Friday, February 15, 2008

Fantasy: Skills

In coming up with a skill list for the poorly named "Spirit of the Sword," I'm greatly aided by the fact that SotC's skills are very broad-based, and encompass both actual training and innate physical/mental attributes. There's nothing that's totally foreign, really, like "Computer Use," and those things that don't exactly fit -- e.g., Drive and Guns -- are easily converted to their fantasy-medieval equivalents (Ride and Missile, respectively). For some, all that's needed is a lick of paint to make them a little more evocative. There's only one skill that's been eliminated entirely (and even that's been folded into another) and only one that's been added from scratch.


Name (Old Name) [New names italicized]
Alertness (Alertness)
Art (Art)
Athletics (Athletics)
Burglary (Burglary)
Contacting (Contacting)
Craft (Engineering)
Deceit (Deceit)
Empathy (Empathy)
Endurance (Endurance)
Gambling (Gambling)
Intimidation (Intimidation)
Investigation (Investigation)
Leadership (Leadership)
Lore (Academics)
Magic (Mysteries)
Medicine (Science)
Melee (Fists, Weapons)
Might (Might)
Missile (Guns)
Rapport (Rapport)
Resolve (Resolve)
Resources (Resources)
Ride (Drive)
Seamanship (Pilot)
Sleight of Hand (Sleight of Hand)
Status (--)
Stealth (Stealth)
Survival (Survival)

Notes:
Alertness: I don't anticipate any real change here in terms of use or trappings.

Art: Same here. It's all still applicable. I really like that SotC codifies something as nebulous as art and makes it mechanically significant.

Athletics: Again, no need to change a thing.

Burglary: Take away what few modern references there are in this skill's description and it works fine for your average trapfinding adventurer. There's an outside chance I'd change the name. I love the way SotC uses Burglary to handle heists.

Contacting: Like Burglary, take away the one modern reference and we're good to go. I dig the versatility of this skill, conceptually; it's equally useful for noblemen as it is for common thieves.

Craft: This gets repurposed to a sort of all-purpose mundane item-creation skill. Anything that's useful or practical, from barrels to swords to water wheels, is made using Craft. Building, fixing, and breaking things are all still viable applications of this skill at a lower tech level.

Deceit: All good.

Empathy: Ditto. SotC tries harder than any other game I know of to deal with mechanics for social interaction in an elegant, abstract manner. Between Rapport, Deceit, Empathy, and Resolve, that's four skills that are all about talking to people.

Endurance: No change.

Gambling: I'm tempted to cut this, because it's so focused, but I'm also tempted to keep and expand it; for those players interested in playing a genuine scoundrel, it's kind of a necessity. For now, it's in.

Intimidation: Required and good.

Investigation: I'm not crazy about the name in a fantasy setting, but I can't think of another that's as clear and concise.

Leadership: This is the first skill on the list to really get an overhaul. I actually think it's pretty poorly defined and implemented in SotC, although I can see why it ended up that way. A single skill that covers leading troops, navigating bureaucracies, and being a trial lawyer? I suppose they all require some degree of "leadership," but the name doesn't fit what it does very well. I'm also a bit put off by the skill's adjudication entry's apparent disdain for using it to lead minions or underlings. There just has to be room for a PC to do that sort of thing in a fantasy game without the rulebook calling him a coward. So, to alleviate these concerns, I'm keeping the administration trapping, moving the bureaucratic trapping to Lore, and keeping the normal use of the command trapping. Leadership should be about charisma and force of personality, with actual knowledge a distant second. It's about ability to lead, not about place in society (more about that when we get to Status). Leadership can be used when commanding troops to make a declaration, either about your own troops ("They're still full of fight!") or your enemies' ("They're looking shaken!"), according to the already-extant declaration/assessment guidelines. Some new Stunts give Leadership limited functionality in related areas, but we're not doing Stunts today.

Lore: Academics re-named, Lore is all about theoretical knowledge and education. I don't foresee a ton of changes from the given description -- although, due to the relative scarcity of written works, library usage won't be quite as frequent.

Magic: Unlike Mysteries, which it replaces, Magic is mainly used in one of two ways: to know about magic (the "Arcane Lore" trapping) and to create magical effects. Mesmerism is out. It's very pulpy, and certainly has a place in fantasy, but fantasy "mesmerism" is magic. Magic comes in four varieites:
  • Alchemy, the creation of potions, elixirs, unguents, and the like
  • Artifice, the creation of permanently enchanted items such as weapons and rings
  • Magecraft, the casting of spells
  • Summoning, the calling forth of servants from the ether

I'll go into Magic in more detail in a later post. In a nutshell, it relies heavily on gadget/artifact rules and the Minions and Reinforcements Stunts. I'm also thinking about a different name for this, but, for the time being, it'll do.

Medicine: Remove all the Science trappings that don't have to do with curing the sick and healing the injured, and you're left with Medicine. Alchemy -- "real" alchemy -- is arguably Science, but we're going to keep it in Magic.

Melee: This includes both Fists and Weapons, but only as used in hand-to-hand combat. I had kept Fists as a separate skill, but finally relented. In a pulp setting, weapons that aren't firearms are a little more on the exotic side, whereas your average red-blooded American pulp hero certainly knows how to use his mitts in a fight. In a fantasy setting, this is a bit reversed. In the end, though, it's just easier to have only two physical combat skills (this and Missile, below). Unarmed use of Melee is just a trapping of Melee.

Missile: All ranged combat, including thrown weapons, which are normally under Weapons.

Rapport: No change.

Resolve: No change (at least, I don't think so).

Resources: Still in, for now. Necessitates a Wealth Stress track, but one without Consequences, I suppose.

Ride: Instead of being a trapping of Survival, Ride takes over Drive's spot as the premier travel skill. The standard skill description applies to Ride pretty well.

Seamanship: Airplanes might not be in genre, so Pilot's out, but an arguable airplane equivalent in a fantasy setting would be watercraft. I'll change up a bit of the flavor text, but other than that this one's good to go.

Sleight of Hand: No change -- except to say that this skill covers all non-burglary thieving, which is pretty much just picking pockets and palming the proceeds.

Status: I feel it's important to include a skill that deals with social strata, as the average fantasy game is likely to deal with more rigid systems of class structure than a pulp game. Status has almost nothing to do with personality and everything to do with circumstance. It's certainly possible to change Status in the course of a game, but that process can be fickle and immediate or require years of politicking and labor. Status is about how people see you. Very poor leaders can wind up the heads of powerful organizations, while the charismatic and compelling can, by unfortunate parentage or the like, never rise above their lowly station. You may not be the best public speaker, but if you're the son of the king you can bet your ass people will have to listen. Like Endurance, this is a skill that is rarely rolled but can still be the centerpiece of a character concept. Status would affect the Wealth Stress track the same way Endurance and Resolve modify the Health and Composure Stress tracks.

Stealth: No real changes to speak of. Stealth is stealth.

Survival: This is more or less unchanged. I'm considering letting it apply to urban settings as well. Street urchins gotta eat too.

Next up: Races.

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