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Skills: Lots, Medium, or Bare Minimum?


samwise7

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I was just curious what everyone on here thinks about the number of skills a game should have. Do you like a ton of skills (with several skills that are similar but slightly different), or a medium number of skills, or do you like a very small number of skills which are the bare necessity to run a game?

Does the genre of game you are running make a difference? I have friends that like more skills in sci-fi games for instance.

I was just curious what you guys think. BRP seems like it has a fair number of skills, but it probably has less skills than say Rolemaster for instance.

What is a good total number of skills, or do you think that you shouldn't limit skills by a number picked out of the air?

Thoughts? Thanks.

"Everything important in RPGs happens the moment you stop holding onto the rulebook with both hands." -Jeff Rients

http://samwise7.yolasite.com (Art, Blog, RPG Settings, YouTube, Etc.)

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I was just curious what everyone on here thinks about the number of skills a game should have.

In my view, as many as are necessary to play a specific campaign.

When I write the framework of a setting and begin to note down ideas for a campaign using

this setting, I also take my list of standard skills and think about which ones should be deleted

for this campaign and which ones I might have to add to the list.

For a science fiction campaign with the exploration of a water world as its focus I will certain-

ly not need skills like camel riding or desert survival, so what is obviously unnecessary is de-

leted from the list.

Some skills which would obviously be useful for such a campaign are not a part of the list of

standard skills and have to be designed and added, for example animal training (dolphin) or

technical skill (diving hardsuit).

And then there are skills that can be "rewritten" for a different purpose, for example crossbow

skill for simple spearguns, and skills which will only appear later in the campaign, but should

already be prepared, like knowledge (native culture) to deal with the native aliens which will

probably be discovered after a few adventures.

Once my campaign specific skill list is finished, it is playtested during the campaign's introducto-

ry adventures and then becomes "semi-official" for this campaign, but still open for changes and

additions that may come up during the campaign - often new skills are added, sometimes one

of the skills on the list turn out to be a stupid idea and is deleted.

So, how many skills are needed ... sorry, as many as are necessary. :o

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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I'm with the minimum number of skills mind set myself. While having lots of skills may look good on paper, I think the more skills you get the more you slow down the game play. Granted, speed of game rests completely in the players' and GM's hands, but the more rules you have to run the game, the more chances you'll have to slow things down. Specially if you're unsure about a particular rule and need to look it up.

But by the same token, I prefer skill based systems over level based systems!

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When I start a BRP campaign, one of the first things I decide is if I will have an open or closed skill list. In games with a closed list I write out all the skills that I will ever call for – if it is not on the list, the players can be assured that their characters will never be asked to roll it. In these types of games I usually include some “umbrella” skills with names like “science” – I will never ask for a “physics” roll or a “bioinformatics” roll – the players are guaranteed that I will only ask for “science” rolls. In games with open skill systems I allow the players to define the skills they need – for example, someone might take Science: Bioinformatics 50%, while someone else might take Science: Computer Science 50%.

Closed skill lists are fast and easy for players – but they are also restrictive. I ran a zombie apocalypse game once with a closed list and it went very well. Having a closed list forced the players into simpler roles – we ended up with “scientists” and “tough guys” and “sneaky people” etc. This worked great for an open game played primarily at a university gaming club were players came in and out all the time – and there was a fairly high mortality rate.

On the other hand, when I run more character driven games I do better with open skill systems that allow the players to describe their character with their choice in skills. To continue beating the science examples to death, if I want to play a scientist in an open skills game I would first pick his/her field – NMR protein structure determination, and then figure what skills would I need; maybe Science: Physics, Science: Bioinformatics and Science: Chemistry. By the time I do this I have a lot of my skill points stuck in obscure skills that might never come up in play, but I have a very accurate description of the PC’s abilities.

In summary – in my hands the skill list is an important tool for setting the tone of the game. Whether you have large open lists or small closed lists depends on the “cinematic” feel you are trying for in a particular campaign.

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I like to have a relatively small skill list, but with possible expansions for professional or specialized skills.

For instance, I prefer having one "Perception" skill than Hearing, Sight, Touch, Taste etc.

I also prefer one "Athletics" skill over a list of Swim, Climb, Jump, etc.

Note that I understand the need to let one be better at swimming than Jumping, but I'd rather use a system of "specialties" rather than a bigger number of skills. For instance, a good swimmer might have Athletics : 75% and Specialtiy Swim : +20%, allowing to use an effective skill of 95% when swimming.

I'm also fond of the "Advanced skills" mechanism of MRQII, even if their choice of skills is strange in some aspects (like the fact Seduce is an Advanced skill...).

Edited by Mugen
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I like each skill to actually represent a different thing.

So, I have one skill Crossbow for shooting all kinds of crossbows, even arbalests, and probably Spearguns, but I have Swim and Climb as different skills because they are clearly different things.

Spot and Search could be combined, but I wouldn't have a single Perception skill that covers Listening and Seeing as they are clearly different things (to me).

Lores and Know skills are tricky as they can be slightly and subtly different, so it depends on how I feel at the time. I can't see much point in separating Know (Wastes) from Wastes Lore, for example, even though they do mean different things.

With weapons, I'd have 1H Sword Attack/Parry with a difficulty rating for an off-hand sword, but I might even relent and just have 1H Sword with the off-hand penalty. I'd certainly allow someone with 1H Sword to use a broadsword, bastard sword and shortsword, although probably not all together.

I'm not keen on Advanced and Basic skills, as they are very cultrually biased and complicate things. I'd just have one lot of skills.

So, looking at it, I am the opposite of Mugen in this :)

I'd definitely split Science into different skills, but wouldn't be too picky. So, Science (Physics) and Science (Astrophysics) might be different skills, but I wouldn't go as far as, say, splitting out Science (Astronomy) and Science (Astrophysics). I'd definitely have Science (Astronomy) and Science (Astrology) as separate skills (in fact Merrie England uses them).

Simon Phipp - Caldmore Chameleon - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982. Many Systems, One Family. Just a fanboy. 

www.soltakss.com/index.html

Jonstown Compendium author. Find my contributions here

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I have always believed the more skills you have the less time the GM has to spend going, "How the hell do I deal with this," when a player decides they want to do something unusual. And if the players pick odd skills for their characters that just gives me more fodder to use in creating adventures.

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Depends on the game really. I can see Sci-Fi games needing more skills than a caveman one for example. And, it depends on the group - some want more skills, some want fewer.

My default for fantasy/sword and sorcery and modern games is probably in the medium category.

Ian

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I only allow two skills to be used:

  • Make Sandwiches with soft cheese and cucumber slices.
  • Do Anything (apart from making sandwiches with soft cheese and cucumber slices).

I use to use that system myself until one game where half the party was busy fighting the Saucer King of Ming-12 while the rest of the group was organizing petit fours for a meeting with the Queen – when one player wanted to use his “Make Sandwiches with soft cheese and cucumber slices” skill, but another pointed out that these were not actually petit fours, and then the Saucer King pointed the brie. Anyway, harsh words were spoken and it was decided that slightly more detail was needed for our group.

;)

It serves me well. :-/

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How many skills depends a lot on the style of campaign I'm going for.

A smaller number of skills allows the PCs to be more competent, and is a good option for campaigns with "larger than life" PC heros.

A larger number of skills limits the PCs in ways, and a good option for a more realistic, gritty, campaign.

As for a gneral leaning, I tend to prefer fewer skills, but allow sub-skills/specialties to allow for more diversity without overcomplicating things.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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What is a good total number of skills, or do you think that you shouldn't limit skills by a number picked out of the air?

Thoughts? Thanks.

This, like almost every aspect of RPGs, is a matter of taste. Not to cop-out, but the best answer is whatever you and your group enjoy.

For myself, the I like moderately broad categories of skills that allow for specializations, as in Elric, or a reasonable number of discrete skills, as in CoC. One of the nice things about BRP is that it is very easy to accommodate new skills and specialization, which is one of the things that attracted me to the system.

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One way of reducing the amount of skills is to combine two similar skills with an "&." For example, Bargain & Fast Talk. Figure out which starting % the combined skill should have (I normally choose the higher starting %) and run with it.

"Everything important in RPGs happens the moment you stop holding onto the rulebook with both hands." -Jeff Rients

http://samwise7.yolasite.com (Art, Blog, RPG Settings, YouTube, Etc.)

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I run open ended skill lists. Almost anything can be a skill, along with my favorite skills ever seen "Flail about wildly 40%" and "Kick your ass 98%". For my own campaigns I have characters with about 15 skills and others with about 40... I have found that character type really seems to affect skill # as well as genre. Experts have less skills but are very good at them, whereas a normal person has a huge variety of skills at minimal proficiency. SciFi has more things thus more skills and cave men don't really have need of a lot of skills, but the ones they do have, they need to be pretty good at.

For my homebrew game, I had about 100+ skills available for use.

-STS

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I was thinking about going the Barbarians of Lemuria/Dogs of War route with skills: If the character is a assassin (or whatever), he can do whatever (reasonably) an assassin can do at one specific skill rating. There would be a list of skills clumped together in the career description.

Then there were, I believe, four separate skills for weapon use: Brawl, Melee, Ranged and Defense. Each with there own skill ratings. I don't think there was much else beyond that.

I never carried through with this, but it seems that it might be workable. Especially when introducing new players to the game, and you want them to whip up some characters fast.

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I was thinking about going the Barbarians of Lemuria/Dogs of War route with skills: If the character is a assassin (or whatever), he can do whatever (reasonably) an assassin can do at one specific skill rating. There would be a list of skills clumped together in the career description.

I agree with you "class"-oriented character creation can be quick and efficient, but using class as skills is in my opinion a bad idea, which raises more questions than it solves problems, especially when compared to simple skill systems. :)

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I was thinking about going the Barbarians of Lemuria/Dogs of War route with skills: If the character is a assassin (or whatever), he can do whatever (reasonably) an assassin can do at one specific skill rating. There would be a list of skills clumped together in the career description.

HeroQuest does something similar with Keywords, and there is no reason to believe that such an approach wouldn't work with BRP.

Simon Phipp - Caldmore Chameleon - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982. Many Systems, One Family. Just a fanboy. 

www.soltakss.com/index.html

Jonstown Compendium author. Find my contributions here

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I sort of swiped the specilization rules from TimeLords and CORPS.

A character can have a subskill aat a rating up to 1/2 the main skill. THe subskill adds to the main skill.

Players don7t fell like they are being penalized for specialzing, as the subskill is at a lower value and thus goes up faster. In fact, it is worthwhile to specialize if your skill score is over 50%. Plus there is nothing to prevent somene from getting checks in both the main skill and the specialty during the coruse of an adventure.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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I do too, but lost my copy of Ringworld years ago. If I remember correcclty, Ringworld did it differently, but I can7t remeber exactly how.

About the only drawback with this approach is that skills might improve a little too quickly, but the GM could always reduce the increase from 1D6 to 1D4 or less.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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I do too, but lost my copy of Ringworld years ago. If I remember correcclty, Ringworld did it differently, but I can7t remeber exactly how.

Thinking about it, from what I remember Ringworld used "Root Skills" capped by the charac-

ters attributes and "Branch Skills" which continued from the maximum value of the relevant

Root Skill.

For example, a character who wanted to learn Ecology first had to raise his Biology root skill

to its maximum, and then could start to put additional points into the Ecology branch skill. If

the Biology root skill was 30 %, and he invested 1 additional skill point in Ecology, his Ecology

branch skill was activated at 31 %.

The Biology root skill would always remain at its maximum of - in this case - 30 % and could

not be improved any further, and each new Biology specialization would again be activated by

investing at least one more skill point and starting it at 31 %, with an unlimited number of such

branch skills.

Well, at least this is what I think I remember ... :)

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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I'm a minimum skills kind of guy. If I find the game really needs a certain kind of skill which it doesn't have, I make one up. That's one of the main reasons I like BRP as a system. The reason I don't like to start a game with a long list of skills is that it can skew games towards one specialist who has the one skill needed to move the adventure forward (not a problem in home-brewed games, but it can be a bit annoying when it crops up in a published adventure and you, the GM, didn't read the small print ...).

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I sort of swiped the specilization rules from TimeLords and CORPS.

A character can have a subskill aat a rating up to 1/2 the main skill. THe subskill adds to the main skill.

Players don7t fell like they are being penalized for specialzing, as the subskill is at a lower value and thus goes up faster. In fact, it is worthwhile to specialize if your skill score is over 50%. Plus there is nothing to prevent somene from getting checks in both the main skill and the specialty during the coruse of an adventure.

nice idea. I think I will use that and set up a short skill list with attached specialisations. Thanks for the input! :D

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