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Kavadh

Xenology - How does this skill work?

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  • It's described as vital to those who need to practice medicine on aliens. But the doctor doesn't have it.
  • It's described as vital to those who regularly deal with aliens. But the Politico doesn't have it.
  • It's described as aiding in harming aliens. But the assassin does not have it.
  • It also helps in aiding aliens. But the bodyguard does not have it.

 

 

You roll it when you encounter new aliens, and it's described as aiding in dealing with alien species. But how?

 

Is it a gateway skill and you need to roll it before you use another skill when dealing with aliens? Meaning, I meet an injured alien of a type I've never encountered before. Before I can heal him, I must roll Xenology...  And if that's how it works, then does it grant advantages? Poor rolls give disadvantages? Does it put a cap on the number of success I can actually use with my medicine roll (a la Shadowrun attribute limits?) What do you do with it?

 

It aids in harming alien opponents - again, how? Extra damage, with less damage for failed rolls?

 

This is the one skill that I've been completely unable to wrap my head around. As described, it has no systemic effect at all that can't just be done with the skills in question as par for the skills' course. There's no mention in the medical skill or section on healing, for example, of having problems healing an alien if you don't have xenology. No way to heal more if you are familiar with a species. The Xenology description says it is vital for medical attention on aliens - but again, it gives no actual systemic function. The same with charm, negotiation, leadership, coercion even attacking. 

 

And if it does nothing  - why even have it at all? 

 

My GM handles it by handing out black dice in situations that seem to merit the use of xenology unless a successful check is made. He even gives them to the poor slicer when he's trying to hack into computers and commlinks used by aliens, with the logic that the language and coding syntax is different.  He's said that blue dice will come from successful rolls, but none of us have it yet so we're not exactly flush with successful uses of it.  :lol:

 

Making two rolls seems to me to be in opposition to the general actiony type feel of the game, but we haven't been able to figure out anything else to do with it.

 

So I'm curious, how are other people handling this skill and its complete lack of description for how it actually functions mechanically?

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In our latest adventure, the party encountered a race of aliens they'd never heard of before. In order to communicate with the aliens, the Archaeologist used her Xenology skill to try and understand some of the aliens spoken language and physical cues.

 

The first time she rolled it, it was a failed check. So they weren't able to communicate specifically with the aliens about anything. They could use gestures, point to things, but they couldn't speak in words.

 

The next morning I let her try again, and she passed with a Triumph. We narrated that she'd been spending time with the leaders of the alien race as they taught some of the alien's children. In such a circumstance she was able to pick up the basics of how they speak, as well as an understanding of the cultural cues that demonstrate status and the like in this alien village.

 

For the Triumph, we said that the aliens also gave her a piece of scroll with some of their writing on it to keep, and that she can understand some of their writing.

 

In the past, we've used Xenology to know that a certain combination of spices and chemicals in the air would specifically irritate the skin and eyes of Aqualish thugs, to give them a disadvantage during combat.

 

It seems pretty straightforward to me. Our campaign is based around exploration so I'd been looking forward to giving the Archaeologist a chance to shine by making first contact with new aliens.

Col. Orange likes this

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KNowing something escoteric about an alien race you might be interacting with.    For example my players were confronted by a Falleen and i had them make a roll to see if they knew about the pheromones they use

 

As for it not being a career skill, it is not something you learn at a school, or get training in.

 

In fact, all Knowledge skills still use intelligence as the base, but ranks in a skill means you have had more experience or training.  Being a career skill means you have an aptitude for the field

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In our latest adventure, the party encountered a race of aliens they'd never heard of before. In order to communicate with the aliens, the Archaeologist used her Xenology skill to try and understand some of the aliens spoken language and physical cues.

 

The first time she rolled it, it was a failed check. So they weren't able to communicate specifically with the aliens about anything. They could use gestures, point to things, but they couldn't speak in words.

 

The next morning I let her try again, and she passed with a Triumph. We narrated that she'd been spending time with the leaders of the alien race as they taught some of the alien's children. In such a circumstance she was able to pick up the basics of how they speak, as well as an understanding of the cultural cues that demonstrate status and the like in this alien village.

 

For the Triumph, we said that the aliens also gave her a piece of scroll with some of their writing on it to keep, and that she can understand some of their writing.

 

In the past, we've used Xenology to know that a certain combination of spices and chemicals in the air would specifically irritate the skin and eyes of Aqualish thugs, to give them a disadvantage during combat.

 

It seems pretty straightforward to me. Our campaign is based around exploration so I'd been looking forward to giving the Archaeologist a chance to shine by making first contact with new aliens.

 

Those are straightforward uses, yes.

 

But the example in the book is using Xenology to know the difference between good bargaining tactics when dealing with a Twi'lek vs a Wookiee. This seems to me to be what Negotiation is for. Neither Twi'Leks nor Wookiees are what you'd call rare aliens (especially both are player character races), and negotiation is, well, bargaining.

 

So taking this example at face value, suddenly you  need to make two rolls any time you're dealing with an alien - but to what purpose? Doesn't the negotiation roll already take that sort of thing into account by tallying how well things go with successes and advantages?

 

 

It is all-encompasing galactic biology of everything.

 

This made me laugh so hard my cat came running in to see what was so funny. 

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I wouldn't say you "need" to make two rolls. You *could* make two rolls.

 

I often have players make several related rolls if they're doing a complex negotiation or something. They might do a Charm check to butter up the person, then a Negotiation check to actually sell their goods. The second roll would be influenced by the results of the first. A Despair on the Charm check might upgrade the difficulty of their Negotiation. A successful Charm check might add a Boost to the Negotiation.

 

Likewise with your example of the Twi'lek vs Wookiee cultural differences. If a player said "I'd like to see if I can think of or observe any cultural subtleties which might help improve our negotiations", I might say "Make an Average Xenology or a Hard Education check". An Education check would also be possible because those aren't rare species.

 

Then the results of that Xenology check could influence the Negotiation.

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Here's an example of a few situations where Xenology would be useful:

 

You're dealing with a Twi'lek. If you have  rank in Xenology/make an Easy Xenology check, then you know that Twi'leks let off whether or not a deal is good by their Lekku (Who knows? Maybe it's true), adding a Boost Die as you can see how he thinks. However, with a Wookiee (which is actually a rather rare species), you'd have to make a Hard Xenology check to know what in the heck he's saying, removing a few Setback Dice or even an Upgrade due to communication.

 

You encounter a strange beast that starts attacking you. You make a Hard Xenology check to know that there's a weak spot right under his chin. Add a Boost Die to your next attack (after which it starts to cover it's weakness).

 

You meet a Quarren. You fail your Xenology check, and don't know that it is customary for him to plop his tentacles on your forehead, adding a Setback Die to all further negotiations since you recoiled reflexively.

 

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. Overall, it's up to the GM to integrate the skill into the game. If a player gets Xenology, the GM needs to make use of it. And, failing that, the player needs to come up with crazy ideas to use Xenology, which the GM should be open to using.

progressions likes this

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Say you're going on a hunt for the elusive Umfufu monster.  It has a Adversary rank 4, but if there is someone with Xenology who can make a Hard check, that drops it to Adversary rank 2, because you know now that Umfufus love M&Ms and you'll be able to distract them with that.  That sort of thing.

 

Like many skills it requires a GM to be creative with their use and need.

Edited by 2P51
derroehre likes this

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We have been using it an optional enhancement.
 

We assume most skills work for all the "common" inhabitants of the Galaxy Far Far Away.  Medicine works on Wookies and Twi'leks equally.

 

However... If a Doctor has chosen to take a rank or two in Xenology they could potentially enter into specialist care levels for species that are not their own (I leave it to each of you to determine outcomes, but a boost dice to a Medicine roll after a successful Xenology roll has suited us fine). 

This, of course, opens the door to a Doctor possibly laboring under misinformation and making bad assumptions if Xenology fails.

 

This outlook could be applied to a number of skills.

Sure, your Politico can Negotiate with the Trandoshan just fine, but pepper the conversation with some contextually proper references to the Scorekeeper (as opposed to the more clumsy, buzzword-y use others might attempt) and things may run more smoothly... or you look a fool by over-pronouncing "jagannath" the whole way through ("That's some good juh-GAE-nawth, my reptilian friend, amirite?").

Edited by Aluminium Falcon

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  • It's described as vital to those who need to practice medicine on aliens. But the doctor doesn't have it.
  • It's described as vital to those who regularly deal with aliens. But the Politico doesn't have it.
  • It's described as aiding in harming aliens. But the assassin does not have it.
  • It also helps in aiding aliens. But the bodyguard does not have it.

Nothing is stopping any of those specializations from buying ranks in the skill. It just costs a small bit more (a total of 25 more to get all 5 ranks).

progressions likes this

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Its a miscellaneous skill that could potentially come up in anything.

 

Possibilities include,

 

A check to see if the PC speaks or understands a particular alien language

A check to see if the PC knows a particular oddity of an alien's biology which make help or hinder a medical/attack check.

A check to see if a particular species has any strange social customs which might effect a negotiate or charm check.

 

Some examples from our group,

 

We saw a group of Gamorreans on a street corner, they seemed quite agitated and were talking among themselves. We took Xenology checks to see if any of us spoke Gamorrean and could understand what they were saying. The reward for passing was understanding their speech, the reward for failure was not understanding a word.

 

We were fighting a group of Aqualish Thugs, and our Assassin Droid asked to take a Xenology check to see if Aqualish had any weak spots to exploit. The reward for passing was a boost die on attack rolls.

 

We saw a Gand sitting in the corner of a Bar. The reward for passing was some basic info on Gands, possibly up to and including social structures, needing to breath Ammonia, etc...

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I would use it to check additional information they might know, which would be up to them if they have the idea to roll it.

But say if they want to know that toydarians love to gamble, or that wookies pull peoples arms out of their sockets when they lose. they might make a xenology check.  
Although they could just have discussions with characters and ask questions to possibly learn stuff like that without needing any rolls.

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So I'm curious, how are other people handling this skill and its complete lack of description for how it actually functions mechanically?

 

 

If eet bleeds, we can keel eet!

 

I guess worded in the description its a catch-all sociology for weird alien bug people, but given most star wars aliens are just humans running around in rubber/fur alien suits, that kind do human stuff like hang out in bars, get drunk and start fights.

It's kind of limited.

 

"Gee the alien is really angry at us, because we really robbed him!"

No s---, people tend to get cranky when getting gipped in a deal, just that wookies rip your arms off, whereas the twilek wont, as easily.

As far as aliens and dealing with them go, all the social, medical and putting holes in them to make them die, is pretty much covered by the other skill sets really.

 

To make it slightly 'less suck', you could extend that out to something like Planetary Evaluation.

  • Atmospheric content
  • Microbial organisms
  • Flora and Fauna ecosystems
  • Mineral content
  • Weather patterns

 

Survival sort of deals with the basics; wear pants when its cold, don't eat poison dirt, some berries give you tummy aches, recipes for mon calamari etc. But Xenology could cover the scientific aspects of a species, their world and adjust that to make it useful, mostly for the purposes of explotation, exploration, trade, animal behaviour and other speculations. 

Edited by MKX

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To make it slightly 'less suck', you could extend that out to something like Planetary Evaluation.

  • Atmospheric content
  • Microbial organisms
  • Flora and Fauna ecosystems
  • Mineral content
  • Weather patterns

 

Survival sort of deals with the basics; wear pants when its cold, don't eat poison dirt, some berries give you tummy aches, recipes for mon calamari etc. But Xenology could cover the scientific aspects of a species, their world and adjust that to make it useful, mostly for the purposes of explotation, exploration, trade, animal behaviour and other speculations. 

 

 

Oh, I don't think it sucks. Far from it.  As Lorne said:

 

 

It is all-encompasing galactic biology of everything.

 

 

According to its description, it is vital for everyone. Want to heal an alien? Xenology. Want to negotiate with an alien? Xenology. Want to protect an alien? Xenology. Fight one? Xenology. It doesn't specifically state that in order to modify or create tech or weapons for an alien you'd use Xenology, but is there anyone out there who wouldn't use it when encountering alien technology? Everyone in my group wants it. I'm about to pick up a new specialization, not because I particularly want that specific specialization, but because I just want to get xenology as a class skill. Because as described it does everything for everyone whenever you're interacting in any way with something not of or for your species. Which in Star Wars, on the fringes of the universe, is pretty much all the time.

 

Leaving that "everything" aside - My puzzlement with it is that for a skill described as being vital, the system gives you nothing on how to use it. If it's vital - it should impact the system in some way. But as written, it doesn't. Any actual impact it has is completely up to the GM and the group.

 

To me that's like providing a list of weapons with descriptions, but no actual stats. Melee requires the use of weapons! A sword is a melee weapon with a blade! But we're not going to tell you how much damage it does...

 

When I evaluate systems, I ignore anything left open for narrative, because narrative is entirely open to the group's idea of fun and has as much or as little impact as the group decides it should have. So if a skill tells me it's vital to doing things, and those things have systemic rules, I want to know how that vital skill impacts said rules. 

 

 We use it as an optional roll to potentially add blue dice. Not having the skill in a situation that warrants it, or failing the roll should you choose to try it, grants black dice. But there are so many creative people with interesting methods of playing on these forums, often doing things that are really cool that I would never think of on my own, so I was curious what other people were doing with it.

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Any actual impact it has is completely up to the GM and the group.

You've just described 90% of the book's rules according to the gripes of my GM.

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Any actual impact it has is completely up to the GM and the group.

You've just described 90% of the book's rules according to the gripes of my GM.

 

Narrative system vs a tactical rule system. EotE seems to be more along the lines of what works for the story. D&D is more along the lines of a tactical wargame system where everything has a rule and there is a rule for every thing. Want to do mounted combat, well, then you'll need these X feats, these classes and those special abilities. Else you aren't allowed to do it.

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Narrative system vs a tactical rule system. EotE seems to be more along the lines of what works for the story. D&D is more along the lines of a tactical wargame system where everything has a rule and there is a rule for every thing. Want to do mounted combat, well, then you'll need these X feats, these classes and those special abilities. Else you aren't allowed to do it.

That's actually false.

In D&D and GURPS (radically different systems and approaches to gaming) as in FFG SW, failing to have the skill (feats, Talents, etc) simply means your character sucks at it (or is likely to, dice are rolled after all).  Not that it can't be attempted at all.

 

 

The problem here is the text for Xenology claims it's "Oh so important".  When the rules do not support this as Xenology's actual importance is left completely up the GM.

 

So a finicky GM could demand constant Xenology checks, every time you interact with a new species (which could be every single encounter); while a completely lax GM might only call for one occasionally.

 

There are problems in both GMing styles.

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The problem here is the text for Xenology claims it's "Oh so important".  When the rules do not support this as Xenology's actual importance is left completely up the GM.

 

 

Yes, this is what I'm trying to get at exactly.

 

If my healing roll is defined as 1 wound per success, with 1 strain per advantage, and I am told that Xenology is vital to healing ...

 

I need to know what it does. If it does not affect the defined rate of healing in any way, it is not vital because it does nothing. There'd be no dilemma if healing (bargaining, attacking, etc) was not so specifically defined. But it is. Therefor Xenology is confusing, because it states that it is important, but in actuality it does nothing to affect the system - which makes it effectively unimportant. 

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There'd be no dilemma if healing (bargaining, attacking, etc) was not so specifically defined. But it is.

Combat is the only action that is "specifically" defined. (For various definitions of "specifically")

Therefor Xenology is confusing, because it states that it is important, but in actuality it does nothing to affect the system - which makes it effectively unimportant.

Xenology isn't a combat ability, thus it falls completely under the aegis of the GM.

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Kavadh, in your original post you seemed to be asking questions about it, but you did receive a bunch of replies that seem (to me) to be very helpful in clarifying different ways to use Xenology and how to make it useful in your game.

 

Are you really asking for help or are you just asserting that it's confusing and that no amount of guidance will improve your understanding of it?

 

 

If you and your GM want it to affect the "defined rate of healing", then it certainly could. If you attained such an understanding of an alien race's biology through a Xenology roll, it certainly could affect that.

 

Does that help?

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Combat is the only action that is "specifically" defined. (For various definitions of "specifically")

 

 

You're right, specified is a bad term on my part! I will shift my phrasing in case that brings a bit more clarity. I have a bad tendency to write these posts in the mornings and evenings when I'm not entirely awake.

 

Healing grants 1 wound per success, and 1 strain per advantage. Negotiation grants a 5% profit per success. Charm and leadership add extra scenes for each success, and bystanders for advantages.  

 

Can these skills also do other things? Yes, I understand they are not limited; this is a narrative game and not all situations are going to warrant these defined uses. In fact I prefer a more open-ended interpretation, that's usually the way we play at the table. I come here to discuss system design so I might be giving a far different impression of my gaming style than is actually the case! :)

 

But a given conversion - 5% for each success - is a quantified definition. It's not 10%, 3%, some vague term such as "improved" - it's a quantitatively defined 5%.

 

Xenology could gate the attempt to use these skills, it could add blue or black dice, it could change the percentage of profits/the wounds healed/etc. There are any number of things it could do, but if it's vital, then it should be doing something to change the given numbers, whether that change is in the dice, the tally, or the final result.

 

Once I am told that negotiation adds a 5% profit per success, I want to know how a "vital" xenology roll affects that. If the negotiation results had been left entirely up to the GM, with no systemic guidelines, then I wouldn't find xenology being the same 'left to the GM' as odd.

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To be honest it sounds as if you're better off just ignoring it for your game, if you're not honestly interested in understanding it better.

 

Now I'm just discussing design theory. :) 

progressions likes this

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You're right, specified is a bad term on my part!

Nah, specified was fine as a term to use.

I was poking at the "even Combat isn't terribly well defined. It's a very shallow system meant really for the GM to be a strong guiding hand, whereas in many modern games the GM is meant to have a more "hands off" approach, specially in narrativist games.

EDIT: Actually "shallow" is poor term on my part. FATE has a shallow system, but it's a strong system that carries the weight well. You'll never find all these problems with people not understanding how skills are meant work within the system or conflicts.

Edited by evileeyore

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In my games when my players use Negotiation, I tend to pick a highest amount and a lowest amount. Four or five success will get them the highest amount and one success will get them the lowest amount. I pick an amount below that for a failed check, unless I decide it means they won't be able to make the deal at all.

 

I don't feel particularly restricted by the "5% per success" thing, because it depends on the situation in my game.

 

If you want Xenology to do those things, it can do them. There's a lot of "narrative" in this game :)

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