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Skills: useful or just for flavor?

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4 hours ago, Cassandra said:

Skills have three basic functions.  

 

1. To find someone or something.

2 To solve a problem.

3. To find a way to defeat a villain.

 

 

 

If you're going to get that super-general, you can just say Skills have only one function: To solve a problem. Your numbers 1 and 3 are just examples of problems being solved.

 

Lucius Alexander

 

The palindromedary notes that number 3 is just a special case of number 1 for that matter.

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To Solve a Problem covers things like Preventing a Nuclear reactor from melting down, stopping two countries from going to war, or keeping you job after your six hours later because you were preventing a nuclear meltdown or stopping a war.

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It all depends on the GM and the game setting.

 

I tend to go heavy on skills.  But my GM's are pretty good at working with me in the rule that if a player spends points on it, it should be come up at some point.

 

Case in point - our supers party  encountered a group of giant mutated frogs that were kicking (licking?) our butts.  Since frogs are rarely apex predators, they have to worry about what eats them.  So with successful rolls in SS: Ecology and Mimicry (and a little luck), I bought the whole team a phase of free actions as the frogs were worried about the predator they "heard" but couldn't see, instead of trying to eat us.

 

 

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I will preface this by saying I've still not yet found a Hero's game that I've been able to join. However, a friend of mine has been kind enough to look over a few characters I threw together for concepts and build designs, so most of what I'm talking about has come from that.

From what I've found, I tend to build pretty skill heavy. 40 to 50 points on skills are not uncommon on the character's I've built. Ten or twelve general skills and then blowing the rest on Area or Culture knowledge really helps flesh out how a character not only feels in an actual world, but how they would react to situations beyond the ken of normal men. Granted, a good chunk I wouldn't expect to come up very often, if at all. 

In which case... well, talk with your GM. I would imagine that they have a semi-decent idea of what would be useful in a game. So even once it's all fleshed out, confer with them to see what would be useful. If it is? Great, keep the points spent to take it. If not? See if they will let you keep it for free. 

 

Personal example now. I always build a character with two 0-pt skills. -7 or worse to succeed sort of skills for the rolls. Why? Because what they suck at is equally important to know as what they are good at. A Gageteer that is frustratingly bad at art and medical care. A Face with abysmal ordination, Breakfall and Athletics. A Telepath that is so used to reading minds, speaking is a trouble for them with Oratory or Persuasion. That sort of thing.

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My Star HERO game sees much, much more usage of skills (Systems Operation rolls to determine how long something takes, Tactics rolls for my NPC's to see if they can work out an intercept on the faster player ship, tons of Paramedics rolls for the ship's Doctor to patch up players or NPC's, etc.) than my FH games (which mostly feature "security systems" and/or mechanics as "disable device," lockpicking, stealth, etc.)

 

My rare Champs games sees little beyond deduction, security systems, computer skills, and the occasional use of various conversation skills.

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I tend to use a lot of skill in games I run no matter what game or genre.  Even in superhero games, I refuse to let the game revolve around cool powers and nothing else.  Of course, my superhero games are often very different from comic books.  That being said, I make sure that no skill on a player's character sheet is unused.  Before the campaign I carefully scrutinize every character.  If I see a skill (or anything else) that I think will not be useful in the campaign, I will advise the player to get rid of it.  One example off the top of my head was a player who made an archaeologist and chose Farsi as a language.  I think he just randomly selected it to be honest.  I encouraged him to take Arabic because it is more widely spoken and easier to incorporate.  It actually became very beneficial in the campaign when he was listening in on a conversation between two individuals who presumed that he didn't speak their language.

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I tend to reward taking skills that are appropriate for the players background and make any skill that they do take useful at some point. On the flip side if you have no skills beyond the minimum required for Everyman you will end up in situations where that puts you at a disadvantage, whether that means something taking longer or getting the jump on you or just causing the use of brute force when finesse would have been easier.

 

- E

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4 hours ago, unclevlad said:

Rather than say "remove this"...as others have pointed out, just make it cost 0 points.  Farsi might have fit his background or image better.  

If it had been part of his background or anything like that I would not have encouraged him to choose something else.  I would have made it useful.  It really wasn't that significant to his character at all.  

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The OP did say that "skills" in this post were of the Knowledge, Profession, and Science variety, not the Breakfall, Demolitions, or System Operation variety.

 

There's a clear distinction between the two, where one is a practical skill and the other is knowledge. A Thief with the Lockpicking skill would be able to jimmy open the door to the Baron's Treasury, but couldn't tell you what kind of lock it was, what tradesman installed it, or what factory manufactured it, nor could they uninstall the lock, reinstall the lock, or execute maintenance on a lock. Those would require Knowledge: Locks or Profession: Locksmith, respectively. Which would have implications for, say, telling another thief how to get in, or tracking down the lock hawker as part of some kind of investigation, or pretending to be a locksmith with ulterior motives, or gaining a Complimentary Skill Roll bonus if returning a second time to find the locks changed.

 

From here, I'd have to agree with most folks who've given their opinions, saying that it's up to the GM and the players how they run their games. I do also consider it a rule that if a player puts something down on a character sheet and pays points for it, the GM should find a way of including that in the game, but it's also up to the player to be creative as well. If you want to be a kid from the streets with the "knack" for getting into locked rooms, take the Lockpicking skill, but if you want to be a locksmith who gets tangled up in a motley crew exacting revenge on a cruel guild leader, take Lockpicking and a supporting KS or PS. 

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21 hours ago, whitekeys said:

 

 

There's a clear distinction between the two, where one is a practical skill and the other is knowledge. A Thief with the Lockpicking skill would be able to jimmy open the door to the Baron's Treasury, but couldn't tell you what kind of lock it was, what tradesman installed it, or what factory manufactured it, nor could they uninstall the lock, reinstall the lock, or execute maintenance on a lock. Those would require Knowledge: Locks or Profession: Locksmith, respectively. Which would have implications for, say, telling another thief how to get in, or tracking down the lock hawker as part of some kind of investigation, or pretending to be a locksmith with ulterior motives, or gaining a Complimentary Skill Roll bonus if returning a second time to find the locks changed.

 

 

If the game is played using the Ultimate Skill books (5th or 6th) then most practical skills do include knowledge of the skill. A quick look at Lockpicking in that book does include uninstalling, building and installing locks, and while I don't notice any mention of of things like "factory that manufactured" the lock, etc... other "active" skills in the books do list knowledge as being part of the base skill. For example,

Quote

"Lastly, characters with acrobatics typically possess knowledge of their craft — they can identify different acrobatic maneuvers by name (if appropriate), know the identities and accomplishment of famous acrobats, and so forth"

 

or

 

Quote

acting also imparts some knowledge of related subjects: techniques and styles of acting (such as the method school); famous thespians; the business of acting; and so forth.

 

or

Quote

Climbing is primarily a physical skill. However, it grants the character knowledge of the following subjects: climbing methods and equipment; famous climbing sites and climbers.

 

In fact many of the Active skills in that book include some form of the above, showing that having the "active" part of a skill still gives knowledge of a wide range of facts and details of how that skill is used in the real world and the history of the skill. 

 

How this differs from have a PS or KS of the skill is, I guess, a determination for the GM to make in their games.

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Fair enough, mallet, haven't read that one!

 

I'd direct the OP to read the entry on Complimentary Skills, which I think is the most practical use of Background Skills. There's also the last paragraph in the entry of the Knowledge Skill, which describes something I was trying to get at, but didn't do a good job of.

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On 6/18/2018 at 7:48 AM, Sveta said:

Personal example now. I always build a character with two 0-pt skills. -7 or worse to succeed sort of skills for the rolls. Why? Because what they suck at is equally important to know as what they are good at. A Gageteer that is frustratingly bad at art and medical care. A Face with abysmal ordination, Breakfall and Athletics. A Telepath that is so used to reading minds, speaking is a trouble for them with Oratory or Persuasion. That sort of thing.

 

Neat idea, and an excellent point (bolded above for emphasis).  In my game, I give each NPC villain 5 1-point Quirks (stolen pretty much directly from GURPS) that I often use to define a thing or two they're bad at (Couldn't Carry a Tune in a Bushel Basket, Fashion Disaster, etc.), as well as odd psychological quirks (a shapechanger who Loves to Imitate Arnold Schwartzenegger, a man-rooster with No Sense of Humor, etc.)  While I'm hesitant to penalize a player for 0 points, I'd think giving him the option to take a few -1 point "non-skills" is a neat idea.

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I usually use weird bad skills under quirks a 5 pt. Distinctive Feature so long as the skill is more flavorful and not combat related.  The 5 pt Distinctive Feature requires 5 quirks in my campaign.

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So I was thinking about skills and their use in game play, the way they've changed over the years and editions... realizing one of the things that bugged me about the trend to micro-deconstruction of every skill (Not enough to have PS: Lawyer... now you have to have 47 sub-skills to represent all the things a lawyer knows). I realized what bugs me, is that the game is now inconsistent. Some skills are broad and general and supposed to cover a variety of situational applications... others are really constrained.

 

It came from looking at the Talent "Environmental Movement" which is a Talent for no apparent reason. Isn't the ability to move through certain impeded environments something you can learn... i.e. a skill?  Whatever on that, it is the design difference between it and Stealth that jumped out at me.

 

First... Stealth is 3 points, and is used by almost every character, every game, multiple times. And if the character concept doesn't call for stealth, the lack of it is just as meaningful to the game. Stealth is vastly under costed for its utility in action/adventure (i.e. every Hero game) scenarios... especially as it covers "being sneaky" in any and all situations. Want to sneak past the guard in the dark? Stealth. Want to move through a crowded party without being noticed? Stealth. Want to move across an old attic floor without causing loud squeak? Stealth. Give some situational modifiers (really creaky floor or plentiful blindspots or lots of stuff you have to climb over) and you are good to go. Quick and easy.

 

But then you look at Environmental Movement. Not general, but highly specific, in that you have to buy it separately for every environment. And each environment is nearly as expensive or more than the all-powerful Stealth. 4 Points for Crawlspace Ace.  Really? Four points for the once in a decade of gaming where a character has to move through a cramped space quickly? Really? Talk about overpriced for utility, even if there is no skill roll, that is four points that is almost never going to come into play, and when it does, the action could have been easily covered by a Dex roll with minuses.

 

It is also inconsistent design. While tentatively "realistic" in saying "Knowing how to move through cramped spaces doesn't also allow you to move through underbrush, or over rocky terrain, etc." the question then comes up... if that is the design philosophy, why isn't it applied to Stealth? Moving quietly in the dark is different than moving surreptitiously in a party is different from knowing how to move in an old house without creaking... but you don't have to buy 3 kinds of Stealth.

 

I'd much prefer to see a single skill Environmental Movement 3 pts. "YOur character knows how to move across difficult terrain, through crowded and cramped spaces, etc. Make a roll... "   Boom... GM throws in situational modifiers like any other roll... "This is cold and icy and slippery and you haven't really done this before, so -3 to your roll!" and we are good... quick and easy.

 

Costs aside... Talent or Skill aside... it is the inconsistency in the design that really bugs me. While I personally prefer skill lists that are broadly comprehensive vs. narrowly defined... at least be consistent. It is the fact that similar aspects of the game have fundamentally different design concepts behind them.

 

---

 

On a completely different note... what skills encompass "Hot wiring a car" Sure you could say mechanics, but plenty of people who fix cars have no idea or couldn't effectively hot wire a car, and plenty of car thieves would have no idea how to fix a car... so mechanics seems wrong. I was just scratching my head that such a common action/adventure skill isn't clearly covered anywhere. I PDF searched "hot wire" "Hotwire" "Hotwiring" in 6th ed and came up with nothing

 

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3 hours ago, Funk Thompson said:

Well, environmental movement could be training or skill, or it could be innate to the character - fins for swimming and such. Small nitpick :)

 

True... could be said of any Skill... some meta-ability that grants it... Lockpicking from some organo-metallic morphous alien... they can shape their appendages to fit spaces, like a key slot, etc. Doesn't telepathy bypass Language barriers, so you can technically 'speak' any language?  Stealth... natural padded feet and light absorbing fur... etc.

 

And again, I don't mind the concept of Talents either... but just commenting on the lack of consistency. Should every skill have a corresponding talent version?  I dunno... seems excessive, but it would be more consistent from a game mechanics perspective. "Here is the skill, representing learned ability which requires a roll... and the Talent version, which represents innate ability, has no roll, but is more expensive and more specifically/situationally defined."

 

I'm not advocating that, really... just that again, inconsistency in design beggars the question.

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5 hours ago, RDU Neil said:

 

On a completely different note... what skills encompass "Hot wiring a car" Sure you could say mechanics, but plenty of people who fix cars have no idea or couldn't effectively hot wire a car, and plenty of car thieves would have no idea how to fix a car... so mechanics seems wrong. I was just scratching my head that such a common action/adventure skill isn't clearly covered anywhere. I PDF searched "hot wire" "Hotwire" "Hotwiring" in 6th ed and came up with nothing

 

 

PS: Car Thief.  Security Systems would definitely cover it.  Lockpicking it might also.  

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RDUNeil's point about Stealth hits the target for me.  A hypergranular skill and knowledge system guarantees that most skills and  knowledges are too narrow ever to do you any good in a game.  I admit I've had bad luck with GMs, but I am not sure I've played in a game where skills other than Stealth etc. have been worth the investment.  (Sure, buy the everyman package so you can drive a car competently, surf the web and get something besides malware and cat pictures, and attend a cocktail party without telling an obscene joke to the parson's wife, but nothing more.)  If I had a dollar for every session where the Skill Monkey was worthless (ditto the Detective, other than his CSL's with firearms) and the Ninja ruled like a god, I'd be able to buy the pizza every Friday for the rest of my life.

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