Thursday, August 9, 2012

I Like Skills (to an extent)

Skills get a lot of hate 'round these parts.

It seems that most of the opposition around here comes from one of two ideas:
1. A skill system implies (or outright states, depending on the system) that there are things you cannot even attempt. If I have Sneak or Horse Riding and you do not, I can do these things and you cannot do them.

2. Certain applications of a skill system, particularly where the oft-maligned thief is concerned, short circuit what some gamers feel should be organic play experiences. (Ugh, that sounded Forgie. Remind me to self-flagellate when this post is complete ;p) I think Find/Remove Traps is the favorite target of this school of thought, although "social' skills (Bribe, Intimidate, Persuade) often come under fire here.

I get it. I can see the opposition to rolling something instead of working it out. My oppositional thoughts:
-We should not have to be able to do everything our characters are expected to do. If I'm not a good persuader, am I not allowed to play a high-Charisma character with social skills? If I am not the brightest bulb, must I disregard my character's 17 Intelligence? I probably wouldn't think to look in this nook or cranny for a trap, but my trained thief character very well could.
-What about systems that will let you roll without the skill, but at some kind of penalty?
-I do see the tragic end results of unmitigated skill systems. This is where you get Palladium's famous "Math: Basic", "Recycling," and other face-numbingly mundane skills. This is where you get GURPS and the skill "Fast Draw Knife From Teeth." (No shit.)

My conclusion: Skills are in, but keep it simple like Lamentations. I find SWN's skill system to be unobtrusive as well. Characters should be able to be good at certain things, or at least, better than some other characters. The barbarian should be sneakier than the cavalier, but the cavalier can fight from horseback and woo the damsel fair. I appreciate that you want your character to be able to try anything, but your 6 Int half-ogre probably has no chance to program an ancient computer or perform field surgery.

...and that's what diversity means to me.


  1. I've been beating this to death for my own game. Do I go with Rules Cyclopedia skills, convert OGL skills, go with haphazard non-weapon proficiencies, or go with an abstract "good at" bonus system like I've seen somewhere. I'm really leaning toward ability checks with "good at" style bonuses. Like "Good At Horse Riding," for which the player would get +1 on the roll.

  2. As someone who's currently enrolled at GURPS University, I'd just like to point out that "Fast Draw Knife from Teeth" no longer exists as a skill. It's now a technique. ;)

    Seriously, though, I'm similarly on the fence about granularity. I like that GURPS skills have defaults, so anyone can at least try to use one. The go-to system is indeed hella granular, although I think the system manages to avoid the Palladium trap and makes most skills at least theoretically useful. GURPS also has the option of going with "Wildcard!" skills--the Guns! skill, for example, would allow you to shoot a gun, repair a gun, fast-draw a gun from teeth, and do pretty much anything gun-related you'd like, all with one skill. It's a nice option for cinematic games.

  3. I was always a fan of the Science! skill, myself. :)

  4. I like the idea of an abstract skill system. say you make that thief then give your gm an idea for the concept assassin, con man, tomb raider, etc. then from their have them scratch down a half dozen ideas or so such a character would have and make those skills or just make it a broad area intimidate, bluff, sense motive, diplomacy slap them under social or con artist skills. then just have them make a roll