Strengths and Weaknesses
Examination of the so-called “arts and literature” of Vanth (sculpture, philosophies, sacred writings, postcards, illustrated narratives, advertising leaflets, plays, oral poetry, cave paintings, etc.) reveals much about the range of Vanthian psycho-cultural perspectives. Though each culture puts different emphases on these values, almost all (73% +/- 13) recognize some form of the following as positive “heroic” qualities or virtues, and decry the lack of same. Likewise, the negative presence of these “unheroic” qualities is often noteworthy, and are likewise examined.
Cultural Vanthropologists have assigned the following labels to these categories.
Adaptable: In a world as diverse of environment, culture, and intelligent species as Vanth, inability to cope with factors such as local culture, biology, and climate can lead to wilderness survival mishaps, embarrassing diplomatic faux-pas, guerilla wedding ceremonies, inadvertently noshing on metabolically-incompatible substances, and – even worse death!
Unworldly: Uncomfortable with unfamiliar situations. The notoriously-isolationist Hoblings are proud of this trait, and regard those who do not share it (even their own kind) as dangerous – sometimes with fatal results to unwanted interlopers and “adventuresome” Hoblings.
Dexterity: Cultures that live by the sword (bronze, steel, or phasic) as well as advanced, starfaring ones emphasize the vital importance of athletic prowess, swift reaction time, and superior reflexes. The Amazons, famed archers and hunters, and the slithery, slippery Lizard Men, are both somewhat noted for their superiority in this regard.
Lumbering or clumsy: large and clumsy, though not necessarily physically strong. Klingons and especially Frankensteins are depicted as such, though not to their faces. No known race regards physical discoordination as a sought-after quality, though quite a few species and individuals possess this.
ESP: More than a “sixth sense”, this is the province of psychics, force-warriors, spoon-benders, mind-benders, politicians, advertisers, and scanners. Frankensteins are surprisingly immune to psychic powers and possess none of their own. Moderate “talent” is often found in Lizard Men and Planetary Apes, but Vulkins are considered to be somewhat advanced telepathic race (explaining how such a cold and standoffish race can build an interstellar empire).
Psi-blind or “Skeptic”: those who cannot easily perceive psychic powers may be somewhat immune to their influence, and regard others as overly-credulous. It may in fact be true that lack of a developed “psi-lobe” or the generation of “negative-energy” by true unbelievers may be a shield against some frequencies of psionic energy. (Reports persist of an early pioneering astronaut who was able to successfully “disbelieve” in a projected illusion, although others have fared less well using this technique).
Intellect: Often exhibited by culture heroes who solve crimes, confront evil mind-benders, rough-and-tumble academics, as well as those which value the creation and retention of knowledge (the fabled, ancient Library-Kings, for example). The Elves (who possess brains as well as beauty) and their Interstellar counterparts, the Vulkins (who schemed and plotted their way into interstellar domination), exemplify this quality. Wookies are notorious for their disdain of “book-larnin’”, and Frankensteins are physiologically ill-equipped for cogitation. Beings who are intellectually superior tend tend to lag behind in physical development.
Leadership: The quality shared by gruff, oath-spewing generals, patriotic superheroes, genetically-augmented warlords, and notorious doxies: people stand up and notice them. Heads turn and jaws drop when they enter the room, and people leap to obey (whether from force of personality, animal magnetism, convincing oratory, or seductive wiles). Races which exemplify comeliness, such as Amazons and Elves, are naturally-endowed Leaders; others fall short in this regard. Nobody takes the diminutive, reclusive Hoblings seriously; Frankensteins are too slow, bumbling, and grotesque; Klengons too brutal and speciesist; lizard men too alien; Planetary Apes too outré; RoboDroids too passive and servile; Vulkins too cold-blooded and standoffish.
Luck: Similar to a cosmic “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, this is the attribute of those who dare all and yet prosper, as well as those who live seemingly charmed lives (such as Hoblings). Races which lack spontaneity (Elves, Dwarves, and Vulkins notoriously) are averse to risk-taking, and so “pick up the tab” for those who are more fortunate. Along with their other shortcomings, Frankensteins personify what Science refers to as “negatively-skewed happenstance vortices”. Or, colloquially, “bad luck magnets”.
Magic Power: Once conflated with ESP and Psionics, the (super)nature of “magic” has not been adequately explored or explained by Science. However, overwhelming anecdotal evidence of non-scientific forces, such as acausal prognostication, matter transmutation, local probability bias, and instantaneous entity translocations cannot be convincingly dismissed as mass-hallucination. Individuals and races strong in this characteristic tend to have mutually-beneficial relationships with the so-called “monster” races. Elves, with their strong ties to the natural world, and the passionate Klengons, with their affinity for terror and cruelty, show exceptional talent at this skillset. Other races show distinct disadvantages in this area. Amazon culture emphasizes distrust of those who traffic with “foul” demons and “unclean” spirits; Dwarves prefer the tangible to the intangible; and Planetary Apes have a distinct scientific bias, as do RoboDroids and Vulkins.
Robot Nature: Often characterized as “aloof”, “self-disciplined”, “unemotional”, “unwilling to break the rules”, and “machine-like”, persons with these qualities are good with machines but bad with people. Despite the nomenclature, however, RoboDroids are merely the most obvious example of this quality; Vulkins and Frankensteins are famous for it as well, as are the ever-traditional Elves, Hoblings, Klengons, and Wookies. Many menials and servants who regularly perform unpleasant tasks in the background exhibit this nature. (Amazons value individuality too much.)
Strength: Highly valued by many cultures as a measure of physical fitness and martial prowess. Over-development of the physique has a detrimental impact upon mental development, and analysis of anecdotal evidence indicates a higher degree of death by misadventure amongst such beings. The savage lifestyles of the Amazons, Wookies, Lizard Men, and Klengons, tend to weed out weaker individuals so that the strong predominate. On the other hand, evolution may have produced the stocky and materialistic Dwarves and the bestial Planetary Apes, but played no part in the physically-robust Frankenstein constructs (one of their few so-called positive traits). Because of their diminutive stature, Hobling culture prefers to avoid brute-force solutions. Willowy Elves, though excellent archers, are more suited to the natural, the supernatural, and the mental than the mundane.
Frail or *Delicate: Typically associated with those short of stature or thin and fragile. The wistful Elves regard this as a virtue, while the Hoblings just pretend that everyone else is a lumbering giant who is better left alone.
Encounter Critical attempts to quantify physical and mental abilities to determine the character’s strengths and weaknesses in order to determine their effect on various activities in game play. All characters have a statistical rating in Adaptation, Dexterity, ESP, Intellect, Leadership, Luck, Magic Power, Robot Nature, and Strength. Since Risus does not have fixed characteristics, I decided that there were a couple of different ways to approach this issue.
One way is to incorporate the characteristic into a relevant cliche. A character with notable strength can be described as a “Muscular Hobling Pit-Fighter”, for example. Some occupations or races also imply strength, such as Planetary Apes, Wookys, Pugilists, and Anvil-Jugglers. Others imply a lack of strength, such as Hoblings and Elves and The Scholarly Kind of Monk.
Another way is to use the Questing Dice optional rule rule (Risus Companion, p. ). Questing Dice can be used with any of the character’s cliche, but only for a narrow range of activities. In the EC rules, Adaptation (for example) is your ability to deal with the unusual of unfamiliar; it is useful for “fitting in”, whether that applies to camping, interacting with alien cultures, avoiding hostlie situations, or escaping notice. Another “stat”, Robot Nature, affects the character’s ability to perform tedious or distasteful functions dispassionately (manual labor, guard duty, assassinating a close friend), arrive at a conclusion based on induction and deduction, and understand the nature and purpose of machines, including robodroids (but who seem to “turn people off”).
Amazingly, you can also use this same technique with abilities that the character is weak in. Think of the usefulness of a character that stick out like a sore thumb, provoke confrontations, wander off the beaten path, unwittingly break the native taboos, and can’t see what’s right under his nose? Similarly, there must be plenty of opportunities that can’t reason their way out of a paper bag, who have a low threshold of boredom, have a short attention span, and always break the copier.