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CPA: Skill Checks

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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.

Roll When It's Interesting

When the potential consequences of both success and failure are interesting, or when conditions are stressed, risky, 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:

  1. The player says what they intend to do.
  2. The GM might say this calls for a roll, and explains the difficulty and stakes.
  3. The player rolls 2d8 + skill.
    • In some cases 2d10, 1d20, or other sized dice may be used.
  4. After comparing the result to the difficulty, the GM improvises and explains what happens.
  5. The result of the roll should change the situation in an interesting way, as much as possible.
    • A result of "Nothing happens" should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

Skill Check Procedure

  1. Declare Intent:

    One active player declares an intended action with an intended approach to this action. Examples:
    1. "I want to jump off the ground all the way to the moon."
    2. "Officer Jones wants to use her laser cutter to try to open the hatch on the crashed vehicle."
    3. "I want to try to intimidate the club's security guard with my strength."
    4. "Jim wants to try to get the giant squid to calm down so it doesn't bite him."
  2. Clarify Approach:

  3. 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.
    1. "Are you just trying to jump normally or with telekinesis?
    2. "How are you intimidiating the guard exactly? Bending or breaking some object, threatening him, shoving him, shouting at him, or something else?
    3. "Are you trying to carefully cut open the door so that it can be repaired later, or just burn through as fast as possible?"
    4. "Are you trying to calm the squid by offering it food, or by hiding yourself or pretending to be a rock, or something else?"

  4. Set Stakes and Difficulty:

    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:
    1. "No, you cannot jump to the moon without some ultra-tech ion boots, or max-level telekinesis, or something similar."
    2. "Sure, you can roll Brawl or Athletics to try to intimidate the guard by crushing his hand. Difficulty...14. You're risking drawing a lot of negative attention if this doesn't work smoothly."
    3. "Since you've worked with these tools in your background, the water is shallow and calm, and you're not under pressure right now, no need to roll. You easily and cleanly cut off the hatch with your welding tools, though it drains the battery 50%."
    4. "You are 2000 meters under an ocean of liquid methane, with a damaged diving suit, level two exhaustion, and you want to try to offer a snack to this giant monster? Roll Animals with disadvantage, TN 20, and it's likely you'll be bitten on a failure."
  5. Helping:

  6. The game already assumes that everyone who wants to help the active player does. If you want to aid more directly, look into the leadership skill and the athletics focus.
  7. Roll:

  8. The acting player rolls two dice, usually 2d8, and adds their relevant Skill Level and any other modifiers.
  9. Result:

    Based on the result, and the context, the GM improvises and explains the result along these degrees of success: The following are the general categories of results on skill checks:

    Type Numeric Outcome
    Critical Success 6+ units higher than TN, or, max #s on both dice. The player achieves their goal in a heroic way--that is, with a major bonus. If not possible, then they achieve far more than the average person could.
    Success Result is equal to or +1-5 points higher than TN The player generally achieves their intent as is reasonable.
    Cost Result is 1-3 points less than TN: The player either only partially achieves the intent, or may achieve it but at a cost. The GM should often give them a choice of costs or choice of partial successes.
    Failure Result is 4- units lower than TN The situation changes and this approach becomes impossible.
    • Merciful GMs may choose to allow partial success at a heavy cost.
    Critical Failure Critical Failure! 6 units lower than target, or two 1's on your dice Regardless of the sum total, this attempt ends in disaster, dramatically changing the situation.
    Examples:
    1. "You rolled a 13 athletics...Ok, you're able to jump, grab the edge of the roof, and climb up."
    2. "Wow! You rolled a crit! The guy yelps in pain and jumps back, dropping his ID card on the floor at your feet. The other patrons laugh at him--apparently they like your style."
    3. "It's not easy to use a welding torch underwater during 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."
    4. "With merely a 10 on your animals roll, this isn't looking good. The squid is rapidly approaching, and you have a terrible headache. 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?"
  10. 7. But remember, you are a mere mortal among perilous cosmic forces.

To help with improvisation when players roll high or low, the following are examples of common bonuses and costs. You might add one bonus for an above-average check or two for a critical success. You might add one or two costs for a struggle, or give the struggling player a choice of costs.
Element Bonus Cost
Resources
  • 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.
Time You find that the only problem with the motor is a mummified rat. Removing it only takes a minute, and then the engine runs quite smoothly. Your hacking script keeps hitting errors as the time of the parade approaches. You'll only have time to identify the terrorists' disguises or one of their names before the event begins, which is higher priority for you?
Damage You are energized by your success, healing 1 health point. You are mentally exhausted by the work, and you'll have disadvantage to do any further demanding tasks during the day.
Items
  • 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.
Context
  • 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.

Below are common skill Target Numbers (TNs) for standard difficulty levels. Principles to note:

Target Number (TN): Description
Automatic No roll is required for skilled players to perform basic tasks: Driving down a safe street, finding public service information, asking for extra pillows at a hotel.
10 Basic risks: distracting a lazy policeman, fighting a goblin or rabid dog, climbing an icy snowbank, tying up a prisoner securely.
12 Professional assignments: Negotiating a discount on a purchase, repairing a damaged engine, fighting off a bandit, descending a short cliff.
14 Advanced projects: Diving in a shallow sea cave, embedding a gem into armor, negotiating a mining contract, fighting an ogre or security robot.
16 Expert Feats: daring vehicle jumps, crafting a sword from demon bones, out-shooting an assault robot, leaping across rooftops.
18 Expert Ambitions: Fighting a dragon, tricking a crime lord to confess, sneaking into a palace, deciphering an alien computer system.
20 Cosmic Peril: Dealing with extradimensional horrors, magically turning back time, navigating a hyperspace storm, calming an angry god.
Impossible 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:
  1. 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 punishing costs or unintended consequences even on a success roll.
    • This is because magic originates in other dimensions that mortals can never fully understand.
    • Wearing medium or heavy armor is disadvantageous to spellcasting.

  2. When you have a cost or fail in casting a spell, the situation is changed, even for seemingly mild magic.
    • Costs might make you unable to try the spell for an hour, drain your energy or health, be less effective, make future spells more difficult, or alert enemies magically.
    • On a failure, the spell may turn against you, cause your wand to explode, become useless for a day, cause you to bleed profusely, or far worse.
    • Countless different complications are possible, and the play-group should try to always keep it unique and interesting, this keeps magic feeling mysterious. Check the table below for more ideas.

  3. 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 Pyromancy, 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 4 hours 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.
  4. 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.).

  5. 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.

  6. Some ongoing spells require maintenance of concentration.
    • The typical caster has a maximum concentration of 1.
    • If subjected to any distraction during concentration, 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.

  7. 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.
    • Rituals require a spacious, clean, quiet and safe workspace. If disrupted, a ritual will automatically fail in most cases.
  8. 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
1 1 10 +1: 56% +8: 100%
2 2 12 +2: 44% +8: 95%
3 3 14 +3: 33% +8: 84%
4 4 16 +4: 23% +8: 67%
5 5 18 +5: 16% +8: 44%
6 6 20 +6: 9% +8: 23%

1d20 Suggested Spell Costs and Miscasts

1-10 Result 11-20 Result
1 The spell affects an undesired target. 11 The spell causes intense and long-lasting pollution to the local area.
2 The EP cost is increased. 12 The spell is put on cooldown for a period of time (cannot be cast).
3 The spell is overly strong and uncontrolled, dangerous to the party and environment. 13 The caster's future spells are all increased in difficulty by +2 for a time.
4 The caster's HP is harmed by the casting. 14 The spell adds exhaustion to the caster.
5 The spell has an undesired effect, different from the intention. 15 The spell has the opposite of the intended effect.
6 The local environment is desecrated by unbound magic. 16 A portal to a dimension thematically related to the spell is briefly torn open.
7 Enemies are magically alerted to your presence. 17 An invisible demon enters the caster via the spell and causes bad things to happen around them until detected and exorcised.
8 The spell gains a mind of its own. 18 The spell causes this roof or building to collapse, causing damage and blocking progress.
9 The spell mutates someone, temporariliy or permanently. 19 The spell creates a clone or opposite twin of an ally or enemy.
10 The spell invites a demon, horror or extradimensional infestation to this area. 20 The spell empowers an enemy or weakens an ally.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. Log in.

    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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Skill Level Crafting Items Science Items TN for basic success Typical base time for basic success
1 Basic bows, leather or kevlar armor, rope tying skills, knives, arrows, spears, simple tools Anti-toxin drugs, disinfectant, soap, distillation of flammable oil or alcohol 10 1 hour
2 Crossbows, bolts or pistol bullets, throwing knives/axes, chain or ceramic insert armor, simple electronics such as timers and alarms, dinghies, simple weapon +1 damage or accuracy modifications 1d4 healing and mana drugs, small acid or fire bombs, smoke and napalm bombs 12 3 hours
3 Large-clip crossbows, ballistas, handguns, rifle and sniper bullets, extraordinary swords, unpowered carts, small sailboats, weapon effect modifications 1d8 healing and mana drugs, medium acid or fire or freeze bombs, small batteries, cures for paralysis, blindness, disease, etc 14 6 hours
4 Long guns, heavy weapon ammunition, elemental weapon modifications, small powered ground vehicles, hang-gliders 3d4 healing and mana drugs, large acid/fire/freeze/EMP bombs, power cells, minor temporary mutagens 16 12 hours
5 Magical runic swords and bows, heavy cannons, all possible weapon modifications (GM's discretion), construct all ground vehicles, air/water/space vehicle repairs 4d4 healing and mana drugs, large aerial bombs of any type with city-block explosions, major temporary mutagens 18 1 week
6 Legendary weapons, special ammunition, construct any vehicle, experimental magi-tech Healing and mana elixirs, weapons of mass destruction, permanent mutagens, experimental mad science that is effectively arcane 20 2 months, but varies