Skills, Skills, always Skills

This is a story about a truck, a jump (actually many) and a time before webcam-madness…

When I was sixteen (can I even tell you how much I miss being sixteen sometimes?) I had this friend who owned a big, lifted, pickup. I was a track and field kid, a runner and jumper, and I used to do this trick where I’d take a couple quick steps and jump up and over into the bed of the truck — I was really dumb — but I was athletic and good at it and I never missed after the first time, when I was ranging in the jump (and hitting your shins on his bed liner hurt…)

And then, one night, I did miss. And it hurt. A lot. I missed bad, clipped my one shin, dragged and scraped the other, and then hit my head in the bed of the truck when I upended… and then I just spent a little while laying down, bleeding a little and moaning a little. You know, I mentioned I was kinda stupid.

The point of this story is, I like diceless games and I like the idea of skills as benchmarks of ability. Not to say that a character can never exceed their base ability level or push themselves — I think that should always be included in the games we play (and even most dice systems don’t do a great job of modelling that). And I do enjoy a good challenge in my games. But I’ve never been a fan of games where I can be an expert at something but a string of poor rolls means I’m reduced to bumbling. Most of the time, I’m going to succeed at something I’m good at. And for many games that is taken into account. Pathfinder/3.x use taking 10 for example. Many game systems admonish the GM to only make PCs roll when the outcome is in doubt… but when is the outcome in doubt? That is a judgment call in most circumstances…

I mean, I’m pretty sure the guy in the video above (seriously, he just walks it off) thought he’d make it. He would have told you that the jump was within his range of ability, right? But he missed. So, in gaming terms, was it bad roll? Or was there an additional modifier to this jump — “Pressure: On Camera” — that helped contribute to the miss?

So, back to my own jumping example. I had made that jump into that truck dozens of times. I’d cleared that bed plenty and would have told you that I was fully capable and that it was well within my range of ability. So why’d I miss that one time, when it hurt so much? Better question, why’d I miss so bad? Well — the difference that night was that I was sixteen and there were at least three girls around that I really wanted to impress. So I really, really wasn’t paying attention to the jump… I was paying attention to them.

Different games would handle this in different ways… Mutants and Masterminds would throw me a complication and a Hero Point — totally fine. Amber DRPG would take my Stuff into account and only do it if my stuff were Bad (or there was an indication that it was appropriate for some other reason). Some games where you roll would simply explain it after the bad roll indicated my failure — also perfectly okay. And there are more, plenty more, but I think the important thing here is my inclinations as a player and GM. I”m a story-focused, character-focused, gamer and for me, the answer is that the GM (that great cosmic GM controlling our lives… feels that way sometimes, don’t it?) was paying attention to what I was doing in character and gave me modifiers for “divided focus: look at me, ladies” and I ended up looking like a tool instead of awesome.

Admittedly, this is harder than just having a math problem that dictates my potential for success and it will only work for some groups, but I believe the payoff is worth the effort. And if you are the kind of gamer who would enjoy this kind of play, well… I wish you lived next door.

Sadly, there is no video evidence of my fail. I’m really glad of that…

Thanks for reading.

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