Monday, October 03, 2011

Lords of Creation - Skills

The skill system of Lords of Creation is one of the more unusual elements of the game.  The game provides a large list of skills, with each skill broken into 5 levels.  Each level of a skill carries a "name" that indicates the capabilities of that skill at that level.  For example, the Detective skill is broken down into four levels as:
  1. Police Connections
  2. Basic Criminology
  3. Wiretapping
  4. Advanced Criminology
  5. Futuristic/Magical*
The named level of a skill gives an indication of what the character is capable of doing with the skill.  The game advises that if a character has a skill level that indicates he can do something, then the skill should work automatically.  For example, a character with Detective - 1 would have Police Connections, which means he automatically gets access to small favors from his friends in the police force like checking addresses or tracking a license plate, and he also gets a number of criminal informants who answer questions "for a price".  Essentially this "skill" mostly operates like a perk would in other games (like Champions or GURPS).

When the circumstances aren't typical, or when characters want to do things that aren't covered by level names, then the player can make a percentile roll based on the number of skill levels they have.  Each level gives a 20% chance of success in a task - so a character attempting to use his Detective skill to, say, push his Police Connections to do something that might get them in trouble, then the player makes a percentile roll and tries to get a result less than 20% (since his character has a single level of the Detective skill).  If the character had Detective - 4 and tried to take the same action, the player would need to roll an 80% or less.  There's always a 5% chance of failure minimum, so a character with Detective - 5 would only have a 95% chance of success, not 100%.

All in all this is an interesting system.  The system requires a lot of GM adjudication - there's a specific admonition that the GM watch out for (and disallow) skill uses that would lead to "ridiculous results".  But this was typical for skill-based games at the time - rare was the game that specifically outlined exactly what every skill could or could not do.  This system seems fairly simple, and the mix of perks with skills is a nice touch that keeps things lightweight.

There are some downsides for this system, though.  Take a look at the complete skill list:

There's a lot to like there, but also a lot that seems a little strange.  For starters, the progression given by the skill levels is somewhat odd.  The Building skill, for example, suggests that a character needs Carpentry before he can learn Metal Working, and Metal Working before Electrical work.  These things aren't necessarily related, let alone in a nice progression like this.  The whole skill list is full of things like this -- places where the game gives an explicit progression for an occupation that, really, doesn't need to be an explicit progression.  This is pretty easy to fix - in those cases where there is a progression that isn't really a progression let the player pick the named level he wants.

Another "problem" with the skills is that they're completely independent of abilities - a character's Speed attribute, which controls his manual dexterity, has no bearing on his ability to use the Stage Magician - 3 skill Escape Artist to escape a set of handcuffs.  Some folks will see this as a problem, but I'm not so sure.  The game is essentially saying that training trumps natural ability in a way that most games these days don't.  Where it may break down is for high level Lords of Creation, where their huge attributes should maybe give them some advantage here.  But that's actually points to a larger problem with the advancement system of the game, which I suspect doesn't scale the way it should (more on that in a future post, once I've given it some more thought).

Another interesting element of this skill system is the existence of Futuristic/Magical ranks for each occupation.  Basically each skill has an extra level that can only be obtained if the character travels through time or to another dimension.  This isn't a problem - that's actually a fairly cool idea and it one that fits with what we've seen so far of the implied setting for the game.  This means that nobody but a dimension hopping character has a chance to become the best of the best in any occupation.  I like that idea quite a bit - if the PCs are supposed to be dimension hopping heroes building their way up toward godhood, the idea that you can only completely master a skill by leaving your own dimension would fit nicely.

The Combat skill operates differently than the other skills.  There is actually a separate Combat skill for each weapon in the game, the Combat skills do not have named levels, and there is no upper limit on how many levels of a Combat skill can be purchased.  Combat skill levels add to the character's Physical Score to determine what a player needs to roll under to hit an opponent in combat, and add to the damage done by the character when he hits with that weapon.  It's a fairly simple system with one nice wrinkle - the character cannot allocate more than half of his skill levels to Combat skills.  I imagine that in most games the characters will all be right up at that limit -- allocating exactly half of their skill levels to Combat.

Skills, like everything else in the game, are based on a character's Personal Force score.  Each point of Personal Force gives the character one more level of a skill to purchase.  Neophytes, then, have between 1 and 10 skill levels, Apprentices between 11 and 20, and so on.  Ranks are purchased on a one for one basis with no increasing cost for higher levels - tying total levels to Personal Force puts another hard limit on how much min/maxing a player can do, but from what I've seen so far with this game, anyone min/maxing the system is engaging in a giant exercise in "missing the point".  The game system is so loose -- with so much left up to the discretion of the GM -- that min/maxing is really probably not going to be a game worth playing with this system.

1 comment:

MisterMephisto said...

"there is no upper limit on how many levels of a Combat skill can be purchased"

This is actually not true. The two weapon charts on pages 21 and 22 actually list the maximum levels of skill one can allocate to a given weapon. It actually says as much on the skill list itself on page 8, and it's discussed in more detail in both the description of the "Combat skill" (p.9) and the "Skill Levels" section (p. 22) in the Combat chapter.