D20 Jadepunk Design Journal: Skill Synergy

Last time we went over how we’re replacing abilities with professions, and why we feel that’s important. This time, we’re going over how skills interact with each other.

A Case for Synergizing Skills

During a design conversation, the ineffable Jesse Ferguson had an idea to decouple skills from professions (abilities). As a huge fan of World of Darkness games, this didn’t sound unreasonable to me, but there are design considerations – the most important of which is the extra time spent at the table adding your traits together.

We spent a lot of time trying to come up with a solution because we both liked the idea that you can use a skill or ability in a way that is relevant to the concept of the trait, but that isn’t by the letter of the rules.

If you’re familiar with superhero gaming, then I’m sure you’ve come across that moment when someone like The Hulk screams at a minion in an attempt to intimidate the poor ant but fails because his Presence/Charisma bonus is utterly deplorable. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for The Hulk to benefit from his incredible strength in that situation?

But we’re not talking superheroes (it’s just a great example of why we need to consider making exceptions in the rules), so here’s a situation we also discussed that is more relevant:

A sneaky assassin, who has a high Scoundrel rating and proficiency in Stealth, is looking for a hidden item in a magistrates office. Our assassin doesn’t have a great rating in Scholar, the profession used for discovering things, and no proficiency in Investigation, a Scholar skill used for searching. However, if you turn the tables, this assassin would roll Scoundrel (Stealth) to hide an item, so wouldn’t it make sense that such expertise would help in finding an item someone else hid? It’s a case of “what would I, a super skilled person in this regard, do in such a situation?” By the letter of the rules, the assassin would roll Scholar (Investigation).

Enter Skill Synergy

We feel that such skills should help, but we also don’t want a robust rules system to handle something that’s not likely to come up very often. (Skill synergy was a thing in past Fate games, like the first edition of Bulldogs, and I don’t think it’s ever come up at my table.)

Another consideration that we need to make is how powerful skill synergy is. If you always get a benefit because your proficient in another skill then the game becomes about pointing out and justifying skill synergies. There needs to be some resource expenditure to make this work, if for not other reason than to keep it somewhat of a rare occurrence.

Before we go any further, we need to address how Jadepunk d20 will use the Inspiration mechanic, or at least how it’s different than 5e. Coming from designing Fate games, we’re more familiar with utilization and spirit of an aspect, so Inspiration is something you can expect us to tweak. I won’t get into it here, but what you need to know is that you can’t just spend inspiration to get advantage; you need to point something out as important to get that advantage – you need to justify it. In this respect, you can think of spending inspiration as using a resource to take over for the GM so you can say “this thing grants advantage in this situation.”

How this works with skill synergies is you can point something out that would be relevant to helping you in the situation and gain advantage on the roll, if you spend a point of Inspiration to earn the right to do so.

So in the case of our assassin searching for the hidden item, the player could spend a point of Inspiration to say “my assassin is trained in how to hide things; Scoundrel (Stealth); and so should have advantage on this roll.” So long as it makes sense to the table, the assassin is going to get advantage on the roll because of their justifiable expenditure of inspiration.

There are other things to spend Inspiration on to gain advantage, and we’ll cover that in a future post. We’ve also got some ideas for how gaining Inspiration can be in the hands of the GM or the player (by accepting disadvantage on a roll because of some trait). But we’re still working on Inspiration mechanics, and they’ll require quite a bit of playtesting.

Next Time: I’ll talk hit points and dueling! (Don’t miss that one!)


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