Thursday, 3 May 2012

Fading Suns 3, Skills, Benefits & Afflictions

I talked about attributes last time. This time I want to talk about skills in Fading Suns Third Edition (FS3). In terms of system mechanics, skills still operate as they did in previous editions (FS1/2) and are scaled from 1 to 10. So there are no surprises about how they work.

As a general principle, we wanted characters to feel like heroes, so part of that was to give skills a broad range of expertise. FS2 also had a number of 'non-valued' skills, including 'Archery', 'Spacesuit', and 'Languages'. These did not fit our definition of what a skill was and had to go. In the case of 'archery' that was easily folded into the 'shoot' skill.

For other skills, like Languages and Tech Redemption, the new Skill Synergy mechanic ultimately provided us with a way of dealing with them and making them widely applicable to game use.

Let us first consider languages. What should we do with them? Should we have a single Languages skill with a value? Should we require a character to learn every different language with a rating? Both of these options seemed to be less than satisfactory.

Instead, we combined two concepts together -- that of the Languages and old Lore (People & Places Seen) skills -- and came up with a 'Culture' skill. Much like 'Lore' skills, the Culture skill needed to be specialized. Now this approach might seem a little clunky, but once you factor in the Skill Synergy mechanic you suddenly have a powerful set of social skills.

Example: Lets assume that a character is trying to negotiate to purchase spare parts for the cohort's starship from a techie on Cadavus. We would use the Influence skill, but we also have the Culture (Cadavus) skill, which we can use to get a Synergy bonus. In fact, while on Cadavus, any social activity the character undertakes would get that Synergy bonus, because the character knows the local dialect and some of the local customs and is therefore better able to communicate and persuade the locals to help him.

Though the 'Culture' skill is rarely tested directly, it should not be ignored. Culture skills exist on several levels at a planet, faction, and empire level. Every starting character begins play with a minimum of three Culture skills. If the character has traveled widely, I'd suggest that the player should take more -- they will quickly pay for themselves in most games with even small number of social encounters.

Tech Redemption had a different problem. It was a very narrow-focused skill, which presented an immediate problem for our heroic intentions. So these three skills were rolled into just one skill. But again, the Skill Synergy mechanic helps us out by making specific areas of expertise (Cybernetics, Vau Tech, etc.) available as Lore skills to augment the single Tech Redemption skill and provide some variation in guilders.

Benefits and Afflictions have seen a little work as well. Some have been dropped, some have been added, and some have been reworked. But all of them have been re-pointed! One of the issues I had as a GM was min/maxing. This is when a player sacrifices one area in favor of another (for example, taking a -2 to social in return for a +2 in physical), and these cancel each other out in the Points Buy system.

This is no longer possible. The points costs have been re-calibrated so that, in the above example, you now get fewer points back from taking an affliction and you need to buy the counterbalancing benefit. Its a simple, elegant solution. Min/Maxing now only makes a character weaker. Afflictions should be used to add flavor to a character, not as a means of tipping game balance.