Instinct Skill Substitution

I’m helping one of my players make up a new character. He’s building a illusionist with a bunch of Intimidation ranks, and was hoping to have his Instinct trigger it in some way. I’ve been trying to come up with suggestions for him and just landed on: “Always try to scare up a good deal in the market.”

Would you allow an instinct to substitute an Intimidation test for a Haggler test?

I might allow scenarios wherein Manipulator is tested rather than Haggler, but it will not often have a good long-term impact. If the character goes about using manipulation, deception, or intimidation to manage their dealings, that reputation will follow and cause trouble when Twists arise in town or when paying bills goes awry. If nothing else, there will be folks who do not want to make deals.

What is a bunch of intimidation ranks? Social Graces + Specialty? I mean, that’s not bad for starting right out, but it seems a bit wasteful of opportunities for more practical delving skills or something with better long-term party support.

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As a rule of thumb, having a Town only instinct as the characters default instinct is not ideal- it can only trigger once per town session, which will likely only occur every 3-9 sessions, with the benefit being reducing their Lifestyle cost by 1. It also means they are limited to earning a fate from instinct use, as it can only be beneficial in town.

I had a recent character who was an Enchanter who relied on Manipulator heavily- both for lying and intimidation, usually both at the same time, like convincing Lizardmen he was one of their Gods returned. An instinct I either had or was kicking around at some point was “When meeting some one new, make a new ‘friend’. The advantage of that is it triggers frequently, whenever a new NPC capable and willing to speak enters the scene. Similar ones could be “Always try to intimidate threats”, “Always rely on my force of personality to deal with problems” or “Don’t rely on force when words will suffice”. These also share the advantage of a frequent trigger, as well as the second and third allowing for a few different skills and even demanding or boasting nature to come into play.

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Yeah, he’s still learning the system, and is at the point where character building is pretty much straight experimentation. Figured that a session or two of it never coming into play would make him reassess.

I had mentioned that it wasn’t going trigger as often (and generate XP as quickly) as something that happened when they camped out when he met new people. His original idea was “always intimidate someone looking to start a fight” and I convinced him to make that a belief instead, especially since a normal conflict gives them the chance to frame it as an intimidation if they want anyway.

I think “Always intimidate someone looking to start a fight” makes a great instinct, as not only does it have a clear trigger and response, but it will likely come into play frequently, and almost assuredly much more often than a town based one. While conflicts could be described as incidents of intimidation, this instinct could be triggered in order to avoid or alter a conflict, since it can occur in the split second before the conflict kicks off.

For example, in a situation where the party is ambushed by a group of goblins, or stumble into an Owlbears den, and the enemy is charging at them looking to rumble, they could trigger that instinct, and then get the opportunity to make a VS roll to try to intimidate the charging enemy. If they are successful, for the goblins it could mean they are intimidating enough to scare away the entire group of enemies, avoiding the conflict, or a handful scatter, making the conflict easier or now just a Vs fighter test to kill the remainder, or the goblins get the Afraid condition (meaning no helping each other!). For the owl bear it could turn the upcoming Fight into a Vs roll to drive it off instead of a full combat or give it a penalty to its starting disposition, or even something like it guarantees it won’t Attack as it’s first action. If they fail, they may suffer an attack which damages their armour in the initial rush before the conflict properly begins, or they go frothing at the mouth mad and get the Angry condition, or their shouting scares off the juvenile Owl bear but brings its Mama charging. Lots of opportunities to both trigger that instinct and to use that instinct to introduce interesting problems.

Since their initial instinct was to have that as their initial instinct, I would suggest you reconsider your advice and suggest they switch back to it. Then for their Belief, aim them at something which can both explain and drive their instinct but is also a bit easier to introduce a variety of situations to either Act On their belief or Play Against their belief. Possibly something like “There is no problem that can’t be solved through force of will” or “It is better to be feared than loved” or “Only fools use actions where mere words will suffice”.

Isn’t the standard conflict resolution: GM announces that there’s a problem > Players describe how they attempt to solve the problem?

I only have a handful of conflicts under my belt, but I assumed that (like the Creeping Oozes Trap conflict) conflicts where I tell the players that they’re in an inescapable Kill conflict and there’s nothing they can do about it were supposed to be a rare exception?

Isn’t “the enemy is charging at you looking to rumble” where the players discuss and the Captain says “I step in front of the party and throw down a colored smoke bomb shouting for the thugs to drop their swords if they don’t want to be turned into frogs”?

Your right that GM should not, or at least, extemely rarely, dictate that the characters are in a specific type of conflict- the characters get to describe how they react to any given to challenge. I was not trying to suggest otherwise with my examples. However, the GM does get to determine if any given action is a possibility given circumstances, and if it is possible, if taking it results in a independent test or a Vs test or a full out conflict, and the all of those decisions may be influenced by if the acting character has an instinxt.

What acting on an instinct allows for, both narratively and mechanically, is for the character to react faster than expected, before any character without a similar instinct, which may result in the GM assigning a different type of test to a certain description of an action than if the character attempted the action without the instinct. An instinct may also allow a character to take an action in a situation where another character without an instinct wouldn’t be able to, as they just aren’t able to act quickly enough. It can even allow characters to act before a planned group action to take an independent action first.

So, for example, two or more players may give similar descriptions on how their characters react to a twist of a group of enemies charging from ambush, and the GM may call for a different type of test or conflict based on if one has an instinct or not. If the group describe their characters running away, but one has an instinct to flee at the first sign of trouble and elects to use it, the GM may rule that the character with the instinct gets to take a stand-alone VS test to sprint away before any one else can react, while the rest of the party will have to engage in a Flee conflict. (It could be that if the character with the instinct fails their role the twist is that they have to join the group for the flee conflict after all).

Or two players may describe their characters throwing a smoke bomb and shouting threats at the charging goblins, where one character has an instinct to intimidate enemies at first sight and the other doesn’t. The GM could rule that the character without the instinct just isn’t able to act fast enough to check the Goblins charge, and that by the time they throw the smoke bomb and start making threats the Goblins are swarming over the party, where as the character with an instinct can throw the smoke bomb as soon as the goblins break cover, and start shouting threats before they take their second step.

Or it could be that the group decides to meet the ambush with a counter charge, with the intent to start a kill conflict, while one of the characters has the instinct to “always attack first”. The GM could allow for the character with an instinct to make a Fighter VS test before the conflict begins to throw one of their handaxes as the two groups close on each other. (This instinct and subsequent GM decision occurred in multiple of the 2e play test groups).

This last example is the type of action I was suggesting in my previous comment- a character with an intimidate instinct could preempt their groups conflicts with an independent action in a similar way to a character with an attack first action is able to throw their axe right before the conflict begins. By acting on instinct, they could try set the group up for success in its conflict by intimidating their opponent. The GM can decide if they succeed at intimidating the group of Goblins if that means they run away, or if they all gain the afraid condition.