The GM Awakens: SkillZone – Coordination

A character using coordination along a cliff. Photo by Jesus Conde.

Welcome to the SkillZone.  This article is one in an occasionally running series on one of the cornerstones of most RPGs:  Skills.  Skills usually have pretty cut and dry uses in roleplaying games.  They are used by the player characters to perform actions and see if they are able to accomplish tasks.  If your group is like my play groups, there are about 6 or 7 skills are used in almost every adventure, 3 or 4 that pop up occasionally, and about 10 that are rarely used.  But one thing I’ve found is that creative, narrative use of skills that aren’t necessarily obvious in the moment is what separates good players from great players, and good games from great games.  These uses generally create the best roleplaying fodder as well!

So in the SkillZone we will discuss a skill that’s not commonly used, and possible creative uses of skills that are too often taken for granted.  For the next examination, we’ll cover another skill that’s rarely used in my games:

Coordination

In my first game back after a long hiatus away from pen and paper RPG’s, my players had to make some Coordination checks crawling around some tunnels with ladders on a large ship.  However, since then, we have not had a single Coordination check in our games.  Not really sure why.  I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that when it comes to doing something physical, my players feel the need to not waste rounds without using their weapons.  Part of it also is that I’m always trying to hurry.  I’m always trying to hurry my turns and narrative along so my players don’t get bored.  So times they could use a Coordination check or some other skill, I simply let the PC’s proceed without a check.  So I think it’s both faults.  My players try to be brawny, tough characters but focusing on Athletics and Coordination just isn’t what they attempt.

So how can we get more Coordination usage in our games?  How can we use the skill more creatively and promote well rounded roleplaying?  Let’s take a look at this underused skill in my games.

Definition

Coordination might fall under athletic-type skills in other RPG’s or be referred to as acrobatics.  In the Star Wars RPG lines from Fantasy Flight Games, it is broken out into its own skill.  So as you read the article, simply apply the discussion to the skill in your game this would most likely apply to.  Coordination is defined as the skill used when a character needs to go somewhere that requires he be on unsteady surfaces, crawl through narrow openings, or fall safely from heights.  It is the overcoming of challenges that requires a great sense of balance and heightened flexibility.  I would also categorize hand-eye coordination as falling under this category, but I’ll get to more of that later.

Common Uses

There are obvious times to call for a Coordination check.  They would include walking a narrow beam or walkway, or walking across a path elevated high in the air.  Falling from heights is one of the uses called out in the book, giving specific mechanical advantages by rolling into a tumble with a successful check, reducing damage from the fall.  Another example called out is escaping from restraints.  Coordination used in that case would be to contort their limbs to slip free of their bindings.  Twisting and turning through tunnels, or perhaps climbing a complicated construct might call for Coordination as well.

While these are common and straight-forward uses, the use of the narrative dice with this skill can create some creative results from the check.  Multiple successes or Advantage can be used to reduce the time it takes to perform the act, with two or three Advantage could grant an extra maneuver during the character’s turn (while not exceeding the limit of 2 maneuvers per round).  Triumph can be used to add some narrative flair, succeeding in the task with a great flourish.  Perhaps a jump from a great height results in a “super hero landing”!  It can also be used to grant situational, significant bonuses.  Threat can cause the act to take longer than intended, or perhaps even lose the PC’s free maneuver during their turn.  Finally, Despair can cause damage to be taken during the check, or perhaps some significant strain to be taken in order to accomplish the task.

Use in Combat

Combat in Star Wars (Or Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, or other fantasy setting) has never been two lightsabers or swords simply trading shots, or two people with blasters or arrows taking turns shooting back and forth.  They always involve epic maneuvers, incredible moves, and cinematic feats.  So why then do our roleplaying games easily and quickly devolve into back and forth rolls of the dice as each character trades shots in a race to deplete hit points?  A great use of a skill like Coordination can spice up any combat in any system.

I have a couple of Force-sensitive characters that have lightsabers and some significant physical fighting skills.  However, they’re more apt to simply swing with a lightsaber check when they are presented with enemies to take on, rather than think of using any other type of check.  They feel like they can’t waste a round without dealing some sort of damage.  Coordination, more than many skills, require the PC to think up a creative way to use it and clear it with their GM.  Here’s a few ways in combat I would absolutely allow and reward creative use of this skill:

In a lightsaber duel, I would absolutely allow a Coordination check to narratively describe the character jumping and flipping over the top of his enemy in order to gain an easier strike the following round.  Success could mean a single boost die, while Advantage could mean a full upgraded check.  Triumph might even allow another free maneuver, or along with the upgrade next round, the opponent must upgrade the difficulty of their next combat check against the PC.  Failure, Threat, and Despair can all have narrative, negative consequences the situation dictates.  You could also choose, as the GM, to make the difficulty of the Coordination check and opposed check against the enemy’s Coordination, or perhaps Intelligence, narratively explaining the enemy might be too smart to fall for such a move.

Even when not in a duel of lightsabers, PCs can find fun uses of the skill.  Maybe instead of simply moving behind a crate for cover, the PC could attempt a run, slide, and roll… coming up behind the crate right in firing position the following round.  This could require a Coordination check, with success causing similar boosts and upgrades to the PC’s next check as he fires from his new position.  Advantage and Triumph might yield an extra maneuver, or a completely upgraded check on his shot.  Threat or Despair can cause him to perhaps knock the crate off target or knocked over, causing him to lose his cover.  It can be used defensively too.  Perhaps during a shootout, Coordination can be used to roll across the floor, or perhaps backtrack or retreat, adding difficulty or setback dice to any incoming combat check.

Replace a Different Check With Coordination

My PCs are like most in that when a situation arises, their minds go to the obvious skill choice for the situation.  If they need to jump, it’s Athletics.  If they need to fight, it’s the combat skills.  If they need to sneak, it’s Stealth.  But this is where a creative use of Coordination can come into play.  Instead of just jumping up to a catwalk with Athletics, Coordination can be used instead to grab ledges, railings, or outcroppings, and flip the PC up on the catwalk instead of use a normal jump.  Instead of a Stealth check to make it from A to B, Coordination can be used to jump, roll, and crawl from cover to cover, accomplishing the same thing.  Perhaps a good Coordination check can replace a Melee check, describing a spinning kick or a move designed to knock something out of an enemy’s hand during the fighting.

Coordination When No Check Is Fine

Several situations in my games come up where the PC’s won’t, or don’t need to attempt a skill check to do something.  For speed’s sake, we move on.  Climbing ladders, walking along a bridge, crawling into a cave, or escaping through a tunnel might not require a check at all.  At my table they normally don’t.  “I climb the ladder,” is all that’s needed to achieve the task.  But throwing in a skill check can grant the PC bonuses or narrative assistance if they’re creative enough to think of uses.  Coordination can be used to do this at times.  Climbing a ladder to chase an enemy?  A Coordination check can increase your speed and let you catch up more quickly.  Same with any action that might be spiced up with a Coordination check.  The check can reduce the time the action takes or granting other situational advantages instead of simply saying something like, “I crawl through the tunnel.”

So next time a seemingly bland or normal situation comes up in your game, perhaps a creative use of Coordination might create a fun cinematic moment and help out your party.

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Scott Alden

Scott Alden

Scott is a full-time Senior Business Analyst living in Lawrence, KS. (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! Just outside Kansas City for those who don't know.) Scott is a veteran of several role playing, table top miniatures, video, and board games, starting with the Atari 2600 when he was 6, and the classic red box Dungeons and Dragons game when he was 12. After a long hiatus away from the hobby, Scott has recently picked up gaming once again, and is running two different campaigns in Fantasy Flight Games' Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny lines. He is an avid X-Wing miniatures player, as well as Armada, Imperial Assault, Space Hulk, and Rebellion. (His family is obviously a Star Wars family, right?) Scott is married to his high school sweetheart, and has 2 children in middle school, both Black Belts in Krav Maga martial arts.
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3 Comments

  1. I always am in favor of letting players use non-combat skills as combat attacks, provided they’re describing how they use the environment to do it. If you sneak up behind a guy and stab him in the back with a vibroblade, I’ll always let the player roll Agility(Stealth) instead of Brawn(Melee), if they’d prefer to. You want to swing on a vine to make a flying kick to the stormtrooper’s face? Sure, that’s a Coordination attack, and you can spend advantages to do anything you could with a barehanded brawl.

    To me, the standard combat skills are just the basic ones that are always available; you have to do some work to use other skills. But that also gives non-combat-skilled characters a great way to get involved in combat, by using the skills they do have in creative ways that still can help deal damage to the enemy.

    • Absolutely Darth! I’m myself guilty of not suggesting things to those new to the system in these regards. I’m trying to be better about it.

      It is hard when your players have spent so much time ranking up their combat skills, they do not want to shy away from them to do something they are less skilled in.

      • And they shouldn’t! If you wanna sneak up and backstab a guy using your fantastic Brawn(Melee) skill rather than Stealth, there’s no reason you shouldn’t. It’s merely an option to let the character use storytelling to explain why a non-combat skill can be an attack.

        And really, after the characters get used to doing this, they’ll feel less need to make sure they always buy into at least one combat skill.

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