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Franwax

Subskillls to emphases

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Hiya.. so we do know that some skills encompass a broad spectrum of activities that may only be loosely related (typically, swinging a tetsubo vs slashing with a tanto...). The rulebook gives examples of sub-skills for each of the game-defined skills and leaves the option to break them down as distinct skills. I am concerned however that this might mess with the fragile balance of school curricula, in that this would greatly expand how much advancement xp can be gained towards achieving the next rank by focusing on a very narrow range of skills. 

Hence the idea: keep the skill list as is, but introduce “emphases” for each of the proposed sub-skills in the book. 

An emphasis costs one xp, and does not count to any curriculum or title. You cannot have more emphases in a skill than half that skill’s rank (rounded up). When you make a check with that skill and you have an emphasis that applies, such as rolling Martial Arts [Melee] with a Katana if you possess the emphasis Kenjutsu, you may reroll a single blank result on your rolled dice. 

Minor bonus, adds variety with very little change needed, and backward compatible if your table decides to roll back this rule... Thoughts?

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2 hours ago, Franwax said:

Hiya.. so we do know that some skills encompass a broad spectrum of activities that may only be loosely related (typically, swinging a tetsubo vs slashing with a tanto...). The rulebook gives examples of sub-skills for each of the game-defined skills and leaves the option to break them down as distinct skills. I am concerned however that this might mess with the fragile balance of school curricula, in that this would greatly expand how much advancement xp can be gained towards achieving the next rank by focusing on a very narrow range of skills. 

Hence the idea: keep the skill list as is, but introduce “emphases” for each of the proposed sub-skills in the book. 

An emphasis costs one xp, and does not count to any curriculum or title. You cannot have more emphases in a skill than half that skill’s rank (rounded up). When you make a check with that skill and you have an emphasis that applies, such as rolling Martial Arts [Melee] with a Katana if you possess the emphasis Kenjutsu, you may reroll a single blank result on your rolled dice. 

Minor bonus, adds variety with very little change needed, and backward compatible if your table decides to roll back this rule... Thoughts?

I'd avoid making it rerolls, because you've already got potential sources of rerolls (advantages, exploited disadvantages) and if you have a relatively small dice pool it can make them redundant pretty quickly.

On the one hand, adding sub-skills to the game does let you spend XP in a curriculum fast if the broken-down skill is on your curriculum. On the other, You're presumably breaking it down because those specific facets of the skills are going to be really important - in a campaign in the wilderness, the person gifted in hunting versus the person gifted at horsemanship are sufficiently different that you don't want to badge them both under survival. Sub-skills are a very optional thing which you'd talk about at campaign creation.

You would only do this if the distinction between subskills is really going to matter, and if it does, then that's probably because some other facet of the skill table really won't (in a campaign in the wilderness, I don't see Design mattering much, for example). In a 'normal' campaign, or one where I plan to showcase a lot of different environments, I probably wouldn't touch the skill list

 

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Well since only one advantage (or inverted disadvantage) can apply at once, that would be max 3 rerolled dice, one of which has to be a blank... if you don’t roll 3 dice in the first place, sure, the emphasis becomes irrelevant, but it just means you’re not good enough for your training to matter ;)

Actually, that could also pile up to 4 blank dice in an invocation for which you made an exceptional offering... but anyway, the idea is not to have a great bonus that works all the time but just increase the reliability in an area of specialization. In many case, even if you do not have a distinction to bring to bear, this will not even have an effect... but it could save your bacon once in a while when that pesky skill die rolls a blank at the worst moment !

I agree that the skill list as it is works well for most settings. This is why I was loathe to change it, but still wanted to explore a way to give narrower specialties some relevance. 

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1 minute ago, Franwax said:

the idea is not to have a great bonus that works all the time but just increase the reliability in an area of specialization.

The problem is that, taking the example of Martial Art (Melee) - Katana, that is going to be a reroll in 99.9% of combats because if you have a favoured weapon to the point you'll sink XP into a weapon-locked sub-skill or technique, you're basically going to use it in every conflict scene that you're not explicitly forbidden from doing so.

 

Other observation: a one-die reroll is effectively as good as an extra skill rank - if you have any ranks in a skill you're automatically rolling more dice than you can keep, and if you're rolling at least three dice you're almost guaranteed to get at least one result you don't want. Getting an extra rank - even in a narrow speciality - for 1XP seems really powerful.

 

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3 minutes ago, Magnus Grendel said:

Other observation: a one-die reroll is effectively as good as an extra skill rank - if you have any ranks in a skill you're automatically rolling more dice than you can keep, and if you're rolling at least three dice you're almost guaranteed to get at least one result you don't want. Getting an extra rank - even in a narrow speciality - for 1XP seems really powerful.

Mind you, I said a *blank* result reroll, so it’s not as good as a full unconditional reroll (only one out of 6 results is blank). But maybe it’s too strong, I don’t know. 

As for the Katana example, well yes, the idea is to specialize in something you use more often. The question is more: is it really too strong a boost? Or too cheap (sinking 2 xp that don’t count for advancement would make it more fair)?

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Just now, Franwax said:

Mind you, I said a *blank* result reroll, so it’s not as good as a full unconditional reroll (only one out of 6 results is blank). But maybe it’s too strong, I don’t know. 

As for the Katana example, well yes, the idea is to specialize in something you use more often. The question is more: is it really too strong a boost? Or too cheap (sinking 2 xp that don’t count for advancement would make it more fair)?

Hm. Missed that it was blank - apologies. That's still powerful but less so - albeit that it's value is going to go up as the skill rank goes up; the more dice you roll, the closer to '1' the probability of at least 1 blank result, hence the closer in effect the emphasis is to a full skill rank.

Given that the value of the emphasis is increasing proportionally to an extra skill rank at precisely the same time as the value of an N+1th skill rank is going up dramatically, I'm not sure it should be a flat cost. I'm just not sure how to tie it to the skill rank. At rank 1, 1XP for an emphasis seems fine. At rank 3-4.....it's really not.

 

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Good points.. I think that it would be practical to scale the cost based on the number of emphases you already have. Since you can only have one per skill with a rank of 1-2, two when the skill reaches 3-4 and a grand max of three at skill rk 5 (cf. my cap in the first post), you could imagine a rising cost of 1, 2 and 3, respectively. 

I’d rather not key it off the skill rank at the time you purchase the emphasis because it would seem weird that your first emphasis costs more just because you waited before purchasing it... there would be some possible arbitrage in buying them as soon as available, which is not necessarily wanted. 

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6 minutes ago, Franwax said:

I’d rather not key it off the skill rank at the time you purchase the emphasis because it would seem weird that your first emphasis costs more just because you waited before purchasing it... there would be some possible arbitrage in buying them as soon as available, which is not necessarily wanted. 

Agreed. And 'retroactively charging' for it seems odd, too.

You could say "pay XP equal to your current rank" and "increase the cost of any further rank increases of this skill by 1XP each".

That means at any given rank after you've bought it it's cost you XP equal to your skill rank. Which seems not unreasonable; it's less than an extra rank of the skill but it's still a meaningful chunk of XP.

Edited by Magnus Grendel

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58 minutes ago, Magnus Grendel said:

You could say "pay XP equal to your current rank" and "increase the cost of any further rank increases of this skill by 1XP each".

So each emphasis would cost, in total, your current skill rank, spread out over time. Feels a bit steep if you plan on going to rank 5, even more if you want to buy more than one. Not sure if this is worth the benefit, but I don’t have enough data points for this. 

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2 hours ago, Franwax said:

So each emphasis would cost, in total, your current skill rank, spread out over time.

That's the idea I was going for.

2 hours ago, Franwax said:

Feels a bit steep if you plan on going to rank 5, even more if you want to buy more than one. Not sure if this is worth the benefit, but I don’t have enough data points for this

Well, look at it this way: if you've got a skill rank 4, plus - let's say at least one ring at rank 3? because I can't see you getting that far through the game without either having started with a ring at rank 3 or having bought at least one ring advance - you're rolling a pool of 7 dice.

You've got just under a 3/4 chance of rolling 1+ blanks whenever you roll - meaning that an Emphasis is worth 3/4 of a skill rank with your 'preferred weapon', because that's how often you're rolling an extra die.

Taking Martial Arts (Melee) from Skill Rank 4 to Skill Rank 5 (which would give you a permanent extra die) costs 10 XP, compared to 4XP at the same point for buying the Emphasis Martial Arts (Melee) - Katana

The Emphasis is 3/4 as good for less than half the price, but (a) doesn't apply if forced to use a different melee weapon for some reason, and (b) has about a 50/50 chance of adding a ring die rather than a skill die (with broadly less opportunities and more strife).

It feels better than a technique - since it's effectively an extra die 3/4 of the time in a swordfight, regardless of stance or precisely what action you're doing (strike, guard, technique-specific like iaijutsu, whatever), so the higher cost for a high-ring samurai feels appropriate, whilst for a newbie it's cheaper (only 1-2 XP) because by comparison it's not going to trigger very often (about a 50/50 chance for ring 3/skill 1 or ring 2/skill 2, which is about right for a starting character)

 

Edited by Magnus Grendel

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Makes perfect sense! Thanks a lot. 

On the downside, we can also consider that these are “sunk” xp in terms of rank advancement (I was going for the assumption that the increased cost for raising the skill would not reflect on the xp spent on your curriculum). 

Corollary finding: it’s really hard to design a “small” bonus in this game :)

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5 minutes ago, Franwax said:

On the downside, we can also consider that these are “sunk” xp in terms of rank advancement (I was going for the assumption that the increased cost for raising the skill would not reflect on the xp spent on your curriculum). 

Probably. If you're in a campaign using all-up subskills, then I'd let you count spending on a subskill as that skill where relevant for a curriculum, but if using emphasis as a separate 'always available' thing, I wouldn't include them (unless you wanted to make a specific custom school or title which namechecks them!)

If wanting to add a touch of personalisation to a skill in a more general campaign, I agree with not letting them count, though; it's never going to be worse than buying a ring increase (because the cheapest that can ever be is buying a ring to rank 2 for 6XP and the most an Emphasis on a rank 5 skill can cost you is 5XP)

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I've been thinking about using a mechanism like you suggested. I find it hard to predict which subskills should be included in a campaign (adventures have been in diverse settings between the wilderness and at court) and I'd rather have all of them accessible and let the PCs decide where they want to focus and stand out from their peers without creating a glut of skills.  Your idea could work, but I agree that there are already several other ways for re-rolling dice, and have been considering the idea of dice conversion to streamline things a little.

My idea would be almost exactly as you described, except that instead of rerolling a number of blank dice equal to the emphasis rank, a number of ring dice are converted into skill dice when forming a dice pool. In this scenario, the probability of success slightly improves, the risk of strife is slightly lower, but the net number of dice doesn't change. Obviously, if the character only has an Air of 1, they wouldn't be able to convert more than 1 die regardless of emphasis ranks.

To keep the power of subskill emphases in check, maybe only 1 emphasis could be purchased per school rank at a cost equal to the number of emphasis ranks in that subskill, and it would count toward applicable curriculum. Alternatively, only a limited number of emphasis ranks are allowed per school rank (1 at school rank 1-2, 2 at 3-4, and 3 at school rank 5).

I do unfortunately foresee a scenario in which a character with maxed out Martial Arts [Melee]/ Subskill [Katana] is rolling >5 skill dice on a check.  I'm not sure if streamlining rolls to increase the diversity of focused skills is worth the power creep.

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Posted (edited)

Just to clarify, I took emphases as a binary thing: you either have it or not. You don’t have “ranks” in it. If you do have an emphasis it only applies to one single die. Your way could work without much power creep if it only ever lets you change one ring die to a skill die..?

Edited by Franwax

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2 hours ago, Franwax said:

Your way could work without much power creep if it only ever lets you change one ring die to a skill die

Sorry, my misunderstanding! Was reading multiple emphases in a skill above as meaning for a subskill. Given this clarification, I don't think this is too powerful, and agree that specialization, as you aptly termed it, should give a bonus worthy of repeated use. I think the xp cost scaling by the number of emphases in a skill makes sense, since there should be a cost to increasing your portfolio in a skill... for lack of better terminology.

Thanks for the feedback! I kind of see my interpretation as a variation on skill mastery from third edition (or was it 4th?), and agree that keeping it to only one converted die might be the best solution.

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