Giving weaker skills some time in the limelight

So you know how skill checks in these games tend to value the highest number you have? That’s a given, right? Likewise, many games are set up in such a way where you really want to try and hyper-focus one particular skill, which winds up making it impossible for you to build on any of the others because you’re well past the point where any amount of training could reasonably allow you to make those particular checks. Since there’s no way you can pull them off, there’s no incentive to try and train them at all, so the correct answer is to simply not bother.

Here’s a funny idea I had: what about if you can use your weaker skills to pull off a cheeky little “gg gottem” at a predetermined point in the story? Like, say you’re so strong that the villain hears of your might and therefore goes to great lengths to prepare himself for that, to the point where your strength stat being as high as it is will actually wind up failing you if you try to bank on it, so instead you rely on your much less trained dexterity and screw up on purpose to lull the villain into a false sense of security and make him put down his guard so that your strength check can succeed again?

Or, to use an example that popped up in a COG game at one point: in the first of the two Vampire: The Masquerade games on offer, there came a point in my playthrough where I got into combat against a much more powerful vampire. Like, even if I succeeded my skill checks, odds were that I was gonna get viciously mauled and come away gravely wounded for my trouble. Not to mention that I wasn’t terribly confident in any of the available skill checks (one of those situations where the author expected me to have trained myself in skills X, Y, and Z, and therefore didn’t account for me focusing on skill A instead), so all I could do was pick the least bad one I could and hope for the best.

Cue the game suddenly snapping to a flashback where one of the major NPCs explains to me that sometimes fate will just pull a data underflow and make a critical failure loop around and become a major success instead.

And then the game snaps back to reality, and true to form, fate pulled a data underflow and my shot that should have gone wide suddenly drilled the vampire square in their brain and killed them outright.

(Of course, then the game turned around and betrayed me and gave the bad guy a data underflow that allowed him to cut my head off even though I should’ve passed that combat check with flying colors, but hey.)

So yeah, just curious what people think about doing something like that? Might give some incentive to not just ditch low skills, if there could be some way to still put them to use even in the late story.

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Another cool way to deal with this that I’ve seen is in I, Cyborg where (spoiler) the person you’re based on has basically the inverse of your opposed stats, and maybe some others, though she is fantastically rich, and you have to try to impersonate her to steal her ship. The author does some signaling in the text that she’s basically “your opposite” in every way. I thought that was really fun.

But for other stats than opposed ones, I think you can still have fun with it, like a skill test that you WANT to “fail” in order to get a certain outcome. Say a detective suspects you of being a cat burglar and puts some tests of dexterity and sneaking in front of you (known or unknown). Maybe you’re SO sneaky that you can sneak while appearing to be hapless, or maybe you hope you can just fail the test to throw off suspicion.

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Disco Elysium does some things like this, where having higher ranks of a skill can be detrimental.If your perception is too high you can overload yourself noticing useless things. If your reaction speed is too fast, your trained reaction time has you jump the gun sometimes and you’ll miss opportunities. I think this kind of thing can be interesting if implemented properly because it can reward a jack-of-all-trades style build where you want to be pretty good at everything without super-specializing.

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You could also use it to gate minor but interesting NPC encounters, like being sent to meet the principal in a school story, but only if you’re failing one of your classes. I could imagine that being lots of fun.

Or, for example, in Choice of Rebels, there’s an artifact that you can only gain if you get caught by the bad guys in the end.

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Werewolves: Haven Rising

has a thing like that. The ‘final boss’ has studied your personality and you need to act against your personality to beat him. ‘I know everything about you! How you fight, what makes you cower!’

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That would explain why my character got their guts ripped out in the final battle in that story…

Sorry for hijacking the thread with a only somewhat related question but I was wondering how everyone would feel if character customisation choices affected scenes in a similar way to stat checks? Like if you were fighting someone and they only grabbed your hair if it was shoulder length or longer or if you tried to hide in a small space but was caught because you are over 6ft and etc.

On one hand, I really like the idea because while I thoroughly enjoy customising characters, it often feels like a afterthought or something the author feels like they have to add in. I’m also fully aware that it would be something that some people would find annoying but I was curious on what the general consensus would be.

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I can see people being pretty annoyed if the game “punished” some customisation features more than others, such that short bald characters would cruise through the story while tall long-haired ones had multiple stat fails.

If there were pluses to outweigh the minuses, or even-handed minuses for all customisation choices, you’d escape that problem to a significant extent.

But that would be a lot of work, as stat balancing is already. In general I think having customisation choices trigger flavour text rather than actual wins/fails is a better way to win over the readers who (like you) would like some sign that the game has remembered what they look like.

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The only place I’ve sort of seen this done would be in Breach or Shepherds of Haven, which both give you a choice of whether you have an ‘attractive, charismatic face,’ a ‘striking, intimidating face,’ etc, and it’s made very clear that these selections will push your stats in one direction or another. I think it works in those instances where it’s obvious what the player is choosing. Likewise you could do ‘I have an agile, nimble build,’ or ‘I have a strong, muscular build,’ (which Breach also does, I think) etc, and as long as the player knows what they’re signing up for, it’s better than hiding it and making it a surprise ‘gotcha’ later on.

If people think they’re choosing something cosmetic, and then it causes them to fail a check later completely out of nowhere, that might be a pain. Even those examples I mentioned only provide extra boosts to your stats, rather than locking you out of anything or making you auto fail anything. In the real world, people can and do practice to overcome all sorts of physical limitations, so I personally decided not to include this sort of thing in my WIP because I decided freedom of customization was more important.

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Forget the name of the WIP but one WIP has an option for the character to have golden eyes or heterochromatic eyes which each have implications within their world. So those affect your story. Same WIP has background families and you can look a lot like them or nothing like them and that affects a few things too. I think that’s an interesting way of doing it!

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Eh, I’m not really a fan of this method. I dislike things that force you to handle important situations by going out of your build path. If I’ve made a brawler, it’s because that’s how I want to get through the story. I don’t want to hit the end of the game and have to change track.

I would be okay with something like “I’m extremely good at fighting, and so an enemy who knows this doesn’t stick around to fight me and I have to chase them down.”. In a way, being so good at fighting that an opponent goes “screw this, I’m out” is a reward for being good at fighting. This doesn’t feel bad, especially if I can eventually catch them and beat them, because my skill here is acknowledged.

On the other hand, if it goes down like “I’m extremely good at fighting, so my opponent has studied my style and can counter my every move, so I need to change styles”, that’s just “You are good but not good enough” and feels bad.

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Was it Court of Harts, by any chance? Golden eyes represent being blessed by heaven, heterochromatic eyes represent being cursed by devils?

Yeah that’s the one. I have a lot of WIPs I’m tracking and I’m bad at names unless they really stick out lol

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Hey, Werewolves author, here!
The ‘boss’ scene in Haven Rising actually checks your personality stats, not skills, so if you’re a brawler, you’re still just as good as you ever were. It’s your tactics that the baddie is watching.

For example, if you’re known for acting brashly, jumping right in without thinking, he’ll be expecting that, so if you take the fight carefully, he’ll get caught off-guard.

The game’s not expecting you to use your intellect rather than your claws in the fight, it’s wanting you to change tactics. The baddie more or less explicitly suggests this, and if you get it wrong the first time, you get a second chance where his dialogue hammers home the hint a second time more bluntly. It’s the text adventure version of a puzzle boss fight.

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