At birth the player chooses the player character's name, gender and appearance. Later as a child in Vault 101, the PC receives a book titled "You're S.P.E.C.I.A.L.!," whereupon the player can set the PC's seven primary character points. Later in life during the teen years the PC's performance on the G.O.A.T. determines which skills of the PC are tagged (tagged means raised by fifteen points); the player can also choose which skills to tag manually via choosing particular dialog options.
Every aspect of the PC chosen during early life can be changed when the PC exits Vault 101.
The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system should be familiar to Fallout veterans, though there are significant differences from past games. The player's S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes default at 5 points per attribute, with an additional 5 points for distribution for a total of 40 points. Individual attributes cannot score lower than 1 or higher than 10, regardless of equipment, chems or ailments.
S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stands for:
Derived statistics are attributes of a character which are based off (or derived from) the character's primary statistics or attributes which the player cannot influence directly.
The following derived statistics exist in Fallout 3:
- Action Points
- Carry Weight
- Critical Chance
- Damage Resistance
- Fire Resistance
- Melee Damage
- Poison Resistance
- Radiation Resistance
- Unarmed Damage
Skills in Fallout 3 determine the player's effectiveness in a variety of situations. As in the previous games, the player chooses three Tag Skills out of thirteen to be the character's specialties. Tagging a skill only grants the player a 15 point bonus to that skill. Your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points affect your skill points.
There are 13 skills in Fallout 3:
- Combat skills: Big Guns, Energy Weapons, Explosives, Melee Weapons, Small Guns, Unarmed
- Active skills: Lockpick, Medicine, Repair, Science, Sneak
- Passive skills: Barter, Speech
Perks are special elements of the level up system which grant special effects and abilities. In Fallout 3, you gain perks every level. Many perks have an attribute requirement, for example the Mysterious Stranger perk requires a Luck of 6 to become an option. Other perks have attribute and skill requirements. A perk's S.P.E.C.I.A.L. requirements cannot be met by equipping items or using drugs (with the exception of the Lucky 8 Ball).
For a list of perks, please see Fallout 3 perks.
Players who are accustomed to the rigid attribute and skill mechanics of the previous games may be happy to know that the new systems in Fallout 3 are much more flexible and allow for more changes during a character's development. For instance, tagging a skill no longer increases the rate of a skill's development, but skills gain their maximum effectiveness (and cap out) at 100. Additionally, while the Gifted trait (along with all traits) has disappeared, primary attributes are simultaneously less important and easier to acquire as your character grows.
Players who played the previous two games should also keep in mind that the SPECIAL system in Fallout 3 is much more forgiving when compared to the first two games: Low ability scores penalize the player less, while high ability scores do not grant as much of a benefit. Where in the first two games lowering a SPECIAL stat to 3 or lower could be a risky move regardless of your character type, characters in Fallout 3 can get away with SPECIAL scores of 1 in particular stats. For example, a character with 1 intelligence will find most character interaction in the first two games impossible, while in the 3rd you simply sacrifice a few Intelligence dependent conversation options and some skill points.
Traits were removed completely, with some traits from previous games having their negative effects removed and being changed into perks.