Downgrading SKILL

Sukumvit
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Downgrading SKILL

Post by Sukumvit » Mon Jun 10, 2019 4:00 pm

A topic that comes up every now and again is the problem of over-powered Heroes, and how quickly thay become over-powered. A number of solutions have been suggested, including adding more characteristics/attributes (slowing down progression by having to spread X.P.s more thinly,) tables for effectively halving the impact of combat Special Skills, and capping (SKILL + Special Skill) at 12. Following on from this last suggestion, I'm toying with the idea of greatly reducing the influence of SKILL in the game. Essentially, SKILL would start at 6 and would never change; X.P.s would only be spent on improving Special Skills, which would also be capped at 6. This would have the effect of making SKILL a more modest "base chance," similar to the default rating of 6 in the Heroquest RPG (used when a PC doesn't possess a suitable skill for a task.) As an alternative, a base SKILL of 7 could be used instead (with Special Skills then capped at 5;) it depends on whether you think Heroes' base chance for success should be 41.7% or 58.3% - it's up for debate. To compensate for SKILL being downgraded, Heroes would start off with more Special Skills (possibly double the amount in the rules, but at least 50% more - again, it's up for debate.)

As well as avoiding the eventual problem of Heroes having a base Attack Strength of 18 before they even roll the dice, this change has several other effects that I think could be beneficial. Firstly, it places much more emphasis on Special Skills, producing characters that are more distinct from each other (and also raising the status of Special Skills from the current "a few bonus points sprinkled on top of a hefty SKILL rating;") secondly, it encourages a team of Heroes working much more like a team, with each member deferring to another member's superior expertise in specific tasks (rather than the current situation, where Heroes with higher SKILLS feel equally capable of attempting practically anything;) thirdly, it provides a strong reason to increase non-combat Special Skills with X.P.s - as it stands, why bother, when you can just increase SKILL and be good at everything?

It just seems to me that something like this is necessary to make sense of SKILL in a multi-player RPG (and this might not be the best way, by any means; I'm just floating the idea to see what people think of it.) In the original gamebooks, SKILL primarily reflected combat ability; only occasionally was it used for non-combat tasks. And this made perfect sense in the context of the gamebooks; they tended to be more combat-oriented and the Hero was thus defined mechanically by their fighting prowess, hardiness and good (or bad) fortune, while puzzle-solving, decision-making and interractions were the sole responsibility of the player. In an actual RPG that features a host of Special Skills, SKILL loses much of its meaning but, paradoxically, is over-powered in its influence on Heroes' actions. Many, if not most, RPGs are primarily skills-based, with characteristic rolls used occasionally as a fall-back default if no specialised skill is suitable (Call of Cthulhu is a good example of this.) STAMINA and LUCK are fine as written, but SKILL, it seems to me, is a bit of a problem. I know that a lot of people like SKILL just as it is, because it encourages players to "have a go" regardless of the task at hand and enables Heroes to be more competent; but the complaint that Heroes quickly become over-powered surfaces fairly often as well, so I think it's worth looking at.

Of course, capping (SKILL + Special Skill) at 12 doesn't prevent the problem of Heroes with a combined rating of 12 being almost infallible in that ability; if no modifiers have been applied to the task, you're basically rolling only to see if you fumble (although I think that at a combined rating of 11 or 12, we could say that a double-6 is a fail rather than a fumble...) Well, this becomes an issue in pretty much all fantasy RPGs, if the character survives long enough, (Cthulhu cheerfully avoids this by ensuring that, just as you're getting good...you go mad and die. Horribly.) At some point, characters will become virtually unplayable because the sense of challenge and struggle has gone; everything is too easy. Unless you're going to run grossly over-powered, epically over-the-top quests that are at odds with AFF's pleasingly Low Fantasy feel, very high-powered characters are really only fit for retirement (acting as aids, advisors and patrons to the next generation. Or sitting on an island like a cranky, bitter old hermit, swigging blue breast milk and waiting to die, if that's your thing...) The trick, then, is to delay this moment for as long as possible. Knocking SKILL off its perch and preventing it rising beyond 6 or 7, seems to be a good start, and making advancement in Special Skills more expensive (somewhere between 50 and 100 X.P.s per point, posibly) would slow it down even more. I haven't touched on the MAGIC characteristic, but I think it could be handled in much the same way as SKILL, probably with some adjustment to the way Magic Points are calculated (perhaps someone else could pick up this ball and run with it?)

So..what do you think? Would this create balance issues/frustrate players/ruin the game, or does it have potential?
Last edited by Sukumvit on Sun Jun 16, 2019 10:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

HedgeWizard
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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by HedgeWizard » Mon Jun 10, 2019 8:10 pm

I think there is something in this. Perhaps another way to put it is that your starting Skill is your natural ability as an adult which in itself doesn’t change that much. The focus is then as you said on getting special skills abilities to build on it.

I would not fix it to 6 for everyone but have it just staying at the figure which you gave during character creation so that players still have a chance to tailor their character. They will also need to give more thought to how they are going to develop in the future rather than just thinking “sod it, I’ll buy more Skill later.”

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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by Sukumvit » Mon Jun 10, 2019 9:13 pm

Yes, now I think of it, you're right about leaving SKILL as something that the player can tailor before its value becomes "fixed;" it also has the advantage of not needing to tinker with the CharGen rules as written. I think I was being overly influenced by Heroquest in having a "one size fits all" rating. But this is why I wanted to throw the idea out there and see what people did with it; the more people refine and develop it, the better it becomes.

Incidentally, I hope I didn't offend any Last Jedi fans.

Although, I'd imagine you're getting used to it... :lol:
Last edited by Sukumvit on Sun Jun 16, 2019 10:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Sukumvit
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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by Sukumvit » Mon Jun 10, 2019 11:20 pm

One more thing: please ignore the start of the penultimate paragraph in my original post; I forgot that the rules state that if the roll's target number is 12 or more, a double-6 is only a normal fail, not a fumble. Even so, only having a 1 in 36 chance of failing a roll still makes that skill pretty damn pokey, so the general point stands.

I'm old enough to have been in the cinema in 1977, watching Star Wars; sometimes I get a bit forgetful... :roll:

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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by Eddie » Tue Jun 11, 2019 8:16 am

I have long thought that 4 different Skill scores would be useful, in fact I was working on making my own system based off original dungeoneer before I found AFF2.

dividing Skill categories into Athletics, Stealth, Lore and Movement could work. with magic being it's own entire category.

of course some of those categories have more special skills attached to them than others (less if you treat all weapons as just more weapons admittedly)

however then you run into the exact same problem: I put all my skill points into athletics, stealth and movement making a ninja warrior who has dump statted Lore and Magic. someone else making a more evenly split character would be left in my shadow most of the time.

I don't think there is a perfect solution, every additional layer of complexity does not necessarily resolve issues, often just adds more, so I do not know if this is a worthy endeavour.

each person and group will likely have their own views on this, which is great and fine, feel free to carry on and if you do come to something you think works well and post it up I will read with great interest.

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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by Sukumvit » Tue Jun 11, 2019 9:46 am

<r>Splitting SKILL into several characteristics has always been seriously tempting, yes. I think I just homed in on SKILL and Special Skills as a way of avoiding having to dismantle the system and then put it back together (I would probably end up like Alan Partridge: sat on a bed, surrounded by bits of trouser-press...) I totally agree that there's no easy solution, and that tinkering too much risks undermining the main enduring appeal of the system: its clean, simple, playable mechanics. I suspect that a lot of us here cut our teeth on the solo books back in the early 80's, then followed the usual route of progressing onto AD&D, Runequest, Warhammer FRPG etc. 30 years later, we have less free time, getting everone together every week is trickier, and we have less patience for finicky fiddle-faddle and things that just don't seem very important anymore ; in this context, AFF has a very strong allure, as it allows you to just get on and <I><s></s>play<e></e></I> <I><s></s>the<e></e></I> <I><s></s>game<e></e></I>, without worrying about unwanted complications (and, of course, it's the system that takes us off to Titan.) I think that, deep down, most of us know that the system is unbalanced and (whisper it) <I><s></s>a<e></e></I> <I><s></s>little<e></e></I> <I><s></s>bit<e></e></I> <I><s></s>broken<e></e></I>, but we love it anyway because its speed, accessibility and elegant simplicity are so appealing. The original "Fighting Fantasy the Introductory Role-playing Game" was essentially a narrativist RPG before anyone had even heard of such a thing, and AFF has never strayed too far from this emphasis on story-telling rather than simulationist crunch.<br/>
<br/>
As you say, no solutions to real or perceived problems in the system are going to be perfect, and they run the risk of burdening the game with details it was never intended to support (anyone familiar with the "Memoir '44" WW2 game has probably seen people enthusing about its stripped-down simplicity, just before they set about house-ruling the hell out of it until it resembled Advanced Squad Leader...) But the system is certainly open enough to allow groups to nibble around the edges a bit, tweaking it here and there; everyone customises it to some extent, and that's the beauty of the game.</r>

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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by Sukumvit » Tue Jun 11, 2019 9:52 am

Wow, something went seriously wonky with the formatting in that one; not sure what I did wrong, but it didn't like me italicising a couple of lines. Anyhoo, the first line that looks like it's been encrypted should read "play the game," and the next one should read "a little bit broken."
Last edited by Sukumvit on Sun Jun 16, 2019 10:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

darksoul
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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by darksoul » Wed Jun 12, 2019 3:34 am

I like it. It sort of goes hand in hand with the ideas I posted on my "New skill checks" post.
You are, in a way, bringing SKILL back to it's original purpose, combat ability. I might use something like this in my games.

I want to address your overpowered comment though.

Even if a character is overpowered in a skill or SKILL it doesn't have to mean much because it depends on the focus of your story.
A character who is skilled in, say swords, is one of the best people in the world at fighting other people 1-on-1(1 on 4 at most).
He's a good duelist, not a tactical commander, stealther, Magic user, etc. If you think about it that's a very specialized skill he's chosen to do well in.

In regards to combat, even a skill 12 character in the game books was automatically defeated by a larger force. At most you fought 3-4 enemies. Anything more was your defeat.

The game books often had readers encounter situations where your SKILL score was no help in the situation. In Chasms of Malice, you encounter a hydra the size of a Volcano. You never get the option to battle it. You mission is to survive the encounter. One wrong move and your dead. No stamina loss.

The other thing I have to ask is how long do you expect characters to adventure for or how many adventures do you expect them to have before they are overpowered? Are they just adventuring for their whole lives? Till they are rich? How long are they adventuring till they are overpowered?

Alternatively, lots of anime have the overpowered hero who must contend with very difficult situations and deal with equally powerful enemies who will be a challenge to him.

Finally, the stats of most monsters seems to indicate that player characters are already at advantage against most enemies. I was playing Fangs of Fury lately and there wasn't a human type combat encounter where I wasn't better then my opponents. I recall the highest SKIILLED enemy being a SKILL 7. Players are already a step ahead of monsters right from the beginning.

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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by SkinnyOrc » Wed Jun 12, 2019 12:55 pm

Sukumvit wrote:
Mon Jun 10, 2019 4:00 pm
Essentially, SKILL would start at 6 and would never change; X.P.s would only be spent on improving Special Skills, which would also be capped at 6.
It's not a completely crazy idea. It restrict AS to a 7-12 range (assuming sticking with up to 6 from Special Skills) and that would work pretty well against the monsters in the Pitt books. It does leave the few monsters with SKILL 15-18 as very dangerous to even maxed out PCs, but if the GM lets them be encountered on their own then outnumbering makes them beatable.

I also don't see doing this as a big change from the FF gamebook heritage. Those didn't have Special Skills so you can assume the character had that in the weapons they used and it's included in the up to 12 SKILL in the gamebooks.
Sukumvit wrote:
Mon Jun 10, 2019 4:00 pm
As well as avoiding the eventual problem of Heroes having a base Attack Strength of 18 before they even roll the dice, this change has several other effects that I think could be beneficial.
I don't think there's much doubt that 18 is too high, but what's a bigger issue is how quickly you can get to 13 through relatively cheap Special Skill increases. You'll also get to 12 too quickly with SKILL 6 unless the weapon special skills become more expensive, and that raises the question do you want to make all special skills more expensive or the weapon ones have a different cost?
Sukumvit wrote:
Mon Jun 10, 2019 4:00 pm
with each member deferring to another member's superior expertise in specific tasks (rather than the current situation, where Heroes with higher SKILLS feel equally capable of attempting practically anything;) thirdly, it provides a strong reason to increase non-combat Special Skills with X.P.s - as it stands, why bother, when you can just increase SKILL and be good at everything?
My interpretation of the rulebook is the PCs don't know how to do everything just because they have high SKILL, it's up to the GM to decide what the range of possible results are for each test.

So say the party are riding horses and get ambushed by a load of orcs, some causing a rock slide in front and others jumping out of the bushes to the sides screaming as they attack. If the PC with the Ride special skill makes their test they control their horse and can attack back, fail and they have to hold on and can't attack. They only fall on a fumble. Another without Ride makes their test and they get to not fall off but can't attack, fail and they fall and may take damage from that and maybe more from getting trampled. It doesn't matter if the second PC's SKILL is equal to the combined SKILL and Ride of the first, they don't know how to ride a horse!
Sukumvit wrote:
Mon Jun 10, 2019 4:00 pm
Of course, capping (SKILL + Special Skill) at 12 doesn't prevent the problem of Heroes with a combined rating of 12 being almost infallible in that ability; if no modifiers have been applied to the task, you're basically rolling only to se if you fumble
My opinion is most unopposed tests should have bonuses or penalties and they can be substantial, so there's no reason they should ever all become easy. Of course you need to be consistent, the walls don't all become steeper and smoother just because the PCs are more experienced. But they can attempt to do things with negative modifiers large enough that starting PCs would be suicidal to even try.

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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by Sukumvit » Wed Jun 12, 2019 1:34 pm

You make some good points about "over-powered" heroes, which I take on board. If I sounded dismissive of high-powered, epic adventures, it's probably due to my decades-long involvement with Call of Cthulhu; I'm used to fragile investigators, creeping around in fear of their lives and their sanity. Even so, before I discovered Cthulhu in the mid-80's, I was already becoming wary of D&D's constant levelling-up, with the attendant "monster inflation" that was a direct consequence, so I guess I had a similar sensibility with regards to fantasy. I just seemed to prefer it when you were low-level, when even a few goblins were a substantial threat (rather than mere "X.P. fodder.") Obviously, there are some monsters that the GM in any game can only introduce when the adventurers have a chance of dealing with them, but the high-level D&D situation, where the DM can ONLY throw more and more powerful monsters at the party, doesn't really appeal to me (a lot of other players love that sort of thing, though, and that''s absolutely fine. Each to their own.)

You're right that Directors can always find a way to introduce challenges and problems that throw players off-balance, and which aren't going to be easily dealt with by their strongest skills; the examples you give of "as good as you are, you're no match for this" are well chosen. I suppose there's a risk, though, that over the course of long campaigns, some Directors could find it a bit distracting eventually; there's a story that they really want to tell, but they seem to spend a lot of their time thinking of new (mechanical) ways to challenge an increasingly powerful party. But this is true of any fantasy RPG.

As for the question of how long I want Heroes to be adventuring before they become "too powerful," it's a good question that I don't have an immediate answer to. It's a philosophical question as much as a mechanical one. A slightly glib answer would be "keep it going until the players think they've gone as far as they want to with those Heroes. Let them be the judges." If they actually wanted the sort of anime-style adventures that you mention, so be it. If, though, they're starting to feel that, for all your cleverness and cunning as a Director, the world is starting to artificially contort and mutate around them, becoming unrealistically more hazardous/challenging just to keep up with their abilities...might be time to bring in some new characters. It's probably obvious, though, that I would like to delay this decision for a good while. I think capping Skill at 7, and making Special Skills more expensive would help to prolong that period when Heroes are moderately good at most things, very good at other things, but practically infallible in very few things. On reflection, I'm coming to the view that simply doubling the present X.P. cost for Special Skills would be sufficient; I doubt it would really need to be any more expensive than that. Yes, it delays reaching that coveted '6' rating, but even at (SKILL + Special Skill) 9, you've got an 83.33% chance of success, and at a combined rating of 10 you're 91.66% likely to succeed. I also now think it would be cleaner to keep the Special Skill cap at 6, as it is now, even if your SKILL is 7; as my partner pointed out to me, if making an unmodified, unopposed roll, there's no mechanical difference between a combined rating of 12 and a combined rating of 13, but having that 13 does insulate you from negative modifiers a little bit more.

It's certainly true that Heroes start off having a slight edge over their opponents; you're right about that. And I don't have a problem with that. Some people complain that a given Hero might have more STAMINA than a giant, but I think there does need to be a little bit of artificiality in the mechanics, to allow characters a fighting chance of surviving the sort of gauntlets you're going to put them through. Realism and threat and grittiness are all fine, but can be taken to extremes. The challenge is to find that sweet spot between giving players a bit of a safety net and making everything a walk in the park. Trail of Cthulhu allows investigators' Health to drop down to -11, before they die at -12; monsters and mooks die at 0 Health. Stability and Sanity loss is also more forgiving than Call of Cthulhu. But you can still go mad and die; it just takes a little longer (in most cases - if Azathoth shows up, you're finished regardless of what system you're using.)

Does anyone else think "Monsters & Mooks" sounds like a good Old-School RPG?
Last edited by Sukumvit on Sun Jun 16, 2019 10:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by Sukumvit » Wed Jun 12, 2019 1:41 pm

Eek. My previous post was replying to darksoul's comments; SkinnyOrc added his comments while I was typing (in other words, I'm not ignoring you, SkinnyOrc. I'll give your words a good ponder, then get back to you.)

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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by SkinnyOrc » Wed Jun 12, 2019 2:16 pm

No problem :)

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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by Sukumvit » Wed Jun 12, 2019 5:01 pm

Right. Hello again, SkinnyOrc. Firstly, I'm glad that you don't think that it's a "completely crazy idea" (even if that does sound a bit like the Americanism "it doesn't suck...") LOL

It does seem to make the monsters in the "Pit" books more playable as written, doesn't it? At the very least, the advice to perhaps add 1 or 2 SKILL points to a monster's stats is more viable. And as darksoul pointed out, even monsters that are still comparatively weak are dangerous in swarms.

It's certainly tempting to make combat Special Skills pricier than non-weapon Skills, isn't it? Over-powering is much more noticeable and problematic in combat; a Hero with an unerring grasp of Etiquette, or an unfailing ability to scale any wall put before them, doesn't strain credibility as much as a Hero who dismembers a dragon single-handedly. Perhaps a cost of (20 x new rating) for non-weapon Skills, and (25 or 30 x new rating) for weapon Skills? If Heroes were having a hard time of it in the meantime, you could always slip them a +1 sword/+2 axe/Holy Hand Grenade (and then nick it back, later on.)

Your approach to interpreting the outcomes of rolls made with and without Special Skills sounds sensible and reasonable. I sometimes apply a negative modifier to a basic SKILL roll, if it seems unlikely that a character could confidently attempt a certain task (given their occupation, background, character conception, etc.) I think these are definitely house-rules, though, rather than interpretations of the rules as written. If memory serves, the rules give the impression that, whether you're rolling against SKILL or (SKILL + Special Skill,) the outcome of a successful roll is the same; the guy with Ride just has more of a chance. I might be wrong. But making SKILL a more modest "base chance" seems to reduce the need for modifiers a little, and makes interpretations of outcomes more obvious.

You're right that the use of modifiers on unopposed rolls reduces the "Goddamn it, you're too good at everything!" factor; knocking someone's effective SKILL from 9 down to 6 more than halves their chance of success! I didn't factor modifiers into my thinking mainly because I only tend to use them in very hazardous/difficult conditions; probably a dereliction of Director Duty on my part, but it's a result of gruesome "modifier hell" experiences in other games, where modifiers were stacked on top of more modifiers until you almost lost the will to roll the dice. But yes, they reduce the "over-powered" problem substantially. I still like the idea of capping SKILL on purely thematic grounds, though, even if you think it's less necessary on mechanical grounds. I keep coming back to the observation that SKILL loses much of its meaning in a game with lots of specialised skills, and making it less influential on Hero actions seems to have a sort of internal logic to it; you can always fall back on SKILL, but you shouldn't rely on it - specialised training is what keeps an adventurer alive.

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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by LordArioch » Thu Jun 13, 2019 2:12 am

One thing I do in AFF is to have half-increment skills:
My Hero won't go from skill--1 to skill--2, but to skill--1.5.
The first time that skill is used in the session it is at 1 and the second time at 2, in alternation.
Thus, the full progression would be 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4 ---- much more gradual than 1, 2, 3, 4.
I suppose a person could extenuate that even more, but that may be overkill.
I use the same idea in Classic Traveller and it works well.

If the Heroes are progressing too quickly that may be a sign that xp is being awarded far too generously. Be stingy!

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Re: Downgrading SKILL

Post by SkinnyOrc » Thu Jun 13, 2019 2:54 am

Sukumvit wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 5:01 pm
Right. Hello again, SkinnyOrc. Firstly, I'm glad that you don't think that it's a "completely crazy idea" (even if that does sound a bit like the Americanism "it doesn't suck...") LOL
It was meant tongue in cheek, but also on the surface of it not having SKILL go to 12 seems like a fundamental break with AFF's roots. I suspect a lot here would see it as sacred ground. But like I said you can assume the gamebook SKILL included special skills, and the way I look at it AS starting at up to 8 and going to 12 is actually perfectly in line with the gamebooks, while AFF2 has it going from 9-18. The alternative I've suggested before gives 8-15, so it allows for heroes a bit more powerful than those in the gamebooks. But importantly mine slows advancement up to AS 10 and it's expensive SKILL advances past that. For your idea to work well I believe it needs weapon special skills to cost more to similarly slow down advancement.
Sukumvit wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 5:01 pm
as darksoul pointed out, even monsters that are still comparatively weak are dangerous in swarms.
Numbers encountered are an important tool for scaling the difficulty, but you need to be willing to go outside the number appearing in the Pitt books. Those seem to be based on how many were met in the gamebook the monster first appeared in.
Sukumvit wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 5:01 pm
It's certainly tempting to make combat Special Skills pricier than non-weapon Skills, isn't it? Over-powering is much more noticeable and problematic in combat
It's always tempting to make mechanics nice and symmetrical but I agree there's probably no need to change the XP for other special skills. I'll have a bit of a look into what the right XP values for the weapon skills might be and what effect it would have to apply those to everything.
Sukumvit wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 5:01 pm
Your approach to interpreting the outcomes of rolls made with and without Special Skills sounds sensible and reasonable. I sometimes apply a negative modifier to a basic SKILL roll, if it seems unlikely that a character could confidently attempt a certain task (given their occupation, background, character conception, etc.) I think these are definitely house-rules, though, rather than interpretations of the rules as written.
Well the rulebook just says how to roll the test, it doesn't mention how the Director decides what the results of a pass or fail is. It's true it also doesn't say the possible results should be different if they have or don't have a relevant special skill, but it is common sense you take it into account.

The climbing example in the rulebook is pretty cut and dried, you either climb up or fall. Also climbing is something everyone has some experience of. Swimming and riding you can grow up getting zero experience of, that's an important difference. Other things like Lore skills it's even more true, my opinion is if you don't have the special skill you can't even attempt a test on those subjects.
LordArioch wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 2:12 am
If the Heroes are progressing too quickly that may be a sign that xp is being awarded far too generously. Be stingy!
Completely agree, but it's worth noting SKILL increases are just much more expensive than special skill increases. That's not only because they're the new score x20 rather than new score x10, but also because SKILL goes up to 12 and special skills only 6. To go from SKILL 7 to 12 costs a whopping 1000 XP while taking a special skill from 2 to 6 only costs 180 XP. So you can be stingy enough that SKILL upgrades are slow and still have them go up special skills fairly quickly.

[Edit - corrected AS ranges]
Last edited by SkinnyOrc on Fri Jun 14, 2019 12:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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