Thursday, February 11, 2010

Expert Pilots Don't Have Pilot

A few weeks ago, Morgan, Colin, and I were emailing about Morgan's upcoming "Sky Pirates of the South China Seas" game at OrcCon (I look forward to hearing Morgan's stentorian recitation of that title: "The Sky Pirates... of the South China Seas!"). Specifically, he was looking for ways to spice up dogfighting, since he planned to have it figure prominently in the game. He didn't want it to devolve into a series of opposed Pilot rolls, which would be pretty boring.

Some good ideas came out of that exchange, but one that stuck with me was my own. Whaddya know?

Anyway, it's like this: I suggested that if these PCs were all primarily identified as pilots (and they are), then it should just be assumed that they're all experts when it comes to flying airplanes. Therefore, take Pilot out of the equation. Realistically, they should all have it as their apex skill, but that makes it harder to really differentiate between them in a meaningful way. Or, put another way, if they're all equally good at the main thing they have in common, they don't feel unique enough.

Instead, in a dogfight, reframe all of their other skills as dogfight skills. Stealth becomes the skill you roll when you hide in a cloudbank, Might is what you roll to force an enemy to land (or into a mountainside), Deceit can be used to trick another pilot into an unfavorable maneuver or position, Athletics lets you pour on the speed, and so on. (And Guns is still your shooting skill.) Basically, just pretend the plane isn't there, or that it's merely an extension of the pilot.

This means the big burly pilot is as "strong" in the air as he is on his own two feet, the silver-tongued charlatan is an equally crafty pilot, etc. It's great for making really iconic, almost Saturday-morning-cartoonish characters who are all part of a team. It's also a lot like the Advantage rules I use for swashbuckling, so this isn't exactly a new concept.

I'm pretty sure Morgan isn't going with that solution -- and fair enough, because it'd likely require a fairly significant overhaul of the skill list to really make it work. But the basic idea behind it still interests me, and as I thought on it further I hit on something else that might have legs for somebody somewhere.

This variation requires something akin to defined classes -- we can just call it a "Profession," and treat it as an aspect for the most part. It has an additional benefit, though. Every Profession is associated with a general area of expertise. (Let's use typical fantasy archetypes just to facilitate things.) The Fighter profession would be an expert at combat, the Wizard an expert in magic, the Thief an expert in deception, and so on.

Just like those expert pilots without Pilot, you don't have a skill that covers your area of expertise. Instead, when you're in your element, every skill you have can be brought to bear. For example, the Fighter doesn't have a Weapons skill. If he's swinging a big two-handed axe, he attacks with Might; if it's a rapier, he'll use Sleight of Hand instead. Likewise, when the Wizard uses magic, all of his skills are potentially applicable, depending on the nature of the magic. Unlike the Fighter, the Wizard can take the Weapons skill -- but whenever he uses a weapon, that's the only skill he can use. He lacks the versatility of the Fighter when it comes to armed combat, but neither can the Fighter with a Magic skill match the Wizard's facility and flexibility with spellcasting.

It's an odd little idea, and it'd obviously need a heck of a lot more before it could even be deemed playable (if all of a Wizard's skills are magic, then what's the Fighter's Magic skill do?), but I think there's potential there. It's definitely in the pulp vein, though, what with different character types essentially epitomizing their areas of expertise, so I have no doubt it could work.
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