Continuing on with the Star Wars development…
Competencies and the narrative behind them. To further illustrate the flexibility and reasoning behind such broad-ranging competencies, I’m going to point to the chase sequence that happens at the start of the Bond film Casino Royale. Now, I bet that for many of you just me mentioning this sequence immediately brings to mind the moment in the chase where the bomb maker does a wicked acrobatic move through a narrow opening, and Bond just smashes through the wall. And that’s exactly it (though the whole chase is an example of this). For the purposes of the chase both are making the tests using their Body competency. That’s what we’re interested in: how good are each at running and moving through obstacles, which is what is measured by Body. That they are doing it in a different way is, most times, mechanically not important. Narratively however, it’s awesome gravy: a battle between free running and brute forcing it.
But there’s no need for separate abilities/competencies to encapsulate that difference. They both have a level of mastery in using their body in their own way, and that is reflected in the Body competency. Allowing the player to define the how of their mastery allows for greater variety and excitement.
(Can there be challenges where the distinction becomes important? Sure! But they’re uncommon and therefore shouldn’t be used as a baseline for determining the base values. In those cases where it comes up, where a situation would be at odds with how a player has been describing their character, then the GM can use the fiction to set the limit and apply extra difficulty (and offer them a Force Point to smooth it over if need be)…. Which in turn will usually spur the player to get more creative and make for an even more fun scene. Maybe they use Guile to figure a nifty way to get out…)
Permissiveness. As you can tell already, and as will be further apparent when we get to skills, below, this is a “permissive” set of rules. I talked a bit about it in this previous blog post, but in short “restrictive” systems (which is the RPG default in my experience) say “you can only do X if you have the right skill/ability for things (and here is the long list of skills and abilities).” Permissive systems say “with this skill you can do ALLLLL these things. Now choose which ones wouldn’t make sense for your character.” In other words, the game gives you all the keys to the kingdom and says “what is more interesting is you choosing to limit yourself.”
Skills. And thus the skill list will be populated with skills that are quite encompassing. For example, a single skill will provide ability with bows, crossbows, slugthrowers, blasters, bowcasters, and any other exotic small arms. Scoundrel gives access to all manner of skullduggery, including forging, burglary, tricking, slight of hand, gambling, disguise, and even demolitions. Drive lets you handle anything that stays close to the ground, whether it’s a wheeled vehicle, a repulsorlift vehicle, or even beast riding.
Again, the idea here is to allow characters the greatest latitudes of ability for the greatest adventures. I mean, the movies just can’t help but put characters on the back of some (especially digital, nowadays) beast, riding into mayhem, whether it’s a dewback, tauntaun, blurg, varactyl, reeks, or even orbaks on top of a tilting Star Destroyer. Doesn’t matter who – pretty much everyone manages to ride with style. Now if a player wants to say “I grew up on Coruscant, I don’t know how to ride a beast,” that’s totally cool. They can limit themselves. But that’s more exciting than, “Who has the skill? Oh, only two of you, eh? Well…” (And definitively more exciting for me than a very granular skill list that either leaves players mediocre in a lot of areas, or hyper specialized so they are good in a few but incompetent everywhere else, or gives them enough skill points to buy up competency across many skills, in which case why be so granular in the first place?)
Specializations. That said, there is still a place for some character specificity, and that’s where specializations come in as an extra bump to a narrower subset of a skill (while still leaving the character broadly competent) for a reduced cost. The key here is that it is only a bump – something on the order of an extra die. It’s not intended to allow the character to go hog wild and re-create the issues with a hyper-granular skill list. For example, Blaster Pistols might be a specialization under the overall shooting skill, while Light Freighters could be one under the piloting skill.
I’m also toying with the idea of having, for certain appropriate skills, a second level of specialization that drills down to a specific make/model. For example, YT-1300s under the piloting skill. This would be the only case where a specialization would be allowed to stack, so if you had both the YT-1300 specialization as well as a Light Freighter specialization, you would get +2d when flying a YT-1300.
Work in Progress Skill List. Thus far, the base skills are: Astrogation, Brawl, Bureaucracy, Business, Command, Communications, Craft, Discipline, Dodge, Drive, Engineering, Gunnery, Influence, Investigate, Know, Languages, Medicine, Melee, Move, Navigate, Notice, Operate, Perform, Pilot, Rapport, Repair, Sciences, Scoundrel, Sensors, Shoot, Sneak, Support Weapons, Survival, and Tactics.
Each will have several specializations suggested, though the player is free to invent others as well. Also, some skills will share specializations – there are some cases where a particular task fits well enough under several skills.
How Skills and Competencies Interact. Another very important aspect of this system is that, unlike a lot of games, skills are not tied to any particular or specific competency. Instead, skills are paired to different things at different times, based on the actions being performed.* Thus, a player says what their character is doing and aim to accomplish, and how. Based on the HOW, choose the competency that most governs. Based on the WHAT (using what, about what, involving what, etc) choose the skill that most applies.
This allows for a lot of sweet effects and flexibility. For one, it allows different aspects of a skill to play out appropriately based on the situation. As a simple example, imagine emplacement weaponry abord a capital ship. If you’re firing anti-aircraft weaponry, you’re using Quickness + Gunnery, as you’re aiming and adjusting at quick moving targets. But if you’re firing battery weaponry against another capital ship, you’d use Intellect, as you’re calculating trajectories over range/time/distance. Or say you want to remember something about a type of starfighter… roll Intellect (for knowing something) + Pilot (relating to all things piloting).
An even greater example comes in the form of when you’re trying to Influence someone…
- Be nice, make them your friend? Or seduce them?
- Make a great argument, convince them?
- Trick them, fast talk?
- Notice what they’re about, figure them out?
- Wear them down over time?
Now, not all approaches will be equally easy! And it’s not a problem if a player is always trying to use their best approach – it’s what we do in real life anyway. The GM will simply set the difficulty accordingly. For example, if you try to reason with someone it may be very difficult… they may not care at all, or they are dogmatic, or unintellectual, or whatever. But if you chose to schmooze and flatter them? They are totally easy that way…
Another nice thing about unlinking competencies from skills is that it prevents there being one or two “god stats” that apply to an unusually high number of skills, and no matter how those skills are being used.
Lastly, there’s great potential in the idea of choosing the competency that most governs. Say you’re flying your trusty transport and being pursued by a band of baddies. You think to dive into a convenient canyon and squeeze through the narrow passages to try and shake them off. Now, normally Piloting might use Quickness, but in this case, this is a pretty gutsy move, and so Nerve may be the much more appropriate competency, both for you and especially for those trying to follow you!
* Just to note here that, while this is especially weighty in a game like this where the skills cover broad swaths, even in general and in other games I feel this is proper and often have been including it as a house rule.
Values. To generate the base pool competency of 5d, skills will have primacy to better allow for the development/highlighting of archetypes. Thus, the ‘average’ competency is set to 2d, and an entry-level professional level of skill is set to 3d.