Game Mastery

No Dice – Skills 2

by on Aug.19, 2013, under NoDice, Uncategorized

Last time I talked about my system, I looked at some of the challenges in writing up a list of skills.  By the time I got to the skills, I was out of steam and it was just a list.  I’d like to go back to some of those skills now and talk about some of the things I’m doing with them that I think are interesting.  This is mostly a look at some of the special cases I’ve come up with rather than an exhaustive list of all the skills.



Here we go, in the order they originally appeared.


This skill serves two purposes.  The basic use is to lift things.  I really like weight lifting and wanted some way to represent that as a skill rather than just a muscle.  Your ability to move heavy things is as much about technique as it is about raw power.

But that’s just my side hobby.  I don’t expect most characters to care.

So muscle has a second purpose.  The muscle skill is the basis of your encumbrance.

I find encumbrance irritating in games because it’s binary.  Either you’re under encumbrance or you’re not.  Some games will have different levels of encumbrance, but the penalty is still present or not and there’s little you can do about it.  Get your loadout exactly the way you want, then pick up a magic helmet, and BAM, you’re moving slowly.  That’s no fun.

The idea of encumbrance as a skill appeals to me because you can manipulate it easily.  If that help puts me over the limit, I’ll buy up my muscle skill.  Now I’m fine again.  Easy.

On top of that,  I think that works particularly well with this system.  If you haven’t had a chance to increase your skill yet, you can boost your muscle skill with strength points.  I haven’t worked out the particulars yet, but I’m imagining something along the lines of spending willpower points to boost skills for the duration of a scene or conflict.  This is one of the cases where scene makes sense, combat is one of the ones where per conflict makes sense.  At any rate, when it’s time to move that grand piano across the dungeon, you’ll be able to spend willpower to boost your muscle skill until the piano becomes carryable.  Sure, you’ll burn through willpower quickly.  But this makes sense.  Do enough manual labor and you’ll grow fatigued.  I see this use case as a sign that the system is working.

Endurance, dodge, comprehend, perception, & willpower

As I mentioned before, it was really important to me that all skills have subskills for specialization.  That didn’t work out.  There were a handful where that just wasn’t possible.

From the beginning I’ve wanted to keep dodge and parry separate, although I don’t really know why.  It makes sense to me that you’d be better or worse at parrying depending on the weapon.  But I couldn’t figure out a specialty for dodge.  Ducking for cover?  Hit the deck?  Get the fuck out of the way?  These aren’t good specialties.  They’re synonymous and the only real difference between them is where you’re standing (if you’re standing) after the roll.

The problem is that dodge is defensive.  Not only that, it’s reactive.  Someone else has to take action and you react to it.  That’s not really something you specialize in.  Okay, maybe dodge can be the exception.

I realized I was making the same case for a few other skills.  Endurance is your ability to keep going when you’re physically beaten.  Comprehend is how well you notice facial queues and can read between the lines.  Willpower and perception are self explanatory.  All these skills are defensive.  Someone else takes action against you and you use this skill to resist.  Since they have this in common, lets treat defensive skills as an exception.  (Well, perception could be active if you’re looking for something.  I’ve never liked D&D’s search/spot dynamic, but spot would be defensive and search active.)

Okay, no specialties here.  That’s established.  In terms of character upgrades, the specialty is required to buy a point in the skill.  If we don’t have specialties, that means the skill can be bought cheap.

For defensive skills, that’s a good thing.  Characters should be able to defend themselves.  Can you imagine being thrown into your first combat and told you get beat up because you forgot to take dodge and parry?  What kind of fun is that?  Let everyone have some basic defense.  Hell, I might even say bypassing the specialty isn’t enough and just give each character his first defensive point for free.

The lack of specialties makes things interesting though.  You always want offense to have a slight edge over defense – otherwise turtling becomes the best strategy and the most patient player is the winner.  Removing specialties from defensive skills makes them easier to buy up early, but they max out lower than offensive skills with a specialty.  ie, 5 strength + 5 sword + 3 specialty > 5 agility + 5 dodge + no specialty for you.  Note that parry takes specialties and can keep up with offensive skills, but its usage is circumstantial.


Language bothers me in games.  Especially in fantasy it makes sense that characters from different backgrounds, regilions, and species would speak different languages.  Your character sheet should represent that.

But language doesn’t usually get represented very well.  I think the problem is that gamers want something a little more juicy than spend a skill point, learn a language.  That’s not very satisfying.  It’s also not realistic.  Languages are harder to learn than other skills and how well you know them shouldn’t be binary.  But games with their own subsystem for representing levels of fluency go overboard.  It’s often not worth the trouble to invest all those character points to get the language up to a usable level.  This is especially true when most characters aren’t linguists.

Anyway, I’m keeping language learning as part of the skill system, but grafting it on to other knowledge skills.  When I tried restricting the skill lists to 8 skills a pop, it just didn’t make sense to use up one of those on language when most characters don’t bother learning languages.

Instead, a language’s grammar can be learned as part of your academia knowledge skill.  You won’t be fluent, but you’ll know the rules and vocabulary of the language.  Fluency is gained with the culture skill, which is a knowledge skill representing what you know within a particular group or culture.  In this case, specializing in culture for a language buys you slang, common knowledge, and colloquialisms that will let you use a language without sounding like a tourist.

And that’s about it.  I thought there were more exceptional cases when I started.  Glad I was wrong.  It’s good to know most of the skills will behave consistently and I won’t have to come up with slight variations for each skill.  It’s also good to be done with this topic since it’s long enough already.



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