Wednesday 25 July 2012

'Advanced' Skills in Hammerstein!

Hammerstein! is [going to be] a d100 skills-based game. My first draft of the Hammerstein! 'Skills' chapter, obviously built on the equivalent OpenQuest and Renaissance chapters, renames 'common skills' as 'aptitudes' : "those skills in which everyone, by dint of natural capacity or commonality of human socialisation, has some ability."

Here's my first attempt to describe 'Advanced Skills':

"In Hammerstein!, skills beyond the list of aptitudes are classed as Languages, Lores, and Crafts. These are skills that require training or experience in order to have any grasp of the basics. While the Hammerstein! basic game provides a range of examples of skills of these kinds, there are, potentially, a vast number of these skills – a GM (and players) with a taste for granularity could decide that each craft specialism, no matter how obscure, should have its own Craft skill, that all dialects deserve their own Language skill, and that every minute field of knowledge is defined by differentiated Lore skills. Hammerstein! does not recommend this approach. Keeping the Language, Lore and Craft skills broadly defined ensures that players can develop competent, rounded characters with skills that benefit adventuring. If it becomes necessary to differentiate the abilities of a character with Craft (Farming), whose background is in arable farming, from those of a character with Craft (Farming), whose background is in dairy farming, the GM might want to consider just what kind of fantasy adventure role-playing game that he is running. If there is still a need to differentiate, use difficulty modifiers and common sense."

Bandits and Farmers... might have high % skills but they're not the 'rock star' adventurers of Hammerstein!

Of course, the chapter then continues for [too] many thousands of words describing just the kind of skills that I consider are appropriate for fantasy adventure roleplaying. Lately, though, I've been thinking about collapsing these skills further still. First, Languages, Lores, and Crafts are all the same kind of thing - bodies of knowledge and capacities for action that require some specific training or experience not covered by basic human socialisation.

Second, I've been thinking of adopting the ideas that I'd been using to deal with 'advanced' combat abilities to cover 'advanced' or granulated forms of the basic aptitudes. Here's what I mean: I've always been disatisfied with the tendency in d100 games to allow a character to have 100% skill using a sword but only 20% skill using a dagger, or 80% in Influence but just 15% in Seduction (or whatever). So OpenQuest, with its collapsed skill list, really appeals (as does Legend / 'new' Runequest with its combat styles). Nevertheless, I like the individualisation and characterfulness of the differentiated skill system, as an idea, even if I don't like it in play.

So, with regard to combat I have been taking my lead from WFRP1e - most weapons are covered by the Close Combat or Ranged Combat skills, and basic unarmed combat is covered by the Unarmed Combat skill. Some weapons or advanced techniques, however, need more training. In Renaissance, these are given their own % skill rating. In Hammerstein!, these will be learned as 'proficiencies' - if you have been trained to use a polearm in combat, you can use it at your Close Combat skill %. If you have not, it is going to be Hard (-40%). As well as specialist weapons, there are also advanced techniques such as two weapon fighting - including sword and shield - and unarmed combat techniques. Most of these weapons and techniques provide those skilled in their use with options in combat that go beyond simply 'add X% points'. Learning one of these proficiencies, if not provided in the archetype, requires training and improvment rolls (two, three, more? I've not decided) and a roll against the relevant skill, with rolling under being a success - it is easier to learn new techniques the more advanced your ability in the basic skill.

I have already adopted this system to deal with literacy (related to the appropriate Language skill , but a high % does not necessarily = literacy), and the ability to swim (related to the Athletics skill). I had been musing over just where to draw the line with other skills. As with advanced combat techniques falling under the umbrella of the three combat skills, so do many advanced skills seem to be subdivisions of other aptitudes - particularly, but not limited to, Influence and specific Regional Lores. Does Hammerstein! need an Etiquette / Courtesy advanced skill, for example? I am leaning towards treating all those advanced skills for which an aptitude could be used as substitute as 'proficiences'. This allows two characters, both with Influence 80%, to have very different ways of putting the skill to use; one could have the Seduction proficiency, the other the Leadership proficiency. These would have the effect of altering the difficulty of tasks by one(?) step - i.e. a 20% bonus - for skill use in those narrow areas. This prevents skills such as Influence being an undifferentiated mixed bag, while also avoiding the sitiuation in which high Influence is for nought as advanced skills eat away at its niche, producing a skill proliferation that breaks the advancement system.
In short:

Aptititudes - everyone has got 'em, ability = %.

Languages, Lores and Crafts - skills for which an aptitude cannot act as a substitute, which need training or experience to learn, ability = %.

Proficiencies - the ability to use the above skills in specific ways, which need training or experience to learn, ability = you've either got it or you don't.

Yet more complications to a wonderfully elegant system. Why do I persist in breaking OpenQuest?

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