(Yes, there are some bloggers who have talked about replacing the venerable “gold piece”-centric currency system with a silver standard, but that’s not what this post is about.)
(By the by, I’m in favor of world-specific, idiosyncratic currency systems. It feels more realistic, and adds flavor, and allows the DM to use the interactions between different modern and archaic coins to become hooks for action. But that’s not what this post is about either.)
This is about skill points. There are a lot of people out there in the OSR, it seems, who really dislike skills; they’d much rather have player success and failure outside of combat decided by DM fiat, or by a flat you-have-it-or-you-don’t system determined by random rolls or starting configuration. But as the refrain goes, I’m a fan of skills. (You may recall my previous attempt at designing a system, which the more I worked on it, became more and more like GURPS until I wasn’t sure what to do with it any more.)
So a little earlier I was browsing through advice on megadungeon creation, and ran across this. Most of it is the usual cutesy ingenuity you’d expect in this sort of context (megadungeon-specific equipment indeed!), but something about the collapsible pole caught my attention.
How long does it take to extend the pole? From the description, I’m guessing the process involves pulling and twisting and using pins or the like to lock the sections in place (assuming it’s mechanical rather than magical in nature), so it’s hardly going to be like opening an umbrella. It’s left up to the DM, then, which can be problematic if someone first asks in a life-or-death, time-sensitive situation. Not that DM rulings along those lines are necessarily bad, or even avoidable, but in general I’m against making an on-the-spot ruling that by itself is likely to decide life or death for a PC.
My first thought in terms of an answer was rolling for it: 1d6 rounds, or the like. And then I thought, Well, what about a character that uses or practices with a device like this a lot; wouldn’t they be able to cut down on the time? But how do you determine that without it being another off-the-cuff arbitrary DM ruling?
Well, how about letting an interested player invest a skill point in the pole? They can automatically extend and lock, or collapse, the device in one round, and perhaps gain a circumstantial +1 bonus to relevant pole-based actions with it, or use it as an improvised quarterstaff. But how do you justify spending a skill point on something so limited?
This is where the idea of the Skill Point Economy occurred to me. I’d already been considering being purposefully stingy with skill points per level in YAOSC. And yet I’d want to encourage players to hold skill points in reserve when leveling up instead of distributing them immediately, to spend during play as the situation warrants. Perhaps this would be accomplished by giving them a bonus based on the number of unspent skill points (doubling them, even? Up to a limit?).
There would also be ways to let players gain extra skill points through play. Consulting experts, reading manuals and tomes, simply spending a lot of time and effort in the proper context, etc. The difference between these and floating, unassigned points from leveling up would be that these are put directly into some relevant skill. So if you read a collection of books on baking, you may get a skill point in Craft: Baking, but certainly not (for example) in Armor.
To balance out the bonus and free skill points, in turn, there can be mini-skills scattered around for players to invest in as they choose. Things, like the collapsible pole, where a full regular skill isn’t justified, and you can’t really shoehorn it easily into an existing skill or ability, but for which it would be nice to have a standardized way to distinguish between levels of competence in use.
What you end up with is a skill point economy. During character creation and leveling up, players should feel as if they don’t quite have enough skill points available. DMs can then reward them during play with occasional extra skill points – for devoting themselves to an art or craft, for taking the time to explore an area fully, for role-playing good relations with important NPCs, or whatever else the DM wants to encourage. And finally, to keep the players lean and hungry, they can be given opportunities to invest limited numbers of skill points that give them situational bonuses and further specialize and differentiate their characters.
I’m posting this now in order to maintain some semblance of regular updates, now that the blog has become semi-active again, and I’ll be back again with some examples in a later post.