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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: deadpanbob on October 02, 2003, 06:27:40 PM



Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: deadpanbob on October 02, 2003, 06:27:40 PM
All:

Once again, my search-kwon-do has failed me here at the Forge.  I swear I don't have this much problem at other sites...

In any case, I'm hoping that someone has already raised this topic and there are some relevant threads I can read to see if they address my question.

I did a search and came up with a lot of Indie Game Design threads - which is okay, and I'm reading them to see if anything comes out of it.  The only theory threads I saw address this issue in general, or only tangentially.

The situation: I'm designing a game with a Step On Up focus - that is to say specifically that the game's primary reward mechanic tends to reinforce the use of the supported techniques in ways that tend to facilitate Gamist play.

I'm trying to decide whether or not character's skills can effectively be general, palyer defined sets of skills like Cover is in Sorcerer (general, and applicible in lots of different situations) or do the skills have to come from a proscribed list with all of the associated definitional language and supporting text that define when a given skill can and can't be used.

The issue is this: in a game that tends to value the Step On Up, will that support be devalued by player definible skills?

So, are there any threads (preferably outside of specific game designs, since I'd prefer to hear arguments at the theory level rather than in the specific) that have addressed this topic?  I suspect that there are, but I just can't find them.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

Cheers,


Jason


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: M. J. Young on October 02, 2003, 11:00:33 PM
Jason, I'm not sure about threads, but I think you can probably do what you want with general skills, assuming that they'll be handled well that way.

The difficult part to avoid is the possibility that a player would be able to so define one skill that it could be useful for absolutely everything, and then run up its power significantly. This becomes a mechanics advantage as against players who are trying to cover all the bases with several skills, and against players who are specializing.

As an example, I had a Multiverser player tell me not so long ago that he wanted his character to develop a martial arts style. Sure, I said; write up what you're thinking and I'll take a look at it (Multiverser has player-defined skills as a big part of the design). Next thing I know, I'm looking at a modern ninja skill set that includes the ability to kill with bare hands, to use any firearm, to dodge bullets, to use half a dozen stealth skills, overcome security systems and locks, recognize opponent weaknesses--I forget what else. I responded that that was much more than a martial arts style, really, and would take a very long time to learn; one of the other players voiced support, suggesting that what the player wanted his character to develop in a rather short period of time would take a lifetime to really be able to do. Now, Multiverser has ways of handling that--I was quite willing to go through the process of ferreting out all the different kinds of skills that involved, and letting him learn and gradually improve each of them. However, without some kind of controls, I could see a player saying that his character had "modern ninja skill", and then using it to do absolutely everything in the game.

So what you need is some sort of system or framework by which the referee can recognize what is an appropriate skill--how effective is it, how much does it cover, that sort of thing.

Otherwise, there's really nothing wrong with a gamist system that doesn't define skills. Several have been designed (none leap to mind at the moment) in which characters have three to five attributes, and whatever they want to do requires a roll against the attribute, with no skills at all. So it certainly can be done.

Hope that helps.

--M. J. Young


Title: Re: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: contracycle on October 02, 2003, 11:39:40 PM
Quote from: deadpanbob

I'm trying to decide whether or not character's skills can effectively be general, palyer defined sets of skills like Cover is in Sorcerer (general, and applicible in lots of different situations) or do the skills have to come from a proscribed list with all of the associated definitional language and supporting text that define when a given skill can and can't be used.


Well, apart from the fact that must definately not come from a proscribed list, but from a prescribed list, I think this is a good expression of what needs to be done, IMO.  I do think that for gamist play, crunchiness is good and that this requires the players to have distinctly different choices and have information about what those choices mean in detail.  This allows decisions to be considred, analysed, and hopefully implemented.  I think freeform systems tend to suffer in this area becuase the abilities are rather vague and few confident estimates of how things will interact can be made ahead of time.  Broadly generalised abilities often contain too many variables for serious planning, or for planning to bear much likelihood to roll results.


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: pete_darby on October 03, 2003, 01:54:26 AM
Hmm, thinkning about this and looking across at HQ (the one true love of my gaming life), initially I didn't see a problem: we've got player defined abilities, each with a well defined mechanical level and effect...

Except it's not, is it? Because of the old improvisational modifier. Now, you definitely get some gamist rivalry going on in HQ to come up with the best application of abilities to augment actions, or avoid impro modifiers, but any argument over application of the penalties can only be settled by appeals to the other players / narrator, not the rules (yes, I know, Lumpley principle and all that). Most gamists I know tend towards playing to the mechanics, not the narrator. But they may be odd (er, for that, not, you know).

Then again, what was is Rebecca Sean Armstrong said about Exalted feats? "Exalted doesn't promote power creep, it promotes coolness creep." When the system rewards creative description mechanically (as HQ and Exalted do), then gamists get creative. sometimes terrifyingly so...

So the question is: do you want your system to reward tactical play based on a known set of variables and emergent interactions form them (limited skill set with mechanically defined effects) or more freeform improvised application of generically described abilities (open skill set with player /GM adjudicated effects)?

What sort of gamism do you want?


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on October 03, 2003, 05:18:50 AM
Quote from: M. J. Young
The difficult part to avoid is the possibility that a player would be able to so define one skill that it could be useful for absolutely everything, and then run up its power significantly. This becomes a mechanics advantage as against players who are trying to cover all the bases with several skills, and against players who are specializing.


This is an issue I've had to deal with in my own design lately, but I suggest looking at it a bit differently. The problem isn't a comprehensive skill that lets the character do anything - it's a skill that lets the character do anything the player wants him to do. In games where skills mechanically act the same (see HeroQuest, where a guitar-riff-off can be as deadly as combat), it can be a bit tricky to let players define their own skills. With two or three good ideas, a player can make a character skill set that allows him to be very proficient at everything the player's interested in.


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: kalyptein on October 03, 2003, 05:22:08 AM
Donjon has player defined skills, but avoids the "modern ninja skill" problem by setting simple bounds on what a skill can be.  Your primary skill, of which you'll only ever have one, can be applied to one entire set of rolls, such as all attack rolls, all damage rolls, all damage resistance rolls, etc.  Secondary skills apply to subsets of those categories: all attack rolls with a longsword, all rolls to resist damage from fire, etc.

Alex


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: LordSmerf on October 03, 2003, 06:28:54 AM
I was just curious...  Why do you ask about the feasability of using player defined skills as opposed to system defined skills?  I would say that both are equally feasible, each with advantages/disadvantages.

System Defined:
Pros: clear delineations of what can and can't be done, clear choices must be made (you must work within the system to generate effects that a single skill you created on your own would suffice for), the aforementioned "crunchiness", little character generation supervision required (no one can create an "overpowered" characer that the system doesn't allow for)
Cons: ineffecient (to achieve and effect you may need three seperate skills instead of one), restrictive (it is very difficult to create a character that doesn't fit within the defined archetypes)

User Defined: pretty much the inverse of the above.  Effecien and flexible, but requiring a lot of oversight and there's less of that feeling of accomplishment when you combine a skillset so that it does what you want it to.

That said, i think that some sort of hybrid system might be interesting.  Something with system defined effects that can be built into skills.  In fact, that might be very cool.

Thomas


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: deadpanbob on October 03, 2003, 07:14:57 AM
Quote from: pete_darby


So the question is: do you want your system to reward tactical play based on a known set of variables and emergent interactions form them (limited skill set with mechanically defined effects) or more freeform improvised application of generically described abilities (open skill set with player /GM adjudicated effects)?

What sort of gamism do you want?


Good question.  I want the latter type of Gamism, most definitely.  So you seem to be arguing that for a Step On Up facilitating game that wants to have improvised (dare I say "creative") applications of skill, using general player defined skills wouldn't nec. ruin coherency?

All:

Is it possible to have the kind of creativity focused Step On Up that Pete is talking about here with a defined list of skills?  I'm not sure...

Quote from: M.J. Young


The difficult part to avoid is the possibility that a player would be able to so define one skill that it could be useful for absolutely everything, and then run up its power significantly. This becomes a mechanics advantage as against players who are trying to cover all the bases with several skills, and against players who are specializing.



M.J. - That's the rub - figuring out a way within the context of the rules to help prevent this from happening.  I guess I may yet have to plunk down the $$$ to get a copy of Multiverser...

LordSmerf:

I appreciate the comparison of system defined vs. player defined skills - it will help focus the discussion.

Do you have any thoughts about which of the two (or your proposed hybrid) would best support a game that's being designed from the ground up to facilitate Step On Up play?

Thanks to all for the contributions.

Cheers,


Jason


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: LordSmerf on October 03, 2003, 08:20:13 AM
Check me to see if i properly understand you when you say "Step on Up" play.  I interpret you as saying that you want a reward mechanic that encourages players to use skills creatively to "win," such as dropping a chandelier on your enemies instead of trying to take on 10 guys at once.  If i'm wrong what i'm about to say may still hold true, then again, maybe not.

I would tend to think that a hybrid of some sort would best serve your purposes.  You want to encourage original ideas, so some sort of player input on skillset is probably a good idea.  However, you also want to have a defined set of things that you can do in the gameworld in order to facilitate Gamist play.  A delineation of abilities is almost nessecary for Gamist play because you need to have some way of objectively comparing characters.

Hopefully, that helps.  As to exactly how to execute such a hybrid, it would depend on how Gamist you want the game to be...

Thomas


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 03, 2003, 08:42:32 AM
Starting with skills is, IMO, backwards.

First define what the arenas of competition will be. What do the players compete about? Against what?

Once you have that defined, then you'll have a better idea of how to make character creation and development more interesting vis a vis those arenas.

For discussion sake, if the answer is "everything", then you have some definite problems. That being that the actual arenas that arise in play will be subsets that you can't predict. As such, you'll never have an idea up front of how narrow or broad to make abilities, or how to monitor that. (PS, I've seen postulated before "modular" arenas that retroactively affect the abilities, but it's a complex spec to say the least).

See what I'm getting at? If you don't know the parameters of "the game", then it's hard to make it a fair and challenging game.

Mike


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 03, 2003, 08:56:27 AM
Hey,

Quick "Step On Up" clarification: it's not about the fictional situation the characters are in. It's about the real people's demonstration of their cognitive skills, their willingness and accuracy in assessing risks, and their ability to work with tricky constraints. "Guts" are a big deal.

The in-game situation provides imaginative meat for this real-person priority.

Best,
Ron


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: Christopher Weeks on October 03, 2003, 09:22:28 AM
I'm still not clear enough on the complex of GNS issues to know how these shape what you're trying to do, but I have a thought.  In a game where the players get to define their own skills, what if the other players get to modify them?  

So you're running the game and we're in chargen and you tell us to write down three skills -- anything.  So I, thinking this a simple assignment, write down 'running' and 'bargaining' and 'shooting.'  Then you tell us to pass our characters to the right and modify each of the skills we find by adding a line in the form of "this includes the ability to ..." or "this does not include the ability to ..."  To my shock, I find that my buddy Betsy, selected the skills: 'powerful psychic' and 'combat expert' and 'regeneration!'  So, thinking this is totally out of line, I can add "this doesn't include the ability to affect humans" and "excluding firearms" and "this includes very slow tissue regrowth."  And we pass again to the right untill we get our charsheet back.

And I'm not sure that "slow regeneration including limbs but not brain damage" is any more or less interesting than "running including marathon and sprinting with no need for hydration?"  

I think something similar to this would naturally buffer the 'power' level of the skill toward the group's local average while making for a richly defined consensual character pool with unique skills and abilities.


Chris


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: Walt Freitag on October 03, 2003, 09:37:26 AM
Let's look at this from a really focussed Step On Up standpoint.

Actually using a character skill (once its use has been decided upon) usually don't require or demonstrate any particular player skill. There's little Step On Up in the act of saying, "my character uses his ancient languages skill to read the cryptic runes." It's not as if the player is showing off his own linguistic accomplishments in the process. The Step On Up lies elsewhere.

So, what, exactly, is the Step On Up relevance of having and using a set of character skills? The following isn't a complete list, but it hits some of the highlights.

1. Skills as scorekeeping of past Step On Up. Skills earned and/or built up in effectiveness score by means of rewards (e.g. EXP) from past play are trophies of having survived and earned those rewards. The social payoff is when someone looks at the character sheet and says "Wow!" or when the GM winces when told what the character's skill level is during resolution. The higher the numbers, the more impressive.

2. The Be Prepared Game. The challenge is having the right skills for the situations that arise. Being prepared exhibits foresight and the quality of being well-adapted. The social payoff is being able to say "I can handle that." The more urgent the need and the more unusual the applicable skill, the more impressive (up to a point). The Be Prepared game can be a dominant concern at character creation (especially in e.g. superpowers) and it can also apply to shorter-term issues like equipment selection. The old daily spell selection-memorization rules for AD&D magic-users is the Be Prepared Game purified and elevated.

3. The Set-Up Game. This is the flip side of the Be Prepared Game. The challenge is manipulating the situation to make one's character's skills usable. The less applicable-seeming the skill at the outset, the more impressive. (Using your sneaking skill to get past guards at the city gate, ho-hum. Using your cooking skill to waft irresistable aromas in their direction, drawing them off station for a snack, after having convinced them you're a group of harmless travellers camping nearby for the night -- cool!) The social payoff is "I can't believe you pulled that off."

4. The Resource Management Game. This is the less-specific cousin of the Be Prepared Game. It applies in game systems where using some or all skills effectively requires an expendable resource, such as stamina or luck points. The challenge is in having the resources to make a skill (or power, or weapon) work at a crucial time, despite previous drains (or temptations for drains) on those resources. The more sacrifices had to be made to obtain or conserve those resources, the more impressive. (For an ultra-purified version of this aspect of game play, try Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings board game.) The social payoff is being the one to pull the fat out of the fire, e.g.: "I can give you one shot with the ship's phasers at full power, Captain. It's not much but it just might be enough!"

5. The Modifiers Game. This is the less-specific cousin of the Set-Up Game. The challenge is to manipulate the situation so that skill resolutions get the benefit of favorable modifiers. Most of what's generally called 'tactics' falls into this category, including combat tactics (using terrain, exploiting weaknesses, etc). The more the oddds are shifted in the player's favor, the more impressive (as long as success does ultimately result). The social payoff is bragging rights for squeezing success out of an initially unfavorable situation and/or a mediocre fortune roll.

6. Luck. Let's not forget that there is Step On Up in rolling the dice. Even though there's no skill in it, there's still a social payoff in getting a favorable roll. The more improbably "high" the roll, the more impressive (even if the situation doesn't require it for success), and the steeper the odds, the more impressive if the roll actually succeeds.

So, the question is, which of these forms of Step On Up are undermined or jeopardized by having player-defined skills of uncontrolled breadth? Primarily, #2 and #3.

The Be Prepared Game is directly undermined because sufficiently broad skills will mean the player-characters are pretty much always prepared. (Good for character protagonism, bad for this particular flavor of Step On Up.) If the Be Prepared Game is an arena for competition between players, then the game will be seen as tilted in favor of those players with broader character skills, or all players will be forced to take very broad character skills to compete effectively, strongly trending toward wiping the Be Prepared Game out completely. If it's an arena for competition between players and the GM, it could force the GM to go fairly far afield with fish-out-of-water scenarios or outrageous adversity to challenge the players with situations not easily covered by the character skills.

Broad skills benefit the Set-Up Game up to a point, because broader skills offer more ways to creatively apply them. No amout of Set-Up will allow my "rock climbing" skill to help keep me from drowning after I fall overboard, but if the skill is "mountaineering" I might be able to make a case that my ability to survive the thin air at high altitudes means that I should be able to hold my breath for a long time without passing out. However, as with the Be Prepared Game, the challenge depends on not having an obviously directly applicable skill for the situation, so too many too-broad skills will wipe out the Set-Up Game, whether for inter-player or player-GM arenas of competition.

On the other hand, the scorekeeping function of skills (#1) is not very much affected by their relative breadth. Nor are the Resource Management Game, the Modifers Game, or the actual luck of the roll.

So if the system requires skill uses to be paid for with resources, such that the resources become the effective constraint on character effectiveness via skills, broad skills offer little competitive advantage over specific ones. A broad skill, used more frequently, drains the resources all the faster. (However, care must be taken that the advancement system doesn't make advancing a broad skill more efficient than advancing several narrower ones, leaving the players with broader character skills able to afford a larger resource pool.)

If the system makes skill success highly contingent on fortune and favorable modifiers more often than on having the right skill in the first place (for instance, when every player-character has similar types of skill), then the breadth of a skill matters less than the player's ability to perceive and exploit tactical opportunities. (However, care must be taken that the advancement system doesn't allow players with broader character skills, needing fewer skills to advance, to boost the skill levels high enough to make tactics superfluous.)

If fortune dominates the skill-resolution system no matter the players' resource use or tactics, then the breadth of character skills matters less than how well the player rolls the dice.

In any of these cases, player-defined skills with relatively little control over breadth of skill will not raise major problems.

One thing I'm surprised I haven't seen more of is systematic modifiers in play to adjust for breadth of skills. It should be possible to have modifiers for how well and how thoroughly an application of the skill matches the skill used. For instance, if A has a "rock climbing" skill and B has a "mountaineering" skill at equal levels, then A will have an advantage in climbing a cliff because A's skill is more specifically applicable, but B will have an advantage in leading Hannibal's army through the Alps because B's skill covers more of the scope of the problem. If A has "longsword fighting" and B has "sharp weapons" at equal levels, A will be better than B using a longsword, and B will be better than A using a spear. With daggers, A's penalty for partial skill mismatch to the task at hand would be about equal to B's penalty for skill generality relative to the task at hand, and they'd be about even.

- Walt


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 03, 2003, 11:26:30 AM
Excellent comments per usual, Walt.

Quote
One thing I'm surprised I haven't seen more of is systematic modifiers in play to adjust for breadth of skills. It should be possible to have modifiers for how well and how thoroughly an application of the skill matches the skill used.

You do see these freqently in different forms. There's a lot of discussion on using Improvisational Use Modifiers in Hero Quest. You'll see some systems that have classifications of breadth built in, often in terms of cost of the ability, but also occasionally in terms of "defaulting" penalties and the like.

The problem with things like Improv Mods is that they require the ref to be subjective. If he makes a mistake, or expresses a bias this way, then the player has a legitimate gripe in this situation. Chalk that up as another problem for free choice of ability names.

There's a solution, however, from another perspective that we've not discussed. That's limiters on scope. The assumption has been that if you allow a player to make up any ability that it may be too broad. And without guidelines, that's true. But it's possible to have guidelines, and still have the precise definitions tailorable by characters.

Yeah, I'm talking Hero Quest again. In that game, there's so many examples that, even if a player is making his own Keywords that the ref can step in with relatively little subjectivity (and all pre-play), and decide what's appropriate and what's not. There's an intuitive sense that you get about the breadth of Abilities in HQ that makes this simple. I highly recommend this sort of method.

HQ does one more good thing this way. All Abilities are pretty narrow. Those that aren't cost more to represent that. It seems to me that keeping abilities narrow is the best way to go for this purpose as that prevents any from trumping the "Be Prepared" arena. But this requires something like the HQ Keyword method of chargen to keep straight.

I guess I'm saying that if you want free naming, having HQ limits seems to be the best way to go to me.

BTW, while Step-On-Up is all about player challenge, character challenge isn't unimportant. That is, if the in-game somehow specifies that the challenge will be about combat, as a classic example, then combat abilities will be more valueable in terms of all the Step-On-Up arenas. So when I talk about arenas, I mean both player and character challenges. That is, the Be Prepared arena is all about anticipating the character challenge arenas. If you limit the character challenge arenas, you can limite what the players have to address. And that can actually be balancing.

Mike


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: deadpanbob on October 03, 2003, 02:16:21 PM
Mike, Walt and Christopher W:

All very excellent comments that give me a lot to work with - Thanks!

Mike:

Yes, I agree that starting with skills is backwards.  I'm not starting with skills - but I'm also trying to avoid the Indie Game Design forums for now because I don't beleive that I'm committed enough to publishing a game in the near future.

That being the case, I'm trying to ask my questions in a way that are broad enough to be applicible to general RPG theory - but still get some use out of the answers and thoughts to help my game design.

In addition to M.J.'s Multiverser, looks like I also need to pick up a copy of HeroQuest.

I really liked both Christopher's and Mikes thoughts on how to make player defined skills work in play - and I really appreicate the very insightful comments that Walt made - that really helped me to put the question in clear focus.

Thanks a lot guys - as usual this is easily five of the most helpful online disucssion forums out there all by itself.

Unless someone has a totally different perspective to offer, I consider this thread to be closed.

Cheers,


Jason

P.S. Ron - thanks also for the quick "Step On Up" clarifier...


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: failrate on October 08, 2003, 10:42:33 PM
I suppose if you wanted to be democratic, and I see myself using this method in my boilerplate RPG I've been developing, you could have a bit of a hybrid of skill lists + free form as follows.

If a player wants a unique skill developed for his/her character, then they can spend some time writing a brief outline of the skill.  The player can then present this to the GM for approval.  If it is obviously a game breaker, the GM has ultimate veto authority.  Also, the GM can point out changes that might be made or alter the effects and numbers.

Once the skill is pretty much finalized, then it should be put to a vote amongst the players.  It shuuld be an anonymous vote.  That is, the other players will not be told for whose character the skill is being designed, it may be that the other players will never be able to use this skill (as it may be truly unique), and the players will not be informed that this is a "player character" skill for which they are voting.

If a GM wishes to introduce a new NPC skill into the game, he should use the same voting mechanic.  Also, the GM can hold congresses on a new skill with no intent of actually introducing the skill.  It could just be a smokescreen to throw off the players (an old trick of the GM rolling dice for no actual reason except to make the players nervous springs to mind).

In any case, everyone gets a vote, but the GM secretly doesn't count the vote of the person who designed the skill.  Also, everyone at the table should voice any concerns they have about the skill being game-breaking or still needing modification.  So, the group as a whole essentially designs the skill.

I have a few problems with this system I created, but they aren't necessarily deal-breakers.  One, this assumes a quantity of trust that the player-cum-skill designer won't try to secretly influence the vote.  Two, this assumes that a game-breaking skill won't get through simply because no one catches it (although the skill could surely be modified by GM veto power after the first session in which it is used).  Third, it would be very difficult and story-disrupting to introduce a new skill in the middle of a gaming session, so it is assumed that the vote will occur before or after play.  Fourth, if there is a tie, I have no real solution except to leave it up to the GM to roll a polyhedronal die against his Wisdom score.

Also, once the skill is approved, the player character will need to expend time or experience whatever training in the new skill.  I will say that entirely new skills would be the most difficult to develop, but skills based on existing skills or skill sets will be the easiest as there is already a prototype from which to derive.


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: simon_hibbs on October 10, 2003, 02:06:57 AM
Quote from: Mike Holmes
HQ does one more good thing this way. All Abilities are pretty narrow. Those that aren't cost more to represent that. It seems to me that keeping abilities narrow is the best way to go for this purpose as that prevents any from trumping the "Be Prepared" arena. But this requires something like the HQ Keyword method of chargen to keep straight.


I've developed a rule of thumb for whether an ability is appropriate or not. First off you determine what sub-categories of activity the ability covers. Then ask yourself, would it make sense to have charactres with different relative competence in these sub-abilities in the same game? If the answer is yes, the ability is too broad. If the answer is no, then that means the sub-abilities aren't relay significant enough themselves and can be subsumed into the one ability.

Take the ninja example. Woudl it make sense to have two ninjas in the group with different ratings in stealth and sword skill? Obviously yes. You could have a stealth specialist and a sword fighting specialist and those would be significantly different characters. Therefore it does not make sense to subsume both abilities within a single skill.

For comparison, lets say we are considering whether to have a single stealth skill. You could break it up into urban and wilderness stealth because those are very different environments. But is that realy significant in play? I'd say no. Sure you could have a wilderness neaker and an urban sneaker, but realisticaly any player who want to play a stealthy character will relay want to be able to do both. Therefore I'd have a single stealth ability.

Now your mileage may vary depending on the subject of your game and the mix of characters you're likely to have. I might make different decisions too depending on the subject and intent of the game.


Simon Hibbs


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: Daniel Solis on October 10, 2003, 05:00:41 AM
The way PUNK is working out player-defined skills, at least for now, is to focus on making a trait's mechanical value determined by dramatic context. To do this, the system combines the concepts of advantages and disadvantages into a single mechanical element: traits. Traits can be a skill, body of knowledge, philosophy, personality quirk... essentially anything that would help the character do what the player thinks would be fun to play.

During character creation, player-defined traits are composed of situations where the trait is relevant as a bonus, an addition of a die to the dice pool, or a penalty, the removal of a die. For example:
Quote
"Come with me if you want to live."
+ Earning trust from strangers in times of crisis

"Louisville Slugger Fu"
+ Busting skulls with a baseball bat
+ Intimidating people with my wild bat-swinging gesticulations
- Playing regular, nonviolent baseball.

Ninja
+ Assassinating corrupt shoguns
+ Commiting crime for pay
+ Theft
- Open combat
- Playing fair


(The number of +'s and -'s is determined by the rank of the trait. Low rank means less character interest and thus not as many conditions of relevance. Higher rank means more conditions of relevance, both positive and negative.)

This method of player-definition does a number of things.

Player Self-Awareness
It gets players to really think about what they want to do during the game. (One would hope that what the players want to do in-game is what they consider 'fun.')  

GM Player-Awareness
It helps the GM know and prepare for what the players hope to get from the game. Hopefully, this eases some disagreements about what the game will be about. Unfortunately, I've yet to think of a way to give the GM some avenues for expressing her desires for the game.

Players can do what they want more easily...
... while making what they don't want to do more difficult. Though that seems like an obvious concept, I've noticed myself often stifling under how the system decides I should solve my problems in-game. (AD&D's emphasis on combat forcing many attempts at problem solving to be reduced to a to-hit roll, leaving wizards and clerics at a significant disadvantage.)

More than likely, players will be assigning their trait's relevance values according to what they want to be better at doing in-game. They'll also be assigning negative relevance to situations where they don't want to be or don't expect to be. In any case, it's a tiny bit of gamism to help players figure out exactly what they want from the game.

Broad vs. Narrow
This is the sticky wicket with player-defined traits. If the ability is too broad for the chosen game setting, it's an unbalancing uber-ability. If too narrow, the trait effectively costs the same amount of game resource to purchase as a regular, frequently useful trait but for what amounts to little more than a 'quirk.'

By assigning relevance-value to player-defined traits, the player and GM come to an agreement about what such n' such trait can do. Incidentally, PUNK allows and encourages "rubber-banding" to stretch the definition of a trait to be positively relevant in a situation not yet defined as one which the trait is positively relevant. Because the relevance is specifically defined before play, the rubber-banding has a commonly accepted 'point of departure' from the original definition.

Well anyhoo, that's how PUNK does it. (Or 'will do it,' I should say, once I compile enough new material to make a big update to the site.) YMMV


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: Ziggy on October 10, 2003, 10:16:14 AM
Quote from: pete_darby

Then again, what was is Rebecca Sean Armstrong said about Exalted feats? "Exalted doesn't promote power creep, it promotes coolness creep." When the system rewards creative description mechanically (as HQ and Exalted do), then gamists get creative. sometimes terrifyingly so...


Rebecca Sean Borgstrom, writer of Nobilis (and parts of the new Exalted: Sidereals book). I think she was referring the newer and weirder stuff in the sourcebooks, rather than the game-in-play.

On the topic, however, I think a lot of gamism is making the most of the resources available to you - working out what you can achieve with six spells and 27 hit points, or what-have-you. If the skills are not fixed, getting the most milage out of your skills by defining them very widely can become a game in itself, presumably with undesirable consequences.


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: Mike Holmes on October 10, 2003, 10:45:00 AM
Simon reminded me of something that I posted a while back to the Hero Wars rules list:

Quote
Mike's list of ability criteria (if the answer to any of these questions is
no, then the ability is probably not suitable):
1. Does it match the scope of the example abilities?
2. Would you expect the ability to get investigated play (instead of just
rolled against with little explanation) such that the character becomes more revealed by it's use?
3. Can the ability be refined in play by finding limits on it's use?
4. Does the ability have the potential to be used as a "fault" in some
cases, or at least leave the character beholden in some manner?

Mike

P.S. there's a power scaling fifth criteria as well that's somewhat
unrelated. An ability has to make as much sense rated at 13 as it does at
5w5. That is, Destroy Planet 13 makes little sense. But Destiny to Destroy
Planet 13 makes much more sense. Invulnerable 13 isn't as good as Resistant
13 (with Resistant 5w5 being "nigh invulnerable").


Number 4 is really cool. That is, in Hero Quest any Ability rating can theoretically be used against a character. If you incorporate that into the game, then you have another built in criteria.

The example Ability we were discussing is "Lucky". Here's how it fails each criteria.
1. Lucky could easily be used for anything. So, obviously too broad there in comparison to other Abilities.
2. In play I see Lucky getting used to add to every roll, but never being explained further than "well, he's just Lucky".
3. If one could find limits on Lucky, they'd be applied in the name of the Ability to start, I think. Lucky at Cards would be perfectly appropriate. Little different in effect than Cardshark skill, which is completely suitable. But starting with Lucky, I think that a player will be loathe to allow any exceptions.
4. Lucky is the perfect example of an ability that can't be used against the character. Uh, you're so Lucky that you find too much gold? No, just no reasonable downside to Lucky. Even an Ability like Intuitive can be used against someone by an enemy who's aware of it to cleverly mislead someone.
5. Lucky could scale, so it passes this one.

I think using a checklist like this one you can come up with a system that allows players lattitude, but has results that are good for the game.

Mike


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: M. J. Young on October 10, 2003, 04:18:29 PM
Quote from: Simon Hibbs
I've developed a rule of thumb for whether an ability is appropriate or not. First off you determine what sub-categories of activity the ability covers. Then ask yourself, would it make sense to have charactres with different relative competence in these sub-abilities in the same game? If the answer is yes, the ability is too broad. If the answer is no, then that means the sub-abilities aren't relay significant enough themselves and can be subsumed into the one ability.

Multiverser calls this discrimination and generalization, and uses the example of driving a vehicle to illustrate it.

In most games, it's likely that most characters will not need more detail than that they can drive the car, and how well. If a situation arises in which the player wants his character to make a stunt turn or some other difficult maneuver, a driving skill check is implicated, possibly with a situation modifier.

However, it might be that a particular world suggests special applications of driving skill. In a modern espionage world, for example, there might be reason to separate "professional chauffer" from "professional race car driver" from "professional stunt driver" from any of several other categories, including a collection of spy driving tricks, and allow the character to be rated in one or more of these quite apart from his ability to drive in normal traffic. In such a world, the referee needs to discriminate that.

The world could put even more emphasis on driving, such as a demolition derby scenario, or something with heavy combat driving, or even a Hollywood stunt man situation. In these cases, ramp jump, skid turn, wheelie, side wheel driving, and more might need to be detailed as individual skill--significant discrimination to determine exactly what abilities a character has, and to what degree. So if a referee foresees such an emphasis in play in the future, he should discriminate driving skill into more categories rather than generalizing it into fewer.

One of the beauties of the system is that this can be done as skill develops. A player can have an amateur level of skill as a driver, and then develop it until he splits it into professional levels in categories or individual skills, while retain a high amateur level in anything he doesn't have at that higher level of ability.

Your examples are similar, in the main. Should the game discriminate urban from rural stealth? It depends on whether there's going to be a lot of opportunity for stealthl in different situations such that the relative skill of each might be important. In most Multiverser games, I'd start with a stealth skill that was general, and when it hit professional level I'd discriminate it according to where the character used it, and treat any other use as amateur ability (still skilled, not as skilled).

So sometimes it makes sense to discriminate skills and sometimes to generalize them; but it makes the most sense to begin with more general skills and then discriminate them as they become better or more important in play.

--M. J. Young


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: Daniel Solis on October 10, 2003, 04:43:32 PM
Shameless plug, ahoy!

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Number 4 is really cool. That is, in Hero Quest any Ability rating can theoretically be used against a character. If you incorporate that into the game, then you have another built in criteria.


I agree, hence the inclusion of just such a mechanic in the PUNK trait creation system.
 
Quote from: Mike Holmes
The example Ability we were discussing is "Lucky". Here's how it fails each criteria.
1. Lucky could easily be used for anything. So, obviously too broad there in comparison to other Abilities.
2. In play I see Lucky getting used to add to every roll, but never being explained further than "well, he's just Lucky".
3. If one could find limits on Lucky, they'd be applied in the name of the Ability to start, I think. Lucky at Cards would be perfectly appropriate. Little different in effect than Cardshark skill, which is completely suitable. But starting with Lucky, I think that a player will be loathe to allow any exceptions.
4. Lucky is the perfect example of an ability that can't be used against the character. Uh, you're so Lucky that you find too much gold? No, just no reasonable downside to Lucky. Even an Ability like Intuitive can be used against someone by an enemy who's aware of it to cleverly mislead someone.
5. Lucky could scale, so it passes this one.


PUNK is a bit more relaxed in its DIY traits than this checklist. As stated earlier, PUNK traits are composed of defined conditions for positive and dramatic relevance. To be more specific, a trait's rank adds or subtracts an equal amount of dice from the dice pool depending on if it can be applied to one of its defined conditions of relevance. (A trait has a number of positives equal to its rank, a number of negatives equal to its rank-minus-one.)

So the "cost" of higher ranks is the definition of circumstances where the trait has a negative dramatic relevance.

You could, theoretically, just create the trait "lucky" and have its condition of positive dramatic relevance be "all the time." But it will only add a minimal bonus despite its breadth of definition. It would not be possible to raise it's rank without coming up with conditions of negative relevance first.

The next highest trait-rank has the potential to add two dice when the trait is of beneficial dramatic relevance. Further, the player can define one more condition where being "lucky" is of positive dramatic relevance. However, the cost is also that he must define how being lucky is of negative dramatic importance.

For example, you're making a PUNK character with a second-rank "Lucky" trait. You define the two conditions for beneficial dramatic relevance. Being lucky is beneficial, well, anytime. However, saying one of the conditions of relevance is "anytime" prevents a second beneficial condition since it's already covered. Instead, you decide that your character may be lucky, but she's also very superstitious. By extension, her luck is only active once she's taken a few precautions, otherwise her self-doubt interferes with her natural luck.

The two conditions of positive relevance you've chosen are + While wearing her lucky four-leaf clover and  + While making sure not to step on any cracks on the sidewalk.

Now that the nature of the lucky trait has been adjusted slightly, it makes sense to have a condition where the character's natural luck is not in effect. Because the luck is linked to superstitious habits, the condition for negative dramatic relevance is defined as - When forced to rely on herself instead of her luck. Meaning, when she has been prevented from performing the superstitious precautions that she believes grant her luck.

[/shameless plug]

(As an aside, when does talking about our how our own projects deal with a thread's topic veer into self-promotion? I'm always self-conscious about that.)

(EDIT: I'll make a separate thread for that last question in Site Discussion.)


Title: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills
Post by: Callan S. on October 26, 2003, 05:01:40 PM
Quote from: M. J. Young
Jason, I'm not sure about threads, but I think you can probably do what you want with general skills, assuming that they'll be handled well that way.

The difficult part to avoid is the possibility that a player would be able to so define one skill that it could be useful for absolutely everything, and then run up its power significantly. This becomes a mechanics advantage as against players who are trying to cover all the bases with several skills, and against players who are specializing.

*snip*


I thought I might simplify what I think goes wrong here. Say all players are given 5 self determined skills. Well, when one player makes a skill cover a lot of things, its like he's given himself more than 5 skill selections. He's got 8 or 9 or more. Likewise you could have problems with players who over specialise...its like they've got only 2 or 3 skills because of just how unoften that specialised skill will be used. And they can all look identical numbers wise while being very different in application.

You could add a 'broad base, but shallow knowledge' option. Eg, the players still define the skill, but the GM evaluates how broad the skill is, and then in each application that, although it applies, the knowledge is shallow (eg, a penalty is applied). Essentially fighting subjectiveness with subjectiveness, which is dangerous. But what else does counter the potential evils of subjectiveness?