Skills, Nonmagical Superpowers, and an Informal Adventure Playtest

This news will probably be lost in a sea of #sports hashtags, but I’m posting it anyway!

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Today’s writing agenda is finishing up the Know skill section of the playtest document, explaining the baseline level of knowledge you have if you aren’t trained in a skill. It’s a lot of words. :p

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This morning I had some just-woke-up thoughts about resolving issues with “this is what you can do with an Olympic- or Superhuman-level skill” as compared to what you can do with magic at the equivalent character level.

Basically, if you can learn the Fly spell at level 9, you’re able to fly at will, it just uses one of your daily readied feat slots. But if you’re 9th level and you’ve invested a lot of training in the Athletics skill for jumping, you should be able to do some really cool stuff with that… perhaps not quite as much as someone who’s readied Fly that day (skill training is a different resource than the number of available feats you can ready each day), but you still should be in the same ball park. I’m thinking of the Hulk, who has a phenomenal leaping superpower that is very much like flying (except he can’t turn in midair)… if you present the Hulk as a 9th level character (he’s not), he should be able to jump really high and fight flying opponents, even if he’s not using “magic” to do so.

Likewise, at 13th level you can learn the Short Teleport spell, which lets you concentrate for a minute to teleport up to 1,000 feet away to an “anchor” location you designated earlier. Compared to that, what is the character who has a great climb or tumbling skill able to do that’s still cool and relevant?

It almost makes me want to remove training skills as a separate system from the game, and just make skill advancement work like learning feats (including cronks/spells/stunts). And apply the CENOS (Competent, Exceptional, Notable, Olympic, Superhuman) rating to various tasks for each of the feats, whether the feat is a cronk, spell, or stunt.

If I did that, it would work like this: At 9th level you could take the Fly feat, which lets you fly, or you could take the Superhuman Leaping feat (a placeholder name), which lets you jump long distances as if you were flying in a straight line. Or at 13th level you could take the Short Teleport spell, which lets you teleport up to 1,000 feet away, or you could take the Flash Running feat (also placeholder/trademark violation name) that lets you run so fast you can phase through walls and appear at your intended destination.

(Yes, I like superheroes, and playing superhero RPGs has influenced my design ideas for Five Moons.)

I’m a bit too invested in the current playtest setup to rework all of that just yet, but I’d like to hear opinions on it.

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A couple of weeks ago I ran a one-shot Numenera game for Monte Cook’s birthday, with Monte, Shanna Germain, and Bruce Cordell as the players. Although I used the Numenera rules, the story and maps were based on what I want to do for the Cavern of the Venomous Pillar adventure. It went well, helped me fill in some of the blanks for the background and story, and overall the result was fun. It won’t be that hard for the author to swap out the placeholder Numenera rules elements for Five Moons elements when it’s written.

 

Focus on the PCs

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7 thoughts on “Skills, Nonmagical Superpowers, and an Informal Adventure Playtest

  1. My problem is, I love skills and being able to do cool, tricky things, but I hate the idea of having to go superhuman (transitioning from a realism theme to anime adventures) in order to do it. I’m not sure what the answer would be in this particular case, but I’m not sure I’d go for the proposed solution.

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    • High level characters are superhuman almost by definition. At the level where characters can teleport vast distances and fly at-will, characters have already gone way beyond what even greatest of humans in our reality could do. Heck, when you think about it, even Batman is superhuman (both insanely intelligent and insanely strong, master of all martial arts, immeasurable amount of wealth and high tech resources, incredible financial and political connections).

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    • As Garrick Wiliams put well, once you get to the part of the game where superpowers are needed, other concepts need to step up or their game or face an expiration date. Just because there are levels doesn’t mean you have to keep leveling, if the game reaches a certain power level you don’t like, its better to stop the levels at that point, opposed to trying to force something else in there.

      Batman is a good example as well, of a character who has Charles Atlas Superpowers, or subtle superpowers (he’s taken hits from creatures with super strength before, if that isn’t classic higher HP, not sure what else is). His concept is also an example of something that’s not necessarily good for a Level-based game where there’s power levels. The Dark Knight is great for low levels, but simply embarassing when it comes to mid or high level opposition.

      Plus, “realism” is the last thing I think about when it comes to a game, especially a Fantasy (Roleplaying) Game.

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  2. I don’t know much about the skill system, but the feat thing could work if the abilities had some kind of trade off. For example, the Mighty Leaping feat lets you travel farther than the Flight feat, but you can’t stay airborne and you must travel in a straight line. If Mighty Leaping was just like Flight but worse, there wouldn’t be much reason to take it over the spell. However, I’m not sure how this would play out with the skill system. If you invested in Athletics, it would feel odd if it had no effect on the jumping.

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  3. On this subject, I feel that mobility is a largely unexplored design space. When designing a fantastical martial class and brainstorming abilities for it, I realized that most answers to mobility are either flight, pounce, or an ability that gives blanket immunity to difficult terrain. Even teleportation is largely used for travel and getting into and out of a fight since dimension door is such a high level spell and has a long range. This feels like a shame because there could be plenty of fun ways for a character to get around the battle field, like throwing out a “hook shot” or doing a really big leap.

    On that note, the monk’s high jump ability always made me feel sad for how cool that ability could have been. A +20 to Acrobatics seems awesome at a glance until you actually look at the jump DCs and realize this only amounts to an extra 5 feet of height. And the wizard gets the fly spell at the same level the core monk gets high jump.

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    • I agree on all those points.
      It’s funny that you mention the monk, it reminded me of an old Dragon magazine article from the 80s that talked about redesigning the monk, and it pointed out that at level 5 (in 1e) a monk got Feign Death… but a wizard got Fireball. :/

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      • Really? Just yesterday, I played at a con where our party got nuked by a wizard who faked unconsciousness from taking a fireball and then spammed his own fireballs.

        But yes, that does strike me as strange that the monk gets an ability that any stealthy/sneaky character should be able to do whereas the wizard can unleash massive blasts of fiery death.

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