Singularly Talented: High-End Talents in Fantasy AGE
7 May 2019
Green Ronin opened pre-orders for the Modern AGE Companion on 6 May 2019. The physical hardcover is still in the works, but the PDF version is available now. Naturally, I picked it up. I really like the AGE System, and while I have the means I want to encourage the publisher to keep making content for it.
While virtually flipping through the book yesterday, I found a number of useful and interesting system options that could be fun to port to Fantasy AGE, which is my system variant of choice. This has been a common theme as the AGE System has matured via new publications: the core of the game stays the same, and because of this, systems that work in one context and usually be made to work in other contexts with little to no adjustment.
The Modern AGE Companion itself spends eight pages illustrating how fantastical kith from Fantasy AGE could be reimagined for inclusion in a fantasy-future Modern AGE game, with echoes of Shadowrun’s metahumanity.
Two things in particular caught my eye for potential inclusion into the Fantasy AGE games I run:
- Fear & Horror Mechanics
- Post-Mastery Talents
I’m pretty sure that the Fear & Horror rules can be dropped into another AGE game pretty cleanly, as there are not a lot of tie-ins to Modern AGE’s unique variant of the game engine. The talent options, though, require a lot of thought.
Some Background On AGE Talents
The AGE System has a series of nine ability scores that represent a being’s aptitude for things in the most general sense. These abilities are super broad, covering things like strength, dexterity, perception, et al. The greater your abilities, the more likely you are to succeed at tasks that leverage those abilities. A high-strength character will have an easier time lifting a wrecked car off the person it has pinned to the road, and a high-intelligence character will find it less difficult to recall an obscure fact or reason out how a complex machine works.
Atop abilities are focuses, which are more defined areas of expertise within one of the nine abilities. A character with a low or mediocre ability who also has a focus within that ability can demonstrate increased aptitude at that specific field, e.g. a low-dexterity character with a focus is legerdemain may be quite skilled at misdirection and practical sleight-of-hand, but otherwise not so great at other tasks one would associate with being dextrous.
Many tasks within an AGE System game is resolved with a test that involves one ability and one focus. For example, writing out a beautiful wedding invitation might require a Dexterity (Calligraphy) test, while fighting off an enemy with a spear would be a Fighting (Spears) test. If a character possesses the focus indicated by the test, they get a flat bonus to the test’s result that increases their chance of success. Together, abilities and focuses help define what a character is good at as a sort of probability map of how likely they are to succeed or fail at certain things. Characters gain ability increases and focus additions organically as they gain experience.
Talents in AGE are even more concentrated than focuses. They represent special training a character receives or inherent aptitude they possess.
Unlike abilities and focuses, they are not organically obtained via experience gains. Instead, they are granted by a character’s class in Fantasy AGE - but not Modern AGE as the latter is a classless variant of the system. For example, A melee warrior in Fantasy AGE might gain talent increases at different times from a magic-user. Talents also have prerequisites that must be met before a character can even obtain them, obligating them to be a certain class (representing training) or to have the right probability map (abilities and focuses; i.e. aptitude).
Also unlike focuses and abilities, talents are tiered - they have three degrees known as Novice, Journeyman, and Master. In order to advance a degree, a character must spend one of their class talent advancements on a talent they already have, bringing a Novice talent to Journeyman, or Journeyman to Master. New talents are obtained by spending a class talent advancement on a talent they character doesn’t already possess, provided they satisfy the prerequisites.
Talents are a great tool that AGE uses to provide players with a deep representation of skill while leaving the specific path of advancement to player choice. The mechanic is used to underpin both the Fantasy AGE magic system as well as the specialization system whereby characters more clearly and narrowly define their character within their chosen class, like a rogue becoming an assassin, a warrior becoming a knight, amongst others. By the time a character is level 10, they will have their first specialization completed to Master degree, and either an array of other talents at Novice degree or one or two of them deeply explored to Journeyman or Master degree.1
The Modern AGE Companion spends an entire chapter2 discussing talents and how the expertise they represent has social repercussions for a character in addition to their gameplay benefits. The particularly skilled or experienced practitioners of an art or craft might find themselves innovating something entirely new once they’ve mastered everything their teachers have to offer, or making a breakthrough by overcoming challenges. The Companion offers a gameplay option for characters that wish to push beyond mastery: additional high-end degrees for talents called Grandmaster and Apex.
Characters at the fourth and fifth degree of a talent are the regional or global elite within their field. A Grandmaster in Oratory might be a persuasive politician whose speeches mold public opinion and national policy that affect tens of thousands. A character with the Contacts talent at Apex degree may not know everyone personally, but they’ll surely know someone who knows who you’re looking for.
The Companion makes a few suggestions of Modern AGE talents that can be extended in this way, as well as how GMs can devise their own new degrees for other talents if desired. I am excited to try this with Fantasy AGE.
While the book goes into doing this with regular talents as well as specializations (which can be easily parlayed into entire adventure arcs; imagine the trials required to attain grandmastery as a knight!), it doesn’t really touch on extending this system to magic. Modern AGE handles magic very differently than Fantasy AGE does, partly as a result of its classless design, and somewhat because modern- and future-setting games can often eschew magic entirely. In a swords-and-sorcery game, though, magic is kind of a big deal.
So what does Grandmastery in a magic arcana look like?
The Five Depths of Shadow
Let’s take Fantasy AGE’s Shadow Arcana and turn it from a three-degree talent into a five-degree talent. First, we’ll establish some ground rules:
- We’re using the definition of the Shadow Arcana talent as modified by the Fantasy AGE Companion3. That book changes the talent to give a character a choice of two possible Novice level spells, one Journeyman or lower spell, and one Master or lower spell by the time they reach Master degree of the talent.
- Since we’re using the Fantasy AGE Companion version of the talent, we’re also going to add the four new Shadow Arcana spells from that book as well. This doubles the possible repertoire of spells and provides a player with some choice that not only lets them dial in their desired play style, but also differentiates themselves from others using the same arcana.
- We will not use the Arcane Training talent provided by the Fantasy AGE Companion, as it complicates the possible options and would be made moot by what I have in mind.
So far, we have this:
Novice: Learn any two Novice spells from the Shadow Arcana.
Journeyman: Learn a single Novice or Journeyman spell.
Master: Learn a single Master, Journeyman, or Novice spell.
The Modern AGE Companion says that Grandmasters have “not only learned all there is to learn in their field, but [have] explored new ground within it…” I interpret this to mean that a Grandmaster at the Shadow Arcana would have all eight spells available to them:
Grandmaster: Learn all the Shadow Arcana spells that you did not learn previously.
This makes a Grandmaster in a specific Arcana a virtuoso at the related magical rites. It also means, however, that a Grandmaster doesn’t have anything more to learn as far as the established study of the craft is concerned. There must be something that can be added to grant an Apex practitioner something even a Grandmaster doesn’t have. It is very likely that an Apex arcanist would be so practiced in their chosen arcana that casting spells from it would be nearly reflexive to them, so let’s make that practiced ease apparent
Apex: If the casting Target Number (TN) of a Shadow Arcana spell is equal to or less than half your level + your Intelligence, you automatically succeed at casting the spell and roll the Stunt Die to instantly generated Stunt Points (SP).
Now a character at the pinnacle of their understanding of magical shadow not only knows everything there is to know in the field, but is so good at it that the practice is almost like breathing to them. Let’s look at the whole expanded talent together:
A nice thing about this talent design is that it’s data-driven by the arcana it represents. There’s nothing in the definition that ties it tightly to the Shadow Arcana. If we change the word Shadow to any of the nineteen arcana provided for by the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook and Fantasy AGE Companion, this talent works for all of them.
It’s pretty likely this is going to make its way to my table. If you like this idea, please feel free to borrow it and let me know on Twitter how it goes! In the meanwhile, I’m going to be going through the other talents and specializations from Fantasy AGE’s published resources as well as the homebrew content I’ve devised and see if I can do similar work to bring high-end talent mechanics to the rest of the game.