Comparing Skill Systems
Zipdrive requested a discussion on skill systems in roleplaying games in the thread for Rangers are the Symptom. I’m a nice guy, so I’ll indulge him and get this started.
Some games, like DnD provide a list of skills to choose from based on a class or character type. These skills can be taken in any order as long as they correspond with the type. Skills from other classes can be purchased, but at higher cost.
This is my least favorite way of buying skills. The skill lists are small, and the cost to do anything different is too high to be useful.
Why can’t a fighter learn to read? Is the game implying that someone who is good at combat is by default an uneducated lout?
Why can’t a mage, especially one of noble blood, know how to duel with a sword?
Wouldn’t a mercenary, a merchant, a thief, or an entertainer know how to haggle and barter? These are people who negotiate the pay that they receive for the work that they do. Why don’t they get a haggling or merchant skill? I think that Bards do, and maybe thieves, but that’s about it.
Doesn’t make sense to me, which is one of the main reasons why I hate this type of skill system.
Other games, like Shadowrun and GURPS, divide skills by attribute or type. For example, Shadowrun has points that are used solely for knowledge based skills. GURPS classes skills based on the type of skill. Combat vs craft or social. In GURPS, this is done to make it easier to find certain skills as they are grouped by type rather than a restriction on which skills to use.
The only restriction that GURPS has is a logical one. You must purchase some skills in order to possess others. This is most obvious in the magic system. An advanced spell or skill has requirements, usually simpler skills or spells, before the advanced version can be learned.
One thing that I like about Shadowrun is that you can make up skills. I’m not sure if this is a house rule or a system rule, but it’s a good one.
Example: I had a college student with a background in security systems and home repair. Security systems is a listed skill, but I had to invent the Handy Man skill which let me do most home repair type things. Basic electrical, drywall, basic carpentry, plumbing, stuff like that. This skill ended up being incredibly useful in a Burn Notice sort of way.
These two games have great skill systems. Easy to understand and learn. Intuitive. And exhausting in the amount of skills available (especially GURPS).
These two games also have their downside, especially when it comes to martial arts and combat. Which is pretty odd if you think about it.
Shadowrun is a game set in the near future with magic and cybernetics. The PCs are criminals, doing illegal work for money. Yet there are no hit location rules, no dodge or other defensive moves, no martial arts rules, and no real bonus to called shots. It also features a rather complicated turn based combat sequence which hurts the brain unless you are very used to it.
Shooting a guy in the eyeball is harder to do, but gives no extra damage.
A third degree black belt in Jeet June Do is the same as a person with the brawling or Hand to Hand skill.
GURPS has the opposite problem when it comes to martial arts. Steve Jackson Games went into so much detail with martial arts that making a martial artist is impossible with the normal 100 points. There are too many skills to buy. And 150 point martial artist will be a black belt, but won’t have any other skills.
If you are running or playing GURPS, I highly advise treating ALL martial arts as a Physical Hard, just as Karate and Judo are listed in the main book. Use the martial art book for a list and description of martial arts, with weapons and new cool skills, advantages, and disadvantages thrown in, but don’t force the players to spend 35 points to buy Karate. It’s just not worth it.
Another problem with GURPS is the sheer amount of skills available. GURPS has skills for EVERYTHING. Basket weaving? Seriously?
There is another way of handling skills that I love and have incorporated into my own game. I don’t remember if I made this up or if I picked it up from another game system.
You take a base skill, like sword or guns or escrima. You buy the skill and it gives you the ability to use any sword, any gun, and all the differing aspects of the martial art. All swords are basically the same, as are all guns. Escrima incorporates knives, sticks, and empty hand combat.
You can purchase levels of skill up to a certain point. In my system that is three levels, which is the equivalent to a black belt or professional. Once that level is reached, you must specialize. You can specialize multiple times, specializing again every three levels.
Guns to handguns to Sig Saur P-229.
Sword to Fencing to Rapier.
Escrima to Sticks to Disarm.
For example: Once Academics of level 3 is reached, the PC specializes in Law and Psychology. Once the PC has a level 3 in Law she specializes again in criminal law. In psychology she goes for abnormal psych.
When it comes to rolling for skills, you add the corresponding attribute to the skill plus the specialization.
If this character was rolling for abnormal psych, she’d roll her IQ of 4, + 3 for Academics, +3 for Psychology, +1 for Abnormal Psych for a total of 11 dice. Assuming that she is rolling against a difficulty of 6, she has a pretty good chance of succeeding.
Of course, this only works in systems where you roll a bunch of dice and add up the successes rather rolling to get above or below a specific number.
In Timelords skill levels were based on the time spent learning them. A person who has been taking fencing for two years is going to have a better skill than someone who has spent two months learning the sword, even if the second person has higher natural abilities.
I used to know the skill systems in other games, but it’s just been so long since I’ve played them that I just can’t remember anymore. Guess that I’m getting old…
This is enough to get us started. Hope this helps, Zipdrive.