A Path to Steam
Most skills have a “default level”: the level at which you use the skill if you have no training. A skill has a default level if it is something that everybody can do . . . a little bit. As a general rule, a skill defaults to its controlling attribute at -4 if Easy, -5 if Average, or -6 if Hard. There are exceptions to this, but not many.
Example: The “default” for Broadsword (DX/Average) is DX-5. If your DX is 11, and you have to swing a broadsword without training, then your “default” skill at Broadsword is
11 – 5 = 6. You need a roll of 6 or less to hit.
Some skills have no default level. For instance, Alchemy, Hypnotism, and Karate are complex enough that you cannot use them at all without training.
Regardless of your default skill level, you do not get the special benefits of a skill – especially combat bonuses such as improved damage, special defenses, and unpenalized
off-hand use – when you use a skill at default. To enjoy these benefits, you must spend at least one point on the skill.
The Rule of 20
If a skill defaults to a basic attribute that is higher than 20, treat that attribute as 20 when figuring default skill. Superhuman characters get good defaults, but not super ones.
Who Gets a Default?
Only individuals from a society where a skill is known may attempt a default roll against that skill. For instance, the default for Scuba skill assumes you are from a world where scuba gear exists and where most people would have some idea – if only
from TV – of how to use it. A medieval knight transported to the 21st century would not get a default roll to use scuba gear the first time he saw it!
Defaulting to Other Skills
Some skills default to another skill instead of or as well as an attribute.
Example: Broadsword defaults to Shortsword-2, because the two skills are very similar. A Shortsword skill of 13 gives you a “default” Broadsword skill of 11.
A skill can’t default to another skill known only by default. If Skill A defaults to Skill B-5, and Skill B defaults to IQ-5, does Skill A default to IQ-10? No.
Improving Skills from Default
If your default level in a skill is high enough that you would normally have to pay points for that level, you may improve the skill past its default level by paying only the difference in point costs between your new level and your default level.
Example: Suppose you have DX 12 and Shortsword at 13. Since Broadsword defaults to Shortsword-2, your default Broadsword skill is 11. Skill 11 is equal to DX-1 for you.
This would have cost 1 point had you bought it directly. The next level (DX) costs 2 points. The difference is 1 point; to raise your Broadsword skill from its default level of 11 (DX-1) to 12 (DX), you need only pay 1 character point. You do not have to pay the
full 2 points for DX level!
If you increase a skill, skills that default to it go up as well. However, if you have spent points to improve these defaults, you may not see an increase when you raise the skill to which they default. This is best illustrated with our running example:
Example: Suppose you spend the point to raise Broadsword to 12 (DX). Now you spend 4 more points on Shortsword, improving that skill from 13 to 14 (from DX+1 to DX+2).
Does your Broadsword skill also go up a level? No. Your new default from Shortsword is now 12 (Shortsword at 14, minus 2), but to go from level 12 to level 13 (from DX to DX+1) with Broadsword costs 2 points, and you’ve only spent 1 point on Broadsword. Keep track of that point, though. When you spend one more point on Broadsword, it goes up a level, too.
When two skills default to one another and you have improved both, you may switch the “direction” of your default if this would give youbetter skill levels. Redistribute the
points spent on both skills as needed. You may never decrease either skill level this way, however; you must always spend enough points to keep each skill at its current level.
Example: Keeping Shortsword at 14, you spend a total of 22 points on Broadsword, improving your skill from its default of 12 (DX) to 18 (DX+6). You’d like to default
Shortsword from Broadsword now, rather than vice versa. Taking the 8 points you spent on Shortsword and the 22 points you spent on Broadsword, you have 30 points to work with. First, buy Broadsword at 18 (DX+6) for 24 points. Then default Shortsword from Broadsword, getting 16 (that is, Broadsword-2). Finally, spend the remaining 6 points
on Shortsword. This will be enough to raise Shortsword skill to 17 (and 2 more points will make that 18).
This feels like an abstract number shuffle, but it works. You’re no better off than if you had started out with Broadsword skill, and you aren’t penalized for learning Shortsword first.