Monday, 5 May 2014

Character Concepts

A playtester asked me the other day to clarify a few things regarding the Academics skill in SARPS. Specifically, they wanted to know how a character's fields of study can be reflected by a single 'knowledge' skill. This was a good question, as it had come up during play before. The character in mind had been built as a sort of chemist, turned drug king pin (someone watches too much tv :)) and they were arguing that as they had an Academics skill that was quite high, they should know about all sorts of sciency stuff. 

To a degree, this is correct, however the player was neglecting one of the most important parts of their character; the Concept.

A character's Concept is what guides the entire character generation process, but it doesn't stop there. The Concept provides a 'flavour' to a character that distinguishes it from other characters with similar skills. As the character in question had a Concept that specifically mentions they're a chemist with legal issues, I would say they know quite a bit of sciency stuff...Chemistry in particular. Other fields, while all part of 'Science' and therefore one could say 'Academics', are not mentioned in the character's Concept and there is no indication that they would know much beyond their indicated field. As a result, Academics checks may still be made to know things in fields other than chemistry, but the difficulties of such rolls would be greater than if it was a straight chemistry question.

This same idea can be applied to all of the Skills; Boxing can be flavoured to resemble kung fu, so long as the Concept points at a background in Eastern fighting styles. A track and field athelete would be very good at running and long jump and such things, but may find rock climbing to be out of their depth, conversely a character whose Concept specifically mentions an outdoorsy type explorer would be an experienced rock climber. 

It is this idea that makes 'rules lite' or old school gaming an effective system for many people. They don't need dozens of skills and perks to detail what a character can and can't do, they simply need a backstory. All the extra details tend to do is create a rigid set of limits that don't necessarily define a character, but simply point to what it can do in a set list of parameters. 

For example, get a piece of paper and try to write down all the skills you as a person may possess... try as you might, working out all these skills is going to take some time, and there's always something that you forgot you know how to do until the situation comes up. But if you instead list your background, activities that you like to do, you begin to see that each concept that makes you you also shows how well you can do certain things.

I have a background in the military, in particular electronics, so if I was to say that I know Academics that would be appropriate. The same cannot be said of the level of biology or philosophy I know. Sure, I may be intelligent and know how to learn things (at least I think I am), I can answer questions much more confidently if they're about electronics, especially if they're military electronics, than I can answer questions regarding Plato's Dialogues.