Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lists, lists, and more lists

As I've said before, Beyond the Wall is a great, flexible, RPG that hearkens back to D&D's earlier glory days in the 1980s. One of the things that makes it so flexible is that it isn't bogged down with a massive, concretely defined skill list. At the same time, that list has a bit of... overlap.

In working to update the information in Silent Sage's GM screen and reference set, I compiled a listing of all the skills in the existing material along with a list of the traits found in Further Afield and Heroes Young and Old. I have attempted to maintain the flexibility of the system by not assigning skills to just one attribute. Instead, I took a note from fourth edition Traveller and allowed for some skills to modify different ability scores in different situations.

For example, a character with the Cooking skill would use it with Wisdom when making a batch of Mother Grimgoose's Famous Mutton Stew from memory. Alternately, if they were to concoct their own famous (or infamous) recipe, they would use Intelligence with the skill to (hopefully) make a new delicacy. For those of you who aren't already part of the excellent G+ community for Beyond the Wall, you can download the file here.

With regard to the overlap, it isn't always obvious. The most obvious example I can give is the skills Forgotten Lore, Forbidden Knowledge, Forgotten Secrets, and Forbidden Secrets. You can easily roll these into one or two skills. The easiest would be to roll them into Forgotten Lore - after all, Forbidden Lore is often (and best left) forgotten. Alternately, you can just have Forgotten Lore and Forbidden Knowledge, simply distinguishing between the two. My preference is to have Forgotten Lore cover all four skills.

Before I go on, please keep in mind that I'm not telling the folks at Flatland Games to "clean things up". In fact, I would prefer they just leave it alone and preserve the flexibility for groups who have their own way of handling it. In fact, I'll review my own in-house solution to the problem at the end of this entry. With regard to any products from Silent Sage Publishing, you'll see that the skills will NOT be unified as I do for my own personal games. Again, that's to preserve the game's flexibility and avoid overstepping the bounds of the license offered by Flatland Games.

Back to the subject at hand. Other overlaps are a bit messier. The Animal Lore and Animal Ken skills are a prime example of how definitions get a bit fiddly. Here are the definitions as provided by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:
Definition of ken - noun
1a: the range of vision b :  sight, view <'tis double death to drown in ken of shore — Shakespeare>
2: the range of perception, understanding, or knowledge <abstract words that are beyond the ken of young children — Lois M. Rettie>
1 archaic: something that is taught :  lesson
2: something that is learned: a :  knowledge gained through study or experience b :  traditional knowledge or belief
3: a particular body of knowledge or tradition
On the surface, the overlap seems obvious - everything should be rolled into one or the other. Once you get under the hood and see how each word is defined and used, it's obvious they are really two different things. Animal Lore is concerned with knowledge about animals - healing their illnesses, training, and so forth. Animal Ken, on the other hand, is the ability to speak with the animals.

In a nutshell, here are the other overlaps I found in the list:

Strategy and Tactics - Another deceptively simple issue as both skills involve maneuvering military or political forces, but Strategy focuses on long term goals as opposed to Tactics' focus on short term goals. Strategy could also apply, oddly enough, to Estate Management. To cut down on the confusion, I would roll Strategy and Tactics together under Strategy and define it as a combat-related skill for either long or short term goals in battle.

Deceit and Subterfuge - Looking at the M-W Online Dictionary, this one is too close to call. You could define Deceit as a skill for fooling people and Subterfuge as a skill for tricks and traps used to obtain something or achieve a goal through deception. My vote is for rolling these together into Deceit and then letting the pairing of skill + ability be determined by the usage. For example, INT would be paired Deceit when plotting a ruse while CHA would be paired with Deceit for telling a convincing lie. Additionally, WIS or INT might be paired with this skill to see through another's lie.

Etiquette, Gossip, and Socialize - This is another fiddly definition. Gossip is a form of socialization, but not all socialization is gossip. In this case I would define Gossip as to include the fine art of roguish eavesdropping and information gathering. Socialize would be a bit more sophisticated, relating to hobnobbing with others outside of a character's social class. You could certainly wrap Etiquette in with Socialize, but could also say Etiquette is even more of a refined cultural skill, letting a character know when to use the fish fork and not the soup spoon. My take is to leave Gossip alone and package Etiquette and Socialize together under Socialize.

Boasting and Storytelling - Again, a bit too close in definition. I would go with rolling these together as Storytelling, as a boast isn't always true.

Monster Lore and Mythical Beast Lore - Another fiddly definition. You could easily argue that monsters are known creatures while mythical beasts are considered just that - myths - until proven otherwise. As with the whole Forbidden Knowledge/Forgotten Secrets bit, it's kind of a toss-up as to how people want to handle it. I personally merge the two under Monster Lore.

In the spirit of keeping things simple in my personal games, here's my round-up on handling any overlaps: 
  • Animal Ken (CHA, INT, or WIS) - A skill that allows characters to speak the language of animals.
  • Animal Lore (INT or WIS) - Knowledge about raising, healing, and training of animals.
  • Deceit (CHA, INT, or WIS) - Combines Deceit with Subterfuge.
  • Forgotten Lore (WIS) - Combines Forgotten Lore, Forbidden Knowledge, Forgotten Secrets, and Forbidden Secrets.
  • Gossip (CHA, INT or WIS) - The fine art of roguish eavesdropping and information gathering.
  • Monster Lore (WIS) - Combines Mythical Beast Lore with Monster Lore.
  • Socialize (CHA, INT, or WIS) - A skill relating to hobnobbing with others outside of a character's social class or native culture/species. This skill absorbs the Etiquette skill. 
  • Storytelling (CHA or WIS) - Combines Boasting with Storytelling. 
  • Strategy (INT or WIS) - Combines Strategy and Tactics with regard to long or short term goals in battle.
Again, by writing this blog post, I am NOT in any way asking or telling Flatland Games to tighten things up. How you handle the overlaps and duplications in your game is up to you and for some it's part of the fun of playing an RPG. Always remember rule zero - if it doesn't work for you and your group, change it so it does. After all, the point of playing a role-playing game is fun, isn't it?

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