Saturday, 5 December 2020

Skills [to pay the bills]Part 1

 A few weeks ago I sat down with one of the players from the regular PARIAH campaign about why they felt it was time for them to move on.  It was a really valuable experience for me as a GM and a (dare i say it) RPG designer, and I'm very grateful to Alex for not only the conversation but also allowing me to broadcast it.

You can listen to our chat on anchor (and apparently other channels too):

One of Alex's grievances — alongside the lack of clearly signposted character progression — was the skill system that's used in PARIAH. Part of me is a little reluctant to write this stuff down because I don't REALLY want to established a fully codified skill system. 

Real-world Khoisian bow hunters of the Kalahari, one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer groups.

Nonetheless maybe it can provide a framework for players and GMs to build upon or to be inspired by: in any case, the following should be considered a serving suggestion only. YMMV, T&Cs apply.

(also check out the post on attributes I wrote a way back)

Core Mechanic

  • Combat and saving throws use a D20, and sometimes have attribute mods thrown in (D20+dex defence roll, D20+WIS spell save etc.)
  • Other rolls use the whole attribute plus a D6 to hit a target number.
  • The target number. is based on 3d6 attribute distribution, using strength as an example:

3PatheticDeadlift 50 lbsMinimum adult ability score.
4-5FeebleDeadlift 75 lbs
6-8PoorDeadlift 140 lbs
9-12TypicalDeadlift 220 lbsAverage
13-15GoodDeadlift 350 lbs
16-17ExcellentDeadlift 500lbs
18RemarkableDeadlift 600 lbsordinary human ability score limit
20IncredibleDeadlift 700 lbs
22Deadlift 800 lbs
24AmazingDeadlift 900 lbsLimit of gifted but untrained human
26Deadlift 1000 lbs
28MonstrousDeadlift 1050 lbs
30Deadlift 1100 lbsOrdinary human ability score + master skill limit
30+SuperhumanDeadlift more than
1100 lbs
Beyond the capabilities of even the most exceptional human beings.

In these examples we envisage a pariah attempting to deadlift various weights for one rep: someone with strength of 12 is going to have no problems lifting 220 lbs for one rep, but if they want to lift heavier weights they roll a D6, add it to their stat and try and hit a target number.

A 900lb deadlift would only be within reach of an 18 strength individual rolling a "6"... however, a skilled individual — someone with good technique, training and experience — would roll a D8, D10 or even a D12.

I've used the tags from FASERIP to add some extra flavour.

Anyway, the point of what follows is to give some GUIDELINES ONLY. Feel free to alter or ignore. I don't have the inclination to do a full chart for every single skill, so I've provided feats with a target number of 18, 24 and 30.

While I think this does start to push us out of Old School territory and into potentially crunchier waters, writing out the list of skills did remind me that the skill tables are also useful world-building tools. For players, they give an impression of the sort of things their proto-Neolithic pariah is likely to value.

The skills also illustrate the fact this is proto-Neolithic: the characters themselves are outcasts from hunter-gatherer society, and their skills reflect this... nonetheless, on the edge of the wilderness the settled peoples are emerging. Literacy is an actual possibility!

Acrobatics (DEX*)

Perform acrobatic manoeuvres. 

18    Walk across a narrow beam at normal speed, perform a perfect cartwheel.

24    Run across a narrow beam, balance on a branch, somersault perfectly in combat.

30    Run across a treetop, cracking ice, appear to change direction mid leap.

*pariahs with a Core Attribute of STR may start with this skill assigned to their STR.

Animal Handling (WIS)

Instruct or handle an animal. 

18    Intimidate a wild animal, guide a domestic animal.

24    Communicate a series of simple instructions to a domestic beast.

30     Communicate a series of simple instructions to anon-aggressive wild animal.

*pariahs with a Core Attribute of CHA may start with this skill assigned to their CHA.

Climbing (STR*)

Ascend (or descend) a climbable surface.

18    Climb 10' up a tree in 1 round.

24    Climb normal movement up a tree in a round.

30    Climb a reverse overhang at 10'/round.

*pariahs with a Core Attribute of DEX or CON may start with this skill assigned to that attribute.

Concentration (CON*)

Perform a ritual, charm or other action despite distractions.

18     Continue required action while noise and chaos surrounds you.    

24     Continue to perform an action despite receiving HP damage.   

30    Continue to perform action even if physically maimed or mortally wounded.

*pariahs with a Core Attribute of WIS may start with this skill assigned to that attribute.

Craft (INT*)

I put together a list of craft skills and some possible outcomes in the wilderness supplement which I have repeated below:

Attribute based rolls might be made on the move or even during combat:

18    Repair an item to near-new, create an item from scratch quickly.

24    Repair a damaged item to good-as-new, create a fine item on the fly.

30    Create a masterwork item using available resources in an appropriate time period, possibly             
        attracting a spirit to occupy this object of beauty and fine craftsmanship.

*pariahs with a Core Attribute of DEX may start with this skill assigned to that attribute.

Disguise (INT*)

Make oneself appear different 

18        Only the pariah's close associates would recognise them.

24        Become totally unrecognisable, resemble a subject in passing.

30        Resemble a specific person so convincingly only close associates would know the truth.

*pariahs with a Core Attribute of CHA may start with this skill assigned to that attribute.

Drinking (CON*)

Drink alcoholic or other intoxicating beverages. In drinking contests simply make contested rolls. In some cases, you may make a drinking roll in lieu of a 1d20 poison save.

18    Drink a pint of wine in one round.

24    Consume a mild poison with no ill effect. Drink (skill die) pints of wine in as many rounds.

30    Drink a gallon of wine in 3d6 rounds. Vomit uncontrollably. Become chief.

*pariahs with a Core Attribute of CHA may start with this skill assigned to that attribute.

Endurance Running (CON)

Run long distances without serious effect. Running faster will incur CON damage.

18    Run 12 miles in 2 hours (or 6 miles in 1 etc.)

24    Run 18 miles in 2 hours (or 9 miles in 1 etc.).

30    Run 24 miles in 2 hours (or 12 miles in 1 hour etc).

Entheogens (CON*)

Entheogen rolls differ for each type of entheogen, refer to PARIAH Vol. 1!

Working on a revision of this where your roll give you a certain amount of power in the spirit world...

*pariahs with a Core Attribute of WIS may start with this skill assigned to that attribute.

Fishing (WIS*)

Fishing usually equates to a certain number of rations depending on the environment, as laid out in the wilderness supplement. Here's an example:

GMs may wish to increase the difficulty every hour to represent the pariahs and their resources becoming temporarily exhausted. It's not compulsory though!

*pariahs with a Core Attribute of DEX may start with this skill assigned to that attribute.

Food tasting (CON)

Detect a hidden ingredient in a food morsel, including poison.

18    Detect a hidden ingredient in a spoonful of food.

24    Detect a hidden ingredient by just placing a drop on the tongue.

30    Detect a hidden ingredient merely by smelling the food.

Foraging (WIS*)

I actually forgot to include foraging on the original CHARGEN tables. It does come up on the PERCHANCE generator, which is here:

This is an example table from the wilderness supplement

It might seem generous, but every hour the party spends foraging they are risking a jungle encounter, which if they're caught off guard can be deadly- especially at night.

*pariahs with a Core Attribute of INT may start with this skill assigned to that attribute.

Grappling (STR)

Grappling is a contested roll: roll skill dice first to determine who takes the lead, add in STR to determine the victor. Draws are resolved the following round.

* * *

This list continues at LINK TO FOLLOW

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  1. I could understand where he was coming from in some regards, like personally one thing I often dislike with OSR-style games myself is how you can roll poorly during character creation, and if you're running a long form game that can suck. Granted in OSR-style games attributes don't matter as much, but still. I appreciate what Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells does, where lower attributes are more likely to increase when you level, so it somewhat evens out.

    In any case, he definitely had that D&D 5e-ish mindset towards abilities and attributes, and maybe you could have done more in game to untrain that from him, but in your defense, you have an OSR blog and have produced a whole book and stuff. I don't mean to rag on him, but I think he needed to meet you part way. I don't mean he needs to like it, but I felt like he didn't really understand. If he understood, but that just wasn't for him, then fine.

    I also got a little confused about what he didn't understand about the languages. I have not yet read your setting as thoroughly as I intend to, but personally, I thought that idea of written language being this rare skill as being something really interesting and powerful about the setting, and full of opportunities as a player or GM.

    I've already forgotten a lot of the particulars of that conversation, sorry if I'm misrepresenting anything. It was really cool of him to do this debrief and it was really cool of you to share it, I think it would be good to see more of these kinds of things from you and others in the future. Even though as I said, I don't think he was totally being fair, these kinds of debriefs can be really good learning opportunities and it sounds like you took it that way, and also they can be good "clearing the air" conversations abd hopefully helped ease any tensions rather than exacerbate them.

    In any case, as to this post itself, I agree with you that I'm not a fan of these skill list kind of things with specific logistic or quantitative values, but it can be helpful for worldbuilding or as a shared frame of reference, I guess. And using the FASERIP terms was a good idea that makes it intuitively useful even just as a frame is reference, even if you don't use the subsystem per se.

    1. Hey Maxcan thanks for commenting.

      I think it was a difference in playstyle and expectations and I probably should have done more to clarify that from the outset.

      Alex is a great GM and roleplayer and I hope we're going to do more stuff together in the future.

  2. My fairly biased point of view is that any skill system that uses a different evaluation method to combat is broken. Try recasting the combat system to use the same resolution and general paucity of choices as the rest of the skills and tell me if it is still "fun".
    Also each skill needs to be examined to see what (if any) player choices it enables. Discard those that don't enable anything or duplicate other choices. Here I'm looking at Fishing vs Foraging and wondering why on earth anyone would bother with Food Tasting unless you are doing a renaissance courtier game or similar.
    Third, talk to your players and see what activities they would really like to do. Build your skills around those activities and make them as rich and as inviting as possible. Of course if you only have ex D&D players anyone interested in anything other than combat has probably been winnowed out so concentrate on new players and players with experience in other genres.

    1. Also sorry for being a dick just I never get comments and this is a weirdly specific one and I'M FEELING SPICY! Are you feeling spicy? Let's throw down! In a non-homo ju-jitsu type way. Let's wrestle. As brothers. Brothers before the swamp god.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Yeah sorry I don't know what's wrong with me sometimes. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I've tried twice to publish a considered response and both times Chrome has dumped me out before it was complete. Now it is late and I want to go to bed. What you have published above seems too detailed and prescriptive to fit with the design goals you published for the game. With those design goals I would be stealing from FATE and letting the players describe their skills to some extent. A lot easier than trying to cover all the bases and it fits a lot better with old school player skills emphasis.
    Players will often come to the table at the end of a long work day ... don't have multiple probability distributions for them to have to evaluate. I'll shut up and get out of your hair now.

    1. You're not in my hair at all and thanks for taking the time to come back and post a follow-up: it's more than I deserve after my initial freak-out (in which I used some bad language to communicate with you... I'm sorry I had to delete my comment it was hurting my eyes to look at) so I appreciate this. Special thanks as well given that chrome seemed to be conspiring against you: well done for persevering!

      > What you have published above seems too detailed and prescriptive to fit with the design goals you published for the game.

      You're right, it is. I did however take some pains to emphasise what these are "serving suggestions" rather than a list of limiting rules, I just wanted to give an idea of what players might be able to attempt. That in itself is a failure and runs against the grain of the games I run: "tactical infinity" is the watch word here- I want the players to be limited only by what is humanly (and sometimes magically) possible given the constraints of the environment, to ask questions about the world (and the encounter) and engage with the game in imaginative ways. The maxim "the answer's not on your character sheet" is another idea adhered to, yet one not really evident in what's been posted.

      As for assessing multiple probability distributions, I agree with you again: players don't need to be doing complex mathematics at the end of a long day. Games are supposed to be fun, and although some of my players do find maths enjoyable I don't think I'm capable of creating fun maths games!

      However, with regard to this I try to do a lot of the heavy-lifting as a GM. Following a dialogue about the situation and what the players plan to do about the it, the "resolution mechanic" is going to come down to them hitting a number or above on the roll of a die. I liked the idea of skills progressing from D6 to D8 to D10 and so on because it's clearly much easier to roll "3 or higher" on a D12 than a D6. I also like giving the range of maths rocks that people own a bigger share of the action that the D20 is always hogging.

      All said and done, I will take a look at FATE because I really appreciate you coming back and being decent. You were definitely the "bigger man" — or perhaps we should say "better human" — in this instance, and I appreciate you giving me the chance to rectify my behaviour.