These six skills are probably my favourites of the whole bunch. They were certainly the hardest to come up with. We finished Physique (FYS) while already deep into production, whereas the other three were ready years before. It’s surprisingly difficult to depict the physicality of a character – their flesh, blood and tendons – in a rule set. This is reflected in RPG tradition, where physical characters are one dimensional musclemen, somewhere between an athlete and a joke. It’s paradoxical how uninteresting it is to play a physical character in a genre that is built around them – nothing interesting happens inside the body of Conan the Barbarian.
This was our starting point: what kind of physical character would we want to play in a desktop setting? They would have to be murky, dangerous, sinewy beings. Mysteries even to themselves. More Nameless One than Torgen the Axe-Dude. To achieve this we had to come up with a set of skills that is – surprisingly – the most esoteric and out there of all the four Attributes. Instead of getting the most basic experience, you get probably the most advanced and experimental playing with a high FYS char.
Physique skills are also the most silent of the bunch. They don’t speak as often as INT for example. But the times your body does speak to you hold more weight.
Physical Instrument is your primary corporeal tool: your muscles and your skeleton. Physical Instrument is your hand to hand combat skill, your inner coach. He likes to be addressed as “Coach Physical Instrument”. You can call him Coach, or you can call him Coach Physical Instrument.
Put points into this guy to punch a suspect in the face. Or 360 degree spin kick the living daylights out of them. But it’s not just violence. You can use this skill to physically analyse the qualities of a “beat” on a dance track. (Coach Physical Instrument thinks it needs more bass).
In addition to being the voice of your musculature, Physical Instrument tries to give you social advice from time to time: be less sensitive, stop being such a sissy, drop down and give me fifty. Coach Physical Instrument is all about masculinity, with little to no self awareness. I like to think it governs your muscles, skeleton and your sweat glands. Add Suggestion to dial things back a little, add some sensitivity training? He turns you into a raging gym trainer if you let him run the show.
Physical Instrument is nothing compared to Electrochemistry, who turns you into a lecherous drug addict. I’ll level with you – it’s one of the funnest skills in the game. Not only does it crave for any and all substances on Earth, it’s also a treasure trove of knowledge on each of them. For some reason this cop knows exactly what GABA receptors do, what serotonin syndrome means, and what kind of cocaine the Filippian kings did four centuries ago.
But beware – Electrochemistry also governs your other dopamine responses. That is: your sexuality. Electrochemistry inserts lurid thoughts into your head, with absolutely no filter. It does not play nice either, it’s an animal. Yet it has its own atmospheric, ruinous take on reality. You should exercise caution with this guy and make sure you have some Volition to keep things in check.
Having low Electrochemistry makes you a calmer person, more in control of yourself. Having high Electrochemistry makes you not turn up to work the following day, yet more fun to be around after 10PM.
It also has a nice mechanical function. Disco Elysium lets you use potions (ie drugs) mid-dialogue. Equip cigarettes in one hand and a vial of speed in the other. Encounter a difficult check? Spark one up and then toot a line! (In secret of course, turn around a bit first – it’d be pretty strange if a cop just did a line in front of you wouldn’t it?)
Blasting a substance gives you a cute little animation and adds a temporary bonus to your Attributes. Alcohol gives +2 to Physique, for example. Electrochemistry adds extra charges to these items, so a high Electrochemistry character gets more out of their drugs. The skill also leads you down a path of substance abuse, giving you quests to procure amphetamine, or just buy a magnum sized bottle of wine.
These quests are often non-refusable.
Endurance is your metabolism and your circulatory system. It’s what keeps you alive. Endurance determines the amount of health points you have. Health is our primary resource pool, in addition to morale. Run out of health and you have a heart attack. Have too many heart attacks and you die. (It’s a known fact that cool cops can shake off one or two cardiac arrests like it weren’t a thing).
Endurance makes you a more robust person. The more robust a person you are, the more fun you can have. And by fun I mean drugs and silly things. Remember that vial of speed you sniffed? In addition to depleting charges, it straight up damages your health. There are medicines to heal yourself up, of course. I hear doing magnesium, GABA-max, speed and the psychedelic anti-radiation drug Pyrholidone is great, because you get to feel like a superhuman, have beautiful visions and there are NO DOWNSIDES! (Until you run out of magnesium and GABA-max).
This mad scientist’s lab is one of Disco Elysium’s more strategic elements. If it turns out the way we intend it to, it should be a pretty fun balancing act. And you get to do more of it if you have a high Endurance.
So far so normal. Until you find out that Endurance is also your gut feeling. And what your gut feeling tells you is – immigrants are bad for the economy. There are varied multistage reasons why women get paid less. You should return Revachol to the likeness of the Holy Sun In The Sky.
Yes. If you play a certain way you may find out this guy’s a fascist, much like the Rhetoric skill under INT tends to be a little socialist…
Fear! Aggression! Half Light is your fight or flight response. This one’s definitely the chattiest of the bunch. Not only does he mix well with a high Physical Instrument, telling you to smash everyone in the face before they strangle you in your sleep, Half Light also has some pretty keen observations.
There is a saying in Estonian: fear has big eyes. So Half Light and its big bulging fear-filled eyes may notice things the other skills miss. Half Light does not only get scared of people, it also gets scared of ideas and concepts. Sometimes a person’s name can fill you with terror. Why? Perhaps they’re more than they seem to be.
Perhaps you’re paranoid?
One of the nicest things to do with Half Light is aggressively interrogate suspects. Barraging them with nonsensical, frightening questions: did you kill him? Why did you kill him? Are you going to kill me like you killed him?!
A low Half Light, strangely enough, makes you both less aggressive and less afraid. In a way braver.
Pain Threshold lets you shake off that heart attack I mentioned, like it was nothing – a pin prick. It’s your get out of jail free card for physical damage – it’s what makes you crawl forward, bloodied, ready for revenge.
Pain Threshold also doubles as your inner masochist. You like this stuff. Please, can I have some more? And not only physical pain, but also psychological. Pain Threshold seeks it out and enjoys it. Painful memories? Nice. Excuse me, bookstore woman, what’s the most excruciatingly sad book about human relations you have? I want one where they love each other but it really doesn’t work out.
High Pain Threshold turns you into a pretty unhealthy person, paradoxically.
Shivers is the strangest one out there and it’s proven to be a favourite for many people who’ve had the chance to play the game for longer. You know those hair follicles you have on your arm, on the back of your neck? Notice how they stand up sometimes? Accompanied by a cold sensation? Shivers controls that – your shiver response. It’s a residual leftover from hundreds of thousands of years ago, when you had a use for it…
What it does now, in the city of Revachol, in the early fifties, I can’t tell you. It’s a secret. This skill has its own storyline. The signals your shiver response relays to you seem to come from somewhere. The sensations want to tell you something.
All I can tell you is – Shivers connects you to the atmosphere of the city of Revachol. To the side alleys and the burnt down city blocks far away. It’s the sound of the streets, the ghost that rises old newspapers from the cobblestones. It turns you into a lightning rod for sudden temperature shifts, barometrics and changes in weather. Shivers even reacts to the weather our randomly generated climate system summons. If it’s raining Shivers tells you one thing, if it’s snowing, it’ll tell you another.
Ultimately, a high Shivers lets you hear and feel the city of Revachol. It is the only clearly supra-natural ability you have in the game. Figuring out what it all means and who speaks to you through those rising hair follicles, is a mystery for you to solve.
I suspect it will take quite a few playthroughs, though. This game really has a crazy amount of little things hidden in the way the skill system reacts to the things you see and do in Revachol.
Coming soon – Motorics. The cool, down to Earth counterpart to Physiques’ unholy mysteries.