The skills chapter also offers the meat of the rules, if only because characters using their skills is the meat of a game like this. Another adaptation of the Year Zero Engine, this returns to its roots, and in doing so reinforces the idea that it’s a post-fantasy-apocalyptic survival game. The push mechanic, like the original Mutant: Year Zero, risks damage, to your character or to your equipment. Because of this, unlike Coriolis or Tales from the Loop (where you pay for pushes differently), you need six sided dice of three different colours – one colour for attributes, at second for skill ranks and another for your weapon or gear bonus. Sixes on any die are successes, ones on Base (Attribute) or Gear dice represent potential damage. Ones have no effect if you don’t push your roll, but if you do choose to re-roll, you can’t use Base or Gear dice showing ones (you can use Skill dice showing ones, as they don’t represent potential damage). Make you re-roll with the dice you have available, and any ones showing on Base dice mean a temporary loss of attribute points for the attribute you used. (There are sixteen skills, four related to each of the four attributes, for example Melee uses the strength attribute). Further more, any ones showing on the gear dice reduce that item’s gear bonus.
Some players might argue that the chance of failure, and the cost of pushing is too high. I have heard a lot of players of Coriolis (none of mine) express their distaste for throwing a handful of dice and getting no successes. I have little sympathy for them, but players of this game are in for a tough time. It’s feels gritty, hard, deadly even. Perhaps that is why the writers have said:
It’s hard to succeed in the Forbidden Lands. If you lack the right gear or friends that can help you, there is a great risk of spectacular failure. With that in mind, you should never roll dice unless it is absolutely necessary. Save the dice for dramatic situations or tough challenges. In any other situation, the GM should simply allow you to perform whatever action you wish.
You can improve your chances of success by getting up to three other characters to help. Each one lets you add a skill dice – the least risky – to your pool. Which raises an interesting question about something that is said under the stealth skill – if more than one PC are sneaking past a guard, only the PC with the lowest skill level rolls. But, can that PC be helped by the others? I like to think yes.
Another way to improve your chances is to use master-crafted or magical gear, which brings a brand new mechanic to the d6 centric Year Zero Engine. These weapons and artefacts can add an extra d8, d10 or d12 to your roll. Any result above five is a success. Eight and nine are worth two success, ten or eleven means three successes and a roll of twelve is equal to four successes, which means of course that a d12 has 50/50 chance of success on its own.
Even without a magical weapon, once per game you can add a d12 to any role related to your pride, after you have rolled and even pushed. But if you still fail you lose your pride, and can’t choose a new one to the session after next.
Most of the skills themselves are pretty self explanatory, but there are a couple that deserve a more detailed look at. Performance for example includes the ability to heal wits or empathy damage. Animal handling confers the ability not just to ride but to command tame animals, and even to tame wild animals. Crafting is a Strength based skill that every soldier should take a rank in. It includes the ability to repair your weapons after pushing them. And like so many things I have read so far, it makes me think of the First Law books and especially The Heroes – the day by day account of a single battle, wherein everyone who is any good at soldiering spends time maintaining their weapons. It’s not just about repair though, with the right raw materials and time, you can make things from scratch.
And with the right talent, these can very impressive things too.