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Unstupid Characters

There’s a fine line between genius and buffoonery

In my relentless quest to simplify play, the perennial Knowledge skill has come under harsh scrutiny. Readers of recent posts are already familiar with my machinations in the realm of determining how characters do what they can do: first was the ditching of attributes, then the establishment of a finite roster of Abilities.

Three weeks out, I’m still in a deconstructive mood. So let’s postulate the wisdom of an all-encompassing Knowledge skill.

The Current Way of Things

Every game I’ve seen with a Knowledge skill requires the character to choose a focus, meaning a particular field of study: biology, metallurgy, rope-making, storage jars, etc. I completely understand the intent, which is to give the PC a mechanical way to represent familiarity with a body of knowledge. On paper, it’s a good idea. In practice, it’s of questionable value.

First issue is the scope and detail of a knowledge skill slot. Most games suggest that the skill’s focus be somewhere in between a general field and a specific topic. For example, “biology” is probably too general, while “saprophyte reproduction” is likely too specific. The need for scope moderation is the struggle for usefulness and game balance: an overly broad focus increases its potential application, which opens it up to abuse by players who seek to apply it whenever they can (if you’ve ever had a player with “Knowledge (tactics)” argue for a combat bonus, you know what I’m talking about). On the other hand, a pinpoint focus can make the Knowledge skill useless. Like a 1st-level magic-user with a single spell, the character with “Knowledge (Pre-Imperial Era Hafling Pottery)” waits for his moment of glory before his contribution to the adventure fades.

The second issue is the all-too-familiar slippery slope: where do Knowledge skills end? Let’s assume you figure out a workable scope–you devised a balance between the broad “science” and the highly specific “string theory” called “Knowledge (physics)”. By extension, you now have to allow the possibility of a Knowledge skill in every other scientific discipline, at a level of detail on par with “physics.” The problem is that these other areas are bound to be sub- or supersets of that level of scientific hierarchy. “Biology” might work, though it’s pretty vague. Is “botany” at the same level as, or a subset of, “biology”? Same argument for astrophysics, geology, genetics, cardiology, etc.

Third is the question of usefulness. In most cases, fields of study have little to do with adventuring, unless there’s an encounter wherein specific information gives the characters an edge. In my thinking, there are only two instances where this occurs: (1) when the knowledge grants a mechanical advantage (e.g., a die roll bonus), or (2) when the knowledge allows the party to proceed to the next stage of the adventure (e.g., the old “Speak friend and enter” bit). If none of the PCs has the appropriate Knowledge focus (or if he does but fails his skill roll), the party is out of luck and has to cast about for another solution–which was probably available anyway, because a good GM doesn’t craft scenarios whose resolution relies on a single roll against a single skill.

My Inevitable Tweak

I submit that we avoid these pitfalls by making a single, catch-all Knowledge skill. This skill (called “Book Smarts” in Chimera 3.0) represents what a character has learned, typically through formal study, but also via the experience gained through adventure. Consider: “formal study” indicates how well the character was schooled; “experience gained” indicates both the sought-after and incidental knowledge that the character picks up as he progresses in his career.

One could argue that the character’s Intelligence score (or equivalent) would do the same thing. I agree, but that makes me wonder why we need to complement it with a Knowledge skill at all, especially when an INT 18 character could, for luck of the die, fail the same Intelligence check that an INT 12 PC might make. Plus, Intelligence (as an ability score) doesn’t generally improve as the character advances in level. Anyway, the question is moot: I’ve ditched Attributes. So here’s my rationale:

You know smart people–in terms of general education, bookworm-ishness, life experience, etc. There is someone you consider a “go-to” person when you have a question. The smarter this person is, the more general that question can be. He or she may be an expert in a particular field, but also knows a little bit about everything. This is the person you want on your Trivial Pursuit team. He’s Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG1, who can figure anything out. He’s even that kid in Jerry Maguire: “Dogs and bees smell fear!” or “The human head weighs seven pounds!”

That’s Book Smarts. Or Knowledge. Whatever you want to call it. It’s what you know, not your expertise in a specific field. It’s stuff you remember from your school days, things you pick up from your leisure reading, knowledge you get from a hobby or from watching the History Channel, and workaday know-how you learn simply as a functioning individual. When someone asks you a question, the answer is something you remember learning in school, something from a speech you once memorised, something you saw on TV last week, or something from a book you’re reading now. Either way, it’s part of your knowledge vault, which you can access via your Book Smarts Ability.

If you want to be really good in a particular area, you can specialise your Book Smarts Ability, but it doesn’t change your overall knowledge base. If you’re a smart person, specialising won’t change the fact that you’re a “go-to” person who knows a lot of stuff about a lot of things. You can still be Daniel Jackson, but with an edge in ancient languages, for example.

Mechanical Impact

By now, you may suspect that my Book Smarts Ability has simply replaced the Intelligence ability score in Chimera. Good supporting evidence is the lack of attributes in Chimera–something has to represent a character’s Intelligence, right?

There’s some truth in that, though while Book Smarts is meant to represent all sorts of accumulated information, it isn’t the same as the Intelligence attribute. First, Book Smarts can be improved–as in real life, you can read more books, pick up more information, learn more things. Second, Book Smarts can be specialised if desired–you can simulate a concentration in a specific field if it makes sense in the campaign.

Third, Book Smarts includes languages, which on the face of it doesn’t make much sense, but in the context of a rules-lite game, can be made to work. By tying language to Book Smarts, I’m saying that the smarter your character is, the better his chances of translating those old runes or interpreting the chieftain or figuring out the plot without having to read subtitles. This isn’t about fluency or speaking without an accent–if you need those things, then you can use Book Smarts to specialise in a language–this is about dealing with campaign languages in a way that acknowledges language barriers without bogging down play to surmount them.

And fast play is really what I’m after. I don’t want to spend too much time picking out Knowledge foci or Languages during character generation. And I don’t want to tell a player that he can’t figure something out because he doesn’t have the right Knowledge skill (because when he asks to make an INT check instead, I’ll have to say yes, which is tantamount to his having Book Smarts Ability in the first place).

Plus, you can always simulate difficulty with a Target Number modifier. Based on the type of knowledge or language, consider these adjustments:

Field is: Difficulty Modifier Knowledge Example Language Example
Common TN -2 Is that a plant or a mushroom? Is that a dialect or a foreign language?
General TN +0 What kind of mushroom is it? What language is it?
Unusual TN +2 Is it edible or poisonous? What is the word for “hovercraft”?
Complex TN +4 How does the mushroom reproduce? What does this written passage mean?
Obscure TN +8 How do we splice mushroom DNA with a frog’s? How do I explain mushroom DNA to this foreign guy?

Final Words

These are the kinds of questions that get asked during (most of my) games. Book Smarts as an all-encompassing Ability doesn’t get in the way of character generation and keeps play moving. And, by removing the need to limit Knowledge to a specific focus, it’s also the best way I’ve seen for characters to adopt the role of “smart guy” in the party.

But this is another rules-lite convention, so it’s not going to appeal to more granular styles of play. What do you think? Have I crossed the line between genius and buffoonery? If so, where did I end up?

  1. deimos3428
    September 1st, 2010 at 14:05 | #1

    I like the idea, and it contrasts well with the equally diverse “street smarts”. It also has some overlap with “Observe”, which is nice. You might consider adding:

    1. an Evaluation sort of Ability, distinct from either observation or knowledge to handle assessing information (analogous to wisdom)
    2. a Planning sort of Ability, again distinct from but complementary to Diplomacy or Observation (somewhat analogous to aspects of Charisma)

  2. September 1st, 2010 at 15:16 | #2

    Spycraft used a similar mechanic to the Knowledge mechanic proposed here – it was called an Education roll, and basically allowed agents to make a check based on their intelligence and level to represent their field training in a wide range of subjects that any agent should know. Essentially, it worked like bardic lore, but any character could use it.

    Bringing this back to the checks-based approach that has clearly been established over the past few weeks, it really depends how much Knowledge and language checks are used in games. These are undervalued skills in most games, even in the d20 system, unless they somehow provide some kind of mechanical benefit, because most GMs simply answer the PCs questions instead of making them roll for it, in case a low roll stymies gameplay and leads to stagnation within the game.

    As an aside, Intelligence and Charisma are the two most common abilities prone to be used as dump stats, because these abilities can normally be compensated for the player’s own personal abilities, compensating for low score in these areas. An intelligent player can afford to have a low intelligence, because they will rarely need to make an intelligence check, because as a player, they will figure out most things that less intelligent players would require the checks, and higher abilities for. Likewise, players who are experienced roleplayers who can provide a convincing argument can persuade characters to do things even if their Charisma is low, because their own persuasion often replaces the relevent Charisma skill checks.

    With this in mind, you need to define the nature of these special ability checks with some form of consistancy to avoid breaking and unbalancing the system, and this normally means that these chacks should provide some mechanical benefit or chance of success or failure based on the skill roll, rather than just providing information for the player to use.

    In this way, a player may solve the puzzle and figure out what action or information is needed, or be able to provide the right argument, but the ability check reflects how well the character uses this information or presents the argument to the situation at hand, just as fight check reflects how well (or chance of success) of hitting in combat, regardless of whether or not the player can actually throw a punch.

    With this in mind, most Knowledge skills would actually be merged in with their practical applications – the Chemistry not only allow them to know what compounds to make, but also reflects their ability to mix such compounds safetly and efficiently without harm. This also means that you can tailor the Knowledge skill to the genre or setting based on the practical applications of such abilities – if blowing stuff up is common, then Knowledge of explosives comes under Demolitions, for example.

    Knowledge, or Book Smarts, or whatever should be limitied to covering knowledge that does not have a practical use or formal body of study, or a very minimal role in the genre. These will largely be theoretical sciences like philosophy, psychology, or theology, but these too could easily be made into seperate skills if they take enough of a prominant role in the campaign.

  3. September 1st, 2010 at 15:19 | #3

    In the Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game, we incorporated Research as a skill, which is basically book-based learning, for when somone wants to find something in a library or other archive of knowledge quickly and efficiently within an academic sense. This worked similar to, but contrasted with, the existing Gather Information skill which was more gossip-mongering and informant-based.

  4. September 1st, 2010 at 16:20 | #4

    @deimos3428 First off, yes, Book Smarts is supposed to contrast with Street Smarts. Precisely. You get it.

    Second, I’m curious about your suggestions. Evaluation sounds promising, but I need to know more. We use a lot of approaches to assess information. Like detecting a lie might be Observe (seeing body language) while being savvy might be Street Smarts (knowing how to con a con). Can you give examples of Evaluation?

    Planning is even more interesting. I’m probably being too literal, but it’s not the same devising clever approaches to problems, right? For my style, I tend to reward player resourcefulness, even if it’s a little meta. How do you see this being used?

  5. September 1st, 2010 at 16:46 | #5

    @Da’ Vane Chimera 2.x had the Investigate perk, which was an application of the Knowledge skill. Similarly, you could choose the Rumour perk, which was an aspect of Observe.

    Other points taken, though I disagree on relegating Book Smarts to non-practical knowledge. Instead, I’d structure the quality of knowledge based on the Ability Roll result. For example:

    * Critical Failure: contradictory answers known
    * Normal Failure: answer incomplete
    * Normal Success: answer known in general terms
    * Critical Success: answer known in specific terms

    This way, you could use the Ability across a variety of situations without risk of a bad roll tossing the party’s plans in complete disarray.

  6. deimos3428
    September 1st, 2010 at 17:16 | #6

    Evaluation would be the general ability to assess things — anything from the value of a gemstone to someone’s motive, how best to handle a Mexican standoff, or detecting an illusion by sensing something is “off”. (It has some overlap with Observe, but is more about handling that which is observed.)

    Planning would include planning, obviously — but could include anything from hosting a dinner party to organizing a castle siege or preparing a public speech. If it requires forethought or preparation or organization skills — that’s planning. There’s some overlap with Diplomacy, but it’s sort of the “other half” of Charisma — leadership via competence rather than influence.

    Whether or not any Ability is useful depends on how you handle the player/character disparity with respect to that Ability: how much detail you require vs . how much you abstract. It’s not necessarily the same for every Ability, and can be a bit of a double-standard at times. We typically don’t ask those with Fight to detail on how they intend to swing their weapons, but we do often ask players to “roleplay” in order to influence a guard or barter a deal. Too few checks can result in the scenario Da’Vane describes above; going overboard on the checks creates a tactical non-RPG.

    My personal solution is to encourage the concept of a “GM petition”. This most often takes the form of “Could I use X Ability to see if my character can do Y?” That’s where players can get very creative, in accordance to their own role-playing ability, and I prefer this approach to asking them to determine the gritty details of [b]how[/b] they intend to sneak past the guards, etc., etc. There’s often a lot of similar solutions to a problem employing different Abilities,

    But if players are required to come up with that sort of detail themselves, reduces the character’s mind to that of the player. (And often slows the game considerably.) This can be an incredible disadvantage, considering how little we as players really know about a given RPG setting! But it’s a matter of preference, and each GM has to find that balance between too many checks and too few.

  7. deimos3428
    September 1st, 2010 at 17:18 | #7

    @Erin D. Smale
    Lejendary Adventure employed the “Arcana” ability for ancient lore, the “Learning” ability somewhat analogous to Book Smarts, and the “Pantology” Ability — something like MacGyver/ack-of-all-trades smarts. (There was also “Urbane” which is like Street Smarts.)

  8. September 2nd, 2010 at 05:55 | #8

    @Erin D. Smale When I say limiting Book-Smarts/Street-Smarts to non-practical knowledge, I mean limiting it to knowledge for which there isn’t already a practical application or existing ability. For example, if your game doesn’t have Computers as an ability, then knowledge of computers could come under Book-Smarts/Street-Smarts as desired. This pretty much avoids the idea that players can put a lot of focus into Street-Smarts or Book-Smarts and effectively do everything as good such specialised characters. This, in turn, feeds back into the rules for specialization, because while there might not be a special Computers ability in any given game, it can easy become a specialization of Book-Smarts/Street-Smarts if the player desired.

    On that note, you might want to give some consideration to evolving abilities during the course of a campaign, particularly if the genre, tone, focus, or setting of the campaign changes during the course of play. For example, the players might not initially invisage that espionage and investigation across the cosmos will take a major role in the game, instead favouring heavy action and combat roles, and might set up the abilities and specializations for this purpose. However, during the course of play, they may find that they are enjoying the hunt and the case more than the action, so what was initially conceived as a minor part of the campaing has evolved through play into a significant focus, that is inadequately covered should Chimera RPG 3.0 be static, but fairly easy to adapt with guidance.

    I’m thinking that some guidelines for turning specializations into abilities and abilities in to specialization, particularly during character advancement, may allow both characters and system to evolve with campaigns. As a check-based system, whether a check is handled as an ability or specialization is irrelevent, as long as it is handled.

  9. deimos3428
    September 2nd, 2010 at 09:32 | #9

    One final musing: the difference between a “check” and a “consult”. While a check is die roll against some defined metric (roll above your TN), a consult is merely a (your TN must be below x) type of thing.

    I use consults for information-based checks when the players *don’t* actively petition for one. For example, if you’ve got a secret door in a room, and a character with a high Observe Ability walks by, the GM might roll a check without being asked to do so. Still no more guarantee of success, but it makes the game slightly more dynamic than “we search the room” every three minutes.

  10. September 2nd, 2010 at 10:46 | #10

    @deimos3428 An alternative that some GMs use are the rules for taking 10 from d20 to deal with passive GM checks, so the GM doesn’t have to roll any dice unless the PCs are actively searching. This gives the PC an average check result, but they still get the option of actively looking if they want to. In the case of Chimera RPG, this would simply work as making the difference between a “check” and a “consult” as you describe equal to 10. These rules could then be modified to suit different types of diceless or passive scenarios – the difference could be larger for more detailed or extensive searches (similar to taking 20), or reduced for hasty ones such as when rushing, chased, or under stress (consider this taking 5 or taking 0) – the latter being ideal for highlight escape routes in emergencies, such as when they’ve just fallen for a death trap. Spotting an opportunity if often easier than fulfilling the opportunity itself.

  11. September 2nd, 2010 at 11:16 | #11

    @Da’ Vane : I am completely unfamiliar with the “Take X” concept you’re referring to. From the context above, I’m assuming it’s a way to use a skill without actually rolling, based on your bonus?

    For Chimera, I had some thoughts about allowing certain “automatic” actions based on your Ability TN–probably at TN 16, 12, and 8. For example, at Animal Handling TN 16, you could automatically calm a spooked mount; at TN 12, you could goad your mount to x2 speed for 1 turn/level; at TN 8 you would gain some basic level of animal empathy. Something along those lines.

    In previous versions of Chimera, these kinds of things were covered with Perks, but 3.0 is shifting Perks to a more general focus. So tying such actions to Abilities seems like a logical way to make use of the existing mechanic and allow special Ability-related stuff.

    Probably too much to include in the Quick Start, but certainly a candidate for inclusion in the Core.

  12. deimos3428
    September 2nd, 2010 at 11:37 | #12

    @Da’ Vane
    I think the concern over Book Smarts/Street Smarts overshadowing other Abilities isn’t something that needs to be directly addressed in the rules, at least so long as a GM has control over when to permit checks and when to say “no”. Some overlap of computer use via Book Smarts would be fine, some would be at a negative situational modifier, and some would be outright impossible without the relevant Computers Ability. It’s up to the individual GM to make those calls and curtail any “abuse”.

    I like the idea of evolving Abilities, but it can be a slippery slope towards free-form storytelling. (An example of a game further in that direction would be Greg Stafford’s Hero Quest, where each character has its own unique Abilities, defined at the time of creation.)

    Not all Abilities will serve all campaigns, genres or all styles of play but I think the holy grail would be a small core set of ubiquitous general Abilities that do not alter significantly across genres, accompanied optionally by additional GM-defined Abilities tailored to their campaign.

    In my opinion one complete set of Abilities per campaign would be preferred to changing them mid-adventure — unless the campaign actually spans genres in some sort of universe-crossing adventure. (It’s lots of fun to try to “translate” magic-genre abilities into technological ones, incidentally…I spent a good deal of time with this concept in a recent game.)

  13. September 2nd, 2010 at 12:24 | #13

    @deimos3428 I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – the Abilities defined in the Core Rules form a foundation across all campaigns, subject to GM tinkering as suits his campaign.

    Computer hacking was mentioned, and it’s a good example (mostly because very few games I’ve seen single it out). Off the top of my head, this would be a specialisation of Book Smarts. First, computer knowledge would only be useful at a suitably modern tech level and above (e.g., modern, sci-fi, apocalypse, cyber-punk). Second, depending on the society, computer use may or may not be part of common knowledge (e.g., in the 90s, you needed to train up if you wanted to create a web site, but today a combination of better tools and easy access to technical info via search engines means that pretty much anyone can do it). Third, the computer systems that characters would need to roll against tend to be more secure than normal and discrete in function (i.e., security, military, government), so even if you had a “Computer” skill, you’d probably have to specialise.

    Thus, Chimera provides the Ability framework for a GM that will almost certainly work in 80% of game situations. The remaining 20% is GM purview, to be customised in accord with the campaign setting and the group’s desired level of granularity.

  14. September 2nd, 2010 at 15:27 | #14

    @Erin D. Smale the Take 10 and Take 20 rules were used primarily for skill checks as a way to speed up gameplay. The first, Take 10, represents doing an average job – and thus taking an average roll – often it was easy to change static DCs to opposed rolls or opposed rolls to static DCs by assuming that the system was inherently taking 10 is most situations – after all, scenery usually doesn’t actively try to kill you! Thus, if an average cat has a average Listen bonus of +5, sneaking up on using Move Silently is typically DC 15, the roll of 10 with the +5 bonus bonus. Conversely, althouh this wasn’t used as often except in a few variants, Defence/Armor Class in 3.x is 10+ bonuses, so the character is assumed to be taking 10 on defence in combat. Thus combat could be made more dynamic by chanign this to an opposed roll if the players desired.

    As for Take 20, a similar principle applies, except it is based on the idea that if you keep rolling checks in a situation where there is no consequence for failure besides wasted time, sooner or later you will roll a natural 20 and get the highest possible result. thus, to avoid the tedium of this, players in non-stressful situations could take 20 on certain checks in exchange for spending more time on them, normally thirty times as much, and be considered to have automatically rolled a natural 20.

    I can see where the idea for the holy grail of abiltities comes from, but it is not uncommon for genres to have conventions from other genres included. For example, computing might only be applicable in the modern genres and beyond, but but when you look at what computing covers, it could also be used to cover magical devices for storing data or programs, controling golems, technomancy, and other such convetnions above and beyond the normal modern definition of computers.

    This brings us back to the “check-based” nature of the system. Chimera RPG shouldn’t be about defining what skills and applications certain abilities have, but be making sure that the majority of the checks, preferably much more than the stated 80% – more like 90 to 95% unless the players fancy tinkering with houerules – are covered by the existing abilities, while providing enough diversity to maintain a balanced character progression.

    Plus, one of the key features for D-Jumpers in particular is to enable players to switch gears in campaigns without having to resort to a totally new campaign with totally new characters. Spycraft and it’s derivatives feature tweaks which subtly change the way the rules work to provide different settings and genres, from military action blockbuster to gritty espionage, from horror survival, to high-brow fantasy. These tweaks can be aplied per campaign, per adventure, or even per session, as the GM feels fit, to reflect the evolving nature of the campaign. With D-Jumpers being a multi-genre setting with significant sandbox elements for the PCs to do what they want in, campaign evolution without having to recreate an entirely new campaign is a big feature that it tries to facilitate, and a multi-genre system that can make this work would have a significant advantage in the setting over one that cannot evolve in this way.

  15. deimos3428
    September 3rd, 2010 at 10:29 | #15

    I agree with Da’ Vane for the most part, I think where we differ is the level of complexity desired in the rules-set. (I’m heavily in the “less is more” camp.)

    While I’m somewhat familiar with the “take 10″ and ‘take 20″ concepts, imo they solve problems that don’t exist in a rules-lite game where GM fiat is a necessity. “Take 20″ is little more than a GM knowing when not to roll the dice for a trivial matter.

    “Take 10″ is slightly more useful, but still problematic as it puts the control into the hands of the player. Crafty individuals will use it in situations where rolling one extreme results in dismal failure, yet rolling the other extreme doesn’t pay out proportionately.

    As a GM, I don’t want players mucking about with probability — frankly, that’s my job. It’s true that a consult differs from “take 10″ only in that it is the *GM* electing to “take X”, where X is an expression of the predetermined difficulty of a task. While It could used to give highly skilled characters a free pass, or conversely block the completely unskilled, I generally only consult the stats directly when I want to give a character a free check, as opposed to an automatic success based on time spent. (It can also somewhat mitigate those comical situations where a STR 9 fighter might make his “bend bars” roll, immediately after a STR 18 fighter fails.)

    As for the transfer of various skill-sets cross-genre, absolutely, and that’s what something like “Book Smarts” entails as it is a generalized Ability. For something less general like “Computers”, you can easily treat the label as a misnomer and apply it to an analogous ability in the new genre. You don’t necessarily require a completely new Ability — a little bit of creativity, some fudging at times, and a cut-n-paste to the Ability title are sufficient.

    Below are some snippets from a PBP campaign where we played with just that concept. Having been thrust into another dimension the mage in the group is getting his bearings aboard a starship. (I’m cherry-picking the posts here, but there is quite a bit more in there if you find the PBP an interesting read.) :D

    http://www.perilousjourneys.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=34&start=325#p560
    http://www.perilousjourneys.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=34&start=325#p584

  16. September 3rd, 2010 at 14:48 | #16

    @deimos3428 I like the “less is more” approach, but some players love their rules, and if you are presenting a tool-kit rules system, then it is important that this aspect is understood and catered for, or at least considered. There are a huge vriety of systems out there, which range from lots of well-defined abilities, to systems where everything is handled by a few key abilities (in some cases, this can be as a little as one, athough it is quite rare to go below two or three).

    “Take 10″ and “Take 20″ aren’t there so much to fix problems, but to give the players more control over probability to speed up their games. Characters moving through a dungeon searching for traps as they go would be better off to be assumed to be taking 10 through the corridors and hallways than making roll after roll after roll. The GM can simply note the groups highest Spot bonus, add +10, and assume this as the result for the characters when the players don’t state they are actively looking for traps, even though this would be common sense to the PCs. Reducing the number of dice rolls needed is often very useful when playing PbP or PbeM games.

    Plus, for the GM, unless you like the paranoia instilled in random dice rolling, rolling for passive checks can tip your hand in a tabletop game, so being able to convert a dice roll to a static number is a good eyeballer. Of course, there are other ways of doing this too – like having a cribsheet of random rolls already determined and crossing them off as you need them. This way the PCs don’t need to know anything is up until they get to play “spot the dot” in that dark alleyway.

    Although I would recommend a different name than book smarts, because this is very genre specific, even though it’s not realised. Books have only been used for a small period of human history – from the medieval period to the modern day, which is roughly little over 1,000 years now. Writing and information storage, by comparison, has existed much, much longer – scrolls, stone tablets, cave paintings, and so forth from pre-medieval, up to the more modern forms of media storage. this might seem like a minor thing, but having an alien hyper-cognative scientist from a scoeity that records data in the very atomic structure of datarocks would seem a bit off having their highest ability as “Book-Smarts”.

    How about Academics instead, representing more formalised, yet general, academic study, including education, that doesn’t result in a practical trade or other professional skill, and therefore wouldn’t be covered by another ability? Science is another name, although the Scientific Method refers to the means of observational study and experimentation that leads to learning and discovery, rather than the practical applications of the science involved, so this might be a tad confusing.

  17. September 3rd, 2010 at 16:27 | #17

    @Da’ Vane First off, I thought you fell off the grid? ;)

    Second, not only do I like the paranoia, I support it. I roll dice constantly–very seldom does it have meaning. However, my group has cultivated such a healthy and collective sense of sarcasm that they never know how to take the sound of dice clinking behind the GM screen–yeah, Smale could be tossing a d20 to scare us, or maybe we need to stay on our toes. BTW, good argument for using your laptop at the table–dice generators make less noise.

    Third, Academics does sound better. For bonus points: can you suggest a suitable alternative for “Street Smarts”? Admittedly, part of the reason I chose Book Smarts was as a parallel to Street Smarts.

  18. deimos3428
    September 3rd, 2010 at 16:46 | #18

    I don’t think Book Smarts really has all that much to do with books, but I’d agree that Academics has a better ring to it. The contrast with Street Smarts is nice, and the best synonyms to Street Smarts I can think of are Savviness or Shrewdness. Not really fond of either.

    As for rolling dice, I haven’t played a game in-person in a very long time but when I did I’d roll fake rolls all the time. (On the internet, nobody can hear you fake out the party, but I have been known to “accidentally” paste bogus dice-roller results into an online game….same effect.)

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