The skills, or at least their names and what capabilities lay under each changed a lot from inception to alpha, beta and then print even. What they stood for within AE, however, was unchanged. Skills would be the heart of how actions were undertaken. They would be tied to activity and specific but simple advancement rules.
- Skills only had a chance to grow better if you used them where a risk of failure existed or by investment of experience.
- Skills would (obviously) employ the d100+bonus mechanic and would improve via the same mechanic. This meant that only by exceeding your current skill rank could you gain improvement. Using this form of development put skill advancement on a bell curve, where advancement was quick when skill was low and slow to flat when skill is high.
- To break out of the slow advancement at higher end, skills would require the investment of the experience (EPS) a player gained per session. More factors also came into play: immortals and long lived races progress much slower and hence have a lower learning rate (LR). Short lived races were the opposite. Translation: the exchange of EPS for skill points to invest in skills was set by one's LR. Short lived races gained larger values than longer lived and immortal ones. On the other hand those same long lived and immortal beings could invest EPS into bonuses to their advancement rolls whereas shorter lived beings could not...it all balanced nicely and fit in some powerful concepts we wanted to introduce.
Building the skills system on that foundation thought made for the inception of the level-less system that AE uses. Using this form of skill system allowed us to split out basic capability under each skill and put mechanics to very common actions asked by players. Sneaking around, picking locks, climbing a rope, jumping a chasm, wooing the opposite sex, bribing, finding something in a library, the eponymous question of "what do I know" or "do I recognize that?" were outlined.
Yet something more was needed. Some special capacity. After all, we were building a tool box system where players were employing the same template but stamping out unique characters each time. Plus, some actions under the skills required more skill than others. So we made tiers, or thresholds of skill: Proficient, Trained, Experienced, Specialist, Expert, Genius and Legendary. Seven tiers in all for skill ranks of 1, 10, 25, 45, 75, 110 and 150.
Under each we put those packages of capability or actions, the secrets. Here were the cool things you could do with a skill that wasn't basic. It costs EPS to get them and each had outlined requirements. Want to sneak in combat or hide in plain sight? Look under Clandestine for the secrets. Fight while doing cartwheels and rolls or just make a jump or leap attack? Look under Acrobatics. Want to intimidate, stun others with your attacks or just bilk people out of money? See Crime.
Those and a whole lot more, roughly 1000+ secrets were outlined, though only 700 or so made it into the printing. Some were excised or changed, such as the old Martial skill, which split into Combat and Guard, its secrets split or re-worked to make sense.
Skills and secrets though, they were the gears that made the AE engine move. Secrets, especially were little bits of capability more than anything else. They were geared to be an action over a bonus or plus, though some of those exist as well. That was an underlying axiom employed with every one created, from the martial arts secrets to the secrets of Pneuma.