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 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 skill uses not commonly thought of, and possible creative uses of skills that are too often taken for granted. For the next examination, we’ll cover another skill that’s not used enough in my games:
Throughout this series, the Skillzone, I’ve really tried to make myself a better GM. I often struggle finding fun, unique, narrative reasons to use different skills myself. Because I am always running the NPCs, when I find myself making skill checks, they’re often combat-related. So as I work on these articles I often try and do so as an educational exercise so that I learn how to better use these skills in my games. All the skills chosen so far have been ones that rarely show up at my tables. This article is no different as we look at a skill that can easily be overlooked by players. Today we examine how to use Streetwise in your games to great success.
Streetwise, quite simply, should be thought of as the urban counterpart to Survival, a skill that kicked off the Skillzone series. It represents one’s familiarity, experience with, and ability to get around large urban centers and cities. From the Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook on page 118:
“The Streetwise skill represents the instinctive understanding that comes from a lifetime of such experiences.”
The book gives us several examples. Looking for a merchant dealing in Black Market goods or illegal services requires a good Streetwise character. Understanding the subtle cues of a local urban language to interpret conversations would be a Streetwise check. Or, when dealing with criminals, knowing how to approach them needs a good Streetwise result. Another key the book points out is the relationship with Knowledge (Underworld). An Underworld check might help you find out information about an area, or a criminal organization. Streetwise then would be to figure out how to use that information effectively. Extra successes on such a check might reduce the amount of money or time one needs to obtain an item or information. Advantage can reveal new rumors, facts, or specific memories that a character has about an area or city perhaps.
These uses are fairly common ones, and ones that many think of when determining whether or not to use a Streetwise skill check. But instead of the obvious, let’s examine some more creative uses of the skill in your games.
Use in Social Situations
This is generally where a skill like Streetwise can be ignored in favor of any of the traditional social skills. Usually when things begin socially my team grabs for Charm, Deception, or Negotiation generally. But, from this GM’s perspective, I’d allow ANY skill in social situations if you can explain it narratively. And Streetwise is no different.
When negotiating with a vendor for a black market weapon, perhaps the vendor is a local with ties to the underworld. Maybe you use Streetwise to talk to him correctly in his local slang to have him gain trust with you to lower his price. Maybe you’re trying to work an information network to find the location of a thief that stole something for you. Streetwise can allow you to ask the right people the right questions as you hunt through the city for him or her. Maybe your party angers a group in a local bar. Instead of Charm or Negotiation or Leadership to try and calm the situation down, you can use Streetwise to talk like one of them, and to try to endear them to your team.
So when you have social situations arise in a game, don’t feel shy and reach for Streetwise if you need it!
Use in Combat
This is where, as a GM, I love my players to use non-combat skills in combat, although generally my players look at the math of the situation and if they make a check, they want to take Wound Thresholds down more than anything. They often feel a non-combat check is a wasted round. But if you’re willing to get a bit creative and look towards things other than your blasters, don’t ignore Streetwise.
In an urban setting, Streetwise can be used in all sorts of ways. First, imagine a chase. You’re being chased, or chasing a target through crowds, markets, and through doors. As you run, maybe a Streetwise check can help you navigate the crowd and get a boost die for the chase each round. Maybe a check lets you find a shortcut as you understand the layout of the city and duck into an area the enemy can’t see coming. Maybe as you duck into a store, you use Streetwise to know that a certain location is friendly to the Rebels, knowing they’ll help you if you need to avoid the Stormtroopers chasing you.
If you’re in the middle of a shootout that starts in a city, don’t forget about Streetwise either. A good Streetwise check can help you identify the best place to take cover from, or perhaps a place to get a good vantage point for a sniper nest. Perhaps a good Streetwise check before a fight starts can be used instead of Cool to set your Initiative order, as the character, instead of using Cool, uses their ability to recognize familiar surroundings to prepare a good ambush.
As the blaster bolts are flying around, a Streetwise check can identify potential reinforcements, an escape route, or even a position by which you can maintain covering fire to keep your opponents’ heads down.
So if you’ve ever had trouble working Streetwise into your games, consider some of the different ways one might use it, outside the regular ways the books outline. I’m sure, however, many of you use Streetwise at your tables often. Do you have some fun, creative examples of how you used Streetwise in your games? Did you come up with a unique way that was rewarded by your GM?