Deviations - On Skills and Background Experience

Some have expressed that in Sigil & Shadow, the -20% penalty to Untrained skills comes off as punishing for starting characters, especially when most only start trained in a couple skills.

A refresher: In Sigil & Shadow, there’s only four Ability scores (STR, DEX, LOG and WIL) and 10 broad skills: Arcana, Combat, Investigation, Larceny, Medicine, Mysticism, Social, Survival, and Technical. These are rated in levels of training from 0-5, with each level granting a +10% bonus to an Ability score used in a roll. Being Untrained” in a skill entails a -20% penalty.

It’s a fair complaint — although, I would argue that with Ability scores starting around ~50% (and potentially as high as 75%) that the penalty isn’t that bad. The original systems I based S&S off of would actually cut your scores in half for the base skill levels. And often in other percentile systems, I’ve seen quite my fair share of starting skills in the 35% range. Anyway, I digress.

There are already ways to offset this in the core rules — To start, on page 59 there are Difficulty Modifiers (including the super simple ad-hoc modifiers!). I also try to remind Guides that not every action requires skill training, and common actions can be handled as straight Ability checks. If a character has no immediate complications, they can also take their time on tasks (pg. 62) to automatically succeed, albeit slowly.

Background Experience

If your group is still yearning for a broader range of experience in their starting characters, this solution is pretty simple, without having to adjust or house rule anything different when it comes to character creation.

Treat the character’s Background like a Descriptor, in such that on rolls that can relate to the character’s life experience gains a +10% modifier to their success value.

This will soften the untrained” status of a character by effectively cutting it in half. It makes sense that a traffic cop with a Law Enforcement background would have some experience investigating a scene for clues, or that a Blue Collar character would have some inclination towards repair or handy work with machinery. And much like a character descriptor, the Guide may allow a character to spend a Bone to roll with Advantage on actions or tasks that relate to their background.

When using this option, try not to tie Backgrounds to specific skills so much as situations — going back to our traffic cop as an example, their player may make a case for an ad-hoc bonus on a Social roll that entails talking to witnesses to gather information. But using their experience as a police officer to bump elbows at high society dinners or persuade an antique dealer to cut them a deal would be pushing it.

Alternate Approach:

I’m aware some folks don’t really use the Descriptors much in play past establishing a fact about the character. Another way to use Backgrounds is to simply rate it equal to your lowest Ability score. If you don’t have a skill needed for a roll, you can default to your Background experience as long it relates to the action at hand. This score can never be raised, even if you improve your lowest Ability.

Thematic Skill Training

Another solution is to just hand out free skill training for the type of stuff that fits the theme of the campaign. Are you running a zombie apocalypse with lots of hack’n’slashing? Give everyone Combat training for free. Running a group of players who are all members of a coven of occultists? Give free training in Arcana.

Another way to do this would be for the Guide to determine the skill sets that are most important to the style of campaign they want to run, and offer a list for players to choose one free skill training in. It could even be taken a step further: the list is a pool” and once one player takes a free skill, it’s crossed off and the rest of the players will need to spend their own skill training to learn it.

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