SkillsWhen it comes to skill systems, I tend to be a curmudgeonly old grognard. I don’t like them. Instead of being inspirational, they are restrictive — they tell players what they cannot do rather than what they can do. Therefore, I prefer having nothing to do with skill systems in games that I run or design. Unfortunately, sci-fi RPGs necessitate some kind of acknowledgement that the worlds they inhabit are heavily dependent upon various skill sets in order to emulate. Thus, if I am going to do a mash-up of SWL + SF I am going to have to come up with a skill system that is inspirational rather than restrictive.
My generic response to skill systems is a concept I call Areas of Expertise (AoE). Rather than being a specific skill, like Knowledge: Nobility, an AoE is a broad category like Society. Rather than telling a player that their character cannot know about the local Nobility in the area they are exploring (you don’t have the specific Knowledge: Nobility skill or you fail your roll if you do), an AoE invites the player to justify why a character should know about the local Nobility. A player with a broad category like “Social” can haggle with the Referee explaining how six degrees of separation allows to him know someone who knows someone or some other creative explanation.
SF actually divides its skill system into three broad categories called Primary Skill Areas: Military, Technological and Biosocial. Each of these are then broken down into more specific skills, some of which are far more specific than others. For example, the Military sub-sets are broken down into specific weapon types whereas one of the Biosocial skills is “Environmental.” Besides the odd mix of specific with broad, I really like this set-up, particularly in the way that (with the odd exception of Military) the system tries to keep it simple by having three skills under each Primary Skill Area.
Therefore, I am going to be borrowing heavily from this set-up, with a few tweaks. Firstly, the Primary Skill Areas will become AoEs and the Skills will becomes Specializations. The idea is this: There will be times when it will become really hard for a player to justify how their AoE is relevant to a particular situation and the Referee will need a roll to see if there is some obscure way that the player’s argument holds water. If the player can then justify that their character’s Specialization is part of the equation, they can get a +1 to the roll. It also gives the player more room for negotiating with the Referee that their character should be able to do a particular task or know a particular piece of information.
The three AoEs will be:
- Hard Science
- Ranged Combat (offering a +1 when using ranged weapons)
- HTH Combat (offering a +1 when in melee)
- Special Ops (offering a +4 to hit and x2 damage when attacking with surprise)
The Hard Science Specializations will be:
Players choose one AoE and one of its Specializations at character creation. For those worried about Thief Skills, I can see plenty of ways to justify how they would be covered by various Specializations:
- Find/Remove Traps: Environment, Electronics, Mechanics, Space
- Open Locks: Electronics, Mechanics
- Hide in Shadows: Environment, Space
- Move Silently: Environment, Special Ops
- Hear Noise: Diplomacy, Space
- Read Languages: Diplomacy, Electronics
- Climb Walls: Special Ops, Environment
Note that these AoEs are available to all classes. Thus, it is possible to have nine different flavors of each class which allows players a tool with which to delve into the background of their character and make something really cool from just a few tidbits of information. It also allows a Referee to either go with the flow and have a hugely diverse universe (as seen in the Star Wars Cantina scene) or to chisel out specific entities within their universe where each AoE specialization would come from (allowing for a much more hard sci-fi approach).
To sum up, this system encourages a lot of creative banter between players and referees (which is something I really enjoy at the table); however, it also provides a backup "skill roll" for those who prefer that style of play or for those who don't like to engage in a lot of negotiations.