Monday, April 8, 2013

Classes, skills, and a thought experiment...

YES, I'm still working on classes for the Rad Astra. It's taking longer than I expected because, well, I keep having "ideas" about stuff. And I put that word in quotes partly because it feels more like a curse that leads to me never finishing!

Hey, I'm only partially to blame. I mean, part of it is Matt's fault (from Land of Nod) for coming up with cool "ideas" that spread like a bad cold I can't shake. I'm sure what you're about to read has been considered (with more brain power than mine) by somebody before, but here's my thought process:

DIY Classes
I really like the idea of players making up their own "class" (using Matt's definition of just a way of categorizing skills, attributes, etc.). But then I thought--what if everyone was the same class to start out and then they grew their skills gradually (I'll get to that in a minute) and that eventually led them to a class/vocation.

So the steps would be:

STEP 1: Class: Adventurer - every PC is the same class and rolls up their attributes, 3d6, etc. etc.
STEP 2: Assign per your or your GM's preferences.
STEP 3: Pick skills based on attributes and then follow this handy chart for each attribute:
  • 9-12 pick one skill
  • 13-15 pick two skills
  • 16-18 pick three skills
STEP 4:  Start adventuring! Start earning XP and keep good records.

Now right about here is where the first idea I had starts to break down. I wanted to give players a chance to be more mindful of what skills they acquire--sort of like deciding you want to learn welding, even though you're a piano player. You WANT to learn a different skill despite what your natural talent might be. So the next step was going to be:

  • Gain 1 skill when you reach level 1 (oh, should clarify, everybody starts at level 0)
  • Gain 2 skills when you reach level 2
  • At level 3 - let's make it a Class! Can you categorize your skills? Great! Because by now I'd have made some funky chart that says you should be a space wizard if you have lots of intuition skills, or a space spy if you're really good at hacking computers and crawling through Jeffries tubes holding a sonic dagger between your teeth.

And if your skills are just too varied? No worries: "Professional Adventurer" it is! I'd cap it all off with some kooky rule like:

  • PCs who take up a class get XP discounts when they want to earn more skills, level up; or
  • Adventurers can keep accumulating skills, but they can never sub-specialize (so you can keep racking up skills--like say you take "Space Mechanic", but you can't get into being an expert in space bikes because you're supposed to be a jack-of-all-trades, blah, blah, B.S., B.S.)

But then, I had another IDEA. 
[Sigh.] Actually, something kinda' bugged me. I never liked the idea that classes just "had" skills. Like, when I went to college, I had to learn skills and eventually I adopted a vocation--but it didn't work the other way around. I didn't say "I'm a fireman!" And then, instantly, like in the Matrix--did I get knowledge of how to put out fires. (Yes, I'm aware that Neo never learned to put out fires.)

YES, I know not all games work like this. But rules light games, like X-plorers, tend to simplify things. So if you've got Slight-of-Hand as a skill, you're basically just "learning to get better" as you advance in your class (by levels). You get better by bonuses. It never really feels like you're achieving anything in the way of growing your vocation. Well, okay, that's a bit much--but your PC doesn't get to say she or he is refining those skills. Just racking up bonuses.

Essentially, XP = experience, but not really.  Not XP from practicing that skill.

Go back up to steps 1 and 2 up top. Then instead of step 3 --which now occurs during game play-- tell your GM you want to try to do something. Like, say hack an automatic door (pick a lock).

You roll, and you record your attempt as one.

Then (maybe immediately, maybe later), you try it again. You roll and record your attempt as the second try.

You are awarded XP for each attempt of the skill. The XP you gain from your attempts ends up purchasing you that skill.

Now to make this work, you'll need some things, like a list of skills and how much XP they cost. Also, it helps to have a GM who's willing to work with you on skills that may come up during game play.

In a recent game, our heroes rode a zipline over a 200 foot drop into an alien jungle. Now "riding a zipline" is pretty lame-o skill. But if a player asked to put the attempt towards, say--an Acrobatics skill--that would be worthwhile.

So how much XP for which skills? Do certain skill types cost more than others? What about their rolls? Does rolling a 1 have an impact on skill cost or if you can purchase the skill? Does rolling a 20 mean you nailed it and you're a natural?

I came up with a 1-2-3 rule (again, in the interest of trying to keep things simple).

  • 1st Attempt = 25% XP
  • 2nd Attempt = 25% XP
  • 3rd Attempt = 50% XP

So in 3 tries, you'd have 100% of the XP you need to purchase that skill. Why 50% on the back end? Because, you've tried it twice before. And let's wrap this shit up already. You want the skill, you've tried it 3 times, it's yours.

What about training? Couldn't I take a lightsaber fencing class at the nearest psionic swamp academy to get better? YES!

In which case, the chart is reversed:

  • 1st Attempt = 50% XP, earned upon payment and attendance
  • 2nd Attempt = 25% XP, earned outside class 
  • 3rd Attempt = 25% XP, earned outside class

So 50% is yours, BOOM. Here's your diploma. You paid up front to take the course, you probably saw the syllabus, pestered the teacher before class. So you get 50% first. Yes, it seems like you could just buy your way to a skill. To which I'd reply--AND?

It's called college. If you've got $ you get to take a class. But real world experience still counts for something. BUT you've still got to earn the other two attempts in game play. You have my permission to say "Oh, I know this one--I totally learned this IN CLASS LAST WEEK," when you roll your attempt.

How much do skills cost?
Ha! See, that's what I'm wondering too. Seems like something like brain surgery should cost a lot. Whereas, riding a giant space lizard, maybe not as much? Yeah, still working out the details on that. "Wouldn't brain surgery require more attempts than just 3?!" Yeah, probably. "What about in a class--wouldn't it cost more to learn that skill?" Yeah, that too. See what I'm up against? I still like 1-2-3 attempts better, but not having a sliding-scale solution causes problems. Tune in next time on that one kids.

What does "getting" a skill get you?
Not sure yet. Maybe you still get bonuses? So when you level up, your effectiveness still increases. Once you adopt a class, the cost for skills gets cheaper and you can therefore afford to get more of them.

Let me just caution you--the answer to all of these questions is: I don't now yet. I'm sure someone has figured that out in some RPG, but for X-plorers I'll likely playtest al this jazz and see what works best. 

So what about those rolls?
Ah, see I DO have this one figured out. At least I think so. If you fail all 3 times, it doesn't matter. Because failure = you get the skill anyway. Why? Ask anyone who's ever tried anything and didn't give up. Eventually they figured it out by trial and error. Shouldn't you be awarded for succeeding? Sure, why not.

But I'm not going to write that rule. Not today.

Actually I already did a whole chart and everything. But it doesn't matter. You could use this:

  • 1 = no XP
  • 2-19 = XP per that attempt's award
  • 20 = full XP, no more attempts needed

But that's bogus, see. In life, (ha!) you can fail and learn by failing. You can also succeed--but that doesn't mean you nailed it. If anything, it was probably beginners' luck and you have no idea WHY you nailed it.

Real skill is refined through practice. Which is why the roll doesn't matter. I mean it does matter in the context of the game. Surely you'll be happier when you roll a natural 20 trying to blast an angry Klingon in the eye with a laser rifle (Sniper skill). That's great--the roll is still relevant.

But if it's your first better keep practicing!

P.S. If none of this makes sense, just remember--most of these thoughts come to me late at night when I have only a tenuous grasp on consciousness. So pardon my sandman dust while rules are under construction!


  1. Very interesting. I look forward to hearing how that goes in play.

  2. I'm curious to see what you work up, my unsolicited 2 cents is to keep it simple. I really liked your customized classes you hinted at for Rad Astra myself.

  3. Bill, I'm beginning to consider just putting the classes out there (or what I have of them) and then working on this experiment, separately. I can see XP for skills thing turning into it's own side project (read: time suck) so it might be wiser to put up what I got!