You may recall from our discussion of the Core Mechanic that your target number, your chance to do stuff is four plus your skill level (4 + Skill Level). This naturally leads to the question, “What’s your skill level? For that matter, what are skills?” Well, let’s talk about that.
- Gamer Contract
- The Core Mechanic
- Actions & Powers
- Character Creation
- Faith - spin-off
Skills are trained ability, and pretty much every game has a skill based approach to success; though, some obfuscate it more than others. If you think about it, classes or profession are just a collection of skills. Some games just have classes. Some mix the two. Some just have skills. I’m a fan of just having skills. I feel it allows for more versatility in character design and it lends itself to more organic character growth. I also like the approach where you have a class or background that dictates your starting skills. Palladium sort of did that. So I certainly take some inspiration from there.
If you are going pure skill based, you have two general approaches. You have a relatively small, finite number of skills or everything you can image (or close to it) becomes or can become a skill. I found the latter gets too out of control. You can wind up with some really niche skills that cost just as much and are less useful than other skills. Given that presentation, you can probably guess that I prefer a smaller selection of skills.
A small number of skills introduces its own problem: the skills themselves can be overly broad. This came up a lot when larping White Wolf. A person with Science 5 is assumed to have PhDs in all fields of science, ALL fields of science. Pretty ridiculous, but it’s a sacrifice made for the sake of playability. To help differentiate you from another person with Science 5, these games let you specialize, which just makes you even better at science with respect to one field. I wanted to offer a more realistic approach.
Krendel has 16 skills: Academics, Acrobatics, Artistry, Athletics, Craft, Influence, Intuition, Medical, Melee, Mysticism, Performance, Projectile, Ranging, Reflection, Science, and Stealth. These are all rated on a scale from 0 to infinite; though, in practice, you cap out at 4 or 5 due to the xp cost (cost increases in a Fibonacci sequence). Level 2 is considered competent and will give you a 60% chance of success under normal conditions; this is also the highest level that a green character can start with.
This section right here, this is why Skills gets its own post.
With only 16 skills how does Krendel avoid the “problem” of being awesome at everything, like that Science 5 person mentioned above? The answer is expertise. When you become competent in a skill (you make it to level 2), you begin to specialize in your studies. Until this point you build a general foundation of knowledge. So at level 2, you automatically gain one free expertise for the skill.
When you use your skill,
- If you have an expertise, you use your true skill level.
- If you do not have an expertise, then you are limited to a maximum effective skill level of 2 (some traits may raise or lower this number).
To help you decide what to take for an expertise, each skill gives a list (there’s a chart on page 48 too). For example, Academics expertises include finances, history, literature, law, politics, puzzles, religions, and tactics (by the way, the tactics line of powers is sweet).
You can also make up your own expertises, but any you make up must be narrower than an existing one. Here’s an example that came up in playtest, a player chose “dark urban environments” for Stealth, which is more narrow that the existing “urban”. Where I advised her that the existing expertise was more useful overall, she felt the one she made up was a better fit for the character, and that’s OK!
All actions list not only the skill, but also the expertise used. Some actions will simply list “Relevant Skill” or “Method Skill”, both of which include the appropriate expertise. So let’s take a quick look at how Academics might work using the lore action.
Lore is a reflection of what you already know about stuff. When a subject comes up, make a lore test using the relevant skill. Let’s say you are a scholar extraordinaire: You have Academics 5, but you only have expertise in history and literature. When it comes to what you know about the fall of Rome, the Ching Dynasty, or the Heian period in Japan, you’ll be rocking a target number of 9 with your Academics (history). When figuring out what you already know about Shakespeare’s plays, the truth behind Lovecraft’s works, or the secret meaning behind the Tale of Genji, you also rock a target number of 9 with your Academics (literature).
Economics would fall under Academics (finances). The proper way to deploy troops in certain circumstances is Academics (tactics). Crossword puzzles and riddles are Academics (puzzles). The differences between Zoroastrianism and Christianity is Academics (religion). Lincoln’s Republicans vs. Eisenhower’s Republican’s vs. Reagan’s Republicans vs. today’s Republicans or really just who to talk to in town to get stuff done and navigate the bureaucratic morass is all Academics (politics). Finally, Academics (law) would tell you if what you did counts as manslaughter or murder 2. With all of these, your knowledge base has an effective skill level of 2, so your target number is only 6.
In a way, expertise changes things so it’s not really 16 skills, but dozens of skills masquerading as 16. No matter how you look at it, it does present a completely different way of doing things from what I’ve otherwise seen. To me, it is a concept that makes sense. It keeps the amount of skills from sprawling out of control (and cost!) and keeps the power of individual skills from getting out of hand. It does this while grounding them in a way that makes sense, and it does this in a way that allows you to differentiate characters pretty easily as two people with Academics 5 may focus in totally different fields allowing them to complement each other rather than just doubling up.
I should mention that expertise has a couple of other effects too. When you are using an expertise, your Strength is treated as 1 higher for the purpose of using equipment. So a person who is and expert can use a better weapon. Also, the maximum number of boosts (we’ll talk more about them in powers) is equal to half your effective skill level. So with an expertise, you can use more boosts at once.
Backgrounds as Skills
This bit is important; though, it introduces a concept that we’ll get into a bit more during character creation.
During character creation, everyone chooses a background. This lists 4 skills that you start with at some basic levels based on the relative experience for your game. For example, the Medic background lists Craft, Influence, Medical, and Science. So if you have the Medic background, you’ll get all four of those skills at some level.
The Backgrounds as Skills rule lets you have levels in backgrounds instead of skills. So you might have be Medic 2 and Mercenary 1. This moves Krendel closer to a class based system. Using this on PCs is optional, but it is still a very important rule. Why? NPCs.
A problem that a pure skill based system has is that the GM faces a lot of work when designing NPCs, even just mooks. Their skill line might look like this: Athletics 2, Intuition 1, Melee 1, and Projectile 2. A bored GM may decide to give them names and the next thing you know they all have different levels of skill and a few different skills and the GM has spent a couple of hours doing a lot of work for guys that will show up in one scene. Worse, when it comes time to run the encounter, the GM is suddenly fumbling with all sorts of different stats. It’s a mess.
The Backgrounds as Skills rule should generally be invoked for NPCs. The more unique or pertinent the NPC, the more likely you will add an extra skill or power or just stat them up with a full blown sheet. But all those mooks? Make them Thug 2 or Soldier 2. If you want variety, then Mooks 1-5 are Scout 1, Thug 1 while Mooks 6-10 are Thug 2. Things just became a lot easier for the GM to manage.
For the 16 skills, there may be two changes. A number of folks have given me a strange look and asked “what’s Artistry?” I got the same look with respect to Ranging, but less so and folks more easily grokked it. So it is possible that I will change the name of Artistry to Larceny or similar. This is doubtful, but who knows. I resist the change because the term is accurate, and I feel people get used to it with practice.
The second change is that I may be getting rid of Mysticism. From a gamer standpoint it made sense at the time, but from a logic standpoint it doesn’t. Magic, Faith, Psychic, these are all built from the same principle: explaining how the universe works. Guess what? That’s Science. The only difference in the real world is that Science is reliably repeatable such that you know the results of any particular course of action. When you actually have spells and prayers manifesting effects then they very much become the same thing as science. So what I may do is roll Mysticism into Science for the most part. Some parts of Mysticism would instead go to Academics, like the myths expertise. I’m not terribly afraid of this causing any sort of an imbalance because of the way that expertise works.
Of course, I may be tweaking expertise a bit too. As a minor change, I may raise its XP cost from 3 to 4. Another minor tweak is that you get your first expertise as soon as you get your first level in a skill; functionally it’s the same, but in practicality, it is so much easier.
The big change for expertise is how it functions. Rather than acting as a cut-off at skill level 2, without an expertise, your effective skill level will simply be half your actual skill level. I find it simple and more elegant; though, as described here, it does change the paradigm of expertise somewhat.
Another change I am contemplating that would impact expertise and skill levels is one that I may do to traits. We won’t really discuss traits until we get to characters (and even then only minimally), but suffice to say there are some that can be thought of as “attribute” traits (Krendel doesn’t have attributes or ability scores like other games; though, it did during early iterations). Currently these traits adjust your maximum effective skill level (among other things). Honestly, that’s a bit of a bother, a bit of extra math that slows things down just enough to be a barrier. I may change it so that the positive traits simply give a free expertise instead of mucking with the effective skill level. It is far simpler; though, it does change the meaning some and may make the traits seem less powerful. So we’ll see.
Finally, I’m looking at stretching the level scale out some, allowing for more vertical growth. The current xp costs impose diminishing returns past level 3; the gain to cost ratio really gets thrown out the window past level 5. This means it is improbable that people will ever approach epic powers, which is fine because there’s not a lot out there, but people seem to be wired for vertical growth. Levels in computer games seem to have strongly contributed to this idea (why aren’t you level 80 yet?), which is somewhat ironic because it is another computer game (Guild Wars 1) that helped me realize what you could do with horizontal growth. In any case, I will more than likely stretch things out so level 6 and even 7 can be gotten with comparative ease. Powers will then be strung out between Lesser (level 2), Greater (level 4), Epic (level 6), and Legendary (level 8). You can see a version of this in SHARDS; though, it’s not the same because the d6 scale is different from the d10 scale.