The Atheist’s Talent

A discussion in G+ prompted me to share this talent, which featured back in an early episode of The Coriolis Effect, but never saw publication on this blog. That is partly because it’s never been play-tested. I wrote it just in case a player might want to be an atheist. So far, no-one has. So this is a transcript of what I said on the ‘cast.

Not everyone in the third Horizon believes in the Icons. As the corebook says on page 191 “The secular Foundation is the part of the Consortium mainly concerned with research and development.”

That said, not everyone in the Foundation is an atheist. On page 243 it refers to “the most ardent disbelievers in the Foundation” which suggests that most of the foundation are, shall we say, less ardent. I’m sure in fact that the majority pray to the Icons, if only under their breath. After all it’s the rational thing to to do isn’t? Even if you don’t have scientific evidence that the Icons exist, uttering a short prayer when you want things to go right isn’t going to do any *harm* is it? We know that Rhavinn Bokor, the Foundation’s Akbar on Hamurabi portal station, is a friend and frequent dining partner of the preacher, Talib Ogor. Not everything in the dark between the Stars can be explained with science.

But what about your players? What if a player wants their character to be a hardline foundation scientist, an atheist? How do they play that in the game?

This hasn’t come up for me, yet, and currently, the Factions aren’t a big thing in my campaign – where they do appear they are like the wheel of fate, crushing the characters beneath its rim. That’s one of the things I like about the rules and the setting. Unlike many games with factions, no-one is forced to become a member of one. Indeed, only three character concepts give players the opportunity to start with the Faction Standing talent. But what if your players do want to get more involved in the politics and traditions of the factions, and represent the scientific method if the Foundation? Or to play a hardcore Zenithian with a sceptical view of the Firstcome religion? Or wants to play an atheist just to be different?

How does that work out in play? And more importantly, how does that square with the Icon Talent that every character receives? Shouldn’t there also be an Atheist’s Talent?

My first thought was that perhaps an Atheist should get a bonus on his or her more “rational” skills. But what do you call “rational”? Do I mean all the advanced skills? Well, sure, I can get behind a bonus on: COMMAND; CULTURE; DATA DJINN (of course); and, MEDICURGY but MYSTIC POWERS? I don’t think so.

Indeed I’m making a house-ruling here – you can’t be an atheist and have mystic powers.

So that made me think, you get a bonus, not on advanced skills, but all skills that are based on the Wits ability. I quickly ruled that out though – yes, it extends bonuses to skills like OBSERVATION and SURVIVAL, but it would exclude culture. And more insidiously it equates rationality with intelligence. As my mate Tony pointed out, with all the evidence there is of the existence of the Icons and the Dark Between the Stars that characters discover, Atheism is an irrational philosophy.

So no, I’m not giving a bonus to rolls exclusively involving Wits.

In fact I’m not sure a mere dice bonus is a good idea anyway. My thought *had* been to give just plus one dice to each roll, given that the bonus would apply to so many rolls. But given the way the dice mechanic works, that there’s a perception out there that it makes players feel their characters are incompetent, despite rolling a good number of dice, a plus one die bonus may not cut it.

Especially because I sure of one thing – that the *cost* of the Atheist’s talent is that you are not allowed to pray, *ever*. Well that’s not quite true. I want the cost to be that if you ever do pray, you lose the Atheist’s talent.

The whole point of this rule is to create a situation, where the player must weigh up the cost of admitting that the Icons exist, against the opportunity to succeed when they’ve failed a roll. I want the temptation to pray, to be counter-balanced by a talent that has *real* value’ so that losing it, and opting in re-roll, is a big decision.

And while I think that a plus one bonus on every roll is *actually* a big deal, I worry that players won’t appreciate its value. And will discard the talent on the first fluffed roll.

And then it hit me. Certainty. The Atheists in this universe are stubborn believers in an idea, despite all the evidence to the contrary. They know (or think they know) how the world works. They are confident that they can explain cause and effect, action and reaction.

So how about this?

The Atheist’s talent.

This talent may be chosen instead of randomly selecting an Icon talent. For each advanced or general skill in which they have one level (except Mystic Powers – if they have mystic powers they shouldn’t be an atheist) the player makes a roll, with a plus one bonus before the game starts, and notes the result. A failed roll means that the first time they use that skill in the adventure, the character will fail, but after that they can roll normally.

Any roll with one or more successes can be held until the player chooses to spend it. They don’t have to spend it the first time they use the skill, they can always choose to roll normally instead and accept that roll. Any difficulty penalty the GM imposes is taken from failed dice before dice that rolled six.

If the player chooses to pray (re-roll) on any role, the character loses the Atheist talent, and must spend five experience points to draw an Icon talent.

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