Gaming Steampunk TTRPG

Dev diaries – Mad skillz

So far, I’ve settled on my steampunk game characters’ primary attributes and secondary characteristics.

I’ve also started thinking about some aspects of the gameplay, which I want to be a D20 roll vs a Target Number, with modifiers from a number of sources.

One of these sources will be skills. I love games with character skills (Chaosium’s games do these best, in my opinion), as they are a thematic way to represent character differences that can give some characters an advantage in certain areas, whilst impeding them (or even blocking them) from achieving other things.

I’ve got an embryonic skill list brewing (covering the ‘normal’ things like the various subtleties of approach a character can take when socially interacting with people) and the setting-specific (such as the ability to pilot an airship.)

I’m currently thinking of having three levels of adeptness when it comes to skills: untrained, trained and expert (with a possible fourth — mastery — being unlocked at later levels.)

I’m also planning on having open skills, and others that are closed, meaning they are only available to characters of a certain profession, or after purchasing a specific feat or ability.

Pilot Airship would be a good example of one of these ‘closed‘ skills, only available to — funnily enough — the Pilot profession, or to those who take the time between ‘episodes‘ (i.e. adventures) to study it.

By default, everyone is untrained in everything, whether a skill is open or closed. A character’s choice of profession will give them around half a dozen skills they are trained in, then level advancement and character progression will allow them to become trained in more skills, or improve their adeptness in those they are already trained in to expert level.

This is inspired by the way Paizo handle skill progression, and the I’ve made that decision based on how I want skills to affect gameplay.

Skills in gameplay

For an average roll (be that in or out of combat), a character will have a base ability modifier (-2 to +3) and, most likely a relevant skill modifier. Together with other modifiers (from gear, aether effects or other sources), they will have a total modifier that is added (or subtracted) from their D20 roll.

When I come to design the character sheets for the game, I’ll have spaces on the sheet for some of these modifiers, so that players don’t have to work them all out each time they roll, but for now, I’m thinking of the following modifiers for the different levels of skills:

  • untrained: a -1 modifer
  • trained: a zero modifier
  • expert: a +1 modifier
  • master: a +2 modifier (if I decide to have this ‘extra’ level)

This will need a playtest (or several dozen), but the thinking is that being untrained in something is a disadvantage, whilst being trained negates that but doesn’t provide any specific advantage in and of itself.

It’s only when characters become expert in things that they actually get a positive modifier to their D20 roll. This may prove to be counterintuitive, but as I’ve said, character sheet design and playtesting will determine if it works or not.

A couple of examples in the meantime.

One of my skills is Small firearms. The action shoot is available during combat, and is modified by a character’s Dexterity value plus their Small firearms skill.

So, a character who is a Veteran (one of the game’s professions) will start trained in Small firearms. If that character has a +1 in Dexterity, then their total modifier to shoot would be +1 (+1 from Dexterity plus zero from being trained in Small firearms.)

Conversely, a Surgeon starts as untrained in Small firearms. If that character also had a +1 Dexterity, then their total modifier to shoot would be zero (+1 from Dexterity plus -1 from being untrained in Small firearms.)

Thirdly, a different scenario. A Fortune Hunter who has been on a number of ‘episodes’ may be expert in the Charm skill. If they have a Charisma of +2, then a roll that they make to try and charm another character has a total modifier of +4 (+2 from their Charisma plus +2 from being expert in Charm.)

Open and closed

As mentioned above, closed skills will work on the same premise, but slightly differently. A character won’t even be able to attempt a skill that is closed and that they are untrained in.

This, inspired by the likes of the ‘starts at zero’ Cthulhu Mythos skill in CoC, is intended to make each profession feel different and have specialist things that only characters with that profession can do (at least at the start of the game.)

Next time…

So, with skills decided upon (for now), that does indeed sound like the perfect time to start thinking a little bit more deeply about those aforementioned professions

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