[MUD-Dev] Re: Info about different skill systems

Travis S. Casey efindel at io.com
Mon Jan 4 14:20:54 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999

On Sat, 2 Jan 1999, Nathan F Yospe wrote:
> On Fri, 1 Jan 1999, Emil Eifrem wrote:
> As the guy who coined "Skill Web" I ought to answer this one. There will
> be more info if you cross ref my name on your search, but, for now... it
> would be unfair to just dangle that in front of you and not add anything
> new. So... another informational post. *sigh* holiday break, working and
> all, has made me soft... I wasn't going to think mud for another five or
> six months.

Not to cast disparagements on you, Nathan, but the term "skill web" has
been in use in the paper RPG community since at least 1989, and quite
possibly earlier than that.  The *concept* of a skill web, as you describe
it, has been in use since at least the late '70's or early '80's (I'd have
to check some references I don't have here to get an exact year).

Most paper RPGs, however, either have very small webs or use them only at
certain points (e.g., when creating a character).  Constant on-the-fly
updating, would, of course, be very hard to do with a large skill web in a
paper RPG.

A skill web or a skill tree, though, is really just a way of expressing
the relationships between skills -- it's those relationships that are
important, not the expression of them.  So, here are a few ways that
some RPGs have had skills relate to each other:

 - Subskills.  One skill may be wholly included in another skill.  If 
   this is the case, the score in the including skill may be used 
   whenever the included skill is needed, but not vice-versa.  This
   sort of relationship is often shown by a tree, for obvious reasons.

   Example:  a hunting skill might include subskills of tracking, 
     stalking, and concealment.

   Uses:  A good subskill setup makes it easier to list a character's
     skills, since subskills of a skill need not be listed unless the
     character is better at them.  It also helps prevent cases where 
     a player forgets to take a skill that his/her character should
     logically have.

   Notes:  A given subskill might be included in more than one general
     skill; for example, lockpicking might be included under both 
     a locksmith skill and a burglary skill.  A class-level system can
     be thought of as a very specific type of subskill system -- most
     characters have only one very general skill, which determines how 
     good they are at doing anything.

 - Prerequisite skills.  In order to learn or to use a particular skill,
   it may be necessary to have other skills.  A particular minimum level
   may be needed in those skills.

   Examples:  In a cyberpunk setting, cyberware installation and repair
     might have prerequisites of neurosurgery and electronics.  In a
     fantasy world, magical theory might have mathematics as a

   Uses:  Prerequisite skills can be used to enforce a certain order of
     gaining skills.  In a skill-based system, this can prevent characters
     from acquiring nonsensical skill combinations.  It also makes certain
     skills harder to acquire, and can be used to force players to take
     skills that they might not otherwise take -- such as mathematics.

 - Defaults.  A character may be able to use a skill that he/she does not
   actually have a score in if he/she has a related skill.  Usually this
   will be at a penalty.

   Example:  Broadsword skill might be usable as a default for shortsword
     skill, and vice-versa.

   Uses:  This helps to accurately reflect that may skills, particularly
     weapon skills, are related.  

   Notes:  In a system which has prerequisites, skills may often default
     to their prerequisites.

 - Influence.  A high score in one skill may help when using another
   skill in certain situations.  Similarly, a low score in a skill may
   be a hindrance when using another skill under certain situations.

   Examples:  A high skill in acting might be of help when trying to
     use a disguise skill.  On the other side of things, a low skill
     in horse riding may give a penalty to one's sword skill when 
     trying to use a sword from horseback.

   Uses:  Allowing influences can give more uses for skills that 
     otherwise might see little use.  It also allows for a bit more 
     individualization in the way that characters do things, particularly
     in systems where players are allowed to suggest skills they have
     that might be a positive influence on actions.

   Notes:  Over-liberal use of influence can get ridiculous -- "I'll use 
     my fiddling skill to help me cook the fish."  "What?  How are you
     going to do that?"  "Well, first I need to build a fire, and I'm 
     used to rapidly rubbing a stick across something else.  Then, I need
     to keep track of how long things have been cooking, and I can count
     beats to help me keep track of time..."

     I've added the rider that influences can only help in certain 
     situations to differentiate influences from those systems which
     make it cheaper to buy levels in skills that you already have good
     default skills for.

That's all that I can think of in the time I have... other thoughts out

       |\      _,,,---,,_        Travis S. Casey  <efindel at io.com>
 ZZzz  /,`.-'`'    -.  ;-;;,_   No one agrees with me.  Not even me.
      |,4-  ) )-,_..;\ (  `'-'
     '---''(_/--'  `-'\_) 

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