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Arcane backgrounds without dedicated casting skills

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  • Arcane backgrounds without dedicated casting skills

    I think a case could be made for certain Arcane backgrounds to not have dedicated casting skills, depending on trapping, setting and inclination of the group. One such example would be Magic that uses the Occult skill instead of Spellcasting. And Weird Science as far as I know can already use other skills than Weird Science depending on how you trap the powers.

    Do you have a suggestion for what such a lack of casting skill should do to the Arcane backgrounds itself? Should The Arcane Background be limited or reduced somehow in order to preserve balance?

  • #2
    Making an Arcane Background that uses a normal skill for the Arcane Skill is a setting rule. It will be based upon the setting, defined by the setting, and needs to be balanced within the setting.
    I don't think there's a good way to balance it, unless you're using a skill that has no other use in the setting (like Driving for a setting that only has animal-drawn vehicles), and then it is effectively Spellcasting with a different name.

    Can I imagine an arcane background that uses Fighting as the arcane skill? Yes.
    Would I ever make it? No because Fighting is already a powerful skill and being able to cast magic with it would give Fighting ranged combat, social combat, investigation, and possibly healing abilities (depending upon power list). At that point it's a campaign-breaking skill.

    Kind of like my friend proposed for D&D 3.x, using Profession (Adventurer). Need to attack a monster? Adventurers attack monsters, so use your Profession (Adventurer) skill instead of your normal attack bonus. Need to know a legend? Pick a lock? Climb a cliff? Cast a spell? Sneak past guards? Spot an ambush? Resist a spell? Adventurers do all of that, so use Profession (Adventurer).
    Using the spirit of the rules to murder the spirit of the rules is not good game design.
    I hope you find the above post useful. And not insulting, because I was trying to be helpful, not insulting; being a pedantic jerk, that isn't always clear.


    • #3
      Weird Science does not use other skills now, unless using the Artificer Edge to give powers to other people. It's Weird Science all the way now!
      That was partially done to avoid skill "taxes", you don't want to have to raise multiple skills to use devices all stemming form the same Arcane background.
      Similarly as ValhallahGH points out, you don't want to overpower a single skill to make it do "Magic, and more!", you need to create a balance between usefulness and versatility.
      Last edited by Matchstickman; 04-22-2020, 03:43 PM.


      • #4
        I think using the Occult skill or some similar knowledge skill would be perfectly reasonable for a ritualistic type of caster, depending on the setting.

        To Valhalla's point though, going the other way and letting a combat skill double as a knowledge or social skills via magic feels more broken.

        Perhaps you should consider an Arcane Background that works like the Supers Companion. There is no dedicated power skill, but you roll different skills based on what you are trying to do. So Bolt would use Shooting or Fighting, Mind Reading would use Notice, Puppet would use Persuasion, etc. This is still pretty powerful, and would need an additional hindrance or limitation to counterbalance it. But I think it would feel fine in the right setting.


        • #5
          Originally posted by MichaelDawn View Post
          I think using the Occult skill or some similar knowledge skill would be perfectly reasonable for a ritualistic type of caster, depending on the setting.
          This is literally what we did in the SWADE update document for ETU.


          • #6
            There are precedents for this as PEGRon said. Troubadour in the Fantasy Companion uses Performance for example.

            I say go for it if it works for your setting!
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            • #7
              The big thing you're going to want to avoid is having a really important skill in the setting also be an Arcane Background skill. So nix Athletics, Fighting, Notice, Shooting, Stealth, and Persuasion right off the bat. Just about any Savage setting is going to see too much common use of those skills for them to be very appropriate to ALSO function as the controlling skill for an Arcane Background.

              After that, it gets fuzzier. Occult definitely works for a ritual magic skill, as ETU proves. Performance can be used for bards, since that doesn't do much, mechanically speaking. I could see Battle for a leadership-type AB to replicate the Marshal or Warlord from D&D. Taunt might make for an interesting jester-focused AB. If all the technical stuff in your setting was Weird, you could roll Repair, Electronics, and Weird Science together in one skill - I did that for my Fallout game and called it just Tech. Hacking might be neat for a techno-wizard's arcane skill.

              The thing you'll want to avoid is making it a no-brainer to take that AB. If you make Fighting also an arcane skill, then all warrior-types are going to consider it too obvious and too good to take that AB, since they get a ton for that one Edge slot since they don't have to invest in another skill.


              • #8
                These are all good answers, thank you! It seems like the best way to do this (if I would do it) would be to use knowledge skills and lesser used skills like Performance, which incidentally makes these usually somewhat peripheral skills more interesting investments.