Skills: tool for setting scenes

17 June, 2009 at 6:07 pm (game design) (, , )

Bruce posted about situation generation and the difficulties inherent in it, as well as a possible solution for those difficulties. It is a post well worth reading, so I won’t explain the contents of it here.

It reminded me of an idea I had once mentioned to a local friend: Some skills are used in conflicts (mainly to solve them), while others are used to gather information or find something; generally to set a scene. This divide is of course informal and not all skills fit in one category or the other.

What would happen if the divide was made explicit? Some skills are clearly in one category or other, but let us arbitrary divide the borderline cases to the two categories also (dice can be used in the process). Now players whose characters have lots of conflict-level skills will tend to do well once things get nasty, while those with more scene-setting skills can decide which conflicts, and which sorts of conflicts, to get involved in. Utter specialisation is for insects, in this case, and for only marginally functional characters.

There are other effects. Some skills simply can’t be used to set up scenes. If, say, sneaking is such a skill, then it must be used in conflicts. Hide and seek is only the last resort, used when the plan proper goes awry. In similar way, maybe riding can only be used to set scenes. You ride to get around, not to skewer people with a lance.

It does not need to be quite that straightforward. How about a game where fighting can only be used to set scenes, not resolve them? You assault an invading army not to defeat them by fighting but rather to reach their leader; succeed and you do so in a swathe of blood, fail and you are forced to kneel, bound and beaten, when the actual conflict starts. It might take the shape of rousing speech, insults, a touching performance, something arcane, or maybe a contest of riddles. Maybe a contest to have the black-clad evil one see how wrong his deeds are and to turn against his even more evil master.

Conclusion being that drawing an absolute and explicit line between skills that can be only used in conflicts or only used to set up scenes one can alter the gameplay significantly.

Certainly there is more to do. Maybe making this divide is a group process, much like group character creation. “Everyone select two skills that you want to be used in dramatic situations.” Maybe the line is drawn in different places for different characters, hence creating clear niche protection and probably other interesting effects. Might be especially interesting in a PvP environment: Everyone maneuvers to encounter the other in a situation most advantageous to oneself.

There is more still. How are scene-setting skills used? Maybe in the process of free play when someone notices there is an opportunity for their use. Maybe go around the table clockwise, everyone having a scene in order and setting it up with some skill along the way. (Being involved in scenes started by others is smart.)

There’s a game to be designed lurking in these ideas, I think.

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