Monday, September 20, 2010

Character Generation: Skills

One of the foundations of any Fate-based game is the Skill List -- but it varies from game to game. A designer or GM is expected to determine what Skills are likely to be useful in their particular setting. The first official Skill List was published in  Spirit of the Century, and for the most part, it is a generic enough list to cover most campaigns: from Athletics to Rapport, from Survival to Academics. However, some are particularly "pulp," either simply in name: Fists for unarmed combat; or in concept: Mysteries is the knowledge of hypnotism, far Eastern herbalism, etc. Adaptations to this list exist in each published Fate product: far-future Diaspora adds things like MicroG (for moving and fighting in places without gravity) and Navigation (space) (for navigating starships). The Dresden Files RPG splits the mental Skill Resolve into two pieces, Discipline and Conviction, to better represent the mental world of the wizard, and reorients Mysteries into Lore, representing a more academic knowledge of the supernatural to supplement the characters' actual magical abilities.

For my own purposes, I knew I had to make some changes: some different in mechanics, some different in scope, some different simply in terminology, all to reflect the difference between the genres of pulp and high fantasy -- and, more specifically, the world of City of Lives.

Here's the  Spirit of the Century Skill List, and afterwards, I'll lay out which Skills I changed for use in CoL, and why.
  • Academics
  • Alertness
  • Art
  • Athletics
  • Burglary
  • Contacting
  • Deceit
  • Drive
  • Empathy
  • Endurance
  • Engineering
  • Fists
  • Gambling
  • Guns
  • Intimidation
  • Investigation
  • Leadership
  • Might
  • Mysteries
  • Pilot
  • Rapport
  • Resolve
  • Science
  • Sleight of Hand
  • Stealth
  • Survival
  • Weapons
  • Academics: Covering scholarship and knowledge outside the sciences, Academics will work just fine in CoL -- but I'll rename it Lore to help emphasize the fact that, unlike modern life, most knowledge in the City is passed on unofficially and without proper schooling.
  • Additionally, because multiculturalism and travelers from across the worlds are a central part of CoL, we will strip out one part of Academics into a fully-fledged Skill on its own -- Cultures. Cultures represents a character's knowledge of a foreign or sub-culture's customs, beliefs, language, etc., and is distinct enough from Academics to be worth creating a new Skill.
  • Art: In order to create a sixth Crafting Skill (see my previous post on magic), I renamed and slightly reimagined Art as Creativity, as an internal character trait rather than representing knowledge and formal training.
  • Drive: In a pre-industrial world, there aren't any automobiles. But rename it Ride and apply it to horses, and 90% of the mechanics translate. Done!
  • Endurance/Might: There is a piece of advice (whose provenance has, unfortunately, escaped me) about Fate -- every Skill in a Fate-based game should be worth building a character around. It must be something a player wants to be: the duelist (Melee), the rich guy (Resources), the con artist (Deceit). To me, that implies that every Skill must be in some way active, be something a character can use to affect their environment. There are two Skills in Spirit of the Century that do not fit this rule: Endurance and Resolve -- both passive, defensive Skills.
  • By splitting up Resolve into Conviction and Discipline and making them both Crafting Skills integral to magic use, I've solved that problem. For Endurance, I go the other route -- nobody wants to be "the tough guy," unless it is coupled with commensurate strength. Combine the passive Endurance with the active (but not very versatile) Might to make the composite Skill Vigor, and we've got a solution!
  • Engineering: In a medieval fantasy setting, I might cut out this Skill -- invention and mechanics -- entirely, but CoL has a culture and technology akin to our 18th century, so a limited version of Engineering  -- Artificing siege engines and clockwork contraptions -- is appropriate.
  • Fists/Weapons: The high fantasy genre has little place for unarmed combat -- it is more about swords and axes and -- at worst -- chairs and broken bottles. Hence, I fold unarmed combat (for those few who want to use it) into Weapons, and rename it Melee (combat) to reflect its expanded purview.
  • Gambling: While high-stakes poker on riverboat casinos are a staple of pulp fiction, they have a much smaller place in high fantasy. Any necessary gambling can be modeled through the use of Deceit or Sleight of Hand.
  • Guns: The City of Lives has no firearms, so this Skill has no use as written. However, like Drive, I need only rename it to Ranged (weapons) and reclassify it for bows, slings, and thrown weapons, and 90% of the Guns mechanics work without further modification.
  • Mysteries: In Spirit of the Century, Mysteries were exactly that, the unknown and supernatural. In City of Lives, magic is mundane and part of everyday life -- and the populace's knowledge of magic is intimately connected to their understanding of the natural world. So Mysteries is an inappropriate Skill for CoL, but bits of it can be folded into Philosophy (see below).
  • Pilot: There are no airplanes in the City of Lives, and any flying mounts can be controlled with the Ride skill. Hence, we'll strike this Skill completely.
  • Resolve: Like The Dresden Files RPGResolve into the twin skills of Conviction and Discipline to better model different kinds of magic user. See my previous post on magic for more.
  • Science: The natural philosophers and alchemists who predated scientists in our own world looked at the natural world in a different, more holistic fashion, and the same is true of those who learn Philosophy in CoL. Part of Philosophy is what we would call hard science, but it also includes the knowledge of the social sciences, mathematics, religion, magic, medicine, and, of course, philosophy. The experts in Philosophy have a wider range of knowledge than modern experts in Science, but they know less about each subject -- and even less is actually correct (the what revolves around the what now?)
It seems to me that at this point, the City of Lives Skill List is perfectly functional and seems to cover all the necessary bases. Next time, Character Generation - Power Level and Advancement.