Friday, July 29, 2011


Ok, enough combat for now. We'll need to come back to it after other things have evolved a bit more, but I feel like we've got enough of a foundation to work with. That brings us to something that's potentially even stickier: Skills.

Broadly speaking, skills are going to be what distinguishes one dice pool from another. That may seem like a very pedestrian, gamey way to describe them, but in practice it's the purpose they ultimately serve outside of the game space. Inside the game, in the fiction, there's obviously a bit more to it than than, but to someoen watching your game, they're the reason you rolled 5 dice instead of 3.

There are a lot of different ways to handle skills lists. There's the traditional skill list, where you create an actual list of skills which - hopefully - covers everything a character might do and let players buy from it. There's the broadly descriptive model, where players simply take descriptors (like Cop, Soldier or Pastry Chef) and use those values for anything that fall under the auspices of that descriptor. There are hybrid models that use a short list of broad descriptors to be all encompassing. And we've only scratched the surface - we haven't yet considered, stats, pyramids, simple and advance skills, specialties, descriptive vs. narrative pricing, implicit skills and many many other things.

All of which is to say, there's no right way to build a skill system. Use what you're comfortable with and you'll be fine, but if you try to present it as somehow inherently superior to other models, you mostly reveal your own ignorance. I think the skill model I'm going to pursue is clever, and I like it because it does some novel (and some less novel) things, but it's no great apex of skill design.

The system starts from two datapoints: I like cultural skills and the system has been designed so a d6 is a valid value. For the unfamiliar, cultural skills are a bit of an idea riffed from Over the Edge, where you had a 2d6 in anything you should normally be able to do. It's a super practical rule, but when you try to move the OtE system to another setting, you find yourself asking what "normal" is when you start comparing elves and dwarves. With that in mind, I want the starting point of every character to be "[Culture] d6".

Now, it will probably be pretty easy to figure out what that means, and if that was the only skill then it wouldn't really be much of an issue, but obviously we're going to need to start slicing things thinner. And that's where things are going to get a little bit fiddly, since I'm not going to let skills improve.

That sounds draconian on the surface of it, so let me explain a bit. The character's [Culture] skill will never be higher than a d6, but he can learn more specific skills at a higher level. However, rather than making a fixed skill list and letting people buy up it (So one guy might be Swordsman 2d6 and another might be Swordsman 4d6), I'm going to make the scope of skills narrow as they go up. That is, 1d6 skills (of which [Culture] is the only example) are SUPER broad. Any skill at 2d6 is still going to be very broad, but not as broad as culture. As such, Merchant, Soldier, Noble and so on are all valid 2d6 skills.

Each tier narrows things further. At 3d6 might be Musketeer or Doctor. 4d6 might be Fencer and Neurologist. 5d6 narrows down to a specific specialty, like rapier or diseases of the brain.

Obviously, each of these must be built on a foundation. So you need to have Culture to get Soldier, Soldier to get Musketeer and so on. These higher level containers create natural limiters on the flow of skills, so you don't just get "Rapier 5d6" out of the blue.

Now, this is a good start, but there's one more twist to it that I haven't touched yet, and this is the really crazy bit, but it's going to have to wait until next week. :)


  1. Okay, I have to tell you already, I like this skill idea very much.

  2. Oddly enough, this is similar to Zak's Gigacrawler skills:

    His is definitely a more old-skool game, but the idea is similar: all skills at a +1, and skills that are within the same domain as another but more specific can stack together. So while there is no requirement that someone take swordsman then rapiers, it's always in one's interest to.

  3. One of the things you are going to have to do is work out what happens when players want multiple specialities. For example Neurosurgeon [5d6] and Heart Surgeon [5d6], both of which spring from Surgeon [4d6], Doctor [3d6], Med Student [2d6].

    Personally I think that each skill should subsume the ones beneath it. That is the character should only have the Neurosurgeon [5d6] skill on her character sheet. This can be then used as Surgeon [4d6], Doctor [3d6], and Med Student [2d6].

    If the character wants to gain a new 5d6 specialty then they would have to effectively build the pyramid all over again (although they would get a discount for having done it before). The character actually wouldn't go back to med school, serve as a houseman and surgical registrar again; this simply represents the difficulty of maintaining oneself at the top of a speciality.

    Otherwise you are going to get a large amount of bifurcation at the top of the skill pyramid which negates the idea of a narrowing speciality. Instead of 5d6 being a mark of renown representing the best of the best, people will start accumulating multiple peaks.

    The character will still get the abilities of the peak, but at a lesser level. For example a renowned Fencer [4d6] (Musketeer [3d6], Soldier [2d6]) could still act as a Sharpshooter, but at 3d6, because the Musketeer [3d6] is the prerequisite for both. Similarly the Neurosurgeon [5d6] could still attempt heart surgery as a Surgeon [4d6].

    Anyway, have fun at GenCon.

  4. @rev That is pretty much the intent. The trick is goign to be trading off height and width, so to speak, in a useful way, so Med Student (2d6) would need to be broad enough - that is to say, have enough things that Doctor(3d6) can't do to merit the distinction. THis is tricky, but not doable.

    Honestly, this is why I;m thinkign the easiest way to do it is treating each increase as "buyign a new skill", rather than improving an existing one, so a character sheet might literally read:

    Frenchman 1d6
    Soldier 2d6
    Merchant 2d6
    Musketeer 3d6
    Baker 3d6
    Fencer 4d6
    Rapier 5d6

    With the thinking that you will always roll the highest pool that applies so, as you note, he can roll 3d6 for sharpshooting, though he'd probably be stuck at 1d6 for appreciating wine (though 2d6 for appraising it!).

    Arguably, I could just do "Rapier 5d6, Baker 3d6" and let it imply all the things below (and that ight even be a useful shorthand) but since there might be multiple routes to a specialty, I'm inclined to keep everythign on the sheet. This also ties into the part I haven't revealed yet, so I cheat a bit there. :)

    @Adrian Yeah, it's a solid model. I've also considered something similar for an aspect-only Fate game, where "skills" are dynamically generated from appropriate aspects.

    @Sirvalence I look forward to what you think of the upcoming twist!

  5. I've been following with interest, but this is the first time that I've actually said "Yes!" out loud. This is immediately understandable and functional.

  6. I think the multiple routes to the higher skills suggest that having the tree to get to a high end skill would be worthwhile.

    In a sense, this reminds me a bit of lifepaths, although rather than a perambulation, this is a tightening of scope.

    So, the [Culture] Skill is analogous to having skills in FATE at a base of average if they aren't in the skill tree. It gives a player a broad chance to be able to roll *something*, then.


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