At the heart of your experience in Swan Song is your character. This is who you are in the Universe, the person whose story you will follow and develop throughout the missions and campaigns you undertake. Your character is the combination of skills, inborn abilities, street smarts, and bleeding-edge gear that makes them dangerous— sometimes to others, sometimes to themselves, often to both. The numbers are there to give you a summary of your character’s skills and abilities, and to provide the information you need to resolve the various Tests that arise. As a player, though, you can work within the numbers and every other part of the character to create a vivid personality who is part of the ongoing drama of the Swan Song universe. The building blocks below are the critical elements that help make your character who they are.
The first crucial element of a character is their Species. People in the Swan Song universe belong to different species, which means the hands attempting to strangle the life out of you come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Your character will be one of several different Species. The game rules for each of these are described in their own article. Some, but not all, Species also have one or more Subspecies. Your character can only ever be of one Subspecies (also counting the "main" Species).
The Archetype is one of the most important things to a character, it allows for the character to understand who he is as both a person and a mechanically functional character. The Archetype is the heart of the character which the player chooses, it defines who they are, and what they can do best. Keep in mind that an archetype is not a class or profession. A character with the Soldier archetype might or might not have served in the military, but he sure as hell has the skills needed for it. A character chooses an Archetype during Character Creation and keeps it for the rest of the game. A character can only have one Archetype and this choice is permanent. A character's Archetype determines a series of skills Skills the character is naturally adept at. Those are called Archtype Skills. Only Archetype Skills can be ranked up with Skill Points during character creation. When the character wants to rank up his skills through XP, his Archetype skills cost less XP to gain a new rank in, when compared to non-Archetype skills. A character's Archetype also determines the options available to choose from for his starting Playbook.
A character's Playbook determines their available talents, it determines what they can do and defines their role as a Crosser. Each playbook also grants a few additional Archetype Skills to a character. But it is important to remember that this is not a necessarily a character's profession, but merely a rough categorization of their particular skillset. A character with the Spy playbook may have never even been near an intelligence agency, a Bodyguard character may have never been paid to work as an actual bodyguard and a character with the Medic playbook might not even be a real doctor. So while it is perfectly possible for your character to come from their respective line of work or backgrounds, this doesn't has to be true. A character can follow a single Playbook for all of his career as a Crosser and truly master the talents within or acquire several Playbooks over time as his skill set grows more and more versatile. A character begins with one free Playbook, which he chooses during character creation, depending on his archetype. He can later acquire new playbooks from any archetype through XP, but the cost for this increases with each already acquired playbook, as it gets harder and harder to learn an additional set of talents.
Attributes are the inherent characteristics of your Crosser, the basic abilities they bring to the table. Crosser's have a numerical rating for each attribute, which is used to help determine the amount of dice rolled for Tests in the game. Attributes fall into three different groups: Physical, Mental, and Special. Every character has a rating in each of the Physical and Mental attributes, though they may not have ratings in the Special attributes. For example Human attributes all fall between 1 and 6, though certain modifications and qualities can change this. Each Species has different ranges for these attributes, as listed in their articles.
Body measures your physical health and resiliency. It affects how much damage you can take and stay on your feet, how well you resist damage coming your way, your ability to recover from poisons and diseases, and things of that nature.
Strength is an indicator of, well, how strong your character is. The higher your strength, the more damage you’ll do when you’re raining blows down on an opponent, and the more you’ll be able to move or carry when there’s stuff that needs to be moved. Or carried. Strength is also important with athletic tasks such as climbing, running, and swimming.
Agility measures things like hand-eye coordination, flexibility, nimbleness, and balance. Agility is the most important attribute when it comes to scoring hits during combat, as you need to be coordinated to land your blows, whether you’re swinging a sword or carefully aiming a rifle. It also is critical in non-combat situations, such as sneaking quietly past security guards or smoothly lifting a keycard from its secured position.
Reaction is about reflexes, awareness, and your character’s ability to respond to events happening around them. Reaction plays an important role in deciding how soon characters act in combat and how skilled they are in avoiding attacks from others. It also helps you make that quick turn down a narrow alley on your cycle to avoid the howling gangers on your tail.
The Logic attribute measures the cold, calculating power of your rational mind. Whether you are attempting to repair complicated machinery or patch up an injured teammate, Logic helps you get things right. Hackers also find Logic extremely useful, as it helps them develop the attacks and counterattacks that are part of their online routine.
Intuition is the voice of your gut, the instinct that tells you things before your logical brain can figure them out. Intuition helps you anticipate ambushes, notice that something is amiss or out of place, and stay on the trail of someone you’re pursuing.
Willpower is your character’s desire to push through adversity, to resist the weariness of Biotics, and to stay upright after being nailed in the head with a sap. Whether you’re testing yourself against a toxic wilderness or a pack of Vosk with crowbars, Willpower will help you make it through.
Charisma is your force of personality, the persuasiveness and charm you can call on to get people to do what you want without having to go to the trouble of pulling a gun on them. It’s not entirely about your appearance, but it’s also not entirely not about your appearance. What it’s mostly about is how you use what you have—your voice, your face, your words, and all the tools at your disposal—to charm and/or intimidate the people you encounter.
Special attributes are part of your character just like all the Physical and Mental ones, but they work differently in one way or another.
Karma is the ultimate intangible, that certain something that provides a boost when you need it, that gets you out of a tough spot when the chips are down. It’s not used to calculate dice pools; instead, you spend a point of Karma to acquire a certain effect. A character always has a current and a maximum Karma, the later of which is equal to the Karma attribute score.
Essence is your Species-Identity encapsulated in a number. In Swan Song, you have ample opportunities to alter your body or push it beyond its normal limits. Such actions often have a cost, and they can result in a loss of a portion of your Species Identity (e.g. making you less Human, less Grond, ...) , which means a loss Essence points. Each character starts with an Essence rating of 6, and it acts as a cap on the amount of alterations you can adopt. While denizens of the Universe are accustomed to seeing a variety of augmentations and alterations to a Species's form, the “uncanny valley” still exists. The uncanny valley is the disconcerting effect that happens when people see something that is almost, but not quite, like a Species they know. An animated cartoon with exaggerated features looks fine to human eyes, but a computer program that closely, but not exactly, replicates human appearance is a troubling and unpleasant sight to most viewers. This is what happens when people see others with augmentations—on some level, people notice there is something less (or more) human about that, and they respond to it negatively. The change may not be exactly visible, but it is in some way noticeable—in one way or another, a person has become less human (or any other Species), and on some level other people notice this. This is why a character’s Essence is included in the calculation of their Social limit.
If you intend to use Biotics in any way, your character needs to have the Biotics attribute. Very few Species are naturally biotic from birth, others require it through implants and training, but most individuals do not have this attribute, meaning their rating is zero. A character's Biotics rating measures how capable they are in the mental arts and how much power they can draw from them to help them in their efforts. Characters do not have a Biotics Attribute unless they select one of the priorities that specifically provide one (see Character Creation). Biotics has a starting value from 1 to 6, and can be increased through XP, but you don’t have to settle for that limit forever. You can get biotic augmentations and implants enhance your abilities.
Similar to Biotics for Biotics, Resonance is the special attribute for Technomancers. Technomancers interface with the Matrix using the power of their mind, and Resonance measures the strength of their ability to interact with and shape that environment. Non-technomancers have a zero rating for Resonance.
|Health (Flesh)||Body + 8|
|Strain Treshold||Willpower + 10|
|Physical Limit||[(Strength x 2) + Body + Reaction] / 3 (round up)|
|Mental Limit||[(Logic x 2) + Intuition + Willpower] / 3 (round up)|
|Social Limit||[(Charisma x 2) + Willpower + Essence] / 3 (round up)|
|Walk-Rate||Agility x 2|
|Carry Capacity||(Str + Bod) x Size Modifier + 5|
A character's capacity to carry gear is limited by his Strength and Body attributes. This capacity gets represented by an abstract number, instead of adding up exact weights.
Carrying Capacity = (Strength + Body) x Size Modifier + 5
Weight < Carrying Capacity
While a character's gear weighs less than (or equal to) his carrying capacity, he can move and act unimpeded by this weight.
Weight > Carrying Capacity
If the weight of a character's gear is heavier than his carrying capacity, his Walk-Rate is halved (rounded down) and he suffers a -2 dice pool penalty on all Agility and Reaction tests.
Weight > (Carrying Capacity x2)
If the weight of a character's gear is heavier than twice his carrying capacity, his Walk-Rate becomes 0, he can no longer use the Run or Sprint Action and he suffers a -4 dice pool penalty on all Physical tests.
The other part of the dice pool equation, along with attributes, is a character’s Skills. Skills represent the knowledge and abilities the character has picked up throughout his life. Skills cover a wide variety of topics, such as the ability to shoot a gun, a proficiency with disguises, and a knack for repairing vehicles and machines. Skills come in three main categories: Active skills, Combat Skills and Knowledge skills. Active skills cover the things characters do, Combat Skills cover their ability to use weapons and defend themselves, while Knowledge skills cover the facts
and information the character has acquired over their career, including speaking languages other than their native tongue.
Skills are linked to a specific attribute, and the ratings of the skill and linked attribute, added together, form the dice pool for most Tests.
Characters may attempt some skill-based tests even if they don’t have any ranks in the skill. This is known as defaulting. For example, even if you’re not trained in the art of running, you can still attempt a sprint to see just how much ground you can cover. In these instances, your dice pool for the test equals your ranking in the linked attribute – 1. So if Sorsha doesn’t have the Running skill but wants to give a sprint a try, she’ll check her Strength, which is 6. That means she rolls 6 – 1 dice, or 5, and hopes for the best. There are some skills, though, for which tests cannot default if you don’t have the appropriate skill—guts and a willingness to pitch in sometimes just aren’t a substitute for actual abilities. All the can-do spirit in the world won’t help you speak Russian if you don’t have any knowledge of the language, or repair a car if you’re not familiar with the basic workings of the machinery involved. It’s nice to be able to do everything, but sometimes you have to wait for an expert.
Along with attributes and skills, characters also have Qualities that can provide modifications to their character. Positive Qualities provide bonuses and require the expenditure of experience points at character creation; Negative Qualities inflict penalties but provide additional experience points the character can use to enhance her skills and attributes.
A good Crosser can survive on nothing but her wits—but she’d rather not. The equipment a Crosser uses can be critical to the success of her mission, and knowing the right goods to bring along (and how to keep the less-legal ones from being detected) is an important skill. The gear Crossers may carry includes a full range of firearms, melee weapons like saps and swords, armor, eye and ear enhancements, surveillance and counter-surveillance gear, commlinks, cyberdecks, grenades, and more. The gear may cost a pile of NuCred and may not be legally available in all jurisdictions, but a good Crosser knows how to find what they need, no matter what. Along with the standard gear Crossers carry, there are augmentations they can build into themselves, making these pieces of gear fully part of their body. There are two primary types of augmentations: CyberWare or BioWare (Augmentations).
The ECHOnet is full of information, but the things Crossers need to know are not the kinds of things people put up on their personal or corporate websites. Word of available jobs, news about what street lowlifes and organized crime figures have been up to, dirt about who’s just snuck into town and who may be looking to make a quick getaway—this is stuff you’re not going to find through a quick data search. To get this information, you need Contacts. Contacts come in a lot of forms. They may be the arms dealer who has a knack for coming up with armor-piercing bullets right when you need them. Or the underground journalist who is willing to share what she knows if you give her some inside info about upcoming juicy stories. Or the old standby, the bartender with the watchful eye and the listening ear. Crossers have a roster of personal contacts that they can turn to in order to help them find jobs and provide useful information about what’s going on in the world. Contacts have the same types of statistics that other characters would have, but they also have two special statistics that describe their relationship to player characters. Their Loyalty rating measures the closeness of their relationship to a character, while their Connection rating illustrates how well connected they are to the world around them. The Loyalty rating ranges from 1 to 6 while the Connection rating ranges from 1 to 12. Player characters are allowed to purchase a certain amount of contacts during character creation. After that, future contacts cannot be bought—they have to be earned. Through their actions, characters can build a relationship with a contact that results in a productive exchange of information. Note that contacts do not have to be friends with the player character, or even like them. They just have to understand that there may be a benefit to sharing information with the character.
Some Crossers are in the business to right wrongs or to get revenge. There are a few in the business because they are utter psychopaths. For the rest, though, crossing is mainly a matter of survival. They’re not willing to sell their souls to the corps, and they know that begging will get them nowhere. So they scrape up money any way they can so that they can pay for the basics of life—food, shelter, and maybe a little fun from time to time. A character’s Lifestyle represents the money they have to spend to live in the way they have selected. This can range from the homeless life of someone scraping up whatever food and temporary shelter they can get their hands on to those who live like the lords of the sprawl, dwelling in walled-off palaces or airy condominiums that flaunt the extravagance the owner has earned. Most Crossers, of course, are far closer to the former than the latter.
ReputationWhen you live on the street, with no identity in the system, your rep is all that you’ve got. To Crossers and others who exist between the cracks of society, how they are known (and who knows them) is the only piece of information that stays with them, and carries any significance. A good reputation gives a person respect and influence among their peers, allowing them to more easily acquire equipment and favors. Conversely, a bad rep can make dealing with anyone in the shadows more difficult. In Swan Song, a character’s reputation is broken down into three separate scores, each tracking separately:
- Street Cred
- Public Awareness.