Abilities are the part of the character that make he or she unique, representing either special powers beyond the grasp of the average person, advanced or specialized weaponry, or even just the benefits of extreme training. While not all character’s need abilities, for many characters in most settings, the abilities are the most memorable or important part.
Like the rest of VERS, the abilities are generic. Generic means that abilities such as a damaging effect are not associated with how the attack harms the target, merely that they are and by how much. A fireball spell, an energy-powered punch, and a laser beam are all created with that same components. In this way, the same ability write-up could be recycled from character to character, just by changing the window dressing.
In many ways the ability sub-system is particularly suited to superhero games in which free rein is given to characters to create any power they can imagine. For other genres it is typically preferable to have players select from pre-created abilities, or even abilities made without these building blocks and using some other pricing scheme. For more information on this process, see the Optional Rules section.
Abilities are not inherently tied to attributes because they are able to be used in so many different ways. When creating ability it should be tied to an attribute based on how the overall ability works. For instance, attack abilities or other abilities that target other should be based on power attributes, while defensive abilities should be based on resistance attributes. Anything else should be tied to a finesse attribute. A few abilities cannot be tied to an attribute, and will be noted in its description. The EV for abilities are equal to attribute + ability rank, while abilities that target others would roll finesse attribute + ability rank to determine the success of the attack, and power attribute + ability rank to determine EV.
The Ability Concept (or Ability Description) is the most important part of the ability to the player, it describes in plain english what both the player and character can expect from the ability. Examples would be:
“Searing heat and a faint ozone smell permeate the air as a bright flash of lightning strikes the foe from the caster’s hands. Deals damage equal to ranks to a single target.”
This example sets up both what the character needs to know (you shoot lightning bolts, they are hot, bright, and smell of ozone) and what the player needs to know (they come from the hands, they deal damage equal to the purchased ranks). When creating the ability we often refer to this as a concept and it helps us to build it. When the ability appears on a list to be chosen from it is generally referred to as an ability description.
Every ability has a Manifestation that tells what it looks, sounds, smells, tastes, or feels like. Most abilities will have multiple components to their manifestation because characters can sense them in a multitude of ways. However, every ability must have at least one manifestation. This manifestation should include one of the five major senses, but with GM discretion can include more esoteric senses like aura reading or sonar. Most ability concepts will spell out exactly what the manifestation looks like, many of them in the name of the ability itself. Most people have an idea of what a “fireball,” “lightning bolt,” or “angel wings” look like, after all.
If the manifestation describes what an ability looks like (or sounds like, etc), then a Property describes in broad terms how it interacts with the world around it. It is a shorthand way to describe how abilities should work together as well as interact with the characters and the environment. In other words a property is a natural characteristic or byproduct of and ability's manifestation. For instance, the property of “water” or “wet” would logically and naturally dictate that it would extinguish or suppress abilities with the property of “fire”. Properties also give an easy way to define groups of powers that share commonalities that other abilities can use as targets, such as a spell that prevents “evil” creatures from entering an area, anti-”magic” shackles, or a scanner that detects “mutants”.
In their essence, properties are a type of tag that tells everyone at the table what to expect when interacting with them. Fire is hot and makes light, gravity holds you down, and mutant abilities come from birth. These are all things that are true by definition. A GM shouldn’t require a player to purchase another ability to simulate the fact that an ice ability may also inflict frostbite, or a fire ability may catch something on fire. Properties should not define the primary purpose of an ability. If a clever player thinks to use their flaming sword spell as a torch, that is a great example of lateral thinking and should definitely not be penalized.
Finally, an ability can have as many or as few properties as it needs. In other words, if an advanced alien race came to earth and taught a character an alien style of martial arts that gives them super-heroic powers derived from the dream consciousness of their semi-divine ancient ancestors, their abilities could have any or all the following sources: Divine, Psychic, Alien, and Martial Arts. The following is a list of example properties, and as such is not exhaustive.
If you want to use that property to a specific, deliberate end, that would be an effect and you would need to build an ability with that effect. In certain circumstances, a character could use the property of an ability to create a one time effect with GM approval. A good example of this would be when you are planning to introduce a new ability to a character, or when it is dramatically appropriate to the scene/situation. However, to use the effect more than once, you would have to purchase the effect as an ability for the character.
- Fantasy: Air, Balance, Chaos, Decay, Earth, Energy, Evil, Fire, Good, Law, Life, Light, Magic, Physical, Plant, Shadow, Water
- Horror: Biological, Divine, Dreams, Infernal, Madness, Mysticism, Spirit
- Modern: Electricity, Magnetism, Radiation, Sound, Technology, Training
- Sci-Fi: Alien, Cosmic Energy, Gravity, Kinetic Energy, Mutant, Psionic, Time
Manifestations tell how an ability looks, and Properties tell where it comes from, but the Effect tells how it works, explaining in VERS mechanics what the user has to do to use the ability and how it affects the target.
Effects fall within two broad subtypes, Controlled and Inherent. Controlled effects only occur when the player chooses to use them, their duration is either Instant or Sustained, and these abilities are subject to both Dispel and Suppress effects.
On the other hand, Inherent effects are simply on all the time because they are intrinsic to the character, like enhanced senses or gills. Inherent effects are not activated and cannot be Dispelled, although Suppress can affect them, reducing their effect or turning them off temporarily. Ranks purchased in inherent effects just add to the overall ranks in that ability, much like ranks in an attribute.
Abilities created with a controlled effect can target either the user or any other character, are close combat range, and count as attacks if used on unwilling targets. Controlled effects are separated into two smaller categories based on their duration, Instant and Sustained.
An Instant duration ability affects the target immediately and the results are permanent (barring some effort to undo them like Cure, Heal, Dispel or similar), while a sustained duration means that the character must maintain Focus on the ability for it to remain active.
A player who uses a sustained ability marks the lowest level of Focus available, which will be removed as soon as that ability is ended. Any Focus damage that was done after starting the ability does not shift back down with a successful Meditation roll, otherwise it remains in place at the higher level. If a character becomes Disarrayed they can no longer sustain any abilities.
For more information, see Controlled Effects.
Inherent effects are the basis for abilities that are either always working or triggered reactively by outside forces. Inherent effects only target the user, and are Passive rolls (if they even get rolled). The Effect Value for an inherent ability is equal to its ranks.
For more information, see Inherent Effects.
When the basic version of an ability does not quite fit the concept, sometimes it’s necessary to use Aspects to customize the ability to fit. Aspects are ways to take simple effects and alter their standard behavior with a new keyword, such as Long Range, which allows an ability to attack distant enemies (all abilities are, by default close range).
Aspects change how much an ability costs per rank via very simple arithmetic. Each aspect has a cost based on how much it alters the overall usability of the ability. This falls into 3 broad categories: minor (0.50), major (1), and extreme (2). When making aspects use these guidelines to determine the category and thus the value.
Once all the aspects have been added together round the sum in player favor. This is the Adjustment Total. Add the adjustment total to the base effect’s cost per rank to get the Total Cost, which is how much the modified ability costs per rank. Now the character just buys up the desired number of ranks at the adjusted cost. One last rule: No ability can cost less than 1 point per rank.
For example, to make a fireball spell that can only be used Area of Effect is a +1, Piercing is a +0.5, and Conditional is -0.5. The adjustment total would be 1 (1 + 0.5 – 0.5), and since the Damage effect costs 3 CP per rank, the total cost per rank would be 4.
For more information, see Aspects.