Monday, November 12, 2012

I Concede: Sometimes Skills are Pointless

Alright, so I'm currently playing through Fallout 2 on my PC, having finished Fallout 1 a few weeks ago. The old Fallout games are traditional rpgs with skill and talent-based character development.

I'm usually an advocate for skills in an rpg because I think that some characters should be better than other characters at certain things.

Playing Fallout 2 sometimes makes me think that the anti-skill camp is on to something.

Case in point: there is a point in the game where you have to learn some fairly vital information from a computer terminal. Successfully accessing this information requires the game to check against your character's Science skill.

...there is no consequence if you fail, aside from a boring "you can't figure it out" screen.

...but... you can try again. You can try again and again and again.

What does this produce? Me hurling every expletive that I can come up with while bitterly clicking the skill screen and then clicking on the computer terminal over and over again until I get the information.There really is no point, it seems, in investing an skill points in Science. Yeah, I had it at 60% and it took me three or four tries. If my skill was 10%, would it just have required ten or so tries until I got lucky? If this information is vital to my continuing the game, why not just give me the goddamn information already? I could understand if the information lead me to some kind of bonus item or xp award or Optional MacGufffin or whatever, but this is information that is required to progress through the game's main quest.

 So, to all you skill haters in this corner of the internet...sometimes, I can totally see where you guys are coming from. 


  1. That's more of a problem with the content design than the rule system. It should have done something like this:

    High Science: Get a map of the area you're supposed to go to and hint that hidden loot might be found in a specific storage room. (It's not there unless you found the clue first)

    Medium Science: Get detailed directions on the area you're supposed to go.

    Low Science: Vague directions, or none at all and you have to find out about it some other way.

    Because of how the game allows savescumming if you have low skills (such as reloading until you get an eyeball critical) I think things would go a LOT differently if it were tabletop. Then you really would be assed out if you didn't have a high enough Science skill.

  2. I like how skills work in the old Quest For Glory I computer game: type get rocks, type throw rock (ten times), repeat these two until you get enough fatigue that you type rest a few times, then move a few screens until you get a random encounter, fast type throw rock a few times and the monster will be wounded before it gets close enough to melee you... and if your rock throwing skill is high enough, you might kill it before it gets that close :)

    So far as face-to-face games are concerned, I think skills work better as colour text than game mechanic - I mean, look at all the dull driving skills: drive auto, pilot ground vehicle... wouldn't you rather play a game where it is called tyre squealing, even though it does basically the same thing?

  3. d30- True, it is a problem with the content, but I've seen those content problems in rpgs as well. Skills can be a bit of a pitfall; their existence seems to prompt some module writers and GMs to use them for the sake of using them. I like your example...that would have been a much better implementation.

    myrystyr- I like games with wacky skill names. I once tried to create a 70's action movie game using FUDGE, and all the skill names were flavored.

    ...on second thought, that's an effort that is perhaps best forgotten. ;)

    1. Content-wise, agreed, I think a major pitfall of Call of Cthulhu is you need unrealistically high percentages in a small collection of unlikely skills in order to have a meanigful choice between advancing the investigation and surviving the rest of the game session.

      Hey, if your FUDGE game lets me play a character inspired by the original British version of Life On Mars... ;)