Getting the Most Out of Your Skill System, Part One
Originally, I wrote this long, rambling introduction about picking a role-playing system to run modern-era mystery games and about arguments with people about binary skill systems and why I personally prefer the freedom binary systems afford over things with narrative dice pools and hippie-dippie drama point bulls$&%. But I realized it was just a bunch of garbage meant to forestall arguments about which game systems were superior and justify all of the great advice I am about to selflessly bestow on all of you. I got to thinking: if the advice is truly great advice, won’t that be self-evident? Shouldn’t it stand on its own?
Well, it does. And I don’t need to justify myself to any of you. I’m f$&%ing awesome and I know it. I don’t have anything to prove. But you do deserve an explanation as to what this series of feature articles is going to be about. I have a feeling none of you will buy it if I just say “they are about awesome!” So, cue the rambling introduction. I hope its not as long.
I tend to focus on mysteries, investigations, and conspiracies in my games (interspersed with a kick-ass dungeon crawl now and again) which focus on the PCs using their skills and knowledge to overcome obstacles, gather information, and figure out what is really going on so they can fix it. In discussing those games on Twitter, a few folks have brought up some common issues they’ve run into and some great discussions got started.
When you start looking at mystery gaming, most of the issues (apart from the big one about how to structure a mystery story) are really about using the game’s skill system to its fullest potential. And the same techniques you use to run a great investigation apply broadly to just about any skill-based encounter or adventure in just about any RPG system. When I decided to write about the topic of skill-based gaming, I started by listing a few topics to touch on and the list just kept growing. You could write a book.
Well, I’m not going to write a book. But I’ve never been above milking a topic until there is nothing but chalky, white dust issuing from a shriveled… this metaphor turned disgusting. I’ve always been willing to exhaustively explore the full scope and scale of a topic, splitting infinitives with reckless abandon as I go.
So, what you are reading is the first feature article about Getting the Most Out of Your Skill System. And its a great starting point. And unlike some of my previous articles, its more broadly applicable. So, whatever your genre, whatever your game system, you should be able to use this advice. My own D&D/Pathfinder/d20 roots will be on display, of course, but I am using the same skills in my Hackmaster 5E game. It’s awesome! check out the free basic game.
Wow. Now that’s an introduction.