Fortress Occident Developer Blog


Meet the skills: Physique

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.


Meet the skills: Psyche

In a previous blog post, Lead Designer Robert Kurvitz introduced the Intellect skills, which allow you carve up the world every which way, and assemble new and wondrous things from the pieces. Now I’ll talk about the six Psyche skills — Volition, Inland Empire, Empathy, Authority, Suggestion, and Esprit de Corps.

Generally speaking, these six unstable dudes will make you into a more sensitive person. This is both good and bad. Of all our four Attributes, Psyche is the most schizophrenic. You will be a magnetic personality able to pick up on other people’s feelings, a powerhouse of imagination and charisma. But this will also make you a greater burden on yourself.



Volition is the foundational skill for Psyche, as Logic is for Intellect. However, while Logic may sometimes succumb to the temptation of intellectual arrogance, Volition is more consistent in getting you out of trouble. It’s your inner good guy.

Volition is all about having a moral compass and the willpower to resist temptations — from the sweet smell of liquor to unsavory urges. Yes, you can bear the profound tragedy of human existence, Volition tells you. No, you do not need to take a swig from that bottle of vodka to help you do it.

And when your ego is being inflated by self-congratulation and flattery (say Logic and Authority are having a big old party in your attic, egging each other on), Volition intervenes to cut you down to size before you do something abominably stupid because you’re feeling almighty. Volition is the party pooper.

It’s also the skill associated with your Morale — one of the two life bars in the game, along with Health. It represents your will to finish the investigation, redeem yourself in the eyes of others. Run out of Morale and you’ll give up in a series of excruciating “I don’t wanna be a cop any more scenes” where your friends get exceedingly tired of talking you back from the ledge.



Inland Empire is your unfiltered emotions, dreams, and forebodings. Basically, Inland Empire has a lot of interesting (read: wrong) ideas about the world. It lets you know when there might be something mysterious or spooky going on. Why would you want to be just a regular old cop when you could be a para-natural detective, groping your way through invisible dimensions of reality? it asks you. (Inland Empire is, after all, the Lynchian skill.)

Inland Empire can also offer helpful hints via gut reactions – though you can never be sure when and to what extent to trust its enigmatic messages.

Of all the skills in the game, Inland Empire has been one of the wildest to write, since it also represents your uncontrollable imagination. When Conceptualization under Intellect is an art critic, Inland Empire is an unwitting creator. It turns inanimate objects animate and lets you have conversations with your gun, the corpse of the deceased – maybe even one of your items of clothing. The information it provides may prove right… in retrospect.



Empathy is your ability to pick up on subtle cues that indicate that something is happening beneath the surface of other characters. Not that they’re lying to you, exactly — Drama (under Intellect) is your go-to for picking up on lies. Rather, Empathy lets you know when there’s more to the story than meets the eye. Perhaps a hidden sadness that a good detective should be able to coax out of the people he’s questioning. Or hidden resentment toward the detective himself.

Have too little of Empathy and you turn into an ungainly beast who is unable to read basic social circumstances and may or may not be forced to become a virulent… well, let’s just say, you may not have as much control over some of your politics as you’d like. Empathy is not all honesty and feelings, it’s also a basic social survival skill that makes you come off as caring and emotionally intelligent. (Even if you’re not!)



Authority is the skill that likes to fly into a rage when it feels like you and your profession aren’t being RESPECTED. It constantly urges you to reassert your dominance over those around you. Was there a hint of sarcasm in that elderly scientist’s “It’s a pleasure to meet you, officer?” Demand that he change his tone, or else!

Every so often, Authority also supplies useful information. For example, it can help you understand the power dynamics of a group of thugs, or let you know how far you can push someone before they push back. But, to be honest, it’s mostly about displays of self-assertion, which are quite important in police work.

Authority is perhaps the craziest skill to have little of. Yell at teenagers, start crying while you’re angry, verbally abuse your partner to no avail. Threaten to arrest people, then back off. If you constantly fail at asserting yourself as a police officer, you run the risk of becoming the fabled Meltdown Cop.



Suggestion is the skill of manipulators and charmers. Need to talk someone into something or out of something? Suggestion will hint at the right approach to take.

In contrast to baton-flailing Authority, Suggestion is all about soft power — why threaten someone when you can make them believe their interests are aligned with yours instead? You’ve just gotta find the right words, man.

Suggestion also lets you know when someone is trying to charm you, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s just an innocent flirtation – but how can you be sure?

Suggestion is also what people in Brittain call a slimey-limey. It’s oleaginous, even when it succeeds. And when it fails… oh boy. If you thought failing at Authority was bad, try failing at Suggestion, Casanova Cop. Aka Copponova. Aka Romeo Returns Alone.



Esprit De Corps is your “meanwhile, back at the ranch” skill. It’s distinct from all the other skills in Metric in that it supplies the player with information that is beyond the scope of the protagonist’s present experience. Not in a para-natural way – rather, as literature. Esprit de Corps produces flash-sideways mini novellas of your cop friends, doing their cop stuff while you do yours.

Thus it draws parallels between your travails and those of your fellow officers all throughout Revachol. Esprit de Corps represents your connection to the RCM – Revachol Citizen’s Militia – the police force you’re a part of. And, more specifically, your Station – Precinct 41.

Esprit de Corps also looks in on your partner, Kim Kitsuragi, when he happens to be away. Thus, this system allows us to show what your party member is doing when he’s not in the party.

Take this skill if you like postmodern trickery. It’s a luxury skill, of course. But we see great potential for it in future titles. Esprit de Corps tells you: it’s not all about you. There are other stories happening parallel to yours. There’s a constellation of cops out there, solving cases, giving up and picking themselves up again…

That’s the gang this time around. Max out on Psyche in character creation, and these skills will argue, fight, and play tug-of-war with one another, attempting to make you follow this or that irrational impulse. It’ll be a blast, but make sure to buckle up!

A high Psyche goes well with most builds. Combine it with high Fysique for an absolute raving mad man. Or high Intellect for a mental bastion. Or high Motorics for one cool cat and charismatic leader.

Till next time!



This is the weekly croquis gathering featuring our very own art director Aleksander Rostov in the spotlight on the right. What started as a super small gathering of people graphite and hops kind has turned into a surprisingly popular gathering with different weekly themes. If you’re ever in Tallinn alone and cold (you will be very cold) drop on by!

Croquis drawing is quick and sketchy drawing of a live model. Croquis drawings are usually made in a few minutes, after which the model changes pose or leaves and another croquis is drawn.