“Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!” Bones’ player said, slamming his fist on the table.
Jim’s player looked helplessly at the rest of the group. “Wait, is there Star Trek in the Dresdenverse?”
Gwen the GM asked, “Was that in character?” Jim’s player answered “No” at the same time Bones’ character said “Yes.”
Jim’s player looked quizzically at Derek’s player and said, “Dude, you have 5 ranks in Scholarship. You can be a physicist if you want!”
Bones’ player shook his head. “But I don’t want to be a physicist!”
It’s no surprise to regulars that I’m a big fan of Fate, and of many of the tweaks that Dresden Files RPG (DFRPG) makes to it. One thing that feels “almost there, but not quite” to me is the skill system. I simultaneously and almost paradoxically feel like I have way too many skills and that I can’t specialize my skills enough.
Today’s article covers a handful of ways to manage this, starting from using the rules-as-written to achieve the effect, moving on to custom stunts, and concluding with the idea of “stuntedness,” or a sort of “negative stunt” that earns back a refresh.
Using the Rules As Written
DFRPG provides a few stunt-based methods for specializing skills (notably “Occultist” for Lore or “Doctor” for Scholarship), so you could reasonably take “Scholarship:3″ plus a “Doctor (Biology/Medicine)” stunt for an effective Scholarship:4 in Biology and Scholarship:5 in Medicine. But this kinda sucks, because you’re choosing to limit your character by not being as good at a skill, but you need to pay in order to so limit your character.
There’s a somewhat valid argument here that you’re paying to leave a top-ranked skill slot open, but paying a full refresh point is a pretty hefty price tag for something that is essentially coming about from color.
You can make up for this a bit by using an aspect instead of taking a stunt. For instance, our “Bones” might choose to take his Scholarship:5 and tie it to an aspect such as “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor!” Doing this would reasonably allow his player to receive a Fate point every time he chose to fail a Scholarship role that wasn’t related to medicine. This feels like a less player-punishing solution, but GMs might reasonably get sick of handing out Fate points for this. For example, if you have another person in your party with a high Scholarship, you’re not really complicating your life by auto-failing the role, because you know an ally will likely make up for it.
Custom Stunts for Player Weaknesses
One way to overcome the aforementioned weaknesses is to come up with custom stunts that allow this sort of fine-tuning. I’ll outline a few ideas for those here. For the most part, these work when a player is looking at “skill focus” as color. However, this isn’t a good solution if a character has a mechanical need for a high score. For instance, I’m designing a character who brews potions. I could use a stunt that transplants trappings to take a lower Lore to represent my lack of knowledge about the Nevernever, but having a low Lore fundamentally handicaps my character.
In that vein, these stunts are ideal for “color” situations:
Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor! (Rapport): So much of medicine is bedside manner. This stunt allows you to use the “Medical Attention” trapping under Scholarship using your Rapport skill instead when administering medical care.
Full-Ride Scholarship (Resources): The wealthy have an easier time attaining education. You may use the “Answers,” “Declaring Minor Details,” and “Exposition and Knowledge Dumping” trappings of Scholarship, using your Resources instead of Scholarship skill when a roll is necessary.
Spoken Like a Spy (Contacts): You’ve been around the world enough to have picked up a smattering of languages. You may use the “Languages” trapping under Scholarship using your Contacts rating instead.
Veterinarian (Scholarship): Your study of animals allows you to use the “Animal Handling” and “Riding” trappings of Survival using your Scholarship rating instead.
Hobbyist Library (Any): Your obsession with a particular hobby is bolstered by a small personal library. Choose an area of study related to your hobby. You have a library with a rating equal to the skill enhanced by this stunt, and may research in that library (as per the Scholarship trapping) using the same skill. For example, Justin the marksman (Guns:5) loves military history. He takes this stunt and attaches it to Guns, which gives him a superb library on military history, and he may research military history here or elsewhere with a skill of 5.
Kitchen Witch (Crafting): Your skills in the kitchen have prepared you to follow arcane recipes with the best of them. You can perform common rituals as per the Lore trapping using your Crafting skill instead of Lore.
These stunts are clearly not comprehensive of academic specialties, but give ideas of how to develop stunts to allow Scholarship or Lore trappings in other contexts.
I previously mentioned the potion brewer. I could easily use one of the above methods to represent his narrow specialization in one arcane field, but it doesn’t overcome the problem that I need a high Lore to effectively use and manage enchanted items and potions.
One solution would be to make a stunt that allows the use of a non-Lore skill a narrow field of spellcasting (say, Craftsmanship for crafting magic items), but this leads to all kinds of problems, because skills are just used so dang much when it comes to magic. As such, you’ll inevitably come across an area where it just doesn’t make sense to justify the alternate skill.
The “Stuntedness” solution proposes leaving skills as they are. A “Stuntedness” is a stunt that grants a Refresh, much like a Catch. It brings the “catch” concept from the supernatural powers section into the realm of mortal stunts by defining limitations in the use of a skill. As sure as cold iron can bypass a faerie’s toughness, a question on history can bypass the academic knowledge of a physicist.
Just as stunts generally add +2 to the use of a skill situationally, or allow the use of a trapping, a “stuntedness” stunt grants an “all-but-situational” penalty to the use of a skill, or removes all but one trapping.
Take the “Hacker” stunt for Burglary–it allows you to use the Computer Research trapping of Scholarship using your Burglary skill. What if you wanted to make a self-trained hacker who wasn’t good at either burglary or scholarship, though? This proposed rule allows you to achieve this without overly penalizing a character or bastardizing the rules to brokenness.
Generally, a “stuntedness” only makes sense to take for high level stunts–those set within one point of the skill cap. This prevents abuse by players who might otherwise take a stuntedness for a skill they never intend to use, if only to gain another Refresh point.
Here are some sample “Stuntedness” stunts:
Artificer: Your studies of magic are limited to magic items. You take a -2 penalty to Lore roles not related to magic items.
Wikipedia Surfer: Your use of Scholarship is limited to computer research.
Busker: Your use of Performance is limited to music. You take a -2 penalty to any Performance that is not a musical performance.
Dammit, Jim!: Your medical knowledge makes no room for other knowledge. Your use of Scholarship is limited to providing medical attention.
Ph.D.: Declare a knowledge area. Your use of Scholarship is at -2 for any Scholarship roll not related to that knowledge area.