Last time the players opted for a melodramatic rather than political view of Girl Genius. That meant using C. J. Carella’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer rules as my baseline. I could’ve built something from scratch but I’d enjoyed BtVS before and thought it’s balancing of powerful Slayer with scoobies would capture the powerful Spark and allies dynamic.
The Cinematic Unisystem is simple so I didn’t alter any baseline mechanics: same d10+stat+skill compared to a simple success table, same stats and life point calculation, same damage philosophy. Where I made changes were the Skills and Qualities that define PCs. BtVS eschewed the long Unisystem skill list for one that stripped down and combined skills and renamed them to match the show’s vocabulary. This fits my design philosophy, long being an advocate of the “no more than 24” skills list.
As such I compressed the BTVS melee skills into one and rolled Sports into Athletics. I broke out the Science skill into medicine, cooking and physics since science is much more important here. I dropped Computers and renamed the somewhat jokey Mr Fix-it to Mechanics. (Why do that if I made Chemistry into ‘cooking’, which is also a little jokey? Because there are a couple instances in GG where people incorporate chemistry as food, or say they’re going to cook or brew something, so I liked the flavor. )
I dropped Languages because, as my lovely wife pointed out, it’s an exclusionary skill – flagging that your PC to be good at languages means the GM should put in language challenges, and such challenges exclude the other players and slow communication. (As James Maliszewski pointed out in his lamented Grognardia blog stealth had the same problem – in early D&D everyone could do it, then the thief class was introduced with specific rules for doing it better, and 5E is struggling to bring such a basic ability back to the PC masses.) Since language challenges never occur in the source material the Languages skill is gone.
I added a Travels skill to indicate how widely your PC has ventured from the games starting point because that was somewhere I wanted an exclusion – the heiress would have been living in a small town in secret and learning about the world on the run, which creates a niche for a high Travels ally who looks cool knowing safe places to hide, arranging travel routes, finding the best restaurants, having contacts and, yes, savvy the local argot if I want to add a language challenge. Society was added for the same reason – something our heroine wouldn’t have but an allies could.
BtVS makes some interesting decisions on skill breadth and overlap – there isn’t a stealth skill, but you can attempt sneaking with Acrobatics or Crime. I aimed for that aesthetic so the allies wouldn’t have to spend their precious points mastering 3 or 4 skills to have a society belle who can sing, dance, use the right fork, speak classical French and do other things belle’s do – Society would cover for that.
Next time, I tackle qualities