Oh boy. Massive post inbound. Monstrously, perhaps needlessly massive post inbound. I'm so sorry.
As an upfront disclaimer and declaration of intent:
I'm neither settled on a solution nor necessarily advocating for a specific one in the following text. My intention is both explore the ideas presented and play devil's advocate.
Every design decision has benefits and drawbacks. It's worth being honest about both.
Also, this thread has been great overall. Thanks for everyone who took time to contribute. Now, without further ado...
(edit: I was about to post this massive tomb and then you bastards wrote more comments. Ahem)
thirtythr33 wrote:You just don't have enough time to spend filling up the same SA 4 times to grind your violin skill from rank 1 to 5 on a 1-10 scale. There are probably 4 players at the table and each has around 4 SAs at any given time. You can't spend 50 sessions grinding your violin skill up to beat the master; that story arc has to happen in 5 or so session.
Does it need to happen in 5 sessions? If they are a major rival and this is a main motivation for the character, you could spend the entire campaign dealing with this guy. Don't let yourself accidentally trivialize the scenaro just because we're talking about violins and concerts. Those are placeholders.
If the character started as a young man whose father was cruelly murdered, no one would think it remotely strange that a central and long-term goal for your character over the course of a campaign would be finding out who did it, tracking that man and learning swordsmanship so that when you had the chance you could kill him. That's the sort of thing that could go on for an entire campaign as the character's adventures prepare him with the skills he would need for that eventual confrontation. Would anyone assume that this needs to be wrapped up in 5 sessions?
The above is obviously combat so it isn't quite the same thing (unless you're using simple combat as your main resolution system, in which case proficiencies are being treated like skills anyway), but it's just as easy to imagine scenarios where the focus is just as important to the story and character but the big confrontation will have a major skill component.
Imagine a PC whose family was killed in a pirate raid on their coastal village. He is a young man who has no life for him but to take to the sea. Towards the beginning of the campaign, he catches wind of the rumor that the captain of the ship on which he serves was a pirate before he accepted a pardon, changed his name, and went straight. Following the rumor, he discovers this captain was the very same who lead the raid that massacred his family. The crew are in effect the closest thing to family he has, so simply murdering the captain would avenge his parents at the cost of his brotherhood. Instead, he must plan... and wait.
Out of character, the PC will have to be hustling like crazy to build relationships and allies, prove his worth and earn the love and respect of the crew.. but perhaps in some ways most importantly, he'll need to develop his Command skill from scratch for the final showdown when he raises mutiny against the captain. Turning the crew against him is the only way he'll be able to avoid having to kill his newfound brothers. This will take, way, way longer than 5 sessions, and the character probably has multiple SAs involved - Avenge my family, Protect my sworn brothers, earn the loyalty of the crew...
One can't assume that the only time the existing skill scale issue could come up is a kind of sports-movie championship competition thing, or that the conflict will be any less important to the story than any of the bigger more glamorous types of conflict.
thirtythr33 wrote:Getting enough SAs to raise a skill every session is WAAAY too fast of an advancement.
I would agree that it's probably too fast of a rate of advancement if they are rated 1-5. On the other hand, you have three important bits to consider:
1) I have never said that the person in question should be required to be of equal skill to the person they are challenging. That was never the issue. My concern is that it shouldn't completely replace the need for skill, as it presently can.
2) Going from 1-2 is 4 points, 2-3 is 6. 3-4 is 8. That's 18 total required. When my group was first introduced to the game and hadn't quite clicked with the whole SA thing, they were still getting 2-3 per 3-hour session. If the player and GM are both on their game, 4 SA points per session is very doable, so I can already afford to advance from rank 1 to 4 inside of 5 sessions if I want to blow everything on it. Rank 5 is 10 points on its own, so I'd only need an average of two more sessions after that -- or less. None of the above counts bonus points from flaws.
3) If the concern was "Advancing too fast" making a 0-10 range instead of a 0-5 range would make improving skills both more incremental and potentially more expensive, both of which slow advancement down.
thirtythr33 wrote:Related to that, BoB intends that you start the game with the character you want to play
Correct! Sometimes that character is a young novice who becomes the best at what they want to do, rather than starting as the best at what they want to do. For some, the becoming is the story they want to play. Being able to start the game with the character you want to play should accommodate both.
Keep in mind, priorities change as well. Characters go in unexpected directions. What you thought was important to your character may not wind up being important to them as play goes on. Your fearsome pirate may have never dreamed he would need to take on a champion hurdy-gurdist
to win his lady's heart, yet love makes fools of us all.
thirtythr33 wrote:and that character advancement is a minor part of SAs. That can't be true if skill advancement can happen on a fast enough rate that a novice can become a TRUE master in 5 sessions.
This is actually a pretty good argument that we do
need to do something about the skill situation. See 2 and 3 above.
thirtythr33 wrote:The training and practice that would have been necessary are assumed to have happened off screen. Unless you bring in a "skill up on use" mechanic or a rule you can't raise a skill you didn't use in the last session, this still wont fix the problem. You could just as easily keep raising your violin skill by murdering goblins and have it at rank 10 the first time it is used.
I've failed here to get my point across. Let me try again.
Agamemnon wrote:The build-up where the character earns the SA point is nice and necessary, but none of the things the character is doing to earn those points (social conflicts with the other violinist, overcoming hurdles that would prevent him from entering the competition, whatever) necessarily have anything to do with the character learning how to play the violin. The missing piece here is that the training montage at some point needs to actually involve getting better at playing the violin.
I wasn't arguing that we need to see the training happen on screen. We don't need to watch him practice violin in front of us. My point was that yes, SAs can temporarily add dice to make him perform better in this one moment at the concert and defeat his rival.. but when the SA is finished or spent down, he still only has one dot in Perform (Violin). Despite defeating the grandmaster violinist, he is no better at playing the violin. Because SAs can provide enough dice to make your actual skill irrelevant, there is no need in that arc for the character to actually get better at playing the violin. If it was on a longer scale, however, the number of dice contributed by the SA becomes proportionately less and the need for actual skill becomes proportionately higher.
In fact, one could argue that the current setup would actually in some ways discourage you from investing in that skill with the SA associated with it, as 1 point in the SA is as valuable as 1 point in the skill.You would be better off getting that to 4 or 5 and holding it there unless you know that the actual confrontation is a very long way off. If you're planning on it to happen inside of 5 sessions, though, then the smart money is probably to keep the bonus as high as you can and invest in the skill with points from other SAs, if at all.
thirtythr33 wrote:If attributes are going from 1-10, then STR and STM are going to always be taken at even levels, so you aren't wasting points when dividing by 2 for dmg bonus and armour.
Fair point. On the other hand, the benefit of an odd-numbered stat would then depend on what that stat can do when it's not being halved. It's a piece that would have to be examined separately. Any design decision will have positive and negative consequences. The question would be "is the potential for frequently even-numbered stats worse better or worse than the above issue with skills?"
thirtythr33 wrote:Another idea I haven't seen mentioned is to alter the 1=novice 4=master scale. If it were changed to 1=novice and 6=master, this just makes it harder to beat a "master" at his own game when you have SAs firing. A master violinist is probably going to have Agility 4 as well, giving him a pool of 10. Even with 5 SA firing, that is hard for a novice with 3 agi and 1 skill to beat.
The only rub with this is that if mastery in the professional sense goes from 4 to 6, then do we just chop off the scale above that, or does everything else get a bump? 4 currently represents mastery in the vocational sense. You are a master craftsman, capable of owning and running your own shop, etc. Grandmastery is a step above the professional. If 6 dots is what makes you a professional, is there nothing above that? We would also need to change the priority chart scaling, as by default 3 dots made you a journeyman in your trade, capable of earning a living working under someone else. We'd need to bump your free trade skill up to 4, and then bump Tiers 4 and 5 under skills to 1@6 and 4@6 proportionately. Of course, this scheme also then makes the 6th dot reward for Tier 5 skills invalid.
higgins wrote:What if we simply said that:
- any combat is a major conflict, of course the SAs apply
- a full contest is also a clear conflict, thus the SAs apply
- for a straight up skill roll, the SAs DON'T apply
I have an aversion to design solutions that require exceptions in the rules. The above requires both an exception and an exception to that exception. "This is how SAs work unless
it's a skill check except
for when that skill check is part of a full contest." It can be done, but it's not a particularly clean way to handle it.
EinBein wrote:The current scale is perfect for decent pool sizes, and as we still play face-to-face, this is a huge selling point. Many of the proposed solutions also increase complexity, which is neither desirable nor in the spirit of the current state of the rules.
I'm not sure either point would be an issue, in application. Making skills and attributes a 0-10 scale would necessitate them being rolled independently of other things, rather than in pairs as we're doing now. The average dice pools and obstacles would be more or less the same. Your average roll would still be 5-6 dice. Really skilled people would be looking at 8-10. On the issue of complexity, I think the opposite would be true. One could argue that just having skills or attributes to roll instead of combitions is objectively simpler as it requires half the computation in play (both the abstract calculation of what pairs with what, and the mathematical calculation of adding up dots).
EinBein wrote:The attribute + skill pool, for example, is such a good way to encourage players to describe their actions vividly in order to get the combination they can best use their strengths with. Without it, we risk blandness of description, so I would definitely stick to that.
Agreed. It's a wonderfully flexible setup. Though the tricky part about players trying to manipulate the called-for stat for their strengths is the potential room for argument when the GM and player see the task requiring two different things. The strength of the setup can also be its weakness. I'm not as worried about the blandness part of it. It's possible, certainly, but you also have things like associated skills providing bonus dice and flavoring the description.
EinBein wrote:Just grant re-rolls instead of extra dice. You have re-rolls anyways (exploding dice) so not much complexity is added.
I've considered a similar direction before. Technically, the easiest fix in all of this would be for SAs to stop giving bonus dice entirely and instead simply serve as a reserve of points you can use for things. Burn one point for a re-roll. Burn points to buy narrative control (the existing list of stuff). Burn points to advance.
Suddenly, everything is affected equally and none of the above is an issue. It works pretty well. Heck, we could even cut the middle ground and let SAs continue to provide bonus dice, but make those dice single use. You have 5 dice from this SA. You can burn them for single-use bonuses to your dice pool that will last for that conflict, whether it's a single skill roll, a full contest, or a combat of some kind. The problem in pool-size-discrepiency is still present, but being a single-use bonus it is largely mitigated by the fact that unless it is the literal final climax of the story, you don't want to spend all of your bonus dice at once.
Either approach here would work, but significantly changes the flow of the game. Earning SAs become way more important, playing up flaws becomes more important, but character advancement will slow and the actual benefit of SA becomes significantly less frequent.
Korbel wrote:I'm not sure I like the idea of such unmeaningful rolls... Your SA is not firing, but you can try anyway, because there's no risk.
It's an interesting approach, but I'm not sure I like it quite as much either.
Korbel wrote:Maybe we should leave Attributes at 1-5, and make Skills 1-10? No halving for St/Sm required, Combat pools stay the same (because Attributes are not changed), Skill pools are increased (so it's potentially 50% skill, 25% Attribute, 25% SA) - but not as much as with "double" expansion (both Attributes and Skills 1-10). We would probably have to think, if we need two separate Ob Tables (for Att/Att and Att/Skill rolls) and obviously it makes skill and experience more important than "innate abilities", but it's quite easy.
That's one that hadn't crossed my mind, oddly enough. There is no divine design commandment requiring us to have attributes and skills on the same scale. It does present the problem you mention, though. We either have to have two sets of obs (one for skills, one for attributes) or have attributes remain X+Y and represent yet another category of precedure. This would wind up meaning that skills are rolled in one way, attributes are rolled in another, and then combat is its own beast entirely.
dysjunct wrote:I would suggest that for a straight up skill roll, each applicable SA contributes ONE point instead of its full rating.
Another valid option, though my reservations towards this are the same in principle towards Higgins'.
thirtythr33 wrote:Another thing to consider:
Attribute + Skill doesn't actually range from 1-10.
You can make use of Taking Point, Expertise and Related Skills as an NPC.
A master violinist could have up to Agility 5, Perform (String Instrument) 6, Expertise Violin, Related Skill (Impersonation with Expertise (Bach)), Backup piano player assisting him Taking Point = Pool of 15
There is probably a way you could jam in them getting advantage somehow too.
All of this is absolutely true. It's also mechanically true for the player as well, however. If we assume that the situation is as such that the NPC can grab extra dice from Taking Point, Expertise, or Associated Skills, it's reasonable to assume that the player may be able to do the same. The net result cancels itself out.
thirtythr33 wrote: Really the Gm has the ability to set the opposition at any level of difficulty he feels is necessary. More reasonably you are looking at 4 agi, 5 skill, 1 expertise, 1 related skill = 11 pool. Challenging enough IMO. If the player goes ahead and works enough to also get expertise, taking point, related skills, circumstance advantage and FIVE SA... then they deserve to win.
A good GM can GM their way around just about any mechanical issue, but that's a feature of the person at the wheel, not the system itself. The player could reasonably have 3 or 4 agility already (particularly common for agility, because, you know, swords and stuff). 4 Agility and 1 point in Violin is already at 5 dots. +5 for the SA firing. Any one of the above would put him at even odds, even with all of the efforts the GM contrived to thwart him.
Oh man. That was a lot of typing. This post wound up being over 4,100 words if you include the quoted bits. Which I am, because I'm too lazy to go through and remove them for the purposes of a more accurate word count.
As I said in the first post, the problem exists in the intersection between skills, attributes, and SAs. If fixing it is a thing that is to be done, then you either need to adjust the way skills/attributes work, or the way SAs work. It seems pretty clear that people like the X+Y thing and want to keep it, and I don't think anyone so far has actually been in favor of dropping it to expand the range from 0-10 (if you are and I overlooked it, let me know). So the simplest way to deal with it now seems to be to leave the core system the same but tackle it from the other end.
Changing the role of SAs from "pool of dice that optionally can be burnt" to "reservoir of points to spend on bonus dice or other things" has a number of interesting effects to consider.
- SAs overall effect on the system is reduced without altering any of the core mechanics.
- It would apply evenly to everything. No need for remembering exceptions or multiple rules for how it comes into play for different kinds of rolls.
- SAs become more expensive, but through their scarcity make the actual use of them way more dramatic and impactful. When SAs dice are spent now, you know it's a big deal.
- The expense also makes SAs more self-regulating. Players would naturally then limit their use to moments where they feel they really need them. In the process, the "when should they apply?" becomes a non-issue.
- They still retain their initial function and dynamic and would still be equally awesome and useful for the important moments, but without being quite as abusable or running roughshod over every scene where they could conceivably apply.
- SAs as an expendible source of bonus dice, rather than a semi-constant source of bonus dice reduces the plot-armored superhero effect. Your ability with skills, attributes, and combat all become more important by comparison, and the whole system then takes on a more gritty feel to it. This is probably a good thing, given our themes.
- While the specific nature of the SAs dictates how they are earned, there is now technically no mechanical need to track points for the individual SA. You could lump them all into a single pool and allow players to spend them as they need. The effects of this are so numerous that they require a sub-list:
- The rules for changing SAs becomes radically simpler, as they don't need to be spent down or have the change in some way micromanaged. Changing SAs becomes more dynamic as a result.
- The rules for orphaning SAs become unnecessary and the whole concept can be scrapped.
- Players are no longer need to juggle spending down the 5 point cap in order to continue earning points for pursuing that SA.
- Players are no longer arbitrarily required to park bonus dice from flaws or similar somewhere just to have somewhere to put them.
- Players no longer need to do the weird "I'll take 2 points from this, 1 point from this, and 3 points from this" game when advancing their character.
- New SAs don't automatically start off impotent.
- Optionally, you could now rule that the SAs were a means to earn the points but not a requirement on what they could be spent on. You could then allow the points to be spent on conflicts that weren't necessarily core to the current SAs written. SAs as they currently stand mechanically drive home the point that you shouldn't be in a fight unless you have an SA relying on it. This works well when trying to direct the focus of the game, but can present some potential weirdness. When I have For the love of Julia as an SA, risking my life to fight for her honor not only makes sense, it's rewarded mechanically. The way the rules are written now, there's a strong argument to be made that if I change that SA later to focus on something else and Julia is suddenly in trouble, the game effectively wants me to let her hang even though she's still just as important to my character. Making SAs solely an earning mechanism would mean I could save Julia without suddenly needing to rewrite an SA. This also helps curb the "quest marker" effect.
- Earning SAs and playing up your flaws becomes substantially more important in play in order to ensure you'll have the dice when you need them.
- Character advancement is potentially slowed down by a significant margin, which could be a big deal for both long-term play and given the narrow granularity of the system. As mentioned above, I can already max out a single skill inside of 5 sessions if I was sufficiently motivated. A character can already start with a suite of skills at rank 3 and 4. If they don't have any interest in combat abilities, I don't imagine it would take all that long to max out all of the skills relevant to their concept. For long-term play, this could prove to be an issue.
- The emphasis is taken off of character advancement as the primary use of the SAs. We state this in the text, but in my practical experience, that's what a lot of people wind up doing with them -- way more frequently than using the narrative effects. The need to burn SAs to get your bonus dice would make the mechanics line up more with the text and intent.
- Character advancment becomes more important for long-term play, as one rank of skill is no longer equal to one SA point. The dot in skill is permanent. The point of SA only applies to a single conflict.
- The nature of SAs change in such a way that requires the player to be more careful with how they use it.
- SAs having your back is a fun mechanic. It would come up less often if they are one-time use resources.
- Players who have a more cautious nature might have a tendency to hoard the points, knowing that they are now expendable. Of course, the natural answer to this is that SA hoarding is a clue that you need to push that character way harder to make them want to spend those points.
- The tradeoff between "do I want to spend these points to improve" and "Do I want to hang on to them for the bonus dice?" was an interesting mechanic.
- The novice vs. grandmaster musician issue still technically exists, even if it is going to be astronomically more rare under these circumstances.
- SAs as they currently stand encourage players not to get involved in any conflict that isn't presently an SA. This is very useful for keeping the game focused, but as written above does have some drawbacks.
- Change is scary. Status quo is familiar and therefore inherently comforting.