Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Depth of Knowledge vs. Breadth

Transcript Messhall GCS Tesla
Helm: Sir!

Captain: At ease. Helm, may I have a word?

Helm: Certainly sir.

Captain: How is it coming?

Helm: How is what coming, m' Lord?

Captain: Sir or captain will do.

Helm: Sorry.

Captain: I mean are you settling in? Do you feel confident to discharge your duties?

Helm: Sorry sir translator ... you want me to fire at ... a head?

Captain: Oh for ... Helm can you fly the ship? In the direction I want?

Helm: Yes sir! With all due respect sir has my work been substandard?

Captain: Sit down ... finish your lunch and we'll talk. See the Tesla is a little bit of a botch to learn on ... much like her captain.


Many 2d6 systems have experience systems that players find wanting. Some will make you spend years to improve your character. There are two reasons for this in game. First a skill level usually gives a +1 modifier and that is a lot more in a 2d6 based system than say a system based on d20's. The second reason is that the focus of many a SF franchise is on improving your place in the universe (become a merchant prince, mercenary general etc.)

The fact remains improving your characters is pretty cool. besides some people don't care about their bank account (too busy hoarding ancient artifacts or whatever). How can you do this without encountering the skill bloat monster?

First you can carefully hand out 0-level skills. Most characters already have Guns-0 in many systems. Handing out one or two every 4 years of game play won't wreck anything. It might let your character survive but they aren't going to get hired with a 0-level skill or make a bundle that easily.

The second way I've thought of is to improve the application of your given skill. In other words familiarity with an exotic or broke-ass piece of equipment or procedure can eliminate a minus to working with it. Instead of increasing his modifiers for general use the character functions more efficiently in specialized tasks.

For example a character uses Zero-G in Cepheus Engine to operate grav belts. On the planet Zaonia he runs into some trouble, needs to make an escape and seizing a back pack rotorcraft the natives produce locally. The referee rules that while there are some similarities to grav belts there are enough differences (such as it shaking you like a cat shakes a rat) to impose a -1 DM. Unskilled attempts would be at an additional -1 to whatever modifier exists. So if the character had Zero-G-2 he'd operate as if he had Zero-G-1 while operating his heli-pack.

Old or balky equipment could be treated similarly or say, a ship's computer built from scratch. the crew could operate such devices with no modifiers. Any hijackers might be in for a surprise. I wouldn't set a minus for such equipment at more than -2. A -3 or more would indicate equipment that is either bleeding edge technology or alien and not really meant for humans.

 The referee has to set the amount of time it takes to learn the ropes. A week of intensive practice or a month of use in the field is a good average. Higher levels of the applicable skill could reduce this. Again set the dials the way you want.

The approach could be extended to nearly any other endeavor. Ignorance of an isolated culture could give a minus to Liaison and other social tasks until the character spent time exposed to that culture. 

Players should note the various exotica their characters qualify on. You never know when that stuff comes in handy.