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Species Traits

Species traits are meant to represent the cool things that different species can do, like fly, shapeshift, breathe water, or use part of their body as a tool. Many species traits are connected to properties of the character’s body, like wings or gills, and can be used any time it is appropriate (no roll needed). Other species traits boost skills, and therefore dice rolls are required to use them. For example, the species trait Heightened Senses gives a character extra information when they get a full success on rolls using awareness skills. In addition, there are a few species traits that encompass things that characters get from their individual ancestry, culture, community, or family, such as learning an additional skill or having immunity to fire.

Please keep in mind that skills and abilities that you might associate with species traits do not automatically come with that species trait. For example, the species trait Flight makes a character capable of flying, but that doesn’t make the character skilled at flying under challenging circumstances. If you want a character with Flight to be good at flying, they need to also be trained in the Flying skill.

In contrast to species traits, vulnerabilities represent things that make life more challenging for the character, like a Poison Sensitivity, Big Secret, or Water Absorbent Body. Most vulnerabilities are linked to the character’s species or ancestry, but some are individual to the character. Vulnerabilities are optional because keeping track of them can be more work than keeping track of a species trait.

If there is a quality that you definitely want your character to have, be sure to represent it with a species trait, skill, ability, or vulnerability. In order to keep things fair, each character starts out with one species trait. If you want additional species traits, then abilities will need to be traded for them or vulnerabilities will need to be taken on. These options are explained in the “Questions About Species Traits” section.

This is a digital artwork of a yellow and green budgerigar sitting on a branch with a tiger head that is the same color as its yellow feathers.

This is a digital artwork of a yellow and green budgerigar sitting on a branch with a tiger head that is the same color as its yellow feathers.

 

Species Trait Summaries

For easy reference, this summary lists all species traits with a one sentence summary of each.

  • Extra Skill: In your childhood you learned a specific skill.
  • Skill Aptitude: You have an aptitude for a skill which grants a special bonus when you are using that skill.
  • Skill Focus: When growing up you had the opportunity to focus on developing a specific skill and now you are more prepared to use it.
  • Heightened Senses: Your keen senses give you additional information.
  • Additional Sense: You have a sense that most people do not have.
  • Telepathy: You can communicate directly with the minds of nearby people.
  • Enchanting Song: Your singing has a magical quality that attracts people.
  • Fascinating Characteristic: There is something about you that magically fascinates people, making them less aware of their surroundings.
  • Amphibious: You are at home both on land and in water.
  • Doesn’t Need to Breathe: You are one of those rare beings that doesn’t need to breathe to survive.
  • Immunity: You are immune to something.
  • Magical Nature: You have an inherent magical quality that is expressed in two minor magical effects that you do without risk of failure.
  • Limited Shapeshifting: You can shapeshift into and out of one form at will.
  • Malleable Form: Your body is made from a flexible substance that you can reshape at will.
  • Tiny Form: Once per day, you can become tiny. Decide how tall your character is when they are in this Tiny Form.
  • Huge Form: Once per day, you can become huge.
  • Permanent Defense: You have a defense that is a permanent part of your body.
  • Regeneration: You heal rapidly when you sleep.
  • Flight: You can fly.
  • Additional Limbs: You receive a benefit from having more than four limbs.
  • Built-in Tool: You can use part of your body as a tool for one or more skills, granting special benefits.
  • Poisonous Skin: Your skin, scales, fur, or feathers contain a poison that can harm people you touch.
  • Plant Talker: You can communicate with living plants.
  • Animal Talker: You can communicate with one type of non-magical animal.
  • Ghost Touched: You can perceive and interact with ghosts and other incorporeal beings.
  • Incorporeal Form: Once per day, you can transform into an incorporeal form that has no physical substance and can pass right through ordinary, corporeal things.

 

Species Trait Details

All characters start out with one of the following species traits.

 

Extra Skill: In your childhood you learned a specific skill. Choose an additional skill from the skills list.

 

Skill Aptitude: You have an aptitude for a skill which grants a special bonus when you are using that skill. Choose a skill and choose what bonus your character gains. It can be an additional benefit your character receives on full successes (two successes), being able to use that skill in situations where it wouldn’t normally be possible (decide what those situations are), or doing that skill unusually quickly. For example, a character with an aptitude for stealth could move quickly while being silent.

 

Skill Focus: When growing up you had the opportunity to focus on developing a specific skill and now you are more prepared to use it. Choose a skill. Three times a day, your character is prepared when they use that skill.

 

Heightened Senses: Your keen senses give you additional information. When using Awareness Skills (Insight, Perception, Survival), your character gains additional information on full successes (two successes), as if they had gotten and outstanding success.

 

Additional Sense: You have a sense that most people do not have. This sense gives your character information that others without that sense do not have. For example, your character could use an internal compass to know where they are and what direction they are moving in, regardless of visibility. Decide what this sense is. Next work with the game master to figure out what kind of information this sense gives your character and what limitations it has. For example, echolocation works in total darkness, but only perceives shapes and surface textures, so it can’t discern most writing, drawing, or painting.

Let the game master know when you want to use this sense and they will give you any information that is easy to perceive using it. In addition, you can make an Awareness Skill (Insight, Perception, or Survival) roll to use this sense to something challenging.

 

Telepathy: You can communicate directly with the minds of nearby people. This allows your character to transmit their thoughts directly into the minds of others and receive replying thoughts. Your character can choose to include any nearby people they want in their telepathic communication. Telepathy works best between characters that know the same language, otherwise communication is vague.

 

Enchanting Song: Your singing has a magical quality that attracts people. When your character focuses on a specific person while singing, they enchant them. No roll is needed, but vocal singing can only enchant people who hear it, and signed singing can only enchant people who see it. The enchanted person is magically drawn to your character’s song and wants to experience its emotion, beauty, and power up close. However, this is a desire, not a compulsion. If the enchanted person is busy, has something important to do, or doesn’t feel safe, they can choose not to follow the lure of the song. In addition, an enchanted person who follows this song is aware of their surroundings and retains their free will. For example, they will not move into an obviously dangerous area, and can choose to turn back at any point.

 

Fascinating Characteristic: There is something about you that magically fascinates people, making them less aware of their surroundings. Decide what your character’s fascinating characteristic is and what sense it primarily affects. Any character with this sense can be fascinated by your character. For example, your character could be surrounded by ghostly whispers that fascinate hearing people, or have tattoos so intricate that they fascinate sighted people.

Once per day your character can deliberately fascinate one nearby person. In addition, when your character is in a group, they fascinate one random, nearby person. This random person could be anyone, including friends and allies. The game master will give input on how often this happens. The goal is for this random fascination to happen often enough that is causes some interesting benefits and complications, without happening so often that it becomes tedious.

When someone becomes fascinated by your character, they want to focus on the source of their fascination, though they are not compelled to do so. In addition, for the rest of the scene, any time that the fascinated character is near your character, their ability to perceive anything around them is limited. For non-player characters, this means that they are unable to perceive anything that isn’t obvious. For player characters, the outcomes of all Awareness Skill rolls (Insight, Perception, and Survival) are limited to partial successes. This means that the player rolls the usual number of dice, but full successes and outstanding successes are treated like partial successes.

 

Amphibious: You are at home both on land and in water. All of your character’s gear is waterproof and designed to function in both air and water. Choose whether your character holds their breath for a long time or is able to breathe both air and water. Those characters that can hold their breath for a long time are able to use that capacity in a range of circumstances, such as holding their breath to avoid inhaling an airborne toxin.

 

Doesn’t Need to Breathe: You are one of those rare beings that doesn’t need to breathe to survive. This means that your character can’t drown or suffocate. They are still affected by airborne chemicals, but the effect is different than it would be for a breathing creature. For example, a clockwork construct will not breathe in a noxious gas, but the gas could still affect them by corroding the metal in their joints.

 

Immunity: You are immune to something. Choose one immunity for your character from the following list. This immunity applies even when magic goes awry.

  • Fire.
  • Cold.
  • Wind. Your character can choose to make wind and other strong movements of air flow around them, rather than hitting them. Any time that they are hit by a strong wind they can choose to use this immunity. If they don’t make that choice, the air affects them normally.
  • Being knocked over. Even when powerful forces affect your character, they can choose to remain upright.
  • Being lifted off the ground. When your character is touching the ground and chooses to stay that way, they can’t be picked up or lifted off of the ground by any means.
  • Direct harm from poison. Poisons cannot directly harm or kill your character, but their side effects, such as pain or dizziness, still happen.
  • Side effects of poison. Poisons harm your character, but their side effects, such as pain or dizziness, don’t happen.
  • Plant growth that impedes movement. This means that any non-sapient plant growth, whether it is magical or mundane, is unable to slow your character down or otherwise block their movement. For example, plants that entangle can’t grab onto your character, and dense, thorny hedges don’t harm or hinder them.
  • Magical effects that restrict your character’s movement. This includes effects that slow your character down, restrain them, or otherwise prevent them from moving. Your character still experiences all other effects from the magic.
  • Direct harm and fatigue caused by extreme weather. The harshness of extreme weather doesn’t slow your character down or hurt them. However, they can still be harmed indirectly. For example, a desert’s heat won’t affect them, but they will still need to have a source of water.
  • Magic that makes your character perceive things that aren’t there. Be sure to tell the game master when your character is using this immunity.
  • Magic that prevents your character from perceiving things that are there. Note that things can still be hidden from your character by mundane means. Be sure to tell the game master when your character is using this immunity.
  • Fear. Your character still feels fear, but the fear never takes over or clouds their ability to make decisions.

 

Magical Nature: You have an inherent magical quality that is expressed in two minor magical effects that you do without risk of failure. This means that no roll is needed to use these minor magical effects. However, if your character incorporates one of them into a more complicated action, a roll will be required.

Some minor magical effects listed below have a specified duration while others don’t. Effects without a specified duration wear off at a story appropriate time, usually at the end of the scene. When the magic wears off, only non-magical outcomes, like healing and harm, remain.

Choose two minor magical effects off the following list.

  • Light a small flame in your character’s hand, or in an analogous body part, like a trunk, tentacle, or paw. Your character is not harmed by this flame.
  • Make a magical light that hovers near your character.
  • Fill a cup with drinkable water. At the end of the scene, any unused water vanishes.
  • Create a small gust of air.
  • Amplify your character’s voice.
  • Become extremely light for a short period of time.
  • Become extremely heavy for a short period of time.
  • Heal minor damage to a plant by touching it.
  • Become nonthreatening to fearful animals.
  • Once per day, your character can transform their body to take on one specific animal body part. Decide what animal body part your character takes on. For example, it could be claws, camouflaging skin, or gills. It is the same one each time.
  • Make a single cosmetic change to your character’s appearance. This change can be anything your character wants, as long as it only affects their appearance. For example, they could change their hairstyle, face shape, or eye color, but they can’t grow claws or gills. Each change lasts until the character ends it or chooses a different change to make. There is no limit to how often your character can make cosmetic changes, but they can only do one change at a time.
  • Shrink to half size. Note that your character will have one eighth of their previous weight.
  • Heal minor scrapes and injuries with a touch.
  • Feel when undead beings are nearby.
  • Detect one specific emotion. Choose an emotion, such as surprise, sadness, anger, or joy. This choice is permanent. Any time your character chooses to focus on detecting this emotion, they know if a nearby person is feeling it.
  • Send a secret message to one nearby person. This can be done in any language that both characters know. Only the person that your character selects receives the message.
  • Always know where north is.
  • Double your character’s speed for one minute. They must rest before they can do this again.
  • Double your character’s strength for one minute. They must rest before they can do this again.
  • Make food taste better.
  • Create a nonverbal phantom sound that comes from a nearby location. Anyone near your character can hear this sound, but your character controls what the sound is and where it comes from.
  • Telekinetically control a small object for one minute. This is done by touching the object and then focusing on it. For one minute your character can levitate this object and move it around with their mind.
  • Magically clean an object. To do this, your character must wave their hand, or an analogous limb, over the object and focus on it.
  • Sense which nearby items are magical.

 

Limited Shapeshifting: You can shapeshift into and out of one form at will. Decide what form your character transforms into. For example, your character could turn into a leopard, hawk, or dolphin. This transformation happens automatically without requiring a dice roll, and the character can stay in this new form as long as they want before transforming back. While transformed, your character retains all of their skills, abilities, and other capacities, and they gain the basic physical capabilities of their new form.

 

Malleable Form: Your body is made from a flexible substance that you can reshape at will. This allows your character to morph their body into abstract shapes, squeeze through small holes, and shape themselves into a rough approximation of any creature or object their size. However they can only take on shapes of limited complexity and a creature the size of an average humanoid can’t fit through a hole smaller than a chicken egg.

Note that reshaping your character’s body in this way is different than shapeshifting. Like an octopus reshaping its body to fit through a small hole, your character’s size, weight, and speed don’t change. In addition, the surface of their body stays the same so that they always have the same external markings and appearance.

 

Tiny Form: Once per day, you can become tiny. Decide how tall your character is when they are in this Tiny Form. For example, they could be one foot tall, six inches tall, or one inch tall. Your character transforms rapidly, is the same size every time, and remains tiny until they choose to regain their usual size. Anything they are holding or carrying shrinks with them, only returning to its usual size when they do. While tiny, your character’s weight and strength are greatly reduced. This makes it easier to interact with small or delicate objects, and harder to interact with large or heavy objects, including most things that are sized for average humans. Taking this species trait an additional time grants an additional transformation per day.

 

Huge Form: Once per day, you can become huge. Decide how tall your character is when in their Huge Form. For example, they could be eight, ten, twelve, or fifteen feet tall. Your character transforms rapidly, is the same size every time, and remains huge until they choose to regain their usual size. Anything they are holding or carrying enlarges with them, only returning to its usual size when they do. While huge, your character’s weight and strength are greatly increased. This makes it easier to interact with large or heavy objects, and harder to interact with small or delicate objects, including things that are sized for average humans. Taking this species trait an additional time grants an additional transformation per day.

 

Permanent Defense: You have a defense that is a permanent part of your body. Decide what this defense is and whether it offers physical or mental protection. It can help to model it on armor, a shield, a magical outfit, or a staff. For example, a crab-person could have an armor-like shell, a character with an earth elemental bloodline could have a rock encrusted arm that they use as a shield, a human character could have special tattoos that function like a magical outfit, or a dryad could use their trunk like a magical lightning rod.

Once per day, you can turn a failed defense roll (zero successes) that uses your permanent defense into a partial success (one success). Your character still needs training in order to use this defense to its best advantage, but it is always with them and does not interfere with sleep. In addition, because it is part of their body, it can’t be taken away like an object, or impeded the way dodging and deflection can.

 

Regeneration: You heal rapidly when you sleep. By eating a lot of food then sleeping deeply, your character can induce a state of magically accelerated healing. Once they awaken from this magical sleep, they are completely healed. It is up to you whether or not your character is left with a scar.

 

Flight: You can fly. Decide how your character flies. For example, they could have wings or some kind of magical flight.

 

Additional Limbs: You receive a benefit from having more than four limbs.

  • Grasping Limbs: Characters that have additional grasping limbs, such arms, trunks, prehensile tails, or tentacles, can hold and manipulate additional objects. For example, a character with four arms can climb a rope and shoot a bow at the same time.
  • Legs: Characters with additional legs can move more quickly than a two legged person of a similar same size and ability. Additional legs also help characters keep their footing. This means that they are considered prepared when doing tasks that involve staying upright or keeping their balance, such as moving over a slippery surface without falling.

 

Built-in Tool: You can use part of your body as a tool for one or more skills, granting special benefits. Decide what your character’s built-in tool is. For example, it could be claws, horns, thorns, a stinger, octopus skin, ink sacks, webbed fingers and toes, gecko hands and feet, frog legs, or silk glands with spinnerets that produce webs.

Next, choose the benefits that this built-in tool gives your character by selecting one of the three options below.

Option #1: Your character’s built-in tool can be used as the required tools for two skills. Choose these two skills from the following list: Melee Combat, Ranged Combat, Climbing, Riding, Manual Dexterity, Technology, Performance, and Survival. For example, retractable claws can be used as required tools for Climbing and Melee Combat. Because this tool is part of your character’s body, it can’t be easily inhibited or taken away. As a result, your character will have this tool available at times when other characters don’t have their tools.

Option #2: Your character’s built-in tool can be used to grant a special bonus to two skills that don’t have required tools. Choose these two skills from the following list: Unarmed Fighting, Athletics, Flying, Swimming, Acrobatics, Mobility, Stealth, Communicating with Animals, Deception, Diplomacy, Intimidation, Perception, and Insight.

Next, decide what bonus this tool gives to each of these skills. It could grant a special benefit on full successes (two successes), allow your character to use this skill in situations where it wouldn’t normally be possible, or allow your character to do this skill unusually quickly. For example, octopus skin could allow your character to use Stealth when it wouldn’t normally be possible by allowing them to hide in plain sight.

Option #3: This is a combination of Options 1 and 2. Your character’s built-in tool can be used as the required tools for one skill, and it grants a special bonus to one skill.

  • Step 1: Follow the instructions in Option #1 for one skill.
  • Step 2: Follow the instructions in Option #2 for one skill. In addition to the standard options, you can also select the skill you chose in Step 1.

For example, a character with gecko hands and feet could use them as required tools for the Climbing skill and gain the bonus that they stick to surfaces that aren’t normally climbable. This would allow the character to climb on smooth surfaces and climb upside down.

 

Poisonous Skin: Your skin, scales, fur, or feathers contain a poison that can harm people you touch. This has benefits, but it also causes problems.

First, decide what the standard effect of this poison is. The effect should in some way limit the capabilities of any person or animal affected by it, without being completely incapacitating. For example, the effect could be chemical burns, swelling, muscle spasms, paralysis of the contacted body part, debilitating nausea, intense pain, or sedation.

Next, decide what happens when the poison is mild enough to not significantly reduce the capabilities of any person or animal affected by it. Usually, this is a milder version of the standard effect. For example, if the standard effect is paralysis of the contacted body part, the mild effect could be tingling or numbness.

Now, decide whether there are signs that indicate to others that the character’s skin is poisonous, such as colorful markings or a distinctive smell. If so, most people and animals will do their best to avoid physical contact. This will reduce accidents, but it may also limit some of the benefits that come with having Poisonous Skin.

Any time the character’s skin touches a person or animal, whether intentionally or not, roll a six-sided die to determine how the poison affects them.

  • 6: The poison has an unexpected or unusually severe effect. This effect will seriously limit the capabilities of the poisoned being, possibly incapacitating them.
  • 4-5: The poison has its standard effect, which in some way limits the capabilities of the poisoned being without incapacitating them.
  • 2-3: The poison has its mild effect. It is uncomfortable for the poisoned being, but their capabilities are not significantly affected.
  • 1: The poison has no effect.

Poisonous Skin is a useful defense—if a hostile person or animal touches the character’s skin, they risk becoming poisoned. This poison can also be used offensively with the Unarmed Fighting skill, or covertly with the Stealth skill. However, having Poisonous Skin also causes problems. Accidents are possible, especially in crowded areas, and they can lead to serious social consequences. While wearing covering clothing prevents accidents, clothing can slip or be torn as the result of a failed roll or partial success. In addition, covering up Poisonous Skin makes its benefits harder to access.

To represent this complexity, Poisonous Skin is listed as both a Species Trait and a Vulnerability. Characters that will primarily receive the benefits of Poisonous Skin, without many of the limitations, should take it only as a Species Trait. Characters that will primarily experience it as a limitation, should take Poisonous Skin only as a Vulnerability. Meanwhile, those characters that will equally experience the benefits and limitations of Poisonous Skin, should take it as both a Species Trait and a Vulnerability.

 

Plant Talker: You can communicate with living plants. This is done by getting close to the plant and using a verbal or signed language to speak with it. Only characters that are Plant Talkers can perceive the plant’s replies.

Non-magical plants know about their own properties, what they are currently experiencing, how they’ve been interacted with recently, and significant events in their past, such as droughts, fires, floods, and major injuries. Their descriptions of the people and objects that interact with them are basic and they can’t give you information about actions that did not directly affect them.

Magical plants are more aware of their environment, but they also have their own desires and goals. This means that their cooperation needs to be earned or negotiated for. Negotiating with magical plants uses the Deception, Diplomacy, or Intimidation skills.

 

Animal Talker: You can communicate with one type of non-magical animal. Choose whether your character can talk to mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, or fish. Any time that your character gets close to an animal of this chosen type, they can use a verbal or signed language to communicate with the animal. However, just because your character can talk to an animal, doesn’t mean that it will cooperate. Negotiating with and persuading animals uses the Communicating with Animals skill. In addition, while animals can give basic descriptions of people and events, they are primarily focused on food, water, shelter, danger, family, and members of their own species.

 

Ghost Touched: You can perceive and interact with ghosts and other incorporeal beings. This means that your character always hears, sees, and smells any incorporeal beings that are present in the same location. In addition, whenever your character chooses to, they can physically interact with incorporeal beings as if they were corporeal.

 

Incorporeal Form: Once per day, you can transform into an incorporeal form that has no physical substance and can pass right through ordinary, corporeal things. Decide what your character’s incorporeal form is like. This form doesn’t have to be anything like their corporeal form, but it should have an associated sight, sound, and smell. For example, they could turn into a pink cloud that smells like roses and rumbles like distant thunder, or they could turn into a rustling shadow that smells like smoke.

Choose one of the following two options.

  • Your character can become incorporeal once per day for five minutes. At any point during these five minutes, they can choose to end this effect and return to their corporeal form.
  • Your character can become incorporeal once per day for thirty minutes, but they can’t return to their corporeal form until the thirty minutes is up.

Incorporeal people and objects pass right through ordinary, corporeal people and objects without physically interacting with them, but they are blocked by magical barriers. In addition, incorporeal people and objects are solid to each other.

When your character becomes incorporeal, all of the objects they are wearing or holding (including magical items) become incorporeal with them. Those objects stay incorporeal until your character’s incorporeal form wears off.

Taking this species trait an additional time grants an additional transformation per day.

 

 

Questions About Species Traits

What are the species in Magic Goes Awry like?

Just like humans in the real world, every non-human species includes racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, as well as diverse genders, sexual orientations, body types, and appearances. Every species has neurodivergence, disability, and chronic illness, as well as broad diversity of physical and mental traits. In addition, there are characters that have mixed ancestry from multiple non-human species, such as characters who are part elf and part dwarf.

In Magic Goes Awry, species traits help create vibrant species with unique physical and mental characteristics, while simultaneously recognizing the diversity within each species. The goal here is to give players the space to create fun, unique species, while making space for disabled characters and avoiding racial essentialism. So, even though each species has certain traits that are more common, there aren’t any traits that are shared by all members of a species.

 

Do species traits have to match what is expected for the character’s species?

Feel free to give your character any of the species traits. However if there is something you definitely want your character to be able to do, make sure to take a species that represents it, otherwise it won’t exist in the game world. For example, if your character is a five-foot-tall sapient parrot, there is nothing wrong with giving them Heightened Senses instead of Flight. However if this parrot person isn’t given Flight, then they can’t use their wings to fly.

The reason for this is game balance. It is important that each player character has an equal number of cool things that they can do so that each character gets a chance to shine. Species traits were created as a way to keep track of the cool things that characters get from their species, ancestry, culture, community, or family, so that every character has equal access to them.

 

How do you get more than one species trait?

Players are encouraged to explore their class ability options before taking on additional species traits. This is because some class abilities, such as Shapeshifting Magic, grant capabilities similar to species traits, like Limited Shapeshifting. When exploring these options, keep in mind that most abilities require dice rolls, while most species traits happen automatically (no rolls needed).

That said, there are two ways for characters to get additional species traits. The most common is taking the Extra Species Trait ability, which is available to all characters. Alternatively, characters that take a vulnerability also get an extra species trait.

 

Are custom species traits an option?

Yes. There are options for creating custom mechanics that benefit characters, like species traits, that impose penalties on characters, like vulnerabilities, and that balance a benefit with a penalty. See the “Custom Mechanics” section for the full details on custom traits.

 

 

 

 

 

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