Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Stealth defines Skills

I have been slogging away at skyRPG this week and have been running headlong into Skill problems. Most RPGs have some kind of a skill system but they tend to run into one of two problems. Either the skill list is too big and bloated with bloody awful skills or the list is too small and there is little room for individual expression. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is a great example of the first problem; the skill list includes things like Strike Mighty Blow (increases damage by 20% or so) and Very Resilient (reduce damage taken by 20% or so) and also includes Numismatics (the study of coins and currency) and Counterfeiting. While it is all fine and good to give players the option to know about Numismatics it feels completely ridiculous from a balance perspective. Why is the skill list made up of equal parts broken and rubbish? DnD 4th edition is the opposite end of the spectrum because there is so little selection. Because of the way stats are allocated everyone ends up taking whatever class skills line up with their stats and characters feel very much the same. (The only characters that are different are ones who are really bad.)

The key to making Skills work is twofold: One, Skills need to be balanced. That is, all of the Skills should at least feel vaguely comparable to one another in usefulness. Clearly Stealth and Intimidate aren't going to be useful at the same time but both feel useful; Coopering is not in the same league. Second, the Skill list needs to be large enough to get a variety of choices for players. No matter how many times I went around the block I always ran into one specific roadblock... Stealth. If Stealth is on the list you simply can't have a list with fifty different Skills in it because there aren't enough things that are as good as Stealth. In any big list with lots of weak choices everybody is going to take Stealth. At some point or other you are going to want to be sneaky but Linguistics and Use Rope are not in the same league.

This led me to a conclusion. If Stealth is a thing then I can only have ten or so Skills before Stealth starts to be an automatic choice. To get around that limitation I broke Stealth into two parts: Stealth and Camouflage. Stealth is for sneaking, Camouflage is for hiding and disguising. This way I can have twenty or so Skills that feel relevant and comparable to Stealth and make sure that characters have enough choice to let them be fairly unique. Here is the list I ended up with:

Animal Handling (Riding)
Athletics (Swim, jump, climb)
Awareness (Oppose Stealth)
Bluff (Oppose Insight)
Camouflage (Disguise)
Culture and Languages
Economics & Trade
Insight (Oppose Bluff)
Magic & Rituals
Nature (Survival)
Stealth (Oppose Awareness)
Tools & Machines (Traps, Locks)

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