Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Use It Or Lose It...Or, Rather, Don't Get It In The First Place

Chaosium's Basic-Role-Playing system--which powers Call of Cthulhu (and other games) is one of the most elegant game designs ever. Love it.

A nifty feature is the skill system--if you're not familiar, it works like this:

-Every time you use a skill, you mark it on your sheet.

-At the end of the adventure (or chapter, or whenever the DM says) you roll on all these skills that you've used lately (trying to fail, actually, but that's not important here).

-Rolling the right numbers means you get to add points to that skill.



I feel like there's a way to combine the "Hey, use your brain, not your character sheet" ethos with a skill system in D&D by doing something similar to BRP, but more open-ended.

At the end of a session or whenever x.p. is given, a player can choose some ONE thing s/he did during the period x.p.'s being awarded for and spend experience points (I'm thinking about a fifth of what it'd take to get to the next level, but I'm not sold) to get better at it.

The details are still vague, but the outline I'm thinking is:

-The main idea would be to get better at things not associated with your class--i.e. if a warrior wants to get better at identifying unknown languages, f'rinstance.

-Combat skills are ok to advance, but I imagine the things would be stuff that normally you'd be at a minus to do. Like if you want to learn to fight with two weapons at once, you have to start out fighting with two weapons at once with a minus on both hands (the AD&D recommends -2 for one hand and -4 for the other, I believe, but I am too lazy to get up and check), then slowly buy your way out of the penalty, one adventure at a time.

-The skills could be goofy. Like if you sold a rust monster to someone that day you could get a bonus to selling monsters in the future.

-DM gets final call on what can be considered a skill. Duh.

-As usual, the player would have to keep track of all this stuff. If you have a bonus, it's up to you to remind the DM that you think it applies in a given situation. Players are usually ok with greater levels of complexity if: A) It comes after they've generated the character and B) It makes them more powerful.

-The main question is the cost, I suppose. I figure each PC in most versions of the game gets 2-5 new "things" per level (hit points, combat table bonus, save bonus, a special ability or two--or spells). Essentially the idea here is you're buying a "thing" not germane to your normal class advancement, so that's where I got the one-fifth figure. I think the only way to be sure is to try it and see if anybody bites.


thekelvingreen said...

I adore BRP and heartily endorse its influence/invasion over/into other systems.

The problem you will face is that BRP and D&D have such different experience systems, and they are not obviously compatible. That said, if anyone can make it work, it's the guy who;s running a bastard crossbreed of three editions of D&D. Best of luck with it!

Now, tea and I Hit It With My Axe.

PoeticExplosion said...

Enter the Dungeon does something similar. I like the basic premise, and would love to see a more fleshed-out crack at it.

mordicai said...

I normally just encourage this anyhow-- without specific rules. I use the World of Darkness system, & the discussion "Well, you used X skill a lot last couple sessions" is the norm.

Kevin Mac said...

I remember trying to mix BRP skills with D&D as early as 1979, but it never stuck. That system just seemed best where it was - in CoC and Runequest. No need to combine. D&D just needs to be skills light, because skills and personal skill advancement should not be the focus the way it is in BRP.

Zak Sabbath said...


please re-read the post more carefully.

Maroon said...

This is how I'd adapt it to D&D:

-Every time your character tries her hand at a new skill (sailing a ship, taming a velociraptor, identifying psychedelic mushrooms) in the course of adventuring (down in the dungeon or out in the wilderness), write it on your character record sheet.

-Whenever XP is given out, pick one of the skills and roll some dice (probably modified by INT or level or something). If you pass, your character turns out to have a knack for the skill and, as long she keeps up training in between dungeon/wilderness escapades, she is considered capable in that skill and gains the appropriate bonuses.

-If, for whatever reason, your character does not keep up training (busy boozing and wenching, lost in the wilderness, or simply focusing on a different skill) she loses her touch and has to make the roll again if she wants the skill back.

-When your character gains a certain amount of XP (or gains a level, or pays an amount of XP), you can make one skill permanent (no need to keep training).

-What constitutes a "new skill" can be something completely out there or an expansion of an existing skill, but you have to try it first.

Anonymous said...

The MURPG had a similar mechanic where you 'added lines' to one of your existing abilities, basically detailing the specialized way in which you used it. After a certain number of lines you could spend them on increasing your ability.

squidman said...

It's a fine idea and BRP is really good, but I don't think D&D needs all that additional counting.

The best and easiest way to do it would be for a player to remind the DM: "hey remember how I sold that Inn we got last time and I haggled really good? Or that cart we stole and I sold it for much more it was worth, or those horses... Well, since I am haggling now you could give me some bonus cause clearly I practiced a lot!".

This "precedence" based system seems to be just easier and requires less writing and so on.

Zak Sabbath said...


i would want to explicitly formalize it because some players LIKE having little details written on their character sheet.

Chris Lowrance said...

It's a slippery slope from just expecting players to remind you "hey, I did that a lot!" to everyone suddenly riding pink unicorn pegasuses. Sometimes formal rules are good.

Tom said...

So say you require ten 'successes' for a character to 'Get the Knack' of a skill.
Say the first 2 are 'really hard'. 1/4 of what a trained person would have for a chance. If they succeed then they start to pick up the knack.
If/when they succeed a second time they then improve future rolls to let's say 1/2 what a fully trained person would get. Another let's say 3 successes and they improve to 3/4.
A final 5 successes and the PC is completely knackered! (Errr, make that 'proficient with the Skill in question’.)
The Player would have to keep track of their Skill-Knacks-in-progress, and you could also have each kick at a knack cost 20 XP/Character Level. This way the player can use the skill while they learn it (not really well at first mind you, but that's probably for the best) and the system is relatively simple and cheap XP-wise.
IIRC, being fully skilled in your rules hybrid allows you a second roll vs. your ability score. I suppose this would just allow another try starting at 1/4 of your ability score, with the cost of 20 XP/character level (regardless of if it works or not, though if it doesn't you don't improve/ acquire your knack). The cost is relatively cheap, XP-wise, the player gets to decide if they want to spend their XP on this pig-in-a-poke, and they can slowly build up their skill in something.

How’s that sound?

thekelvingreen said...

In Rogue Trader, experience is awarded, and levels are gained, much as in D&D. The key difference is that only experience points spent on new abilities and skills count towards levelling up. In RT, these abilities cost about 200xp each, and you hit second level, sorry, "rank", at 2000xp.

What we've found is that this is a bit unbalanced, as the players run out of things to buy before they hit a new rank and can access the new abilities in that rank, and the result is that two different members of the same class, sorry, "career", end up looking much the same.

That said, I would probably put this down to a limited number of choices at each rank, and a more freeform list of abilities like the one you propose would probably alleviate any such problem in your game.

frijoles junior said...

I also like the plan of introducing emergent complexity to what is initially a simply generated character. I'm planning something a bit like this for my next brew of house rules, as it turns out.

What I was thinking is PCs start out with no skills but they do get a background (e.g., rat catcher or alchemist's apprentice -- since I use Warhammer's career tables) which provides a bonus to actions that their past may plausibly have prepared them for.

Aside from the possible career bonus, which is always +5 or +2, depending on how much the career actually prepares the character for the task, skills are resolved via attribute checks.

If a character rolls a natural 20 when attempting a task, they get to add a knack to their character sheet. A knack adds +1 per natural 20 they have achieved with that particular action, up to a limit of +1 per level. Knacks are pretty narrowly described, like "Stay on bucking horse", or "Make excuse for not having proper ID".

NPCs get whatever knacks I feel are appropriate, but are also subject to a limit of no knack bonus higher than character level.

Christina Lea said...

Peryton Fantasy RPG ( has a very similar mechanic, although it's limited to things you could do an ability check for.

fishlemons said...

In reference to what Squidman said i'd just like to say that, as a lowly beginner player; i'm with Zak on this. i think it would be very useful in situations where you say "ha! i have an x-amount bonus on that!" and everyone else goes "wtf?!" and you can show them PROOF.
maybe this is because Squidman often doesn't believe im right about stuff and i have to keep proving him wrong