01 May, 2014

Using Verbs, Nouns, Adverbs and Adjectives as methods for defining character ability.

Maybe I need to rethink the whole notion of skills as verbs.

It made sense at first...describe your characters action with the verb they are using in the world.

"Jack will run to the car."
"Molly will sneak up on the guard."
"Lou will repair the generator."

It's simple, it's direct. A subject applies a verb to an object. But once I actually try to break it down and apply the fundamental concepts to play situations it gets tricky.

"Daniel will occult the room"
"Daniel will occult the prisoner"
"Daniel will occult the situation"

Is he appraising his target object from an occult perspective? Is he influencing it in an occult manner? These two would be better described as...

"Daniel will appraise the room"
"Daniel will enchant the room"

But even now, the concept of what Daniel is trying to achieve needs to be clarified. In his appraisal of the room, is he looking for something in particular. If he is enchanting the room, what will be the effects of that enchantment. Occult is a tricky example, but it's not the only fly in the ointment.

We could change the core mechanisms to define what kinds of objects a character is more capable of dealing with. Does a character have an affinity with rooms, with cars, with children, with abstract concepts like love?? Following this avenue with nouns leads to just as many complications, just as quickly.

Maybe verbs aren't the way to go when defining which tasks a character is better at performing. Maybe we should be dealing purely with adverbs. Can a character do things quickly, elegantly, mystically, savagely, athletically, or dramatically? Is it better to limit the way these adverbs can be applied to situations (possibly a lot of work to cover a wide range of situations and still there will be cracks to fall through), or do we simply allow players to resolve such things during the course of play (preferable)?

Can we use adjectives? Possibly, but adjectives are applied to nouns, and this means that they apply to the subject and the object. Adjectives applying to the subject might influence the way an action applies to a target, while adjectives applied to the object might influence the way the target reacts to the action being performed.

Noun - Subject (the person doing it) and object (the target of the action).
Verb - the thing being done.
Adjective - Something special about the subject of object that influences the potential result.
Adverb - Something that specifically modifies the action being done rather than the subject or the object.

"Stealthy Molly will sneak up on the oblivious guard."
"Wise Daniel will mystically appraise the arcane room."

Is it better to use two or three options to define the abilities and specialties of characters? No. That leads back to the very issue I'm trying to get away from. I'm thinking this is too complicated.  

It's a case of choosing a single grammatical element and using that for the focus of the system...words that don't fit into the system need to get discarded.

...

Thinking about it more critically, skills might not be a suitable way of describing characters at all in this system. Perhaps we should get rid of the notion of skills altogether and purely strip things back to verb components. Do you have what is necessary to accomplish this verb (ie. you need wings to fly)? Do you have proficiency with this type of verbal action (if so, you gain a bonus when doing it...if not, you can still do it, but there are no advantages from attempting the task through the use of this verb)?

This negates the whole "occult" or "athletics" problem. Instead of specific skills, they become categories of expertise filled with a variety of verb types, perhaps even class descriptors in themselves.

How reimagining things has given me a headache...

I mentioned recently that I was switching the basic FUBAR system to be something more gramatically correct. This has been an issue from a lot of perspectives, it's actually something that has been long entrenched in roleplaying games...probably because at their root they were concieved by mathematicians, statisticians and people interested in mechanical gameplay rather than grammatically correct storytelling. The recent generations of story based games have inhereted a lot of the baggage from the past, and generally haven't known, or haven't cared that this is an issue.

Someone on G+ pointed out recently that the "Divergent" movie (and books it's based on) divide people into factions with names that might be nouns or verbs, with no consistency in the naming scheme. That got me thinking about the skill listing that I generally apply to most of my game designs. The core list has about 40 skills in it, many derived from White Wolf's WoD, some drawn from D&D, others just used to fill in gaps. I looked at the list and noticed that some of the skills were written in the form of nouns, some verbs, adjectives, again, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason, it was just cool words that described funky things to do.

Athletics, intimidate, strength, research, beauty, occult, investigation, gymnastics, crafts, repair, etc.

Thus began the idea to begin converting all of these terms to verbs.

Repair is fine... I can repair something.
Investigation can be easily converted across... I can investigate something.
What about occult?... How do I occult something? How do I athletics something?

What are the specific actions involved in these fields?

Once I start down the path of turning these skills into specific verbs I can see the problems that might have been inherent in the system all along. I remember thinking that the various Discipline names in Vampire the Masquerade (and the power in Wraith) had this same problem with verbs and nouns mixed up to some degree.

But let's focus on moving things forward. When a character does something occult related, what are they actually doing? If they're researching, then there is an overlap, we've already got a research verb.  If they're casting spells, that's something else entirely, and not all occult scholars are actually capable of casting magic, some just understand the mechanisms and might know how to thwart them without actually casting spells of their own. Similarly, a wide ranging skill field such as Athletics might be divided into specific verbs of run, jump, throw, and any number of other athletic feats.

I'm also having trouble with a few of the other terms I regularly use as skills...once I split them down into verb forms I see that some skills are very wide in their interpretation and versatility while others are very narrow.

I've also been contemplating the idea of a list of verbs that anyone can do, and then some specific verbs that open up with specific characters (eg. You need wings (or psychic powers) before you can fly).

Perhaps dividing the skills into specific verb forms is a bad way to achieve my intentions.

Still more thinking to do on this one.