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Colonial Gothic’s Skill System

June 14, 2007

When designing Colonial Gothic, one of of the goals was to have a broad skill system. I realize some have a love-hate relationship with skills, and skill systems. They see them as an archaic hold over from an older day, a time when games were not slick. Skill systems are labeled “Traditional,” as if to imply that including them gives the game a sense of being out of touch.

I have nothing wrong with skills, and skill systems. If used sparingly, skill systems give players an easy hook as to the kind of actions their PCs/Heroes are able to perform. Where I have a problem with skills and skill systems, is when numerous skills are created that can simply be preformed by a single skill.

When playtesting Colonial Gothic, I had two players new to this style of gaming. In fact they never played any type of roleplaying games before. In our talks after each session, they both told me that they felt skills made it easier for them to figure out what they could do. For them, it is the skills that were their link to understanding the game. Veronica, one of the players, told me that “…learning this type of game is hard, you got people acting in character, strange concepts, but seeing that my Hero knew how to Track, gave me a easy to use hook. I knew what it means to Track, and because I as a player knew what it means to Track, I knew what it meant for my Hero to track.”

Skills in Colonial Gothic are broad. By this, each skill lumps similar concepts under one skill. If you want your Hero to shoot a musket, they simply use the Shoot Skill. To give you an example, here is the Shoot Skill, straight from Chapter 3:

Untrained: Yes
From firing a musket to shooting a pistol, this skill covers it all. Any ranged weapon using gunpowder uses this skill to determine if your Hero is successful at hitting their target.

Using a broad definition of skills, is done purposely. I did not want the game to be bogged down by needless details. Firing a musket, or a pistol is covered by one skill. There is no need to have different skills covering essentially the same task. With some of the skills, you find a list of options, or specialized aspects of the skill, your Hero can take, to set them apart from others. For example, let’s look at one of my favorite skills in the game, the Divination Skill. Here is a brief excerpt from the skill description:

Untrained: No
Whether you read the lumps on someone’s head or read tea leaves, Divination is a skill used to divine the future and whether or not an event will work in your favor. There are several, different types of Divination that you can use, depending upon what you want to know and how you want to learn it. Heroes that want to learn more than one form of Divination will have to buy this skill multiple times. Because the future events are not set in stone, the more successful you are at a Divination Skill that relates to divining the future, the more clearly you will be able to understand and read more details in your reading. While Divination can be useful, by no means is it an exact science. Many forms of Divination are based on symbolism and allegory that can be interpreted in different ways.

Ailuromancy – Your Hero, assessing his cat’s behavior, will be able to predict the weather with some accuracy.

Alectryomancy – After strewing grain in front of a rooster into the shapes of objects, letters or people, you will confirm your Hero’s path based on what the rooster decides to eat first.

Alomancy – Salt is a staple spice among many Colonists both in the New World and abroad. Your Hero will dissolve salt crystals in a bowl of water, allow them to dry overnight, and will then be able to tell if she will be lucky that day by the number of stars that appear in the bowl.

There are many more options under this skill, but this gives you a small taste of what we have in the book. There is even more to skills, but it does not make the system more complicated.

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