Friday, February 21, 2014

No More Gimmicky Titles...Thinking On Skills

[Transmission begins:

I know that the subject of skills can be a bit of a sore subject with members of the OSR and I could do away with them altogether by allowing a character to make a Saving Throw (ST) modified by the appropriate Attribute if the task at hand fell within their class' purview. But I feel that too leads to over-capable characters. Besides I like the use of skills in a Sci Fi context. Sci Fi still has it's archetypal characters or else classes wouldn't make much sense. But while Han Solo, Captian Apollo and Luke Skywalker are all considered pilots, but it that their defining trait? I don't believe so. Han is a scoundrel, piloting the Millennium Falcon is something he can do; likewise Apollo is a soldier and Skywalker a Jedi like his father before him. So character class is about who you are, skills are about what you can do. Spock may be a Scientist but he can still get under a console to effect repairs as well as any Engineer (would you believe I couldn't find a single picture of that? Come on, internetz!  Balance of Terror for crying out loud!).

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So, I want skills in my X-PLORERS game; just not the skills defined in the original game (again, not a criticism just my choice). I started out by re-evaluating the skills that the author set up looking for a way to redefine the classes. So I'm looking to simplify the skills while still keeping their numbers down; I've restricted myself to three role-defining skills per class remember? So I started trying to break the skills down into their broadest but simplest components. If a Technician has Computer and Mechanics skill does he also need Robotics as a separate skill? A robot, after all is a mechanical system operated by a computer.

Likewise, are others of these skills needed, like the vehicle skill. I have a hard time rationalizing that only a technician can operate a vehicle. A jet fighter sure, but a motorcycle, ground car or even a big rig? Not so much. So I'm wondering if operating a vehicle  should even be a skill, except in the cases of specialized and usually military vehicles. Of course, this exception would include spacecraft as well. But otherwise make it into an ‘everyman’ ability; just make a Quickness (QKN)-based Saving Throw (ST) to keep a vehicle under control when performing maneuvers at high-speeds, or other risky actions like chases and so on. Computers also are so ubiquitous that usage need not even an issue.  Whether the character is searching for and retrieving files, running existing programs such as spreadsheets or word processors, or even trying to operate avionics or other detectors. We only care about when a character is attempting to do something outside the ordinary, like hacking a system or re-programming a computer and that would need the appropriate skill.

My initial attempts to reduce class skills to their simplest level resulted in a veritable explosion of the same, for example for the Technician class I ended up with Computers, Electronics, Mechanical and Power Systems.  That's too many skills in any case.  Then I started to think about how the engineers at work do their jobs.  Engineers cover a lot more ground than one might suppose, going from circuit board design (electronics) to phosphorus formulations (chemistry) to improvising fixture assemblies (mechanics) and coding spectrometers in Excel using a USB web-cam as their source (programming), building components and assembling them into infrared motion detectors and then using them in applications that can tell the difference between a live person and hot machinery, "presence sensing" they called it (a bit of all of the above).

I realized instead of breaking down the various skill areas by their technical distinctions I needed to be thinking about the functions the class was responsible for. So for the Technician I decided a name change was in order and it became the Engineer and that became their defining skill. Engineering, in this case, is understood to be the ability to design and build (and repair) technological devices to accomplish specific ends; whether it's lifting a load (rope and pulley), damaging an opponent at range (gun), digital information management (computer) or lifting men and equipment into space (rocket) including any required sub-fields of knowledge such as Electronics or Mechanics. Considering I see guys do this in real life all the time, it's not as big of a stretch as it might seem. I broke out two sub-areas to create the three total skills but since their application is different from the design, building or repair of technological devices I felt that their separation made logical sense.

Okay, I'm pretty sure this is getting boring and I'm feeling like if I go on I'll end up walking you through every decision and thought process I had while chasing this particular problem. If you come back later I'll be posting my versions of the base classes plus one.  Once you've seen them, if you have any specific questions about my thinking for a particular class feel free to ask them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.

Up next: The first of my revised classes, the Engineer.

:Transmission ends]

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