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Skills: useful or just for flavor?

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How often, especially in the superhero setting, do you use skills?

 

I'm not talking about skills tied into powers but the things like KS, PS or SS skills

 

It seems like our group just uses powers (especially power or gadget pools) to resolve most issues.

 

It also seems like the villains, as written in the books, seem to have the same block of skills w/certain exceptions.

 

Are the skills you buy actually used or do just buy them to fill out the character?

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As the GM, I try to give the villain NPCs skills that are appropriate to their backgrounds, even if they're not so likely to be used much in game.  However, in one adventure, Kid Bronze used his tech skills to figure out how to operate the Dynatron (see Dean Shomshak's excellent Shared Origins products) and create superpowered agents for the Heavy Metals supervillain team.

 

The PC heroes in my game tend to get use out of at least some of their non-combat skills.  One example that stands out in my mind was when Terror Inc. launched a nuclear missile at Belgium.  The PC gadgeteer, Maker, used her VPP to catch up to the missile and latch on.  She then opened an access panel and used Electronics, Navigation, Security Systems, and Systems Operation to figure out how to re-direct the missile into orbit.  She'd have tried to disable the warhead, except she didn't have Demolitions skill.  (She does now.)

 

Malarkey has used his Computer Programming and Security Systems skills to hack into the city's traffic cameras to track kidnappers. 

 

Shadowboxer frequently uses his KS: Paranormals to narrow down the list of potential suspects when superpowers have been used in a crime, or to figure out potential tactics to use against foes. 

 

Circe even used her PS: Fashion Designer to converse with a supervillain (A-Bomb) and keep him from participating in a fight.  (It was actually one of the funnest exchanges I've had in game, as the two of them commented about their teammates' costumes, about A-Bomb kidnapping a noted designer to create his costume, and Circe's attempts to get her teammates' outfits more fashionable.)

 

IMO, it's part of the GM's job to make sure PCs have opportunities to use their skills (as well as unusual non-combat powers).  And the players' jobs to try to find ways to use their skills and odd powers to solve crimes and turn plot twists their way.

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Other examples occurred to me. 

 

Several supervillain members of the A-Team (all members have code names beginning with "A" such as Ankylosaur, Armadillo, Airstrike, Ankh, and Agrippa) used their KS of magic and ley lines to design a mobile base (the whole thing teleports to pre-dug locations having carved glyphs in the cement walls, only to places along ley lines). 

 

The Boston Commons' mimic, Dyer, used his Forgery skill to create reasonable fakes to frame one of Malarkly's DNPCs for a theft from a museum. 

 

The PC hero team used Criminology to help prove their PR guy's innocence to a vigilante group (the Valkyries) who was hunting him down.

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I think that there has been a bit of fetishisation of skills in recent editions.  I tend to have  some key defining skills.  A professional skill can provide a broad flavour - good enough for supers - with other skills to give access to real specialisations.

 

my games require skill use and knowledge but not enough to be spending much more than 20 points on.

 

It does depend on the games you play though.  If you don’t play those games, don’t try to shoehorn it in.  If you do play those games, great.  As long as players and GMs are on the same page at character creation, nothing is lost...

 

Doc

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I've found the most use out of sciences.  Medicine, high energy physics, computer security, biology, etc.

Next would be area knowledges and languages. (AK: City, AK: Country, Spanish, Russian, Italian, Japanese, Cantonese, etc.)

Third would be KS: people or group of people. (KS: Viper, KS: CIA, KS: Superpowered people, etc.)

 

I generally use PS: for flavor or as a catch all.

 

Like Doc Democracy, I usually don't spend more than 20 points on it unless its their shtick.  

 

 

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As player, I use skills to flesh out my characters, even if some of those skills will be used very little. As GM, when I can I try to make sure every skill is useful at some point - even the PS: Plumber 8 or less (which was a hilarious episode due to that).

 

Skills are used frequently, and even suggested by players as a particular episode may give rise to. So, no skill is pointless/useless in our campaign.

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I agree with your implied assumption that Supers vs. Heroic campaigns have a different level of skill use. It has tended to play out that Supers would have less skills, more general skills and be fine with that, and Heroic level characters have more skill, and more detailed levels of skills. I think that comes down to differentiation of PCs. In Supers, the defining characteristics that set you apart are powers, or high level combat skills like martial arts, stealth, etc. In Heroic games, where everyone might be a version of ex-military private ops guy... then skill specialization is what makes one character different from another.

 

That being said, I basically follow the rule, "If it is important and you want it to factor into the game, then pay points for it, and it is my job as GM to make it relevant. If it is merely background, don't worry about it." It is really about what kind of story you want to tell. If you are playing Daredevil-esque character, the fact that Murdock is a lawyer and has multiple skills and knowledge areas reflecting that could be really important, if the game tends to end up in law offices and court rooms the way the comics often do. If the lawyer bit is more, "Explains why I'm around the cop station and have contacts with bail bondsmen, cops, etc." then that is different.

 

I agree with Doc's comments on skill fetishizing... if push came to shove, I would gladly go back to a single, generic "Science" skill, rather than detailing out 27 flavors of Physicist specialization, the way it tends towards today.

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2 hours ago, Tech said:

As player, I use skills to flesh out my characters, even if some of those skills will be used very little. As GM, when I can I try to make sure every skill is useful at some point - even the PS: Plumber 8 or less (which was a hilarious episode due to that).

 

Skills are used frequently, and even suggested by players as a particular episode may give rise to. So, no skill is pointless/useless in our campaign.

 

I'd be interested in hearing the PS Plumber story.  (FYI, your post caused an immediate flashback to the only parody I've known of the TV show Quantum Leap -- a show called Almost Live had a bit with a time-traveling plumber, called Quantum Leak.  With Bill Nye in the part of Sam Beckett.)

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    When building a character I like to work from the inside out. Meaning that a lot of the time I've got a better idea of the personality of the guy than of how to write up the powers.   I've been kidded that in the middle of a game I'm the only one who knows the color of his character's socks.

    What all this means is that for me part of writing up is to have a list of skills that I know may never come up in game but I think add flavor to the roll play. Also when every once in a while when one PC being a guitarist or another who's a Houdini buff comes up in session it's a little treat like an episode of TV where you see that favorite character/actor of yours sing, or juggle or something. 

   The next time you're finishing a write-up and have a point or two left over, instead of just tossing them into a stat you'll raise up to an effective number later, consider what this person does when their not saving the city.

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It depends on the character, but most of my characters have a decent amount of skills.  Having the right knowledge skills often means not having to rely on others for information.  Some of my characters actually have skills that are part of their power.  I have one character that is a precog that has a lot of skills to allow him to be able to do what he should.  For example his streetwise is not the fact he knows everyone, but rather he gets hunches and visions of where he should go, or who he should see.  The same is true for things like deduction, concealment, or even shadowing.  He has a good amount of knowledge skills to allow him to always seem to have the answer. 

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I, too, think it depends on the character.  If I want to play a Bugs Bunny-ish character (i.e. cosmic power pool character), high power and low skill balance makes sense.  However, if I want to play a superagent 007 type, then lower power, high skill balance makes sense.  At a given level of play, both of the aforementioned approaches can accomplish the same sorts of things, but HOW they go about doing so will be radically different in terms of the story that is told for the approach taken by each.

 

This is true to an extent at any power level, but is, of course, most pronounced at heroic levels of game play, where skills tend to yield more bang for the buck due to the number of bucks being quite limited.  (Example: A cosmic VPP large enough to allow its user to go desolid is darn spendy compared to a 3pt lockpicking skill ... in a 150pt game.  That's an extreme example underscoring why skills tend to be more attractive than powers in such lower point level games.)

 

If skills aren't getting enough play in your game, then perhaps it's the point level driving it.  A good GM can arrest that, regardless of point level, but s/he has to want to.

 

 

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Personally, I tend to design characters with 40 or 50 points of Skills, Generally, they will have several of the standard skills, a few Knowledge Skills, a Language or two, one or two Professional Skills, one or two Area Knowledge Skills, maybe a Culture Skill or two, and, if appropriate, one or more Science Skills. 

 

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All my character builds have 25 Points of skills.  Martial Artists get an additional 25 Points of Martial Arts Maneuvers.

 

I've been building characters like Martial Artist/Weapons Master/Patriot with Invisible [Hearing] for a version of super-stealth.  Martial Artist and Weapons Master get Desolid Cannot Pass Through Solid Objects/Does Not Protect Against Damage to represent being an escape artist.

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I should say, my take on skill lists depends on whether you are talking about being a player of a single character, vs. GM of a several dozen or more. In the first case, I would be more inclined to take the time to flesh out the skills, because I only have to think of one character. But as a GM... most NPCs get five bullet points on a  card, and that's it. I rarely stat out any NPC/villain, let alone exhaustive skill lists, unless they stick around and become a campaign fixture.

 

I find character building very tedious, to be honest... and prefer, even when playing, to have a general outline of a character, and fill it in as we play... as moments and events shape the kind of characters and her KSA (knowledge skills abilities).

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4 hours ago, LouisGoncey said:

Like others said:

 

Supers rarely use a lot o skills.

Heroic tends to be more skill heavy.

 

 

Based on what others have said, I'll disagree a bit. Ultimately though, it depends on the players and GM as Christopher said. In my campaign, supers use them alot. Quite frankly, many episodes could not be done without alot of skills - makes the players think, too.

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I try to spend about 10% of my character points on skills (not including combat levels or martial arts).  I don't always get there, but that's a good amount for a standard, experienced superhero.  For a 350 character that's about 11 or 12 skills.

 

Breakfall (kinda combat related -- always take)

 

general helpful skills:

Computer Programming

Deduction

Oratory

Paramedics

Persuasion

Security Systems

Stealth

Systems Operations

 

Scientist (skill enhancer)

Biology

Chemistry

Physics

 

That's 36 points, gives me generically useful science skills (I think almost everything can be broadly grouped into Biology, Chemistry, or Physics), and a bunch of skills that superheroes seem to use a lot.  Computer Programming and Systems Operation should let me use any giant wall-sized computer systems that you might find in a villain's lair.  Deduction is nice for when the player's brain isn't working that well.  "My character is smarter than me, can he figure this out?"  Oratory and Persuasion are good for inspiring people, and superheroes should be inspiring.  Security Systems and Stealth are good for sneaking into places, and sometimes superheroes have to do that.  Paramedics is important for saving people who are hurt.  Add to that some general science knowledge and you've got a reasonably skilled generic hero.

 

I pick up other skills depending on character concept.  Sometimes these are "background skills" that justify how you normally operate.  A professional skill for whatever it is that you do in your secret ID is nice.  Acting can help maintain that secret ID (though not officially necessary).  Superspeed movement types can use Navigation to arrive where they want to.  It's not that you're going to be making a lot of these rolls in the course of the campaign, these are more "get the GM off your back" skills that shut him up when he asks about how you do certain things.

 

 

All these skills give you at least a halfway decent argument that your character knows enough to try and do whatever thing it is you're trying to pull off at the moment.  It makes it easier to come up with an okay plan that doesn't involve just blasting people.  We've been using skills pretty heavily for a long time.  They're quite handy as long as the GM lets you use them.

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Just using Massey's

10 minutes ago, massey said:

 

 

Breakfall (kinda combat related -- always take)

 

general helpful skills:

Computer Programming

Deduction

Oratory

Paramedics

Persuasion

Security Systems

Stealth

Systems Operations

 

Scientist (skill enhancer)

Biology

Chemistry

Physics

 

 

 

Just using this as an example, I guess I wouldn't call this "heavy" skills, and what I'd call a typical super-hero list of skills. You get into the hyper-detailed kind of skills, you are buying Language skills for every computer language you know, Computer Programming broken down by OS, science skills reflecting medical training and specialties, etc. Systems Op broken down by what types of systems... Weapon Familiarities defining multiple types, etc. Maybe half a dozen or more KS: from 8- to 14- or more that are important to the past experiences of the character, etc. It is just a whole 'nother level of granularity when you "really" get into skills. If what is listed above is considered "typical" I'd agree, but it isn't heavy by my standards.

 

Also... I consider Breakfall and Stealth as default super-powers, the way they work, and how important they are to the action/adventure type game on any level. Spending points on Stealth is probably the best investment of CPs for any Hero game I've ever been in. I put them with Martial Arts and Combat Skill Levels as a category of "Skills that are really powers"... especially in supers.

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Standard Superhero Skill Set

 

Cost Skills 

3 Breakfall 

3 Bureaucratics

5 CSL: HTH or Ranged Combat +1

3 Criminology

2 Navigation [Air or Ground]

3 Oratory

3 Paramedic

3 Streetwise

Total Skills Cost: 25 Points

 

 

Crime Fighter Skill Set

 

Cost Skills

3 Breakfall 

5 CSL: HTH or Ranged Combat +1

3 Criminology

3 Interrogation

3 Lockpicking

2 Navigation [Air or Ground]

3 Shadowing

3 Streetwise

Total Skills Cost: 25 Points

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On 05/02/2018 at 12:23 PM, BoloOfEarth said:

 

I'd be interested in hearing the PS Plumber story.  (FYI, your post caused an immediate flashback to the only parody I've known of the TV show Quantum Leap -- a show called Almost Live had a bit with a time-traveling plumber, called Quantum Leak.  With Bill Nye in the part of Sam Beckett.)

 

An Almost Live reference?! Damn, l loved that show. I've never heard anyone mention it before anywhere. Billy Kawn, The High-Fiving White Guys, Speedwalker that show was great. I'm glad Bill Nye (and Joel McHale) went on to bigger things, but lots of actors in the show deserved to have better careers. 

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2 hours ago, mallet said:

 

An Almost Live reference?! Damn, l loved that show. I've never heard anyone mention it before anywhere. Billy Kawn, The High-Fiving White Guys, Speedwalker that show was great. I'm glad Bill Nye (and Joel McHale) went on to bigger things, but lots of actors in the show deserved to have better careers. 

Agreed. 

 

Did you ever see the JFK conspiracy game show they did?  (IIRC, it was Who Killed JFK Today?)  That's always been a favorite of mine.  Heck, to throw it back on topic, that skit even had a hand in an NPC villain's skills:  after watching it, I gave one guy KS: Conspiracy Theories, and in the middle of combat he started accusing the heroes of complicity in various wacko theories.  Lots of fun. 

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Skills can be a useful substitute for powers. 

 

Bugging and Systems Operation can take the place of Enhanced Senses.

 

Persuasion, Conversation, Oratory, and Seduction can take the place of acting.

 

Mechanics and Electronics can modify attacks.

 

 

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My view on skills is that they are the same as any other ability acquired with character points.  Part of the social contract in Hero is that abilities will carry benefits commensurate with their cost.

 

6eV1 p 10 sums it up nicely:

 

Second, the “you get what you pay for” principle means that, generally speaking, characters should only have to pay Character Points for things they actually use during the game that have an effect in the game. 6E1 31 discusses this further, but what it means in broad strokes is that you don’t have to pay Character Points for every single little thing a character knows or can do.  If a character wants to have an ability that has no significant effect on game play —such as an obscure Background Skill or two that defines his job or personal interests —often the best thing for the GM to do is just to let him have it for free...  or, if the GM thinks the ability will only rarely be useful, to reduce its cost to more accurately reflect its utility.

 

P 31 has a section entitled "What not to spend point on", including an example of a skill the GM will not have come up in play, so just write "SKILL 13-" on the character sheet for 0 points.

 

If, as a GM, I let a player pay points for an ability, that means I am agreeing the ability will come up with sufficient frequency and relevance to be worth those points.  3 points of 350 isn't all that often or frequent, but it is the same price as a tight Combat Skill Level.  It will likely not be as frequent, so it should have more impact when it does arise, and it should come up with some regularity.

 

It's amazing how many GMs post their unhappiness with player choices and actions, when those choices and actions are driven by the GM.  "Why don't my players invest points in skills?" is generally answered by "How often are skills a significant benefit in your game?"

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