Year Zero Engine attributes and skills

Apropos of nothing in particular, definitely not thinking about a Year Zero hack 😉 I am looking at the slight differences between attributes and skills in the across the range of Year Zero games. There are few, but not insignificant changes in the Attributes. While you might expect differences across genres, I was at first surprised to see differences among the Mutant games, that not only share the post-apocalyptic genre, but also take place in the same world.

In the first, Mutant: Year Zero the four attributes are Strength, Agility, Wits and Empathy. But in the sequel, Genlab Alpha, Empathy is related by Instinct. And in Mutant: Mechatron, the characters have four entirely different attributes: Servos; Stability; Processor and Network.

I have never run or played any of the Mutant games, and I only own two: Year Zero and Genlab Alpha, so I wonder how much it changes things when you mix more than one Mutant ruleset in a campaign, which surely must be a tempting thing for GMs. It seems rich with possibility, having a group of PCs that are radically different.

While we are looking at those games, it worth noting that some of the skill names are different. And while in some cases, these differences might just be cosmetic, better reflecting the theme of the game (So, for example Assault in Mechatron may not be different, really, to Fight in Zero and Alpha), some might have more mechanical connotations. Not having the rules to Mechatron, I can’t be sure how different Overload is to Endure for example.

The game that introduced me to the Year Zero system was Coriolis. And, though it shares attributes with its predecessor, Mutant Year Zero, it’s distribution of skills is very different. In the civilisation of the far future, pure physical strength has apparently less value, and adds dice to just two skills, force and melee combat. Wits on the other hand contributes to six skills, including Medicurgy, the equivalent to Heal in the other games, but no longer paired with the Empathy attribute. That’s said Empathy does replace Heal with two new skills: Culture which is analogous of the wits based “Know…” skills of Mutant; and Mystic Powers, which opens up a number of supernatural Talents. Agility replaces Move with Dexterity, Sneak with Infiltration and Shoot with Ranged Combat. It also adds Pilot to the skills list.

Tales from the Loop (and it’s sequel, Things from the Flood) shakes up the attributes. Broadly speaking, in the other games there are two physical attributes and two mental attributes. Effectively Loop gives us just one physical attribute, Body, and three skills associated with it, Sneak, Force and Move. You’ll recognise that sneak in the other games is an Agility based skill. There’s no fighting in Loop. And in Flood fighting is covered by the Force skill.

The other three attributes in these two games are Tech, Heart and Mind. (It’s a small thing to point out, but in all the other games, the Heart analogue, Empathy, is listed last of the four, here it’s third. Is that only because Heart(s) and Mind(s) is the order of a phrase in English?) All three are mental/emotional rather than physical, and Tech is really a second Mind attribute, with setting specific mental skills: Tinker; Programme and Calculate.

Now this is not a review of those games, but I do question the names of some of these skills. Calculate for example, is analogous to the Know… or Culture skill in the other games not, as you might think, a calculation skill. That’s said, if it were, it would be somewhat redundant, covered by programming. The name of the mind skill, Comprehend, would in fact be a better name for Calculate. Comprehend is a hangover from Year Zero, but in this interaction it would be better called Research.

Anyway, what I like about the attributes and skills in Loop and Flood is that it gives Year Zero Engine hackers implicit permission of be really imaginative in their games.

Forbidden Lands, the most recent genre addition to the Year Zero Engine stable day offers sixteen skills, like Coriolis. But unlike that game, it distributes them across the four attributes. Force becomes Might, Fighting becomes Melee and Strength gets a new skill, Crafting. Part of me struggles with this. I feel Craft should be a more dexterous skill than brute force, but I guess, in the medieval milieu the strength of the blacksmith is the more common craft.

Agility’s fourth skill is Sleight of Hand. Wits adds Insight, which arguably is similar to Sense Emotion, an Empathy skill in the Mutant games. The Empathy based skills in Forbidden Lands include Performance and Animal Handling.

So, with more skills to spend build points on, do Forbidden Lands Characters get more points than other games? In Zero, players get 14 points for attributes and 10 for skills. Age becomes a factor in Alpha, players get between 13 and 15 points to spend on Attributes and 8 to 12 on skills. Its the same in Lands, despite having more skills to chose from. And Coriolis which also has sixteen rather than twelve skills, has the same allowance too.

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