Talents are a general reflection of a character's strengths and weaknesses, rather than a detailed account of his ability in every situation. It's difficult to say where real people get their abilities. Some of it is probably hereditary, some of it experience, and some of it we just can't account for. Take Combat as an example. A good Combat Talent might be the result of physical strength, quick reactions, aggressiveness, training, or simply a rough childhood. Furthermore, characters with the same ranking in Combat may have the ability for totally different reasons. A game that tried to represent this would wind up being the size of a phonebook and would still be rounding things off and making some pretty big assumptions. It's better to think of Talents in terms of how they represent a character’s personality and role in the game. If you are playing a grizzled old mountain man, he should probably have a good score in Survival, while a sage should have a strong Academics. You can explain Talent scores in your character's background, and they do need to make sense for the character (the mountain man was raised on the frontier, the sage studied at a great library), but the complex workings that give him the Talent aren't important in terms of game mechanics.
Another point to think of is the fact that since they are somewhat vague, a single Talent might cover skills that a character is very good at as well as some she doesn't have any aptitude in. A character might be a brilliant guitarist but have a signing voice that makes dogs cry and babies howl. Weaknesses like this can be a great way to make a character feel like a real person. To simulate them, just assign a high score to the appropriate Talent, develop the skill you want to be good at, and don't develop the other. For example, I like to think that I'm a reasonably good writer, but my attempts to learn a foreign language were nothing short of laughable. In a character, that would be shown as a moderate to high value in Linguistics, a developed Write Game Stuff skill, and a really low skill in Speak German. Just because a Talent will allow you to develop a skill doesn't mean you have to.
Talents are rated on the following scale between 0 and 10:
Alternacy uses 16 Talents. If any are inappropriate to your world, or if you feel that something is missing for the setting you use, feel free to alter the list as much as you like.
Academics: This is basically the ability of a character to memorize large amounts of information and draw conclusions from it. It covers things like philosophy, literature, and history. Academics skills don't necessarily relate to an educational setting; a grade school dropout who hates books but has an encyclopedic knowledge of every game his favorite baseball team has ever played would have a high score in this Talent. While Academics skills may include numerical data (when battles were fought, how long ago the dinosaurs died), they don't tend to approach their subject matter in a scientific manner.
Administration: This is a character's ability to operate in a bureaucratic, "paper-pushing" environment. It covers familiarity with organizational structure, proper procedures, public policy, and so forth. It differs from Academics in that it is geared towards turning one's knowledge into action. Administration would be used by anyone trying to operate in or run a formal organization, from a pirate divvying up loot and purchasing supplies to a CEO buying out a competing company.
Artistry: This is a general Talent covering a character's potential for all types of visual art. Depending on the character's interests he may use this ability to produce anything from crayon drawings to computer graphics. Since art is so subjective, two characters who each have a score of "Amazing" in Artistry may have radically different ideas of the value of the same work; a high score doesn't make one a great judge of art. Instead, Artistry is the character's eye for what "looks right", as well as his ability to actually make his vision real.
Awareness: This Talent is something of a catch-all, reflecting a character's general alertness and ability to follow instructions and learn procedures. It can be considered the Talent closest to what other systems call "intelligence", though in Alternacy that is mostly determined by the way a player runs a character. Characters with good Awareness scores would seem to "have their wits about them", they quickly learn the steps one needs to take to perform a given task. Low Awareness doesn't need to mean a character is dumb, but it probably means they're at least a little spacey or easily distracted.
Biosystems: A very general Talent representing the ability to work with and nurture living things. Farmers, animal trainers, and doctors all have strong scores here. While a Biosystems skill may include knowledge of why a certain technique calms an animal or cures a disease, the Talent itself is an instinctive understanding of how organisms work and what they need. Although a farmer will eventually harvest his crops and a cattleman will slaughter his cattle, the Talent still deals with caring for the plants or animals; hunting and gathering are dealt with elsewhere.
Combat: Demonstrates the character's overall talent for both close and ranged fighting. Actions not covered here would be things like dropping bombs, operating catapults, firing cannons, and so forth: all of these deal with technical knowledge of some weapon system. Combat is the ability of an individual to point a weapon directly at someone and fire, or act in a melee. As mentioned earlier, a character's Combat score can come from a number of sources; strength, reactions, attitude, whatever.
Dexterity: A character's overall balance, agility, quickness, and hand-eye coordination. Gymnasts, acrobats, sprinters, and pick-pockets have good scores here. A low Dexterity means a person is probably clumsy and slow, while a very high ranking can allow one to perform truly amazing physical feats.
Handicrafts: This Talent represents how good a character is "with his hands", building and repairing things, modifying them, and figuring out how they work. In some instances this Talent may overlap with Artistry above, the main difference being that Artistry deals with producing something designed for artistic impact while Handicrafts deals with more utilitarian efforts. A lot of ground is covered by this Talent, from an ancient hunter making arrowheads out of flint to a futuristic engineer repairing damage to his starship's nuclear engines. A character with a good Handicrafts may or may not understand the details of why a material or device behaves the way it does, but she will have a natural aptitude for working with and modifying it.
Interaction: This is the Talent that enables con men, politicians, and counselors to do their jobs. Basically, it is the ability to influence and get along with others. As with the other Talents, individuals may have totally different styles and still have the same score; both a charismatic but brutal dictator and an understanding preacher may have Excellent ratings, it's just that they use their natural abilities in very different manners. Either way, the character with high Interaction will likely be respected and/or liked by the people he encounters, at least until he gives them a reason not to.
Linguistics: A character's facility with languages. A high score in this Talent lets a character learn foreign languages faster and more thoroughly than others, as well as allowing her to develop a higher level of skill in her own language. She will tend to have a larger vocabulary than others and will be good at imitating and understanding regional or social dialects and accents. Also, a strong Linguistics means that the character has a talent for creating speeches, dramas, and works of literature as well as non-fiction.
Magic: In worlds where characters have access to some sort of magical or spiritual power, this Talent represents their ability to call upon that power. Depending on the game environment, this may mean that the character was born with the ability, gained it through long training, or was given it as some sort of gift. Because settings are so varied, a high Magic score can mean the character either has some minor abilities others find a little creepy or that he is an immensely powerful wizard able to destroy armies and alter space and time. Obviously, not all game worlds will include magic the characters can use, and this Talent should be considered even more optional than the rest.
Performance: This is the ability to get up in front of a crowd and entertain or influence them. Another broad Talent, Performance affects everything from playing musical instruments to doing a slapstick routine. Since we've all seen performers who excel at one form and flop at another, the idea of intentionally not developing some skills is especially appropriate here. While Performance and Interaction both seek to affect an audience, the difference is that Interaction is usually targeted at a smaller audience, is usually more spontaneous, and seeks to affect the audience for personal reasons, while Performance is typically more staged and is geared towards a large and varied audience. Basically, the character who lies to her friends so she'll sound cool is using Interaction, but the character who lies to an auditorium full of people to get their money uses Performance.
Physique: A character's overall physical health and strength. Those with good Physique scores are better able to resist illnesses, the effects of injuries, and fatigue. A high ranking here doesn't necessarily mean a character is a hulking monster; a grandmother who's never been sick a day in her life and used to be an arm wrestling champ has a good Physique. Health and the ability to use one's available strength to full advantage is more important here than big muscles.
Science: The ability of characters to think of objects and phenomena in an analytical fashion. It is used in areas as diverse as computer programming, astronomy, and biology. Compared to Academics, Science skills are much less open to interpretation; one doesn't generally "feel" a certain way about an equation; it's either right or wrong. This is the talent that governs characters' mathematical and logical abilities.
Survival: This Talent represents the character's skill at staying alive and reasonably healthy in inhospitable environments. Basically, it's getting by on your own when you can't utilize the tools and resources of civilization. This can mean camping in the woods for the weekend, surveying an alien planet, or just day to day living if you're a primitive human. Survival includes understanding of wild plants and animals, the ability to navigate, and a willingness to live without the confines as well as the securities of normal society. Primarily useful in the wilderness, there are certainly situations where Survival could have applications in urban environments as well.
Willpower: This Talent represents a character's mental strength. While other's may be panicking or giving up due to exhaustion or intimidation, the character with strong Willpower is likely to overcome his own mental hurdles. A high score here can allow a character to ignore or lessen the negative effects of exhaustion, fear of physical harm, persuasion, or even fear of the supernatural. In some game settings, Willpower would also be the Talent governing psychic abilities or even some types of magic.