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Unified Ability Theory

Several Abilities grant a certain proficiency with several related fields, but each accomplshes this in a different manner. This rules add-on unifies this mechanic. The Abilities affected include, but may not be limited to:

  • Melee: Melee normally allows you to use any melee weapon.
  • Performance:
  • Craft: You normally buy individual Craft skills.
  • Linguistics: Each dot of Linguistics buys you a language family.
  • Sail: Normally you just sail boats and ships and spaceships and whatever you want.

Under UAT, all these Abilities work identically: With each dot, you buy an application of the Ability.

  • For Melee, this is a weapon type, including its mystical, attuned variant (using variants unattuned is a separate ability): swords, axes, spears...
  • For Performance, this is one mode of performance: speech, dance, song...
  • For Craft, this is a Craft skill as the book defines it.
  • For Linguistics, this is a language family and its main associated writing system, if any.
  • For Sail, you get one type of ship.

If you don't know an application, a (Mental) + Ability roll (depending on the justification) at difficulty 3 will permit you to use that application for one task - a single battle with a single weapon, a single performance, a single person, or a single object. You perform tasks with unknown applications at +1 difficulty. This roll can only be affected by Charms that state specifically that they affect it. Only Exalts are capable of this. This represents an Exalt's superior ability to extend and synthesize knowledge.

If you fail that roll:

  • You can use Melee, but equipment bonuses are ignored and special equipment functions (like spear charges) are unavailable.
  • Your performance fails.
  • You can't figure out a way to make that object.
  • You can't communicate with that individual mortally.

Special Cases

Specialty dots also allow an additional aptitude (regardless of what they enhance.)

At Ability 5 + 3 Specialties, the Ability is universally applicable.


Ah, nice. The same idea had crossed my mind, since I don't really like the exclusivity of each Crafts ability, nor its overall deviation from other abilities. My original thought included trying to fit more (all) abilities underneath the 'UAT pantheon,' creating an actually-universal set, but, of course, it gets a little tricky to intelligently do that for more than a few abilities. A system- and balance-changing/breaking solution was to perhaps break the max-specialty rule for included abilities, and allow people to purchase aptitudes-as-specialties at reduced cost, up to Current Ability, or a slightly higher cost above that, so people could have more aptitudes than dots (for the occasional obsessive linguist or idiot-savant craftsman that wants to know every possible aptitude. "Ooh! Flower pressing!")

Have you thought of any mechanic for having more aptitudes than dots? It should be too common a problem, but allowing people to use specialty dots to purchase aptitudes would be an easy fix (and, honestly, no one should really need more than eight aptitudes).

Also, the mechanics for melee equipment penalties seem a little akward for some reason; I think it's the manipulation of weapon bonuses that throws me off, since I haven't seen too much of that. Perhaps increase the difficulty of all melee actions by twice the number of successes below Diff. 3, or something. That may be... too forgiving?

- Jabberwocky

Thanks for the comments! I added in the specialty thing. I also figured that if you max out an ability you should get perfect applicability; if you're concentrating at a very high level, you tend to broaden your base simultaneously. I simplified the weapon rules. - FourWillowsWeeping

I let my players take Craft as any other ability. It is universal as Melee. If the character has never wielded a particular kind of weapon or performed some specific form of craft I simply increase the difficulty for the first couple of rolls. This is not D&D where you need a number for everything. BrokenQuill

I'm inclining towards BrokenQuill's position these days. I don't see how being skilled in multiple crafts is unbalancing in any way, nor is it significantly less plausible than being skilled in all forms of performance or in all melee weapons. - Quendalon

I, too, like BrokenQuill's solution, and use it. I'm a maker of patterns, though, and Linguistics is an upsetting skill - I like the 'Linguistics check to communicate with a person' model, but it's a little hard for some folks to digest. This idea is a middle-of-the-road kind of solution that brings everything into alignment without doing strange things like that. - FourWillowsWeeping

I can not see why you are looking at making melee and craft work in the same fashion. To me those abilities are on very different abstraction level. Craft is EVERYTHING a farmer knows about living on his own farm. While Melee is only about an adventurer knowing how to poke opponents with charp objects and not getting poked himself. Actually I was considering removing Melee, Brawl, Martial Arts, Archery, Dodge, Thrown and replace them with Craft: Hack'n'Slash. But to honor the original system I ended up with the system currently at my webpage - Trueform

You cannot see my thinking, and so I will sweep away the veil and show it to you!
I don't think this is a rule by which I would play my own games; it is an effort to streamline the system and make it more consistent with itself; it is a revision for the sake of elegance and cleanliness in design, and has very little to do with how the Abilities (none, in fact, with how the Abilities) work. I prefer to work with the Ability set that WW has come up with and optimize its rules for the most elegane design and satisfying play, rather than to change the Ability set and create ugly ripples of consequence.
Incidentally, there is a great deal to know about poking people with sharp objects and not being poked yourself.
- willows

I have to agree with willows on this, it's very complex considering melee is all weapons. Even a double edged sword is very different than a single edged, not to mention a stabbing type sword. A lighter weapon blocking a heavier weapon is very difficult. Just a little bit of general experience on this. - haren

Logically the same sort of thing might apply with things like Sail (barques, cats, airships and gliders all being quite different. In fact square-rigged vs lateen is sufficient of a difference...). -- Senji

Being an obsessive (and trained, professionally) linguist, I might point out that this is potentially one of the better language-handling systems/abstracts out there. Each level of the Linguistics ability grants minimal ability with one language; essentially the ability to convey simple concepts. Additional expressive ability is best modeled as additional specialization dots in that language, and not by an increased general Linguistics rating. A higher rating in the basic ability represents the ability to convey simple concepts in additional languages, and the ability to use Language universals to communicate very basic concepts in other, unfamiliar, languages. I would have to insist, however, in any game that I might run, that the difficulty of communication rolls be increased somewhat, and according to a schedule perhaps too long to go into here. One other thing, Linguistics should NEVER be universal, beyond the basic, or maybe the simple level. Languages are just too different for universiality. Saying "non" to an L1 speaker of Japanese who studied Mandarin in high school is likely to get one very blank looks, no matter how one sais it (although if one were to say "non" in a seductive manner, one might be able to convey the idea "I want to do things with you..." :) )-Suzume

Ahh, but you're only human. I presume. Many apologies if you're not... Perhaps a living god, however, should be able to get across complex meaning just by inflection and body-language, after a little examination of the local culture. That would be the argument I would use, if I were trying to justify universal linguistics. I'm not, as it happens, I'm happy with the 1-dot per language then specialities, but i'm just pointing out that 'just too difficult' is a concept I do not believe belongs in exalted, at least not regarding whether people can do things or not.
-- Darloth

I don't think it's too productive, really, to seek simulation when designing rules systems for Exalted. Instead, I seek playability, and having Abilities extend into infinite applicability is much more playable than allowing them to proliferate into massive exception sets. - willows

Hi! I just stumbled across this and must say that it works pretty well generally, I think, but that I'm dubious about Sail, depending on how you define 'type of ship'. If you mean it as I think then it's all good, and I'm just checking, really... I would think that 'type of ship' would be, for example, 'small boat', 'large boat' (ie, with a sizeable crew, rather than one or two people), 'airship'... I'd be dubious about making the categories any more defined than that, from my own experience with boats. Sure, rigging differs, but if you already have a good grasp of sailing in general then there's not going to be a lot of trouble switching between them in small boats, for example. - Vervain

I'll say to this almost exactly what I said above: The point is to seek consistency. If you don't have enough "real-world" kinds of boats, make some up. - w
That wasn't really my point, though -- my point is, how narrow are your definitions? (I was also not suggesting that the types listed above are anywhere near exhaustive, and there certainly are types of ship which require different skills, but I think that the divisions in many of these areas can be over-defined. - Vervain
See, like, I don't think it makes any difference how you subcategorize. You first dot might come with "Fishing boats I paddled as a child", and the next few dots are "Triremes" and "Mnemon's Pleasure Barge." It really doesn't matter! It's better to reveal character with your choices of concentration than trying to come up with some lame generalised categorisation scheme. - willows
I came up with an alternate system - Abilities/Knowledges - rooting it more off of a strange mutation of the way canonical Occult / Lore seems to work than your method (which seems primarily based off of the canonical system for Linguistics). Just cross-pollinating; never mind me ;) - Ialdabaoth