roll. No, the general disposition of the person a character asks for aid decides the color difficulty of a Popularity ACTION. A green ACTION is called for when one is friendly to the character attempting the Popularity ACTION. Those neutral to the character make for a Popularity ACTION of yellow difficulty. A red Popularity roll is necessary when unfriendly people are the subject of this ACTION.

But what does all this mean? Friendly NPCs are those who are good friends with the character, or folks listed as his or her contacts. Neutral NPCs are people who don't know a character (but have heard of them) or large bodies of strangers. Unfriendly NPCs include total strangers, folks who haven't heard of the character, neutral folks the character has ticked off by not returning an item previously, or persons having opposing Popularity (negative versus positive, or vice versa).

Finally, hostile individuals are people who are actively opposed to a character, or perhaps sworn enemies. A Popularity ACTION is unnecessary with individuals of this stripe, as they are considered impossible for the purpose of Popularity ACTIONs. Hostiles will never help a character thanks to the whims of dice. In fact, they'll never help a character at all, unless doing so would specifically help their agenda significantly; very good role-play may shift the difficulty of such an ACTION from impossible to 'merely' red.

Resources ACTIONs are made when a body attempts to buy something. The intensity of this ACTION is dependent on the cost rank provided with the item to be purchased. This ACTION can be automatic under several conditions (a rich guy buying a sack hamburgers, for example), and a roll isn't needed. The trick is that when a Resources ACTION is rolled, it represents a large dent of the character's personal wealth. A character may attempt but one Resources ACTION roll per week.

All other attempts after the first will automatically fail. Think of this as a short-term cash shortage, or some such. Furthermore, without the assistance of another character (per a buddy CS), no one can purchase any item whose price rank is greater than their own Resources rank, unless they break down and get a loan. A loan allows a character to make said Resources ACTION roll - if red - but the trick is that they must pay back the loan.

Once a month, a character who has a loan must pass a Resources ACTION of an intensity equal to the price rank of the object purchased -2 CS, for a number of months equal to the rank number of the price (Good priced items will take ten months to pay off, items of Unearthly expense require one hundred payments, and so on).

Talent ACTIONs are those required when one attempts to use a skill in the course of a game. These are primarily based on ability scores, but modified per the talent's description. Normally, a talent applies a positive Column Shift modifier to an ability (or power) ACTION, but some skills offer other advantages. However, if a character attempts a feat requiring a skill he or she lacks, they do so at a penalty. In other words, attempting brain surgery without the medicine talent is a very, very bad idea.

The basic penalty for attempting a talent ACTION without the proper talent to back it up is -1 CS. However, if a character has a similar skill that could help an ACTION out while lacking the exact talent required, this penalty is removed; similar weapons or technical training, for instance. In the end, however, if the Judge feels an ACTION cannot succeed without the right talent(s) to back it up, the task is simply impossible.

Material Strength

Table 16: Standard Material Strengths
FeebleBrush, clothing, glass, electronics, paper
PoorCrystals, 'soft' plastics, particle board
TypicalIce, interior walls, rubbers, sheet metal, wood
GoodAluminum, 'industrial' plastic, light machinery, asphalt
ExcellentConcrete, bullet proof glass, iron, outer walls
RemarkableReinforced concretes, steel, solid stone
IncrediblePlast-steels, volcanic rock, heavy machinery
AmazingGranite, high strength steel, osmium steel
MonstrousDiamond, super heavy alloys, titanium
UnearthlyIridium alloys, generic mystic alloys

One last area that deeply involves both ACTION intensity and Column Shifts is relative strength of a given material. Material Strength (MS) is the overall strength of a material. Surprise! Mostly, MS is used when a person or weapon attempts to break (or break through) an object, like a street, wall, or vault, for instance. The table provided here describes a basic gamut of relative strength for common - and uncommon - materials.

Materials of greater MS than those listed are often campaign specific super-materials, those that are 'unbreakable' or otherwise have special properties. Substances of this variety are beyond table 16's intent.

The thickness of a mass or object also plays a part in determining its MS. If an item is less than 2 inches thick, the MS of this item is the listed value -1 CS. If the item is between 2 inches and one foot thick, it is of standard MS. If the item is between 1 and 2 feet thick, its MS is the listed value +1 CS. Finally, if an object is 2 feet thick or more, its MS is the listed value +2 CS.

Example: A two-foot thick cube of granite would have an effective material strength of Unearthly, while an inch thick coating of asphalt would only be of Typical (6) MS.

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