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Generalist vs. Specialist

May 3, 2007

I’m putting the finishing touches on the skill system for Thousand Suns. I wound up with fewer “broad” skills than I’d originally expected, first because there are many proposed conflations that don’t make sense to me (Bluff, Intimidate, and Diplomacy really aren’t just three species of “Persuasion”) and also because too few skills make for too few options and that’s bad.

Now, that said, I recall there were a handful of people who objected to my specialization rules on the grounds that it slighted the generalist in favor of the specialist. Here’s your last chance to make your case. Firstly, what exactly are you talking about? I’m a bit baffled. Can you provide an example of not only what you mean but an existing game system that models it? From my perspective, by having several broad science skills, for example (Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, etc.), I’ve already allowed for a generalist and, since specialization comes freely with an increase in skill, I’m not hurting a player who wants to have lots of low-rank broad skills, each with a single specialization, rather than a few high-rank ones with multiple specializations.

So, take your best shot and explain what you want and how it’d be modeled. Otherwise, I’ll go forward as I planned and will remain confused about what a “generalist” is in game terms.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2007 10:36 pm

    I’m for a different tack on this issue. I believe in a skill cascade where skills add into each other from the broad overview skills that deal mostly in theory and broad brush strokes of the subject to the narrowly focused skills that really flesh out specialists in their field where in you have a lot of finesse and minutae to deal with, but very little bredth. You focus on one thing and one thing very well. A good example of this would be say, Physicists.

    Take a good physics overview skill. This covers the broad strokes. But then you break down the major schools of thought in physics. This is where the nuts and bolts of the fields are. But beyond that, you can get into the specialized fields that show up in this spectrum like Particle Physics having a subset of sub atomic particles.

    In a more combat related example, say you give a broad weapons skill like “Firearms”. This covers everything with a barrel, trigger and shoots bullets. Now you specialize in Rifles. Any type of rifle, you have the general jist of it. But sometimes, you’re monogamous or you’ve only been trained on one particular rifle like say, the M-16b, because that’s all the military trained you with.

    So, although general skills have their place, I feel you create a greater depth and richness to setting by allowing for specializations while allowing players to be generalists if they so desire. But you never truely get good till you specialize.

    That’s my probably too late opinion on the issue, but thought I’d toss it off anyway.


  2. James Maliszewski permalink*
    June 26, 2007 8:14 am

    I’m still on the fence regarding skills and how “deep” I want them to be. As always, simplicity is preferable, but at the same time, I don’t want to sacrifice useful detail in the name of simplicity. I suspect I’ll take a middle road, with skills not being so broad as to be meaningless, yet not so specialized that character creation is unwieldy (particularly NPCs).

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