Thursday, January 11, 2007

Game Bloat

I've become increasingly disenchanted with White Wolf's Storyteller system and its variants over the last year or so, but I find that I am still most annoyed with my original pet peeve with them - I call it skill bloat.

In the Storyteller system, characters have a number of skills that range from 0 to 5 points. At character creation, you get a certain number of points to distribute among your skills. Skills can be increased with experience points. This is pretty clear-cut and basic.

The problem? Every iteration of the Storyteller system has a different skill list. If I am playing a Vampire, the GM might call for a roll that requires a skill that is on the Werewolf character sheet, but isn't on the Vampire sheet.

Worse than this, though, is that source books for a single game line often include additional skills. Every time such a skill is published it dilutes the skill points and experience points of the characters. If a skill is focussed such that it is only of use to certain characters (but crucial to them), it dilutes the points of those characters without having an effect on others. This, to me, is just poorly thought out.

What brought this rant on was the posting of an excerpt from a new D&D book, Complete Scoundrel. This excerpt introduces the notion of skill tricks. Skill tricks are sort of mini-feats that cost skill points and let you do new things with skills.

Skill tricks aren't, strictly speaking, skill bloat. They do, however, worry me in similar ways. In part, I feel that D&D characters are often starved for skill points. Mostly, however, many of these skill tricks are the sorts of things that I would have previously allowed a PC to try (and set a DC for) even without the trick. Now it dilutes their resources to accomplish something that they could already do. It also strikes me that those PCs capable of pulling off these tricks should be the most skilled of characters - but due to the fact that the skill tricks require an investment of skill points, they often won't be.

I'm tempted to talk about feat proliferation here, but I'll leave that for another rant.

I should note, though, that I like the idea of new uses for skills. If I run a D&D game in the future, I may well adapt skill tricks. My initial thought is to allow a skill trick to be used by a PC who meets the prerequisites for it and spends an action point.

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