7/12/12

Skills and specializations

One of the many (many) game engine debates has to do with how many skills a 'skill based' engine (open d6, nWOD, etc) should have. I'm of the opinion that long and short skill lists both have their advantages and disadvantages. What follows is a generic houserule for skill specialization that I've been using in an attempt to have the best of both worlds.

The short version: require specialization past a predetermined skill level.



The long version:

A long list of narrowly defined skills provides more explicit mechanical ways to differentiate PC concepts - sniper vs. gunsligner, getaway driver vs. fighter pilot, etc. But it can also make it damn near impossible to create effective generalist characters. West End's old d6 starwars games are a great example. There were an obscene number of skills - there was a seperate skill for pretty much every different type of thing you could pilot or drive, and another host of skills in order to repair any of them. The result was that making characters with even minimal competence across broad skill sets ("I want my character to be good at fixing things") took an unholy amount of XP.
Having a few broadly defined skills makes generalist characters much easier to create (the techie character has a high 'build/repair/modify' skill) but comes with its own set of issues. There are fewer ways to create mechanically distinctive characters, which annoys some (but not all) players. In my experience, long term character advancement is these systems can also be problematic. With fewer skills to spend points on, PCs will tend to max out their conceptually important skills sooner. Scaling advancement schemes (where skills get harder to increase as they get higher) help with this, but over the course of a long campaign this just turns into glacial character advancement. (For the record, WOD games get around this by having a variety of supernatural powers that effectively add several more skills)

A solution that started (for me at least) as an open d6 hack, and that I've been porting to other systems for a while now, is to require specialization for skill advancement beyond a set level. That way you have a short skill list at low power levels and a long skill list at higher ones.

Specializations are a relatively common feature of medium crunch games like open d6 or nWOD. Their usual function is to allow a character to raise a narrower version of a skill (e.g. 'Pistols' rather than 'Firearms') for a lower character point cost. I can see the rationale behind the mechanic, but honestly, I'm not a huge fan of it. In my experience it is either too limited and/or expensive to be a reasonable way to spend character points, or too cheap, in which case it facilitates the creation of uber-specialized god-ninjas.

Under the 'required specialization' system, skills are pretty general at low skill levels. But after a certain point (say 3 dots using storyteller, or 5D using West End d6), the character can only raise specialized versions of the skill. A character can't raise their 'Firearms' to 4 dots, but they can raise their 'Firearms: Handguns' to 4 dots for the XP cost that it would normally take to raise Firearms to 4 dots.

This makes sense if you think about it - a character can be a pretty good melee weapon generalist, but at some point they have to focus their efforts on particular weapons. Sure, a lot of the skills that make someone good with a spear translate pretty well to sword fighting, but after a certain point, the higher level skills and reflexes are particular to the weapon type. The mechanical effect of this is that it is fairly easy to make characters that are pretty good at a broad range of things, but when players want to make their characters awesome at something, they have to make more specific choices.

No comments:

Post a Comment