This latest discussion is all about skills in roleplaying games, ranging from Library Use to Firearms to the ability to put out a podcast on a regular schedule. We’ve put some more points into this last one, honest.
We ramble on about what role skills play in a game, how they came about, what the alternatives to skill systems are and the ways in which and reasons why the skill system in the latest edition of Call of Cthulhu is slightly simpler. We almost certainly get a lot of stuff wrong, but this is deliberate, as it’s the only way to improve in some systems.
As ever, there is digression, disagreement and diverse and dreadful profanity. Being British, we get a racial bonus in pointless swearing.
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What’s the difference between a skill, an attribute, and a broad ability or talent (such as in OtE or Hot War)? And if you have one of them, why have the others?
Shadowrun (at least the first couple of editions) had a nice skill default system for showing how much of skill A transferred to competence in arena B.
Many skill rule sets have systems of specialisms of skills.
I would say the difference is specificity. A broad skill covers a lot more than a narrow skill.
Why have a mixture? I think in Call of Cthulhu the specific skills serve to define the character somewhat, while the characteristics serve as a catchall for things not covered by a specific skill. But yes, I think one category is perhaps more graceful than a mixture.
I’m not overly familiar with Shadowrun, I think I may have played it once for a session or two. I’d be interested to see how it handles skills.
Folks: Any other suggestions for rule sets that handle skills well?
I think it’s useful to think of rulesets in terms of how many skills (exluding magic or other special powers) a typical PC will have, which is more or less the inverse of how broad those skills are. In a very narrative-styled system it might be just one or two. When I played WoD it seemed to be about five to ten. In classic CoC it might be ten or fifteen (not counting defaults). In GURPS it would typically be twenty or more, and some of them would probably be used quite rarely; they form a layer of background detail for the character, with hobbies and useless knowledge.
Expected competence levels are important too. A Cthulhu character with 60% in a skill is pretty good; he’s put effort into getting there. But he’s probably still going to fail a lot of the time. The magical 90% is mastery. In GURPS, a skill level of 11 gives you success about 60% of the time, but it’s regarded as pretty poor, one of your minor skills that you’d improve if you had more use for it. 90% is a skill of 14, and unless you’re deliberately aiming for a mundane campaign chances are a starting character has at least one skill at that level. This difference makes for a very different feeling between the games in play: in CoC you can think that better skills might have saved you, while in GURPS (assuming a similar horror mode) it’s clear that you were pretty good but it still didn’t help.