Friday, October 9, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - Talents p.31-35

Welcome back to Tunnels & Trolls Friday! Today I will focus on a new feature of 7th ed, namely Talents. Skill systems have been grafted onto Tunnels & Trolls since way back. Michael Stackpole wrote one that's included in the 5.5 printing, I've been told (my 5th ed is from 1979), and many lesser know designers have done so for their home campaigns. Talents is a idea in that vein, but by Ken St. Andre.

Back when I was a strong critic of all class based game systems, I used to think that since every character of a specific class at a specific level were basically all the same, and that it was boring. The system of Feats which were introduced in D&D 3rd ed. was to me a boon. Now you could finally differentiate your hero from everyone else! It turned out to be much more complicated than that, unfortunately. The Talents of T&T, though, have a similar function to make your imaginary persona a bit special. Lucky for us, the mechanics are way simpler. Even elegant.

Our designer mentions on page 31 how you can use Saving Rolls to make anything happen in a T&T session. Not until page 99 will we get a description how to make those rolls (SR for short) but here in this section Ken manages to descrive their general utility better than the section where they are the subject of discussion! So, since you can roll a SR for anything, why do you need Talents? Well, it isn't really argued in the rule text why. Well, there is that suggestion to the player to imagine what skill there are that defines who or what your character are, and to use that as a Talent. I'd say that their main utility is to make you special. It's chrome, really. Anything you can do with a SR can be a Talent. I like the idea.

When we get to the meat of the rules, we encounter some oddities. In the example we have a Rogue who takes Thievery as his Talent. Looking to see what it says in the description for the Rogue Type, we see that a newly created Rogue has to take Roguery as the first Talent! The example is thus breaking the rules. It makes you wonder if that rule was written later, and the example not modified. While we are talking about rules, I am wondering if the concept can't be taken further. Since your rating in a Talen will be determined randomly at creation and never changed, you might end up with a 1 or a 6. With a higher and higher attributes as you gain levels it will be less and less of an issue, but it feels like an itch I'd like to scratch.

In Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes by Michael Stackpole (still for sale from Flying Buffalo, and there's a solo written by Dave Arneson available! What are you waiting for? Go grab it, and tell Rick I sent you.),  you can level up your skills. It would probably be possible to do the same for Talents. How about this? One way would be to put a tick mark beside the Talent when used, and when you have used it as many times as you have ranks in it, pay 100 AP and raise it by one. Possibly 100 x Rank. Well. Let me know if you try it out.

Another cool House Rule would be to not base Talents on a specific ability, but letting the situation dictate. Thanks Dalton for that one!

What I really likes about Talents, and I do like them, is things like page 33 where Ken really shows us how to take a trait and do a cool stunt, even in combat where the use of Talents wont work to just boost your combat ability. More examples like this in the chapter about SRs and people might take notice why we T&T junkies harp on about how cool the SR mechanic is.

So a Talent will set you apart, but will also boost your ability to be extra good at once special thing. Take not that when asked about their Talents, my players managed to be creative (mind you, you can make up anything, there's no list!) and one of them took Cooking! Belive it or not, it can be used both in combat, business and interacting with monsters. Talents are pure roleplaying opportunity in a box.

Let me finish off with a quote from the rules about Talents. Ken writes: "Saving Rolls against a Talent may be called for by either the GM or the player." Maybe it should not be necessary to put that in the rules, but it's still good to see it. You have a cool idea? Go for it! Say Yes or roll the dice. Heck, roll some dice anyway.

Next week: Levels!


  1. I like Talents so much I swiped them for my Basic D&D-esque homebrew. The way I handle "leveling up" Talents is you get to reroll the single die when you hit a new level (and take the better-- no getting worse). So a lucky player may start with a 6 in a signature Talent, but everybody can eventually get there as they advance. One complication you could add if you thought that made higher level characters too predictable is making people choose between rerolling and picking a new Talent, but I haven't bothered with that yet.

  2. Cool option!

    I have advocated using Talents in D&D some places when people have asked for a skill system which is light and easy. Seems like great minds think alike, right?

  3. Andreas, you might be interested to know that when I first thought of talents, I made a system for improving them, pretty much the same as for improving an attribute. Spend 100 times your talent level in adventure points and you could take a talent up by 1 point. So, if you had Cooking based on your Intelligence at 20, you could have cooking 21 by spending 2000 adventure points and you would buy it up one level. Talents were thought of as independent of attributes, although based on them, at the time. If your INT fell a couple of points, your Cooking talent would not be affected. When I made the minor changes for 7.5, reducing the number of adventure points needed to raise your attribute by 1 point, it occurred to me that as attributes rose and fell, so would the talent. I didn't need a system for improving talents over time--the natural rise of attributes would take care of it. Less is more. Simpler is better. I junked the rule for buying up your talents.

    However, I kind of like the idea of putting a tick by your talent each time you use it, and when you have as many ticks as your talent score, your could raise the D6 add by 1 point. Thus, if your cooking was 20 because INT = 14 and D6 = 6, then when you had used Cooking 20 times, it would become INT + 7. However, I fear that might slow down play by people making frivolous cooking checks just to get their D6 add higher. Might have to put in a no more than 3 uses of a talent per adventure session to avoid those people who can't help but game the system.
    --Ken St. Andre

  4. I very much like to hear things like that from the drawing table. Thanks Ken!

    The tick idea I credit Steve Perrin with. Wonderful idea, and can be ported to many games. Your way of handling it is cool. Maybe one way to put some kind of cap on it would be to only allow it to be raised to the maximum possible, i.e. 6. Worth thinking more about, I guess.

  5. I ran a campaign once where players ticked a skill when first used in a session, to aid in determining whether their levels in the skills could possibly advance that session. Players came up with any excuse to use every skill they had every session. It took away from my enjoyment of the game to have players doing weird things they never would have done if not for that rule. I eventually ditched the system.

    You have to keep in mind that the rules of a game greatly influence how players play the game. If a game rewards certain behaviors on the part of a player, the player will tend to practice those behaviors more and other behaviors less.

    Assigning a specific value that can range from 1 to 6 to be the Talent bonus might be viewed by some as an imbalance in the rules. Now any true T&T'er knows that imbalances are just a part of T&T, and are in the game by design.

    But here’s a proposal for a more balanced system:

    Make the bonus variable with each use of a Talent. Instead of rolling at character generation time, the player rolls an extra die at the time the Talent is used. That is, instead of rolling 2D6 for an SR when using a Talent, you roll 2D6+1D6. DARO applies to the 2D6 and not to the bonus 1D6. The die rolled for the bonus 1D6 should be easily distinguishable from the 2D6, so that you can easily tell if you roll DARO on the 2D6. If DARO is rolled on the 2D6, reroll the 2D6 as usual. If the bonus 1D6 matches the DARO value, then you reroll the bonus 1D6, too. Nice benefit for using a Talent.

    The Talent rank is 1 when you first take the Talent. The Talent rank represents the number of bonus dice you get for that Talent when you use the Talent. At any time that a player is allowed to choose a new Talent for a PC, the player may opt to increase the rank for an existing Talent instead. This allows for advancement of a Talent, but not at the out-of-control rate allowed in 7.0.

    For a Talent of rank greater than 1, which means you’re rolling more than one bonus die, if any of the bonus dice matches the DARO value rolled on the standard 2D6 for the SR, then those bonus dice that match the DARO value are rerolled. This would really make having multiple bonus dice on a Talent a great benefit, without getting out of control. It allows for a wide variety of results, with the potential for some super fantastic mind-blowing resolutions to actions, every once in a while. Just make sure that the 2D6 used for the standard SR are always distinguishable from the bonus dice, so you know when DARO has been rolled for the standard SR. You always get to reroll the standard 2D6 if they roll DARO, regardless of whether any of the bonus dice for the Talent matches the DARO value.

    This scheme works equally well with the system in which the base attribute for the Talent varies depending on the situation.

  6. This is turning into a game design convention! Great comments, guys.

    Mike, I think "system matters" is something of a running theme of my blog, so I'm well aware of how rules affect play. I have seen the kind of play you experienced, but still like the idea of it.

    When playing CoC it never seemed like people went out of their way to get those check marks, so maybe the culture of the game, i.e. socially acceptable rules for the game, once again rears it's head. The social dimensions are not to be underestimated.

    I find your solution intriguing. Intuitively I'd say that keep the idea of check marks, but keep the rewards small enough that it wont tempting to jump at every attempt to get a check mark. There's a lot of exciting ways to hack the rules for Talents.

    Talents are useful in that they give you an extra 1-6 points towards making a SR; plus, it's easier to convince your GM to let your character try a specific feat when you have a corresponding talent.

    Instead of creating hundreds of new character types or sub-types, just create talents that will progressively transform your basic warrior into a pirate or a gladiator or a ninja.

  8. My friend Paul seem to have a problem with Blogger. Here is his take on things:

    Hmmm. My take on 7.0 talents was that they got WAY too powerful too quickly, and my take on 7.5 talents was that they were never powerful enough. Given how seldom characters advance levels in 7.x, talents SHOULD be pretty cool things. My thought is similar to Mike's, but with a bit more kick: Roll an extra die, and allow DARO on any pair, and (maybe) TARO if whenever you are rolling three dice.

    2D6 DARO gives an average roll of 8.4.
    2D6 DARO +D6 gives 11.9 (I haven't had a chance to figure the influence of the occasional third die reroll, yet). (Ok, now I have; it adds a whopping 0.1 to the total, making the sum 12.0.)
    3D6 with a reroll of any pair gives 13.8.
    3D6 with a reroll of any pair and TARO on triplets gives 14.0.

    Now I have to go figure the actual odds for Mike's suggestion, because my brain works that way.


  9. Personally I hadn't thought about it that way, but it is true. Since you gain levels fairly seldom maybe the Talents should be fairly powerful. You wont get many anyway.

  10. A comment to Grrraall about personalizing the character.

    Well put! I like that fact of the Talent system a lot. No need for a zoo of character Types that way.


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