This series follows the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of a fairly inexperienced GM who has recently picked up the hobby after a long time away. It aims to assist new GM’s by examining what worked, didn’t work, and what failed miserably as he spins up new campaigns, modules, encounters, and adventures for his friends and family in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny system.
This article marks the first in an occasionally running series on one of the cornerstones of most RPGs: Skills. Skills in many cases 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, 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 what really separates the great player and games I’ve found can be creative, narrative use of skills that aren’t necessarily obvious in the moment. These uses generally create the best roleplaying fodder as well!
So the SkillZone might pop up occasionally to discuss a skill that’s not commonly used, or possibly to cover creative uses of skills that are too often taken for granted. For the first examination, we’ll cover a skill that’s almost never been used in my games: Survival.
Most RPG’s have a skill called Survival or something close. In other RPG’s they might be called Wilderness, Nature, or Outdoors… they all basically cover the same skill. Survival is the least used skill in my groups’ games. We’ve had a fair share of adventures that take place outside, but the skill just never seems to get used. Understandably, Star Wars isn’t best known for its wilderness locales, but they’re around. I experienced more outdoor exotic locations in good old D&D games. Regardless, Survival has historically gone ignored in my experience. So what we’ll do here is examine some creative uses of the Survival skill, situations, and possible encounters. Perhaps some of this will spur some creativity to work a mostly unused skill into your games.
Survival skills can be used not just to survive in the wilderness or track a suspect through the woods. Perhaps your character needs to fashion an emergency weapon of some kind. Survival could be used to see if you find the right kind of materials to make a simple spear, knife, or even bow and arrow. Survival could be a character’s ability to locate the right parts or correct stone types or trees that make the materials for a decent improvised weapon.
Most people use the Stealth skill (or an equivalent) for just about all checks having to do with hiding. But in the outdoors, a character with a good Survival skill stat might instead find the perfect way and place to camouflage themselves in their surroundings. Perhaps one could even use their Survival skill to find the right materials to create camouflage for their character. That would create bonuses and boosts to future Stealth checks, or narratively make it so the enemy can’t find them. Either that or it would cause penalties to anyone attempting to find the PC.
Traps and Alarms
Need to keep a bunch of enemies off your back? Need to know when some icky forest creatures come out of the woods? A good use for the Survival skill could be to create some alarms or trip-wires with materials found around the area. One could also spin up some improvised traps and things to do damage to NPC’s. Traps are something common in some RPGs, however this is not so common in using one’s Survival skill. A more advanced trap that you could try is to lead pursuers into the nest of a particularly nasty creature.
Throwing Off the Scent
If you’re making your way through an outdoor area pursued by Scout Troopers, goblins, or other undesirables, you could use your Survival skill to throw them off and lose them. A successful check could mean the chasers head the wrong way. Or a partially successful check could mean the bad guys split up. Some follow you, some head off in the decoy direction.
Luring Creatures to Even the Odds
It’s common in RPGs to have a battle erupt in wilderness areas. But why not make things interesting and let your surroundings combat your enemies along with you? Use Survival to attempt to lure local wildlife or creatures to your location, hopefully to attack your enemies. Perhaps you are aware of a vocal call for some nasty predators. Or maybe you use the scent of common prey to lure more predatory animals to your location. Checks that don’t quite make it or perhaps have threat or despair rolled might cause the creatures to attack you or both you and your enemies!
Getting an Edge in Combat
Most of my players treat combat as a chance to use their Melee, Ranged (Light or Heavy), or Brawl skill checks. But when outdoors in a jungle or forest, even more could be done with a creative use of the Survival skill. Perhaps a character notices a particular plant that’s easy to hide in, giving a bonus to initiative rolls or getting the first attack outright. Or, a Survival check can point out advantages in surrounding terrain that can give players boosts and bonuses to attack. I would always reward my players for creative thinking in the middle of combat.
So next time you consider a character or some XP spend, don’t overlook Survival. I am going to try and work out lots more scenarios that could be used by a PC with good Survival skill. So the next time you glance at your skill lists to see what your next action might be, don’t overlook that Survival skill!
Have any of you used this skill in a creative manner? Have you had some fun encounters or adventures that utilized this skill? Can you think of some fun ways you might be able to use your Survival skills?