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General Forge Forums => First Thoughts => Topic started by: Daniel B on February 02, 2009, 02:32:17 AM



Title: New stab at the old Abilities/Skills split - problems? holes? contradictions?
Post by: Daniel B on February 02, 2009, 02:32:17 AM
Hi folks,

I first became aware of the huge debates surrounding this topic when I discovered this thread (http://'http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26752.15'), and the huge number of other threads it points to. Back in the "old days", I had always taken an ability/skill split for granted because my only exposure to roleplaying was D&D, and it seemed to make sense that where you weren't trained in a skill, you should still have some natural ability to fall back on. After coming across those threads, however, I've been somewhat swayed to the "uniform mechanic" camp, ie there is no division between skill or ability, just a single uniform mechanic that is directly used as the Effective Value.

That said, I still love the flavour and nostalgia of having an attribute/skill split, and besides which, I wouldn't ever be able to convince the guys I'm working with to switch to the one mechanic camp. I've been trying to come up with a way to get the best of both worlds, i.e. that functions a lot like the single mechanic solution but which "tastes" like the split mechanic.

I think I've come up with something. It looks half decent to me .. but I'm hoping for a 2nd, 3rd, or 100th opinion. Maybe y'all, with your trained and critical eyes, can find a multitude of bugs I'm too biased to notice?

Note that I'm aware it's a bit math intensive: however, please ignore the multiplication. Our system uses a trick to make that easy for certain values, such as 2 and 5.


I call it the APTS system, short for "Abilities, Professions, Techniques, Specializations", and which is also a conveniently funky acronym.

Definitions
  • Skill - not a value on the character sheet. Instead, it is a union of the APTS (see below).
  • Skill Check - When a character attempts anything, the player may be asked to make a skill check. The player uses the APTS to determine his character's effective score, or skill.
  • Ability - automatically shared by all creatures of a type. e.g. humans have Strength, Dexterity, Agility, etc. Every skill check must include one ability, as these are also the fallback values when no Professions, Techniques, or Specializations apply for a skill check.
  • Profession - need not be the character's true employment. Covers a wide, diverse set of skills related in their goal or application. For example, a thiefly character may have Professions of "Cutpurse" and "Catburglar" on his character sheet, but be actually employed as a circus performer.
  • Technique - a set of skills that need not be related in their goal or application, but which share similar movements or methods of execution. For example, a thief might choose "Stealth" as a technique, a Monk might choose "Jiu-jitsu", and a wizard might choose "Conjuration Spells".
  • Specialization - a singular, well-defined skill that would be hard to imagine being used for anything but one single purpose. For example, long-jumping, longsword combat, seductive pole dancing, or "Charm Person" spellcasting.


Now, determining the effective value (EV) for any particular skill check involves the following formula:
      EV   =   (1 x Attribute)   +  (2 x Profession)   +  (5 x Technique)   +   (10 x Specialization)

The multiplications are fixed, and can be pre-calculated and recorded on the character sheet. Furthermore, the Professions, Techniques, and Specializations are optional, and must be specifically requested by the player. For example, let's say a thief, a warrior, and a wizard are trying to cross a ravine while arrows are being fired at them. The players each look at their character sheets and wonder, how the heck am I gonna survive this one?

Possible solutions:

    Thief - (A) Agility + (P) Catburglar + (T) Acrobat + (S) Tightrope Walking
    Described as the thief simply using his well-honed control over his body to keep walking over the rope while simultaneously dodging arrows.

    Warrior - (A) Agility + (T) Shield-Use + (S) Buckler
    Described as the warrior using his agility to attempt to stay on the rope, while blocking the arrows with his battle-trained buckler-arm.

    Wizard - (A) Agility + (T)  Conjuration Spells
    A case where the player may try to twist the GM's arm, which is fine.
    The player may justify it by saying that spellcasting requires complex arm movements, which comes in handy on a tightrope.
    The GM may allow it, veto it and force the player to use only Agility, or allow "Conjuration Spells" to be used at a penalty.



Following are some example characters built this way. These examples demonstrate the range of options a player has, although for a given skill check he must choose one attribute, and may choose at most one of a Profession, Technique, and Specialization if any are applicable. Each was built with 1000 points in Attributes, and 360 points in all other areas. Values are shown as P --> EV (where P are points, EV = effective value)

Durkon Thundershield         Professions (x2)                                Techniques (x5)
Strength      400              Cleric of Thor*       40 --> 80               Shield-use                     40 --> 200
Agility         100              Field Medic           60 --> 120             Basic Weapon Combat   40 --> 200
Dexterity       50                                                                     Martial Weapon Combat  60 --> 300
Intuition       250                                                                     Healing Spells                40 --> 200
Intelligence  150              Specializations (x10)
                                      Heavy Shield         20 --> 200
                                      Dwarven Hammer     60 --> 600

* A setting-dependent profession; implies a set of skills if you're familiar with the setting.

         
Mordak Killcaster      Professions (x2)                          Techniques (x5)
Strength        50        Red Wizard       50 --> 100           Fire Domain Spells    100 --> 500
Agility         300                                                          Conjuration                100 --> 500
Dexterity     150        Specializations (x10)
Intuition        50         Longsword             50 --> 500
Intelligence  450        Conjure Elemental  60 --> 600


Obviously, the biggest concern is the math. As I mentioned, the multiplication should be easy with our system, but that still leaves up to four additions for a single skill check. However, I'm hoping it will be sufficient that players will tend to rely on a standard set of checks for 90% of situations. Warriors will have their favourite swords, wiz's their favourite spells, and thieves their favourite sneaky or talky or subtley type checks.

Another issue is that the a lot of the skills are simply implied, so may lead to debate or confusion among the players and GM. Can a character with Profession (Cutpurse) pick open locks? Or can they only pick pockets? Hmm.

Anyway, that's all. So, back to my original question.. does anyone see problems with this system? Is it too ugly? Does it achieve my purpose of using a uniform but flexible mechanic, while maintaining an attribute/skill split?

Dan


Title: Re: New stab at the old Abilities/Skills split - problems? holes? contradictions?
Post by: Daniel B on February 02, 2009, 02:38:19 AM
Damn, shoulda checked the link before posting. The abilities/skills link is "Can someone explain the true reason behind "traits" (PtA style) to me?" (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26752.15)

It's an *excellent* read. Check it out.


Title: Re: New stab at the old Abilities/Skills split - problems? holes? contradictions?
Post by: dindenver on February 03, 2009, 10:01:57 AM
ST,
  OK, a couple of things jump right out at me.
1) "a lot of the skills are simply implied, so may lead to debate or confusion among the players and GM" - OK, the trick is, you need to design the game for nice people. Meaning, if you assume your players are jerks, then the design will necessarily be restrictive and potentially jerky or nerfy. I have played in tons of games where an ability implied a certain applicability and there was little to no arguments or confusion. Essentially, a good game with fast and lose ability names empowers the players to define what "Cleric of Thor" means to them. And attempt to define that or limit its applicability restricts the creativity of the GM and players. Does that make sense? Now, I am not saying that your approach is wrong, but I am saying that it is really more suited to a game that is more interested in minutiae or player vs player challenges.
2) Scale - The basic math you have outlined it not too bad. But, I can't see the scale that traits are being measured at. First, I think it would be wise to keep the ratings low. And that all of the traits (A,P,T & S) should be on the same scale. For instance, you seem to have greatly inflated the ability scores. In one sense, I can see why, they are only x1. But in another sense that means that the players now have to track huge numbers. If you don't like the fact that Abilities are x1, change the multiplier. For instance, I checked and with the exception of Dwarven Hammer, the APTS for Durkon's main checks (healing and fighting) their Ability is the highest number. Seems to me like resolution would go easier if you scaled it all down.
  Also, what if you scaled the Target Numbers to match against A+P and then you added T & S (When applicable) at a x1 multiplier. This way the math is simpler and their effectiveness is guaranteed, right?
3) Default to Ability. OK, this to me is a game design issue. If you right your own skill list, then you can design it such that there is no activity that is not covered by a skill. The classic example players like to use is lifting. Add an Athletics skill that includes lifting and use that skill for your check. And if there is no skill to lifting, why do Olympic weightlifters need to train?

  If your players are hooked on Abilities, then make the game all abilities and then make skills have no numbers. But instead they are flags that allow you to use your abilities without penalties. That might make your life easier, no?

  Anyways, I think this is a good frame work to start from, but I do think you are making it needlessly complicated at this point. Keep up the good work and good luck with your game.


Title: Re: New stab at the old Abilities/Skills split - problems? holes? contradictions?
Post by: David C on February 03, 2009, 08:58:05 PM
It's your game, but this is my feelings about it.  To be blunt, I don't think a lot of people would play this.  In my experience, I'd say 1 out of 10 people I've played with would even be comfortable playing a game with triple digit numbers and multiplication. I would consider what your main goals in the game's design is, and pursue that, instead of trying to invent a better wheel.

Quote
had always taken an ability/skill split for granted because my only exposure to roleplaying was D&D, and it seemed to make sense that where you weren't trained in a skill, you should still have some natural ability to fall back on.

It sounds like to me, that your trying to adopt somebody else's CA.  It never bothered you before, why does it have to bother you now?   I mean, in my game, I *Know* there's more realistic armor / weapon systems.  But that's chasing a CA that is totally irrelevant to me, and including one of those systems would actually make my game less fun.

I'd spend some serious thought on your game.  You have elements in there that seem best suited to a narrativist game
Quote
  The player may justify it by saying that spellcasting requires complex arm movements, which comes in handy on a tightrope.
    The GM may allow it, veto it and force the player to use only Agility, or allow "Conjuration Spells" to be used at a penalty.

But narrativist play wouldn't worry about such silly things like if the skills and abilities are realistic or are mechanically structured!  (Heck they tend to be the opposite, with your abilitie scores being things like "Conviction" "Sky Lore" and "Vanity.")

Also, APTS?  Why not TAPS or PATS or STAP or SPAT? Usually that's the point of a catchy acronym, like THAC0 :)


Title: Re: New stab at the old Abilities/Skills split - problems? holes? contradictions?
Post by: Daniel B on February 04, 2009, 05:58:37 AM
Hi Dindenver, David,

hrm, I think I should clarify a few things. To do so, I've finally put up some additional details on our system: Okay FINE .. I'm revealing it. Presenting the Normal Engine! (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27543.0)

I hope you'll find it shows why I used the numbers that I did in this post, and why some of my choices are limited. (Some design decisions have been made and are now fixed.) In particular, the scale of the numbers was chosen as convenient for players using human-sized characters and who may delve down to the cat-sized scale, or go all the way up to the dragon-scale. As for why I'm choosing to use both abilities and some skill mechanics, it's not so much that I'm chasing after another CA, as that I've discovered another way to do things which has some great benefits. Namely, ease-of-use and freedom to be creative. I very much want these in the game, but I'm not necessarily willing to discard the ability/skill split to get them.

Dindenver,

about (1), yah, maybe you're right. I'm a stickler for preciseness and so, although I don't consider myself a jerk of a player, I get nervous when there's vagueness. However, it is my intention to keep the skills loose and relaxed so that players can define their own meanings.

The problem with any skill list, whether written by myself or by the players, is that there will be many cases where none of the skills will seem appropriate for a given problem. Players come up with the craziest ideas! It never quite feels satisfying to "hack" one skill to solve a problem for which it is unsuited. The skills-as-flags option simply takes the numbers from one place and puts them in another (and limits their range).

David,

the triple digits and multiplications come off as intimidating, but please check the link/topic I mentioned. (It's in the "First Thoughts" forum). I think we'll be able to get away with them, and they're rather critical to the functioning of the system. However, the triple addition worries me, and I'm taking your and Din's reactions as a sign that it is probably infeasible. Oh well X-)

I'm not really aiming for narrativist, more relaxed simulationist. Not that I'm aiming for simulation, though! I want the players to be able to freely define the nature of their characters, and place some structure on these characters so that they can interact with the world consistently. However, the structure should not be so tight that it constrains their creative options. This is why, while the abilities are fixed and defined, the PTS are left completely open. The abilities do not need to be left open to the player: a player might say "I imagine my character is like Zorro, with a sharp epee and sharper wit," but he's never going to say that "I imagine he also has a Stamina score in addition to Constitution, but only Dexterity, not Agility too."

Incidentally, "APTS" because it is suggestive of the trend from generality towards speciality, and emphasizes that the "A" comes first (which makes sense, since it is also the only non-optional term).


Thanks for the input, folks!
Dan