22 June, 2010

An alternate way to look at skills

Traditionally, a character sheet has a range of skills on it. Each of those skills has a value to indicate how good a character is when undertaking a task with the marked skill.

It seems simple enough, but it often leads to complications.

Some games (like D&D 3rd Ed and RIFTS) create synergies between skills. If you possess skill "X", you gain a bonus to skill "Y" because there is an overlap in their spheres of use. You often need to cross reference a couple of books to get the full range of synergies and bonuses.

Some games (like White Wolf's Storyteller System) use general abilities/skills, then provide specialties, or secondary abilities that fill specific niches that the main skills don't cover. Again, those players with access to a wide range of splat-books have an advantage here...and if the GM says that only stuff in the main book is allowed, you end up with play situations where the GM has to make an ad hoc call, or simply say..."Sorry, you can't do that because it's not in the rules". This certainly runs contrary to the idea of say yes or roll the dice.

Some games reduce this concept through fields of knowledge. "I am a cop, so I can assume that I know how to do Cop related tasks", a general skill field value is assigned to show how much knowledge a character has within their specified field...if you want to do something on the edge of the field, you don't suffer a penalty to your skill field value, instead the difficulty of the task goes up (I know that semantically this is much the same, but there can be a mechanical difference).

Other games try to simplify things by not applying degrees of competency to skills. I pushed for a bit of this is in "The Eighth Sea", by providing only 2 skill levels for each (basic and expert). Others (like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying) push it even further by reducing a skill to "Yes, I have it" or "No, I don't".

But I'm looking at my rewrite of Quincunx, and none of this fits the way I'm hoping to go with the game. The last example comes close though.

I want a nuanced game; not a stereotypical "Yes/No". But on the other hand, I don't want pages and pages of numbers or cross references.

The game needs to be immediately accessible, and at this stage it needs to feed into an "Otherkind" system.

So here is my plan.

Any skill attempt is made up of numerous knowledge fields.

Picking a lock might require "manual dexterity", "mechanical aptitude" and an "eye for detail".
Seducing a courtier might require "courtly ritual", "deportment", "seduction" and "patience".

When engaging in a task, you look to your assortment of traits and risk anything that you can justify in the attempt. The more traits you can relate to the task, the more chance you have of succeeding. The traits aren't task specific, each of them is a "Yes, I have it/No, I don't", and it's through the combination of these binaries that an individual skill attempt is resolved.

Characters probably start off with a dozen of these traits, gradually accumulating more as they get more powerful.

To explain a bit more, I'll need to go into some round about depth...but hopefully it still makes sense.

The core of the game is still the character matrix, but now traits are scattered across the matrix (where each combination of aspect and element defines the likely position of the trait, and there may be three or four traits in each matrix location).

A player starts a scene by choosing a stance (a combination of an element and an aspect). When engaging in a task, they may use any of the traits associated with their element OR aspect. If they want to access a trait that isn't connected to their element or aspect, they'll need to spend some time changing their attitude (through a quick meditation, a spell, getting angry, etc.).

So, as long as the character has access to the trait (due to their stance) and can justify it's use in relation to a task, they gain a bonus die toward their action. The specific placement of traits stops people picking a trait of "I'm Awesome" and using it for every challenge. The maximum number of traits that may be risked in this manner is equal to the stance (or "matrix node" in the early versions of the Quincunx text).

Note especially that traits are also risked (not lost) every time they are used.

I'm trying to keep things simple, different from other systems out there and fairly intuitive for newcomers. So there's not a lot more to the system than that.

Some possible complications:
  • Characters may have the same trait more than once. But they may not risk the same trait twice on a single action. The benefit of having the trait more than once is the fact that if you lose the trait in a skill test, you've still got access to another copy of it.
  • One or more negative traits may be applied to a specific skill situation, in exactly the same way that positives are added, thus reducing a character's effectiveness.
  • Players are encouraged to be creative in the descriptions of their character's actions. This is a bit like gaining extra dice through "stunting", but there is a cap on what can be achieved and the types of advantages that can be pulled into a conflict are automatically constrained to the current stance of the character. The bonuses need to make sense in context (and the inherent mechanisms help to enforce this).
  • Merits and flaws can be easily incorporated into the general skill system, rather than looking like an ad-hoc extra, nailed onto the side. "Do you have an advantage? (Yes/No)", "Does it match the element or aspect of your stance? (Yes/No)", "Is it appropriate to the task at hand? (Yes/No)".
  • Magic can be incorporated in much the same way, at a deep connection to the rest of the game's mechanisms...I'm seducing the courtier, and since I can "Create Illusions", I use this in addition to my "Seduction" and "Courtly Ritual" to gain the upper hand. Perhaps magic traits are lost rather than risked, or they might be limited in some other way depending on the way the game system reflects the magical "realities" of the game world.

Just ideas at this point, but I thought I'd put them out there.
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