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The developers behind the hardboiled detective RPG Disco Elysium, formerly known as No Truce with the Furies, already introduced us to their game's highly intriguing Intellect and Psyche skills, and now it's time for a taste of Physique, Disco Elysium's brawn over brains attribute. Apart from bulging muscles and rampant substance abuse, this particular introduction also boasts quite a considerable word count, so here's an excerpt and you take it from there:
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.