Any time your character takes an action more complicated than walking around or talking to people, they are using one Ability or another. If you want to go for a swim? There’s an Ability for that. How about blowing out a man’s kneecap with a shotgun? There’s an Ability for that too.
Abilities show the specific tasks in which you excel. They represent skills you have learned, talents you have developed, and knowledge you have acquired. Unlike Attributes, which everyone has at a baseline level and therefore always have at least one rank, Abilities start at 0, which means that your character has had no training in that particular realm. That doesn’t necessarily make them hopeless; after all, we all know how to run even if we haven’t trained in Athletics at all. But in order to know what you are about and do anything well, you’ve got to get some ranks in the relevant Ability.
Not all actions require a roll of the dice. Driving across country doesn’t need a Pilot check every 100 miles, that would be silly. Your scientist character can talk about science freely, he doesn’t need to roll dice just to make sure he knows what he’s talking about. Having ranks in an Ability represents a certain level of training, and much of that can be roleplayed without the annoyance of dice and numbers.
Abilities do require rolls any time you are contesting an action with another character, or any time the action has more than a marginal chance of failure. When rolled, Abilities are typically combined with an Attribute that is relevant to the task at hand: for example, should a character wish to track a panther through the jungle, they’ll need to make a Perception + Survival roll, and their level of success will determine how effective they are at picking up the trail
Normal humans have Abilities ranging from zero to five:
|Rating||Level of Training|
While the primary abilities on the main character sheet should cover most skills you might want to use, Secondary Abilities allow you take a subset of one of those abilities when appropriate. For example, a character with 5 in performance is a world-class singer, actor, and dancer. If you just want to be a rap star, you could take the "Rapper" secondary skill, which you could roll for rap-related actions and nothing else. Note that it probably makes sense to have one or two dots in the primary ability in most cases. If you're a world-class knife fighter with the "Knife Fighting" skill, it would make sense to have a few points in Melee. GM's discretion.
A character using a Secondary Ability to perform an action gains a -1 Difficulty adjustment in combat situations, or -2 in non-combat situations. The dice pool used is that of the appropriate Secondary Ability, not that of the Primary Ability.
Any skill imaginable is theoretically available as a Secondary Ability; there are an infinite number of them. However, if it isn't listed, never fear! You can always create a Secondary Ability, just double check with your GM to make sure it's not too broad, but also not too specific. The XP cost is the same as for Primary Abilities.
See secondary-abilities for a non-comprehensive list of possible Secondary Abilities.