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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Focus: Step On Up Topic: Skills  (Read 5819 times)
failrate
Member

Posts: 34


« Reply #15 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.
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simon_hibbs
Member

Posts: 678


« Reply #16 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
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Simon Hibbs
Daniel Solis
Member

Posts: 411


« Reply #17 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
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Meatbot Massacre
Giant robot combat. No carbs.
Ziggy
Member

Posts: 4


« Reply #18 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.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #19 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
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M. J. Young
Member

Posts: 2198


WWW
« Reply #20 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
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Daniel Solis
Member

Posts: 411


« Reply #21 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.)
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Meatbot Massacre
Giant robot combat. No carbs.
Callan S.
Member

Posts: 3588


WWW
« Reply #22 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?
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
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