In CPA, characters have skills which are attributes that symbolize their knowledge and ability with a certain vocation, craft, trade, field of study, or school of magic.
Skilled characters are competent.
They are able to accomplish non-risky tasks commensurate with their skill level under safe and relaxed conditions, without any roll needed.
Actions which can be done safely without a roll in unpressured time, commensurate with skill level, include:
searching business documents for irregularities
Assembling a machine from appropriate parts with available instructions in a safe and unhurried place
sketching an illustration
learning a new spoken language or programming language
searching a room for evidence
Roll When It's Risky
When actions are risky, or when conditions are stressed, dangerous, or pressured, the GM may call for the player to roll dice to make a skill check to see roughly how well that task goes.
The basic concept of a skill roll is, when called, to roll 2d8 + your skill level to try to achieve an intent. Examples include:
Rolling Crafting to repair a broken car in a toxic wasteland
Rolling Stealth to sneak by a watchman
Rolling Chronomancy to try to turn back time
Rolling Dodge to try to jump away from an exploding bomb
Rolling Science to distill a potentially dangerous drug or poison
Skill Check Procedure
One active player declares an intended action with an intended approach to this action. Examples:
"I want to jump off the ground all the way to the moon."
"I want to try to use my laser cutter to open the hatch on the crashed vehicle."
"I want to try to intimidate the club's security guard with my strength."
"I want to try to get the giant squid to calm down so it doesn't bite me."
The GM may ask the player to add more details of exactly how they are approaching the action, in order to help contextualize the potential risks and rewards.
"How are you intimidiating the guard exactly? Bending or breaking some object, threatening him, shoving him, shouting at him, or something else?
"Are you trying to carefully cut open the door so that it can be repaired later, or just blast through as fast as possible?"
"Are you trying to calm the squid by offering it food, or by hiding yourself or pretending to be a rock, or something else?"
The GM improvises and declares whether or not a roll is needed for this intended attempt, what that roll can be, what the player is risking, and what the target number is. Examples:
"No, you cannot jump to the moon without some ultra-tech ion boots or something similar."
"Since you've worked with these tools in your background and you're not under pressure right now, no need to roll. You easily and cleanly cut off the hatch with your welding tools."
"Sure, you can roll Brawl or Athletics to try to intimidate the guard by crushing his hand. Difficulty...12. If he's stronger than you, failure could start a fight."
"You are 2000 meters under an ocean of gelatin, with a damaged diving suit, two levels of exhaustion, and you want to try to offer a snack to the giant alien squid? Roll Animals with 4d8 keep lowest 2 + skill, TN 18, and it's likely you'll be bitten on a failure."
The game already assumes that everyone who wants to help the active player does. If you want to add +1 to an ally's roll, look into the Leadership skill and Commander talent.
The acting player rolls two dice, usually 2d8, and adds their total plus the relevant Skill Level and any other modifiers.
If the player does not posess the skill at least level 1, then a -2 penalty modifier is applied to the roll.
Some talents and other features may modify a skill check roll in a way other than simply adding to the result.
If a feature says to increase or decrease the die size, change the size of the dice you roll along the following path: d4 < d6 < d8 < d10 < d12
If a feature says to add an advantage die, then you roll 3 dice and take the highest 2. This can stack, i.e., rolling 4 and taking the highest 2, or net with disadvantage.
If a feature says you have a disadvantage die, then you roll 3 dice and take the lowest 2. This can stack, i.e., rolling 4 and taking the lowest 2, or net with advantage.
Some talents may allow you to roll other dice for your skill check roll. For example, the 'Sorceror' talent allows you the choice to roll 1d20 instead of 2d8 for your casting check.
Common sources of these features include talents, exhaustion, bad weather, particularly effective approaches, divine disfavor, cursed grounds, etc.
Based on the result, and considering possible degrees of success, bonuses and complications, the GM explains the result. Examples:
"You rolled a 13 athletics...Ok, you jumped to grab the edge of the house and can climb up."
"It's not easy to use a welding torch in a hurricane. You cut halfway through the door over 30 minutes but your battery dies. You guys will have to try something else to get this door open."
"Wow! You rolled a crit! The guy yelps in pain and jumps back, dropping his ID card on the floor at your feet."
"You only rolled a 13 to dodge the missile, not ideal. It flies faster than you expect and you're left with a difficult choice. Do you dive down the slope into the darkness, or try to dodge the other way, taking 1 damage from the fall and 4d6 from shrapnel?"
"With merely a 10 on your animals roll, this isn't looking good. You have a terrible headache and the pressure is getting extremely painful. You think the squid might be distracted if you threw a signal flare, but it might cause an implosion if you do. Do you want to try it, or simply run away?"
Degrees of Success
The following are the general categories of results on skill checks:
Critical Success! Result is 6+ units higher than TN.
The player achieves their goal in a heroic way--that is, with a major bonus.
Significant Success, TN+2 < Result < TN+6
The player achieves their intent and gets a minor helpful bonus effect.
Success, result is equal to or 1-2 points higher than TN
The player generally achieves their intent as is reasonable.
Near Miss, result is 1 or 2 less than TN:
The player either only partially achieves the intent, or may achieve it but at a cost or penalty.
Failure, result << TN
The player cannot achieve the intent with this approach, and receives a penalty. They cannot retry this approach because the situation is changed.
Critical Failure! Two 1's on your dice
Regardless of the sum total, this attempt ends in disaster, dramatically changing the situation. The intent is not achieved at all, the situation worsens significantly, and the player receives 1 XP immediately.
Bonuses and Costs
The following are examples of common bonuses and complications. You might add one bonus for an above-average check or two for a critical success. You might add one cost for a near miss or three for a disastrous failure.
You feel the gentle arms of the angel guiding your mind, and you can cast this spell either with an SP cost discount or with the benefit of healing 2 health points.
By taking advantage of a nearby gravity wave, you're able to save 2 hyperium rods and increase the speed of your trip through hyperspace to the Centauri system.
You're able to find the key vulnerabilities of this structure and you can demolish it by using only 1-kg package of plastic explosives instead of the 4kg that was expected.
You fall while attempting to climb the cliff. Your choice is either to hit the ledge for a hard 2d6 damage, or push off and hope that there is nothing bad in the dark waters below.
While the jump to hyperspace goes smoothly, a sudden gravity wave slams into your vessel, overloading the hyperdrive. You have a split-second to decide whether to jettison the fuel or hope you can survive its explosion.
While attempting to make a 180 degree drift-turn to avoid the cops, the rubber on your truck's back left tire rips off completely, severely decreasing your speed.
The task is much quicker than expected.
The task takes far longer than expected.
You are energized by your success, healing 1 health point.
You accidentally injure yourself in your attempt, losing 1d4 health points, to a minimum of 1.
You discover a useful item while accomplishing the task.
The merchant is so charmed by you that he insists on giving you a free gift, an ancient token of his people.
While working on the task, your tool's battery explodes due to a manufacturing fault, destroying the tool, your materials, and hurting you.
While accomplishing the task, a crowd of curious, friendly creatures assembles to watch.
The CEO is so impressed with your style that she insists on showing you her private collections before admitting you to the party.
You're able to not only disable the robot's hostile mode but it now regards you as a vistor who should be served with reasonable accomodations.
You accidentally raise the alarm and are locked out of the computer system.
As you take too much time due to mistakes, you hear the beating of massive wings in the darkness above you.
You lose control of the spell, and you can either release it with way too much power or strain yourself for HP damage to keep it under control.
Finally, remember that circumstances are unpredictable and unknowable. Special circumstances could cause changes in difficulty, problems even on a high success, or simply rolling a skill might not be an option when dealing with perilous cosmic anomalies.
Below are common skill Target Numbers (TNs or DCs) for standard difficulty levels. A range of difficulties exist to support a world where players can go from ordinary to heroic skills.
Target Number (TN):
No roll is required for skilled players to perform basic tasks, normal professional duties or operate common machines for which they are trained. This may also apply to skill checks which cannot fail numerically.
Simple tasks that aren't guaranteed, such persuading a friend to help move furniture, shooting a glass bottle on a shelf, or running through a dark room without tripping.
Basic professional challenge such as shooting a moving target, successfully negotiating a deal, repairing a damaged engine, or climbing a short rock wall.
An achievement, such as safely landing a seaplane in water, or embedding a magical rune into armor, negotiating exclusive mining rights for a valuable planet, or a long jump from one rooftop to another.
A feat that a normal person could not achieve safely, such as performing a daring vehicle jump, crafting a sword from demon bones, out-shooting an assault robot, or climbing a rough stone wall by hand.
The ambition of an expert. Fighting a dragon, extracting a confession from a career criminal, sneaking into a heavily guarded palace, or deciphering an alien computer system.
Tasks for which even an expert will pay dearly for success. Fighting a cosmic horror, magically turning back time, suplexing a battlemech, attempting to reform a hardened psychopath.
Don't roll to attempt impossible tasks. Examples include magic for which you are unskilled, or actions for which you cannot meet the target number; these are not possible.
Casting magic and psionic spells is similar to a normal skill check, but with the following differences:
Casting is always dangerous and rolls cannot be skipped.
Level 4, 5, and 6 spells are increasingly exponentially dangerous. High level spells are fair game for a variety of costs even on a success.
This is because magic originates in other dimensions that mortals can never fully understand.
Wearing medium or heavy armor is disadvantageous to spellcasting.
To cast, a caster must spend Energy Points (EP) commensurate to the spell's level regardless of outcome.
Usually, maximum Energy Points = 5 + your total arcane skill levels. For example, if you have level 3 in Teleportation and level 4 in Necromancy, you would have 5 + 3 + 4 = 12 Energy Points maximum.
All casters can regenerate Energy Points at a base rate of 1 per 4 hours of meditation or rest. Casters who have levels in the Meditation skill can regenerate Energy Points equal to their skill level in Meditation per hour of meditation or rest.
Particularly successful or unsuccessful castings may provide Energy Point discounts or surcharges.
If you have no EP, then you can spend your HP as EP, but at a 4x premium -- for example, casting a level 2 spell would cost 8 HP.
There may be other ways to refresh Energy Points as well, notably via mana potions, or making pacts with powerful spirits. Explore and discover.
Spells can only be attempted by people with arcane skills.
Only those with "the gift" and years of formal arcane training may attempt spells.
A small minority of people posess "the gift" and may be aware or unaware of it. They can be identified with use of the Metaphysics skill.
People who have "the gift" but are not formally trained risk permanent brain damage or violent extradimensional posession by attempting to cast.
People with one or more Arcane Focus Skills are considered to have both the gift AND years of formal training. They mitigate dangerous casting outcomes to a more reasonable level (Specifically, when casting low-level spells.).
Casting magic requires a visible sign.
This could be pointing or hand gestures, brandishing of a staff or wand, a flash of glowing light from the eyes, or some other visually obvious sign.
By default, it is an obvious 1-handed gesture, arm held straight out and palm extended towards the target area. This can't be done while the caster is restrained.
Some ongoing spells require maintenance of concentration.
The typical caster has a maximum concentration of 1.
If subjected to any distraction during concentration such as taking damage or vehicle turbulence, a binary Meditation check must be rolled immediately vs. the enemy's attack TN.
If the check is failed by any amount, all active concentrations are dropped immediately.
The caster must be conscious to maintain concentration.
Concentration may also be occupied by non-magical activities such as computer programming, vehicle piloting, intense athletics, etc
You can end one or more concentrations at any time with no action cost.
All spells can be cast as rituals, but some spells have a minimum ritual requirement.
Ritual means that the casting involves a significant amount of time as well as some combination of physical movements and spoken words, chanting.
Rituals require a clean, quiet and safe workspace. If disrupted, a ritual will automatically fail in most cases.
The success chance of all spells, shown below, may sometimes be improved with direct performance of art or music, sacrifice of high value, promises to or favors from spirits, the aid of other casters, and other factors.
Arcane Spell Levels
Energy Point Cost
Casting Target Number
Chance for success with +X
Chance for success with +8
Spell Failure Costs
The spell affects an undesired target.
The EP cost is doubled.
The spell is overly strong and uncontrolled, dangerous to the party.
The caster's HP is harmed by the casting.
The spell has an undesired effect, different from the intention.
The local environment is desecrated by unbound magic.
Like the rest of the system, hacking in CPA is handled in a simple and low-power way, with improvisation used for finer details.
To hack a system, you must do the following:
Find a local sub-network terminal.
Typically, the following systems are divided into separate networks, which will need to be hacked separately and locally:
Security // Maintenance // Engineering // Robots // Operations // Personnel // Life Support // Central AI // Database etc.
You must find a local terminal, ON THE SITE of your goal; in the future, electronic security protocols are highly developed and easily shut down most cross-internet cracking attempts.
This usually requires credentials, an access card, or a 20-minute crack attempt with a hard-wired or hot-wired connection vs the system TN.
As an example, to open a certain locked auto-door, you could steal an officer access card, hack the central security processor, steal a worker access card and reprogram it, or hot-wire your rig to the door lock with Crafting and try to crack that.
Some systems may have layers of access. For example, you may have the dictator's control room passcode but there may be a separate override key-code for the automated killbots or missile silo launch codes.
If your attempt fails, you may get feedback damage, your equipment fried, your data lost, raise the alarm level, hard-lock the terminal, raise all TNs for this area, or trigger traps.
Use normal system functions. With unfettered access to a system, you can perform normal functions at this point, with a TN of 0-20 based on the simplicity of the interface.
For example, if you have full access to the maintenance system, and it is simple to use, you could shut off the lights or redirect ventilation in the officers' room with one click.
But if you wanted to reprogam the replicators to make bullets instead of candy bars, that would require a hack.
Some actions with unlocked computers may use other skills: social skills for chats, investigate for obscure data, crafting for CAD/CAM and fabricators, etc
Adventurers are often breaking into secure areas; for this reason the central security computer is often a hacker's main target. Once down, the enemy cannot confidently rely on patrol bots but may still have a few emergency backup auto-defense systems that are self-powered.
If you intend to destroy or alter the system:
Prepare to make a Computers check. Declare the intent of your hack, spend 60 minutes of in-game time to work on it, and roll Computers skill vs the system TN.
Destroying or altering a system might include actions such as:
Completely shutting down a self-checking security network
Corrupting or un-braking an AI persona core
Reprogramming an automated factory's work order flow system from one faction to another
Inserting a virus that fries all data in an office building
System TNs vary from 10-20 from obsolete models to corporate security to self-checking divine AIs.
Modifiers can be applied to your roll:
Trying to complete the job faster increases TN significantly.
Earthquakes, bombardment, or other distractions increase TN significantly and may prompt meditation checks to stay focused.
Trying to hack via a remote controlled drone increases TN due to packet loss and interference.
Using powerful virus software can reduce your TN but is generally a one-time consumable use as adaptive systems learn from it.
Similar to other skills, the effect or magnitude of your success or failure will determine the consequences.
High successes allow a greater effect, a longer safe time, etc.
Near misses allow an extremely short time window for the hack or allow it but raise the alarm level (i.e., from yellow to orange alert).
Failures may give you feedback damage, fry your equipment, raise a high alert, lock out your terminal, raise all TNs for the area, or trigger more traps to activate.
Like the rest of the system, crafting & science in CPA is handled in a simple and low-power way, leaning on improvisation.
The two main crafting actions are to build or repair items. In both cases, your skill check result will affect how fast and/or how well you produce results.
Similar to spells and hacking, the greater your ambition (higher TN), the greater risk you have on a subpar roll. Near-miss rolls may give you a choice of costs or a success with a complication.
If you really want to ensure that something is properly crafted, ask the GM if you can take extra time and/or ingredients to ensure a success without a roll that is commensurate to your skill level.
Keep in mind that both crafting and brewing require the necessary ingredients, tools, and workspace.
Electricity, engines and gun technology is not learned via this skill, but is learned via in-game events, if at all. The GM may ban those things from a setting, but all settings should include drinkable/injectable potions and throwable bombs. For example:
Fantasy settings generally do not allow guns, electric power plants or combustion engines to preserve a theme and feel.
Modern or Hard sci-fi settings allow those things but do not allow faster-than-light (FTL) engines, to preserve a realistic technology feel, while soft sci-fi usually allows FTL.
Settings that bridge genres (sci-fantasy, or hard sci-fi into soft sci-fi) will allow players to craft those things only once they acquire blueprints for them.
The ultimate success of all crafting attempts always depends upon four factors: