Monday, June 13, 2011

Play test: On Skills

The play test is still going and it's a lot of fun for me (hopefully fun for the players as well - he he) as I'm getting the old kinks worked out and trying to find my GM voice again.  The party is still all first level after three sessions but I don't think that's necessarily bad since it is a gritty game I'm running and I'm getting a good vibe from the experience calculator as written.*  The party has encountered a small gang of bandits, slain a handful of hobgoblins, been attacked by some huge scorpions and smashed up a dozen or so goblins and they are getting close to second level.  Aside from the issues of the first session the rules as written seem to be working out pretty well and I'm also enjoying the simple random encounter tables I whipped up for travel in the forest, swamp, hills and road around Milham.  I do have some thoughts about playing however, or more specifically notes about how skills are being played.

I have here a bunch of guys who have played a lot of games.  These guys have played a lot of d&d of various types and a lot of other systems as well.  They are good at following not just the rules, but the spirit of the rules and aren't trying to 'game' the system over a typo.  Which is why I am having such a dilemma when they are telling me stuff like "I use my survival skill to sneak up on the goblin" and "I'm going to use knowledge to try to find the hidden entrance".  I probably will tell them to use those skills in those situations (as opposed to subterfuge, because of the context they are giving), but I know that if they are doing this then some people will probably be doing it EVEN MORE.  Especially those coming from more modern D&D.

It's a natural tendency for players to want to use the skills they are good at and that's all well and good but I think it does lead down a road where you have people trying to justify using their best skills for everything - and that will probably break the system.  As a GM you can't just say no all the time because that will also break the system.  The Beacon/Microlite skills are purposefully vague so that they can be combined in interesting and entertaining ways and the last thing I want to do is get into the situation where someone says "I can't tie the rope, I don't have that skill".  That is the real enemy right there, that way of thinking.  Meditating on this for a while now and what I think must be done is to crack down on this in the rules by very explicitly stating the following:
Players describe their actions without using any skill or stat references, then the GM assigns the DC and the skills/stats to use.  
I think this is one of those rare play-style rules that can't just be mentioned, it needs to be emphasized and entrenched in the system as a procedure. Sure you can appeal the GM's decision and make your case and all that if you think you are getting the shaft because you wanted to use your 7 knowledge to punch someone**, but that has to be after the fact because otherwise it is just too easy for players to fall into the old way of thinking a skill for an action as opposed to DESCRIBING THEIR ACTIONS and thus metagaming their way out of a lot of fun.  Also if the GM is shafting people or the players are arguing skill checks all the time then you probably need a more structured game than Beacon anyway.  Ya play your game your way and all that, but sometimes rules really set a tone.  It kind of reminds me of the suggestion in the card game Dominion to verbalize your action and buy status as you play your cards - following that style simply makes the game better for everyone.

*basic rate = (HD type * HD number )*10, for example a goblin with 1d6 would be worth 60xp, where a 4d8 monster would be worth 320.  Add some extra for special abilities.

** "But I have studied anatomy tomes and I know where to punch them better!"


  1. I agree that it is preferable to describe an action (i.e."I bring my keen nose to the ground and sniff for the distinctive smell of fresh Milhaven mud that may have been turned up by the boots of passing bandits"), rather than simply stating "I use survival to find the tracks".

    I think though, there are times when a player simply states the skill they want to use as a bit of a short hand description when they're focused on solve-the-game mode rather than develop-the-story mode. It could also be that saying "I use survival to find the tracks" may mean "I'm doing something rather Ranger-like right now to find the clue, but I can't come up with a creative way of saying it."

    I'm not offering this up as an excuse, and I think we need to be reminded to bring it back to the descriptive, but that's where I think most of it comes from (for me anyway).

  2. Oh I agree. My point is that it needs to be real explicit to someone coming across the game that this is how it should 'feel'. It's not simply a setting preference thing like high fantasy vs gritty fantasy.