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Author Topic: Skill Lists  (Read 468 times)

Zachary The First

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Skill Lists
« on: April 27, 2008, 10:27:18 AM »
OK, developers, is there a "sweet spot" for the length/involvement of skill lists.  I'll submit it has a lot to do with the overall feel of the game, but personally, in your designs, how much of a skill list (and how deep/detailed of one) do you favor?  

As a bonus, how does one try to reign in some of the potential abuse of "define your own skill/trait" systems?


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« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2008, 10:44:05 AM »
I have no "one-size-fits-all" preference for the length of the skill list in the book. What matters to me more is the length of the skill list on the character sheet. A functional character should only need some skills to be competent in his field, as an adventurer and as a normal person, and if I need more than 15 on my sheet (preferably less), something is wrong.

As a bonus, how does one try to reign in some of the potential abuse of "define your own skill/trait" systems?
- fixed values with variable traits (as in The Puddle, and in a deviant way in Capes with its even spread from 1 to 5 for each class of traits)
- give narrow traits an advantage over broad ones (Risus does this in a interesting way with its inconspicuous Inappropriate Cliché rule)
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« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2008, 10:48:39 AM »
Quote from: Zachary The First
OK, developers, is there a "sweet spot" for the length/involvement of skill lists.  I'll submit it has a lot to do with the overall feel of the game, but personally, in your designs, how much of a skill list (and how deep/detailed of one) do you favor?  

There is no sweet spot. Some will tell you there is an absolute correct answer but in reality, it is all about preference and game system. If your task resolution system is highly specific in its results you will probably have a more detailed list. For example, a skill list that has a Wood Working skill that then has its own success and failure results table (I have not seen this in years) usually has a lot of skills as you need to define those results. Alternatively, the wider the resolution system gets in applicability (roll under %, all skills advance the same and use the same resolution) the less predictable the outcome. What I mean is that you could have a ton of skills or a very few and it becomes a matter of designer preference.

All that said, I started 20 years ago, liking detailed lists. Even then though, I wanted easy extension (making up your own skills) and did this with the old apply % uniformly, same system, pick your mod stat and roll. Nowadays, I am leanring towards reducing the actual list but keeping the skills open. So, you would have Science with a specialization of Biology. Having another skill in Science (Microbiology) rewards the character by allowing a second attempt at a failed skill. So, the list tightens up without loosing the ability for depth.
Quote from: Zachary The First

As a bonus, how does one try to reign in some of the potential abuse of "define your own skill/trait" systems?

Well, I have a standard advancement system that makes all skills behave. So, if the GM wanted to allow the "I know Everything" skill, he could but then you still have a diminishing returns of 40-60-70-75-80-82-84-86-88-90-91-92....

Honestly, a bigger factor for me is that the skills are firmly defined as skills. You do not have variation that are magic. So, no feats or the like. It all works the same so you tend to get the player thinking in terms of "Fighter skill" means "Weapon Use". Encouraging that view using skill types helps.

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« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2008, 10:04:45 PM »
We've had a similar sort of discussion before in Short skill list - who likes 'em?

What I've found is that most players are not grognards, they're not into every detail of the system. They tend to be looking up, around them at their fellow players during the game session, and don't look at their character sheet much.

This means that of what's written on a character sheet, only about six or so things will regularly come up. Those things could be skills rolled for in play, some disadvantageous character trait the player really plays up, some outstandingly good or bad attribute, and so on - but basically only about six things come up in play.

It seems to be a common experience, that there are dis/advantages and skills utterly forgotten, and very minor ones which become very major just because the player plays them up, and so on. And then of course there are the things which aren't written down on the sheet but the player insists on them anyway.
"Just kill the guy, you know he's half-demon."
"No, that would be murder! I can't do that, it's against the law."
"Your character doesn't have the trait "law-abiding"."
"Yes but that's what he is anyway."

So in principle you only need on the character sheet those six or so things, you may as well toss out the rest. But in practice exactly what those six things will be in play isn't known during character generation, and players want the choice.

As well as giving them choice, it sometimes gives players happy surprises, as Morrow described on the other thread,
   "Years ago, we were playing a homebrew magic and technology game. Two of the PCs were in combat with some bad guards trying to kill them. One PC is a master at gun combat gets his gun knocked out of his hand after a few rounds so he draws his sword, which he's also pretty good it. That gets knocked out of his hands, too, after a few rounds. His character gets the snot beaten out of him for a few rounds fighting unarmed and unskilled and suddenly the player looks up from his character sheet and exclaims, "I'm a grand master in unarmed combat!" He hadn't used that skill in the game and forgot he had it."
With just six things, there'll never be any happy surprises :) But you may not care about that.

So, having a short list of skills and other traits will ensure you have a brief character sheet, and will mean that the character is well-defined to begin with; whereas having a long list of traits on the character sheet leaves the player free to develop the character in play, focusing on the bits they think are fun or important.

What came out of that other thread was that if the skill list is too short - about a dozen - then really those aren't skills, but character classes. If it's too long - over about a hundred - then there'll always be some skill which pops up needed in play, and a player gets pissed off, "but my character would definitely have taken this skill!" or else nobody took it at all and the game comes to a boring stop. So the longer skill lists can work if the GM is generous in which applies to what, or if they have generous defaults to each-other. "Okay, you don't have lockpicking, but you have clockmaking, so you understand the principles of little bits of metal moving each-other around, um, half your clockmaking skill you can use as lockpicking."

The other aspect is that if you have a long campaign, you may want long skill lists to give players something to fiddle about with in character improvement.

But then, long skill lists sometimes mean you end up with a very long character sheet. I remember playing Rolemaster, taking a character from 1st to 6th level, I went from one page of skills (one per line) to two pages. And honestly there were only about six skills that ever got rolled more than once.

I settled on 30-40 as the ideal number for players to choose from.

I'm not fond of "define your own trait" things. It relies too much on the creativity of players as individuals. And creativity varies a lot between people, and a lot between days - anyone can have an off day. It's better to have a list to choose from - if only for inspiration.


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« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2008, 11:46:31 AM »
  I think shorter is better. Maybe 20-30 skills max. If you want a detailed system, try not to go over 50 would be my suggestion.
  Things I look for in a skill system:
1) Each attribute (strength, dex, etc) has a similar amount of skills. This way, one stat isn't favored over another
2) Each realm of conflict (mental, physical, social, etc) has a similar number of skills. So that it takes about the same amount of effort to be amazing at any one of them.
3) That each stat can be used at least in a limited way in each arena of conflict (Physical, mental, social, etc). For instance, I have never understood why Intimidate is not based off of Str or some other combat stat...
4) That some skills aren't made worthless through specialization. For instance in D&D there is the skill Knowledge. It is useless. You have to pick a specialization and unless you have some clue from the GM that one particular specialization will even be used, its wasted points. Take "Knowledge: Dragons" at first blush this seems like a fairly useful skill. But at low level it will almost never be used and at high level there are so many choices for opposition, you might never use it either. And if you have it from a low level, everyone (including you) might forget you even have it...
5) Skill creep. Some systems you can see the skill creep as clear as writing on the wall. In other words, every article, expansion or discussion becomes fodder for adding another skill to the game. This seems like a neat way to "support" the game and keep the universe flowing and expanding. But it penalizes early adopters (who either have to start over, miss out on a cool skill or somehow manage a retcon to get access to the new skill)... In order to avoid this, you can make catch-all skills.
6) Fluff/time wasters. Unless your game is about the political machinations of an artisan's guild, having different "Craft" skills, is a waste of time and energy. Most chars will never take it and the ones that do want to take it have to take it 3, 4 or 6 times in order to be able to make anything useful...

  As to "Roll your own" skill systems, I've never had a real problem with this. In general, mature players will not abuse this and immature players cannot be prevented from acting immature...

  Good luck man, hope this helps.
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« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2008, 11:51:05 AM »
I like long, extensible skill lists with broad, overlapping, and nebulous definitions. :D

I like an approximately equal distribution of Skill<->Attribute mapping.

I like flexibility over precision in general.

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« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2008, 12:30:41 PM »
I added a skill sytem to Amber (terribly controvertial I know) on the basis of Amber experience that you can only learn and grow by overcoming obstacles (it's their premise not mine but it does limit power levels in a universe of infinities where the PCs are basically gods).
I didn't want min/maxing I wanted players picking the skills that fitted with their charcters not just having a skill cos it looked useful. Also as Amber is diceless I just wanted a value in a skill and thresholds where stuff could be achieved. So ... skills ran from 10 novice up to 50+ Genius, but being Amber there was no top end as these would often be compared against other PCs.  Now I didn't want skills that impacted the core mechanics so you can't have combat, psychic, endurance or strength based skills and you can't have skills that mirror powers like sorcery or pattern.
So ... players by ranks in skills they can buy as high as they like but 60 at painting is as good as da vinci and 55 in physics is as good as Hawkings.
With no defined skill lists players ended up with a lot of skills (each rank cost points .. but not important here) What was interesting was how families of skills turned up. So one guy would have play poker, play chem der fer etc and one guy would have play cards, another guy would have gambling... this left me in a quandary which was how to relate skills in trees ...

The long and the short of it is that I have taken this system and pared it down to a generic skill system. You can buy any skill (so long as it doesn't impact the core mechanics). Skills don't have a roll rather tasks have a difficulty and if you don't have high enough skill you can't do them (You can try to luck some things like gerry rigging a machine but not others translating a book into French). Ranks are now 1 - 5 + as the math is easier.
There is no skill list but a skill has a broadness ranking from 1-3. level 3 skills are stuff like wilderness survival, gambling and mechanics, level 2 are things like hunting, foraging, play cards,  engine repair, level 1 are things like desert survival, fire building, play poker, steam engines, etc ...
level 3 skills are 3 points per rank, level 2 are 2 points per rank, level 1 are 1 point per rank.
At the end of the day the GM determines the level though most PCs are fine.
Basically level 3 skills are at skill level -2 when checking and level 2 skills at level -1 so some one with Science 5 can perform tasks of microbiology at rank 3, but they can also perform Nuclear physics at Rank 3. You can buy narrower skills in an area you are skilled in like a tree and they stack so Science 5 + Microbiology (+1) = Microbiology 4 (or indeed Science 5 + Biology (+1) + Microbiology (+1) = Microbiology 5)  

The skill sheet is drawn out to make this easy to follow.

Might sound complex (it is a bit ) but only to set up very easy to play. It tends to mean that players have a few broad skills and so can cover off the basic core skills without huge lists on their sheets but there is a degree of specialisation as well. So in a modern game typically most people can drive but only one player will be a transport expert.
Because its portable, and no skil list, we can drop it into any system we like and its so easy to use.

Typically we would work with 100 skill points but you can tweak that. likewise you can make ranks 4 and 5 more expensive and add ranks 6 to whatever  so long as the players have a yardstick as to how to measure their relative skills. So by default replacing a carbouretta on a '78 Cortina needs Car repair 2, (or engine repair 3 , or even Mechanic 4) then they need to know if you decide to increase this in your game to Car repair 6 ....
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« Reply #7 on: April 30, 2008, 05:33:42 PM »
free resources:
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Tables for Fables Random charts for any fantasy RPG rules.
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Cute Board Heroes Paper 'miniatures'.
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Dungeon generator for Basic D&D or Tunnels & Trolls.


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« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2008, 01:55:19 PM »
Quote from: Zachary The First
As a bonus, how does one try to reign in some of the potential abuse of "define your own skill/trait" systems?

Make them a reserve of some kind. "So, you already used all your 'Phenomenal Cosmic Power' in the first hour? Sucks to be you."