Monday, December 26, 2011

A Traveller rule for general empowerment and player satisfaction

Even though I hate the idea of a "balanced" party, there are some value to having game system support for everyone getting involved. Today I noticed, reading my new shiny rulebook from Mongoose, that the latest incarnation of Traveller have a solution for that as well.

I guess everyone have heard it said, or something to that effect, the dread question of who wants to play that class nobody else wants. Usually the cleric. If we leave the question aside if the cleric is a bad/boring class or not, I think the phenomenon is till interesting. Apparently many think a party "needs" a thief/cleric/whatnot to be "balanced" or competitive.

So, why? What can be done about it? Should something be done?

Well. There have been many arguments about the folly of trying to balance the rpg experience for maximum "fun", and I think we are all kind of tired of that. So, just let us assume that the idea is here to stay and maybe there are something to be learned from it.

In Trail of Cthulhu the idea is that since it is a game about investigation, all the skills that can be used for investigation should be covered by the party. The way it is done is basically that the number of points available to by skills for is dependent on the amount of players. You will have enough points to cover all the skills, by design. That is one way of doing it, and it might make sense for a skill based system.

In Traveller, the Mongoose incarnation thereof, they have something that I feel might be of slightly greater utility. After character generation, you get a "skill package", which is a set of skills bundled by the kind of campaign you'll play. Everyone gets to pick a skill, then everyone gets a second one, and so on until all are picked. That way, if you are going to do a trader campaign the basic foundation is there.

Some might say that in a sandbox, no such thing should be allowed. Everything should be shaped by the players, and having a skill package thrust upon the players by a campaign theme is hearing the steam whistle in the distance. Personally I think one reason why I have not managed to get any of my Traveller games off the ground is that we have not been explicit enough about what kind of campaign we have wanted, and thus we have gotten mismatched expectations and player characters. Bringing it out into the open like that, maybe the players can pick a campaign theme? Maybe the referee does not have a say in it at all, if you are that adverse to GM led story gaming? I think that is stupid, but what the heck.

Apart from that idea of having everyone on the same page, can it be used for something else? Well, I know one reason many people hate random character generation is that they want to be competent. They will feel bored or lost if their character does not have a guaranteed time in the spot light. Maybe having such a Skill Package is a way to soften the harsh experience of a pure random generation of characters? Whatever happens, those weird stats you got wont handicap you that much, since you are sure to have at least one or two picks of "good" skills? I think it is an interesting option.

Now let's tackle the cleric issue.

If the reason it is felt that there has to be a cleric in the party, maybe that can be alleviated by something like Skill Packages? Maybe it will even stack with previously picked skills, making sure that the party not only have the skills needed, but also emphasize the abilities of those who already picked the "party support" skills. That way those would be sure to shine. In the case of a class based instead of a skill based system, it might be tougher to jam in additional abilities. If you don't want to soften up the walls between classes and just and the "needed" abilities outright, consider making the Skill Package be mundane and magical items to choose from! If they have charges, and limited charges to boot, the "pure" game will reassert itself when those charges have run out, and hopefully the players have adapted to their character abilities and can use those to best effect.

Maybe I'm kicking in open doors, but I felt there was a tool to be used in general in that little paragraph in the latest incarnation of the rpg workhorse, Traveller. New uses for old tools, eh?
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