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In Defence of Abilities

Having ditched attributes, here’s where my head’s at

Last week, I announced that Chimera 3.0 would be devoid of attributes or ability scores, and that character actions would be defined by an essentially finite roster of Abilities. A lot of folks had something to say about this bold suggestion, ranging from encouragement like, “sounds great–attributes are outdated anyway” to justifiable skepticism like, “you’re wrong–there’s no way you can cover every character action with a list of 18 Abilities.”

First off, I want to thank everyone who took the time to post a comment or respond to other posters. Second, I want to thank them again for keeping the discussion lively, respectful, and on-point. If this were alt.rec.games.frp.dnd, and it was 1997, this easily could have devolved into a terrible flamewar with regretful posts and lots of crying. As it happens, everyone who commented–proponents and skeptics alike–stated their case with due consideration for others’ opinions and perspective. I’m fairly certain there were no tears. Score one for mature gamers.

And here’s something important: A couple of “dissenters” mentioned that they really did like the concept, but that they had yet to see the approach done well. Given my assertions, the burden of proof, as it were, is clearly on me. So this week, I’m going to put my general thoughts on attributes in specific Chimera terms. Your job is to poke holes in my argument and point out where I’m pure, dead wrong. Or you can pronounce my notions brilliant and innovative. Whichever.

The Chimera Way

I admit that ditching attributes is a risky proposition, but I have many reasons to think it’ll work. Chief among them is that Chimera is offered as a rules-lite gaming framework. Chimera was neither designed nor intended to cover every situation, event, possibility, or confluence of circumstances that could arise during a game session. As stated in the Core Rules, Chimera is a set of

“…guidelines instead of absolutes. During development, we concentrated more on what happens instead of exactly how it happens—necessarily, some details are lost (or even deliberately ignored).”

This is all in the interest of an easy learning curve and fast play. In the rules-lite tradition, you start with flexible guidelines and extrapolate as needed.

Using a finite roster of Abilities to replace attributes and skills seems to support this concept very well. For example, let’s say you have a Survival Ability (and, in fact, Chimera 3.0 does, so already we’re getting some traction here). Survival covers the stuff you need to get by in the wilderness without convenient supplies, like tents or a compass or food. A little thought suggests what this includes: building shelters, identifying edible plants (and avoiding poisonous ones), making fire, catching dinner (like noodling a catfish or snaring a rabbit), determining time and direction based on the sun’s position, and maybe even predicting the weather for the next 24 hours. That’s a lot of stuff, but in a rules-lite framework, infinitely more workable than making those things into separate skills, each mapped to an ability score.

Now let’s say that the party is adventuring somewhere (doesn’t matter where) and someone needs to tie a clever knot (doesn’t matter which). In this case, assume the knot is important enough to warrant a die roll of some kind. In a skill-based system, you would look for a Knot-tying skill. If you didn’t have a Knot-tying skill, you might default to an attribute–Dexterity is probably the favourite, but my Boy Scouting days tell me Intelligence is best (because you really need to practice and memorise knots if you’re going to get any good at them). Alternatively, you might decide that a certain class has an edge in knot-tying (e.g., thieves and fighters probably use rope more than clerics and magi). Failing that, you would need to stretch all the way back to a PC’s background–anyone used to be a sailor or teamster? Or a Boy Scout?

But in a rules-lite framework, you could just tack knot-tying onto an Ability that makes sense. Like Survival.

And if your character doesn’t have Survival, he can still make an attempt. Which is analogous to most skill-based systems wherein characters can still give it a shot by making an attribute check against the skill’s underlying ability score. So: flexible Abilities that can handle defaults. No need for attributes.

But maybe you’re thinking that you want a character who’s good at snaring rabbits, but can’t predict the weather. Perhaps you’ve decided that these skills are just too disparate to be lumped together. That’s fine, because Chimera lets you partition them into separate Abilities if you want (e.g., Hunting and Meteorology). I don’t necessarily recommend it, and neither does the Core Rules:

“…if your style demands more detail, you can add it—Chimera’s flexible model lets you inject as much realism as you want…However, you should understand that the game doesn’t necessarily play better as a result. In fact, you may find that such details bog things down and make actions more cumbersome to resolve.”

The reason I don’t recommend it is because it chips away at Chimera’s rules-liteness. So the question of ditching attributes in favour of broad Abilities is more about flexibility and ease-of-use than “how-you-should-play-your-game.” In other words, if what I’m saying doesn’t appeal to you, it may be because rules-lite doesn’t do justice to your gaming vision or your group’s style of play. If your preference leans toward crunchier systems, Chimera is probably not sufficiently granular.

A Terrible Discovery

Time for a side note of troubling disposition. Last weekend, I was working on the 3.0 character sheet, and (not being at all artistic) begged the Almighty Google for some inspiration. In my wanderings, I came across this 4E D&D sheet, which is very nice. Believe it or not, this is the first 4E character sheet I’ve seen; outside of the 4E Quick Start that I leafed through about six months ago, this is the only 4E material I’ve picked up.

So you can imagine my surprise (and disdain) when I note the “Skills” section of the character sheet contains several of my Chimera Abilities. Things like Athlethics, Diplomacy, Stealth, Streetwise, and a couple of others. Son of a mother! I’m cracking my skull to innovate only to get scooped by 4E.

Seemingly. Because then I remember a couple of comments from last week’s post, saying that that RPGs across the industry are evolving in the broad-skill direction anyway. At the time, my inside voice was saying, “That is absolute bollocks.” But maybe not. That’s the price I pay for not keeping current. Score one each for Smartypants Tag-team Da’Vane and Deimos.

So, later, after some thought (and not bothering to check any of the 4E rules), I generate an assumptive list of fundamental differences between Chimera and what’s implied on the 4E character sheet:

  1. 4E still uses attributes, so if the game’s evolution really is toward broadly defined skills, the evolution is progressing in baby steps
  2. 4E skills seem broad, but actually, they don’t have to be because you can still use attributes as a fall-back for things they don’t cover (like Knot-tying)
  3. 4E is focused on fantasy-type play, whereas Chimera is designed to handle any genre; Chimera Abilities not only need to cover all actions, but they need to cover them in all settings
  4. From a purely pragmatic, IP perspective, Chimera’s development is well-documented and its focus is quite different from 4E; I believe there is a demonstrable defence against any perception that Chimera is a knock-off of WotC’s material (and, granted, I’m probably more sensitive to this than others–it’s just that after Chimera 2.0 severed ties with the OGL, I decided that it had to be its own game in all respects)

The Abilities

Let’s get down to it. Here is the roster of Chimera Abilities. I’m presenting these in cursory fashion, mostly because I want to see how they resonate on their own, without a lot of supporting description (though they are fully described in the rulebook, with notes about what you can do with them, what they cover, and how you might interpret critical results). But here, for now, is the bare list:

  1. Athletics – physical activity
  2. Book Smarts – academia and language
  3. Burgle Chicanery – pick locks and pockets; pilfering
  4. Diplomacy – make friends and influence people
  5. Drive / Pilot – operate a vehicle
  6. Fight – attack with hand-to-hand weapons
  7. First Aid – provide temporary relief to wounded patients
  8. Observe – notice things
  9. Moxie Mettle – tenacity and intestinal fortitude
  10. Profession – a livable trade
  11. Ride Animal Handling – train, care for, or ride a beast
  12. Shoot – attack with missile weapons
  13. Sneak – hide or move undetected
  14. Spelunking – underground survival skills
  15. Street Smarts – urban survival skills
  16. Survival – wilderness survival skills
  17. Technical Tinker – create, manipulate, and repair machines and vehicles
  18. Wield – use of powers

Final Words

There you go. The list is out. Let’s discuss.

Think of these in broad terms. Ask questions like, “How do these support a rules-lite framework?” instead of, “Where’s Canoeing?” Think of different actions, then think about where those actions fit. What actions aren’t covered? What’s missing from this list? Or, can the list be pared down even more? Do tell…

  1. August 25th, 2010 at 15:22 | #1

    I have a question. I realize that you are shooting for simple, broad guidelines — so my question may be off-point, but this is a problem I have with a lot of broad systems, so here goes… I’m going to use Savage Worlds as my example because this is where it has come up most recently for me.

    So, I’m playing in a pulp-era game. I’m playing a retired boxer. I have a d12 Fighting skill (the highest) because I want to have been a champion, the best of the best. But since Savage Worlds only has Fighting as a skill, now I am equally good at Fencing, Broadswords, Fire Axes, Knife-fighting, Baseball Bats and anything else I want to, well, fight with…

    For me, and this is just my opinion, that’s too broad. It creates a weird sense of just having no way of creating, say, just a boxer, or just a knife-fighter.

    How does your Ability scheme/the rest of your game address this?

    Thanks

  2. August 25th, 2010 at 16:25 | #2

    I see no skill/ability/thingy beyond First Aid that provides any sort of “natural”/non-magic healing. First aid seems to limit itself to only temporary (which you have put there neat and tidy) but not any long-term restoration. Is this a miss by or have I underestimated the possibilities of say, Book Smarts or any of the survival abilities?

    Anything relating to not killing an animal is covered by Ride I assume, if not: Aha! I found a miss! I think. Probably not.

  3. August 25th, 2010 at 17:12 | #3

    Sorry to take up two posts — I realized after posting that it may seem as if I didn’t notice the part about granularity in your original post — I did. I’m just wondering how this affects character creation and if you’ve thought much about the individuality of characters (mechanically speaking) or if you are taking the Savage Worlds route and saying that’s exactly how you intend it to work?

  4. August 25th, 2010 at 17:27 | #4

    @Rhetorical Gamer : Good question. I would handle this via the Weapon Proficiency or Weapon Specialisation Perk. The former grants bonuses with a weapon type (swords, axes, pistols), while the latter grants bonuses with specific weapons (long sword, hand axe, Walther PPK). In your case, you would probably take Fight at a nominal level, but hone your boxing ability via Weapon Specialisation (pugilist) or something like that.

    During character gen, you get 4 points to spend on any Abilities you want. Then you pick a class, which gives you more Ability bonuses. You can trade points 2:1, so you could reduce First Aid from TN 16 to TN 18 (let’s say) in exchange for another point to spend on a different Ability. Also, 1 Perk is worth 2 points.

    It’s all sort of modular, so if you wanted Fight to represent equal prowess with everything you can beat someone with, you could use it as-is and ignore the Perks I mentioned. Or could do what I described above. Or, if fighting was more prominent in your campaign, you might want to spawn a “Brawl” Ability (i.e., Brawl is hand-to-hand with fists while Fight is hand-to-hand with weapons).

  5. August 25th, 2010 at 17:29 | #5

    @Daniel “Swedmarine” : You’ve pierced my veil. Proper healing is done via the Profession (doctor) Ability. My rationale is explained here, but if you wanted to apply a more traditional treatment, you could just tweak First Aid to provide permanent effects.

    And, yes, I think anything not related to killing an animal is Ride. Maybe a better name is required?

  6. August 25th, 2010 at 19:10 | #6

    I isa partofa smartypants duo! :D You’ve not really been scooped by 4E – 4E evolved and refined a shortened list of skills from 3e and 3.5, so such concepts have been around for over a decade in the d20 format. The Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game was originally designed using 3e rules and skills, and also contains a considerable number of similar skills that you’ve used in your list.

    But, then d20 itself isn’t exactly new, because almost a decade before that, the Fallout CRPG for PC was released, with a custom designed system known as the SPECIAL system, which already established the two primary features that would be later used in 3e 10 years later in Wizard’s big unveiling – the concept of skills and skill points per level, and the introduction of perks, which work exactly like feats do in D20 and beyond. The SPECIAL System was a percentile system, but it doesn’t take a genius to turn a +1 bonus to +5% and visa versa. The fact that the SPECIAL System was purposely designed, but never released, as a tabletop roleplaying system so that the Fallout computer game would have a consistant set of game mechanics to use has been largely ignored by all.

    In essence, Wizards and D&D 3e didn’t add anything new to roleplaying systems at all. They released a new business model in the OGL, which quickley established the brand as the market leader after is was failing from the collaspe of TSR, and they simply combined existing elements from various systems into a new combination – combining the SPECIAL System with classes from D&D. Other elements that were supposedly added already existed in some form from various systems – D&D 3e simply consolidated these into a more cohesive whole, returning D&D to it’s core encounter-orientated roots, and bringing back a much needed consistancy in the core mechanic.

    Thus, no matter what arrangements of abilities, skills, or bonuses you choose for Chimera RPG, they will have been done before sometime in the past 40 years of roleplaying games as we know them. This isn’t big news, and there is now way you will EVER find the perfect, ground-breaking, or unique set of these.

    Therefore, you would be better of focusing on your other changes – you’ve removed abilities and gone straight for skills. This isn’t unique, but it is uncommon. What’s even more uncommon is the list also includes things that might be considered by most systems as seperate from skills, such as saves, or initiaive, and making these much very much equal – and as a result, you are showing that it’s not so much skills-based, as checks-based, because skills-based as no meaning.

    Thus, the list of abilities should include the most common checks that characters will make in the game. Plus, you might want to consider grouping skills by role and genre, so that a plug and play method can be used to better simulate the needs of specific genres. In a combat heavy genre, it might be undesirable to have fight as a single ability, when it can be broken down into barious styles or types of fighting, so you could have martial arts, archery, firearms, melee weapons, and so forth as seperate skills. Likewise, a fantasy setting might see wield be better defined as different types of powers for balance, if only to stop a spellcaster from putting all their skill points in wield and potentially breaking the system with an ability that would see constant use within the genre.

    As for a better term for Ride – how about Animal Handling? Most trained riders also know how to care for their mounts to some degree, especially in the field.

  7. August 25th, 2010 at 19:18 | #7

    ooops, just wanted to add this tidbit – if you are emphasizing check-based gameplay, you are listing the types of check under each ability, and it’s easy to create new abilities based on checks, it makes sens that you, as the designer of Chimera RPG, should consider which checks are worthy of abilities in each different role, style, and genre of game you plan for Chimera RPG. Presenting a toolkit is good, but it’s a lot better if the person considering the toolkit already has some idea how to use the tools within, either as part of the toolkit, or from other soucres. I’d recommend the former, because it works out better for you, and gives you a better idea for balancing purposes – aware that GMs can, and will, tinker with them anyway to fit their own purposes based on your guidelines.

  8. deimos3428
    August 25th, 2010 at 23:12 | #8

    Ah…now we’re getting somewhere. :D

    When I began designing my own skill-based system, I started out doing tons of research on other systems to see what others did, what worked, and what didn’t. I see no glaring problem with any of the Abilities listed, in fact it’s one of the better sets I’ve seen. (You may be missing a few areas, I’m not sure, but even if so it’s trivial to add a small number of abilities later on.) The names could use some reflection/refinement — in my opinion that’s a make/break issue for a lot of players for some reason, so you need to go over it carefully.

    I would like to point out that ability stats are not uni-dimensional in nature; they are areas or volumes rather than lengths. So one way to deal with the issue of ability granularity that Erin hinted at in the article (and that RhetoricalGamer posed as well) is simply for the player to have a discussion with the GM as to what the ability entails with respect to his character. This is how the late Mr. Gygax suggested it be handled, in his Lejendary Adventure, and I think it’s very elegant for a rules-lite game:

    “A low rating [in an Ability] may mean the character has little knowledge of the field as a whole, or may mean that the character knows a lot about a single part of th field and nothing about the rest of it. The player and LM, together, will decide what the Avatar knows and what the Ability measures.” (Source: The Lejendary Rules for All Players, pg. 10)

    Given that sort of approach a character with a strong Fight statistic need not be equally good with all weapons. They might be a master with a single weapon, or moderately competent with several, or just capable of hurting someone with anything available including a rotten banana.

    Of course, a lot of players and GMs just ignored the discussion bit and let anyone with “Fight” be equally good at any checks against that ability — but there’s as much or as little room for individual character design there as your group wants to tackle with this approach. It comes down to “ask your GM”.

  9. August 26th, 2010 at 10:24 | #9

    @Da’ Vane : Yes, Animal Handling. That does make more sense.

    More thought on how to apply varying levels of granularity. As an RPG, Chimera has to be playable out of the box, so having a core set of Abilities is essential. As a toolkit, Chimera has to be flexible, so I’m thinking of ways to expand or granularise Abilities without too much fuss:

    Perks – this is how Chimera 2.0 does it. Perks have two roles in 2.0: they can modify basic stats (e.g., encumbrance, initiative, mana, et al.) or they can be skill specialisations (e.g., the Track Perks is a specific application of Observe, the Disarm Perk is a specific application of Burgle, et al.). This is the mode I suggested to RhetoricalGamer–use Weapon Specialisation to hone in on a specific aspect of Fight.

    But I’d like to change that model in 3.0 and isolate Perks to stats or non-Ability situations. This helps minimise opportunities for min-maxing.

    Putting Perks aside for the moment, let’s say the Abilities above are “General,” meaning that you can do whatever skills they cover at whatever TN you’ve earned. But I think you should be able to specialise by picking individual aspects (again, not something I necessarily recommend, but the capability should be addressed).

    Two things come to mind: (1) spawn a new Ability to reflect the specialised aspect, or (2) specialising gives you TN -2 against the Ability when you use that aspect. Either would have the same point cost during character generation / advancement. In the article above, I’m championing option #1, but after more thought, I think option #2 is the way to go.

    The Option #2 approach is more flexible, can be done “on-the-fly” without a lot of GM input, and it doesn’t disrupt the character gen / character advancement routine. In short, it’s more modular. It fits in better with the whole rules-lite gig.

    Here’s how it works: RhetoricalGamer wants a champion boxer who has a devastating left hook, but lacks any real fighting ability with weapons. During character gen, he puts 2 of his 4 points into Fight (boxing) as a specialisation, then selects the Fighter class (he doesn’t have to, but this makes it cheaper to improve the Fight Ability–see? I’m already min-maxing…). As a general ability, his Fight TN is 15 (base TN 16, -1 for Fighter class), but his specialised Fight (boxing) Ability is 11 (Fight TN 15, -4 for specialisation). As he advances, each point he spends on Fight reduces the TN by -1; each point he spends on Fight (boxing) reduces the TN by -2 (but only applies to when he’s boxing).

    (The only problem I see is that RhetoricalGamer wanted to reflect all that boxing skill as background, so there’s probably little point in improving the specialisation after character generation. The remedy I suggest is spending more background points during char-gen. Also, as mentioned elsewhere, you can get an additional background point by degrading the TN of another Ability by TN +2.)

    As Da’Vane points out, this approach could be useful in different genres, but also for different styles of play. In a sci-fi campaign, you might want to specialise in piloting different types of spaceships or firing different types of shipboard weaponry.

    The advantage of this approach, though, is that the player decides how to specialise instead of picking out of a list of skills in the rulebook. Want to specialise in snaring rabbits or tying knots or detecting lies? Go for it–the player chooses the aspect and the GM saves himself the headache of fitting a new Ability into his setting.

    Thoughts?

  10. August 26th, 2010 at 10:42 | #10

    @deimos3428 : Great quote. Very much in the rules-lite vein, though I think it would be hard to represent a low skill rank as highly specialised knowledge in a particular area. Need to think on that–it’s sort of a “deep and narrow vs. shallow and broad” argument.

    Fits in with a topic I’ve been tossing about: does each field of study really its own separate Knowledge skill? Don’t answer that–it’s coming up as its own post soon, but your Gygax quote reminds me that it’s important to my rules-lite push.

    Anywho, I’m thinking that the specialisation approach I outlined above would also have the advantage of limited GM input, so it’d be easier to inject into the game. For instance, saying you want to specialise in boxing is going to be less disruptive than asking the GM to create a Brawl Ability.

  11. deimos3428
    August 26th, 2010 at 11:06 | #11

    @Erin You can go with the approach of specialization, and it’s a perfectly valid approach. But I wouldn’t do so, as it’s not strictly necessary.

    Please forgive the mini-rant, but it doesn’t much matter what a character could do, so much as what they actually do. You typically don’t role-play a character by looking at a set of numbers and basing your action on the optimal choices that are technically available. At least not convincingly — real people have history, personality, flaws, etc. I think specific “specialization” rules detract from the role-playing aspect of the game significantly.

    Looking at the example above, by definition a “boxer” doesn’t typically swing a longsword at all. So their Fight score with respect to that weapon is largely irrelevant. The very occasional time they do elect to swing a sword won’t affect play in a material fashion, by nature of it being rare. So in this example, defaulting to the basic “Fight” value is sufficient. You don’t require anything but player action to differentiate the boxer from any other type of fighter. If they wish to specialize…they merely need to improve Fight and do yet more boxing!

    That said, after all my huffing and puffing adding specific specialization rules won’t kill anything — I can safe ignore ‘em, and others can apply them. I just think it complicates things unnecessarily, as you don’t need such rules to specialize.

  12. August 26th, 2010 at 12:29 | #12

    Agreed. I really do see the specialisation as an option. Given the limited number of Abilities on the list, the question of granularity is reasonable, and I think this approach provides a workable, low-impact answer that individual groups can adopt or ignore. As game author, my goal is to address the issue without overly complicating the system or compromising my rules-lite vision. I think this is a happy medium.

    All that said, I share your perspective. I believe Chimera (the RPG) addresses specialisation by virtue of character’s style, preferred gear, profession, etc. But that’s probably more varied from gaming group to gaming group. Ergo, it’s important that Chimera (the toolkit) include the possibility of addressing specialisation in a more formal fashion.

    We’ll see how the playtesting comes out, but more insight/opinions are welcome!

  13. August 26th, 2010 at 18:55 | #13

    @deimos3428 I have to respectfully disagree with this, because characters can, and will, act outside their backgrounds. The character may have been a boxer all their life, but if they suddenly needed to, they will pick up a lump of silver and start swinging or firing a laser gun. This is quite common in survivalist type games, especially where PCs are common people rather than trained professionals, and as such often have to cope outside their “comfort zone.” In such a situation, defaulting to the basic Fight attribute would not be appropriate, because you are suddenly saying that the pro-boxer is also a pro-fencer, a pro-archer, and a pro-marksman – because without specialization they are a pro-Fighter.

    However, this is more an issue thatis better defined by genre and campaign that Chimera RPG itself. Regardless of genre or style, at least one, if not more, areas of the abilities list are you go see more focus in the games than anything else, and these are the areas that deserve specialization the most. However, the rules for specialization itself does not actually need to be defined seperately for each genre – as long as they are present.

    Looking at the idea of perks for specialization, I see that as a good way to go, as this is similar to behing able to take the Weapon Focus feat – it provides a bonus (or in Chimera, a TN reduction) to a specializtion rather than an entire ability. This provides significant synergy shen combined with the ability o emphasize and de-empahasie categories of abilities by style or genre, as such a perk to a specialised ability essentially improves the entire ability, and is thus equivalent to a single ability point. However, in a de-emphasised area of the game, such a perk is worth less, but ability points are less likely to be used in such areas so specialization here is a good way to personalize a new chaarcter. Within 3e and beyond, there are numeroud debates over whether taking a Profession skill weakens the party or not, dpeneding on the type of players in the group, and this differentiation will deterine where such specialization perks will moat likely see use.

    I can’t wait to see more information on Perks, but I think of now, a good approach would be to have perks limited to ability specializations, and ability improvements. By the later, I mean specific tricks to improve abilities, which will probably serve as the foundation for any sort of magic or power system, regardless of genre. In general, it’s more fun if the actions are not limited without just cause – it makes sense that those without arcane training cannot cast spells, but not that someone with a sword can’t swing it wildly in a circle about them in the hope of damage. It should just be hard. Providing bonuses (or TN reductions) to checks is often a better approach than providing the ability to make the check itself – the latter can always be denied simply by raising the TN so far as to be virtually impossible, or the GM can simply say no. You don’t need rules or perks for that.

    If you are thinking fo using perks for things like racial traits, mutaions, and such, that might also work, but you might be better off creating simple descriptive packages, epsecially if such traists are not likelyo to change after the initial character creation. These might be referred to as a background or orgin, rather than a perk, typically providing a number of bonuses and a number of penalties to all character customisation at 1st level that doesn’t interfere with character advancement. In Fallout, such features were called traits, and are basically powerful perks with side effects you can only take during character creation, similar to D&D’s level 1 only feats.

    This clarification of perks and abilities, with regards to specialization should help tighten Chimera RPG 3.0 significantly, allowing it to focus on check-based gameplay for various styles, where the actions are defined by the player’s choices within the encounter, and not their choices during character creation and advancement and a selection of powers that are all basically the same, yet each slightly different.

  14. deimos3428
    August 27th, 2010 at 10:41 | #14

    @Da’ Vane There is no question that characters evolve over time based on their actions, but played well they also tend to stay consistent with their nature (as established via history, previous in-play activity, etc., etc.) Unless there’s some sort of in-play crisis, I don’t see a boxer ever converting to full-time swordsman. But sure, they can pick up a sword if necessary.

    Even so, you don’t *require* additional layers of rules to handle these theoretical edge cases; indeed that’s pretty much the antithesis of an abstract, rules-lite game. While you can add rules, there’s another way to handle it. It often requires game play for the point to ring true, but truly makes a very minor difference in practice. (I prefer very fast-and-loose play, but Erin is wise to include the specialization rules for those unwilling/unable to take this leap of faith.)

    The boxer *doesn’t* have skill in “boxing”, they have skill in Fighting, The Ability may normally be expressed via boxing by the character, and that’s his “specialization”. (Most likely for this character, they have the Fighter class as well.) A great deal of that fighting knowledge *is* transferable to other forms, should he elect to use them.

    Occasionally such a character might well get a slightly higher chance at hitting with a weapon, and he probably should. That’s the transferable knowledge in action. He knows how to fight, so he’s going to hit with a sword more often than someone who doesn’t. It’s just a matter of designing the Abilities broad enough to express this transferable knowledge, but narrow enough to not provide gains in unrelated areas.

    Some systems have an Unarmed/Martial Arts Ability separate from the standard Fight — perhaps that’s the answer here as the issue doesn’t seem to be whether the unarmed fighter boxes or uses kung-fu. Shoot is already a completely separate Ability; so our boxer would not gain anything in the fields of archery or marksmanship at all.

    You touched on an important point with the “some guy swinging a sword” argument. There are some basic things that any humanoid should be able to attempt simply by virtue of possessing limbs, with some minimal chance of success. As I understand it, Chimera plans to deal with unskilled attempts at things via a default TN, though perhaps Erin can clarify that.

    One way of dealing with unskilled magic (or other technical things requiring a skill) is to make it TN 21 — impossible without some sort of situational modifier. This leaves the door open for use if you happen to be holding a Orb of Magical Greatness +5, or whatever…which could turn a peasant into a semi-competent apprentice. That said, who says a character unskilled in Magic can’t cast spells at their peril? (I do, actually. My way of dealing with that was to make all magic use a “feat” that required the related skill….but it’s good food for thought.)

    I’d like to see Perks remain relatively abstract as well, rather than overly narrow like a specific skill/proficiency. I do not know how Erin is planning on dealing with races in 3.0, but a class-based package of Perks/Abilities seems ideal. Races aren’t terribly different things from classes, really.

    Anyway, this is so much rambling on my part as Erin’s got a good handle on how 3.0 is going. I’m excited to see it!

  15. August 27th, 2010 at 13:13 | #15

    @deimos3428 : Some quick notes in response (because my day job really cuts into my RPG schedule)…

    1. The more I think on it, specialisation as described above will most likely fit the bill for players who want to parse out an Ability. It’s an optional rule, included solely to address playing style. As such, using or excluding it will not affect the core mechanics.

    2. Perks are listing heavily toward “not-dealing-with-Abilities.” For example, Chimera 2.0 added the Tracking Perk as an application of the Observe Skill. Given 3.0’s new emphasis on rules-lite, I’d prefer to add Tracking to the Survival Ability, allow specialisation, and remove it as a Perk entirely. But there will probably be some exceptions, like a Comliness Perk that affects your Diplomacy Ability. The rule of thumb, I think, is that Perks will represent things that you really don’t “learn.” They’re pretty much inherent or natural talents.

    3. Base TN…this is a poser. Originally, base TN for all Abilities was 18. Which I thought might be too much, so I lowered it to 16. As a starting TN, I’m not sure if a 2-point difference really matters. But is the base TN sufficient for untrained use? Probably not. If so, then I might default to TN 20 if you have no experience with it, but as soon as you get some training (either by buying it or acquiring a class with that Ability), you get it at the base TN. And, maybe the base TN varies–if it’s part of your class, it’s TN 16, but if you buy it a la carte, base TN is 18…

    4. Continuing to work with Ability names…updates are above and feedback quite welcome.

  16. deimos3428
    August 27th, 2010 at 14:10 | #16

    @Erin D. Smale
    Yeah, I thought about Perks on the way to the coffee machine (where I do my best thinking), and it’s more obvious when you look at their “ancestors” — Traits/(Perks)/Flaws. These are all things you are, whereas Abilities are things you do.

  17. August 27th, 2010 at 15:09 | #17

    @deimos3428 : Right. That got lost a bit in 2.0, but the rules-lite perspective I’m viewing 3.0 with makes the distinction more apparent and necessary.

    @Da’ Vane : Almost forgot, but your statement that Chimera 3.0 will focus on:

    check-based gameplay for various styles, where the actions are defined by the player’s choices within the encounter, and not their choices during character creation and advancement

    is pretty much spot on. While a player’s char gen and advancement choices influence their character’s stable of talents (more accurately, their success at Ability checks), the broad-based nature of Abilities necessitates an interpretive quality, wherein the player should be rewarded for thinking of clever ways to use them. This goes back somewhat to my own experience with B/X, where the things your character could do were defined by class alone. As players, we were perforce encouraged to come up with different ways to solve problems. Though Abilities in 3.0 provide more direction in this respect, I’m hoping that their “broad and shallow” nature supports that old approach.

  18. August 27th, 2010 at 17:02 | #18

    If Chimera RPG 3.0 is to be check-based, then it makes more sense to orient the list of abilities to the chacks that are required in-game, rather than create an abstract list designed to cover every possibility, because you will inevitably fail to cover all the bases and put someone off. If you have some form of default adventure or genre you are considering packaging with Chimera RPG 3.0, then it seems like you should consider the checks needed by this as a way of building such a list of Abilities, showing off their “broad but shallow” potential.

    And what’s this I hear on the grapevine about a potential cross-promotion of Chimera RPG 3.0 with another mutli-genre product by DVOID Systems (http://www.dvoidsystems.com)? it sounds like a very good idea to me, but obviously, I’m just an impartial observer… :P

    In all seriousness though, in generating any list of abilities, you should check that they can handle specific checks and encounters, rather than the other way around. That is, you should check that the system has some way to handle the PCs not getting lost in giant space hulk or operating a space suit in zero gravity, rather than defining a Space Ops ability and defining that these come under that heading. That way, you know specifically what your system can do, instead of just providing common abstarctions which may or may not be relevent to the encounters and challenges the PCs wish to face in the proposed genres or settings.

    With this in mind, and in the effort to get more feedback on the DVOID Systems blog where we are developing the first roduct in our multi-genre D-Jumpers campaign setting, it might be worthwhile taking a look at the sorts of checks required by these encounters and situations and using this to help flesh out and develop Chimers RPG 3.0’s Abilities list in a more practical sense, to see them in actual use and help catch any design issues that might come from either side of the design fence (that is – whether it’s a system or encounter/adventure design flaw, for example).

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